Day 8 / Tuesday, 18 September 2012
This morning we popped up early for something I’d been anticipating ever since I planned this trip: lunch with the gentlemen of the ESB. Gerry works for the ESB (Electricity Supply Board—in other words, the electric company), I have become friends with his colleagues Brendan and Pat, and we traditionally “do lunch” when I visit.
So Margaret and I drove all the way in to Harold’s Cross, where Gerry’s office (the Archives) is located, and where we would park the car. We had some time, so we snacked on sandwiches (in anticipation of a late lunch), and while Gerry gave Margaret a tour, I had time to check e-mail and so forth. It was good to see Pat, who arrived shortly after we did.
Our first stop would be House 29, the Georgian house museum owned and operated by the ESB. The museum is situated just a half block from Merrion Square—and if you’ve seen the famous photographs of brightly colored Dublin fanlight doors, you’ve seen the Merrion Square neighborhood, which was built over thirty years beginning in 1762. House 29 was completed in 1794 and was first occupied late that year; the house has been refurbished to look as it might have looked at that time. (There is a lot of historical information in the link above, so be sure to check it out.)
Jill and Alli met us as House 29, as did Brendan. And we were greeted like visiting royalty, I must say, even by the museum’s curator, Sandra. (I’ve just sent off all my thank-you notes.) We were in time for a tour, which ranges from the basement to three floors above. I’ve been here before, of course, but I enjoyed this refresher course on how well-off Dubliners lived in those days. (One doesn’t even want to consider how not well-off Dubliners lived in that era; I’m certainly grateful for the conveniences I now take for granted.)
From Lower Fitzwilliam Street, we walked along Baggot Street (which becomes Merrion Row) to the Royal Hibernian Academy, just about three blocks. The RHA is, Brendan told us, is a collective of Irish artists; you have to be nominated in order to join the collective. (RHA’s mission statement says it is dedicated to developing, affirming, and challenging the public’s appreciation and understanding of traditional and innovative approaches to the visual arts. Whew. It was founded in 1823.) It is a lovely building with several galleries; we were there to see the Seán Keating exhibit (officially titled Seán Keating and the ESB: Enlightenment and Legacy), sponsored, of course, by the ESB.
It’s appropriate that the exhibit is here, as Keating—an Irish artist in the romantic-realist style—was elected to the RHA in 1923. Born in 1889, Keating was not quite twenty-seven years old and studying art in London when the Easter Rising began the Irish war for independence from British rule. He returned home and documented on canvas these hostilities and the subsequent civil war; after that he was commissioned (read more about it here) to document the building of Ardnacrusha (1925–1929), a dam on the Shannon near Limerick. This hydroelectric plant (I’ve visited it, and written about it in a previous travelogue, which is not yet posted here; it pains me that I can’t yet link to that information … but I will, I will) belongs to the ESB, of course, and I’ve been hearing about Seán Keating for nearly eleven years—so I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to finally see in person Night’s Candles Are Burnt Out, Keating’s iconic 1929 painting that symbolizes the passing of the old Ireland (see it here).
Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, act 3, scene 5
We wandered briefly through some other exhibits, too, also sponsored by the ESB, which offers two art “medals” (prizes) each year to up-and-coming artists.
(As an aside, I was having a lot of trouble with the walking we were doing—next we would walk about a block to the restaurant where we’d have lunch—even though now that I’m looking at it on the map I can see that it was hardly any distance at all. It felt like a hike across town. Less than thirty-six hours later I would be in a doctor’s office, diagnosed with pneumonia, but on this Tuesday all I knew was my legs felt like lead and I was struggling to keep up, constantly out of breath. Aloud, I asked Gerry “How much further?”—it’s a mark of his grace that he simply slowed down to my pace—but inwardly I wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” I’d been fine, energetic, when I’d left Tennessee, but I felt awkward and inappropriate now, like I didn’t belong because I couldn’t keep up. Honestly, it was awful.)
Brendan always chooses great restaurants, and today was no exception. We walked just up the street to Pearl Brasserie, a lovely restaurant that serves traditional French cuisine, where we spent a very leisurely time over a wonderful lunch.
The first time I ever saw photos of friends’ dinners, I thought it was so strange, and I’ve never been one to take photos of meals—but you will see photos of meals henceforth. We ate like royalty everywhere we went; Ireland has a wonderful foodie culture.
Yes, we had dessert! Mine was “Tasting of Lemon”—small servings of lemon sorbet, lemon tart (kind of lemon pie), lemon meringue (exceedingly tart!) and lemon jelly, which was sort of like Jell-O only much, much better. Topping the jelly was a sparkly, clear/white jelly with a slight basil taste to it, in addition to the lemon. Wow. The presentation of everything was exquisite (service too), and sometimes very interesting, as noted above. The jelly, for example, was in a small lidded jar.
After lunch, the gentlemen left our part to return to work. The rest of us walked back to the gift shop at the RHA, shopped, then walked up to the National Gallery.
Ireland’s National Gallery was one of my favorite stops last time we were here. I’d read about the lost Caravaggio in Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting, and delighted in seeing it in person on a very quiet morning. I loved the whole floor of Irish painters (including a slew of folks from poet W. B. Yeats’s family). I loved, too, the old, old wooden floors that creaked and cracked, as floors in a museum should.
That’s all changed now. They are refurbishing the museum; collections have been rearranged into different configurations. Worse, those lovely floors are gone (or, they weren’t where we were, which was the selection of masterpieces (“Masterpieces from the Collection”) and the Jack Yeats exhibition. I saw the Caravaggio and the Vermeer; but was disappointed not to see “Ireland’s favorite painting” (Frederic William Burton’s The Meeting on the Turret Stairs), which is now shown for very limited hours, and only in the morning. I am sure this remodeling is a good thing, really I am; but I did not see the gallery I was expecting to see. It has been modernized. Along the entire trip I would revisit places that have been refurbished (tarted up) to within what seems like an inch of their lives, so this was just a harbinger of things to come.
Margaret, Gerry, and I cabbed back to his office and had a cup of tea to wait for rush hour traffic to die down; then we drove Gerry home, and then back to Laytown. Tomorrow we leave to go down the country.
There are so many foreign nationals in Dublin! In particular, many of the waiters and waitresses we encountered were not Irish. Yesterday at the Shelbourne, our young waitress was an American. Today at the Pearl our two servers were German.