Monday, October 22, 2007

Babylon candles

I will not say Dublin was idyllic, it seems the wrong word for a city which the writers we most associate with it were desperate to flee on the grounds of its being impossibly provincial! But I had a most excellent trip, really very enjoyable in pretty much every particular.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I do not actually recommend the Royal Dublin Hotel, sordid might be an overstatement but dingy would not (definitely more on the hostel side of the hostel-hotel continuum), but it is undoubtedly very conveniently located and also exempted itself from all further criticism by allowing me to check in at 10am on Friday when I arrived and actually get a couple hours of sleep before going to the first conference event.

2. The Swift Symposium was excellent! No academic conference is magical, it is just not in the nature of the beast, but this stood out from the usual run of things, not least because it was being held in the Deanery at the Cathedral. (Not, it turned out, Swift's Deanery, which burned to the ground in 1782--but it's on the same spot, and it's a beautiful Georgian house, and the institutional function creates some kind of continuity...) Many highlights, including the chance to hang out with one of my two beloved dissertation directors, who had an excellent lecture on some questions that come up around Swift's desire to have his epitaph inscribed "in large Letters, deeply cut, and strongly gilded", the style of Swift's poetry and some twentieth-century sequels in Yeats and Eliot. (Some related discussions can be found here.)

(3. A digression, non-Dublin-related: I often have cause to reflect on my good fortune in dissertation advisors. It is a lucky thing even to have one great one, but I had two, and spending a bit of time with each of them recently has reminded me of their excellence and my gratitude. Here's something my other one's been doing recently.)

4. Denis Johnston's play about Swift, The Dreaming Dust, was staged in the cathedral by a group of young people whose enthusiasm perhaps counterbalanced the shortcomings of the material.

5. But then again I did not know that Swift and 'Stella' were disinterred not once but twice in the nineteenth century, and the second time the then Dean quite sensibly had them reinterred in concrete or some such so that nobody could mess around again with the bones. (Thus thwarting the notion that DNA testing might now be used to resolve for once and for all the 'hypothesis' that Johnston levels in his play--that Swift could not marry Stella because really he was the illegitimate son of Sir William Temple's father, and she was the illegitimate child of Sir William, and so it was INCEST--I may not have gotten this quite right--as an explanation, it does not suit the obligations of Occam's razor, there are a lot of other more obvious reasons why Swift might not have wanted to marry Stella, mostly just having to do with his own personality...)

6. It was exciting to meet the Dean of a Cathedral, I have met a lot of academic deans by now but it is not the same thing! And the most thrilling moment of the whole conference, I would have to say, in a non-intellectual way, was when the Dean welcomed us all and unwrapped Swift's very own pinchbeck snuffbox and passed it round so that we could each hold it in our hand as he must have--the Real Presence!

7. And I had an interesting conversation with a very pleasant woman who is the Rector of the Protestant church in Edgeworthstown, where there are all sorts of relics of the novelist Maria Edgeworth, a favorite of mine--I must get out there on another trip... And all sorts of other excellent literary conversations which it is not really appropriate to muse upon here.

8. Good food (though it also must be observed that Ireland is horrifyingly a nation of junk food, and I could only reflect that it is a pity I did not visit Dublin while I was still a smoker, because really cigarettes and beer and sweets and crisps are the things being consumed in huge quantities by everyone you seem to pass by on the street!): chicken stew at Chez Max, delicious Brazilian churrascaria at a restaurant whose name I cannot remember but which rather wonderfully caused my dissertation advisor to reflect on the charms of the caipirinha.

9. And an absolutely delicious Sunday lunch at Fallon & Byrne with my long-lost first cousin and her husband, who I last saw in 1999 and who have been living in Dublin for some years now.

10. As I have said, the food was delicious (I had a salad with rare tuna, delicious greens and a pomegranate vinaigrette), but it was especially delicious because on Sunday morning I did indeed get in my much desired longish run. Now I am going to rhapsodize! (Oh, the mundane details: 9.2 miles, average HR 142, average pace 10:00--I was really just toddling along, it was very enjoyable.) My most lovely discovery was that the parts of Dublin I was in are virtually idiot-proof for sense-of-directionless people! Because a river runs right through it. This is extremely good.

11. The run really was a high point, partly because I had to wait to have it till I was mostly done with work. I am too lazy to make a real online version at one of the run-mapping sites, but here is the map which shows how convenient this was: I was staying on O'Connell St, so I just ran west along the north side of the river to the Guinness brewery, then crossed a bridge and ran back east along the south side of the river out further than is shown in this map, and then back up and over. I had to do a second round out to the brewery again, and really wouldn't have minded going a bit further if it hadn't been (a) repetitive and (b) hunger-inducing (for about the only time this whole fall I was glad that I am not currently doing marathon training, mostly I have been having terrible pangs and longings for it, but really it was a good thing I was not trying to do twenty). Highlights: four very evil-looking swans hard by the Guinness set-up; a sign for the Smock Alley Theatre Studio that made me think longingly on evocative names of eighteenth-century places.

12. And then because really on Sunday evening there is nothing sensibly Dublinish to try and do (I did walk around the quad at Trinity College, but the museum with the Book of Kells was closed by the time I made it there from the cathedral), I spent the evening more or less guiltlessly consuming two magically enjoyable things: the latest installment of Naomi Novik's Temeraire books--it's called Empire of Ivory, which I think is almost the best yet, she is an outrageously gifted writer--I love these books!; and the Stardust movie, which I have been strongly wanting to see for months now but since I never see any movies it just was not happening--but it was playing at the theatre across the street from the hotel, which was perfect--how delightful... Naomi Novik's training was in English literature and computer science, and before she wrote novels she was developing and writing video games--I think more and more it will be that people are producing great stuff in multiple media, Neil Gaiman also has that talent for just making good things in lots of different modes, this is something I very much enjoy and admire.

13. And then, to top it all off (I know that in a busier-and-more-traveling possible next stage of my work life, I will finally have to give this up, but it has served me well all these years as a principle), my hard-and-fast "don't even try and do work on a plane because you will just stare into space and be bored, and will afterwards kick yourself for having carried around a heavy load of books and papers you didn't touch" rule came through wonderfully well for me today. (It is nicely complemented by the allure of those large-format paperback editions of new books that they sell in airport bookstores in the UK and Ireland.) I ignored the dire currency conversion rates and extravagantly bought Ian Rankin's Exit Music and Robert Harris's The Ghost and the flight passed in a flash, it was just the right amount of light reading...


  1. Sounds like a good trip! The idea of handling Swift's snuff box (which, now that I type it, sounds like a bad euphemism) is ridiculously thrilling.

    (By the way, I think The Ghost is what Stephen King was reading at Fenway Park when caught on camera during a recent Red Sox/Indians playoff game. He claimed to be reading only between innings, but that wasn't clear--I'm guessing the book is pretty gripping?)