Spirit of Dublin
My son, Paul, was read the most imaginative children's stories by his mother till her untimely death, but he never developed a love for the written word until he was around nineteen, and now several years later I had sent him to Dublin, the story weaving paradise of the world, not to forget the myth making Greeks, tale telling Italians, and short story forming Americans, but to experience Irish literary epiphanies designed over the last millennium, knowing that his desire to examine familial roots could not be the same for someone as one who now belongs to the older generation, his youthful ways being his gift and my age wise in an imperfect way.
Paul and Nicola were the first to land in Dublin, so they took advantage of some private moments before their family reunion after checking in at the Gresham Hotel. The following morning after some further variations of their sexual play, Paul decided to do some work on his father's assignment about his family roots. Nicola wanted to lounge in bed, maybe take a leisurely bath, and then send a postcard to her mother.
When Paul returned in the early afternoon, he found Nicola seated at a café table in the lobby having some tea. "Hey, Nicola!" They both kissed and Paul sat beside her. "You won't believe this, but I went to all these official buildings where they keep the records, even St. Patrick's Church, and there's no evidence that my great-grandmother was born or ever lived in Dublin. Weird isn't it?"
"Paolo, sometimes people make up where they came from. I'll bet you if you asked a Sicilian in America where he was born, he would say Palermo. It's easier that way."
"You're probably right. Won't Dad be surprised!"
That evening they dined at an Indian restaurant near St. Stephen's Green and managed to hit a few pubs, losing their way back to the hotel, finally crawling into bed.
The next couple of days they did all the things that any tourist would be expected to do, but their most enchanting experience began at the James Joyce Center across the street. When it came to tracing the steps of Leopold Bloom, on his twenty four hour journey through the streets of Dublin, Paul felt a gravitational pull not only to the novel that he had read at twenty, in which his reading was more deliberate than any book before, but for some inexplicable interest in the ghost of Joyce who still haunted this city in myriad ways.
This tour did not include the Martello Tower and Glasnevin Cemetery, which Paul preferred anyway to see on his own without a guide, but they would manage to hit all the important spots within the city proper. About midway through the tour his divining rod-like thoughts moved to other Joyce stories and focused his mental wandering on one particular ending, the guide's voice reduced to the city background noise.
Paul felt a tug on his arm. "Come on, Paul. We're heading for Davey Byrne's public house."
"Yeah, sure. Let's catch up."
They entered the pub, which looked handsome enough, but somehow not at all what Paul imagined from the novel, except for the gorgonzola and Burgundy special. Nicola was impressed that it was an Italian cheese. Paul and Nicola were sitting close to the bar and one of the less affluent patrons, an odd leftover charmer from the pub's former self who interjected himself into their private conversation, "Do I hear an American speakin?"
After introductions Seamus asked if they wanted the inside story of Dublin and if they didn't mind providing some Guinness, what with himself running out of money so early in the day. They couldn't resist and besides the other patrons, mostly Irish yuppies, wouldn't be that interested in a couple of tourists. Seamus embellished stories about Dublin's past and present for an hour straight with the requisite, intermittent refills for such a task, including the impact of the current crane activity in the city center.
"As I was telling ya, Dublin is a great place. C'mon, let's go another round. Waiter! I get extremely hoarse in the throat, ya know, what with all my flappin about. And I don't have to tell you, Ireland's greatly changed since Frank McCourt was livin in Cork. Anyway, now which story was I telling ya before, I sometimes get confused what with my age. Oh, did ya hear what happened to that poor colored man all the way from Africa, who was just mindin his own business."
Paul finally spoke, No, what happened?"
"Tese Dublin hooligans, as strong as giants, gave him a good beatin over notin and no one even helped him. Poor bastard! But you got your race troubles in America, so you know what I'm talkin about."
At that moment the tour guide was motioning to everyone that it was time to leave and Paul paid the bill. They all shook hands vigorously and he put a few more Irish pounds in Seamus' pocket just in case his voice got hoarse again.
The next stop was the National Library, which they both found impressive. After the tour some time was set aside to browse around the collection, and then they would all gather outside the entrance. Paul thought he would give this roots business one more chance. He approached the reference area and sitting at the desk was a librarian, who looked something like Meryl Streep, which made Paul a little self-conscious.
"Excuse me, Miss, but I've been between a rock and hard place, and I can't figure out what part of Ireland my great-grandmother came from. She always said she was from Dublin."
"Did you visit the General Register Office on Lombard Street?"
"Yeah, in fact they sent me to some other places, but I didn't find out anything."
"I have a reference book that has all the typical surnames of Ireland by county.
"What's her name?"
She turned around, pulled out a cracked, Venetian leather bound volume, and checked the index. After a few minutes she said, "I think we've got it. It's a name taken from the most powerful family in the old Kingdom of Tirconnel."
"Why Donegal! I'll bet you she's from that part of the country."
"Thanks ever so much. May I say you've got to be the prettiest librarian I have ever seen."
"C'mon, I'll bet you said that to the beautiful girl over by the magazines that you've been standing with the whole time." She smiled at him and added, "I'm very observant, you know." Shaking his hand, she concluded the interview, "Good luck on your search for your great-grandmother!"
"Yeah, thanks again."
Paul walked over to Nicola, who was looking at some magazines but in hearing distance to the reference desk, and said, "That lady over at the desk solved a family mystery."
She responded with a pat on his face, "I'll bet!"
They went back to the Gresham for an afternoon tea when the tour was over. As they were munching on some hot scones, Paul mentioned, "You know I'd really like to visit the cemetery in Joyce's book now."
"Isn't it getting late? Why don't we just go up to the room?"
"I don't know. It's something I feel compelled to do. We can both go to Martello Tower tomorrow. I read that they made it into a wonderful museum dedicated to Joyce."
"Okay, but don't stay out late. I'll wait for supper till you get back."
Paul got up, kissed her, and while leaving said, "Ciao!"
Nicola raised her voice, "Get back before it gets dark. Ciao."
Paul hopped on Bus 40, which headed out to a northwest suburb of Dublin. His thoughts traversed the activities of the past 24 hours and as he got closer to Glasnevin Cemetery, he reflexively thought of his mother, 'dead and gone' as the Irish would say. When he got off the bus, he found his way to the entrance that directly led to the O'Connell Tower and as he passed through the gates he greeted the caretaker who was sitting on a porch with a British Blue at his feet, whose tail swayed in dragon fashion as Paul picked up a detailed map of the cemetery. The caretaker tipped his hat as Paul ventured onto the grounds, observing the gravesites of celebrated Irish Nationalists, Republicans, and writers.
Paul spent hours locating and reading the inscriptions on the tombstones and monuments, bedecked with harps, shamrocks, and Celtic crosses. After trekking miles and miles, even with a map in hand, he became disoriented when the darkness suddenly surrounded him. There were some ominous watchtowers that seemed to peek through the weaving mist of the night and that no matter where he moved, these sentinels of the graveyard kept their stone-eyed watch on his movements. Exhausted, Paul plopped on a stone bench that was held forever by tiny, jewel-like stones that were mixed in to preserve longevity. The whiteness of the tombstones was framed by the blackness of the sky that had yet to release its white stars.
It was at this moment in time that he imagined his mother coming to him in the distance, appearing to him as she was prone to do when he used to rock on his wooden horse. He couldn't figure out if somehow she was truly trying to reach out to him, or that it was this just an imaginary hologram transported from his childhood fantasies. Either way he was glad to at least see her once more, getting up and extending his hands to the darkness. This melancholic vision of his mother holding a copy of the children's book, which he envisioned as Goodnight Moon, judging by the cover with its distinctive colors of yellow-green and red with yellow lettering, lasted as fast as one swipe of the cat's tail, and she left him facing only the white monuments of the dead.
He felt the blood rushing to his temples and then proceeded to lie on the slab seat, waiting for the stars to break through. Grey whimsical clouds formed over his body and he feel into an unintended slumber. The blue-grey cat, who had been watching him the whole time, crouched under a bush, stealthily approached Paul. He rubbed Paul's hanging arm several times, leaving his scent and jumped onto the bench and lay on his chest. While Paul remained very still, the cat remained motionless with a subtle purr. Later, when the stars broke through the clouds, the cat quickly jumped off and disappeared into the night.
Paul's dreams transported him to the island of Ischia, where he searched the hills, the beach, and the dining room of a miniature scale hotel, with no trace of his mother, out on the veranda with on old Italian gentleman holding his hand as their vision floated over the choppy waves all the way to the still horizon line.
Within the hour the caretaker was shaking Paul's shoulder, "Young man, the cemetery's closed!" With that Paul composed himself and followed the caretaker out to the entrance. He went over to pet the cat, but the he disappeared into the bushes before Paul got too close. He sensed that the cat's eyes followed him all the way across the street from the exit.
The bus ride back was filled with college age Dubliners who seemed giddy about their excursion to city center. Paul felt out of place and time, his not being single any more nor free from ruminating about his cemetery visit.
Paul entered the hotel room to find Nicola gazing out the window, her eyes swollen. She ran to him and they embraced.
"Madonna! Where were you?"
"I fell asleep in the cemetery." She could tell that Paul was not going to elaborate any further, and even if he did, it would evolve into some kind of story. She felt that some things were best kept private, even from one's spouse.
Changing the subject Nicola said, "Are you hungry?"
"No, I'm fine. E tu?"
"Niente!" Trying to brighten things up she cheerfully added, "Marco and Fiona called a short while ago. They're are meeting us tomorrow."
"Good, we can all go together to the Joyce Museum."
She patted him on the face and responded, "You and your James Joyce! It's like you have some fixation with famous dead people."
"And some not so famous."
Paul's eyes appeared empty to her and she pleaded, "Come to bed will you, I've been waiting very long."
He stiffly replied, "Yeah." He shook his head in reflection. "Yeah, I've been very distant tonight."
Extending her hand, which he held, Nicola simply said, "Yes."
Knowing that his brother and girlfriend would be arriving, they were all likely to linger longer in Dublin before journeying to Donegal. One change not apparent to Paul yet would be that his mother's haunting spirit had floated away forever that night, and Nicola would fill the void, which his mother would have wanted for him. He would no longer ride the wooden horse that had remained fixed in his imagination. She had released Paul to travel beyond the mist.
During the remaining time in Dublin Marco, Fiona, and especially Nicola helped to distance Paul from his Glasnevin experience, but being physically present in the land of storytellers, the ghosts of other literary Dubliners would wittily find their way into his evening dreams.
I have had a number of poems published in small, literary magazines. I won 1st prize in a poetry contest with New York City as its theme. I have been reading my poetry and fiction at the Cornelia St. Cafe (West Village, NYC), which is sponsored by IAWA (Italian American Writers Association). I recently completed a novella, MEDITERRANEAN AND CELTIC ISLES, comprising 12 interconnected tales that are informed by my family and travels. This tale, "Spirit of Dublin" is the eleventh tale in the series.