It’s been 12 days. I’ve walked about 80 miles. I’ve bused hundreds more. Countless to and fro. Countless stops and turns.
I feel this should actually be an addendum to my other blog. The Ireland of that writing has vanished. Vanquished. Maybe it never existed. Maybe it ceased to exist because I chose to write about it in that way. Maybe my imagination was just that powerful. I knew it as I circled St Anne’s in Shandon. The ice cream store gone. Was I just lost? No, I knew it with certainty–in the 5 years passed, it had closed and changed and been reborn. I walked back down the hill. I knew it moments before then, as I walked up the hill, pacing myself behind the other American tourists headed for the same sight. There had been no American tourists in that neighborhood last I visited. I had hardly seen any Americans last I was in Cork. Something was off.
Tourism has boomed in Ireland since 2013. Every Irish I mentioned this to responded with excitement. Ever optimistic, ever pleasant, those Irish. “Yes, it’s so exciting!”
WiFi was available mostly everywhere. Passwords printed on menus and posted in door frames. Tourists with their faces in their phones. Locals with their ears plugged by headphones. Not a single person, from anywhere, bought me a pint and asked if I was on holiday. Not a single person offered their travel story to me, in turn. I did have a nice chat with the German girls I’m bunking with. They are so, so young. I feel decrepit. The hostel common room is calm and quiet, even as people are gathered to watch the World Cup. People sit in small groups or type on their phones.
Something has escaped us. The first time I set foot in Europe, I was 21 and naive and had just seen Taken. I was convinced we were all going to be drugged and raped. The Americans girls in Europe. I was over anxious, overprotective, wary of wandering without purpose. I had a hard time opening up to the other travelers we met on the bus, in the pubs, lying in the beds next to us in the hostels. Everyone had a story and everyone wanted to know, where are you from. Shop owners, bus drivers, everyone was interested in conversation. No one knew when to stop. Anything was interesting. We were all in this together.
I had a brief chat with the bartender at Ned O’Shea’s. I had wandered far into Stoneybatter, thanks to my trusty iPhone, I can now step confidently into the streets of a strange city. I had wandered far only to be told the place wasn’t serving food but Would you like to have a drink with us? I am a lot of things now at nearly 31, but I am not a girl who drinks alone on an empty stomach in a far away town many many minutes from her hostel. I begged off to the bartender and wandered back in the direction I had come. I said to myself, I’ll go anywhere, the first place I see advertising fish and chips. I don’t care. Moments later there it was, on the corner across from the Brazen Head. Ned O’Shea’s.
The Asian bartender gave me a drink menu and I pretended to consider the Smithwicks, the Jameson, the wines. I told her, “I’ll just have a Guinness.” She smiled at me and poured the pint. I pretended to look at the menu, before ordering “the haddock.”
“The fish and chips?” She clarified.
Yes. I sat at the bar and stuffed myself. Another story for another time is how much pleasure I’ve found in traveling alone. Taking the bus, the train, the cab alone. Sitting alone, eating alone, sleeping alone. Discovering alone. All of it. Like I was meant for it.
The Guinness was almost 6€. Years ago, a pint had been 3, 4€ at the most. Now it was the same as the Corona. The same as a sad import. I felt cheated in this knowledge. I felt cheated in all my knowledge. The empty bus rides. The busy city centres. Where had all the love gone? As the pub filled with World Cup watchers and a group of obnoxious British adults, I closed my tab with the bartender and left. She mourned my going, “Guess it’s too loud for you now.” I didn’t realize she had wanted to be friends and I questioned my decision to leave. But it had been almost an hour and a half. And it was too loud not to go.
I tried to see Ireland as I saw it before. What was it before? Something special, something different. Now, everyone is drinking coffee and ordering donuts, having burritos for dinner. Everything I’ve ordered has come out instagrammable. No one has cocked their head at my accent. One person did ask me for directions. Everyone looks the same. You can’t tell one nation from the next. Indiscernible citizens everywhere.
Ireland has come into its own and has joined the modern world. Not that they weren’t modern, before. Just that, I felt, they were committed to doing their own thing and distantly interested in the States. Just like you watch a cute dog at the park or that popular reality show everyone talks about at work. Just to keep tabs. Yet, with the Trump presidency, Ireland has cast off from us. Ireland is fine without us, thanks.
Everywhere is fine without us. We are not what we were before. We’ve let the dirty laundry out. I’ll be surprised if we ever recover from this. If the world is ever interested in “America” again.
I guess that’s what I felt as I walked around Ireland. A feeling like, why wouldn’t the American be here.