Out with the Old, In with the New?

Today marks my two-month anniversary in Ireland. I arrived in September, dragging my disheveled way down O’Connell Street, shoulders straining under the three suitcases still stained with dust acquired somewhere between the African Sahel and the Eastern seaboard of the US. My packing job after a year living in Senegal had been simple: Remove mounds of medical supplies, replace with peacoats and woolen hats. Add a business suit or two and throw in a copy of Ulysses for good measure. Voilà: My life’s possessions, reassembled for my next year abroad. In the local parlance of Ireland, I was “sorted.”

“Sorted” was an apt way to describe my entrance into Dublin as well. Of course, there was literal sorting. Academic red tape to slog through, new keys to track down, aesthetically pleasing tea mugs to select (I’d always scoffed at tea as yogic and inefficient before coming to Ireland, but now I love it). More importantly, there was a sorting of perspective to undergo. Before my room at Trinity was ready, I stayed in a hostel on the north side of the Liffey for two nights. I knew Dublin first from beneath the train tracks, in a converted wine cellar filled with international free spirits. Aboveground, the streets were peppered with Chinese storefronts, Polish grocery stores, and kitschy mom-and-pop teashops. I flounced around buying scones with backpacking buddies I’d met at the hostel, like a tourist on vacation in my new hometown.

I found myself wandering those same streets again recently, but I barely recognized them. The lenses through which I see Ireland regularly shift In this manner. I view Dublin one day through the hodgepodge of the city’s north side, another through the august offices and neon of Temple Bar.

This is the island of the peat-fueled hearth and also of the Guinness-fueled concert. Sometimes as I stroll from High Street into Christ Church, surveying Viking ruins, my thoughts shift to neorealist theories of international politics. These layers are emblematic of the city too: a recent historic “ghost tour” of Dublin brought me to a local restaurant converted from a church: the churchyard, where a kid’s fair is erected during the summertime, contains the coffin of the “hanging-est judge in Ireland” (whose spirit, in the form of a Labrador, supposedly still terrorizes hapless housewives somewhere north of Phoenix Park). Here, history is not facing the wrecking ball but seeds the present.

Despite my continual sorting, people around me have been taken aback lately when I’ve let slip the word “home” to describe Trinity. “Galway was a blast, but it will be nice to settle home next weekend,” I’ll say, or “I’d better stop home to grab a sweater.” Invariably, confusion arises: “You’re going back to the States next weekend?” someone will ask or “Surely you can buy a sweater here” (aside: can you ever!).

Maybe after traveling so much, I’ve learned to use the word “home” too liberally. But there’s something exceptionally settled about my Mitchell company: an immediate ease that I didn’t expect among high-charged young careerists. For instance, I’ve noticed that my Mitchell class is uncannily food oriented (beyond the two people who figure food into their professional ambitions, more than a few are impressive chefs). It seems this group means to savor.

So here’s to savoring, and here’s to sorting.

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