Ireland/Britain 1998

10 years ago today I arrived in Dublin for my big six-week trip to Ireland and Great Britain (and spontaneously, Paris as well). I was a shy and anxious 24-year old yet somehow still bold enough to travel on my own in foreign lands. Granted, most Americans who do the backpacking thing do it when their 18 and travel the length & breadth of Europe so I was behind on both age and ambition.

All the same it was a life-changing experience for me in ways I didn’t expect at the time. In some ways that trip is the beginning of my adulthood. In the ten years since then I moved on my own to Boston (despite having no prospects here at the time), changed careers, attended grad school, fell in love, got married, and had a baby. Ten years ago I thought 6 weeks abroad was a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, but since then I’ve traveled outside the US ten more times (5 times to Europe, 4 times to Canada, and once in Mexico), although that’s probably going to become less frequent now.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years, especially since I’ve always intended to write a book about my travels. I’ve written some chapters but I haven’t gotten too far. So what I’m going to try to do to commemorate this tenth anniversary is to write a short post and maybe post some photos of what happened ten years ago today. Hopefully this will jump start more writing offline.

On 20 January 1998, my overnight flight from Washington on Virgin Atlantic arrived at Heathrow where I encountered a nasty customs agent. Then I flew on British Midlands to Dublin where there was no customs agent at all. Arriving in the city, I wandered aimlessly until I finally found a place to stay at ISAAC’s Hostel, right next to the elevated DART tracks. I visited the amazing Book of Kells display at Trinity College Dublin and the National Museum of Ireland exhibit “Road to Independence.” Having not slept for 36 hours, I turned in at about 7 pm. Frothy pints of Guinness would have to wait another day.

Dublin Day 1

The first hostel I ever lodged at, with the railway that served as my alarm clock. I have no idea who that man is in the street.

Movie Review: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story

Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996) is a movie about one of my all-time favorite people. It tells the story of Dorothy Day starting as a young radical, journalist, and bohemian around 1917, through her conversion experience, to the founding of the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930’s. Moira Kelly performs well as an idealistic woman hoping to change the world and aid the poor discovering that she can only do it when she surrenders her will to God. Like many biopics, Entertaining Angels compresses history and features a number of composite characters, but gets the basic gist of Day’s story up to the late 1930’s. Unfortunately, the film leaves out much of Day’s later life, her opposition to war and nuclear armaments only hinted at in bookending scenes set in 1963. On the other hand, the makeup department made Kelly look really ridiculous as a 65-year old woman, so maybe its for the better that this film doesn’t go into Day’s later years.

As much as I want to like this movie for telling an important story and visually capturing the look and feel of Depression-era New York, I have to admit that it gets cheesy at times resembling a Hallmark TV movie. Some of the dialog is straight out of Day’s writings, which adds authenticity, but out of context they sound like “big important speeches”. Martin Sheen plays Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin with an outrageous French accent that makes him unintentionally comical. Sheen’s performance is otherwise good, but the script doesn’t allow much for Maurin other than being mysterious and eccentric. While these traits are true to Maurin’s character, I think Maurin still deserved better.

So my final analysis is that this is a good but not great movie. I’ve volunteered with the Catholic Worker and the film is true to my experience. On the other hand we don’t really get a sense of what makes Dorothy Day tick. People of faith and anyone interested in an introduction to Dorothy Day will probably like this film. Anyone looking to see a great movie will probably be disappointed.