Just over a year ago I returned from Ireland. For me this is so recent that I could just as well still be there, but I’m not. I could just step out of my Irish Sea red brick sea-facing house (in which I rented a small apartment), jump on a bus and be in the city centre in about 12 minutes flat, traffic depending, but I can’t.
I could just take a stroll up to the local Dart station and head to one of my favourite sea-side villages, whether that may be Howth, Dalkey or Bray or Greystones even or Malahide, but I can’t. I could just randomly take a walk to the Poolbeg Lighthouse leaving Sandymount behind, strolling past Irishtown Nature Park, ruminating and musing along the way on the mile-long pier, but I can’t.
I could on Sundays attend the regular coffee breaks in the afternoons at the local bookshop themed coffee shop with comfortable couches after our psychology course lectures with my colleagues, but I can’t. From there I could take the 40 – 50 minutes walk back home, along various different routes, mood depending. I could for example walk through St. Stephens Green from where I could head up towards the canal past the National Concert Hall and stroll away while watching the ducks and boats, ending up in Herbert Park after walking through Balls Bridge, or I can take little back roads after heading down Lansdowne Road until I finally find myself back at my local Village Green, but I can’t.
I could for example on a Saturday visit the Dublin Food Co-op for folky food, music and people, or I could walk through Rings End and cut across through the park to the port side, cross one of the bridges and stroll along The Liffey which Cuts THE CITY…
…like a meandering blue vein…
One of my bosses, a chef at a restaurant in Malahide where I used to work shifts over weekends, used to say: “Jack if you can you can, and if can’t you can’t“. This was while he was putting me on the roster for some more gruelling shifts the following week. Of course I always could and I needed the money, but now I really can’t. Well, I can… in a way. Not that I want to do another eleven hour kitchen porter shift often at the 11th hour, in Dublin or anywhere else, but that’s not the point and the aforementioned comes with the territory.
The beauty of travel for me is that I’m travelling even when I’m not. I’m there and here at the same time and everywhere else where I’ve been before. Naturally it’s where I’ve been most recent where I’m mostly still at. No long-haul journeys with stop-overs or continent hopping or hemisphere exchanges required. The experiences, visuals and insights you had, especially the intense ones, linger and mature and eventually return as a memory-filled kaleidoscopic landscape of sorts that meanders through your mind.
You’ve got to wait for the landing though and it can take many months. The previous time on my return from Ireland (the North) it only took nine, this time it took twelve. It’s not so much a case of letting go, but rather a matter of allowing the experience to grow. While you are waiting, everything you experienced is present, near and very clear.
Once you do finally land, you know it, because you start finding yourself transported back…
…like Ancient POETRY…
People, Places, Faces, Sights, Sounds and Phrases…
…return like Echoes in soft rain down the lanes.
I arrived in Dublin in the first month of 2012. It was a twenty month thorough recap and a proper revisit. This time around through a twist of fate I landed up living in the late James Joyce’s old neighbourhood, whereas previously I had lived north of the river close to The Big Tree (Pub) which was, as an aside, felled last year by the recession, or so I heard.
In 2012 it rained the entire year. Non-stop. Continuously, Day and night. I kid you not. Even locals were fed-up. In the summer they all escaped to Spain and the streets of Dublin were left completely deserted… well, except for the shoppers in O’ Connell street maybe… oh and er maybe in yer Grafton Street too. Anyhow, when it finally let up in October of said year, summer lasted for exactly three weeks and then it was winter again, but those three weeks almost made up for the preceding nine months of rain. I got some of my best ever sun-filled photographs of Ireland during that time.
Dublin has an edge to it – not because of the rain – which helps, but there’s this edge and because of that I seek it out time and again. The city makes for personal transitions. It contrasts hard work and survival with other experiences. It’s not easy to explain, but those in the know would know. I mean, like, you shouldn’t think that just because “back in the day”, whether a local or a foreigner, you walked the streets during rain and shine, at night and at day day, and you worked at the pubs, the bars, the off-licences and the building sites across town and the restaurants in some of the neighbourhoods and then think that when you return one day you might not have to again pay your way…
Dublin got under my skin quite some time ago though. I remember my first time arriving in the city in 2003, rolling into town on the Enterprise rail service, coming in from the north and not knowing what to expect or what I was in for. I stayed for a while, not much more than a year and went north again, where I settled in Belfast for over three and a half. I visited Dublin frequently though and the Irish Film Institute and Gallery of Photography in Meeting House Square remained my favourite hubs and of course a few favourite coffee shops mostly just around the corner in the Wall of Fame area (the latter prominently featuring in some of the pictures on this blog).
Now, the opportunity of just being able to become a member again and hang out at these two venues in itself more or less made my entire recent stay worthwhile. That and having had the opportunity to see a few outstanding gigs, namely and very significantly, Sinéad O’Connor, Beth Orton and Neil Young, amongst others.
It’s actually amazing how much you can fit in, in just under two years, but that’s what happens when you are chasing time (more on that later). I even visited Belfast a few times and had a short break in Newcastle County Down – in the most terrible of weather. Dark, gloomy, stormy and raining hard and I loved it – and the whiskey that went along with it. I also managed to get out to Sligo, Kilkenny and Wicklow and several Celtic Sites.
In Sandymount in my apartment late at night sometimes when the city had gone to sleep, I could hear the water slosh against the break-walls across the road at high tide and splash upon the road during spring tide. You see when the kaleidoscope starts setting or settling-in; it’s the small things which start filtering through, the sounds with their imagery, glimpses of moments with people, momentary random situations, the laughter, the debates and the music, always the music.
It’s the visuals and the atmosphere and the accompanying sensations that we recall, like the dreamy passing view of the green Irish countryside on the way to Sligo, or seeing the essence of light shimmer and glimmer on the water while doing a long hike along the sea around the Howth area.
The gritty, grainy parts, the paying-your-dues parts just so you can keep on paying the bills to be there parts, start fading away. They remain relevant, but less so. Their details not called upon so often any more, for in the kaleidoscope of things the other moments move to the fore. Strong coffee has its bitterness, but it’s the after flavours that we favour and savour.
When I left Dublin roundabout this time last year, give or take a month I thought I’d already be on my way back for a short visit by now, in fact I had planned that even before I left, but I realised along the way that it’s still too soon yet. I will return, but for the moment I’ve only just landed.
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Street Art photographs by Jean-Jacques