Learning by traveling

I’m amazed by myself. But not in a good way. In recent years, I’ve come to realize how little I know about the world. Yes, a kind reader would interrupt me now and tell me that it’s just age doing its work, that it shows signs of great wisdom to see one’s fallacies and shortcomings. 

To which I would say, “thank you”, because even if I’m not always especially kind to myself, I do try to be kind to others. 

Unfortunately for me, such encouraging words never last long because I then turn around and talk to Son, a walking Wikipedia if I ever knew one. And should there be a page that needs updating, or has missing links, Daughter will surely patch things up with her knowledge. 

This past week, the four of us have been traveling around Ireland and … well, I’m not going to list all the things I never even knew I didn’t know but maybe somehow thought I knew, but let me just say that I’ve learned a lot. We’ve seen the battlegrounds of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and an actual deck chair from Titanic, and the natural wonder that is the Giant’s Causeway. We’ve seen the Columbus monument in Galway, a 13th century castle in Limerick, and Oscar Wilde’s childhood home. 

And yet, ask me in a year what I remember about this trip, and I might tell you a semi funny tale about how we walked from back to our car in Limerick only to find it completely surrounded by hundreds of people and about 50 sports cars, getting ready for the convoy through town, and how a police helped us get out car out of the parking spot. 

Or maybe I’ll tell you about Bernie, our hyperactive hostess at the Neenagh bed and breakfast who demonstrated to Wife how she, too, often hits her head on the ceiling beans and then ran downstairs to fix a toilet and then next morning, made breakfast for everyone, whistling in the kitchen. 

Or, I may tell you we saw Allie Sherlock play on Grafton Street. 

They make for anecdotes but that’s all they are. 

Now, let me make this very clear. I don’t think I’m stupid, by any means. It’s just that I’m interested in other, smaller things. 

For example, yes, the “you are now entering free Derry” painting in Derry was impressive, as were all the murals, but at the Belfast Titanic Experience – there are no “museums” anymore, just “experiences” – it was the deck chair and bandleader Wallace Hartley’s violin that brought tears to my eyes. 

Also, I get hung up on things. All day today, I’ve been wondering why there are so many public clocks in Dublin. I think it was Wife who mentioned it, casually, this morning, and once she said it, I couldn’t unsee it. Wherever I look, there’s a clock. And not just any clock, but a large, fancy clock that looks like it’s been there for centuries. 

And I can’t shake it. While I’ve been walking behind Wife, Son, and Daughter around town from the Trinity College to the emigration museum and from the Hodgon Figgis bookstore to the George Street Arcade, and Son’s told us interesting facts about the city, I’ve been pointing at clocks. 

They hang above pub doors, they’re by the sides of buildings, on lamp posts, outside department stores, and, of course, on top of of clock towers. 

Why is it so important for Dubliners to know the exact time? Does it have something to do with James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the way Leopold Bloom wanders around the city? Or is it a sign of a long watchmaking tradition due to the Irish being navigators? A leftover from their rebellion against London? 

Or are they there simply because they make for good meeting points at pubs? “Meet me at Molly Malone’s at six! What? You know, when the long hand points straight up and the short one straight down. Aye!”

And, since there are so many clocks, are the Dubliners punctual? 

Who knows.

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