-esque: in the style of, resembling (suffix, forming adjectives).
There is no mistaking it, I am in Dublin. To borrow from Philip Larkin, Dublin is so Dublinesque. I disembark at Connolly, emerge into bright spring sunshine, and Dublin and I immediately remember each other. Here it comes, this vibrant feeling as I join all the new arrivals teeming out from the station, wheeling bags and pushing prams and offering a helping hand down the escalator, a girl with a backpack asking a taximan the way to Busáras, weekly boarders in long pleated skirts and a stuffed tote bag being met by Mum. A young man on the Luas defers to the woman getting on at Wynnes Hotel, she with the huge bundle of eucalyptus bursting from its brown paper wrapper, stems almost as big as herself. Later that evening, hugs and smiles of people meeting in the bar of the Gaiety as the Usher calls, ‘Five minutes to curtain up,’ and no one plays her a blind bit of attention as they’re far too busy being delighted at seeing each other. The graciousness of strangers in the Shelbourne who wave a hand as if they know us, – Come and join us, followed up with a seamless –What’ll you have? The man in the Kilmainham coffee shop whose three swallows flying down his forearm are – he tells me – for his mother and two sisters. All shy smiles, he rotates his arm to show me how they tumble down the pale sky of his skin. The ladies in Ranelagh who tirelessly bring me fifteen frocks to try on until I eventually say yes to a dress, which they wrap it in pink tissue – Hope to see you again soon.
It’s all changed, but it’s all the same. In every corner sits a half-baked Dublinesque memory, like bits of film reel left on the cutting room floor when I cleared out of here fifteen years ago, but each time I return, so do the memories.
Back then, I mostly walked to work. If it was pouring, I might get a bus as far as College Green, but always the last half mile down Nassau Street and onto Merrion Square was made by foot. The shiny part of town, I called it. If streets were to be classified according to one’s wardrobe, Nassau Street was one’s Sunday Best. On one side of Nassau Street, a half wall topped with railings bounding Trinity College, on the other, expensive shops selling high end goods to tourists: Kilkenny Design, Kevin and Howlin, House of Ireland. This was not the side to walk on had I to get somewhere in a hurry. Tourists jostled on this side, walking slowly, shuffling, stopping, walking again, no real destination in mind, a tendency to stall without notice, like Dad’s 1970s silver Cortina. I chose on the Trinity side, lined with bus stops – 11, 37, 38 – Sandyford, Blachardstown, Burlington Road – queued up with Dubliners who’d left a passageway for others to make their way through. The other reason this is the better side is the trees. Rustling plane trees that, in autumn, drop leaves big enough to use as fans, all bare now in early March.
I took this route to work for four years, yet, in my memory, it is always summer on Nassau Street; girls coming out of the side gate of Trinity wearing dresses and boys with denim jackets hung loosely over their shoulder, students of the unstudied look. Meet you in Frederick Street for breakfast, see you in Buswells for lunch, Setanta place for drinks after work? Money, endless money, fifty-euro notes meaning nothing, Café en Seine re-named Café Insane, brokers from Davy’s around the corner sending over bottles of champagne and then forgetting which table of women they had sent it to. All these sidestreets feeding off Nassau Street, little arteries keeping the heart pumping, life rushing by, tiny scenes playing out for the poet to caputure.
Dublinesque, Philip Larkin Down stucco sidestreets, Where light is pewter And afternoon mist Brings lights on in shops Above race-guides and rosaries, A funeral passes. The hearse is ahead, But after there follows A troop of streetwalkers In wide flowered hats, Leg-of-mutton sleeves, And ankle-length dresses. There is an air of great friendliness, As if they were honouring One they were fond of; Some caper a few steps, Skirts held skilfully (Someone claps time), And of great sadness also. As they wend away A voice is heard singing Of Kitty, or Katy, As if the name meant once All love, all beauty.