"A Good Odour to Breathe": Notes On Discovering Dublin

I think I expected more green.

I mean, I didn’t really think there’d be leprechauns and rainbows and pots of gold everywhere. I probably should have expected the drinking. My, how the Irish drink. Roaming the streets in the bright 5:00 PM daylight, I found myself tiptoeing around masses of flesh passed out on the corner, reeking of whiskey or beer. Jolly laughs echoed from across the way – I couldn’t tell which of the 500 pubs it was coming from exactly – and every so often, the sound of glass breaking, followed by the telltale bellows before a bar fight.

I am to move to Dublin in December 2015, so this trip was meant as both my introduction to the city, and to decide if I could make it my home. So I did some research.

In the 9th century, Dublin was founded by the vikings and named the “Norse Kingdom of Dublin”. Bram Stoker, author of “Dracula”, was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, and is said to have been inspired by the dark history and architecture of the city. And, according to a recent population census, approximately 50% of Dublin’s population is under the age of 25.

It was a remarkable city, to be sure. I had romantic expectations of cold, rainy July afternoons in an old, red brick pub, sitting next to a fire with a short glass of Jameson, discussing the finer works of George Bernard Shaw. But unsurprisingly, my imagination was miles off course.

For one, it was sunny. In ten days in Ireland, I didn’t see one drop of rain. Now the locals will tell me that it was remarkable – “You came on just the right week.” It was warm. 28 degrees celsius – or hellfire to the Irish.

The architecture wasn’t at all Dracula-esque. On the way to St. Stephen’s Green – one of Dublin’s most famous parks – I turned to my Irish friend. “Everything looks like Berlin!” I said. He looked around at the brick houses, paved streets, and plentiful greenery.

“Does it really?” he asked skeptically. I mean, I was only in Berlin for two days. But yeah, it could have been Berlin. Or maybe Prague. Or maybe I was getting my European cities mixed up.

Dublin was the furthest North I had been, and television has taught me to expect tall, redheaded, broad-shouldered men who can throw back beer like it’s water. But there weren’t that many redheads. There weren’t people dressed in green playing the flute, and I didn’t see any boars roasting in a hearth.

Strangely enough, the most enjoyable parts of my stay in Dublin weren’t Irish. I asked a friend in Dublin for recommendations and she sent me to Bernard Shaw, an underground Italian restaurant with an outdoor beer garden. “You should get the panini,” the genial Italian hostess said, handing us a menu. I looked down at the clipboard and before I could finish looking through the salads, “So. Panini, yes?” Yes, I told her. Why not. Even now, I can recall the pure bliss I felt taking that first bite of the crispy, buttered bread.

And then there was Hacienda, a hidden Spanish-themed bar with a pool table and a bartender named Shay.

Shay is a 60-something year old Irishman with a fear of traveling and a strange fascination with Rod Stewart. “Beirut?” he exclaimed to me, when I said where I was from. “So is there still war there?” Nah, I replied. No more troublesome than you want it to be. Twenty minutes later, a conversation with my friend about the beauty of the whiskey/ginger combination was cut short by Shay reappearing with massive globe depicting what appeared to be Pangaea. “Can you show me where Beirut is?” he said. I pointed to the general area and he nodded thoughtfully. “Yep,” he said. “Never going there. Don’t want to die just yet.” He wandered back behind the bar and out of sight, behind the tall plants he had strategically placed to shield him from onlookers.

We stayed till closing time – an incredibly early 1:00 AM – and Shay graciously showed us out. Before I left, he handed me his business card with a wild grin on his face. “Flip it over,” he told me. I looked down and turned the card and immediately burst into laughter. It was a picture of Shay, dressed as Rod Stewart – he even managed the blonde mullet and striped tie – and looking just a little bit too proud of himself.

In that moment, I decided that I could be happy in Dublin. Though the famous Irish capital is now laden with university students discovering Guinness and perhaps more foreigners than Irish natives, it was also home to some of the greatest minds in history. It currently houses the oldest book in the world – the Book of Kells – and every which way you turn, there’s another gem to be found. Like in the Italian restaurant with the best paninis and friendliest staff in the city, or in Shay, who’s fear of traveling doesn’t stop him from finding wonder in foreign stories.

After the torrid whirlwind of living in Beirut for seven years, Dublin seems like a breath of fresh air. And, in the words of the famous Irish author James Joyce, “[Dublin smells of] horse piss and rotted straw. It is a good odour to breathe. It will calm my heart. My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.”

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.

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About The Author

Kanzi Kamel

Kanzi Kamel

Kanzi is an American-Egyptian writer, baker and adventurer living in Salzburg. She spent the last seven years of her work and studies in Lebanon, where she graduated with a BA in Media and Communications from the American University of Beirut, and worked as an Editor and Project Coordinator at Keeward. She is currently acting librarian of the Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, and the European Ambassador of Bookwitty.

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