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Little Old Wine Drinker

I checked my watch and saw that it just after five o’clock. Time to go, I thought, and scooped up my jacket from the back of the chair. The rest of the guys in the office were doing the same, except David, who was tapping keys and staring at his computer screen. ‘Are you coming, or what?’ I said ‘because I’m off. Now.’
David looked up. ‘Sorry, Chris, be with you in a mo.’ He made a silly face. ‘I just got lost somewhere in cyberspace and forgot the time. Ok?’
‘Come on Spock, or we’ll be late.’

Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne Hotel

We walked through the rush-hour pedestrian traffic along Baggot Street and Merrion Row to the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green. The pavements were colourful and busy in the warm air, the sun still high and bright on this late June evening. Summer had most certainly arrived, and the happy looks on peoples’ faces said wonders for ‘taking the sun’. It was one of those ‘good to be alive’ days and the city seemed to hum to an easy rhythm.
‘Well, what’s it going to be like Chris?’ David asked, a sheen of sweat glinting above his top lip.
I stopped, and he did the same. ‘I told you already, it’s a wine tasting night and it will be fun. What more can I say?’
David was uncertain and he fiddled with the top button of his shirt. ‘Will there be many at this thing?’ he asked a little nervously. He put his finger down the top of his shirt and pulled it a little looser.
I could see that he was uncomfortable but what was I to say. ‘Yes, there’ll be plenty of wine lovers here and, more importantly, there will be lots of good wine to taste. And, sometimes they have lovely cheese. You like cheese don’t you?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Then you’re going to love it.’
‘Sure…..except that.’
‘Except what?’
He looked me straight in the eye, licked his lips before saying ‘I never drank much wine before and …’
I smiled. ‘Don’t worry, nobody’s going to poison you, if that’s what you are thinking. It’ll be ok.’ I leaned closer. ‘And there are always plenty of nice girls at these things.’ I winked, it was the best I could do, and he seemed to relax – a little anyway.

The lobby of the hotel bustled with life. Everywhere people moved about, greeting one another and their laughter reflected the glorious weather outside. If it was atmosphere you were after then we were in the right place, and a good evening lay ahead. It was, after all, the culmination of the wine tasting course that I had been attending for the previous six months, and I was really looking forward to the event. Barbara, one of my classmates, told me that the Last Night was not to be missed, and she had been to three of them. Sadly, my fiancé who was meant to attend, too, had twisted her ankle playing tennis a few days before, and that is how David was here.
I spotted the sign ‘Wine Tasting’ and we headed down a corridor and came to a large room where tables were set out with glasses and baskets of bread. I signed in for myself and David and we pinned our badges to our lapels and mingled with the noisy crowd. Considering that no wine had yet been consumed the rumble of conversation was palpable. Anticipation is a great thing, I thought, and we moved to the table where Barbara and Liz, the fourth ‘member of our team’ were chatting. I introduced David as a work colleague who was ‘new’ to the wine game. They both smiled and said that he would have a great night. ‘Your first time?’ asked Liz wickedly.
David flushed immediately. ‘Yes, my first time,’ was his awkward reply before he took off his jacket and let a low whistle.
‘Liz, you’re terrible,’ I said.
‘First time for everything, eh,’ she quipped and fixed the front of her low-cut dress.
David flushed even more and I thought that he was going to have a heart attack. ‘You ok?’
‘Fine, just fine,’ he said, lying through his dry lips. ‘I’ll be fine, just watch me.’ He nodded, and I nodded back.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The noisy conversation was broken by the sound of someone tinkling a glass. A hush descended on the room and the course director, Hugh Clarke, welcomed everyone and told us that we would be tasting some fine wines tonight. He gave a few hints of what was to come but not enough for us to guess exactly what that might be. ‘He’s such a tease,’ said Liz and I saw David’s face redden.
‘So if you are all ready, we’ll start,’ said Hugh as bottles of wine wrapped in dark paper were brought to each table. I picked up the bottle and poured wine into the girls’ glasses and then into both mine and David’s. I held my glass out in front of me and swirled the wine about. ‘Nice colour,’ I said and the girls mumbled agreement.
Liz held her glass up to her nose and sniffed deeply. She released a throaty moan of sheer pleasure that had David reddening even more. ‘Smells like ripe berries and…..succulent peaches,’ she cooed and breathed in another nose full of the wonderful aroma.
Barbara took a sip and noisily washed the liquid around her mouth. She leaned slightly back and then swallowed the golden liquid and smacked her lips loudly. ‘That was great,’ she said ‘and a fine way to start the show.’
I also swilled a mouthful of wine and agreed that it was wonderful. ‘Sauvignon Blanc,’ I said ‘and it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted.’
Both girls nodded agreement while David downed the whole glass in one go, and reached for more. ‘Yeah, that was great,’ he said ‘want some more?’
The girls declined and I told him that he should really take his time and try to enjoy the flavour. He drank the second glass in the same fashion as the first while I ate some bread and looked about the room. A few people waved over and one guy, Dermot, gave me the thumbs up sign. Was he grinning at the excellent wine he’d just taken or did he envy my good fortune in spending time with Barbara and Liz? I held up my glass and pointed to it. Dermot shook his head in response and burst out laughing, spilling wine on one of his table mates.

Grape Expectation

Grape Expectation

Hugh Clarke told us to try bottle number two and I again did the honours. The deep red colour was like the purple in Caesar’s toga and the aroma had all the imperial qualities too. I held my glass up to the light and watched the colour change as I swirled it about, giving the wine a chance to breathe. Barbara did the same and dipped her nose into her glass. ‘Hmmm,’ she said ‘I’m getting something spicy, like…..plums, maybe’
I sniffed also and agreed. ‘Yes, definitely plummy alright. And with a hint of……vanilla.’ I took another sip.
Liz loudly washed the wine about in her mouth before spitting it into the spittoon beside her. She licked her lips deliciously. ‘Merlot?’ she said, raising an eyebrow.
Barbara replied. ‘Yes, and wasn’t it so velvety?’
I spat out and said that it certainly was a fine wine and that Hugh was spoiling us. ‘I told you that it would be good,’ said Barbara breaking another piece of bread.
Beside me David was pouring and drinking his second glass of the purple pleasure. For a guy who, although not the most talkative man of I’ve ever met, he was almost struck dumb and adding hardly anything to the evening. ‘You ok?’ I asked quietly and his reddening eyes showed more than mild embarrassment. He loosened his tie some more and lowered another mouthful of wine. ‘You’re meant to sip it,’ I said.
‘Yeash,’ he replied, the first hint of a slur slipping into his voice.
The next hour passed pleasantly as Hugh Clarke provided us with some of the finest wines any of us ever tasted. Barbara was really delighted with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy while Liz and I were thrilled with a magnificent Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia. The flavour of rich chocolate and fruits was sensational, and my star turn of the night. When Liz said in a very sultry voice that it tasted just so on her tongue David vomited his mouthful of wine over my shirt such was his surprise at her choice of words. He excused himself immediately and went off to the bathroom, his embarrassment more acute than ever.
‘Is he always like this?’ asked Barbara.
I shrugged. ‘I don’t really know, but he’s usually got something to say for himself at work.’
‘Maybe I’ve upset him or something, offered Liz. ‘I mean he’s hardly said a word to either of us all night, has he?’ Her comment was still hanging in the air when David walked unsteadily back to the table.

Bubbly - ab fab!

Bubbly – ab fab!

Hugh Clarke again tapped his glass and the room went quiet. ‘And now for our final bottle of the evening. This will be champagne, and it’s one of my favourites, so I’m sure that you’ll all enjoy it.’ With that the waiters moved about filling glasses and we all enjoyed the bubbly stuff. I had often found champagne gave me heartburn but this stuff that I was drinking was in a league of its own such was the quality. The bubbly was ‘doing the business’ as the din of conversation in the room rose like the bubbles in my glass. Everyone was smiling, apart from David, who had plopped down heavily onto his chair and said loud ‘I’m pissed.’ He then fell off the chair and hit the floor with dull thud.
I put my glass down and with the help of a guy from the table beside us we got David back into his seat. He rocked back and forth before putting his head on the table and passing out. His arms hung down loosely and he looked like a broken puppet.
Liz shook her head. ‘You know the old saying ‘In vino veritas’ – in wine there is truth.’
I nodded. But as I looked at David snoring I realised that Liz was, well, almost right. ‘I think that should be ‘In vino very smashed,’ I said and reached down and shook my drunken friend awake. The girls were still laughing when I put my arm under David’s shoulder and led him away from his first, and last, wine tasting. It was an experience that I didn’t forget and, thankfully, one that David couldn’t remember.
Cheers!

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James Joyce – A Native Son

41, Brighton Square

41, Brighton Square

Although his native city features in all his writing, the relationship between the two was not easy. Joyce left Dublin when he was twenty-two years old and only returned for a few short visits. He lived in Trieste, Paris and died in Switzerland in 1941, aged fifty-nine, recognised as one of the major writers of the twentieth century. His influence on Modern writing is undeniable, and his native city is at the centre of his work.

He was born on 2nd February 1882 in 41, Brighton Square, Rathgar, which at the time was a recently laid out middle-class suburb. Joyce was the eldest of ten siblings born to John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane Murray from whom he inherited his musical love and good voice, as she was an accomplished   pianist. His father frittered away his inheritance on different business ventures, and over the years the family sank into poverty making many late night departures from one house to another. The nomadic life was something Joyce understood, and during the years on the Continent moving house happened often.

JJ in St Stephen's Green

JJ in St Stephen’s Green

Joyce found the conservative religious atmosphere and the changing political landscape in Ireland too oppressive for creative thinking, and left for Paris. In this most cosmopolitan city, a place of tolerance in all areas, Joyce could grow as a writer and human being and encounter ‘the reality of experience’. It was the environment he needed, and even though his financial position did not noticeably improve, the freedom to think and write was paramount.

It is interesting that Joyce, although ‘exiled’ from the city that he disliked for its shortcomings and conservative mindset, still chose to use it as the canvas on which he wrote. From his earliest work Dubliners (1914), the hugely popular collection of short stories to his most famous works, Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), the city is a ’character’ in its own right, adding to the colour, sound and feel of the stories. He said that if the city was destroyed it could be rebuilt, brick by brick, using Ulysses as a model. He may, indeed, have left Dublin but it certainly never left him.

Martello Tower, Sandycove - Ulysses begins

Martello Tower, Sandycove – Ulysses begins

 

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Bewleys Cafe – a flavour of Dublin

Even as it approaches its ninetieth year, Bewleys Café is as familiar as a best friend and a place I have always enjoyed. From the moment you approach the shop, depending of course on the direction of the wind, the aroma of fine coffee is enticing. It’s unique, and is appreciated by the patrons who daily pack the quirky, old building.

Egyptian-inspired decoration

Egyptian-inspired decoration

 

Famous pupils

Famous pupils

It opened for business in 1927 after extensive refurbishment, and was inspired by the great Paris and Vienna cafes.   The exterior Egyptian decoration reflects the contemporary discovery of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. The stained glass windows that Harry Clarke created are the highlight of the café, and are really appreciated when lit by strong sunlight. In the late 18th century the building housed Whyte’s Academy, the school where Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of  Wellington) and Thomas Moore attended. Robert Emmet, from St Stephen’s Green, a scone’s throw away, was another famous pupil.

Harry Clarke's wonderful windows

Harry Clarke’s wonderful windows

Originally a supplier of tea Bewleys later developed its coffee business, and it is now the biggest café and restaurant in Ireland with a million customers annually. It’s coffee (Arabica beans) is all Fairtrade sourced. The green beans, from Central and South America, are roasted on the premises and soon produce the familiar aroma and flavour. Add this to the in-house made bread, cakes, pizzas and salads and it is easy to see why it is has been Dublin’s favourite restaurant since it opened. It has also been one of Dubliner’s most popular meeting places, and is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Other literary figures like Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett liked to sit and watch the world go by. That hasn’t changed, and with the hum of lively conversation in my ears, I feel it’s not likely to happen…for a long, long time!

Beans, means.....great coffee!

Beans, means…..great coffee!

 

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The canvas can do miracles…

The weather has been, thankfully, very kind this year. After so many miserable ‘summers’ with rain falling much too often, and grey skies the order of the day, almost everyday, strolling along St Stephen’s Green which was bathed in late-September sunshine, was a delayed and exciting pleasure. The air was warm, the talk lively and everywhere there were paintings. Hundreds and hundreds of them in the biggest outdoor gallery the city could put on. You could be forgiven for thinking that you were walking in Paris or Florence such was the atmosphere and setting. Dublin – she looked great!

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Picture perfect!

The exhibition, Peoples’ Art, is one of five such exhibitions  held this year (the final one will be in early Dec) and is open to any artist, and as a result there is much to see and enjoy. Many established artists show their work alongside that of local amateurs. As that old saying goes ‘It’s all in the eye of the beholder,’ and when I passed along the crammed railings there were many beholders getting up close and interested. I could hear talk about where a certain painting was done, its inspiration and how was business going? Pretty good, I think, with the number of handshakes and smiles I saw. Buying a painting is one thing, but haggling with the artist over its price is just as important and a big part of the experience. It may not be like buying in Sotheby’s or Christie’s but a deal is a deal, and the success of the exhibition shows that a lot of haggling was done. Long may it continue, as the colourful spectacle is a real crowd pleaser even if you only walk by, slowly, of course, and enjoy the artistic pleasures on show.

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A Wall of Colour – paintings by Frank Flood

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Summer in Dublin

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Fountain of fun!

One of the great things about having such fabulous weather is the opportunity for people to spend time in the local parks. Although undoubtedly pretty throughout the year they are not as inviting as they are now, when people stretch out on the dry grass and enjoy the sunshine. The blue sky looks down on a pleasant scene where ice creams, cold drinks and sun lotion are in much demand. And in St Stephen’s Green large crowds gather around the old bandstand when brass bands, classical violin quartets or up-and-coming bands play. It’s one of the joys of summer, and on these hot, sunny days a real treat for those relaxing on the manicured lawns.

All around the park flowers are in magnificent bloom, a riot of exciting colour that many sit and enjoy. Walking over the small O’Connell Bridge the centre of the park is  a sight to behold where the fountains’ waters sparkle in the sunlight, surrounded by more beds of flowers. Many people, locals and tourists alike, throw coins into the fountains while others dip their toes in the cool spray. Around the lake the ever hungry ducks and birds swoop and screech demanding food. Although only a short distance from the busy, surrounding roads the park is amazingly quiet, and is a perfect place to have a quiet coffee, chat  and watch the world go by. Yes, summer in Dublin is a real treat!

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The lake from O’Connell Bridge

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Dublin – Walking With Words 1

What is the world’s tallest sculpture?

Well you might be surprised to know that it is The Monument of Light (better known as The Spire) on O’Connell Street, Dublin. It’s just one little gem of information that I found when I was researching my e-book ‘Dublin – Walking With Words’ which will be available in May/June!

Walking With Words - front cover

Trinity College – front entrance

The guide covers Dublin, and in it you meet many of its most famous sons and daughters and hear what the city meant to them – in their own Words. It takes you on a stroll through its history where you meet James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Elizabeth Bowen, Phil Lynott, Molly Malone and many others. You will find out where they lived and worked, and how the city influenced them in their artistic endeavors. Whether it was in the Georgian heartland of Merrion Square, along the Grand Canal, Trinity College or some favourite watering-hole, all these places have a story to tell, and with photographs and maps they are brought to life.

The guide is divided into five sections, each one taking about fifty minutes to complete – depending, of course, on how long you may decide to linger in some friendly pub or restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere!

So, if you have a little time in Dublin and wish to ‘get to know the place’ better than some of the locals, then put on your comfortable shoes and ‘Walk the Walk’.  (Check out the video below for a preview of your ‘Walk‘. I am very thankful to Derek Gleeson for his kind permission to use his composition as a soundtrack.)

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