After a harried first few days in Dublin, shuffling from one Airbnb to the next, I was very fortunate to find a place to stay for eleven days straight until my apartment was ready for me to move in. This was nothing short of a miracle because there was a U2 concert in Dublin that weekend, and all the hotels were booked solid. The hostess had gotten a cancelation moments before I inquired.
The Airbnb was right in the heart of Temple Bar, on a narrow cobblestoned street between Dame Street and the Liffey. The hosts were gracious and welcoming.
After the fiasco of the first Airbnb, I'd hastily packed up the clothes I’d hung up, stuffing my things into the suitcases any which way they would fit. My suitcases were a jumbled mess and, instead of making myself at home in the Temple Bar place, I left it all in the suitcases. I told myself it would make moving into my own place that much sweeter. Getting dressed in the morning I’d shove my arm deep into a suitcase, and whatever came out would be my outfit for the day. So while I was staying put for eleven whole days, I did not make myself “at home,” and remained feeling a bit unsettled.
I really missed decent cup of coffee and my own closet in which to hang up my clothes.
Temple Bar is a touristic area of Dublin, and it seems like three out of four businesses are bars. The front windows of the Airbnb looked out over the cobblestone street and the restaurants across. Day and night the sounds of rolling suitcases, foreign languages, music and general merrymaking floated up into my hosts’ kitchen. I enjoyed listening to this, absorbing where I was, knowing that the permanent apartment I found is on a much quieter street. It was a bit like living on St. Mark’s Place in New York City, only louder because the streets were narrower. I had to keep reminding myself that “regular folk” actually lived everyday lives in Temple Bar, that it wasn't all tourists.
The back half of the Airbnb, where the bedrooms were, looked out over an interior courtyard. In the center of it was a good sized patio with resin tables and chairs, and three levels of balconies lined two sides of it. In the mornings I’d have my coffee at one of the resin tables and a strip of sun would find it’s way into the courtyard by eleven o’clock.
One thing I love about Dublin is that anywhere I go I can hear seagulls. This was no different in the courtyard. In a strange, inexplicable way, this made me feel connected to my childhood home on Long Island, NY and to my ancestors. So did listening to the older woman sitting on the balcony above me, in a housecoat, chatting on the phone with her friend, Betty. Substitute the brogue with a Brooklyn accent, and she could be my grandmother.
Irene is her name, and she is the self-appointed gardener of the courtyard. She does this without ever coming down from her balcony on the second level. Each morning at eleven she comes out and shoots the hose over the balcony to spray the plants below, then takes a seat by her door to catch a bit of sun.
I befriended Irene and made sure to be out there at eleven most mornings so that I could listen to her talk. I loved listening to her tell me about her schedule for the day or what she did yesterday.
One day she took a train to the coast to join friends on a whiskey tasting adventure.
“Oh, it’s just a drop in each glass, don’t you know. It’s not like we were three sheets to the wind or anything like that. But I’ll tell you, I was feeling grand, that I was.”
One day she was excited to tell me that she was going to cash in her gift certificate to Bobo’s, a hamburger chain on the corner of her street.
I cherished these conversations, a break from being a tourist or getting ready to move into my new apartment. It normalized things for me. But while Irene talked she’d never move from her chair by her door, and I’d get a stiff neck looking up at her while we chatted.
Her funniest story was telling me about how she ran out of water while she was in the shower. She had been getting ready to go to the wedding of a friend’s niece and the water stopped while she had her hair all lathered up with shampoo.
“Oh, oh, I thought, ‘What’m I going to do?’ what with the water all dripping down. I had to put on my robe and go to the kitchen sink to wash it all out. What a bother, I tell you.”
Two days later I saw a plumber leaving her house, and I shouted up, “Irene, how’s your shower acting these days?”
“Oh, don’t you know the whole thing started up again, only this time it was worse. The water wouldn’t go down the drain and it was flowing all over the bathroom and into the hall! But the man fixed it right away, says it was not much of a problem.”
One day after a day of sightseeing and shopping for new items for the apartment, I sat in the courtyard with my feet up, ready to get started writing a blog entry. Irene saw me and asked down if there was anything I needed for the apartment. She had given me advice about which shops to go to for things like cutlery and bedsheets.
I told her about my purchases and then lamented about not being able to find an American style coffee maker. I’d all but given up on the idea of finding it, I told her. She grew excited and told me to sit tight, she’d be right back. I heard her rummaging around in her apartment, and soon she emerged with - yes! - a Mr Coffee!
“You mean this?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes, Irene, that is exactly what I mean!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. I’ve tried to give this away. No one’ll take it. Not even OxFam! They don’t take appliances. I’ve had this one for years, but now I have a different one, my sister gave it to me, the one with the little cups. You put the little cup in and push the top down, do you know which kind I mean?”
“Keurig,” I offered.
“Oh, the taste, the taste! Such delicious coffee!”
She put her fingers to her lips, as though she could taste the coffee as she stood there.
Pleased that I wanted her old coffee maker, Irene went back into her apartment several more times, each time coming out with something else for my new home: curtains, a mirror, frilly guest towels with dust caked in the lace. She lowered these things down in a bag on a string, along with two bags of potato chips.
Finally, she asked me to come up to her apartment to see if there was anything else I wanted.
“Wow,” I thought, “I get to see Irene’s apartment!”
Her place was brightly decorated in grey and red throughout. On the couch were about eight pillows, four of which had “DIVA” embroidered in them. She pointed at furniture and pillows, tables and chairs, telling me where she bought each item.
As part of the ‘tour’ of her place, she led me into the bathroom, where I complimented her shower bench. She sat down on it and pantomimed the whole affair of being caught with shampoo in her hair with no water to wash it off. When she was done, she stood up, only to sit down again to act out the second time it happened, and asked me to imagine the water running all over the bathroom floor and into the hallway. It was a sight I’ll not soon forget, Irene, fully clothed, in her shower acting the whole scene out.
At the end of the tale, I thanked Irene a million thank yous for the coffee maker and the other items and returned to the courtyard to start work on the blog.
Just as I was getting back to writing, the man from the apartment directly below Irene’s came home. He asked me if I’d been talking to Irene, and then rolled his eyes. I’d seen Irene roll her eyes at the mention of his name as well, and I pictured the set of a play, with a two story balcony and Raphael and Irene rolling their eyes as each one tried to finish their tale.
Without any provocation, Raphael launched into a tale of heroism and valor, about going to rescue his son from Kosovo after he was wounded in the conflict in 1998. There were many tangents and sub plots, including Raphael’s time in a boys’ choir as a child and how he fathered a daughter in Thailand. I would occasionally ask a question for clarification and to show I was still listening, but he was not to be diverted from what might have been a well-rehearsed and often-told story. As he spoke, the sun set and the air grew cooler, but he kept on with the tale, never even setting his grocery bags down. After about 45 minutes, I tried to wrap things up. But he grabbed my arm and looked deep into my eyes and intensified his storytelling. After another fifteen minutes, my need to use the bathroom had become nearly urgent. I told him that, and he kept talking. I started to back away, and he walked toward me. I crossed my legs and did a mini jig, and after about five minutes of that he let me go. But not without a final, concluding message.
He took hold of my arm once again and said with the utmost gravity, “The truth…. The TRUTH! The truth will tell the tale.”
It was nearly eleven o’clock in the evening when I left him. I hadn’t yet eaten dinner or done any writing, but the time spent with Irene and Raphael was precious.