I am most aware that I’m in Dublin when I’m alone, and I am most often in Dublin alone along the Grand Canal, because it is the route I take to the Luas train four times a week, as well as my favorite place in the city to run.
My solo forays in the city go mostly like this: I push my way past the heavy door of my apartment and start off down the street. If it’s after eight and before nine, the streets are fairly crowded, and I am constantly forced to reevaluate my assumption that I am a fast walker, since even the middle-aged walkers seem to be able to keep pace with me. If it’s after nine, the streets are much quieter, and I am only amused of my notion that I am quick on my feet by the occasional passersby, like the woman with white-blonde hair and boldly patterned dress who ran a whole block to get to the bus stop in time.
If it’s after five, the streets are packed with people, or at least it seems so when I am a runner on that road, and not just another commuter, and have to wind my way past the people, past the crowds and handfuls and pairs of people, and its the people of the city who alight my imagination, who let me know that I am somewhere alive.
So I'd like to tell you about them now, about the red-headed, stocky boy wearing a blue school uniform setting slowly off on his way home, and about the matronly-looking woman with glasses and shoulder-length brown hair who revises her motherliness somewhat with the bike she wheels along with her. Then there’s the skinny jogger with the sleeve tattoo on his left arm – his narrow face seems kind, but I’ve never liked sleeve tattoos – and the man on a bike whose brown and white dog bounds after him, barking the first time he passes me, silent the second. I've seen a five-year-old girl with a pink bow in her tight blonde curls who was telling her mother about something she liked and a group of four Irish boys leaning against one the bridges that span the canal and though I couldn’t catch the words they were saying, I could tell from the broadness of their thick accents that they were blustering at each other, telling boasts and maybe, telling lies.
Once, I sat under the bridge for the Luas train with a red notebook and a black pen and tried to write down everything I saw and everything I smelled and everything I heard. It was all too much – I’d see one interesting person, like the man in the business suit whose untied dress shoe seemed oddly poetic, and miss the twenty who walked after him. I'd try to record the exact sound of the train whistle or the lurch of a car over a speed bump but become distracted by the whizzing of bike wheels. I'd try to observe the exact color of the water, but only get so far as to find it quite dirty before my eyes fall on a doodle of Dumbledore someone had drawn on a boxlike object at the canal’s edge. I spend far too long watching a man dig around in his backpack, wondering what he could be looking for, before it is revealed to be only a smelly cigarette, which he smoked at the edge of the canal, letting the ashes fall into the water. I try so hard to see everything, and then two boys do a thing like run by holding an old-fashioned school desk on their shoulders, so that I have to watch them all the way up the canal, only disappointed by the fact that they don't try to get on the train with it because then I’d have a story to rival the one about the person who tried to bring his horse.
I can’t put it all together, can’t get down exactly what I see – the boy taking a great swig of milk out of a bottle as he jaywalks, the dark-haired woman who clutches a red parcel to her chest, the two teenagers in the coffee shop window who look so identical from far off that I stare at them until it becomes apparent that they neither look very much alike nor are unaware of the fact that I’m looking at them. So I stop trying, although I still want to tell you about the graffiti on one of the buildings that reads, “ONLY RIVERS RUN FREE” and the yellow leaves that have begun to fall on the sidewalk – see, Mom, the leaves do change color here – and the garbage truck that is interesting for no other reason than that everything begins to seem interesting along that canal, everything seems real and human and lovely, even when, especially when, it’s nearing nighttime and the sun is sinking in the sky. It's the time of day when shadows play in thin bands on the sidewalk, shot through the branches of the trees, the time of day when the sunbeams are so bright they darken my eyes, obscure the faces of the people I pass.
So I can’t see the expressions of the boy in the hoodie and the girl in the green sweater who sit facing one another on the ledge by the bridge across from the Barge, which is capitalized here because it is in fact the name of a bar and not an actual barge. I can’t see their expressions. But when the girl lifts up her hands to the boy, she takes them in his, and there could be a thousand reasons for their clasped hands, but I see only one, because it’s sunset in Dublin and this place, this time, is something I’m starting to love.
And maybe I don’t have a lucky potato in my pocket, and maybe I haven’t even read enough of Joyce to make that stab at a reference, and maybe this is like every city in the world and maybe, certainly, definitely, I’ve only scratched the surface of Dublin and maybe I could ask the boy who steps into stride beside me, starts to run with me, if this is really Dublin, if this is really what Dublin feels like, but he’s too fast for me, and I’m almost home anyway, so I pull up short and watch as he disappears at the end of the next block, disappears behind all the strangers who live with me here, in this place, in Dublin.
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<p>I'm a rising junior at Williams College majoring in English and political science. I love reading and running, Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling, pumpkin bread and pretzels, The Grapes of Wrath and green tea. I'm spending a semester in Ireland to study Irish literature and to work on my own writing.</p>