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It’s 1:30 AM, and the light patter of Dublin rain spits against my window here in the university residence room where I sip Irish breakfast tea and fight the inner monster of procrastination.
Yes, I have much work to do. And I refuse to retire for the night before I make a substantial dent in that mountain of awaiting toil. But one of the better ways of simulating productivity while achieving nothing is to, you know, write a blog post.
This is my third entry in my travelogue of Ireland. I’m still in Dublin, though that will change in two days. And slowly, reluctantly, I find my old self returning; that self that I so miss, the solo traveler, the lonely writer. Lost in the noise of career, relationships, love, and social media, he had been missed. What it took to find him again was significant time alone in silence, with perhaps a hint of the odour of Irish poetic sentiment, the flavour which beckoned from hiding so many impressive young writers.
The highlight of today was an unplanned visit to Marsh’s Library on St Patrick’s Close. I believe it is the oldest library in the country that still functions as a library. Created in the time of the Enlightenment, that period that so speaks to my personal values, the library is home to 25,000 “rare and fascinating books”, as its website attests.
But what drew me thither on this day was a special exhibit. It seems that in the early 1800s, the library experienced a few thefts of its books. So it instituted a new policy of sign-outs. All scholars wishing to review a book must present a letter of recommendation from a sponsoring professor. Then, they must sign their name and the titles of the desired books to the register, whereupon the scholars would be permitted to take said books to a cage in which both scholar and tome would be locked for the duration of the consultation.
Here is the one photo I was permitted to take of the place, showing one such caged alcove:
What was discovered in the library’s lengthy sign-out register were a handful of occurrences of visits by an 18 year old Irishman named Abraham Stoker, who would one day go by the name Bram. Of course, 31 years later, Bram Stoker would pen Dracula.
“Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings,” he wrote in his most famous work. It’s the sort of thing that would fuel many generations of depressed goths.
I found the exhibit moving in its simplicity. Stoker’s signatures were shown, as were the actual books that he consulted on those 5 or 6 visits. If I recall correctly, they included the original travelogues of Sir Francis Drake, a compendium of European maps that included Transylvania, Chaucer, Spenser, various historic pamphlets describing religious tensions, and a sample of intentionally bad poetry. Apparently Stoker was a great devotee of Walt Whitman, but –like so many fashionable young literati of Stoker’s time– was amused by the existence of published bad poetry.
I struggle to understand why I found this exhibit so moving. On a personal note, I’m going through something of an existential crisis of my own, as I’ve not been able to finish writing any new fiction in some time. When I was Stoker’s age at the time of his visits to Marsh’s library, I was similarly beset with a thirst to write that could not be easily slaked. I would travel with notepads and books, not laptops and headphones. I would write on the subway, in bed, in the morning and the evening. I would jump off my bicycle in mid-commute, just to jot down a thought that I would later incorporate into a story. I even lost a job once for writing too much when I should have been, you know, working. I wrote volumes upon volumes, and only published a fraction of what I produced. In my teens and twenties, I could easily write a whole book in a week.
And yet in recent years my own words have begun to bore me. I started writing a new novel last year and was quite pleased with its content, but not with its voice. Three chapters in, and it sits untouched now for eight months.
To walk in Stoker’s young steps was a reminder of that feeling of unlimited communicative power. The librarian was amused by the toothy grin that almost consumed my entire face. It was a bit of a revelation: Stoker had read poetry to prepare himself for Dracula. Stoker had read history to prepare himself for Dracula. Stoker had read the classics in their original form, Chaucer and Spenser in their early editions, as they had intended themselves to be read.
In this era of Amazon self-publishers and graphic novel faux-literature, it was meaningful to be reminded of the deep heritage of our craft, that the best writing is intellectual and scholarly and bloody hard work.
I don’t know why, but it made me smile for the rest of the day.
Stoker also wrote, “No one but a woman can help a man when he is in trouble of the heart.” So while I could not photograph the exhibit, visitors were permitted to use the feather quill and ink station to write something upon a bookmark. So I wrote a special message for the Blonde Girl, which was promptly smeared by my poor inkmanship.
What else happened today? Well, I saw Batman:
I continued to subsist solely on vegan Indian food:
That particular savoury dish was procured at a daily outdoor food fair, frequented by the armies of office workers in the downtown core:
I also took a visit to Christ Church Cathedral, which was founded in the early 11th century by the Viking king Sitric. It’s a true marvel. Here is a photo of the baptismal, with a picture of St Patrick on the stained glass just beyond:
The church was the site of much of my favourite TV bodice-ripper, The Tudors. In fact, in the crypt is kept some of the show’s props and costumes:
It’s also where the heart of St Lawrence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin, resides:
Of course, St Lawrence is not to be confused with St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland in toto. St Lawrence’s reliquary was actually stolen in 2012, but recovered in 2018. Apparently the thieves thought it was cursed.
Well, I guess I should attempt to do that work to which I alluded. I will leave you with this very short anecdote. After I got my Indian takeout for the night (and every night!) I retired to my residence room with a bottle of low-alcohol cider. But I did not have a bottle opener! I searched my room: nada. I searched the residence kitchen: nada. So I did the responsible thing and went to the reception to ask everyone there if they had a bottle opener. Everyone was flummoxed.
What? This is Ireland, land of the perpetual drunkenness! Even Family Guy knows that!
Anyway, I had to go to the garden, find a gate, and force open my bottle. I’m sure the guys manning the CCTV found that amusing.
Hey, Ireland! You have to up your drinking game. You hear me?