Written on 10/10/10, delayed by technical difficulties.

I remember hearing Anthony Bourdain’s mantra, “be a traveler, not a tourist” and it’s become a bit of a koan for me over the years, an idea that I roll around like a stone, wondering all about it and knowing that I’ll never fully know what it means to myself let alone anyone else.  I think there is beauty in both ways of seeing the world, but in the final analysis I hope I come down on the side of the travelers – those who get into the day-to-day life of the culture visited, returning home knowing less in a way; or I guess, more accurately, knowing that they know less about the world than they thought they did when they left home.  And still having learned more.

Eric and I both slept rather badly on our first night back in Dublin; somehow we just couldn’t get comfortable amidst the smoke and urine smells emanating from our bed and carpet (Eric described the smell as very much like the inside of Grandma’s colostomy bag), the shower that would mysteriously turn on and off, the bad karaoke from downstairs in the hotel’s bar, the Tourette’s-inflicted drunken Irishman yelling down the street at 2am, or the even more drunken lead-booted tourists clomping in their room above our heads singing “Danny Boy” at 4am.  Caulfield’s Hotel was a real corker, all right – by far the seediest place we stayed, which is always more fun in hindsight for the stories you get to tell about it.

Still, we woke up ready to greet the day and hit the pavement (as much to get out of the hotel as to get into the city centre) and caught a quick breakfast before joining the 1916 Rebellion walking tour.   We missed it on our first stint in Dublin, so after nixing a day-tour to Newgrange due to dwindling funds, we were excited to learn more about the true turning point in Ireland’s fight for sovereignty and independence.

Lorcan Collins, our tour guide, greeted us with hearty slaps on the back and an invitation to join him in the basement of the International Bar on Wicklow Street.  The man must drink a gallon of coffee every morning, for his energy and enthusiasm – no, passion – for the events of that fateful Easter Monday in 1916 are contagious, gripping and wildly entertaining.  Lorcan co-wrote a book about the rebellion, and has been leading the tour for 14 years, so he knows his stuff; about twenty of us followed him around Dublin City Centre, hanging on his every word as he taught us about the seven men who proclaimed themselves the Provisional Government of the Republic of Ireland, stormed into the General Post Office (GPO) on an unseasonably warm Monday morning, barricaded themselves in and for six days held off the British forces who stormed them from every side, destroying much of O’Connell Street in the process.

Image courtesy of Sarah T. at Picasa.com.

Lorcan showed us the bulletholes in the GPO’s pillars and in the large statue of Daniel O’Connell himself, introducing us to fascinating characters along the way such as Countess Markeivicz, who commanded an auxiliary force of women and boys that took St. Stephen’s Green, dug trenches, and fought off the surrounding British from there as well – honoring cease fires twice a day so the park’s keeper could feed the ducks in the pond.

At the end of a valiant fight the rebels finally had to surrender, and it looked like the uprising would end with a fizzle – but the British made a grave mistake in rounding up hundreds of innocent people for questioning, and publicly executing 16 rebels, including the seven who had stormed the GPO.  The executions turned Irish popular opinion about the uprising on its head, and with their deaths the rebels achieved their purpose: to touch off a powder-keg of rage toward the Brits and rally the Irish people for the cause of independence.  Although Ireland wouldn’t gain sovereignty until several years later, the tide had turned and in the end the British had done it to themselves.

The tour was entirely fascinating and we couldn’t have imagined a better guide – in fact, neither of us has ever experienced a better tour; on a scale from 1 to 10 we rate it an 11 (it goes to 11, you know).  Too bad Lorcan had another tour, or we would have kidnapped him and plied him for stories for the rest of the day.

Instead we used the rest of the day to tie up loose ends including another walk through Temple Bar where we stumbled upon a farmer’s market in Rory Gallagher Square.

At the Goode Life Food Company’s stand we lunched on free-range County Wexford pork with herbed potatoes and onions – Eric’s with a side of garlic mayo and mine with a dollop of thyme-infused applesauce.

Hello, Delicious!  Our remaining daylight was spent picking up last-minute souvenirs, searching in vain for the sweater I loved but did not buy in Connemara (sad face), and packing our bags one last time.  And then, after our tourist day, we set off for a traveler evening.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Eric’s great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to California in the early 20th century, but I didn’t mention that Eric’s mother has a number of cousins still in Ireland.  We enjoyed dinner with two of them on our second night in Dublin, and last night fourteen members of the Lalor clan, all living in and around Dublin, gathered to spend an evening with Eric and me.  Over dinner and dessert we shared stories of our trip, heard sideways jokes about the truly tragic state of the economy here (did you know that the unemployment rate is nearing 25% here right now? we Americans haven’t seen that high a number since 1933), talked with the younger Lalors about The West Wing and The Wire and other box-set dramas that they love, discussed our tour and heard from the older Lalors about the hushed tones that used to accompany talk of the 1916 uprising – for before 1966 you didn’t want to be perceived as supporting Sinn Féin (even though Sinn Féin had nothing to do with that event).  It was a lovely evening with a lovely group of people.  At the end of the evening Joe, the last living male in this particular Lalor line, gifted Eric with a book about a historic crossing of the Atlantic in a leather rowboat from Ireland to North America, and me with a young reader’s history book in Irish!  How thoughtful and kind.  Eric and I look forward to coming back and spending more time with them.  As soon as possible!

(I can’t believe that we didn’t think to take a picture of all the Lalors together – what a missed opportunity.  But I promise you, they’re all pretty.)

Back at the ashtray – erm, hotel – we made final preparations and fell into bed, and slept surprisingly well considering the karaoke trainwreck happening beneath us.  This morning we awoke with the sun, threw our packs on our backs and hightailed it out of Caulfield’s, caught the bus to the airport and parted ways, as Eric’s flight leaves two hours before mine.

In a few hours I will hit American soil for the first time in two and a half months, and…I am trying to put into words how I expect that will feel.  I have had a truly life-changing experience which will likely unfurl its gifts to me over weeks, months and even years.  I have learned a lot about myself, and about the big, beautiful, wide wide world, and I am grateful to be coming home…I suspect I will appreciate home in a whole new way.

Enough of the “wander” for a while – now it’s time for the “nest”!

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