I clicked over to The Virtual Stoa just now and noticed that Chris had posted a picture of a double rainbow. I figured this was as good a reason as any to post this photo taken from my window a couple of days ago. Sadly the second rainbow had already begun to fade a little by the time I grabbed this snap. You can still just about make it out though.
I’ve written in the past about the way a city’s statues go some way towards revealing its soul.
And let’s face it, the whole idea of statues is pretty amazing in the first place. Imagine if we encountered a previously undiscovered sub-species of chimpanzee who left intricately carved versions of their ancestors in the places where they gathered. Viewed objectively, it’s a strange thing for an animal to do. It’s a bit like leaving huge signs all over the place with the words “We’re really scared of Death” printed on them. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Still, however you explain it, there’s no question that a place reveals much about itself through its choice of statues. Certainly at the most basic level, the statue is a reassurance to us all. “Death is not the end”, it whispers, “For I am still among you”. But statues of anyone will fulfill that role. What’s revealing is our choice of exactly who we choose to call back from the dead to remain with us.
But mostly it’s soldiers. Lots and lots of soldiers. Men who excelled at killing people from beyond the city walls, or who were cruelly killed by people from beyond the city walls. And we invite them back to stand silently among us. One of them stands atop a pedestal so high, you can’t really see him clearly.
Here in Dublin, the situation is quite different. There’s plenty of statues to fighters, certainly, but they tend to be rebels and revolutionaries, which alters the message significantly. And they’re equalled in number by poets, musicians and radical socialists. As well as the occasional statue to the ordinary people of the city.
The stone celebration of military conquest that is so ubiquitous on the streets of London (and pretty much every city in a nation that once possessed an empire) is almost entirely absent here in Dublin. This is both a result of, and a further influence upon, the collective psyche of the place. Statues create a positive feedback loop that help solidify a culture.
One of Dublin’s most striking statues, of course, greets you from the corner of North Earl Street as you walk up the city’s main thoroughfare — O’Connell Street. There he stands; artist and revolutionary thinker; James Joyce.
Many cities celebrate their local artists just as much as Dublin celebrates Joyce of course. But June 16th in Dublin is quite unique. I’d planned on doing the whole “Bloomsday thing” this year — y’know, donning period garb and following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom’s Great Wander. I’d probably skip the breakfast of offal, but I figure I could make up for it with a couple of extra pints along the way. Sadly the day just crept up on me, and I realised too late that it was this week. Silly me.
To make up for it, though, I have vowed two things. Firstly to re-read Ulysses (the single greatest work of literature in the history of humanity) before June 16th next year, and secondly to make absolutely certain that appropriate clothes are hired for both myself and Citizen S in plenty of time next summer. Anyone else up for it? You’ve got a whole year to plan it. And even if you don’t feel like dressing in a turn of (last) century stylee, it’ll still be a fine day out.
There are sins or (let us call them as the world calls them) evil memories which are hidden away by man in the darkest places of the heart but they abide there and wait. He may suffer their memory to grow dim, let them be as though they had not been and all but persuade himself that they were not or at least were otherwise. Yet a chance word will call them forth suddenly and they will rise up to confront him in the most various circumstances, a vision or a dream, or while timbrel and harp soothe his senses or amid the cool silver tranquility of the evening or at the feast at midnight when he is now filled with wine. Not to insult over him will the vision come as over one that lies under her wrath, not for vengeance to cut off from the living but shrouded in the piteous vesture of the past, silent, remote, reproachful.James Joyce | Ulysses
— That’s your glorious British navy, says the citizen, that bosses the earth. The fellows that never will be slaves, with the only hereditary chamber on the face of God’s earth and their land in the hands of a dozen gamehogs and cottonball barons. That’s the great empire they boast about of drudges and whipped serfs.
— On which the sun never rises, says Joe.
— And the tragedy of it is, says the citizen, they believe it. The unfortunate yahoos believe it.James Joyce | Ulysses
Mr. Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland’s hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really? Plant him and have done with him. Like down a coalshoot. Then lump them together to save time. All souls’ day. Twentyseventh I’ll be at his grave. Ten shillings for the gardener. He keeps it free of weeds. Old man himself. Bent down double with his shears clipping. Near death’s door. Who passed away. Who departed this life. As if they did it of their own accord. Got the shove, all of them…James Joyce | Ulysses
I didn’t search for those passages. Just opened three random pages and got three amazing pieces of writing. There’s not a single page in the 900 that doesn’t crackle with energy, beauty and insight.
“There should be more statues with big hair”. That was my first thought upon seeing the Phil Lynott memorial (located just off Grafton Street — one of Dublin’s most-walked thoroughfares — and sculpted by Paul Daly). But as that thought sank in, it was followed by a somewhat less silly one… “I think this is the first statue of a black person that I’ve ever seen… big hair or not”.
I have no doubt that there are statues of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King… maybe even Malcolm X? But I’ve never seen them. I lived in London for a while and pretty much all the statues there are of military conquerors. My favourite of those… statues not conquerors… is the one of Clive of India surveying St. James’ Park. It encapsulates all of the ridiculous pomposity of the British establishment as well as the astonishing arrogance of Empire. Plus it has an inscription on the side which reads… “Clive in the mango tope on the Eve of Plassey” which — for reasons lost in the mists of time and a haze of smoke — was one of the funniest things I’d ever read when I first noticed it.
Anyways, most of London’s statues are memorials to white men who spent their time subjugating brown, black or yellow people. The same is true of most of Europe’s colonial nations… so perhaps in one sense it’s no surprise that the first statue (I think) I’ve seen with an afro should be in a nation that itself spent most of history as a colony. Of course, in another sense it is a surprise. After all, until very recently (the past fifteen years) Ireland was — racially speaking — about as homogeneous a nation as existed. This wasn’t because of any strict immigration policy… merely because no bugger in their right mind would have wanted to come here. For the past few hundred years people have been leaving this island in their droves, and arrivals were few and far between.
All the same, at some point Phil’s ancestors arrived on these shores and the stage was set for Thin Lizzy. I should point out that I’m not a big fan of the band (they had a guitar sound that was always a bit… ummm… widdly for me). Nonetheless, despite the widdliness, I’ll always have a spot in my heart for the classic The Boys Are Back In Town which takes me back to a very special time and place.
I’ve not been online very much this week thanks to a combination of being out quite a lot, and my broadband connection acting a bit weird. That was as far as the tech support chappie managed to narrow things down… “you’re right,” he told me, “it does seem to be acting a bit weird”. Several ridiculously over-complicated router reconfigurations later, it seems to have stopped acting weird. Though neither the tech support chappie nor myself have any idea why. Half of me finds that infuriating. The other half finds it reassuringly arbitrary… a gentle reminder of the limits to our control.
I took some photographs of the Famine Memorial (Rowan Gillespie – sculptor) when I was in town earlier in the week. I also tried to get some interesting ones of the Phil Lynott statue, but it was exactly the wrong time of day for that particular street and the light was completely crap. I’ll try again on a brighter day when it’s not all gloomy shades of grey. The photos of the Famine Memorial, though, have finally given me a reason to set up a Flickr account. And hopefully they’ll turn out to be the inaugural set in a continuing project of photographing some of Dublin’s more interesting landmarks.
Suggestions are more than welcome… natural landmarks, historical or cultural sites, whatever really… if there’s a place in Dublin that you’d like to see amateurishly rendered in pixels, then let me know what it is and I’ll do my best. Dublin is a compact city (leastways what has historically been “the city” is pretty compact… the recent suburban sprawl is a rather different story) and it’s a very old city. So you can hardly walk more than a few hundred metres in any direction without stumbling across something historically significant (even if it’s only the memorial to something ripped down in the name of urban regeneration).
Despite being surrounded by the shiny glass boxes of Dublin’s new financial centre, the Famine Memorial succeeds in being genuinely moving and — to a degree — quite haunting. Though the location… certainly during the daytime… makes it difficult for the atmosphere of the place to properly get under your skin. Transporting yourself back in your mind to the 1840s is hampered somewhat by the office blocks, traffic lights and passing cars. Nonetheless, while I was there, a group of about forty over-excited Spanish students came giggling along the quays. As they reached the statues, the sound of forty digital cameras with their exaggerated ‘snapping’ sound-effects could just be heard beneath the shouted conversation and laughter. By the end of two or three minutes photographing the memorial, though, the only sounds that could be heard were the cameras and the passing traffic. It’s a serious place that has a very real impact on the visitor.