April 23, 2024 - University College Dublin, Ireland

Can you have nostalgia for a place you’ve never been? 

Because I swear Dublin stirs in me something that feels a lot like nostalgia as I ride the bus from the airport through the city center to my hotel near the University College Dublin campus. That feeling only intensifies as I take advantage of a day off to explore the city on foot, first on a long run to the coast and then by wandering the city center.

Why might Dublin evoke this nostalgia in me, someone with no cultural connection to Ireland? It’s a different feeling than what I felt in the cultural intensity of Rome, the ancient humanity of Athens, or the cool sophistication of Amsterdam.

Maybe it is connected to the prominent role that the Irish have played in the history of Chicago. Maybe it is because there is water on the correct (east) side of the city. Maybe it is because the figure of the bard is featured so prominently in Irish music and culture. 

Whatever it is, I feel it.  

I run to the water and then to Sandycove Tower to see a site connected intimately with James Joyce’s Ulysses.

In the city center, I take in a small beautiful exhibit on the work of Seamus Heaney. Among all his amazing words, his final two (Noli timere… Latin for “do not be afraid,” which he texted to his wife just before he passed) move me almost to tears every time I encounter them. 

In the Temple Bar neighborhood, I roam for hours and find a Guinness and some stew.  

The next morning, I run a different direction to a shore bird sanctuary.  The weather is overcast and right on the edge of a chill, the wind comes out of the north down the coastline, very much like a Chicago spring day, another element that makes me feel at home.

A short bus ride to the campus of UCD and I’m set up in a lecture theater for my second Odyssey show of the tour. My contact is a wonderful, warm professor and he seems pleasantly surprised with the turnout as the audience fills in. 

The usual introduction and I’m off. I feel a little more grounded than I did at the Oxford show. Not quite in stride yet, but close. It usually takes me three shows to really lock in and I’ve learned to not panic when things feel unsettled at the start, to be patient. By the end of the show, I feel good.

An excellent discussion of thoughtful questions and my host and I adjourn to a great dinner full of more considerations of the Odyssey and life in general.  And more Guinness.

The next day I’m back on a bus to the airport to connect through London to Edinburgh.

Nostalgia. Nostos (homecoming) plus algos (pain).

It’s a longing for something elemental to your identity. Something you’re missing. Something you want to get back to. 

So to have it in a place you've never been is really kind of extraordinary. Maybe even contradictory.  

I tell students all the time to pay attention to things in life that move them but they cannot easily explain. 

That was ancient Greek for me. 

That was Homer for me.

That was the idea to return the Odyssey to song. 

Little mysterious inclinations that pull you to a home you haven’t yet called home, a future Ithaka. Maybe even a future Dublin. 

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