Numinosity on Talbot Street
by Leona Lee Cully
On Talbot Street you can breathe, let your city mask slip a little. Slow down and take time to wonder, get lost in the tiniest detail. Let the hidden city inscribe itself onto your soul through a word spoken on the street, a gesture made by a stranger as they pass. The texture, the hum of the street – its cracks, drones, chirrups, revs, screams, smells, laughs and cries….
On Talbot Street you are either passing through, or on the hunt for a bargain. Tourists make a hesitant pilgrimage from Connolly Station, or the guest houses on Gardiner Street, towards the gleaming erection of the Spire. The monument that declares Dublin to be a real city, modern and aggressive and phallic. While the tourists point and laugh at our desperate symbol of progress, an old man stoops to pick up a coin, smiles to himself and walks on. In the spaces between the well-heeled tourists, shuffle old women who grew up in the city centre. They push trolley-bags up the street despite their swollen ankles and twisted spines; the story of poverty carved onto their bodies. A solitary bag from Guineys or Clerys pokes out of their trolleys. Their sprightlier, younger neighbours stop to talk to them, shouting gossip at them and enquiring after their health.
A girl on a pink scooter glides past, the history of the Mongolian plains etched onto her beautiful face. Her father places a protective hand on her shoulder, and frowns in worry. His daughter doesn’t know he can’t find work anymore, that her future will bring her back to the past when they return to the steppes.
Around the corner on Marlborough Street, the shadow-life of the city carries on its business. Blood and piss stains congeal on the concrete, ghostly echoes of lives forced into the margins. Emptied out wallets, syringes and shoes might be found there if you cared to look. A lexicon of desperation that is most often read in a language of insults: junkie, scum, thief, knacker, minger, beggar. Words that have no lexical equivalent in the shadow-life of the financial institutions that grace Talbot Street – ‘robber barons’ hardly competes with the terms of abuse thrown at the survivors of the street…
Talbot Street is not a pretty street: it’s a hinterland beyond the middle-class, trendy aspirations of other parts of the city. Grafton Street has its high-end brands, its franchised cafés, buskers with violins. Henry Street hosts high street franchises, evangelical preachers, and street rappers with broken faces moulding their own language. Talbot Street has passers-by, Tesco Express, Dealz, cheap shoes, cheap luggage, pizza slices, travel shops, tattoo parlours, and enough sheets and towels and nylon dresses to shroud the city. In between there lurks the nether worlds of casinos, massage parlours and pawn shops, their secrets as opaque to me as the world of wealth and privilege.
While it has escaped the queasy Euro-trash make-over architecture of the Docklands, Talbot Street does bear palimpsestic traces of all our failed eras. Colonial grandeur and abandon. The sectarian fervour which exploded outside the now abandoned Guiney’s shop in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of 1974. And a grand consumerist dream of the early 1980s as personified in The Irish Life Mall.
The Irish Life Mall has degenerated into an eerie ghost town. A monument to cyclical economic failure with its dried up little fountain, its vacant shops with pictures of what-might-be pasted onto the glass. Photo-real life-size posters of beauty parlours and newsagents that look stranger and stranger the longer you stare at them. A man stares out at me from behind his fake counter, as he holds out his hand for change from one of his ersatz customers. He is not even a photograph. A picture generated by a computer programme and spat out by a giant printer. He is spectral, numinous, a dream of a dream. A person who never was, and never can be.
I emerge from the funereal gloom of the mall onto Talbot Street. The city is drenched in sunlight. Luminous. The light glimmers off the Spire in the distance.
I am not a ghost. But is this city real?
The streets teem with unwritten paragraphs. A poem of bodies yearning for something, corralled into forced desires, into an impoverished language of commerce.
Listen. Can you hear the subterranean hum of the street? The screams, laughs and cries of its maniacs, story-tellers, dreamers, the lost and abandoned, its rappers, poets. All those rag-pickers of the hearts who try in vain to save our souls before we are condemned to this world. Listen…