One of my most enjoyable experiences over the last few months has been reading Joyce’s the Dubliners. I can imagine that some may balk at the fact that it has taken me so long to read Joyce’s collection of short stories about the denizens of early 20th century Dublin. I admit that I’ve been busy calculating eigenvectors and monopole fields but when I found a copy of the book in the bargain section of Eason’s on O’Connell Street I knew I had to make time to read the book. What I have taken away from reading these stories is that while Dublin has changed in many significant (and beneficial) ways since the the time Joyce wrote these stories, it has remained the same in a few very important ways. Sure the city no longer has street cars (replaced by the Luas, buses, and Air Coaches), gas lamps, and shipping traffic up into its upstream quays, but it is still wet, often dark, and full of people from all social strata meeting at the same pubs and bars every week. The stories consisting the Dubliners are often about the clash of hopes and aspirations with the natural tendency to become entrapped within routine and social hierarchy. What is best about these stories is that they reflect how it is to live like a real person in a real city and that even as the times change, our concerns and hopes remain the same.
I also enjoyed spending Christmas in Dublin. It was the first time I enjoyed mince pies, Christmas puddings, and Christmas dinner on Christmas. While the slippery ice may sometime get me down I nonetheless enjoyed seeing snow and all the lovely Christmas lights in Dublin. The festive atmosphere really made the stay worth it (although I missed seeing Bono, Glen Hansard, and Damien Rice perform an impromptu concert on Grafton Street on Christmas Eve as I was in Belfast doing what everyone in the Republic does, going up north for cheaper prices on Christmas shopping!).
I also used my travel stipend to soak in some culture and some sun. I had previously traveled to England and the Czech Republic and was in the mood for some place warmer, so I went to Malta, Sicily, and Rome. I had never been to a Mediterranean country so I particularly enjoyed the good weather, good food, and the surplus of art and ancient ruins around every corner. I even took a bit of time on Sunday morning to experience my first Catholic Mass in an old church on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily. I also enjoyed learning a bit of Italian and especially Maltese which is the first semitic language I’ve encountered first-hand. In addition to learning more about art and religion I also found exceptional enjoyment in studying the knots, fractals, and tesselations found in the mosaics and adornments of many of the churches. The same goes for Irish knot patterns I’ve seen, such as the ones around an old church near the Rock of Dunamase. While designed hundreds and even thousands of years ago, many of these designers had a sophisticated intuitive knowledge of a certain type of mathematics which the western world has rediscovered only in the last century. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to travel as it has given me a better understanding of language, culture, and even the history of ideas in science and mathematics.