It was one of my favourite walks of the entire trip – the doomed search for jazz through much of Dublin’s inner-city by cold yellow Christmas week-eve lamplight. And walking I certainly did do a lot of, through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver (and Squamish), Las Vegas, New Orleans (despite or in spite of illness), New York, Brighton and London over the preceding two months. Las Vegas was probably my least favourite, for obvious reasons. While probably Edinburgh would go on to be equal favourite with Dublin, and New Orleans – again despite and in spite of illness. I knew instinctively, as I was not engaging in the normal upper-body exercise I would while back at home, that hoofing it was the only way I could stay fit while simultaneously exploring the world without being tied-down to motorised tours which would have deprived me of unique experiences. Plus, any kind of exclusive pursuit of exercise, such as a gym visit, during the journey would have distracted me from any number of other, more pertinent pursuits; from eating local cuisine to indulging in cheesy tourist attractions to drinking with people I’d never met before and might never see again while enjoying music the likes of which I would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else but at so many right theres, and right thens. If from beside a hospital bed one day when I’m an old man a doctor tells me those particular walks had damaged the joints in my legs beyond repair, I would lean back, put my hands behind my head and sigh gleefully at the memories. You might say I’m being overly emotionally nostalgic, but you, sir or madam, were not there. None of you were, or rather none at all times. And that was somewhat the point, though those of you whose company I would have welcomed at any time know who you are. I thought often of home, and the many gentle souls I’d been blessed to have known who inhabited it. And the knowledge that my journey was presently spurring me ever closer to home only increased, no, lit a raging life-enhancing fire under my enjoyment of it.
My first stop was the Le Bon Crubeen, on Talbot Street, off Gardiner Street Lower. From photos of its inside I don’t recognise it, and believe I was much more likely to have actually entered the much more charming looking Celt Bar or Celtic Lodge which stood to either side. Either way, no jazz, though my notes tell me there was meant to be traditional Irish music playing at one of those places later on that night. From there I crossed the river to the Temple Bar’s Button Factory, on Curved and off Eustace Street. It was closed, which was unsurprising as it seemed more of a live music venue than a bar. And this in many ways regrettably was a Wednesday night. I might have then stopped in at Fitzsimons for a stoic stout before trying Olesya’s Wine Bar on Exchequer Street. No dice, but I did have my third drink there. At JJ Smyths on Aungier Street, off Longford Street Little, there was a DJ playing so I didn’t even linger long enough for a beer. Then further east on Dawson and near Anne Street at Cafe en Seine I found yet more absence of jazz, yet “probably” had my fourth drink – which shows things were already starting to become vague. By now you’re probably feeling close to as exhausted as I’m sure I felt, though less fortified through drink, at the disappointing nature of the quest. I guarantee its end is worth the wait, though admittedly was more pleasurable for me first-hand. Further south and not far south-west from St Stephen’s Green The Village turned out to be a cavernous, underground and “busy as hell” sports bar with barely a hint of music which certainly wasn’t jazz managing to make itself heard above the relentless din. Then, ultimately, at a guess about 10 km from my first dry port of call, I came across The Sugar Club south-east of St Stephen’s on Leeson Street Lower. It looked like a brothel, not that I’m well-versed in such establishments, and also appeared to be the only possible entrance to the six-storey apartment block rising above it. Green paint-fronted Houricans Pub sat silently next door at an hour of the night I could only guess at, while I sized up the club from the street.
If not a brothel, then the place certainly looked like a night club. Or even a gay club. Not since a brief indulgence in (straight) night clubbing during my early 20s had I willingly entered such a place, so I was reticent to say the least. But it was my last option, and I’d not yet heard music from within though the venue was clearly still open. So I gave it the “what the hell” treatment, if partly because I was freezing and thirsty and sobering up. The absolutely perfect (no other word/s to describe her) little hottie at the cashier said to my shock that there was a choir, um, playing? No, performing, I guess. That there was a choir performing within. As in the street, I baulked. And again as in the street, I said “what the hell” to myself, handed over 12 euros and decided to (hopefully) enjoy what was certainly the first choir I’d ever paid to witness. And perhaps not the last, because it was simply incredible. There were solos mixed with group singing of classics and Christmas songs. Can’t remember any specific song titles, but the fact that I enjoyed their festive flights of fancy says a lot. Plus there were some gorgeous young women in the choir, and the crowd – though they’d seemed to have without exception dragged their boyfriends and husbands along. One particular brunette of the choir stood out for me, and in fact barely escaped my gaze when I wasn’t filling up on Guinness at the bar. She ended up winning a best-dressed prize, which may or may not be a standard thing for choirs. The tasteful, shimmering silver cocktail dress certainly deserved the award at least as much as she did for being the one wearing it. In one of my few meaningful engagements with another human during my time in that city, I recognised an Australian accent at the bar mentioning to the staff in not exactly these terms that they must have been struggling to understand his drink orders on account of the antipodean twang accompanying them. We bonded instantly over shared larrikinism for which while abroad our kind is not only tolerated, but encouraged. Then he disclosed that he’d followed the love of his life to the very corner of the earth in which we were standing, and that he and the Irish she had only recently brought a son into a cold, wet yet beautiful part of the world. At which point, naturally, and sadly, I thought immediately of Emma.