‘the dead are dancing with the dead./The dust is whirling with the dust.’ (Oscar Wilde, “The Harlot’s House”)
Befuddled Julia Morkan, “toddling” on the arm of Mister Archibald DeathBrowne, appears “ignorant, old, grey-skinned, and stupified.” She exits the room of her minor musical triumph for the feast where Gabriel of the next generation will eulogize her prematurely. The language and symbols of mortality surround her [Lily, symbol of death; “morke”- Dansk for darkness; “three mortal hours”; “tod(dling)”- German for Death; “perished alive”; “her death of cold”; and the glue maker’s horse].
Julia surprised her audience with vocal competence, even if her choice of a wedding song seemed inappropriate. Youth expects little of her. Betrothed to Death, it’s unclear if Aunt Julia’s talents have declined as much as her reputation. She now teaches only piano beginner’s books, scales, and the grouping of fingers around Middle C. Her talents might remain largely intact; still, society’s accounting of her worth depreciates with age.
Julia lives under the threat of disposability. Even a marginal decline in skill makes her a candidate for replacement by younger, shinier talent. Rejection is customary to her, and her accession shows with a blank expression. Her “health, pallor and attention” suffer. She is “a shriveled red apple” that lacks worldly polish, cored, bitten and ready to be tossed away.
Browne coils nearby, anxious to carry Julia away, and she is resigned to entering the world of shades. She is on the wrong side of the grave, evidence that “the living and the dead are jealous of each other.” But obsolescence is not only a function of age. Gabriel longs to walk in the park under the snowfall, feeling like a relic passed over by Revivalist nationalism. G.C.’s brand of high culture, the source of his prestige, has fallen out of fashion, overtaken by changing values.
If people become passe’ as tastes change, so do structures, but a few special buildings can appreciate over time, increasing in value through prestige, historical significance, and broad sentimental support. One such structure could be 15 Usher’s Island, home of the historical Misses Flynn and the literary Misses Morkan. Here they shared their gifts of community and culture. The ladies are now shades. Today, changing priorities would turn their home into mere memory too. One reason for Julia Morkan’s diminished reputation was certainly her failing potential to generate income. The house of “The Dead” also has its immortality threatened for the sake of cash flow.
“Snow Was General” copyright (c) don ward 2021
The literary heritage of Fifteen Usher’s Island has been lost for a fistful of cash shaken at that property. After this landmark fades, only the Sandymount Martello Tower and Sweny’s Pharmacy will remain as public celebrations of the author’s authenticity. Mercenary ethics demands a price for each breath taken and insists the Morkan/Flynn home be cannibalized. Private capital preferred fifty-six tightly-packed hostel berths over a generous and venerable historical and literary legacy.
Investors in the property have secured quite a landfall acquiesced to by public governance. The investing partnership obtained a house that had already undergone significant improvement for 650,000 euros. The debt held by the lending institution was over 2.34M euros. Presumably, the previous owner had already invested borrowed monies in improvements since the debt resulted in bankruptcy.
Fergus McCabe of the investing partnership told the Irish Times in November 2019 that turning the property into a high occupancy site was “the only viable option.” If viability demanded profits in excess of 200%, that might have been the rationale in 2019 despite declining Irish tourist revenues.
The cost-benefit muttered out by a green-shaded chartered account, however, could not predict the events of 2019 and 2020. Historically, tourism accounts for 10.4% of global GDP and 7% of global exports. Ireland fares less well than you might expect, with an influx of only 9.3bn euros (5.2bn euros by overseas tourists in Ireland) and trails the global average at 4% of GDP. A tourism surge is expected on the pent-up, post-Covid demand for international travel. However, Irish tourism was in decline even before the pandemic reared up. In pre-covid 2019, Irish tourism declined by 1%. Spain and France outperformed Ireland for tourism, and Edinborough typically outperforms Dublin.
The current private-sector venture bets (for now) that low-end travel on cramped commercial flights and quartering in bargain-priced, high turn-over, high-density hostels will resume according to the 2019 business model. The virus, however, is not Covid 1 but 17. It will mutate, and as a result, public life will again change a little or a lot to dodge the peril. The economics of hospitality will change too, with hostels taking on vacuous facades and falling derelict like poor Julia Morkan. Some who follow the financial markets may object to this argument, pointing to investor enthusiasm for the AirBNB initial public offering. Investor optimism, however, focuses here precisely because AirBNB provides low-density hospitality (few beds). It’s specialty is facilities with few guests or short-term rentals to a single renter. You might compare AirBNB to Target Properties Management which is collapsing under the weight of high density properties like the 15 Usher’s Island proposal.
I might return to Ireland in the post-Covid world, in part because my paternal grandmother was a Dublin Conroy. But the story also beckons to those named Callanan, Cousins, and Currans. Those were just the Dead-Diaspora with last names beginning with the letter C. There is no logic that could convince me to stay in the most hygienic of new hostels. I would argue vigorously with family and friends who suggest they might do so. The values that drive the necessary demise of the Morkans’ home are not sentimental. They are the cold metallurgy of the coin. If the current plan executes, it is bound to result in a failed hostel, again a wastrel property, and a public embarrassment of Viconian recursiveness.
Just as “The Dead” revisits the failures and epiphanies-too-late of the fourteen stories preceding it in Dubliners, the passing of 15 Usher’s Island will conjure the uneasy spirit of 7 Eccles Street. Raise “The Dead.”
don ward December 11, 2020