Guinness, Part 1
First class is filled with bottomless booze, top notch cuisine, and endless movie selections, both foreign and domestic. God bless and God damn my company for paying for this unnecessary luxury. A mild-mannered passenger is better off not knowing what lies beyond the curtain.
I land in Dublin with a buzz going. The line for customs moves at a slog but the airport is full of light. A check of the clock confirms that I should have probably spent the red-eye sleeping. Back home is drowning in dark.
My cab driver remarks several times on the way to the hotel that the Irish have “shit weather.” Near every day brings rain, the wind is high. His complaints fall on deaf ears, however. I’m looking out the rear window at clouds unlike any I’ve seen, literally mountains upon mountains up there, rushing to cover the island.
The hotel is a new construction on the eastern edge of the city, an area replete with development. Cranes rise by the dozen like some futuristic / prehistoric species. Doomsday antennae that they are, my driver gets turned around by new street closures and curses in colorful slang. When, at last, we arrive, I step into the hotel lobby and am greeted by a stories-high mural of Bono. His baritone vocals or emotional output or political what-have-you are depicted in black and green splatter. Quite the performer, quite the representation.
During check-in, I discover my phone isn’t functioning internationally. I pull Conor’s contact info and retreat to the courtesy phone, stumbling over country codes. His answer brings with it a wall of sound. It takes a minute before he believes that it’s me calling and hastily tells me to meet him at a pub, hanging up without further instructions.
I drop my baggage upstairs. My room is white-walled and white-furnitured, a shallow breath of recycled air that requires a key card to be inserted for the lights to turn on. This discovery takes more time than I care to admit. I yawn the first of many yawns. Returning to the front desk, I get directions to the Thirsty Scholar.
Any preconceptions I might have had about the Irish accent are hastily debunked. Certainly, there’s a measure of music shared between the cab driver, the hotel clerks, and those on whom I eavesdrop while strolling along the Liffey, but no cartoon could render their differences justice. Some voices are dominated by flat a’s like the surface of a slow river. Others deliver each word as though bouncing a balloon in the air before it can drift to the ground. Damn the cliché and damn any attempts at categorization. The Irish cast a spell over the English language, coloring vowels in unexpected hues and building upon consonants like they’re the cornerstones of a new civilization. British be forgiven, this is how the language was intended to be spoken.
I pull my jacket closed as a thick rain starts to fall. The riverfront empties of locals — only foreigners seem to carry umbrellas — and I continue walking, exposed to the elements. Perhaps it’s my hunger for poetry, perhaps it’s the lack of sleep, but the cold water dripping through my hair and over my face only serves to warm me. There’s a lift in my step. I feel liable to leap and dash through the storm.
The Thirsty Scholar is an ageless dark wooden cavern, the type of place where one could happily lose a few hours. Its long front room spills into more rooms beyond. I pause at the bar and order my first locally poured Guinness. The reputation holds true — it’s the much more attractive cousin of what we have in the States. Dark, bitter, and creamy yet light and sweet as chocolate. Nectar of the Gods, as poured on Mount Olympus. We mortals are blessed to imbibe.
“Always got a shit-eating grin on your face,” asks the bartender, glint in his eye, “or solely when yer soaked to the bone?”
I raise my pint by way of reply. He towels out a glass. I stalk through the adjoining rooms, checking the faces of my fellow mid-morning drinkers. Students, parents, workers, tourists. Everyone’s in on the agreement and no one’s overtly drunk.
Oil paintings and newspaper clippings and mounted placards with wry witticisms. Conor is nowhere to be found.
“Hey,” I say, getting the bartender’s attention. “This is the Thirsty Scholar, right?”
“Were you looking for the Lost City of Atlantis?”
“Is that another bar?”
“No,” he says, “but at least there you’ll find others as drenched as you are.”
“You got me,” I say. “I’m wet.”
“Wet? You’re dripping on me floor.”
“I’m looking for someone. Irish, goes by the name of Conor?”
He resumes toweling. “More than one Conor in this country, I’m afraid, and generally they don’t wear badges.”
“He said to meet him here.”
“Sure it was this Thirsty Scholar?”
I ask, “There’s more than one?”
The bartender says, “Four or five. Pints speed along the learning process.”
I glance out the front windows, the storm’s still going. “Are the others close by?”
“Two are, more or less. Others farther out.” He finishes one glass and starts on another. “Got Google Maps on yeh?”
My phone’s worthless.
“Well, you can take down on that napkin so long as you don’t blot.”
I transcribe his vague-at-best directions to two Thirsty Scholars. One’s west of where we are, the other’s back across the Liffey.
“City Centre’s the more likely,” he says, “but north’s closer.”
As luck would have it, the rain’s quiet by the time I’ve finished my Guinness. The sky’s legendary — clouds that make life-changing realizations seem imminent.
The Irish, for all their literary prowess, opt not to waste words on street signs. One has to search the sides of buildings for small plaques pointing the way. More often than not, there’s nothing, but throughout my journey I’m guided by thoughtful locals who manifest from thin air each time I pause to orient myself.
Conor is not at the next pub I try — but Guinness is. I slide onto a stool and breathe, rather than sip, this unfathomable elixir. I’ve been in this country all of two hours and I’m already contemplating a move.
Gingerly weaving toward City Centre, it occurs to me that I could be stressed at a time like this. Normally, I would be stressed at a time like this. New boss demands a day-early arrival and summons me the moment I’ve landed? And yet, it’s never so much as occurred to me to rush.
[To be continued]