For two days, I’d been slithering around Dublin like one of those snakes good old St. Patrick famously chased away with a stick (which would be the one thing about Ireland I learned in school, circa third grade). On the first day I ate a pizza on the street and lit cigarettes for the drunk people that walked by (want to be popular with drunks?, sure you do!, always have a lighter handy, you’ll make great friends). On day two I had a lunch of Guinness in a pub and then went to an old prison where revolutionaries were executed nearly one hundred years ago, when my grandfather was just a dread my great-grandfather likely had, and open-top tour buses were called ‘carriages.’ I was a little drunk and tried to focus on all the historical content, trying to make up for what I didn’t learn in school (besides the snakes). History and beer don’t often mix, as was the case that day, when I would miss the entire 1910s due to an unavoidable bathroom break.
In those first few days that I had used up, drained, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again, repeated as though someone had somehow bought advertising time in the middle of every conversation I was having. At the different tourist locations I visited, I seemed to end up talking to some random person, a fellow tourist looking to talk tourism, and the conversation typically went like this:
Them: What have you done in Dublin?
Me: (answers question) (doesn’t mention part about drinking beer for lunch)
Them: Oh…have you seen The Book of Kells?
Me: (shakes head ‘no’) (doesn’t speak to avoid cigarette/beer breath)
Them: What?!? You must see The Book of Kells!
Me: (nods) (see earlier response to get rationale for not speaking)
Them: Oh, The Book of Kells is…it’s just such an experience…it’s Ireland’s greatest national treasure you know!
Me: (vows to see The Book of Kells) (looks around for bathroom) (weak bladder)
Lonely Planet had listed The Book of Kells, located at TrinityCollege, as the #1 thing to do in Dublin. Every website I visited mentioned it. I hadn’t heard so much enthusiasm about a manuscript since one of my students, back when I taught 9th grade English, wrote me a glowing book report about Captain Underpants. Eventually, by my last day, I had been programmed like a computer, information downloaded into my memory, so that when I woke up, my inner voice was shouting, “For the love of Patrick! Go see The Book of Kells today or I will never, ever forgive you!!”
In all honesty, I’d never even heard of The Book of Kells before going to Dublin. I didn’t know what it was about, who wrote it, why it was so popular, if a movie had been made of it, or anything along those lines; it would be like my aforementioned grandfather, who refuses to believe that time has progressed past 1943, going to a museum dedicated to 50 Shades of Grey. I was clueless. Still, every source of expertise I consulted was so adamant about me going, how I couldn’t miss it, that I decided I would be a fucking fool to fuck this up and treat The Book of Kells as if it was an email sent by a coworker (which means I would totally ignore it).
So, on my final day in Ireland I rushed over to TrinityCollege, amped up, bought my ticket to see The Book of Kells, and hastily made my way into the exhibit. There were big pictures and lots of words on the wall; I read some and determined The Book of Kells was written by monks and had something to do with Jesus. Everyone else in the exhibit with me had to be at least 300 years old. There were so many damn words everywhere – on the walls, on plaques, on pieces of paper kept under thick glass in case one of the 300-year-olds got any funny ideas – and I continuously tried to force myself to read them. I’d start, get about a line in, and then my brain would turn off.
“Oh man,” I thought, “I can’t concentrate on this at all.” I reread the same things over and over again and still didn’t have any idea what they said. While others stopped with intense consideration at every new piece of information presented, I burned through that place with the speed of my old pet cat eating a can of Whiskas after I forgot to feed it for two days (it’s a joke, loved that cat).
Seconds – minutes maybe – had gone by, and I was almost to the end of the museum. I still had virtually no idea what The Book of Kells was. I shook my head in confusion. “Wow,” I said to myself, “I really don’t care about this one bit. I’m so uninterested.”
An angel appeared on my shoulder – “It’s The Book of Kells! Focus you ignorant bastard!”
Finally, near the back of the place, sat two of the actual books, opened up and on display. The old folks fought to get a look, elbowing each other and shoving to try and get closer. It was as if they’d all dropped their dentures and were baffled and trying to grab any set they could out of the desperate want of teeth. The scene was vicious. I nudged my way in and looked down at the real-deal-Holyfield Book of Kells; I should’ve felt something, had a light bulb go off, a exclamation point form over my head, had my heart skip a beat or two, anything, something, should’ve felt the urge to get a better look, should’ve
all those things, but instead I just wanted to leave. There is a Book of Kells for everyone, I think. For some it may be a church sermon, for others it’s a football game, or a popular movie, or the new Iphone, or your daughter’s sixth grade graduation ceremony. It’s that thing that everyone, including yourself, tells you to be interested in, involved with, but, even so, you just can’t seem to make yourself care about. Your husband loves it, your friends all have it, people on the television talk about it, there are essays written about its importance, and yet you can render no meaning in it or fascination for it. Whatever that thing is, that is your Book of Kells. You can’t be faulted – sometimes there is no sense in one’s tastes.
Afterwards, I went to a pub with a friendly Irish bartender. When he asked me what I’d done with my day, I told him I’d seen The Book. He smiled widely, and we cheered to it.