Sunday, September 7, 2014

The squat houses and soup kitchens of Dublin

Jerry: In the last two months, Laura has been regaling me with tales of her adventures in the squat houses and soup kitchens of Dublin. The way she's phrased things, I was beginning to worry I'd find her huddled under a bridge with a bad case of scurvy.

Ireland, as described by Laura.

Laura: That was the impression I was trying to give. Anything to raise my street-cred.

Jerry: In general, workaway hosts are people with small businesses who need part-time help and have a spare room to offer in exchange. Laura's host was just looking for bit of help tidying his house and garden. Seemed reasonable enough, until she arrived.

Laura: It was something of a shock. I'm fairly easy going, but I arrived in a foreign country where I know absolutely no one at seven in the morning, delusionally exhausted, broke and hungry, and I find myself in this little crazy hoarder house in the middle of nowhere with shit piled to the ceiling, eight million cats, and a cross-eyed gentleman dressed as a cowboy (complete with toy pistols and plastic spurs) who has never paid his rent and believes everything is a freemason conspiracy. Though now that I see it all written out, it sounds like it should've been right up my alley.

Not actually Derek, but wouldn't surprise me.

Jerry: She told me that as she couldn't cook in this house, she'd been subsisting off a "sort of glorified soup kitchen" just up the street and an "actual soup kitchen" across town.

Laura: The glorified soup kitchen costs a little bit, but it clearly operates on some church or government funding. The actual soup kitchen is exactly that. I like the days they have fish. And on Wednesdays they give out free cans of beans.

Jerry: It's not a glorified soup kitchen. It's a full service restaurant for purpose of providing gainful employment to people with down's syndrome and similar. It's nonprofit and therefore inexpensive, but I guess Laura's street cred is that she was living pretty cheaply while supporting a charity.

The "actual" soup kitchen really is for providing free meals to the public, but here's where we as Americans have to remember that European countries have functional social services. Although Ireland is not as heavily socialist as say, Germany, government benfits are far more widespread and infitiely higher quality than in the US, and there's no stigma attached to accepting it. The "soup kitchen" provides a coursed meal akin to what you'd expect in an inexpensive restaurant (bread, soup, meat, veg, starch, dessert, tea) with diner-type table service - yes, we're talking someone bussing your table and someone else asking if you'd like cream for your tea, not a Dickens-esque line for gruel like in the States. The environment feels akin to family meal when working at a restaurant.

You could be making six figures front waiting under three-Michelin stars, 
and you still know this feeling: OH GOD THEY'RE GOING TO FEED US.

Jerry: It's the demographic you'd see in America in any diner during the breakfast hour - students, blue collar workers, the retired - people who might have tight enough funds to be looking for the $4.99 special, but not with whom you'd be afraid to make eye contact. The retired gentleman who struck up a conversation with us across the table guessed we were university students initially, and seemed totally unsurprised to hear we were both aspriing writers on a year-long international trip.

Laura: It's a good spot. It's also got a free clinic and showers if you need them. Dublin does really seem to have great support services compared to the states. Though I think a lot of it is actually from the church, which as one can imagine has a great deal of influence here. And I can't stress enough: I love that they give me free beans. The guy that struck up a conversation was a 76 year old writer named Joe. Though honestly I don't think I understood as much of what he was saying as Jerry. He seemed a little deaf, so he spoke softly in a fairly thick accent.

Jerry: It's the Renn Faire thing. I've had practice decoding English, Irish, and Scottish accents of varying degrees of legitimacy for years.

The best part about googling "heilan coo" in search of this comic:
how many actual photos of cows are tagged with this exact spelling.

Jerry: I was equally excited about free beans, because the Jerry and Laura breakfast special is "hash browns" made with beans and kale and bacon, topped with parmasean and sunny side up eggs. Like the rest of Europe, all of Ireland closes on Sundays and I knew we'd have to fend for ourselves. Except Laura was under the impression that one couldn't cook in the kitchen at Derek's (our workaway host's) house. She had spent previous Sundays eating said beans cold out of the can.

Laura: Fine like this.

My girlfriend, ladies and gentlemen.

Jerry: The whole house is amazingly eco-friendly. You know how you're supposed to unplug "power vampires" to save energy? Yeah, here it's painfully obvious. Like a breaker that controls the whole electric range. And is right next to it, at easy-arm-height. And BRIGHT RED.

Laura: I didn't find said bright red button until the week before Jerry got here. For that first month I thought the stove was broken, and I ate cold beans. What can I say? I'm not always too sharp.

Jerry: So now we get to the house. Laura uncovered a few more things about Derek between her initial report of him as "batshit crazy" and my arrival. First of all, I was never concerned for her saftey; it's unanimously felt that Derek is absolutely the nicest, most considerate crazy person any of us have ever heard of.

Laura: Absolutely. Really sweet guy. Totally harmless. I wouldn't even say he's "crazy" per se. Though it certainly seemed like it when I first arrived, that was probably in large effect because of the readjustment period.

Jerry: He's a standard messy bachelor who had just broken up with his long term girlfriend and stopped bothering for a while. There's a large faded to-do list about tidying the house that looks remarkably like the sort of thing a girlfriend would threaten she "wasn't coming over to his damn house again until..." Notably, though, nothing was disgusting or rotting. Cluttered with camera equipment and art supplies, but he'd been keeping up with things like dishes. Once we got the kitchen straightened, we were very well able to eat in. No beans left in the pantry thanks to Rorschach, but there were potatos and ramen. And fresh veggies, eggs, garlic, ginger, and limes. We've successfully managed to avoid scurvy for another week.

Sure, he doesn't own a real table, but really, how many single guys do?
Also: Not a stock photo. Actually Derek's kitchen. Actually our dinner. Actually my knee.

Jerry: Funny enough, even though Derek has multiple cats -


Jerry: The house actually doesn't smell at all -


Jerry: One of the cats has a litter under -



Jerry: Anyway, it's far more practically clean than the house that was for rent on airbnb the first night. Especially now that we've picked up the clutter and sorted his costumes back on to hangers. Turns out, btw, he was wearing the cowboy getup to a themed art gallery opening. He doesn't actually think he's a cowboy. Yes, he has a lot of costumes, but I work at goddamn renaissance faires for a living. I have completely serious conversations about codpieces. I am no one to judge.

Laura: I, on the other hand-- being the ideal straight-laced, productive member of society-- retain my right to judge both of you. Weirdos.

Jerry: After you left I commissioned one of my troupe members to make me a three-foot tall red crochet hat makes me look like a lawn gnome. So we can have tea parties with faeries.

Just another day at the office.

Laura: On any account, we leave Ireland tomorrow. This weekend I tried to cram as much of Dublin as I could for Jerry to see. It wasn't too tough. Dublin's pretty small. I enjoyed it, but I'm ready to move on. The city was beginning to feel a little cramped.

Jerry: I'm constantly shocked by how we can cross it on foot in so little time. In the last four days, we managed to see a lot even after notably cleaning Derek's house. We walked through all the lovely parks, checked out museums and went to a reading at Sweny's, where Laura has been hanging out.

Picnic in St Stephen's green, complete with our controversial Scotch.

Laura: Glad we got to stop by Sweny's. I've been going there twice a week. It's this little museum/store where they read Joyce aloud everyday. The place was a pharmacy from Joyce's time up until 2011 (it actually features in the Lotus Eaters episode of Ulysses. It's where Bloom buys the lemon soap). They've maintained the pharmacy decor, so everything looks exactly like it did a hundred years ago. We stopped in today to say goodbye to PJ, who runs the place. Really charming guy, very intelligent and friendly. You can tell he does it just because he loves meeting people. It was a great place to meet people with similar interests (namely: Joyce). If there's one thing I'll miss about Dublin it'll probably be Sweny's.

Not sure if bookstore, museum, or literary club. Either way: Awesome.

Jerry: We also hit up two museums that were practically made for us. The National Archaeology Museum was my jam - bog bodies, Viking and medieval Ireland. If I had been here all summer I would have been there a dozen times, poring over every item slowly.

Laura: And today we went to the Chester Beatty library, which was exactly my jam. It was a collection of books from around the world. Beautiful artwork and bookbinding. From China, Japan, and the Middle East.

Jerry: We also met up with Alan, the first in a string of Ubergroupers we have plans with. The man is a heavyweight with alcahol - we started at 3pm, and at 10pm he was trying to convince us to go to the next stop with him.

Laura: Suffice to say, we did not join him. We called it an early night, which we are about to do right now as well, as we are flying to England in the morning. In our next installment, we will discuss Manchester, whisky, and the obnoxious inefficiency of Ryanair's website.

Jerry: Ryanair may have to be it's own entry. Talk to you all soon!


  1. Laura, my what big feet you have. And, Jerry, love the nail polish!

  2. But were there kittens?

  3. Sigh, envious. Wish I had done some of this when I was young enough to pull it off!

  4. Food, glorious food! Hope you get enough to eat here! :)

  5. Sounds like a really cool trip. Makes me want to go back and see Ireland again.