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Back in Ireland this week looking for an interim property towards a home in which we might gracefully decline (when we get older losing our hair, many years from now Deo Vult.) we were considering the capital’s inner city. We live very happily in the city of Berlin with all its myriad amenities from opera to green spaces and uber efficient public transport. We step around the dog doodoo and hardly notice any more the artless graffiti – the urban scrawl.
Many of my kith and my kin reside in Dublin city. Before we looked to the old areas – excluding Portobello and Rathmines which have, even in a recession, gone beyond us – we decided with an eye to a good investment, to view some new apartments in the trendy blocks built on the river around the mega International Financial Services Centre.
The IFSC began to spring up in 1997 under the Custom House Docks Development Authority, which they themselves say is “working to develop Dublin Docklands into a World Class City Quarter [their caps] one in which the whole community enjoys the highest standards of access to education, employment, housing and social amenity and which delivers a major contribution to the social and economic prosperity of Dublin and the whole of Ireland.”
The Irish are great for naming civic sculpture, characters and events. (Anna Livia= “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi”, The Liffey Millenium Clock = “the Time in the Slime”, Molly Malone= “The Tart with the Cart”, Gerald Y Goldberg Bridge = “The Passover”, the Second World War = “The Emergency”, civil war in the Six Counties = “The Troubles” etc). The period between 1996 and 2008 in Ireland is known as “The Celtic Tiger”, “The Boom” or “The Madness.”
The main tranche of IFSC/Docklands building took place during The Madness. Still though like, allthesame, we thought we should not reject on spec the square blocks, for there is now a new bridge connecting its miles of piles, the rapid transport trams are running smoothly and Pilates classes are available.
Of a fine morning if you squint your eyes at the Samuel Beckett Bridge (“The Crank on the Bank”) the area can look like the Puente de la Mujer in the docklands development of Puerto Madero, Argentina. The Women’s Bridge was designed (as a “synthesis of the image of a couple dancing the tango”) by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and inaugurated in Buenos Aires in 2001 at a cost of $9m.
The Samuel Beckett Bridge is also by Santiago Calatrava. For the Dublin structure – which was inauagurated in 2007 and cost €60m – the architect said he envisioned the form as a harp, which is handy as he only had to tweek the Dublin bridge design to allow for traffic (the Women’s Bridge is pedestrian only) but it is also true. In Buenos Aires a few years back, I posed on the bridge, singing “Mellow the Moonlight” “plucking” the inclined suspension cables supporting the central span, because it looked to me just like the strings of a harp. The harp is a prominent symbol of Ireland (because the country is run by pulling strings.)
Over the past week as I slouched around the Dublin Docklands, the wind was whistling and howling through its urban canyons through the blocks of glass steel and concrete. It is so vast and the blind slab buildings are all so featureless, soulless and samey behind their locked metal gates and high fencing that I needed directions to get to Apt W Block X, Y House on Z Quay. I approached a young man wearing a blue hoodie (which, along with pyjamas, is the national costume of Ireland) standing on the pavement of one of the older streets hijacked for development. “Do you know where I’d find Y House?” ses I. “How’r’ye doin’?” ses he. “Grand” ses I, as I speak the lingo. During that preliminary necessary exchange, another young man approached from across the street and I expected that as he had seen me waving a map and looking around he had come to assist in the investigation. He walked over and Blue Hoodie held out his right hand, in which was folded a bunch of ten and twenty and euro notes. Other Guy held out his right hand, in which was a foil pack of pills. They did not miss a beat: “over there, that’s all Z Quay there, just turn left and you should find it” they told me.
Ah it really is worth spending upwards of a quarter of a million euro to live in the Dublin Docklands, because it really does seem to be a community enjoying the highest standards of access to education, employment, housing, social amenity and drugs, delivering a major contribution to the social and economic prosperity and mental welfare of Dublin and the whole of Ireland. I mean, where else would you find such helpful, friendly and well mannered dealers?
I viewed the apartment. It was doonshie small and it was dull, like a hotel space skimmed in synthetics. Out on the tiny balcony space there was an audible hum. Neither the agent nor the nice German man also viewing noticed the audible hum, which resembled being beside the funnel of a Brittany Ferries ship as she steams past Penzance, or rush hour in the London Tube. I reckon it was from the air conditioning vents of the underground car park below, the agent thought it might be the cooling system of the Marks and Spencer’s store across the way.
Goodbye now so ses I and made a run for it, out through the metal gates, back into the world, the whipping wind and the wheeling gulls. I felt that like Dorothy, I would be caught up in a whirlwind, along with the cloud of plastic bags rising, dipping and river dancing through the blind streets and grey alleyways….I kinda wished I were, for Oz or Kansas’ plains would be more colourful, have more life.
The next property I viewed was a ‘show apartment’ which meant that along with the black leather sofas de-rigeur in every living space in the Dublin housing market, meant it had Bad Art, a glass table and metal curlicues. I didn’t even look at the bedrooms because I hated it on sight. The windows were dirty – as are those of all the buildings around (no money for cleaning hoists) – and made the dark grey day darker and greyer. Buenos Aires it was not. When I asked about the fate of a huge building site across the road, which would eventually further shadow the apartment, the agent proudly told me it was to be the headquarters of NAMA, the National Asset Management Agency, the Deep Doodoo Agency, which elicits the same cuddly fuzzy feeling in the Irish as, did, say, the Stasi in East Berlin. I made a cross sign with my fingers as one does to ward off vampires, the nice young estate agents in their winkle-picker-toed shoes were not just confused, but wished a gust of wind would pluck this mad woman from their ken.
Next day I viewed another modern apartment in a new block next door to the Google headquarters at the other side of the river, the south side, where I feel much more at home. Two guys were living there, but they were not around and had it very tidy, each had 8-10 pairs of sneakers/trainers neatly stacked and there were two Stand-Up Paddle boards standing against the wall. Men after my own heart but nonetheless, it was definitely not for me. Luckily, I was wearing red shoes, so I clicked my heels and we drove down to Killiney and back up along the coast through Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire, Monkstown and Blackrock to Sandymount. The roads are wide, the sun shone on the water, there were open green spaces (the sea oh the sea, grá geal mo chroí.) We immediately made a decision from the heart, for it is the heart that makes a good investment a good investment:
Despite the beautiful bridges and the impressive politesse of the local people on the Northside Docklands, we have decided we are not inner-city bods ourselves. We cannot escape that we are inexorably drawn to the burbs’ and the thought of living along the Dart line south towards the Sugar Loaf…..