Local color

It’s easy to see how Dublin could seem drab sometimes, especially on wet days — gray buildings, gray skies, pale people in dark suits and school uniforms. As R’s native colleague S. put it, on fine days Dublin is glorious, but when it rains it sucks. This might be one reason why the city parks seemed so pleasing to us — they inject some color into the environment. We stayed just off the edge of St. Stephen’s Green, and every day joined the commuters walking past the beds of bright flowers.

Even lovelier and less trafficked is Merrion Square, where birds are numerous and vocal, and the shrubbery mercifully obscures the awful polychrome caricature of Oscar Wilde.

What we saw of public art in Dublin was generally distressing. Whose idea was that Wilde monument, or the Molly Malone statue, appropriately known as the Tart with the Cart? Then there are the Hags with the Bags — an official monument to shopping. We didn’t cross paths with the Prick with the Stick but couldn’t escape the Stiffy on the Liffey. At least that last one is abstract.

The coats of saturated color on top of the random architectural aggregation that is Dublin Castle also seem ill advised, but they do catch the eye.

Of course part of the pleasure of visiting older cities is seeing the layered residue of period styles. I think my favorite thing about the National Museum of Archaeology and History was the way prehistoric artifacts are displayed in front of leftover Victorian mantelpieces. (My least favorite thing: the bog bodies.)

Then at the National Gallery I came to understand that my lack of appreciation for Jack Yeats has a lot to do with color: his preferred palette and the way he applies it make me uncomfortable in a visceral way, and the discomfort doesn’t seem particularly interesting. Fortunately the NGI also has a Vermeer that you could stand in front of for an hour with no competition from other visitors, because like so many museums, the NGI seems to have almost no audience. (To be fair, this might be because most of the galleries are closed for renovation.) And it introduced us to Mainie Jellett, Ireland’s first serious abstractionist, whose works on view were happily not serious at all.

Also to be fair, I’ll admit that not everyone we saw in Dublin was wearing a dark suit or a school uniform. For instance, a group of schoolgirls boarding a bus on Leeson St. all had on screaming yellow T-shirts printed with the words I AM HIP HOP. Which reminded me of the time my Norwegian-American coworker bolted out of his chair and yelled “I AM Blaxploitation!” But I digress.


3 thoughts on “Local color

  1. A walkable urban park beats nature and city solid, solid as well-whipped cream. Possibly I became so fond of Dublin via St. Stephen’s G., Merrion S., and the Iveagh G., each distinct, all with varied vegetation, comfortably at-home birds, and well-behaved dogs, and certainly what I anticipate most from some future holiday is the Phoenix P.

    ‘Twas not ever thus, as Mr. George Moore disclosed in A Drama in Muslin:

    The weary, the woebegone, the threadbare streets — yes, threadbare conveys the moral idea of Dublin in 1882. Stephen’s Green, recently embellished by a wealthy nobleman with gravel walks, mounds and ponds, looked like a schooltreat set out for the entertainment of charity children. And melancholy Merrion Square! broken pavements, unpainted hall-doors, rusty area railings, meagre outside curs hidden almost out of sight in the deep gutters — how infinitely pitiful!

    • The pints with S. and J. were indeed fine, but let the record show that although we walked by the Ferryman, we took up with the Harbourmaster.

      The preceding stroll was good too — we probably wouldn’t have explored the Docklands otherwise. The Tube with the Cube . . . did the Calatrava bridge get a rhyming name? Must investigate.

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