Ireland, Day Three

“How, exactly, do you consider yourself a teetotaler?”

This from the head of the Irish production company over dinner. Two days earlier I had excused myself for nursing my Guinness and failing to pound down the booze with the big kids using this lame, but generally accurate descriptive term. Now I was drunk, and there was no denying it. I’d been outpacing much of the table, greedily guzzling quality wine that had been ordered in bulk. Someone kept filling my glass, and I hate to be rude by letting a fine vintage I know nothing about go to waste.

By day three we had settled into a routine of a room full of producers, broadcasters and writers bickering with each other about a bunch of fictional characters and their imaginary tomfoolery. It’s silly that grown men and women do this sort of thing at all, let alone do this sort of thing for a living with huge wads of cash on the line. If we had all been rolling a bunch of ten and twenty-sided dice, it would have been eerily like my last role playing session in college – the one that made me quit because I much preferred getting on with the story as opposed to arguing over who made what saving throw versus sudden death. Well, turns out writing in the big leagues isn’t all that different. Now they just pay me for being a geek.

The only thing that kept day two of work from being a virtual carbon copy of day one was our lunchtime excursion for some authentic U.K. cuisine – namely fish & chips. The smoked cod came highly recommended, and I must say it was something of a relief to eat a meal that didn’t require me to keep track of the correct fork for the correct course. It’s fun to play snob every once in a while, but when it comes to stuffing my face, I enjoy myself more when the only point of etiquette to keep is mind is to not vomit directly onto someone else’s plate. You can call me low-class if you must.

The day ended early enough for me to get in some good urban hiking before the next social engagement. I’d failed to walk all the way along the River Liffey my first day out, and this time I was determined to get a look at the sea. Mapping my rather lengthy route out to a marked green space north of the docks, I began an excursion that took me through some of the rather less scenic sections of town. The highlight of this trip was my epic journey along Wall Road. Aptly named, Wall Road consists of two imposing walls on either side of the road and a lot of trucks rumbling up and down it, kicking all sorts of dust and grit into the air that helps mask the rotten fish smell. After cutting through this industrial wasteland and marching another mile up a road that was one massive construction site for another one of Dublin’s ill-conceived infrastructure plans (this one a tunnel too small to fit the trucks it’s suppose to service), I finally arrived at my goal. The shoreline.

The blandest, most uninteresting stretch of shoreline I’d ever laid my eyes on. I took a picture so I could remember it forever.

I could stare at it for seconds at a time

At this point I was navigating with a much better map than the one I’d downloaded and printed out. Dublin Castle had offered me a very functional free tourist map. I had now, however, walked right off the edge of it.

My original intention had been to take the train back downtown. I spent far too long trying to find the station, and longer still trying to find the cleverly hidden entrance to the station grounds. They tried to fool me by disguising it as a hedge, but I clued into their deceit after some twenty solid minutes of hunting. The train, however, proved to be off limits to the casual commuter, with an elaborate pricing system and an exact change rule. Thoroughly intimidated, I decided it would be much easier to walk my ass back to the hotel through the rather less-nice north end of town. I can offer no pictures of this leg of the journey since I assumed that the sight of a camera might label me a readily muggable tourist even more than my infrequent but necessary map consultations.

Arriving at my hotel in once piece, I had exactly enough time to change and rendezvous for the next grand feast. More great food and a perfectly drinkable wine aside, the most interesting wrinkle on the evening for me was the arrival of another member of the Irish film industry. Not directly associated with our own production, he nevertheless proved to be an interesting conversationalist with a genuine appreciation for Irish history, medieval to ancient. I suppose it helped that he lived on a particularly historic stretch of land popular with the pagans who descended on the property once a year during some equinox-type event to eat huge quantities of magic mushrooms. Mind you, every stretch of property in Ireland is historic in some way. In fact, he explained, metal detectors are highly restricted in the country and you need a special government permit to operate one. Why? Because you WILL find stuff. In North America you’ll likely come up with a lot of bottle caps and, if you’re very lucky, pocket change. In Ireland you could well stumble across a national heirloom. So the government wants to know there are reputable archaeologists snooping around out there, not some beachcomber in a floppy sunhat and a Hawaiian t-shirt who’ll take a priceless artifact to the pawn shop for beer money. They already have their hands full trying to keep farmers from ploughing over priceless dig sites in the name of good grazing or a higher potato crop yield.

As I downed yet another glass of wine which, peculiarly, increased the decibel level of my conversation with each mouthful, our Irish historian also had some words of wisdom for us. If it’s not an actual Irish proverb, it seems to sum up a common sentiment.

“Don’t trust a friend who won’t get drunk with you.”

As I walked home, making a conscious effort to keep from staggering around on my uncoordinated feet, I felt I’d successfully earned that trust.

Tina, if you love me, you'll let me eat your POTATO!

An ode to the potato famine, this charming statue looks as though it might have been designed by George Romero. The hungry peasants, wasting away from the legendary 19th century blight, look like they would gladly take a bite out of you in an effort to put some meat back on their ribs. I particularly like the starving dog in the back. He makes for a nice final touch of horror to the landmark I vote “Most likely to traumatize children for life.”

Olaf double parked at the marina again

The warning against vandalizing public property is likely directed at the Vikings in the longboat parked across the river. A thousand years later and those Scandinavian bastards still don’t know when to stop pillaging.

Ireland, Day Two

A wake up call and another meat-intensive Irish breakfast later, and it was time to go to work.

In an effort to give us a change of scene, work was to be done in a conference room of a different hotel a block away. This conference room offered windows, and was therefore seen as a vast improvement over what our own hotel was offering by way of conference rooms. The commute was a brief walk along St. Stephen’s Green where they were doing dry runs for the city’s new ultra-modern streetcars. After spending billions ripping up the city’s old streetcar tracks years earlier, Dublin had just spend billions setting more down all over again. The streetcars were supposed to help solve the congested traffic problem of the city but so far, during the testing alone, they had only made it much worse, holding up traffic for an extra two minutes at a time whenever one of them approached a busy intersection. Coupled with the fact that the streetcars had limited coverage and could only hope to transport people from one specific area to another specific area, assuming these people even wanted to go there, the project had already been dubbed “A Streetcar Named Disaster” by local smartasses. As we listened to the merry “ding ding ding” of the cars as they passed under our windowed conference room over the course of the next three days, we all agreed it was charming and atmospheric. Not billions of Euros worth of charm and atmosphere mind you, but disarmingly quaint just the same.

It turned out I’d bailed on quite the booze-up the night before. Operating under the principle, “Make the first night the worst so all the others seem easy by comparison,” several members of the production set out to have such a good time, they’d be incapable of remembering what a good time they had the next day. It is with a measure of pride that I report it was one member of the Canadian delegation that put everyone away. Canadians, often ignored or at least underestimated, take great pride as a nation whenever we beat another country at their own game. We still talk with passionate fervor (but in politely hushed tones) about how we beat the Americans at war in 1812, the Russians at hockey in 1972, and now the Irish at drink in 2004. To add insult to injury, this same national hero arrived for work the next day in a timely fashion and ordered a half bottle of wine over lunch.

The same cannot be said for everyone else. There was some tardiness as others from the drinking party rolled in past our start time, and nobody else could even look at booze over lunch (although they did all recover in time for dinner). Keeping with the same principle of the previous night, we set out to make the first day of work the worst so all the others would seem easy by comparison. To that end, we threw out all the material on this new show we were talking about (about two years worth of effort) and began again from scratch.

By quitting time, I felt I’d earned my quickly paced but peaceful walk through St. Stephen’s Green, the largest park in town. Old gnarled trees speak of the park’s long history as alternately public and private land over the years, and in the spring it was particularly lush and green. Quite scenic if you can ignore the great number of beer cans stashed under the shrubbery.

Keeping my entire day within a block of my hotel home base, we all had dinner at Thornton’s in the Fitzwilliam, just a few floors downstairs from my room. This was the first example of the lavish gourmet cuisine I was to be subjected to night after night by our generous hosts. Ah, the sacrifices I’m willing to make for my craft when all expenses are paid – five star hotels, some of the finest restaurants in the world, really expensive wine I actually kinda vaguely sorta like. I bleed for my art, y’hear? I BLEED!

With Guinness the first night and a variety of wine over dinner, it was only fitting for me to end my drinking binge (binge for me, at least) in the hotel bar with a couple of Baileys. In twenty-four hours, I’d had an unprecedented amount of alcohol – pathetic but true. I don’t object to drinking, I’ve just never found a drink I like enough to get drunk on. Well, I still wasn’t drunk, but there’d be time enough for that in the next two days. This was Ireland after all, and there are people living there – well-meaning but sinister people – who will not rest until they get you trashed.

A Streetcar Named Disaster

Getting you from nowhere to nowhere faster than any other means of midtown public transportation, hopefully the Dublin streetcars are a little more full now that the test runs are over and they’re accepting actual passengers. Drivers will likely curse them for weeks, months or years to come until they find a better way to synch them up with the traffic lights.

Blossoms, birds and beer

Even the pond scum is pretty in St. Stephen’s Green. Strict anti-polluting rules apply, and there’s hardly a spot of litter to be found unless you look closely and discover where the infringing drunkards have hidden their stash of empties. A fortune in deposit returns is there to be had by any adventurous bushwhacker.

Ireland, Day One

Less than an hour in the country and what was the hot topic of discussion? Booze. Guinness specifically – Guinness predictably. Our cabbie was explaining to us that should the tap at the pub ever run dry of Guinness, the only acceptable substitute is Budweiser. Not Kilkenny as one might assume.

“Budweiser?” I asked incredulously. I’m not beer drinker, but I’d still been raised with a healthy disdain for all American beer, which seems to be shared the world over. Or at least everywhere that’s not America.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” he explained, “Budweiser is horse piss. But it’s better than Kilkenny.”

I suspect this is a regional argument, centred around Dublin, home of Guinness (which also makes Kilkenny despite it being named for another town). Much as you don’t come to Montreal extolling the virtues of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you don’t come to Dublin and talk about Kilkenny unless you want to be sipping your Kilkenny through broken teeth. If you have any doubt about the local loyalty to the dark ale in question, just hang around the baggage carousel at the airport for a few minutes and you’ll get the picture. I spent a good deal of time there waiting for the verdict on my travel companions’ lost luggage that had failed to make the Philadelphia switch. In that time I was subjected to the same ad over and over again on a television monitor that was supposed to be offering useful flight information, but was instead telling me, “No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Guinness brewery.”

Seriously. Dublin has buildings that are A THOUSAND YEARS OLD. They’re just sitting there waiting for you to come and explore them. There’s so much history on a block-by-block basis, it can make your head explode. And they want me to run and see where they make the fucking beer?

It was Tuesday morning. Once we were safely checked into our luxury hotel and had a good greasy Irish breakfast in our bellies, it was time to get some rest. This was set aside as a day of relaxation and reorientation to shrug off the jet lag and catch up on our sleep.

I was having none of that.

Fuelled by a fresh pot of strong coffee, and armed with a printout of a wildly inaccurate city map I found on the web, I took to the streets. If I was going to be stuck in a conference room for the next three days arguing the minutiae of a TV show that didn’t even exist yet, I was going to seize my one big chance to take in the sights.

Dublin is a very walkable city. You can cover a lot of ground and see a lot of landmarks in a short period of time because the layout hasn’t changed much in centuries. As other cities might have a clothing district or jewelers district, Dublin has things like a Viking district, because those were the guys who got to shape that end of town over 1200 years ago. Recent buildings date back to the mid 1800’s. Brand new buildings are scarce and you actually have to search for them. This is what a European city looks like when the Germans don’t get a chance to bomb it flat.

The fact that Dubliners seem to care much more passionately about their beer than their history is easily explained once you’ve walked around for a few hours. Beer is an immediate experience. It’s here, it’s now, it’s on demand, and it’s always fresh. The history, however, is tremendously old and all-encompassing. It’s bloody everywhere, and it’s overwhelming. You walk on it, you breathe it, and if you don’t look out, you’ll bump your head on it. There’s simply too much to take in, so you become blasé about it as a defense mechanism. By mid-afternoon I was turning my nose up at two or three hundred year old architecture.

“Two or three hundred years? Bah! Show me something OLD. If it doesn’t predate the discovery of the New World, I’m not interested.”

And there’s more than enough of that stuff to go around, too. Understand, I was born and raised in Canada and live in a house that was built a mere forty-four years ago. If we, as Canadians, see something that’s been around for a century, we think it’s old. We have no concept of ancient whatsoever. There are trees in this country, alive and well today, that pre-date the arrival of our earliest European settlers. Dublin, on the other hand, has books lying around that were written before anyone knew my home continent even existed. So when I walk through the crypt beneath Christchurch Cathedral, or spelunk my way into the remains of Dublin Castle’s original northeast tower (the one where they had to remove all the rotted heads before they could parade the tourists through the area), or walk along the city wall gates that were erected to keep the Vikings from returning to set up shop again…well, it’s hard for my little Canuck mind to grasp the sheer longevity of it all.

By early evening, I’d seen an insane number of landmarks without ever having to hail a cab or hop a bus. I returned to the hotel to shower, change, and hook up with everyone involved with both ends of the proposed production in time to hit the pubs.

I’d been warned there would be drinking involved. This was, after all, Ireland. My ancestors had vacated the premises and hopped over to England generations ago, but judging from some of my relations, the fondness for drink went with them. It’s not something I inherited, however, so I’d been wracked with performance anxiety for weeks. As I struggled through my obligatory pint of Guinness, I was already on my way to drinking myself under the table. It wasn’t drunkenness, it was exhaustion. At this point I’d been up for a good thirty-two hours straight, and there was no way I was going to survive a night of socializing and shots. I wasn’t just nodding off, I was about ready to hit the floor dead to the world.

Excusing myself on the grounds that I wanted to be fresh for the next day when work would actually begin, I returned to the hotel, made a quick supper of the complimentary fruit and chocolates that had been brought up to my room, and then lapsed into a coma.

flyingpig

Exiting Dublin Airport, the first landmark of note is the flying pig statue opposite the taxi pickup lane. The implied message at this bustling airport: You’ll get a cab into town when pigs fly.

Trinity

The entrance to the grounds of Trinity College where Oscar Wilde (and I suppose a few others) studied. The cobble stones are worn away to a fine polish by centuries of footsteps. The mortar between them has suffered even more wear and tear, making the height difference between it and the stones it binds together painful to walk across. This is, doubtless, an intentional feature to discourage the legions of tourists who come to see the Book of Kells. Although I was not turned back by the uncomfortable courtyard surface, I was driven off by the discouragingly long line of people there to see the day’s four page display.

 Battlements offer a great view from the end of a pike

Dublin Castle, now headless. Note the varying styles of architecture typical of buildings this old. You can tell on a century-by-century basis which parts burned down and when they were rebuilt. The turret is the one remaining tower of the original castle. The cathedral is a much later addition, the interior of which is mostly wood that only looks like marble. The cathedral had to be made very lightweight so as not to collapse into the old moat that still runs beneath it and the adjoining parking lot.

When sacred ground just ain't good enough for you

Get famous enough in Ireland and you too might be interred in one of its famous cathedrals. The centuries will just fly by as addle-minded tourists of all faiths rub their grubby little hands over your monument and wear away the finer details of the masonry. The fellow up front has only been around for a century and a half, so his sarcophagus is still in good shape. Not so the chap in the background who, as one of Christchurch’s oldest fixtures, has been worn down to an indistinct nub.

Bearing little resemblance to Cate Blanchett

No room in your local cathedral? Well, you can still hope for a statue if you’re a big shot, or a bust if you’re a murdered crusading reporter. Okay, a bust isn’t as cool as a whole statue, but not many of those statue guys get a feature film tossed into the deal.

No solicitors or pillagers

Once they kicked the Vikings out, it was time to build a city wall to make sure they never came back. This used to be the front door of the city back in 1240.

Nice try Dublin, but Toronto's phallus is still bigger

But don’t go thinking all of Dublin’s monuments and landmarks are ancient. The Spire, erected way back in 2003 and pictured left, is the tallest structure in the city. Surrounded by so many old buildings, its gleaming smooth metal surface makes it look completely unreal from a distance, like a bad cgi effect dropped into a low budget science fiction movie to make an otherwise normal cityscape look all futuristic and Jetsonsesque. Ultimately, it’s just a spike. And it lights up at night. “Yes, but what’s it for?” we asked our cab driver as we passed by. “It’s for wasting our money,” he told us flatly. Four million Euros to be exact.