I start at the world-class National Gallery. The exhibition of Turner's prints on the mezzanine level has me gaping for some time, and I don't particularly care for his landscapes or his portraits. His quick little watercolor studies, though, fascinate me. I would have bought a postcard of one in particular if they'd had it in the gift shop. It's a deep Spanish canyon and the colors are so perfect – tall orange-red cliffs bounding a strip of dark blue. In the main collection, I fall in love with several paintings by Irish artists. My favorite is Hugh Douglas Hamilton's Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower. They're both naked and Cupid is reaching for her with this passionate look of love and lust and her eyes are down though their faces are nearly touching. She's leaning away but you can tell she doesn't mean that as an expression of a lack of reciprocal desire. I would go back there just to see that painting.
At lunch, I manage to spend only €10 for more than I can eat. I stop at the Kilkenny Café on Nassau Street south of Trinity College and have a hefty slice of salmon, cheese and veggie quiche and three or four generous portions of salad. I am about to leave when a man sits down at my table. The place is so crowded during lunch that you have to share. Luckily, everyone is nice about it. He sees me consulting my Lonely Planet guide for the Trinity map and asks me if I'm enjoying my holiday. (becala, you were so right.) We spend a good hour chatting about public transport and global climate change. He asks me how scientists decide they're certain enough about to make a declaration about a discovery. I say, well, agreement between several people running the same sets of calculations or experiments over several years generally helps, although there's no guarantee of 100% certainty, which is why science isn't religion. He grins. "It's like my friend, and the inscription he wanted on his tombstone." "Which was?" "'Told you I was sick.'"
The anonymous Dubliner and I shake hands and I go to the Books of Kells exhibit. I try to extract as much as possible from the €7.50 experience by lingering long in the anteroom. The display explains the history of the books as well as the techniques used in making them, the known attributes of the scribes and artists and the meaning of the symbolism used in the illuminations. The books themselves, and those of Armagh and Durrow, are impressive, although I can't stop being amused when I think about the process of preparing the vellum on which they were written. To remove the hair from the calfskin, it was buried in lime…or excrement. The temptation to quip, "This book is shit," was well nigh unbearable. The docent saw me examining a flaw in the vellum that had been carefully patched and he said, "O, that's just a tea stain. Very careless in those days, the monks."
I go upstairs to The Long Room afterwards. In 1850, the 65 meter long library was filled. Since it couldn't be extended horizontally, the ceiling was removed and it was made taller. It's a glorious place, but you can't really hang out in it. All the books are cordoned off and, unfortunately for me, the glass exhibition cases were nearly all empty in anticipation of a new exhibit. The docent, bitching about a parking ticket on his mobile phone next to the sign that said "Quiet Please," didn't help either. Half the room was closed to visitors. Immediately after walking through The Long Room, visitors are funneled downstairs into the bookshop. Returning to the Books of Kells is not an option.
I wasn't pleased. I'd spent an hour there in total. Personally, I'd say if you want to see impressive ancient illuminated manuscripts in Ireland, go to the Chester Beatty Library. And did I mention that it's FREE?
I make my final stop at the Douglas Hyde gallery at Trinity College, which is just two rooms, free admission. The main room contains a single set of canvases, intended for viewing as a single piece. The individual canvases are deliberately child-like. Some consist entirely of scraps of roughly cut and glued construction paper, other of ordered rows of bottle-caps dabbed with paint. My favorites are arrays of light-bulbs dipped in thin layers of bright paint, reminiscent of Lite Brite. The small adjacent room contains only five paintings, abstracts of a most edible hue and the same child-like quality. These were executed by a Swedish woman, Hilma af Klint, who pulled a most clever stunt, in my opinion. She never showed her work while living, instead opting to have her descendents wait until twenty years after her death to unveil her work. I didn't find it particularly inspired; however, she guaranteed her posthumous stardom through the device of secrecy, for her paintings were executed before abstraction was in vogue. Brilliant!