Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When Sixty Miles is a World Away

We're just back from Dublin, and what a breath of fresh air it was. The first thing that struck me was how friendly the people were, which was a refreshing change of pace from the state of affairs here in London. And not only were they friendly, but they also appeared to be quite a happy lot, as opposed to the beaten-down, defeated air of their English counterparts. It really makes me wonder what's being pumped into the River Liffey and if there's any chance of that substance being made available for export into the Thames.

With such a narrow distance separating the two countries and the same depressingly overcast weather system shared by both, one has to wonder how the inhabitants on one side of the Irish Sea--separated by a mere 60 miles--ended up being so good-natured and the other being so full of sour grapes. After all, it's not like the Irish haven't endured more than their fair share of hardships, so one can't attribute the difference to a carefree history. Whatever the explanation, now it all makes sense to me why, whenever I inadvertently refer to an Irish person as part of the "English" or even "British" collective, they are so quick to (nicely) point out, as many times as is necessary, that they are actually Irish.

The other surprising thing about Dublin was, despite the country's long-standing reputation for alcoholism and drunkenness (as well as the purported fact that there's a pub for every 300 members of the population), in actuality this is a nation of veritable teetotalers compared to England. During our evenings out, we saw only one excessively drunk person, and he was sitting in a corner by himself singing. In fact, they seem to do quite a bit of singing in the pubs there, which went a long way towards explaining away my recent surprise that Ireland was nowhere to be found in the recent U.N. study citing Scotland and England as the most violent countries in the developed world. It seems that thankfully, the vocal chords are mightier than the switchblade in Ireland.

Despite their comparative culture of moderation, nonetheless there are still hidden libational hazards for the tourist caught with guard down in a town comprised of so many fine pubs. I experienced this firsthand at the Literary Pub Crawl we attended Sunday night, which despite its seeming intellectual component, in retrospect appeared to have a secondary agenda of lining the pockets of the many publicans along our journey. I wish I could say my contributions were small and that I was the sole remaining holdout who maintained a modicum of sobriety, but alas, that would be dishonesty of a grand scale.

I blame it all on the Guinness. Or more specifically, on the four (or was it five?) pints of it that were gulped down in quick succession along the tour's many informative stops. Despite it's lower caloric and alcoholic content than most beers (a perversity given its heavy constitution), it packed a heady punch for the uninitiated such as myself.

Admittedly, I felt rather free to imbibe after learning that afternoon at the Guinness Brewery exhibit that in bygone years, among its other purported cure-all abilities, stout was billed as a natural sleep aid. Thrilled at the prospect that a pint (or four) might prove to be an antidote for my ever-present insomnia, I allowed myself to indulge in the name of medicinal experimentation. And while I did sleep like a baby that night, the sizeable black-and-blue bump on my nose from running into the bathroom door in the middle of the night may not have been worth those restorative zzz's.

In any case, Guinness-induced injuries notwithstanding, we can't wait to plan our next trip back to Ireland and explore other parts of this great country, whose motto, "There's Something of Ireland in All of Us" should be well-heeded by the British.