daily preciousness

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

texas fried chicken

"Look -- Texas fried chicken!" was the first declarative I overheard on the bus (after a half-dozen "Oh-my-god, we're really in Ireland!" exclamations). We were jet-lagged -- minds and bodies wiped out. But a few of us were awake enough to notice the oddly familiar Southern-style restaurant just off O'Connell Street on the North side of Dublin.

I guess I'm jaded, but I don't get the same thrill out of such minor examples of cultural inversion as I used to. (After seeing "CFC Fried Chicken" in Shanghai and "South Fried Chicken" in Amsterdam, seeing this one in Dublin wasn't a big shock.)

The incongruity of seeing a Texas fried chicken place half way around the globe, juxtaposed among rows of Irish pubs and off-track gambling parlors was just enough to wake us out of our stupor. And the bored driver managed to let loose a small grin as he glanced up at us in his mirror. He'd obviously noticed our lilting Southern accents, which dripped from our mouths like juice from a vine-ripened tomato. (Of course, many Europeans weren't aware that Americans had different accents at all – some that I spoke with were certain that all American voices must speak in the same way – namely, nasally and at great volume. They obviously hadn't carefully watched Miami Vice, Different Strokes, Full House or any of the myriad of quality TV that shows re-broadcast there.)

The rows of restaurants, bed & breakfasts and residences spread out before us, a foreign landscape. Strangely squat, the edifices were old-world in their diminutive size. The old fire regulations were in place: "no building shall exceed the height of our longest ladders." The momentum of cultural tradition had kept the rule in place, so that very few buildings outside of the downtown area were taller than 5 stories. Like London, Dublin was a city that maintained its character.

We entered the beautiful, tree-lined boulevard of O'Connell Street. Statues of great national leaders, great saints and mythological figures (all of whom we would learn later) reached heavenward in the middle of the road.

The first monument, next to the eponymous square, is of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891). He was a well-to-do home rule advocate who was attempting to reach a peaceful resolution with England. After many years of sensitive political strategizing and maneuvering, he was at the cusp of an agreement. But he had an eye for the ladies, which proved to be his downfall. His most supportive contingent happened to be Catholics, who immediately turned on him once allegations of adultery emerged. So a peaceful transfer of power from Britain eluded Parnell, despite a lifetime of tireless work. His reputation, forever tarnished by his wandering eye, only regained stature years after his death. And so the figure, at the top of O'Connell Street, has been dubbed the beginning of "adulterers' row."

Next, there's a monument to Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856), the "apostle of temperance." His right hand points upward and his left hand is outstretched, at waist level. Locals joke that he's motioning with his right hand the proper way to make a toast while demonstrating with his left that he was "just this tall" when he had his first drink.

Farther down, we pass "Anna Livia," James Joyce's embodiment of the River Liffey. The 1988 sculpture is a figure of a woman, with seaweed-like flowing locks and very organic features. She reclines as the waters of a fountain rush past her and over her. The local nickname for the piece is the "floozy in the Jacuzzi," appropriately enough.

Just across the way, Anna Livia's creator, James Joyce, stands immortalized in metal. If you look carefully, you'll see that the poor guy has his shoes on the wrong way. The sculptor wasn't too particular about the right shoe being on the right foot. Otherwise, it's a nice, nonchalant pose from the author. He stands on the pedestrian shopping street right in front of the Café Kylemore, the kind of place that serves breakfast at any hour.

The next sight that unfolds itself onto my consciousness is the General Post Office. It's the one I read about in Roddy Doyle's excellent fictionalized history of the Easter Uprising, A Star Called Henry. This is where Irish heroes like Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and other leaders read their proclamation of independence from Britain. (Patraig is the un-anglicized version of "Patrick." You've got to love his name -- Pearse's insistence on keeping it Irish is in itself a political statement.)

Just across from the GPO, I spot a large sign that indicated a future sculpture. It will be the Dublin needle: a simple obelisk, tapering off smoothly at the tip to a bright light. It was to be a millennium project, erected in 1999, but probably won't be finished until 2003. Should be a beautiful addition to the plaza. The needle will stand in the place of an old monument long since gone.

The story here is historically significant. There used to be a big Doric column with a dead white guy on the top. It was Nelson, the guy who defeated the French at Trafalgar. In 1966, the IRA wanted to celebrate the 50th year of independence from Britain by obliterating this little bit of English imperialism. They succeeded in pretty much obliterating old Nelson. The city decided to finish the job, by destroying the entire column. But they managed to shatter nearly every window on O'Connell Street in the process, whereas the IRA had absolutely no collateral damage. (Never call in an army officer to do a terrorist's job, I guess.)

We pass a total of 3 McDonalds – all on this one street. I fail to see how they can all stay in business. But I suppose they've done their market research and can manage to slide by somehow.

Before long, we reach the end of O'Connell Street, cross the bridge, the widest in Europe, then find ourselves at our new home: Trinity College.

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