I am finally reading a book in a cafe in Dublin. It’s been a while. It’s July, but it’s in the 50s and even though it’s not raining now, it will be soon. I’m distracted from my book by the people around me. In the corner by the window there sits a couple that is perfectly matched in physical beauty. I wonder how they managed to separate themselves from the madding crowd and find each other. I can’t tell how long they’ve been together, and because they are eating in silence, I can’t immediately tell if they are happy. But then he reaches over to grab her nose, the way you would with a child, and instantaneously I know that they are. Three elderly British women are sitting next to me and they order pots of tea and Victorian sponge cakes. (What else would they order?) All three have red manicured nails and gold wedding bands. They argue over who should pay the bill, each one wanting to treat. I go back to my book and indulge my bad habit of reading the last line which is in this case, “All life amazes me.”
Enrique, the nice barista from Considered, gave me My Name is Lucy Barton in March, but until now I haven’t had the desire to read it. But then by coincidence its author Elizabeth Strout was on an Irish television show the other night and even though I didn’t like her personality at all, her explanation of why she likes to write about the inner workings of ordinary people made me want to finally give it a chance.
As it turns out, the female protagonist loves to read, and this love of books allows her to leave her dismal childhood behind. She becomes a writer.
“And then later in high school I still read books, when my homework was done, in the warm school. But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone…And I thought: I will write and people will not feel so alone!” (p.24)
I am reminded of other fictional women who are bibliophiles, including: Rory Gilmore, Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennet, Belle, Liesel Merminger, and Scout Finch, who said, “We read to know we are not alone.”
But I am in Dublin after all, so I want to see and do as much as I can while I’m here. So I head over to the newly renovated National Gallery to see the Vermeer exhibit – Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry.
In my mind Vermeer is Colin Firth, but in real life, Johannes Vermeer doesn’t even come close. (But really, who does?) In real life, Vermeer was the epitome of the starving artist. He produced only thirty-four paintings, but in his spare time he produced fifteen children. This ratio didn’t work out for him, and he suffered from the stress of poverty to such a degree that he died at forty-three in 1675, virtually unknown. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that his reputation grew. Now he is considered one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
The exhibit includes only nine Vermeers and Girl With a Pearl Earring is not one of them. I have to settle for Woman With a Pearl Necklace. She is close, but no cigar. But she does remind me that art also makes us feel less alone, and in this particular case, art makes me want to go to the gift shop to buy some jewelry.
So what else could possibly go with literature and art here in Dublin? I’m going to go out on a limb and say whiskey.
So on Saturday when my friends from home are here visiting, we head over to the newly refurbished Jameson Distillery. It’s gorgeous inside and the tour is entertaining and educational. The Jameson family motto is “sine metu” – “without fear”. Its history is 230 years of dedication to triple distilled whiskey. And for the cocktail that is included, I have a shot of Jameson’s with ginger ale and lime… sublime. But it tasted so much better because I was drinking it with friends. And of course it’s always the people we love and who love us in return who truly make us feel that we are not alone.