We’re in the Swan Bar, just off Aungier Street. After Hogan’s – a slick bar not far from Grafton Street – the Swan is restful. When we came in, a regular asked where we’re from (“United States.” “Yeah, well we figured that.”) and how long we’re staying in Dublin. He says, “If you like it, tell all your friends. If you don’t, keep your mouth shut.” Words from an Irishman motivated by a recession? Or perhaps rather by pints of Beamish?
The bar itself is great – wood paneling, mirrors, framed jerseys, photos and calendars tacked up around the cash register. I scan the Irish Daily News – a total piece of trash – and sip my Smithwick, glancing up to the TV occasionally. A sign above the register proclaims, “Colour TV here mid-week.” Well it’s mid-week and it’s definitely color. This is my first exposure to late night Irish television. It’s raunchy and fun and the gentlemen next to me – in their 60’s and deep into their Beamish & Guinness – are fixated, laughing at the buxom celebrity guest star.
The sexagenarians exclaim, “3.40! For a pint of Beamish!” Hate to tell them, but the price seems pretty good to me, after having lived in Paris. I’ve left the paper open to the sports pages and we try to make sense of the rugby statistics. The bartender closes the blinds – must be closing time – but he makes no movement to shoo us out and he leans over the bar to help a regular with his crossword puzzle, affectionately calling him an old asshole. The Irishmen are getting more clever with each pint (“We’re American.” “Yeah, well we all have our problems!”) but we lack the same alcohol tolerance and, as we begin to mix up our colloquialisms, we decide it’s time to go home.
The English guy behind the hostel desk shakes his head: “You’ve asked the wrong guy.” I’m looking for a 3 mile run in Dublin. He pulls out a city map and we bend over it, almost knocking heads. He traces a few routes, trying to estimate the distance, and I set off. It’s cold outside –-- somewhere in the 30s –-- and I’m amped up by the chill and the city lights.
I run for probably five minutes without taking a proper breath. I’m now at the Grand Canal and, after several days of wandering around Trinity College and Grafton Street, it’s refreshing --- the canal is pretty and quiet. I follow the riverbank for a few minutes, but, when the crowds start to thin out, I swing left, due north.
And I get myself spectacularly lost. I head past a tiny square, now locked for the night. I love Dublin’s green spaces, always to be found at the most unexpected times. Is this Fitzwilliam Square? I’m weaving through small residential streets, still lost and headed east-ish now, but I pick up a boulevard and I figure I’m okay. I pass the Shelbourne Hotel, a Dublin institution all lit up, patrons and cocktails visible through the windows, and I arrive at the iron gates of St. Stephen’s Green.
I’ve got my bearings, which, in itself, is an amazing thing. Dublin is mine. I zip up Grafton Street: I’m running fast, faster than I meant to, faster than I should be, almost an all-out sprint. I find my way back to the hostel and, as I blast through the cloud of cigarette smoke and French teenagers at the front door, the guy manning the desk instinctively looks up and gives me a thumbs-up. Breathing hard, I nod quickly. Yeah, it was good.