Wow. I did it. There I was in Dublin, ready, at fifty years old, to start my new life.
It’s an odd turn of events that brought me here.
My husband of 28 years was being sent by his company to work at the Dublin office. Ugh. I did not relish the idea of being uprooted, losing all of my friends and musical connections. I had been giving private music lessons for more than 25 years, and it took me a while to build up a full schedule of loyal students. At the same time, though, I always felt that there was something more for me. I have my masters degree in music composition, was president of Connecticut Composers, Inc. for almost ten years, and founded and directed a select chamber chorus that specialized in presenting works by living composers. But none of those facts necessarily made it any easier to get my work performed. I’m an academic at heart and always wanted to return to school to earn a doctoral degree. There I might find more opportunities and connections. So, resigned to having to take up to what I perceived would be a dreary, rainy life in Dublin, I researched opportunities to teach at Trinity College. I did not find any job opportunities, but what I did see on the side bar of their website was a little button that said, “apply for a postgraduate degree.” Hmm. My hand steered the mouse as though it were a ouji board, and I start the process of applying immediately. About a week later I was accepted to the PhD doctoral research program in music composition.
I was beyond the moon excited and my husband was very happy for me. He knew that this is something I really wanted.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later, my husband’s job changed their mind, and said that they didn’t want to send him to Dublin after all. My husband took me out to dinner and, over miso soup and steamed dumplings, he reached across the table, took my hand and broke the news to me. Before I could respond, he said, “But I think you should go anyway. I’ll stay here working in New York and Connecticut.” I began to tremble, and my eyes welled up with tears. Were the tears relief? Fear? Joy? Sadness? I seemed to feel all of these emotions at once.
Two months later I found myself in Dublin airport with two giant suitcase and my flute bag, which was stuffed with many more things than just my flute.
I’d booked an Airbnb for the last two weeks of July, to be used as a base while apartment hunting. The pictures of the Aribnb looked very beautiful in their advertizements. The hosts claimed they were “an artistic couple who loves travellers.” I pictured myself making friends with them and cooking dinner for them in their beautiful home. They’d invite other friends over, and I’d have an instant community in the new city. In the weeks before leaving the US, I proudly told many people about the Airbnb and repeated that line, “We are an artistic couple who loves travellers,” many, many times.
Nicolas, the host of the Airbnb, said that I would not be able to check in until 3:00 in the afternoon. My flight landed at 8:30 in the morning, and by the time I’d made it through immigration and customs, it was nearly 10:00. I could not go anywhere but directly to the Airbnb because I had so much luggage. Waiting at the airport didn’t bother me at all. I’d made it here, after all, and there’d be plenty of time later to do things that are more adventurous than killing time in the airport. So I bought some coffee and potato chips, a new sim card for my phone and chatted up the limo drivers as they waited for their fares. I enjoyed listening to the accents as I absorbed where I was.
At 1:30 I got a message from Nicolas saying that the whole house was not ready, but my room was. If I wanted to check in early I could. The taxi ride took less than a half an hour.
What I hadn’t realized when I booked the Airbnb was that it was located in a less than savoury part of town, Dolphins Barn. It was a bit south of the city centre (about a twenty minute walk) and so a bit cheaper than others I’d seen. I thought that spending two weeks traipsing back and forth to town might be good for me, get me more acquainted with the city.
As the taxi pulled up to St. James Terrace, the driver asked me if I was sure that this was the right address. The first thing I noticed was a great big padlock on the wrought iron gate at the foot of the stoop. I assure him that it was the right address, and he helped me haul my stuff out of the taxi and then sped off.
The padlock was so impressive that I didn’t even try it. I climbed over the gate and rang the bell, leaving the loads of luggage on the curb. I was surprised to see a woman answer, and not Nicolas, the man with whom I’d been communicating. She asked why my luggage was on the curb, and I said that the gate was locked. She laughed and told me that the lock was only for looks, that the gate was actually open. She called to a man named Mike to come from inside and help me bring the luggage indoors. She did not introduce herself, but showed me my room. Mike was doing housekeeping in the other part of the house, and I assumed he was the hired cleaner. I didn’t yet have data on my phone, so I asked the woman for the wifi password. She explained that the internet was out because ‘he’ did not pay the bill. She gave me the password to her iPhone internet, and I went into the room and began unpacking while letting people know via WhatsApp text that I’d arrived safely.
It was important to me to set up my own space to be as homey and comfortable as soon as possible. Just one month earlier, my husband (and I) down-sized to a smaller apartment, reasoning that there’d only be one person living there. That apartment was his choice and a bit of a bachelor pad. A hip loft apartment in a trendy neighbourhood, the apartment overlooked a street lined with bars. The sounds of music blasting from cars cruising the block and people cheering on beanbag toss games in the local bars wafted up through the windows day and night. The bachelor pad had little to no storage space, and I didn’t really have a place to put my stuff. Some of my belongings, like my beloved piano and all of my sheet music, were packed up to be shipped overseas and never came to the new apartment. I felt unsettled and a bit lost in the bachelor pad, and looked forward to making my own home in Dublin.
So I set out to unpack and hang up my clothes right away. I opened a drawer and found a pair of men’s underwear. Yuk. Under the drawer I found a bunch of mouse poop. In the closet I found construction debris and dust.
I went to the kitchen asked the woman what her name was (finally) and where the bathroom was. Daniela showed me, and told me that the door doesn’t shut, but that it will be fixed right away. She said, “Don’t worry, no one will look.” There was a hole where the doorknob should be.
I went to checkout the courtyard behind the house. I found Mike on his knees trying to pick up shards of glass that were lodged between the wooden planks of the patio.
He said, “Sorry, just cleaning up after a party last night,” and rose to let me pass.
I said, “Boy! That was some party!”
He feigned a cheerful tone and said, “Go on and have a sit-down up there. There’s a lovely spot in the sun.”
The courtyard didn’t look anything like the photos. There was yard debris and trash bags lining the walls, a rusted out bike with one wheel missing, a discarded motorbike. Jet-lagged and sleep deprived, I only slowly pieced together the disrepair of the place. The more I looked around, the more I saw. In the kitchen there were glasses and bottles all over the counters and large pieces of a broken window pane were laid out on the stovetop, almost as though someone were trying to piece them back together.
I decided I’d spend one night here while looking for a different place.
I went to tell this to my hosts and found Daniela and Mike sunken into the couch, each texting on their phones. I itemized some of the conditions I found to be unacceptable and told them my intention to find different accommodations for tomorrow, but that I would sleep there that night. Mike said he has nothing to do with any of that, he’s just here to help a friend in need.
He said, “I just brought her coffee this morning,” and I wondered what he meant by that. Daniela looked resigned and said that she understood, then went back to texting on her phone.
I went into my room and looked up on Airbnb how to lodge a complaint. The website said that I had to first tell the host about my complaints. So my first text with my new Irish phone was to Nicolas, listing the reasons I could not stay in his place.
He responded immediately, through the Airbnb app, “Fuck you, bitch.”
Then, “Leave now.”
I went back to the two figures on the couch and showed them the texts.
Daniela scoffed, “Pffsht. He can’t do nothing. He’s on his way to Italy,” and rolled her eyes.
Just then my phone rang. My first Irish phone call. I held the phone up to Daniela to see if she recognized the number.
Her eyes widened, her posture grew quite stiff and she said, “Don’t answer it! Block him!”
I went back to my mouse poop room, trying to figure out what to do. I decided to go out for a walk and see a bit of Dublin. My goal was to find St. Stephen’s Green and a nice cafe with wifi to find a different airbnb for the next night.
St. James Terrace was just south of the centre of Dublin map I had, but I knew if
I walked north I’d end up some place I could locate on the map. After about 45 minutes I felt I was not any closer to St. Stephen’s, and I ducked into a corner bar and had my first fish and chips and ale. I chose a table in the corner next to an outlet where I could charge my phone and access the wifi. I used the wifi to look at maps of south city Dublin to try to figure where I was.
The fish and chips and the ale were fortifying, but I was no clearer about where I was when I decided to just keep walking. [I don’t get that stereotype about men not asking for directions. I despise asking for directions.]
After about an hour more of walking, I noticed that I was literally walking in circles, seeing the same streets I’d seen forty minutes earlier. So I found a cafe with wifi and ordered a cup of coffee with cream. After a few minutes the waiter came out with a can of readi-whip, apologizing that they didn’t have any cream. In the future I’d learn to ask for milk.
As I drank the coffee, I thought about the scene at the Airbnb. I thought about the immediate and aggressive response from Nicolas. I thought about the fear in Daniela’s eyes when Nicolas called me. I thought about the broken glass, and the bathroom doorknob that was pulled off. There was no party, I thought. That crazy man went berserk last night. He’s irrational. Who knows if he’s coming back? Then I pictured him going to St. James Terrace to put all of my belongings on the street. My passport and my laptop were there. I decided to get right back there and pack up and leave. A woman on the plane had told me to download the MyTaxi app, Ireland’s version of Uber. I was so glad I did! I hailed a taxi back to St. James Terrace rather than risk walking in circles again.
When I got back, Mike was gone and Daniela was in her bedroom with the door closed, speaking loudly on the phone. I tried to access the internet, but it didn’t work. What would I do? I went to use the bathroom and noticed a brochure on the kitchen counter about how to help a friend who is a victim of domestic violence. I recalled the unusual birthmarks I’d noticed earlier on Daniela’s arms, and thought that maybe they were not birthmarks at all, but bruises. I became more resolved in the need to leave immediately. Without yet having a place to go, I began to pack up my stuff. Then I tried the internet one more time. It worked! As I was accessing Trip Advisor, friends were calling me on WhatsApp, excited for me and wanting to hear all about my new adventure. One wanted first hand footage, as it were, of the Airbnb I had talked so much about. I was touched by the shared interest and excitement, but I had to tell the friends that I couldn’t talk now; it was imperative for me to find a place to stay right away.
“What??” they asked, “What about your nice Airbnb?”
“No time to talk,” I said, and went back to searching for a place to stay.
I found a room at Stauntons on the Green. I knew it would be swank, but it’d just be for that night. I had to get out of there.
Using MyTaxi once again, I called a cab to take me to Stauntons on the Green. Finally, I would see St. Stephen’s Green! I quietly left the keys to the place on a table in the foyer and went outside to wait for the cab without saying goodbye to Daniela.
When I got to Stauntons on the Green, it was indeed swank. A man helped me with my luggage, and, as I was checking in, the desk clerk apologized to me that there was a concert that night.
“There might be a bit of noise,” he said.
I laughed out loud, thinking that I was so lucky to end up in a nice hotel where the only problem is an outdoor concert nearby.