At 2:20 in the morning, the gracious sitting rooms of the Hotel Merrion in Dublin are sparsely populated. At any other hour of the day, from breakfast to just about an hour ago, it takes a reservation to gain a seat on one of the floral upholstered armchairs or sofas but now I sit in near isolation, typing on my trusty laptop while HOBB sleeps in our room.
It has been a four-day whirlwind trip to Dublin and I have fallen madly, deeply and heedlessly in love with this city. HOBB has warned me to stop telling everyone who will listen that I never realized just how close Dublin is to New York because it sounds terribly naive but I cannot stop myself from marveling out loud over this late-in-life discovery.
For the same amount of time that it takes to fly from New York to, say, Seattle, I have landed in Europe's most charming, agreeable and marvelous city.
And they fed me the entire flight, shaming the US airlines who have adopted an unconscionable food-free policy for its cross-country flights.
It is two hours past midnight and I appear to be the only person in the lobby save for the group of polyglot people singing in the next sitting room over. About an hour ago, I was shocked to see refined older couples staggering drunkenly through the lobby. They were followed by groups of hipster rock-star types who probably were rock stars. A few young newlywed couples in expensive garb also made appearances but eventually all departed, leaving just me, the embers in the fireplace, the spirited singing one room over and my impressions of the past few days.
So...what can I report about my new love -- Dublin -- when I should be grabbing the few hours of sleep I have before my 9 am flight?
Nothing organized or rational, merely hints and fragrances -- snatches of "Dublin City" piping through HOBB's i-pod as we rode the bus in from the airport; the ubiquity of woolen scarves and overcoats on passing pedestrians; a genial good-heartedness in absolutely everyone I have met, from the hotel staff to shop owners to cab drivers to locals; the verve and bop of Grafton Street; the happy incidence of Insomnia Coffee shops outnumbering Starbucks; cathedrals and churches looming large upon the city's landscape but standing still and somber and lifeless as mausoleums; Trinity College forming the thriving, beating heart of the city; the dependable Liffey belting the city round the middle, asserting itself more modestly than the Thames but becoming more beautiful by night; a city staple: folk singers in bars who never leave without a rendition of "Molly Malone;" the well-preserved old storefronts and building facades which harken back to the world of my childhood and realms glimpsed only in novels and dreams; beyond; the palpable legacy of Joyce, Wilde, Yeats, Stoker, Swift, Shaw and their literary comrades in arms in every brick and cobblestone of the city; the transfusion brought by the new affluence and vitality pumping through the streets; the sorrowful undercurrent born of the memory of poverty and woe; and the gentle, lyrical accent scenting the air, keeping it fragrant even as Dublin diversifies, welcoming an international community.
I can hardly explain the sense of wellbeing I experience here. I can barely contain my joy at the ubiquitous beauty that results from the good marriage between the architecture and landscape of the city. I want to capture the inspiration that flows, like the Liffey, through the middle of Dublin, pulsing up through the soles of my feet.
I am awash in the sense that I have returned to a beloved place from long ago.
My first day here -- bleary-eyed, beleagured by jet-lag --I fancied that I had landed in a New England town, a section of Boston or Cambridge or Brooklyn Heights I had somehow never seen before.
The feeling was akin to those dreams where one discovers a room in one's house previously unrevealed.
The magic of my visit is further enhanced by my new friendship with Oscar Wilde, forged last night when I started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray aloud to HOBB on this very sofa.
Of course, I felt somewhat self-conscious about reading aloud in public, yet it was also lovely and romantic and reminiscent of our early courtship and marriage when I insisted on reading HOBB Harriet the Spy, the seminal book of my childhood. And so I read, keeping my voice barely audible, glancing at HOBB to make sure he was awake and listening. After two chapters of Dorian Gray, HOBB grew tired and asked to go to our room. We decamped there and went to bed. A short while later, he fell asleep, yet I lay awake, tired in body though agitated in spirit.
My thoughts were stirred by Lord Henry and Dorian and Basil.
Or more pointedly, by Oscar Wilde, of course, who utterly captivated me, making me put aside the volume of Moravia I packed for my trip, forcing me to stumble out of bed at an hour well past midnight to join him on the floor of our $400 a night hotel room.
And so I bunked down with Wilde, Dublin's native son, dead at the age of 46, banished and broken, survived by his brilliance, wit, insight and devil-may-care joie de vivre.
Last night, in the city where Oscar Wilde was born, over a century after his death, I dragged the quilt cover from the bed and sofa cushion of my hotel bed to fashion a makeshift bed for myself in the foyer of our room -- just outside the bathroom,with access to light -- and continued to read The Picture of Dorian Gray, passing out from exhaustion only when the sky turned gunmetal outside our hotel window.
Finding me sleeping on the floor, the Collected Works of Oscar Wilde resting on the carpeting beside me, HOBB stepped over me on his way to the bathroom, passed out like a drunk --drunk on literature, on Oscar Wilde, on Dublin, on love itself.
It is preposterously late now...3:15 am. Even if I fall asleep now, I will gain only two hours before needing to wake, pack, toss down some tea and head to the airport. The group next door has segued from Irish folk songs to Spanish melodies, Broadway tunes and early Jazz standards. The waiter came by and brought me a complimentary bowl of nuts and spring water. He must feel sorry for me, typing alone in a sitting room.
He needn't pity me in the least. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
I have discovered Dublin.
And I have discovered new love.