Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Floozie in the Jacuzzi (not)

Dublin humour can be playful, cynical, surreal and full of wicked wordplay. It's a bit like the kid at the back of the class who's asked to use the word "bewitches" in a sentence.

"Ah you go on ahead," he replies, "I'll be wid yez in a minute."

Dublin wit is also embodied in the nicknames of its statutes and monuments, particularly the more "modren" additions to our postcolonial streetscape. And one nickname stands head and shoulders above the rest: "The Floozie in the Jacuzzi".

The Anna Livia Fountain - for that's its official title - arrived on O'Connell Street in 1988 to mark the city's dubious "millennium" celebrations that year. Its sculptor, √Čamonn O'Doherty, took his inspiration from the Anna Livia Plurabelle character in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. 

He wanted the central figure to personify the River Liffey and its "flowing spirit". The result was an 18-foot-long bronze sculpture of a young woman with long flowing locks. The hair has a marvellous touch of dulse or kelp about it, which makes perfect sense given that there is a tidal reach from Islandbridge to the docklands.

In her original location on the site of the old Nelson's Pillar (blown up in 1966), the Anna Livia statue reclined majestically at an angle of about 45 degrees on her watery throne.

This was a sort of stepped bed in a granite fountain of fast-running water - hence the "Jacuzzi" bit - which in turn was surrounded by a slightly wider and longer pond or trough. This superb archive photo by Piolinfax gives a much better idea than my description, and as you can see the bronze was already beginning to age beautifully:

Anna Livia Plurabelle

The "Floozie in the Jacuzzi" tag was far more infectious than its other nickname, "The Hoor in the Sewer". But both follow a common formula for these Dublin nicknames:

  • Take a "The"
  • Add your first noun (something along the lines of floozie, bowsie, hag or tart)
  • Add an "In or a "With" and another "The"
  • Finally end with a second noun that rhymes with the first one.

Hence five-letter titles such as "The Hags With the Bags" or "The Tart With the Cart". Eight years after the Anna Livia Fountain was built, someone had the bright idea of putting a giant clock in the Liffey, to count down to the real Millennium year of 2000. It didn't last that long, and quickly became "the Chime in the Slime".

But "Floozie" and "Jacuzzi" are an inspired word combination. The punchline, as it were, is in the Jacuzzi. "Jacuzzi" is a relatively modern word, a trademarked invention from the 1960s, which only began to appear in popular culture such as films and books in any significant way around 1978 (see this Google Books Ngram graph if you don't believe me).

So hot tubs and whirlpools would still have been a rarity in 1980s Ireland. At the time the semiotics of the Jazuzzi - did I really just say that? - would have been that this was not merely a fancy bath contraption with knobs on. The Jacuzzi was much more than that. It stood for modernity and consumption and foreign fun and glamour and all the other naughty exotic excesses of the high life of the rich and famous. In other words, it was Fancy Sex.

By contrast, while "Floozie" (also spelt "floozy" or "floosie" or "floosy") also has sexual connotations it's much older: it has early 20th-century origins according to the Oxford Dictionary, Merriam-Webster puts its first known use as 1911, and my Chambers says its origin is "uncertain". Maybe the word is not so exclusively Hiberno-English as, say, "bowsie", but it's embedded in old-fashioned Irish slang that surely stretches back into the Victorian age.

So the "Floozie in the Jacuzzi" nickname manages to combine the traditional ("Floozie") and the modern ("Jacuzzi"), the native and foreign, the national and international, the rare old times and something straight out of the 1980s world of Dallas or Dynasty.

The monument soon got a reputation for "anti-social behaviour". Sometimes that really means behaviour that is anti-social but often it's just a shorthand for "Where The Kids Hang Out". Public seating is surprisingly scant in the centre of town, but the fountain had slabbed walls, perfect for sitting on.

Besides rivers and river gods, the monument came to personify a lot of messing, students mucking around in foam parties with bottles of Fairy Liquid, the odd vandalism and way too much litter.

The Croppies Memorial Park

The fountain only spent a relatively short time in O'Connell Street. In 2001 it made way for the new Spire and went into storage for a decade. In 2011 the Floozie reappeared, gently floating up the Liffey on a barge one February morning, to be installed at her latest resting place: the Croppies Memorial Park, where Benburb Street meets Parkgate Street in Stoneybatter.

The new location puts it bang in the heart of Moss Reid's universe, and closer than ever to the Liffey. Yet the statue's reincarnation has a few issues.

Firstly the site itself. Nothing wrong with the park per se, which may be tiny but is no-nonsense and beautifully maintained, with mature trees and quite a few benches.

The statue's original location in the middle of O'Connell Street, for all its faults, was a lively focal point on the city's main thoroughfare, and the monument was highly visible and almost constantly surrounded by crowds. By contrast, poor Anna Livia feels almost too tucked away in this new location, and I don't buy the "Quiet And Reflective" angle.

Despite being so close to the bustle of the new courts and Heuston Station and the Ashling Hotel and so on, the little park has relatively few visitors for most of the year.

Further down the street, the much bigger Croppies Acre - often confused with it whenever the media cover anything to do with "Croppies"* - has been far busier since its renovation and re-opening last June, and the Luas line itself along Benburb street has become very popular with pedestrians, runners and cyclists as part of a long traffic-free promenade into town.

This YouTube clip by Wayne Fitzgerald may give some idea of what's wrong with the new location...

To be honest, the Croppies Memorial Park is not the quietest of green spaces in Stoneybatter. Perhaps all that traffic puts the casual visitor off. The park is a triangle rather than a circle, yet has the feeling of a glorified traffic roundabout.

On one side you have the relatively quiet and civilised Luas line, on another you've all the racket of a bus lane less than ten feet away, and the weekday bumper-to-bumper traffic as it snarls its way into town and into the AA Roadwatch reports.

Yet despite all that traffic, many will drive past not knowing that the Floozie has been relocated there. She can be quite hard to see from the road - particularly by motorists rather than from the top deck of a bus - because she sits in the middle of a "kidney dish" shaped pond, which in turn is in the middle of a slight dip or hollow.

Anna Livia looks almost forlorn as she perches in this pond - it's much wider and plainer than her original resting place. She's no longer raised up and presiding over everything on her watery throne. Now there is no throne. Instead she sort of floats on the water's usually still surface.

I say "sort of" because sometimes when the water level falls she appears slightly above the surface, with her ugly concrete mounting exposed, and with what seem to be four water jets which I've never seen in action.

Even when the water is at its proper level, her back hovers awkwardly in mid-air, at a far shallower angle than when she had in O'Connell Street. It's as though she has severe back problems or is about to tip back and drown.

I'm all for recycling, and the bronze statue in itself is a fine creation, but something is sorely missing. With nothing to lean against, no back support, no fountain and no constant running water any more, they've taken the poor Floozie's Jacuzzi away.

(* Historical footnote: in 1790s Ireland, "Croppies" referred to rebels who were well into the French Revolutionaries, with their closely cropped hair in contrast to the aristocracy with their fancy powdered wigs.)