It didn’t matter that I had actually grown up in a suburb of Dublin, where the landscape was more likely to be punctuated with cookie-cutter lawns and mock Tudor two-family homes.
When, two years ago, I decided to move back to Dublin after more than 10 years in New York, I was chasing the Ireland of my fantasies. While, I hadn’t lost my marbles and wasn’t quite expecting the verdant green fields and mists of the tourist brochures, I was looking for something slower. I was trying to recapture the laid-back Dublin I remembered from my college days, where I wouldn’t have to travel to work by subway with some stranger’s elbow jammed into my face and where people held doors for each other instead of barreling past you. After all, Irish people may not go around telling each other to have nice day, but the sentiment was usually there.
What I found, as anyone who has been spent any time in Dublin in the last couple of years knows, is a booming European city bursting at the seams trying to fit a growing and motorized population in a urban setting designed largely for the horse and cart.
What used to be a 20-minute bus ride from the city center to where I grew up could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours thanks to traffic jams.
Being stuck on a bus that is going slower than the pedestrian traffic is bad enough, but in Dublin the constant chatter on cell phones by fellow passengers can make a bus trip a nightmare. Could it be that I was missing New York, where at least for now the subways are thankfully not wired for wireless communications.
If only the conversations were vaguely interesting. But for the most part they consisted of some kind of validation of existence. I dial, I speak, therefore I am. “I’m on the bus . . . no, I’m on the bus.” Therefore I exist?
But some of the changes in Dublin were quite heartwarming. The city now has a pretty internationally diverse population. Order lunch in a restaurant and your waiter is quite likely to from Melbourne or Barcelona. Wander throughthe trendy Temple Bar area on a weekend evening and the streets are full of young people from all over Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. And, of course, let’s not forget the ever-present bachelorette and bachelor parties hailing from England that have made Dublin a destination for their sometimes-raucous festivities in recent years. They’re easy to spot: they travel in packs and, if female, are likely to be scantily clad no matter what time of year.
Though this wasn’t the kind of Dublin I had expected to come back to, it was gratifying to see that Ireland, which not so long ago had been the land of the emigrant, now playing host to immigrants of its own. To be sure, it’s not perfect. The Irish government does not exactly have an open-door policy on immigration and at times there is more than an air of hostility directed at non-Irish by their hosts. I smarted with embarrassment when a middle-aged woman loudly told a black bus driver that he should go back to where he was from and allow an Irishman to drive the bus. His crime? He simply told her the bus was full, which it was, uncomfortably so.
It didn’t take me long to realize both I and my hometown had irrevocably changed and that in order to live there I would have to dispel my memories of the Dublin I used to know, or at least the Dublin I thought I remembered, and embrace the new one. But in the meantime I was getting homesick again, this time for New York and not some romanticized notion New York, but the one where people pushed past each other to get on train, where everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere. Because although people in Dublin also seem to be in a rush somewhere these days, I just wasn’t quite sure where they were hurrying to anymore.
In New York I did. So after three and half months, I gave in and came back. And, when my plane landed I knew I was home.