It’s three p.m. on a Thursday in St. Stephen’s Green and it’s sunny – so ridiculously sunny for Dublin that everyone’s out and everyone’s in shirtsleeves and everyone’s on the grass and someone, some bold someone, is smoking pot; it floats on by in a sour whiff and Em and I remark on the absolute cheek. None for us, though – dammit – and there are tulips bursting all over the green – red and purple and yellow – and even if we felt like it, it’s too lovely out to move. No swans out, but loads of seagulls and pigeons. Dunnes shopping bags and a sack half-full of a traditional steak Hanley’s cornish pasty; comfort on my tongue. Em reads over her term paper. The sun shines right on my face – here. In Dublin. I still can’t believe it. I roll over on the grass. I have a little nap.
It’s five p.m. on Grafton Street and the sandman is nowhere to be found. But you’ve got your kids and their guitars. You’ve got your bright gerberas and roses in a bunch. You’ve got your winding side streets leading you away from the fray. You’ve got your men dressed up as leprechauns next to the mobbed Molly Malone statue. The tart with the cart. The trollop with the scallops. The dish with the fish. At the top of Grafton Street or at the bottom; a year and a half; still haven’t figured it out.
It’s 9 p.m. at Kennedy’s and we’re there for old time’s sake, still high on the day’s graduation ceremony – all in Latin, apart from the names, and so concise as to be, dare we say, convenient. The pictures on Parliament Square and heavy black master’s robes that don’t close in front, but merely hang, suspended from yellow and white mantles. In Ireland, it’s traditional only for the women to wear caps – years ago, secondary school graduation symbolized the “cap” to the woman’s education. I shouldn’t wear the cap, I guess, but I do because I’m American and there are no limits for our women – huzzah! Now, there’s a giant leg of cod in front of me, and a giant pint of Guinness though I asked for only a glass. If you finish that fish, say my former classmates, We’ll be very very very impressed. So of course I try my best to finish it; get about 3/4 through before I have to admit defeat. And I would have done it, too, if it hadn’t been for those mushy peas.
It’s 2 a.m. in City Centre and we’re at The Globe, stuffed on fried fish and each step sloshing with Guinness and wine. Untiss untiss untiss. Untiss untiss untiss. An Irishman twirls me around, improbably, during a song with a heavy bassline, and when he’s through, kisses my hand passionately – as has only ever happened to me in Dublin, and only ever when I’ve hung out with Em. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough and then another man grabs me – this time, German – and we twirl around; he’s not half-bad. Someone dropped a glass upstairs and my high-heeled boots still crunch each time I take a step. Em and a classmate’s sister do jager bombs; I watch in awe because for me, a jager bomb would be the equivalent of cyanide. But they do it. They survive. They live to tell the tale.
It’s 3:30 a.m. at Eskander’s in Temple Bar and we’re sharing chicken doner specials. Am I drunk? I don’t think so, but looking down at the chicken doner I feel a bit sick, but not much, but a little, but not much. We’ve been to Kennedy’s and The Ginger Man and The Globe and tried to go to Legg’s but Legg’s was closed and so was some other place we went to but I forgot which place it was, and now looking into the chicken doner I realize that I’ve got to head back to the hotel to see my family off. Am I drunk? I can’t tell, but I arrive and my father says: You look like you have a little antifreeze in your blood so I guess there’s your answer.
It’s afternoon again and, again, I’m in St. Stephen’s Green with Em and a friend of hers – another writer, South African, who’s fantastically beautiful and dating a well-regarded Irish crime author. E graduated this week, offers Em, and they ask me what I write. I tell them: Fiction. Short stories, essays, travel writing. I’m on the third draft of my novel. And we talk about how the reason that first novels are often amazing is because they took 10 years to write and subsequent novels can be shit because the author was forced to write them in six months to capitalize on their new fame, fulfill their 3-book deal. Ten years; it makes me feel better, as does looking at the crime author and thinking: It’s true. This does happen for people. People write and then they get published and people read what they write and it happens to real people. I could reach out and touch this guy. He wouldn’t like it, but I could. And I realize that living in Italy, as beautiful as it is, as free as I am to write, I’m closeted from the English-speaking world, the world that will read the things I write, and closeted, too, from other writers, from the scene, from the hustle. From the way life could be.
But now it’s 4.30 a.m. on Friday and I’m in a taxicab with an ex-military man who says: Obama’s made a mistake there in Libya, so he has and there really isn’t much I can say about that but Are we there yet? and then it’s on the plane, back to Rome, and it’s back to life as I now know it.