From Dublin to Lisbon, London to Paris the newspapers and television were filled with grumblings about bailing out Greece, of course. Parisian disgust with Sarkozy was as common as croissants for breakfast, economic downtrends were predicted everywhere. Obama, once a shining leader, was relegated to the back pages. But where was the doom and gloom?
In Dublin and Paris, rock concerts were packed. Tourists and French alike crowded the streets of Montmartre on a gorgeous evening. In London, it practically takes a grocery bag to carry the amount of dollars needed to pay on the pound for five nights of hotels and taxis. One distinguished Englishman marveled at how the prices remained so high but that visitors still came; a less than 700 square foot apartment, as seen in the window of a Kensington realtor office, was going for 1.2 million pounds. But London looked profitably busy and rivaled New York in traffic snarls. The real disaster, moving from the sports pages to the front, was that their man, Andy Murray, lost at Wimbledon.
In Portugal, forgotten by most newspaper accounts, buses disgorged fumes and tourists in lovely Sintra and a wedding, complete with buckets of champagne, united a French and Portuguese couple on the steps of Montserratte, a castle high on the hill. The aura seemed to be, with nights like this how could things be so bad?
To be sure, surface images are just the tip of the economic iceberg and much of the world may be fiddling with more chaos around the corner. In some ways what frivolity we see may be just the real version of the 1930’s escapist movies with black-tied Fred Astaire and feather-molting Ginger Rogers dancing the gloom away.
But Dublin, ah yes, Dublin beat all. Here the death of the Celtic Tiger was imminent to some columnists and to others had already happened. Tell that to the hearty souls who stood eight deep in the famous pub on Duke, just off Grafton Street, Davy Byrnes. They and the entire town were paying homage to a man who never lived, except in the imagination of James Joyce and in his novel, Ulysses.
Everywhere you turned were Joyce imitators with steel rimmed round glasses, bowlers or straw hats, and women in ankle length dresses and turn of the century hats, posing as Molly and other characters in the book. It was here, in this bar, in 1904, where Leopold Bloom downed Gorgonzola cheese sandwiches and burgundy wine so here it was, being eaten again.
This year’s Bloomsday celebration was special because the copyright to Joyce’s masterpiece–which was called dirty, blasphemous and unreadable by a 1933 court–runs out on December 31. No revelers were sure what that portends but they fear a commercialization of the freewheeling, pub-crawling, poetry spouting antics that continued all day. Late at night at the Arts Club, despite numerous trips to the bar, one elegant Joycian managed to recite whole portions from memory and others started singing as if trained by a chorus. In Dublin it is a sin to be unable to carry a tune.
Bloomsday and James Joyce were not deemed antiquated in discussions and, in fact, comments on the day graced the pages of what was called a political blog.
As for Ireland’s economic future, the one word to describe everything I heard was optimism. This country has been so deeply down and so grandly up that optimism carries the day. Brendan Walsh, the sheriff of Dublin, found a silver lining in the housing crash. “Now the younger ones will be able to afford to buy.” And another reveler said, “We are already showing that we are strong and deserve aid from the E.U., not like Greece. We kicked out the bad guys.”
He then mused, “Y’know, you wouldn’t want a riot like in Greece, what with everyone carrying a gun in your country.” He looked perplexed, “Tell me now, why does everyone in the United States have a gun?”
The din was too loud to talk of guns in America but as I left Dublin I thought: one has to admire a country where the statues in the town squares are of poets and writers, not generals.