Dublin was the place I couldn’t wait to leave when I first arrived there. Home was Trinity college, the apartment was nice, it had a kitchen so I could have tea any time. The little fridge even came with little milk containers for those occupants who preferred it in their tea or coffee. The windows were large and they let in the overcast light as well as the sounds from humans talking down in the courtyard. The acoustics were impressive! It was sparse, but cozy.
I was in a foreign place, filled with foreign people, and the group I belonged to was made up of strangers. Well, except for the strangers who flew with me on the same plane to Dublin. They were a bit more familiar. The unsettling part was watching them bond with the rest of the group in a way I could not fathom. They were familiar, then they departed into unfamiliarity once we arrived. I felt like the rock in the middle of a social river – I was in the water, but not part of it; I was touched but not included. By no means did I try to be included however, since I had never been that socially fluid, I had no clue where to start. Besides, I had given up a long time ago on ever trying. So I stayed put and tried to imbibe the scenery at the same rate as the girls imbibed Guinness. My luck was having a cultural guide who took the same interest in human nature as I did. Interesting conversations ensued, since he had a lot more information on the side of humanity I did not have intimate access to: men.
Dublin was bewildering at first, but I slowly started to recognize elements of home. No, not my American home, but my Romanian home. I grew up in a town that looked somewhat like Dublin, large sidewalks, crowded streets, crazy drivers, shops lining the streets… There were even snippets of Romanian I caught while walking, no, elbowing my way through the crowd. Some of the street performers were also Romanian, folk musicians playing recognizable tunes on the walkway lined with shops that begins right across the street from Trinity and ends at the park. At the end of that street I found a grocery store that carried lactose free milk, which came to be impressed in my memory due to the pesky need to eat. Right alongside that grocery store there was another cobbled street where a theatre makes its home: the Gaiety. Such an interesting word, and yet so seldom used nowadays.
Dublin was the place where I was introduced to a different kind of English. A warm, friendly, colorful kind of English. The kind of language that functions on visuals and profanities, rather than cold hard precision, which makes it a form of verbal language that closely resembles thinking. I was told that Gaelic is also a visual language, which explains how English was so thoroughly transformed in Ireland. The poet Mary O’Malley has a wonderful piece on just this topic, a purely Irish description of what happened after English was introduced here:
“It was hard and slippery as pebbles,
full of cornered consonants
and pinched vowels, all said
from the front of the mouth –
no softness, no sorrow,
no sweet lullabies –
until we took it by the neck and shook it.
We sheared it, carded it, fleeced it
and finally wove it
into something of our own,
fit for curses and blessings
for sweet talk and spite,
and the sound of hearts rending,
the sound of hearts tearing.”
Yes. That is the appropriate way to talk about English in Ireland. Picking out the finer features of its warm personality was a slow process, but it was instantly recognizable as different. The language one speaks influences the way one thinks. I found proof that people on this island thought differently in the first contact with none other than the customs officer, the first Irishman I met in Ireland. He smiled and made a quip! He joked with me! He was warm and friendly, and amused! When American and Canadian customs officials are the only officers one meets on a regular basis, merriment doesn’t seem to belong in their set of allotted dispositions. In fact suspicion seems to be the only state of mind allowed at their work place. So when my first encounter with Ireland ended in a lighthearted snigger, I was astonished. I was taken aback. Well, most notably, I was taken.
Dublin was the place I saw last before my departure from Ireland. With three wonderful weeks in between my first visit and my last, I was no longer lost in this foreign culture. The crowded streets felt comfortable. The thrift shop right across the street from the gallery market was easy to find. I don’t mean I found it right away, no! It took a bit of roaming, but I had a smile on my face, because this time I was wasting was mine. I noticed architectural details I hadn’t seen before, I took note of restaurants, and I entered a pub randomly because I heard a very skilled fiddler inside. I tried to find that very pub later the same day and couldn’t! Even asking proved useless because everyone just sent me to Temple Bar. I know where Temple Bar is, and that is in itself wonderful, though it was not the pub I was looking for.
I roamed alone the streets of Dublin (for a couple of blocks – I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for me that is a lot) on a sunny afternoon, one of hundreds, feeling like I belonged in that crowd. I earned my place there because I knew where I was going and I had a purpose. That day I got a Claddagh ring from the gallery market and I wear it to this day heart pointing this way to celebrate the moment Ireland took me – by the heart.