Trinity College and the Temple of Books; The Guinness brewery (Pilgrimage to St. James' Gate); Weekends in the Temple Bar

Up late after a surprisingly good night’s sleep. We had the ten-bed dorm room to ourselves except for one other guy. It being a bit chilly and rainy, we decided to do mostly indoor things. I don’t mind the rain, Dublin always looks better when it’s wet.

The typical hostel breakfast as included in the nightly charge is milk, cereal, toast and jam. It’s unfortunate but expected that carbohydrates should make up the bulk of the free food. Eating well, cheaply, is quite difficult to do. I was never able to manage it at home, so there’s no reason to assume that I’ll figure it out now. I am making an effort though, because the stakes are higher when you’re on the road - it’s more important to take care of myself now.

I remembered Trinity College from my last visit, and it hasn’t changed at all, which is not surprising for an institution so many hundreds of years old. There’s a huge quadrangle in the centre with very old trees, all of which have been trained over the decades and centuries - gigantic bonsai, in effect. The quad is surrounded by three- and four-story inward-facing stone buildings in the Romanesque style (if I have my architectural periods correct). All that was missing compared to my last visit were the magpies on the lawns, and the only thing added was a huge tent and sound system in the middle of the quad - some event called the Trinity Ball was happening that evening.

We were there because I wanted Sheryl to see two things. The first of those was naturally the Book of Kells, a centuries-old illuminated manuscript. Each page is a work of art, with hand-painted animals, abstract designs and religious imagery hiding in the borders and capital letters. The inks the monks used are still vibrant even after so long - there were metallic greens and blues, bright reds and yellows, and gold leaf on almost every page.

Included in the exhibit was a lot of educational background material. What I found most fascinating both last time and this were the details of how the vellum is made, which is what was used prior to the advent of paper in the west. There’s an old riddle and instructional verse which relates it:

One of my enemies ended my life, sapped my world-strength
Afterward soaked me in water.
Set me in sun, where soon I lost the hairs that I had.
And then the hard knife-edge cut me,
Fingers folded me and feather of bird traced
All over my tawny surface with drops of delight.
Then for trappings a man bound me with boards
Bent hide over me, glossed me with gold so I glistened
Wondrous in smooth work, wire-encircled.
Say what I am called - useful to man. Mighty my name is,
A help to heroes, and holy am I

The second thing that I’d wanted Sheryl to see was one of my favourite places in the world - the Long Room of Trinity College’s library. Those who know me even a little will know that, although I hold almost nothing sacred, books are holy to me. So the Long Room inspires the same worship, awe and joy for me that the religious find in their temples and churches, for it truly is a cathedral to knowledge and the written word. The ceiling is high and vaulted, and the light comes filtered through the windows and falls slowly and quietly on the ranks of warm wooden shelves. There are two floors of shelves, extending perpendicular to the walls into the room, and the second floor is a wide balcony around the central atrium, reached by an iron spiral staircase. The dusty sharp-sweet smell of old paper fills the air from the thousands of ancient volumes in tan, brown or red leather. Many are held together with strips of cotton ribbon, which gives them the strangely fitting look of classical academic formal dress. Ladders run on rails before each shelf, and their wooden steps are worn by centuries of feet. Ivory busts of authors and philosophers look on from each alcove with expressions variously pensive or proprietary, each to his nature, but they’re superfluous decoration against the books they guard. I feel myself awed, humbled and exalted in this shrine to the scholars of the centuries who gave their lives to the preservation of the light of knowledge amidst the black night of ignorance.

For a change of pace, after leaving Trinity College, we wandered down to the Guinness brewery for some lightweight tourist silliness. Since my last visit they’ve built a new attraction - a large building with a central atrium in the shape of a pint glass. Architecturally hideous, but visually neat.

After that, back to the hostel for dinner and more work on the sites. Someday they’ll be finished. The hostel was very noisy, it being Saturday in the Temple Bar. Around 2am or so, there were two of us in the common room, both with computers, which was embarrassing to me - I really don’t want to be the computer geek at the hostels. The other guy was a sad specimen, too. At one point a group of drunken English yobs came stomping in and, sensing an easy target, set to tormenting him in that uniquely English schoolboy style. The pathetic bastard hadn’t a clue how to make them stop and his sad flutterings and protests while they sent abusive emails to his mother and added random people to his friend list were painful to witness. Eventually they got bored and looked in my direction, but I gave them the Hairy Eyeball Death Stare and they pissed off. Some things you learn.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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