Thursday, November 4, 2010

1. Ireland 1975: Dublin

Monday May 26, 1975
The new Shaeffer set me back $5.00 and I'll be a while taming it. Its new life all curled up and writing backwards with a southpaw. My pockets empty for artsy paraphernalia from camera supplies to a new journal. And all for a trip to Ireland.

It's time again to search out some inspiration. But as much as an isolated act and a piece of isolated time -- more of the process. Not from desperation but from a growing belief in myself. Perhaps this will be a happy and creative time to be with myself.

It's only 2 days before I fly to Dublin. Though I am barely ready, I've been preparing for years. I am very stoned on the energy that is taking me there and my stomach complains bitterly.
If it wasn't for breakfast... hot, life saving even fresh fruit. I mean you can even stumble off to an imaginary little toilet when your bladder screams like a Ralph Steadman drawing and wonder like thousands before you whether or not it flushes all over the wild blue yonder and eventually onto Lethbridge, Alberta.

Myra: I got a seat by a window. The Rockies were as magic as I had hoped. We're about half way now. First cloud cover. Probably just entering Manitoba now. Thanks for getting me and my stomach to the airport.

Paul says "people live everyday lives -- farmers farm and bus drivers drive buses. They've no time to be running around making magic." We'll see. Seems to be a certain knit sweater driving sheep to pasture thing I'm looking for.

This is a strange little plane compared to what I was expecting. It's a Boeing 727. Humble compared to the 747. It's like a bus. Three seats on either side of a single long aisle. No movie. Music though. From c&w to "Concert in the Sky -- the Classics by the Masters". Crashing drama and Clockwork Orange weirdness. Right down to an organge CP jet. Really, it's enough to make you giddy.

If that last Boeing was a bus this is a barely reconverted WWII bomber. From the window at the Montreal airport I see luggage is being taken on. Of course there is no sign of my pack.

As I walked into the departure room... the camera scans the most amazing collection of people. Some of them look so Irish it's embarrassing. To be sitting here in my tweed cap scratching away in a journal is pretty odd. Must be an aspiring writer on a pilgrimage.
What I continue to forget about airport hopping is that its primary consciousness is honeymoons and pissed off thirteen year old daughters in profound pain at the public display their families put on and the anguish of being identified with it.

Blood drips out of my sandal as I wonder for the first time why for Christ's sake why am I doing this. I am demolished. I don't know where I am or what time it is. I only know I haven't slept for almost 2 days. One eye is bright red bloodshot. Scary and ugly. Totally confused. Cold, cloudy lousy day in a city 5 times as busy as I ever imagined. Grey foul industrial madness. Pace? Holy fuck Toronto is quieter on a summer Friday rush hour. 10 o'clock in the morning (in my bleary brain it's about 3:00 a.m. -- the end of an insane day of jet riding and no sleep the night before) and I am standing paralyzed scared insecure and helpless in downtown Dublin. Walking, walking walking back muscles aching. Hotel after hotel a lot of vacant stares up from empty guest books and "sorry we're full up." Looking me up and down and snearing! Incredible. Put down in Dublin for being poor and weary.
River Liffey, Dublin, 1975
In desperation I ask a cop and he stops for a lovely eye sparkling chat. "Mean, I really don't know. I don't stay in hotels." And what exactly was it I was looking for? Ah, what you want is a bed and breakfast house. Which should get around here to how I met Mrs. Meehan, 391 North Circular Road, Dublin 7 (Buses 4-10-12-14-22). And how I got to have a hot leisurely bath for $1.50 and how here in the middle of the afternoon I find myself between immaculate starched sheets in a room full of almost Victorian almost antiques and how the sudden silence is strange. But it won't because I need some sleep so I can go out and give Dublin another chance tonight.

She knocked at fifteen past six and awoke me from my coma. I feel so small in this funny little room with that loud large foreign city out there. When she woke me I hardly recognized myself. I was clean, refreshed, even shaved. I smelled of her funny spicy soap. Though still disoriented, I feel much better.

She was really a find. She's given me this fine large room with 2 beds (she usually doubles people up on busy weekends like this) with breakfast in the morning for £2/50 a night. A gabber for sure but mainly saw that I was very weary and just related to helping me. I'll stay here 2 or 3 days until I catch up to myself. Maybe even a week for there are interesting plays on this week.

Before I stroll down to Murphy's on the corner to sample the bill of fare I want to make some notes on Dublin.
Four Courts, Dublin 1975
I walked the fairly long distance to the Grafton Street / St. Stephen's Green / Trinity College area. I am quite unsure of myself. Faces of young Liverpool / Carnaby Street energy Kentucky Fried Chicken and jeans shops. Thriving middle class, thousands of new cars (European sub-compacts). They scream back and forth almost hysterically,  completely absorbed in a life that makes me curious and lonely. Ireland's magic is based on more than a conspiracy of myths though. Or it may be a more sophisticated conspiracy of myths than I had imagined.

Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin 1975
He danced out of the crowd at me on O'Connell Street. Every vein in his face was plainly visible. "Can you help me lad I'm looking for the bus station." I told him I was still a half a day behind myself a part of  me still back in Vancouver and that I had not the foggiest notion where the bus station might be. "Ah! Are ya home from Canada?" As he shook my hand most warmly he said "It's delighted I am to meet a man like you!" And then into the story of how one brother had been in Canada forty-five years but might come home this year. And how another had come home from Australia after twenty-five years but was now dying of cancer in his neck and to go visit him was the reason he needed to know where the bus station was and moving in close holding me by the elbow, "Er, what I wanted to know was could you help me? I'm a few pence short of the bus fair..." The only coin I had was a 10 penny piece (a quarter). He snatched it and walked away without another word.

McDaid's, Dublin 1975
He made me feel better. The things I was worried about were the furtherest things from his mind. I keep walking on O'Connell Street toward the famous Grafton Street that Brendan Behan talks of so much. Walked on the outskirts of Saint Stephen's Green. Saw many more pubs that somehow intimidated me. They were perhaps parodies of what people like me thought they should be like. They were prosperous and "done". I was quite hungry and thirsty but these places kept putting me off. While checking out one gaudy replica I turned and saw McDaids.

Bay windows -- pretty, plain but lots of nice woodwork. Big wooden door lightly stained. Inside it was just a pub like any -- especially in the States! It had 2 things going for it though -- it was very small and it was serving Guinness draught. The head of this beer clings to the side of my glass and makes me think of homemade bread. Behan says it is rumoured to have been so good around the time of the First World War that your glass would stick to the bar. It is so good. It feels as good as it tastes.

The breakfast at Mrs. Meehan's is most impressive. Grade A bacon ("It's worth the money for you get less back on the plate."), sausage and an egg. At the table with me was a real live nun. A member of the order called The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. Friendly, comfortable small talk. I liked her. The chat about "oh and did you have a good flight" and "well you know I had an aunt once in Seattle", I find enjoyable and comforting.

An old fellow in Murphy's last night told me that to get to the Phoenix Park and the Zoological Garden all I would have to do is walk due west and I'd be there in 10 minutes. Some hour after I started out, finding myself in what might have been an obscure corner of the Phoenix Park (it turned out to be an immense park -- a whole corner of the city). I chuckled when I saw a "Cattle Crossing" sign but later saw whole herds of cattle grazing happily in this large public park. I asked a fellow if he could tell me the way back to the centre of the city. He could and he turned out to be Eddie, a twenty-eight year old jew-and-nigger hating New York City ex-marine, ex-hippy, ex-Child of God renegade from "love" and probably "justice".

He was on his way back to Dublin too. We started walking together exchanging bits of information. Things like "I don't smoke dope. I'm done with that shit", slid into his conversation unsolicited. If talked touched on conditions in New York City (I saw him do this later in the day too with a soft-spoken friendly young Irish artsy type in McDaid's) he would jab with "It's the niggers."

He freaked me out at times with his American patented post-acid "craziness". He would offer explanations why he was so fucked up with an unquestioned assumption that he was in fact fucked up.

Another very fine side of him developed starting from the pub where we stopped in while heading to Dublin from the Phoenix Park. He met an old fellow he'd talked to in the park asking him for directions to a prison which housed most of the revolutionaries of the Republic at one time or another and was presently a museum. They had a great old time telling lies together.

At one point I said I was going to run off and try to cash a traveler's cheque before the stores closed. He asked me to wait and not leave him there alone. I said I would wait if he was heading downtown too.

As we walked we talked of America and Ireland. America about how fucked up times like the war and dying cities gave everyone such a raw deal. Only sometimes did he see it through New York City drunken red neck eyes. We had found companionship in wanting to relate to the soft-spoken gentleness of some of the Irish people we had met and freed ourselves of some of our caution to talk honestly. He told me of freaked out drug days and of almost getting sucked in by Moses David's crusade. We walked along the Liffey and his views of niggers and jews softened considerably when I questioned him about them.

This long walk and our glasses of stout at the outset mellowed us. We found our way to O'Connell Street and north toward Grafton and into McDaid's for one before afternoon closing.

It was strange to spend the afternoon in Dublin with an American but it was companionship. The Irish, while sitting in a pub or stopped on the street for directions are generally very friendly but they would of course have no interest or inclination to drop everything and go off on an adventure with you like someone lost and lonely like yourself would.

Though once earlier a young Irish "hippy" dressed like a gypsy (or perhaps vice versa) sat with us at Eddie's invitation on a park bench. She was very friendly and wanted to take us to what she called a "hip" market in the area. We went with her and she tried on long silk dresses and had a good time in what seemed to me to be a tourist trap filled for the most part with gaudy hippy knick-knacks. Earlier intentions of relating carefully to the gentle Irish were scattered to the winds as we fantasized together of the carnal delights she must be leading us to. An hour later walking down crowded Grafton Street she saw a friend coming towards us. She stopped to chat and disappeared into the crowd.

Eddie and I walked on and browsed through some bookstores. He talked knowledgeably and sensitively in his rough Irish American way of Yeats, O'Casey and Behan. He seemed to be confiding in me when he said he wrote poetry and had once had a poem aired over the radio in New York. I couldn't find the books I was looking for so we moved on. Down a side street I saw the Bailey. I wasn't sure where the reference came from but I knew it was a famous literary pub.

The Bailey, Dublin 1975
White and blue exterior with elaborate metal work and the tall windows now painted as mirrors. Inside, the main colour is blue. Lots of hanging plants, light from half-circle windows near the very high ceiling. Very old iron based tables with thick marble tops. French style round seat and back chairs.

"Have you a shit house?" Eddie asks a visibly offended barman.

"Among other things, yes", he said."To your right at the top of the stairs."

The Bailey interior, Dublin 1975

I suppose it was late afternoon as we settled in. There simply seemed to be no reason to stop drinking the rich tasty black stout, though now the next morning I find a small reason I'll keep in mind next time. Mrs. Meehan's breakfast has taken care of my body but my head's a little strained from being awake half the night.

For hours it was very pleasant sitting there watching the people come and go and drinking. We bought a paper and talked of taking in a Tommy Makem concert. Somewhere along the line the beer hit Eddie pretty hard and he got morose and belligerent. Raving about a women he left 4 years ago but was of course now madly in love with. On and on about niggers and jews until I had to ask him to stop as I'm sure he was hoping I would. He was a drag at this point so I decided to split. I gave him my address in Vancouver and told him to look me up if he were ever there. I would be very happy to see him. He said he would at least send me a post card and I walked the 2 or 3 miles homes the tendons in my ankles almost killing me.

This is Sunday and another cold, overcast day. It must be the glass of stout I had on the way back here that's made this room warmer because I see that Mrs. Meehan hasn't got any heat running through the tiny radiator. Before I went out tonight she brought me a cup of tea and a piece of fruit bread. This morning when I told her I'd be staying a couple of days more she got up the nerve to ask me if it wasn't a lot of trouble keeping my hair so long "and all feminine-like", tied up at the back? Breakfast here is an amazing experience (as are the double decker buses). Yesterday a nun and this morning in the flesh one of the little reasons the Irish hate the English.

My feet are extremely sore from all the walking I've done. This morning I walked a long round way to the centre of town. I watch Dubliners going to and returning from church and I took some interesting photographs including one of a trio of teenagers. As I walked by them (I'm still feeling unsure of myself with people on the street) one of the young girls said "Are ya goin' to take our photograph?" bold enough to take me from my aversion. I said I'd love to and they gave a lovely self conscious pose. I thanked them and felt better.

The high garbled voices of a couple of old women in through a front door and fading down the hall bring me back abruptly to the fact that I'm in Ireland. I still don't really believe it and I'm not at all sure how it happened.

Henry Moore sculpture welcomed me to town today as one once did the same in Vancouver. It's in the very striking Saint Stephen's Green and it's dedicated to the poet Yeats. St. Stephen's Green is probably the most beautiful city park I've ever seen. The numbers and types and sizes of trees are the most amazing things about it. It is completely enclosed and sheltered from the city by huge trees. Within the park they are scattered in groups. Many different kinds bending gracefully over the ponds and streams or standing tall as can be imagined. In one of the large open lawns where benches are numerous, I noticed a pile (between 50 and 100) of wood frame canvas pull out lawn chairs for people to relax on or sun themselves on. As in numerous places in this city there are clean, large public cans.

Nearby stylish young moderns making the scene -- the new bourgeoisie. The local hangout is "Captain America's Cookhouse" -- overdone in red white and blue cliché (on the outside anyway, so far I've resisted a couple of invitations to go there for burgers). It's on the second floor but there's a large colour graphic of Captain America at street level announcing it. Above it someone has written something now unintelligible about Trotskyites and CAPTAIN AMERICA IS A PIG!

So I drank my glass of wine at The Berni (bourgeois or no it's sure nice to see the pubs open on Sunday afternoon) and walked up Grafton Street to what seems to be the closest thing I can find to a small decent restaurant.

There are numerous corner grills and greasy looking take-out shops and I've noticed a few very pretentious "members-only" restaurants. There are many Chinese restaurants but somehow it would seem to be a shame to eat Chinese in Dublin. I did notice a couple of cafe's today that look worth trying but they're closed because it's a holiday weekend.. I finally settled on a plastic Zumburger sort of place and had passable fish and greasy soggy french fries.

Before I caught my bus back to the North Circular Road I stopped in at McDaid's for a glass of Guinness. There, two fellows one probably a prof and the other a T.A. or something (though mind you Dublin brand of both) told me a story about the fellow who had just passed out beside me. He'd been lecturing at the university in St. John's Newfoundland and he met an Englishman who rebel Irishmen had been looking for since 1916 because he was the army officer who ordered the execution of a Dublin humanist and pacifist who had nothing to do with the uprising and 2 also innocent youngsters of 14 or 15 years.

The jokes went along the line that in a newspaper piece the unconscious man was writing about the incident he should lay claim to all sorts of heroic acts such as "breaking a whiskey bottle over the man's head, for nobody'd know any different." Nevermind that the pacifist, shot on a bridge over the River Liffey, probably took the easier cleaner choice of a bullet in the head rather than getting his hands and clothes all dirty by jumping into the river to try to escape.

I finished my stout and got up to go catch my bus. The younger of the fellows, who had talked to me earlier about the prospects of getting work on such things as oil pipelines in Canada, said they were going to another pub down the road apiece and would I like to come along. My caution said no.

This walking is killing me. Today was a viscious one for a lonely tourist. Four layers of clothes barely kept me warm. Thick grey clouds and late October wind. When it rained, the cold went right through me. I did manage some long trips on the double decker buses and bought some theatre tickets as well. Siobhán McKenna'sHere are Ladies, a one woman which I guess has become a summer standard in Dublin opens at the Gate tomorrow night. I have a front row seat and am looking forward to the theatre itself as much as the play. The Gate introduced Behan and Beckett to Dublin and the owner spent some time in jail for such bravery. Strange city. The local daily lists the saint's day as well as the date. The tedious 1960s contraception debate still rages here.

Tonight I'm off to a show called The Brother at the smaller of the Abbey Theatre's 2 stages, called The Peacock.

The Abbey was a bit of a disappointment. Very modern and official. I entered just in time to hear an over dressed wealthy American woman about 50 years old screaming hysterically in casual conversation with her entourage that "Oh, we don't care what play it is. If it's at the Abbey it's got to be good." Several people, including one who actually is a common type of person in Ireland, a very beautiful freckled woman with long straight red hair who was working the box office, looked like they wanted to throw up.

Earlier in the day I was walking past the Gaiety Theatre in the Grafton Street area. In 2 or 3 days a play opens there called "That Champion Season" and it stars Broderick Crawford. Mr. Highway Patrol himself. It might be worth seeing especially when I recall that I saw him in an early Fellini film and he was very good. As I passed from the stills on one side of the Gaiety entrance to the other, he creaked and limped out onto the sidewalk. I nodded hello but he just limped on by. He must be at least 75 years old. I watched him hobble off and across the road to Sinnotts, the nearest pub. I went then to the corner to buy a morning paper to use as my cover and went into Sinnotts taking a stool near him at the bar. He was surrounded in seconds and he mumbled away in his unique way. I couldn't understand one word but a lot of people pretended to and laughed heartily.

I guess that Mrs. Meehan is finally convinced of this cold spell because tonight for the first time there is heat in this room. This my fourth night here and I guess I'll stay a couple more before I go to a hostel somewhere in the country. It can be depressing to be a tourist , especially travelling alone in a place that sometimes seems full of nothing but lovers. They've got their nerve sitting cooing on park benches making me feel lonely.
Today the city was pretty empty, this being a bank holiday. I've just come back from the Peacock Theatre, the second stage in the Abbey Theatre where I saw a one man play called The Brother based on the works of Myles na gCopaleen who is I guess Brian O'Nolan who wrote At Swim Two Birds. The central character is employed by an author referred to a "your man" and he has him do all kinds of strange, degrading and probably illegal things. He frequently stops mid sentence long complex tales of strangeness and heroism to order "a ball of malt and a pint of plain", when the barman approaches as he frequently does. Sometimes this character tells of things he'd been forced to do by your man and with a change of hat and coat would do stuff from O'Nolan's books. Other times, only a blackout and a change of lighting would have him do quite unrelated bits and although some of these were really funny they didn't relate to The Brother sitting in the pub as 95 per cent of the play did and they made it seem uneven. Suddenly there wasn't a play happening but a cabaret. Which must be a large problem in staging excerpts from a range of a writer's work. Except for the youth and stylish haircut not quite disguised by the ruffling the actor's (Eamonn Morrissey) brother was very funny with his shakey, jumpy Irish manerisms that even my father is afflicted with  -- and he's never been here. A concept and a rationalization for everything that might come up (especially drinking) no matter how far fetched. At the end of the play, when he's loaded and can barely stand it's the cursed thirst that's getting to him, not the drink. Earlier it was the smokes.

Unfortunately it made the experience of being here a little more unreal -- one level of the play was just another one dimensional  comic stage Irishman amusing the tourists. Though some of the jokes seemed to be meant for Irish audiences. Mainly though, the play was a serious and loving presentation of a very respected Irish writer. (A couple of days later, in McDaid's, a fellow was telling me the play was not at all tourist bait, that it was very true to na gCopaleen's work and that most of the Irish seeing it wouldn't get much of it.)

I could be moving on to worse but at least I'm out of that insane fucking rooming house. It completely closed in on me and an old drunk pissed all over my humble belongings. Kept me awake all night snoring and puking.

Early evening Mary Meehan tells me a regular customer of hers is coming to town and she'll have to bed him down in my room, for there's nowhere else. (Turns out the rest of the place is rampant with nuns again.) This really pissed me off because I'd really been enjoying the privacy and the little writing table. It was about 11:00 when I got home and I had trouble sleeping mostly because I was anticipating the arrival of the new guest.

The pubs close at 11:30 on a weeknight so I guess it was midnight when he noisily swished and wobbled through the door, the most amazing assortment of noises coming from him I've ever heard. He flicked the light on and offered a juicy hello in Irish when I moaned and looked out from under the pillow. He got his shirt half off and back on three or four times and then ran upstairs and made the most sickening moaning and heaving noises imaginable. (This morning there were drops of blood around the top of the toilet bowl.)

A few minutes later he was back down the stairs and into bed, snoring seconds after hitting the pillow. Howls and whines and screeches. What is most intolerable about snoring, though, is its perfect rhythm.  If the last one bothered you at all, you painfully know exactly when the next one will be. When it started to make me very angry I leaned over, gave him a shove and asked him if for Christ's sake he wouldn't mind rolling over. He didn't roll over. He didn't wake up. But he did stop snoring. But with the timing that made assholes like Jerry Lewis famous, he again began to snore and gasp and choke and gurgle and fart. After shoving him and yelling at him 2 or 3 more times I had to admit that there was nothing I could do about this noisy smelly pig of a man who'd been foisted on me. I sat up. I smoked a cigarette. I fantasized. I reminisced. I finally became sleepy and had a delicious, joyous, intense erotic dream -- inspired I'm sure now, by Siobahn McKenna's Molly Bloom soliloquy in Here are Ladies last night at the Gate Theatre. The woman in the dream was Myra.

(The train has just this second lurched out of the Hueston Station, beside the Guinness Brewery carrying me with it straight west across the country to Galway.)

It took a few minutes for Our Friend to fully awake me from this dream. I gradually became aware of him clumsily making his way across the room. A spray and the noise of numerous drops woke me abruptly. I somehow guessed what he was doing and I sat up and snapped the light on. In a single motion he put his cock back in his shorts and was back in bed asleep. 

This was a hideous black joke and I wished I wasn't finding it funnier as it got longer. I was beyond angry by this time. I was outraged but also amazed. He'd been standing in front of my little writing desk pissing on this journal, the 2 clean pieces of clothing I have to my name and narrowly missing my tooth brush. Holy Spike Milligan! I jumped up and rescued what I could, stomping about cursing and grumbling in disbelief. By this time the room stunk like I couldn't describe but Himself seemed to be at last played out. The two of us slept from here on relatively peacefully.

I open one eye this morning to see him dancing about merrily (merrily on the outside -- it was plain he'd died 3 or 4 deaths on the inside), shaving himself with my razor and using my towel. I've taken nearly all I can when he greets me warmly and offers me a cigarette (he's already lit one up for himself). I got myself out of there and onto this train faster than I would have thought possible.