June 27, 2004 20:11That's A Wrap
I've been so concerned with finishing off my Irish epic, which turned out to be longer and more tedious than Ulysses, that I missed commenting on some of the hottest issues facing us today.
In late breaking news, Ronald Reagan is still dead. Despite round-the-clock coverage while he lay in state, his state never actually changed. With Ronald safely filed away in the ground, the American news networks have finally, reluctantly, ended their three hundred consecutive hours of tributes during which the whole country joined together as one to pretend that Reagan was a competent president.
In entertainment news, it was revealed that the Olsens were, in fact, conjoined twins after all. Over the course of their profitable years together, Ashley had been absorbing all the nutrients, leaving sister Mary-Kate to wither. The operation to separate them into distinct eating-disorder clinic patients proved successful. Doctors hope to also separate them from their billions of dollars once the invoice is delivered.
But I know the real news you tune in for when you come here is MY news. So to that end…
A couple of weeks ago I went down to the Fries With That? studio for the second-season crew photo. The crew photo always provides a valuable opportunity for the writers to touch base with the people who shoot the show, assuming the writers are actually invited and actually bother to show up. The fraction of a second when we're all together in front of a high-speed camera shutter is not to be missed. Just don't blink. My first full-colour photo of this sort, it will join the other crew photos on my office wall so I can remember all the people I don't know who I never worked with directly.
A week later I metroed over to a Mont-Royal Street club for the wrap party. There, I was again reunited with the cast and crew so I could watch, from a safe distance, the ritualistic white-people dance that breaks out at these things somewhere after the third round of drinks. The music, typical of most bars, begins at a perfectly reasonable level that encourages social human discourse. The volume is then raised, in fifteen-minute increments, all the way to eleven, where conversation becomes flatly impossible and only drink and dance remain viable options.
The writers, as writers do, formed a phalanx at one table to assure that no one would intrude on our self-perpetuating feeling of isolation. Occasionally one of us would make a run to the buffet table to hunt and gather valuable nutrients that would sustain us through our next stretch at the keyboard, when we would see neither proper food nor daylight for weeks at a time. Despite our efforts to keep everyone at bay with our transparent attempt at a clique, the actors, gregarious creatures that they are, each stopped by in turn as they made the rounds. As writers, it's our job to put these poor victimized extroverts under the microscope in an effort to generate material for the show. Even as we exchanged greetings and well-wishes, I clinically took note of who was dirty dancing with who in the name of potential third season pairings.
The only solid factoid to emerge from our brief flirtation with meaningful interaction was that it was Morgan Kelly's birthday – though it's anyone's guess which one. He plays a teenager on television, so that could place him anywhere between the ages of twenty and fifty-eight in real life. Actors get a lot of cosmetic work done, and without a valid birth certificate it can be difficult to guess how many years they have under their tightening skin grafts. The more successful amongst them actually sustain themselves on the spare parts of lesser actors, like some stitchwork Frankenstein monster. Jack Nicholson, for example, is responsible for an entire lost generation of thespians who, their hand forced by a string of failed auditions, sold their internal organs to him just to make rent on their one-room apartments. The subsequent manpower loss to the table-bussing industry is incalculable. Christopher Walken, for another, is well known to subsist on the blood of drama school students. And Shelly Winters is rumoured to have eaten Emmanuel Lewis on a single saltine cracker within six months of Webster going off the air.
The highlight of any wrap party as far as someone like me (who spends most of their time watching people in movies and television as opposed to speaking to them in real life) is the blooper reel. With little ceremony and no announcement, the edited highlights of this season's goofs, gaffes and fuckups appeared at the head of the dance floor through the miracle of video projection. It's the same sort of material you might have seen Dick Clark and Ed McMahon broadcast back in the day, only without all those annoying bleeps to make it suitable family entertainment. The fine, sheltered folks down at Standards and Practices would blush to hear some of the naughty words that come out of people during the production of a show that's supposed to be aimed at our unblemished youth. However, more effort was put into this blooper reel than merely assembling a collection of actors blowing their lines. I particularly enjoyed a juxtaposed clip from one of my Radio Active episodes that predicted, quite accurately it seems, that Giancarlo Caltabiano's future lay in flipping burgers.
Among the writers-table topics of conversation for the evening was the emergence of the first Fries With That? superfan. I've heard of one or two fan sites related to shows I've written for in the past, but this is the first one I've seen myself. With an almost Trekkie-like fervor, Matt Plante has created a tribute page that quotes my own webpage several times. As a primary source of insider information, how could I not feel flattered? Matt has been in touch with The Vestibules and myself via email, sniffing around for some hot tips. I've been resisting the urge to pass on all sorts of tawdry stories about substance abuse and sexual misadventures but, sadly, I'm not privy to anything like that. Working at home, alone in a room, the most exciting gossip I can offer concerns that way-cool box of felt tip pens I bought the other day.
Aside from keeping you abreast of my latest news, I've been derelict in some of my other duties as well. Having fallen behind online while I play catch-up in the office, I owe you an extra couple of weeks' worth of Movies in Longshot. Three new ones should keep you entertained for as much a ten or eleven seconds. I also need to give a public acknowledgement to Rich Johnston for mentioning Longshot Comics in his column, Lying in the Gutters. I've experienced a modest deluge of orders since then and he has my thanks.
And I wanted to link you to this article, which I think speaks volumes about the Canadian film industry and why hardly anyone bothers to watch our home-grown movies. It's good that Canadian funding is moving towards backing more commercial projects (as opposed to some of the navel-gazing shit that only a director and his mother could love), but it's bad that there seems to be little concept of how to develop these commercial projects, or which ones are worthwhile. There have been several fiascos of late, with some very strange choices as to what films deserve wide distribution and massive ad campaigns. While terrific genre fare like Cube and the Ginger Snaps trilogy are banished to rep houses and video shelves with hardly a word, millions are earmarked to push a curling comedy (fun, amusing, yes – but seriously, it's about curling, and nobody pays to see a curling movie) and yet another heist movie (amusing and fun again, yes – but the ubiquitous trailer couldn't even pitch the hook that made this one different). Somehow, I don't think a Chevy Chase yuk-yuk fest about a talking barnyard animal is going to make Porky's money no matter how much they audience-test it. There's a mint to be made by our film industry if they can only accept that our unique, government-funded Canadian sensibility can be marketed to a much wider audience than micro demographics like curlers and unemployed Maritime cod fishermen.
If you can't find any worthwhile Canadian films to rent down at your local mom and pop video store, let me encourage you to sample the offerings from the boutique film industries of other nations that also can't hope to compete with Hollywood. There's a myriad of interesting material from around the world to sample. Like…um… German industrial safety films, for instance.
June 24, 2004 13:56Ireland, Day Five
My final moments in Ireland were spent trying to find a chemist who would sell me something for the headache I’d woken up with. Ah, it was going to be a long trip.
Aside from panic-related reasons, much of my objection to flight as a means of travel is sinus based. During descent, about half the time I can expect the change in air pressure to suck a hefty wad of phlegm into my ear canal, causing crippling pain. This is very inconvenient for me, because I find it hard to concentrate properly on my fear when I feel like there’s an ice pick digging into my skull. Furthermore, this ear canal blockage usually refuses to dislodge itself in a timely fashion, and I can be stuck with it for days afterward. It will often sit there until it gets infected, and then only time or penicillin will fix it.
Such a blockage is what happened landing in Philadelphia, and was compounded by a second landing in Montreal soon after. I had to live with the popping sound effects in my left ear every time I blew my nose for weeks afterwards. It only cleared up a few days ago following some spicy food and a bloody nasal discharge. But enough about my infections.
The stopover in Philadelphia was an uneventful and very lengthy five hours. The greatest excitement came when I fell asleep face down in my luggage and woke up with vision so blurred by my squished eyelashes, I thought I had detached a retina.
As a special favour to the people who were picking up the tab for this whole trip, I agreed to mule some Irish whiskey through Canadian customs. This isn’t as nefarious as it sounds. We were all allowed a certain legal limit, and since I wasn’t bringing any booze home for myself, I brought along a couple extra bottles in my bag and claimed it as my own. It was all perfectly, sort-of-ly, legal. Thankfully I didn’t have to hide it up my ass, or decant it into a series of condoms I could swallow and then regurgitate after passing customs. Admittedly, some of the more gruesome specifics of modern smuggling techniques fascinate me, and I’m always interested in the methodology of sneaking a kilo into the country when you don’t have a convenient dead baby you can hollow out.
Again my carry-ons ruled the day. Leaving my companions behind to deal with the whys and wherefores of more lost luggage, I grabbed my ride home to begin my recovery from the journey – and the extensive notes I had to assemble about the project in an effort to agree on what we’d all agreed on.
Okay, enough travelogue. Back to business.
June 18, 2004 14:48Ireland, Day Four
I wasn’t hung over.
That was something that had concerned me slightly when I’d woken up in the middle of the night with a minor bout of nausea after all that wine. But wide awake again in the morning, I felt perfectly fine for the last day of work.
The final battles for the shape of the show to come were waged throughout the morning and afternoon as we finished banging out what, more or less, would happen over the course of the first four hours of the series. Remarkably it all came together amidst the countless scribbles and notations that covered the large white erasable board at the head of the room (both the front and the reversible side). Once the producers fled the room, it was simply a matter of the writers transcribing all the notes so we could each compile them into some semblance of an outline once we got home.
The day was done early enough for me to take one final stab at tourism. It was my last chance to see the town, my last chance to hike out to an historic landmark. But which one to choose? Well, you can never see too many medieval cathedrals I always say. No, really. Ask my friends. I’m always saying that.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral it was. This one was built after Christchurch so, needless to say, all the stops were pulled out to top the earlier House-o-God. It was bigger, fancier, more Gothic, and with more local dead celebrities of bygone centuries filed into the walls and floors. Among the better known bags of bones interred there is Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and, slightly less famously, A Modest Proposal, perhaps the greatest work of cannibalism advocacy in the history of literature. Under a slightly smaller floor tile next to him is his long-time significant other, Stella Johnson, who there’s no proof Mr. Swift ever legally married. I guess living in sin isn’t so much of a problem for the church if you’re both conveniently dead, thus their roped-off place of honour on hallowed ground.
Taking pictures inside these holy relics is a dodgy affair and the rules vary. You know how tourists are. They love to snap away. In Christchurch they apparently let you go whole hog. Flashes go off steadily and no one says boo about excessively documenting the place with rolls of film that will bore both family and friends once you get back from vacation. St. Patrick’s, however, is rather snootier about voguing for the camera. If you want a souvenir, then you should bloody well cough up for a St. Patrick medallion like a good little Christian. They aren’t a cheap snapshot sort of cathedral, not like that harlot Christchurch up the street! Oh no. Here you must pay proper respect. And they have enforcer priests patrolling the grounds to fuck you up if you get out of line.
“My son,” he said in that fatherly, understanding, ball-busting tone only men of the cloth have been able to master, “this section is now closed to the public.”
I have to admit, I’m not really wild about guys who are probably younger than me calling me “my son.” It’s creepy. It also makes me feel like a little boy who’s about to be inappropriately touched in his bathing suit area. Sorry, priest dudes, but you seriously need a PR makeover.
Still, as I found myself ushered out of yet another section of the cathedral that was suddenly declared off-limits, I couldn’t help but feel that familiar pang of atheist regret. With the choir’s majestic singing, the towering columns raised to the glory of God, the magnificent stained glass with such fine detail… Even the four-storey tall monument in which the praying hands off all the figures within reach had been torn off as collectible religious artifacts by devout vandals in centuries past… It put into focus the seductive nature of religion, and again I felt like an outsider looking in at a warm, safe enclave where I could be reassured and loved if only I stopped being such a foolish cynic and let myself believe…
“My son, we’re closing in five minutes.”
This just fifteen minutes after I paid four Euros to get into the place. And with my very soul lying in the balance, I was also reminded of the shameless gouging of the people by religious institutions. Oh sure, you guys were happy to take my money, but where was the tip-off that you were just going to boot my ass out of the place again in a few minutes, huh?
“You’ll have to leave. Unless you’re staying for the service.”
Oh, so that’s it! Give the heathens a taste, welcome them into God’s house, then hit them with the catch. Sure, we can have a quick peek, but if we want a good look around we’d better roll over and let you save our souls. No dice, you fucking drug dealer. Opium of the masses, indeed. Gimme a refund or I’ll roast in hell just to spite you.
No refund, no saved soul. I was out on the street again with only another social engagement of drinking to keep me warm.
Apparently, whenever Bono isn’t jetting around the world telling other people how to run their countries, he’s the proprietor of a hotel in Dublin. I’m sure he owns plenty of other properties too, but I didn’t visit any of them. I really didn’t give much of a shit to see his hotel either, but that’s where our gang ended up. In the bar, naturally. As a celebrity-owned establishment, it draws other celebrities like moths to a much brighter moth. While we were there, one of our group actually spotted some guy I’m not familiar with from a TV show I don’t watch. I was star-struck – or at least I would have been had I actually seen the guy. He was gone before I could look, likely ejected from the grounds because, as we well know, all celebrities are dangerous troublemakers, often armed, sometimes homicidal. Especially TV celebrities. Best to preemptively call the bouncers.
Our last gourmet meal was another showstopper. A showstopper with plenty of potatoes. I generally don’t like to reinforce a bunch of negative stereotypes. For example, I’ve tried not to give the impression in these last few entries that the Irish are fond of drink. I’ve failed miserably in this because they ARE, in fact, fond of drink, and I’ve repeatedly mentioned it. But (and this is the important distinction) I’ve TRIED not to. Well, again, I’m trying not to give the impression that the Irish eat a lot of potatoes. It’s a silly cliché and I’ve hardly had anything to say about potatoes this whole time (unless you count the potato famine and chips). But I would be terribly remiss in my impartial reporting of the facts if I didn’t note that in a number of Irish restaurants, in addition to your appetizers and main dishes, they’re also in the habit of bringing a big bowl of unsolicited potatoes to the table. I dismissed it the first time it happened, but it kept happening. It’s like the country is so overwhelmed with potatoes, they have to force them on you.
“Look, we know you didn’t order this, but could you please eat some. We forgot to plant anything else this year and now we stuck with several million tons of the bastards.”
What the hell did they grow there for thousands of years before someone brought a boatload of spuds back from overseas?
The evening ended in the V.I.P. lounge of what, I gather, is one of Dublin’s more exclusive clubs. I don’t recall ever getting into a V.I.P. lounge of a club before, largely because I’ve rarely bothered to cross the threshold of many clubs in the past. Apparently, the key is the be in the company of someone who has spent huge wads of cash there. I guess you could earn your own way into the lounge with repeat visits and plenty of greased palms, but that seems terribly time-consuming and expensive to me. Especially since, under normal circumstances, it’s unlikely I’d ever been deemed cool enough to make it past the doorman and into the general dance area to begin with.
The funny thing about a V.I.P. lounge is that if it weren’t a V.I.P. lounge, it’s a part of the club you’d never want to hang out in. Comparatively, it’s dead. All the drinking, dancing and hot chicks drinking and dancing happens in the other rooms. The lounge, however, is where you go to have a relaxing evening with friends, away from all the noise and bother of the rest of the place. You might as well stay home and read a good book. The fact that this particular V.I.P. lounge was filled with shelves of books is telling. I expect the usual chain of events goes something like this:
“Boy, I wish I could get into that trendy club.”
“Now that I’m in the club, I wish I could get into the V.I.P. lounge.”
“All right! They’re letting me into the V.I.P. lounge!”
“Nothing’s happening in here. I’m bored.”
“Hey, check it out! Books.”
“Shhhh. I’m trying to read.”
Finally acclimatized to the time zone after four days in town, I felt ready, able and willing to stay up all night drinking and having fun. So we promptly went to bed early. Our plane ride back home was around noon the next day and we wanted to get plenty of rest before facing the gauntlet of security checks, customs agents, and flight delays.
Being the only one to have hiked all over town, I was the designated navigator who safely steered the remaining members of the Canadian delegation back to the hotel.
The face of modern Dublin. Internet café next to the pub. Drunken surfing ensues.
Look! A green mailbox! You crazy Irish, you’re adorable.
You can take pictures of the stained glass in Christchurch because they’re a bunch of whores.
Not so in St. Patrick’s, but I took one anyway. Four Euros to get in and they didn’t tell me they were just about to close? Well no one expressly told me not to take pictures either, so I guess we’re even. Pious dickheads.
June 14, 2004 23:55Ireland, Day Three
“How, exactly, do you consider yourself a teetotaler?”
This from the head of the Irish production company over dinner. Two days earlier I had excused myself for nursing my Guinness and failing to pound down the booze with the big kids using this lame, but generally accurate descriptive term. Now I was drunk, and there was no denying it. I’d been outpacing much of the table, greedily guzzling quality wine that had been ordered in bulk. Someone kept filling my glass, and I hate to be rude by letting a fine vintage I know nothing about go to waste.
By day three we had settled into a routine of a room full of producers, broadcasters and writers bickering with each other about a bunch of fictional characters and their imaginary tomfoolery. It’s silly that grown men and women do this sort of thing at all, let alone do this sort of thing for a living with huge wads of cash on the line. If we had all been rolling a bunch of ten and twenty-sided dice, it would have been eerily like my last role playing session in college – the one that made me quit because I much preferred getting on with the story as opposed to arguing over who made what saving throw versus sudden death. Well, turns out writing in the big leagues isn’t all that different. Now they just pay me for being a geek.
The only thing that kept day two of work from being a virtual carbon copy of day one was our lunchtime excursion for some authentic U.K. cuisine – namely fish & chips. The smoked cod came highly recommended, and I must say it was something of a relief to eat a meal that didn’t require me to keep track of the correct fork for the correct course. It’s fun to play snob every once in a while, but when it comes to stuffing my face, I enjoy myself more when the only point of etiquette to keep is mind is to not vomit directly onto someone else’s plate. You can call me low-class if you must.
The day ended early enough for me to get in some good urban hiking before the next social engagement. I’d failed to walk all the way along the River Liffey my first day out, and this time I was determined to get a look at the sea. Mapping my rather lengthy route out to a marked green space north of the docks, I began an excursion that took me through some of the rather less scenic sections of town. The highlight of this trip was my epic journey along Wall Road. Aptly named, Wall Road consists of two imposing walls on either side of the road and a lot of trucks rumbling up and down it, kicking all sorts of dust and grit into the air that helps mask the rotten fish smell. After cutting through this industrial wasteland and marching another mile up a road that was one massive construction site for another one of Dublin’s ill-conceived infrastructure plans (this one a tunnel too small to fit the trucks it's suppose to service), I finally arrived at my goal. The shoreline.
The blandest, most uninteresting stretch of shoreline I’d ever laid my eyes on. I took a picture so I could remember it forever.
At this point I was navigating with a much better map than the one I’d downloaded and printed out. Dublin Castle had offered me a very functional free tourist map. I had now, however, walked right off the edge of it.
My original intention had been to take the train back downtown. I spent far too long trying to find the station, and longer still trying to find the cleverly hidden entrance to the station grounds. They tried to fool me by disguising it as a hedge, but I clued into their deceit after some twenty solid minutes of hunting. The train, however, proved to be off limits to the casual commuter, with an elaborate pricing system and an exact change rule. Thoroughly intimidated, I decided it would be much easier to walk my ass back to the hotel through the rather less-nice north end of town. I can offer no pictures of this leg of the journey since I assumed that the sight of a camera might label me a readily muggable tourist even more than my infrequent but necessary map consultations.
Arriving at my hotel in once piece, I had exactly enough time to change and rendezvous for the next grand feast. More great food and a perfectly drinkable wine aside, the most interesting wrinkle on the evening for me was the arrival of another member of the Irish film industry. Not directly associated with our own production, he nevertheless proved to be an interesting conversationalist with a genuine appreciation for Irish history, medieval to ancient. I suppose it helped that he lived on a particularly historic stretch of land popular with the pagans who descended on the property once a year during some equinox-type event to eat huge quantities of magic mushrooms. Mind you, every stretch of property in Ireland is historic in some way. In fact, he explained, metal detectors are highly restricted in the country and you need a special government permit to operate one. Why? Because you WILL find stuff. In North America you’ll likely come up with a lot of bottle caps and, if you’re very lucky, pocket change. In Ireland you could well stumble across a national heirloom. So the government wants to know there are reputable archaeologists snooping around out there, not some beachcomber in a floppy sunhat and a Hawaiian t-shirt who’ll take a priceless artifact to the pawn shop for beer money. They already have their hands full trying to keep farmers from ploughing over priceless dig sites in the name of good grazing or a higher potato crop yield.
As I downed yet another glass of wine which, peculiarly, increased the decibel level of my conversation with each mouthful, our Irish historian also had some words of wisdom for us. If it’s not an actual Irish proverb, it seems to sum up a common sentiment.
“Don’t trust a friend who won’t get drunk with you.”
As I walked home, making a conscious effort to keep from staggering around on my uncoordinated feet, I felt I’d successfully earned that trust.
An ode to the potato famine, this charming statue looks as though it might have been designed by George Romero. The hungry peasants, wasting away from the legendary 19th century blight, look like they would gladly take a bite out of you in an effort to put some meat back on their ribs. I particularly like the starving dog in the back. He makes for a nice final touch of horror to the landmark I vote “Most likely to traumatize children for life.”
The warning against vandalizing public property is likely directed at the Vikings in the longboat parked across the river. A thousand years later and those Scandinavian bastards still don’t know when to stop pillaging.
23:24Ireland, Day Two
A wake up call and another meat-intensive Irish breakfast later, and it was time to go to work.
In an effort to give us a change of scene, work was to be done in a conference room of a different hotel a block away. This conference room offered windows, and was therefore seen as a vast improvement over what our own hotel was offering by way of conference rooms. The commute was a brief walk along St. Stephen's Green where they were doing dry runs for the city’s new ultra-modern streetcars. After spending billions ripping up the city’s old streetcar tracks years earlier, Dublin had just spend billions setting more down all over again. The streetcars were supposed to help solve the congested traffic problem of the city but so far, during the testing alone, they had only made it much worse, holding up traffic for an extra two minutes at a time whenever one of them approached a busy intersection. Coupled with the fact that the streetcars had limited coverage and could only hope to transport people from one specific area to another specific area, assuming these people even wanted to go there, the project had already been dubbed “A Streetcar Named Disaster” by local smartasses. As we listened to the merry “ding ding ding” of the cars as they passed under our windowed conference room over the course of the next three days, we all agreed it was charming and atmospheric. Not billions of Euros worth of charm and atmosphere mind you, but disarmingly quaint just the same.
It turned out I’d bailed on quite the booze-up the night before. Operating under the principle, “Make the first night the worst so all the others seem easy by comparison,” several members of the production set out to have such a good time, they’d be incapable of remembering what a good time they had the next day. It is with a measure of pride that I report it was one member of the Canadian delegation that put everyone away. Canadians, often ignored or at least underestimated, take great pride as a nation whenever we beat another country at their own game. We still talk with passionate fervor (but in politely hushed tones) about how we beat the Americans at war in 1812, the Russians at hockey in 1972, and now the Irish at drink in 2004. To add insult to injury, this same national hero arrived for work the next day in a timely fashion and ordered a half bottle of wine over lunch.
The same cannot be said for everyone else. There was some tardiness as others from the drinking party rolled in past our start time, and nobody else could even look at booze over lunch (although they did all recover in time for dinner). Keeping with the same principle of the previous night, we set out to make the first day of work the worst so all the others would seem easy by comparison. To that end, we threw out all the material on this new show we were talking about (about two years worth of effort) and began again from scratch.
By quitting time, I felt I’d earned my quickly paced but peaceful walk through St. Stephen’s Green, the largest park in town. Old gnarled trees speak of the park’s long history as alternately public and private land over the years, and in the spring it was particularly lush and green. Quite scenic if you can ignore the great number of beer cans stashed under the shrubbery.
Keeping my entire day within a block of my hotel home base, we all had dinner at Thornton’s in the Fitzwilliam, just a few floors downstairs from my room. This was the first example of the lavish gourmet cuisine I was to be subjected to night after night by our generous hosts. Ah, the sacrifices I’m willing to make for my craft when all expenses are paid – five star hotels, some of the finest restaurants in the world, really expensive wine I actually kinda vaguely sorta like. I bleed for my art, y’hear? I BLEED!
With Guinness the first night and a variety of wine over dinner, it was only fitting for me to end my drinking binge (binge for me, at least) in the hotel bar with a couple of Baileys. In twenty-four hours, I’d had an unprecedented amount of alcohol – pathetic but true. I don’t object to drinking, I’ve just never found a drink I like enough to get drunk on. Well, I still wasn’t drunk, but there’d be time enough for that in the next two days. This was Ireland after all, and there are people living there – well-meaning but sinister people – who will not rest until they get you trashed.
Getting you from nowhere to nowhere faster than any other means of midtown public transportation, hopefully the Dublin streetcars are a little more full now that the test runs are over and they’re accepting actual passengers. Drivers will likely curse them for weeks, months or years to come until they find a better way to synch them up with the traffic lights.
Even the pond scum is pretty in St. Stephen’s Green. Strict anti-polluting rules apply, and there’s hardly a spot of litter to be found unless you look closely and discover where the infringing drunkards have hidden their stash of empties. A fortune in deposit returns is there to be had by any adventurous bushwhacker.
17:31Ireland, Day One
Less than an hour in the country and what was the hot topic of discussion? Booze. Guinness specifically – Guinness predictably. Our cabbie was explaining to us that should the tap at the pub ever run dry of Guinness, the only acceptable substitute is Budweiser. Not Kilkenny as one might assume.
“Budweiser?” I asked incredulously. I’m not beer drinker, but I’d still been raised with a healthy disdain for all American beer, which seems to be shared the world over. Or at least everywhere that’s not America.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” he explained, “Budweiser is horse piss. But it’s better than Kilkenny.”
I suspect this is a regional argument, centred around Dublin, home of Guinness (which also makes Kilkenny despite it being named for another town). Much as you don’t come to Montreal extolling the virtues of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you don’t come to Dublin and talk about Kilkenny unless you want to be sipping your Kilkenny through broken teeth. If you have any doubt about the local loyalty to the dark ale in question, just hang around the baggage carousel at the airport for a few minutes and you’ll get the picture. I spent a good deal of time there waiting for the verdict on my travel companions’ lost luggage that had failed to make the Philadelphia switch. In that time I was subjected to the same ad over and over again on a television monitor that was supposed to be offering useful flight information, but was instead telling me, “No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Guinness brewery.”
Seriously. Dublin has buildings that are A THOUSAND YEARS OLD. They’re just sitting there waiting for you to come and explore them. There’s so much history on a block-by-block basis, it can make your head explode. And they want me to run and see where they make the fucking beer?
It was Tuesday morning. Once we were safely checked into our luxury hotel and had a good greasy Irish breakfast in our bellies, it was time to get some rest. This was set aside as a day of relaxation and reorientation to shrug off the jet lag and catch up on our sleep.
I was having none of that.
Fuelled by a fresh pot of strong coffee, and armed with a printout of a wildly inaccurate city map I found on the web, I took to the streets. If I was going to be stuck in a conference room for the next three days arguing the minutiae of a TV show that didn’t even exist yet, I was going to seize my one big chance to take in the sights.
Dublin is a very walkable city. You can cover a lot of ground and see a lot of landmarks in a short period of time because the layout hasn’t changed much in centuries. As other cities might have a clothing district or jewelers district, Dublin has things like a Viking district, because those were the guys who got to shape that end of town over 1200 years ago. Recent buildings date back to the mid 1800’s. Brand new buildings are scarce and you actually have to search for them. This is what a European city looks like when the Germans don’t get a chance to bomb it flat.
The fact that Dubliners seem to care much more passionately about their beer than their history is easily explained once you’ve walked around for a few hours. Beer is an immediate experience. It’s here, it’s now, it’s on demand, and it’s always fresh. The history, however, is tremendously old and all-encompassing. It’s bloody everywhere, and it’s overwhelming. You walk on it, you breathe it, and if you don’t look out, you’ll bump your head on it. There’s simply too much to take in, so you become blasé about it as a defense mechanism. By mid-afternoon I was turning my nose up at two or three hundred year old architecture.
“Two or three hundred years? Bah! Show me something OLD. If it doesn’t predate the discovery of the New World, I’m not interested.”
And there’s more than enough of that stuff to go around, too. Understand, I was born and raised in Canada and live in a house that was built a mere forty-four years ago. If we, as Canadians, see something that’s been around for a century, we think it’s old. We have no concept of ancient whatsoever. There are trees in this country, alive and well today, that pre-date the arrival of our earliest European settlers. Dublin, on the other hand, has books lying around that were written before anyone knew my home continent even existed. So when I walk through the crypt beneath Christchurch Cathedral, or spelunk my way into the remains of Dublin Castle’s original northeast tower (the one where they had to remove all the rotted heads before they could parade the tourists through the area), or walk along the city wall gates that were erected to keep the Vikings from returning to set up shop again…well, it’s hard for my little Canuck mind to grasp the sheer longevity of it all.
By early evening, I’d seen an insane number of landmarks without ever having to hail a cab or hop a bus. I returned to the hotel to shower, change, and hook up with everyone involved with both ends of the proposed production in time to hit the pubs.
I’d been warned there would be drinking involved. This was, after all, Ireland. My ancestors had vacated the premises and hopped over to England generations ago, but judging from some of my relations, the fondness for drink went with them. It’s not something I inherited, however, so I’d been wracked with performance anxiety for weeks. As I struggled through my obligatory pint of Guinness, I was already on my way to drinking myself under the table. It wasn’t drunkenness, it was exhaustion. At this point I’d been up for a good thirty-two hours straight, and there was no way I was going to survive a night of socializing and shots. I wasn’t just nodding off, I was about ready to hit the floor dead to the world.
Excusing myself on the grounds that I wanted to be fresh for the next day when work would actually begin, I returned to the hotel, made a quick supper of the complimentary fruit and chocolates that had been brought up to my room, and then lapsed into a coma.
Exiting Dublin Airport, the first landmark of note is the flying pig statue opposite the taxi pickup lane. The implied message at this bustling airport: You’ll get a cab into town when pigs fly.
The entrance to the grounds of Trinity College where Oscar Wilde (and I suppose a few others) studied. The cobble stones are worn away to a fine polish by centuries of footsteps. The mortar between them has suffered even more wear and tear, making the height difference between it and the stones it binds together painful to walk across. This is, doubtless, an intentional feature to discourage the legions of tourists who come to see the Book of Kells. Although I was not turned back by the uncomfortable courtyard surface, I was driven off by the discouragingly long line of people there to see the day’s four page display.
Dublin Castle, now headless. Note the varying styles of architecture typical of buildings this old. You can tell on a century-by-century basis which parts burned down and when they were rebuilt. The turret is the one remaining tower of the original castle. The cathedral is a much later addition, the interior of which is mostly wood that only looks like marble. The cathedral had to be made very lightweight so as not to collapse into the old moat that still runs beneath it and the adjoining parking lot.
Get famous enough in Ireland and you too might be interred in one of its famous cathedrals. The centuries will just fly by as addle-minded tourists of all faiths rub their grubby little hands over your monument and wear away the finer details of the masonry. The fellow up front has only been around for a century and a half, so his sarcophagus is still in good shape. Not so the chap in the background who, as one of Christchurch’s oldest fixtures, has been worn down to an indistinct nub.
No room in your local cathedral? Well, you can still hope for a statue if you’re a big shot, or a bust if you’re a murdered crusading reporter. Okay, a bust isn’t as cool as a whole statue, but not many of those statue guys get a feature film tossed into the deal.
Once they kicked the Vikings out, it was time to build a city wall to make sure they never came back. This used to be the front door of the city back in 1240.
But don’t go thinking all of Dublin’s monuments and landmarks are ancient. The Spire, erected way back in 2003 and pictured left, is the tallest structure in the city. Surrounded by so many old buildings, its gleaming smooth metal surface makes it look completely unreal from a distance, like a bad cgi effect dropped into a low budget science fiction movie to make an otherwise normal cityscape look all futuristic and Jetsonsesque. Ultimately, it’s just a spike. And it lights up at night. “Yes, but what’s it for?” we asked our cab driver as we passed by. “It’s for wasting our money,” he told us flatly. Four million Euros to be exact.
June 07, 2004 02:28Ireland, Day Zero
Well I’m back, and have been for a week. I might have written earlier, but I was too busy making mad passionate love to the ground.
Day Zero – so titled because it was the first day of my trip, during which I saw nothing of Ireland, but plenty of airport interiors and airplane seating.
Having not flown anywhere in five years, I hadn’t been through airport security since the fit hit the shan. I was, however, well cautioned not to bring any scissors, nail clippers, tweezers, or other such devices that might be employed to cripple the aircraft or conquer the world should my bag of pretzels not arrive in a timely fashion, thereby driving me into a kamikaze need for vengeance. The connecting flight to Philadelphia required me to pass through American customs, which was not nearly as grueling and difficult as I expected it to be. The strip search went off very well and the security officer promised to call. They give good cavity.
Hopping the pond, the in-flight movie was Big Fish, which I found disturbing. Not the movie, which I’d seen before and didn’t watch again because I’m too cheap to buy headphones, but rather because of what’s become of Tim Burton. It’s not a good sign for any auteur to make a film that ends up playing on airplanes, edited for time and content, modified to fit your screen. Kubrick never played the mile high club. Okay, maybe Eyes Wide Shut, but that was the extra-censored version with superfluous digital people strategically placed to blot out every single frame and make it consumable family entertainment for easily offended parents flying coach with their screaming infants in tow.
The flight, devoid of any mid-air collisions as it was, passed uneventfully. I killed time going over the two years worth of accumulated material from before I’d been called in to consult on this new project. Selecting coffee as my beverage of choice every time the cart came around assured that I would stay wide awake throughout the entire journey and into the next day. I had my CPAP machine in one of my two carry-ons, but with no way to set it up in my seat, I didn’t want to run the risk of napping. My snoring might have hit the right frequency to shake the plane to bits. Or it could have just pissed off the rest of the passengers enough to get them to drop me off and make me swim the rest of the way. In either case, I would have missed out on the rigorous regimen of meetings, drinking, and crawling through medieval crypts I had scheduled for the following few days.
Coming in for a landing I got my one glimpse of the Irish countryside, the rocky crags of the shoreline, the green of the spring fields. It might even have been an emerald green, I really can’t say. I didn’t have a window seat. The rest of the week would be all narrow streets and masonry. It was an exclusively urban adventure I had in store.
Next time: I get my photos back from the developer and curse myself for not buying a digital camera. Stay tuned.