What? I thought she was in Ireland! I am. “Araby” is the name of a James Joyce short story from “The Dubliners.” It’s about a boy who is in love with an older girl and wants to impress her by buying her something exotic from the “bazaar” being held in his village. He builds up the suspense all day—waiting for his father to get home to give him money, imagining how wonderful the bazaar will be, like going to a foreign country, and finding the perfect gift to make the unsuspecting girl fall in love with him.
Unfortunately his father gets home so late that by the time the boy gets to the bazaar it’s closing up. The lights are turned up and the merchants are packing to go home. He sees it’s not an exotic bazaar at all, but just the plain old community hall. The veil falls from his eyes and he goes home, sadder but wiser.
I’m not planning on going home soon, but I thought of the story this morning as I sat in a cafe, stewing about being overcharged for a skimpy breakfast and looking out at the statue of Jame Joyce, framed by a sign for a Thai noodle restaurant. How many tourists, I wondered, find that Ireland is not Araby either?
It wasn’t a shock to me, having been here before, but Dublin is a big, dirty city, far from the shining image portrayed in glossy tourist brochures. The streets are crowded with more people speaking Polish or Chinese than English, panhandlers are more prevalent than street performers, and litter blows down the sidewalks like snow. Parks are closed “for maintenance” and buildings on the main streets are shuttered and decaying.
Friday I walked for what seemed like miles in the hot sun to reach the James Joyce Museum in the Martello Tower in Sandycove, featured in the opening of Ulysses. The exhibit was tiny and musty, with the ceiling sagging badly from the dampness. The tower was anticlimactic, with views over the tiny beach crowded with sunbathers.
No, it’s not all rainbows and leprechauns on the Emerald Isle.
But it is still a country with an amazing history of producing artists, writers and musicians unrivalled anywhere. Sunday afternoon I attended a free (free!) concert at the nearby Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane (a mouthful, I know) with a trio called Triocca, with viola, flute and a beautiful concert harp.
The event was special because they were debuting a composition by a Dublin composer, John Buckley, who was in attendance. His composition was called “To Lands Beyond Time,” and was his musical interpretation of six Japanese haiku. Before each musical haiku a lovely Japanese woman stood up and recited the Japanese version, followed by one of the performers reciting it in English, with of course a soft Irish accent.
The senior gentleman who sat beside me, Charlie, said he was taking a musical appreciation class from Buckley at the local college. He clued me that the composer would be present, and said I would recognize him because he “looked like a composer.” The caterpillar eyebrows and sideburns were the giveaway.
Buckley said he liked to think of haiku as what Joyce called “epiphanies”—little moments in time. I thought that was a graceful way to tie the two cultures together. So, with all due respect to Joyce and Buckley, I composed this haiku to Dublin:
Red brick buildings stand erect
Black-shawled beggar woman
Dances in the sun