Yeats and an Airbnb disaster in Dublin
The highlight of Dublin for me was seeing the amazing Yeats exhibition at the National Library. It was to be mounted for a year only. Already it’s been up eight – and no wonder! It’s superbly curated, with a wealth of information presented in enough different forms to appeal to the casual tourist, the informed reader and the hard-core Yeats fan. There are four alcoves placed around a central exhibition of books and manuscripts (manuscripts!) and these provide little sanctuaries of rest for the weary. You can sit in one of these, lulled by documentaries and talking heads interviews about Yeats as a lover and husband, an early forefather of the Abbey Theatre, an enthusiastic practitioner of the occult and, finally, his role in Irish politics.
At the entrance – and therefore, the exit, you can rest again, listening to his poems read by different performers, including ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by Yeats himself, chanting the famous lines in his tremulous voice.
The thrill for a poet has to be the poems in manuscript – Yeats scratched out, rewrote, wrote above and below the lines, diagonally across one small page – all those revisions comfortingly familiar. As a bookseller’s daughter I drooled, too, over the first editions – not just Yeats’ first editions but also The Yellow Book and others.
By this point in my short Dublin leg of the trip, I was two days into a cold and two days into a five day stay at a two-star Airbnb, so it was comfort I sought. After my first visit to the Yeats exhibition I sat in the library café, content to be drinking a pot of tea among people reading, tapping or screens or making old-fashioned marks on paper. Public libraries are great resting places. If I’d been spending more time in Dublin, I’d have applied for a reader’s ticket (I assume a tourist can get one?), found a favourite table and settled into a routine that would include the magnificent women’s toilets (truly!) and the café.
But as a fleeting tourist, there’s a certain anxiety to see a little more, so I visited some, but hardly all, of the National Gallery where there’s a Jack Yeats room with his famous painting ‘The Liffey Swim’. The major exhibition was an exhibition of Vermeer – which I would have loved to have seen, but tickets were fully booked until the Sunday – the day I was due to do a poetry reading at Clifden Arts Week, so I contented myself with what was on permanent display.
I did mean to go back to see the Kathe Kollowitz print exhibition, but instead, I went another day to the National Museum of Archaelogy beguiled by the promise of gold. I was not disappointed.
In between all this, I was walking to and from Rathmines, two suburbs out of Dublin CBD. The Airbnb I had booked turned out to be a small disaster – I never did find out the wifi code although my host assured me it was in the information he sent and I believe him. That was the least of my problems. The first – and nearly insurmountable problem – was the keys required a tricksy manoeuvre to open both the front door and the apartment door. I stood forlornly outside the former the first night until a guy who lived there let me in and then, kindly, tested the key, opening the gate with some effort. As the keys weren’t marked, I had no idea which key he’d used but he assured me it was just new and required a bit of grunt. I used grunt on the recalcitrant apartment door key and that only bent the key a minute amount. It opened, but removing the key was a real issue.
I emailed my host. He apologised and advised me to take the keys to a locksmith two doors down who would recut the keys for a small amount and he, the host, would refund some money. It was never going to work – it’s not possible to cut good keys from bad keys. I bent the slightly bent key slightly back, using the kitchen bench as a lever. I sent prayers to the various gods and goddesses of gateways and the keys and I accomodated each other. They were never easy to use but I no longer approached the gate with trembling trepidation.
The Airbnb was one of those a country-commuting worker throws up on the site – might as well! It would have been fine for a student-couple, who had not planned to cook or do some work or who were simply not tired and sick. My hosts’s stuff was everywhere without even a space cleared for a visitor to hang clothes, or a drawer cleared. There was no tea or coffee, no welcoming container of milk in the fridge and no instructions on how to work the heating. After Stockbridge which was run like a B&B with absent hosts, it was a lesson on how not to run an Airbnb. I very nearly left the first night.
A certain stubbornness settled it. I battled recalcitrant water taps, a trickle of a shower – the latter at least forcing me to get the haircut I’d put off for the last twelve months – and an absence of tea, coffee, toaster…. What saved the whole place for me was the proximity of the small bed to the street window. The flat was on the first floor and the view from the window was of the busy main street and all its bustling comings and goings. I was on a le Carre reading binge, so there was a lot to be said for coming home to pile into bed with a cup of tea, read Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy and still feel close to a life that was swirling around me.
On the final night, through no fault of mine, I short-circuited the entire appliance circuitry. I poured my tea as usual, looking forward to finishing my le Carre novel, charging my phone (which had my bus ticket on it) and writing a few emails home. The water splashed past the broken spout and ran down the kettle – and this has never before happened to me – straight into the electrical charging mechanism. There was a sizzle and I thought, uh oh, this isn’t going to be good. The fact that the lights didn’t go out reassured me until I plugged in my phone.
Another flurry of messages to my host. By this time we were heartily sick of each other. He had no idea where the fuse box was – I’d found it, but wasn’t willing to risk my life trying to fix the problem. Instead I defrosted the fridge (luckily his minimalist approach extended there) and left the place a day earlier than planned, grateful I could!
The really stupid thing was that I’d had an intuitive feeling about that Airbnb which I’d ignored. There’d been another one, further out, in an Edwardian house and I’d let the distance to the Dublin CBD put me off. The irony is that the walk probably took the same amount of time as the bus ride from Rathgar, where the host lived on the premises and knew about bus timetables and – presumably – fuses.
What I take away from Dublin is not that, however – a fuse is just a fuse. No, it’s the manuscript poems of Yeats, the gold torcs and sleeve fasteners, the Viking jewellery and the extraordinary and confronting video self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery created by Saoirse Wall, ‘Gesture 2’ which was shortlisted in the 2014 Hennessy Portrait Prize.