THREE DAYS IN DUBLIN (or mental ramblings from a bar stool) – Day 3

SOUP AND SANDWICHES

By the final day of his visit to Dublin Simon had become aware of the lunchtime omnipresence of “soup and sandwiches” on offer throughout the city.

Soup; Hot, thick, cream-of-whatever, mostly from cans, served in ubiquitous, small, deep bowls made of chunky catering porcelain, like large handle-less coffee mugs. And sandwiches; sliced white slices (as often as not), separated by processed cheese squares and a little salty butter (as often as not). This was of particular interest, bearing in mind the ever-growing profusion of exotic eating establishments in the city, including everything from Mexican cantinas and sushi bars to Michelin approved temples of “modern Irish” cuisine. And not to mention the overflowing platters of traditional meat, veg’ and spuds available at every pub and bar. Yet, in spite of this, by far the most popular lunchtime fayre was soup and sandwiches.

            So it was, on this third day when Simon opted for a bowl of soup, only to be asked by the barman if he would “be having a sandwich to go with it” that he finally realised that this austere combination of glutinous liquid and chalky dough was in fact, a national dish, on a par with Dublin Coddle, Irish Stew and Guinness and oysters.

            Like some latter-day sacrament for the wayward Irish. A subliminal jog to their collective guilt for their drifting inexorably away from their Mother Church. Amidst all the wealth and opulence of modern Dublin, lurking behind stacks of Texas ribs and Thai prawns was the frugal bowl and the modest plate. The blood and flesh of Christ at large – an omnipresent reprimand to sophisticates and a daily rebuke to trendies.

            However, it was all for nought, as the process of drift had started at the very same moment of the Church’s inception on Irish soil, since when it had begun its epic yet ultimately doomed battle. To be sure, Saint Patrick’s anchor had sunk deep into the ancient fibre of the land, but this had merely delayed the drift and increased the pain as its hooks grappled hopelessly against the constant inexorable shift of the sands.

            There could be little doubt thought Simon. He could see it on the pale, wind-swept faces of the young Irish girls incongruously bearing Gucci handbags. He could see it too in the ruddy cheeks of young Irishmen projecting awkwardly from their Dior suits. He could sense the awakening phoenix behind the sad and fiery eyes of a people for whom the Cross had formerly represented the only ladder from which to ascend from the bog of despair – but who now, with a tenacity borne from centuries of interminable struggle and hardship were reclaiming their pre-Christian birth-right of Celtic gold.

            As he sat at the bar that fresh sunny afternoon, Simon had this thought; That the day might not be so far off for Irish men and women, when soup would be simply soup, and bread would be bread, and by which time nobody would want to eat it anyway – and Ireland would at last be replete and content.

Adam Green, Dublin, 2004

THREE DAYS IN DUBLIN (or mental ramblings from a bar stool) – Day 2

past present

(NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRELAND)

His head was spinning with a myriad of impressions, smells, textures and emotions.

            Simon had just finished a gentle amble through the museum and he had been aware throughout of the sensation of being screamed at by the inanimate objects on display. Walking past the perspex cabinets, crammed too full with gold, faded bronze and rotted wood; it was as if the spirits of the fashioners of these ancient artefacts were imprisoned together with their creations, within the humidity-controlled, cubed confines. The disingenuous information labels with their bland, “safe” explanations of these sexy reminders of Ireland’s colourful prehistory, appeared as anaemic, awkward interlopers – like royal visitors at a soccer match.

            Simon continued in apparent calm meditation, yet swooning internally beneath the claustrophobic pressure of “things”. Thousands of things, silently protesting – proclaiming their lost histories and absorbed destinies.

            More than any museum he had ever visited, the National Museum of Ireland epitomised the inherent schizophrenic quality of such institutions. But, whereas places like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Met, by reason of their vastness achieve a dilution of the unavoidable coarseness in juxtaposition of exhibits, Dublin’s national house of treasure was box-like by comparison. Boxes within bigger plastic boxes, all within a greater box of stone. A sarcophagus writ large. And thus, Simon’s sensation of walking through a huge coffin among smaller coffins and his subsequent feeling of suppressed panic.

            After having made good his escape out into Merrion Square he reflected on this Irish snapshot of itself; prehistory, Celtic, Christian, Viking, British, Independence and – Ancient Egypt.

            As he made his way briskly along damp streets, he fancied that for a brief moment he had grasped in this incoherent arrangement the mystery of Ireland. A past whose pagan sexuality is wilfully ignored, obscured by its dazzling horde of fabulous gold. And a present whose intellectualism, violence and misery form the lifeblood of the modern state. In the middle stands the Cross – a stern and conditional bridge linking Ireland’s ancient, gilded and rural mysticism with its modern legacy of blood and books. And above all of this hover Ra and Amun in their sombre recess, as if to remind the present-day Irishman and Irishwoman of their pagan souls.

            He thought that in this museum was the eternal, painful and glorious contradiction that is Ireland, laid out and entombed in restless stasis.

THREE DAYS IN DUBLIN (or mental ramblings from a bar stool) – Day 1

Art and Fish
(National gallery of Ireland)

Simon entered the gallery together with no fewer than three large groups of primary school girls. Giggling, squealing, pushing; their teachers straining to maintain order. One group wore tartan skirts, another wore tracksuits of royal blue and the last were in grey cardigans and slacks. As they entered the vestibule all together there was a moment when the three groups intermingled in seeming chaos, but then separated like so many distinct shoals of fish.

            Thus, they swam the morning long, throughout the galleries and halls, occasionally hovering before paintings deemed worthy of consideration by their smiling, earnest teachers.

           He remembered this unchanged ritual from the days of his own youth. A ritual, like so many school customs, with the noble intention of stimulating curiosity and enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of the young, yet in reality, sure to have quite the opposite effect. The bored expressions on the children’s faces were a constant and uncomfortable reminder to Simon of his own half-hearted presence in the gallery; the presence of a professional artist on vacation in a great city with too much time to kill and no excuse not to visit its national galleries and museums.

           Then it happened:

           Simon found that he had drifted into the neighbouring Yeats Exhibition, and in spite of himself he was instantly hooked by its presentation of the evolution of Jack B. Yeats’ genius and his work. Traversing along the limped, fluid surfaces as they gradually, naturally evolved from grave lucidity to pulsating abstraction, he felt for a moment that his life had begun again. The graphic exposition of the artistic momentum and imminence of Yeats’ painterly development reminded him of the sublime possibilities of art.

            One picture in particular seemed to radiate this quality. It was of a window, somewhere in Italy, thickly applied paint, like butter, with a half-inch palette knife. Beyond the open shutters, a warm, summer light, primrose and white.

            Standing before it, Simon smiled for the first time that day, virtually squinting at the muted brightness. The daubed light itself seemed to laugh gently, echoing his mood, and then, as he stepped back from the painting, tartan fishes once more engulfed him. A happy, excited shoal now, equally rejuvenated by the peculiar power of these truly great paintings.

            Perhaps, in the future, one or two of those little fish would return to this particular ocean by choice? After all, he had.