Dispatches from a Philadelphia writer living in Ireland.
Things are what you might call up in the air right now. I used to live in a tiny cottage, but the rent was steep and the landlord uptight. I was so sure I could find another place with ease that I just moved out one day, waving to Simon over my shoulder without turning around.
Which means I've been crashing at R.'s.
With my laptop plugged into his power strip and my delicates strung up around his bedroom like Christmas lights, it's the closest I've ever come to living with a boyfriend. The timed heating doesn't go on until 10 at night, and R. hasn't changed his bedding since ... maybe ever. But it's happy here. His housemate Jane rolls me cigarettes with little filters I thought were earplugs, and we all drink gallons of tea.
For Christmas my mom gave me Peterson's Birds of Britain and Europe and a pair of binoculars-tiny ones, but they're Audubon, so they're good. When I was at home for the holidays I told her I was quitting grad school but going back to live in Ireland anyway, and she just nodded, giving me her blessing in a moment long enough for both of us to consider, silently, how deeply aggrieved this announcement would've made my dad. I used to thrill to the thought of irritating him postmortem, but these days I sometimes worry that he was right about all the advice I've ignored, and that my life is only getting gnarled up like hair in a round brush as I go along.
Every morning I have breakfast in a grotty cafeteria and check the classifieds. Over eggs, beans and tomatoes, I copy down all the salient details in my moleskin notebook, which is also where I make notations about birds I've observed. Broadband, furnished bedroom, working fireplace. Fan-like crest, snaky neck, defined white patch at base of bill. Then I stuff the notebook in my backpack and continue my exploration of Dublin and its inhabitants, both winged and grounded.
On the first day of my search a boy named Brian all but dragged me through his dingy house for a two-minute tour: light fixtures with no light bulbs, a bare mattress, thousands of stained mugs. At one point he indicated a crimson-haired hipster (Nora? Orla?) scrunched up on the living room couch, who lifted one hand in mute, unenthusiastic greeting.
Later I visited an apartment in a quiet part of town. The girl who owned it confessed, over tea, the room was available only until April-when her baby was due. I glanced down and sure enough, there was a small mound on her middle. There's something sweet about the notion of having a flatmate who only comes into existence while you're living there. But all I could think was that I'd become a headline in one of those trashy British tabloids: "A terrified American girl delivered my baby!"
Yesterday I ventured out to Sutton, a village not far from the city center and along the coastal road. By then the search was a week old and I was feeling set-adrift. This was me on the train: It would be nice if they called the stations 'cause I can't read any of these signs, oh all the names are the same in this country anyway, Killarney, Kilkenny, Donnycarney, whatever. God I'm having a smoke the minute this train stops, I don't care if the girl can smell it on me and it makes a bad impression although it would be nice to quit with R. in the new year oh who is he kidding he's not quitting. It's like Ciaran said when he told him, which new year. What is up with his hair? I know he's gay. I wonder if R. has any idea his friend is gay and in love with him fark I left the matches in the kitchen-oh!
Oh. And there it was. The Irish Sea. It opened up beside the train tracks, and stretched out before us were craggy green cliffs that gave way to pebbly beaches. The sky is huge out there, and low, protective. I could feel myself begin to breathe again.
When I got to the house I was greeted by two girls with a huge map of the world in their living room. "We found Philadelphia," Sheila said. "It's near New York!" She made tea, then fondled her mug and pursed her lips into her version of a smile as she gave me the run-down. "We have kind of a house rule about boyfriends. When the lads come over, they stay on the couch."
Right. So that was out. But at least now I have direction: I must live by the sea.
So now I'm on the eighth day of my search, and I'm even grubbier than yesterday. My socks, special cashmere ones that were also a Christmas present from Mom, are five days old, slouchy and sour. I overstayed my welcome at my breakfast place this morning, which I didn't think was possible, and have come to rest by the duck pond in St. Stephen's Green. The cold damp of the wooden bench is seeping slowly into my butt and down my legs.
Just then the most surprising little bird appears at my feet. It's the size of a sparrow and hops around like one, but it has the bright markings of a parakeet: blue, green, yellow. I fish my Peterson's out of my bag and learn that I've made a somewhat rare find: a female Northern Parula, which is a vagrant wood warbler from North America.
A fellow American! A fellow vagrant, for that matter. I feel you, dude.
Then my mobile phone buzzes, startling her, and she hop-flies back into her tree. I don't recognize the number.
"Hallo? That's me, Francesca. You rang about the room?"
I flip through my notebook frantically. Francesca, Francesca, which one was that? I've called so many numbers in the last few days. Then I find my notes: view of the sea from your bedroom, smokers welcome.
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor