Friday, September 28, 2007

The Only Redhead in Dublin

During the short break between pubs the previous night, we had chosen our breakfast on the strip of paper pinned to the door of our room. We were the only people in the breakfast room in the morning, and P.J. brought us coffee, eggs, toast, and beans. This was our second and last full day in Dublin, and there were many more things that we wanted to do. We caught the bus into the city center and made our way toward the National Museum. The block consists of a compound of Parliament and the National Museum (Archaeology and History), Gallery, and Library, respectively. It’s a bit of an unattractive maze with a central car park and black iron gates rather marring the facades of the buildings themselves and making it unclear how to enter them.

We chose the National Museum first because we wanted to get a better sense of Irish History, and as this is where “all archaeological objects found in Ireland” end up, apparently, this seemed like a good choice. The building itself—from rotunda to mosaic floors, carved wooden doors, decorative moldings, vaulted ceilings, and inlaid stone fireplaces—is exquisite in an of itself, and I spent a lot of time checking out the architecture. The exhibits cover Ireland from 7,000 BC through the late medieval period, including gold jewelry recovered from bogs, Neolithic tools and pottery, and an exhibit of bog bodies.

Yes, Bog Bodies. This was the bit I enjoyed most, I believe, because it is macabre and strange. Bog Bodies date from 8,000 BC to the early medieval period in northwestern Europe. Be they sacrifices, executions, or offerings, it’s pretty safe to rule out accidents: hundreds of people didn’t lose their way and “accidentally” get tangled up in ropes or belts that strangled them or fall on knives that cut their heads off, slit their throats, and hacked their limbs. One would think that people would move far, far away from bogs if they were so effectively dangerous.

When we left the museum, we realized that we needed to make our way toward the Guinness Storehouse, if we wanted to make it there before closing. I sighed at the National Library as we walked past with its banners announcing a W.B. Yeats exhibit waving in the wind, beckoning me to enter. There was no time; the Storehouse was on the other side of the city center, through the medieval section, and down the road apiece. We decided to catch a bus, so we figured out which number we were looking for, found the route, and decided to walk until we saw one. We walked the whole way.

The Guinness Storehouse is actually more of a working demonstration. Housed in a storehouse built in 1904 for the fermentation process and located on the massive grounds of the Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate, multimedia displays take the viewer through the history and process of brewing Guinness. As we walked back through the narrow streets leading to the Storehouse, passing a black gate inscribed with “Guinness” in large white letters, and signs leading you in the right direction, I said to Pete “I can feel the presence of the Ring.” I was first date nervous, excited about something I had been looking forward to far a long time. A facsimile of Arthur Guinness’ famous 9,000 year lease on the brewery is embedded in the floor in the central rotunda, and after you get your ticket and pass through the doors to the display, you are greeted by the words “The essence of Guinness is all around you.” That’s a glorious thing, indeed.

You travel up and through seven stories of Guinness, modeled on a giant pint glass, learning about water, barley, hops, and yeast—the four ingredients; Arthur Guinness—the fifth ingredient; and the brewing process. The Master Brewer guides you though this process on video, self conscious hand gestures included. After watching Talledega Nights on the plane, I could not help but think of Ricky Bobby as I watched the brewer’s hands waving slowly yet emphatically near his face, seemingly unconnected to his words. Pete asked if I thought he was an actor, and I answered that I would hope that Guinness would have enough money to hire a better one. Lord knows, my tab alone could have paid for it.

It was during the displays on the brewing process that I learned that there are other kinds of Guinness, which have been kept from me by oceans and marketing. There’s a Foreign Extra that has more hops and more alcohol and is shipped to places like the Caribbean, and there’s a Brewhouse Series, only available in Ireland, it appears. The Brewhouse available in the tasting lab on the first floor was called “Northstar,” which I found to be particularly perverse and taunting, given that we are from the Northstar State. Were there a way to smuggle a keg of this home, I would have. It was very, very tasty.

The display on the “Craft of the Cooper,” showing how the casks that carried Guinness were made, was informative, especially the revelation that when a new cooper was initiated, he was placed in his first completed cask along with anything they could find on the floor, and rolled around and around the cooperage. At one point, the brewery employed 300 coopers, and after the brewery switched to metal kegs, many of the casks were made into furniture and sold.

Apparently, on the third floor, there’s an exhibit which “challenges visitors to look at their own drinking habits and recognize the fine line between enjoying yourself and drinking to excess.”

We didn’t go in there.

We did peruse the advertising display at length, however, being highly susceptible to marketing.

Last, but not least, is the Gravity Bar, on the seventh floor. Here, you get your complimentary pint of Guinness along with a 360 degree panorama of Dublin. It’s quite spectacular, and the place is buzzing with people. But the real gravity of the gravity bar is the amount of unfinished Guinness. We all know that people can’t resist a free thing, but the half, three-quarters, and almost entirely full unfinished pints lolling around on tables was shocking and disturbing to me. If you aren’t going to drink it, don’t get it. In fact, if you have never had Guinness or you know you don’t like it, why are you here? I know, it’s a historic place, and everyone tells you to go, but I don’t think I would visit Budweiser just because I was in town, because I don’t care. And if I did, I would drink the free can of beer they gave me at the end. I sat in horror, watching as person after person set their pint down and left. I watched one woman take her pint, standing there with her shoulderbag, take a tentative little sip, lean back over to the bar, set it down, murmur “Thanks” with her simpering, pursed little lips, and walk away. For chrissake, at least reduce the waste a teensy bit: get a freaking half pint if you are going to be such a girl about it. I could have sat there longer and savored another pint, enjoying the view, if it were not for this travesty, and I don’t think they would have appreciated me finishing all the left over glasses.

Later that evening, in a pub not far from the B&B, discussing the day’s events and tomorrow’s plan, I realized that, so far, I had not seen one single redhead. I seemed to be alone in Dublin. I had been expecting to fit in here, what with all the romanticizing of the Irish and the stereotypes, but apparently, all the redheads have moved to St. Paul.

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