Rachel and I were up at about 8 a.m., our wake-up call feeling like the sort of thing they might do to you at Guantanamo.
I started out for the Guinness Storehouse at 9 a.m., which seemed a bit early to be drinking, I'll admit, but fortunately I managed to get myself lost several times and it took me a full hour to walk a mile and a half.
The Storehouse is a multi-media do-it-yourself tour/learning experience based on the alcoholic liquid that could easily be the center of a religion for some people. Americans are the No. 1 visitors, according to the woman I asked at the customer service desk; the English come in at No. 2, with the Scots taking the No. 3 spot. In an audio post that I recorded shortly after visiting the Storehouse, I said that holding the No. 1 spot made me somewhat proud to be an American. But when you think about it in terms of population, Scotland should be the most proud -- there are far fewer Scots than Americans or English.
I finally found myself wandering through a series of old stone buildings and cobbled streets that looked like the set from a Batman film; this was the Guinness brewery complex. I got a sense of what it must feel like for a devout Catholic to see the pope when I saw that gate -- the gate from all those "Brilliant" ads ("A bear trap! Brilliant! Ahhhh!"). I took about 12 pictures of said gate, from all sorts of angles, as if it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. In the end, I kept only two pictures, this one and the one immediately below.
It's vain to say this, but the picture to the right is probably one of the best pictures taken of me ever. It makes me look like a writer, if that makes sense. If I can't write like an actual writer, at least I can cherish this picture that makes me look like one.
I paid €14 to attend the Guinness exhibit. That's $16.82, or £9.62, or three pints of Guinness at The Liffey to walk around and learn everything you could every possibly want to know about Guinness. But, factor in the fact that they give you a pint of Guinness at the end of the tour and a souvenir, and I suppose the admission drops to about €8. The souvenir is a clear plastic medallion, about 2 inches in diameter, that has a little drop of Guinness in it. I decided I would give it to the concubine, who demanded that I get her something from Dublin.
Side note: never, ever, ever, ever, ever tell me to get you something when I go on vacation. You can ask, politely, but never say: "Get me something." That turns a part of my vacation into a stupid task that I have to perform just to keep you happy. Said task will eat away at me and make me angry and you will end up getting some piece of shit I got for free, whereas everyone else will get really cool scarves and T-shirts and candy made of whiskey.
Here are a few things I learned about Guinness:
It is not black; it is, in fact, ruby red.
The water does not come from the River Liffey, and thank God for that. The water comes from the Wicklow Mountains and always has done.
The city of Dublin once determined that Arthur Guinness was using more water than he was allocated and sent a few fellows down to shut off his water supply. They were unable to perform said task because Arthur came at them with a pick ax.
There are several types of Guinness that are shipped to various parts of the world, which is probably where this "Guinness tastes different outside of Ireland" myth got started. I knew about Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Draught, but I had never before heard of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which has higher alcohol content and is not sold in the United States.
It took me a little more than an hour to make my way through the self-guided tour and up to the bar where the complimentary pint of Guinness is served. The bar overlooks the whole of Dublin and strangely, or perhaps appropriately, plays popular American music.
The bar is a large room that offers a panoramic view of Dublin, with modern IKEA-style tables pushed up near the windows. As I sat enjoying my pint and the view, an English woman came up and asked if I was using the chair next to me. I said no, and she proceeded to move the chair directly in front of me, thus blocking my view. For the first time in my life, I was able to see why some people thoroughly dislike the English (I should point out, though, that this was one of those upper-middle-class on-the-older-side-of-middle-age almost-certainly-conservative types that no one likes, regardless of nationality). Fortunately, as an American, I will always win a battle of rudeness.
"I said you could take my chair; I didn't say you could take my view," I growled, allowing my Texas accent to come out.
She blustered and moved out of my line of sight. Later, she and her group would raise their glasses say, "That Irish toast."
I wanted to (but didn't) yell at them: "Sláinte, for fuck's sake. It's an Irish word that actually sounds like it looks, you morons. People like you are the reason the Empire fell apart. Fucking try, you fucks."
Again I got lost almost immediately after I left the Storehouse. Eventually, I found my way to the Liffey River and walked along its northern banks up to the Ha'penny Bridge. The Guinness Storehouse makes a point of letting you know that the water for its beer has never come from the Liffey and you can understand why they want you to know this when you see and smell said body of water. It's not exactly the sort of thing you'd jump into on a hot day.
As I walked along its banks, I was reminded of the first time I saw the Charles River, in Boston, which is far more attractive. It was summer and my friend, Paul, and I were walking across Harvard Bridge; I debated jumping off the bridge into the water and he said rather matter-of-factly: "You could; they've cleaned it up a lot -- you no longer need a tetanus shot if you fall in."
Who knows what you'd need if you fell into the Liffey. There are little life preservers along the banks that you can throw to an unfortunate victim. I think it would be more appropriate to put rifles there, so you could put the person out of their misery.
But a walk along the Liffey tells you something that I sensed about that city as a whole - it is, or, at least, was for a very long time, a rather utilitarian city. This is where people live and work. I sense that the idea of Dublin as a tourist destination is not one that stretches back too many decades. The walk along the Liffey is narrow and very close to cars; it is not built for a leisurely stroll as are sections of the Thames through London, or the Taff through Cardiff, or the Mississippi through St. Paul, etc. I'm not really trying to make a statement in pointing this out, I just found it interesting.
A highlight of this walk came when I cut north toward the shopping areas and encountered three girls who were beyond the definition of white trash, beyond the definition of chav, and into some never-before-encountered territory of human filth. The leader of the crew was a foul-mouthed young woman who appeared to be 8 months pregnant. She wore a dirty pink track suit, the top of which could not cover her distended belly, making it more of a midriff top. She was, of course, smoking a cigarette. I considered taking a picture of her, but worried that the girls would somehow develop super-human-trash speed and come running across the street to pummel me.
I ate a late lunch at the Stag's Head which has been helping people get drunk since 1795. If a pub is about as old or older than the nation of my birth, I have an overwhelming desire to go there. After a bit more wandering I went back to the hotel and slept and read until the child bride showed up.
Rachel decided that she wanted "European" shoes, so we went shopping in Grafton Street for a short while, discovering that we are giants. Rachel was forced to look for shoes in the men's section, and I was told that several styles I was interested in didn't go up to my size. We gave up in frustration and ate dinner at Bewley's, then were back to our hotel in time to join a literary pub crawl.
The evening started off with the actors doing a quick scene from "Waiting For Godot," which isn't the sort of barn burner stuff I would use to try to really wow the crowd from the start, but Irish literary figures have hardly ever been Tony Orlando on the entertainment scale, so you work with what you're given.
More pictures from Dublin taken on March 23.