Fictional Places I Might Have Been – Parte One

In Dublin I am known as an expert in threesomes. Not a lot of people know that.

Dublin is a city. Trite, I know, but it is hard to talk about cities as distinct and unique entities, especially the nominal capitals of foreign places. Such locales are never good examples of a country. Take London. You should never base your opinion of the English on Londoners. For one thing, most Londoners aren’t English and, secondly, when you do meet an English Londoner you are most likely encountering one of the country’s most intolerant people. Strange that such creatures should choose to live in the most cosmopolitan city in the country. My suspicion, borne from living there, is that for the English living in London is a lot like queuing; it’s an exercise in Purgatory.

(Which is a little like living in Auckland, I suspect.)

So, Dublin is a city, and if we are going for cliches (which I know I am) Dublin is characterised almost entirely by young mothers and desolation.

Well, half the city is. If you only venture north of the river you could be forgiven for thinking that Dublin was part-imported from the ex-Soviet Bloc. The weather belongs in a Len Deighton novel and the girls are that Russian-chav flavour (with shorter skirts). My lodging was a large, boy-infested, ex-nunnery-now-hostel conveniently located next to a chippery and a bus stop. I shared my room with eighteen foreigners of unknown extraction who kept strange hours and refused to speak English. It wasn’t enough that I was in another country but I was staying in the annex of yet another within it. Still, that was fine; downstairs was the reception and the reception contained within it the incredibly cute Emanuelle, the woman who spotted me for what I truly am.

A pervert.

Of course, she didn’t think less of me because of it. She was French, after all. Indeed, my knowledge of perversion was of aid to her. Only I, of all the guests, would know what term we English speakers use for troika sex. Only I had the breeding, grace and enunciation to persuade a German of that fact and only I could do it in front of a fellow Kiwi without being found out.

Yay, verily, that was the first night in Dublin.

My going to Dublin was planned in the same way that the Germans planned to invade Russia. There was a basic idea of going somewhere and everyone thought that when they got there that they would do ‘the usual thing.’ Like invading a foreign land, knowing the geography and history isn’t enough. You have to know the Irish, and to know the Irish you have to take every single cliche onboard.

Because, the Irish not only live up to the stereotype, they enjoy being it.

Example. On the last proper day I was in the Republic of Ireland I walked from Howrth to Sutton. It is a four hour walk along the coast and a very small part of it goes through the backyards of several Irish homes. One of these was owned by an elfish man in a black beret and, I suspect, a love of alcohol. He seemed pleasantly surprised that I was walking the track and after twenty minutes of ‘blarney’ he was shocked that I might need to press on. I suspect that I could still be there today. The Irish are very friendly. It’s not that false friendliness that, perhaps, you might accuse the people of Wellington of expressing. It’s a very real want to know and like the person you have just met.

Another example. A good friend of mine lives in Belfast (or, what I usually call ‘a part of the occupied territory’) and whilst he has never really spoken to his next-door neighbour he was offered a lift back from the airport by him on Christmas Eve. This is, apparently, a two hour drive at the best of times and David found that no matter how hard he tried to say ‘No, please, don’t take time away from your family’ the man continued to insist and insist and insist until such time that it became too embarrassing to refuse him once more.

Friendliness is endemic to Ireland (south and north). In Howrth I ate a very good meal in what would be, in this country, an expensive restaurant and actually felt that the tip I gave the waitress was well deserved. The tour of Dublin after dark that I took had an entire section devoted to ghosts and hauntings, and even though the guide was trouting some of the most hackneyed stories ever given in Christemdom I could not bring myself to give the condescending replies they deserved because, well, the bond we had formed so early on on the bus-trip felt precious and good.

The people of Ireland, though, do not make up Dublin. Like London, Dublin is an example of the existence of parallel universes. To the north you have the soviet-era desolation that has begat a need to stretch out one’s hand in friendship whilst to the south you have a modern city filled with tourists, students and politicians.

No normal people to be seen at all.

Which is also to be expected. Dublin is, after all, a religious city, but not in the way you would think for a Catholic nation. Almost every church and cathedral you will see there is Protestant (normally Church of Ireland); until recently you couldn’t even build a Catholic Church, let alone celebrate the Mass. Family friends went to Dublin a few years back; she was Catholic, he was not, and they went to Mass at the Cathedral in O’Connell Street. As the service began he nudged his wife and said ‘This isn’t Mass’ to which she replied ‘Of course it is.’ Only it wasn’t (which just goes to show you how much difference there really is between the High Anglicans and the Roman Catholics anyway).

If anything, Dublin is a city that built by the descendants of the oppressed. Its churches are not its own, its northern quarter comes from the age of the Cold War and its resurgence in splendour and popularity has driven the people who lived through the Troubles to outside of the City. The occupation and the oppression have shaped the Irish, making them frienfly and, due to the power the Church gained, intolerant.Dublin, thus, makes a lot more sense than London does. It is a city trying to escape its Catholic past, and failing dismally.

Which might explain the large amount of young mothers you see…

…but goes nowhere to explain the whole ‘perversion thing.’ I’d have to tell you about Italy to make sense of that.