With every book I read, a veritable film is created within. Pupils retract and widen; my fingers can’t move rapidly enough through pages as I see these words and somewhere inside me, images of this reality are created and the film reel of the book progresses. The most internal movie is being made as I imagine what these words really mean. Everything is there. I can see each character; I try to sense idiosyncrasies within them; I conjure up the places they live; there’s an attempt to see everything, and often, I’m imagining it. That’s ok. But what if I didn’t have to? A thirst for reading combined with a primal love for adventure and travel sparked a passion for going to those places I’ve read about in books and experiencing a tangible film reel--something I can touch and don’t have to dream up within my imagination.
The best place I’ve ever seen is Ireland. But I knew that before I visited. My father trekked through the country years ago; he brought back a bodhran, a necklace he’d been given by someone who picked him up while hitchhiking, and a map of the country. I’d traced the lines of the map hanging on my father’s wall so many times, but I’d also read Angela’s Ashes. Frank McCourt’s brutal accounts of poverty and hardship in 1930’s/1940’s Limerick didn’t necessarily stir in me a desire to glorify or relish in the grit of the city. It did, however, have me wondering what it might be like to retrace McCourt’s steps. For those not familiar with the book, Frank McCourt recounts his impoverished childhood as he moves from Brooklyn to Limerick and details all the trials that came with it.
I came to Limerick not needing to see McCourt’s Limerick necessarily, but to create my own, and to assimilate it into a more personal Angela’s Ashes. McCourt describes Leamy’s National School, for example, as a seemingly gray place where teachers doled out corporate punishment and students were warned not to cry. Today, the mid-sized brick building still stands, and it seems implausible that this--this spot where you lean and rest your back on the cool iron gates and finger the short stone columns that stand before the building--this is where Frank McCourt saw the things that made him who he was and subsequently earned him a Pulitzer. I stand where he stood.
Much of McCourt’s Limerick has been glorified so, and what was once poverty stricken have subsequently become museums, luxury hotels, and other signs of booming industry. There’s even an Angela’s Ashes walking tour. Not everything still stands, but some things do. South’s Pub does. It’s the pub that serves as a vehicle for McCourt’s father to drink up the family’s savings in the book. It’s also the place where McCourt’s uncle bought him his first pint. The brightly colored bar glass of the Tiffany lamps and lavishly upholstered furniture may not reflect the more bleakly narrated description of the bar in the novel, but that’s not the point. It’s there. I was there. And you can go there. We can all be somehow a part of rewriting our favorite novels in our own mind’s eye by seeing and touching and smelling what our authors did when those words were written. We can make our own reel, and then our favorite novels become something else. They become ours.