every traveler has a first love. i believe this as strongly as i believe in real love. it is that city – or sometimes that place or country – that you first completely fall for. you are a young traveler, inexperienced and green enough to think the world is even more amazing than it is and fully believing that none of your experiences will ever disappoint you. you can only learn later that, sure you’ll be disappointed, but that only adds to the experiences.
but there is always that one place that you fall for and can never go back. for me, that place was ireland. i would love to believe it started in 1983, when i was 2 years old and my family took a group trip there, traveling for several days by ship to the emerald isle, at a time when people still toted suitcases on four wheels. i can remember vague bits of this trip, such as the plank that led us on and off the big ship, and FEO schwartz in new york, where my parents got me a stick horse. [tweetmeme]
but i don’t remember ireland. i have tried many times to squeak some memory out in the romantic hope that i was somehow imprinted by the country as a tender toddler and that that’s what called me back for so long. but no, i have no memory except those found in photos, which i have hoarded in the little leather box my dad made me, where i store Stuff That Can’t Be Lost.
whatever it was, something drew me to go to ireland on my first trip abroad at the not-so-tender age of 22, years after most europeans are going abroad for the first time. my best friend and i were saplings. we were so young and so eager and we took in everything ireland offered us like perfect incense. we simply inhaled and we loved it all. the wet sidewalks and the greasy fish and chips from a sidewalk stand. the awing sneers of teenage boys in mcdonalds and the sleazy pick-up lines from drunk but harmless men in tourist pubs.
and so i fell in love with ireland. that trip was easily the most intoxicating and most affecting one of my life, and i can say for utmost certainty that that single trip will be one of the most important of my entire lifetime, for it started me traveling on this journey that has brought me twice around the globe, to a cafe in prague where i am penning a novel about that first trip over an afternoon gambrinus.
i didn’t fall directly in love with dublin, though. what makes me think about this is the fact that i am reading travelers’ tales: prague and the czech republic (maybe in an attempt to spark a slow burning match to my romance with prague), and it has made me think longingly of my time in dublin, a city that has altogether stolen my heart in a way that no place or city ever will again.
but i didn’t love dublin immediately. i didn’t love it in two months time, and i probably didn’t appreciate my love for it until i was sitting smoldering on a chinese roadside, once again waiting for a dusty bus to a store that wouldn’t have pasta. and now, my love for dublin flows in spades and as i think about the novel i’m writing, it makes my eyes swell in the way only a first romance can do.
what’s interesting about your first romance with a place is that, unlike that with a person, you don’t have to get over it. it evolves, sure. it changes, and maybe it even fades. but you don’t have to lose your innocence with it the way that a love story goes, because you don’t have to break up.
dublin has kicked my ass on more than one occasion. it has usually come in the form of a wind gust following a car around a steep corner on which i was standing on the receiving end of both the gust and huge splash of water. or a bus that blind sided me and broke my umbrella. or the throngs of shoppers on mary street when all i wanted was a set of pillowcases. oh, there were so many times i wanted to walk up to a building in dublin and kick the hell out of it, just for the sheer pleasure of fighting back. but we found our speed, dublin and me, and eventually we got on like a house on fire, so long as i behaved myself and the city kept its peace. and isn’t that what a good love story is all about?