Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh, by the way, I can't forget to mention Iced Coffee. HOLY CRAP boy did I ever miss iced coffee. I have had three since I got here, and each one has been heavenly. HEAVEN. The world just isn't right without iced coffee. And for $2.01 I can get myself a cup of this coffee heaven.
Driving has been so much fun! Now, I have to say that the last time I owned a proper car was really in August of 2005, though I did have a zipcar membership for a year, so I drove about once a week or so. I remember in my teens and twenties, it was difficult to go any lower than 80 miles an hour on the high way -- just "go go go go go." But after not driving for more than six months, and then living n Dublin where the driving is on the left side of the road, it is now really difficult to get up even to the 65 mile-an-hour speed limit! It feels *so* fast! Compared to walking, biking, and even the city bus, 65 miles an hour on the highway is practically the speed of light.

Tonight I went off on my own and made a visit to Target. Oh, Target, how I missed you so! It was glorious. I'm sorry -- I can't help it! I know this makes me "part of the problem," but for 50 US dollars, here's what I got: two sweaters (it might be sweltering here, thus causing things like sweaters to be mere pennies) but when I get back to Ireland, I'll get good use out of those sweaters!), a t-shirt with adorable piping ($3!), a bathing suit (50% off), a can opener, and a day planner. There was of course a lot of other stuff I wanted, but I managed to keep myself in check!

Then I drove back to my Dad's with the window down and the (easy listening) music up, and enjoyed the heat lightening up in the sky.

Monday, May 25, 2009

So one big part of being an ex-patriot is, of course, the visits back to your country of origin. I moved to Dublin almost exactly five months ago, and I am on my first trip back, somewhat unexpectedly, to the state of Florida, where my father lives, in the southern part of the US. (I am from New England, up in the Northeast.) So while this isn't a trip "home" for me, it is a trip to my homeland, and has a familiar feel to it, while also feeling like a completely different country all unto itself. The southern part of the US is different not only in climate but also in architecture, and many social aspects.

But to give you an idea of where I am, here's a photobooth picture from my computer of where I am sitting at the moment, out on my Dad's lanai, next to the pool, which overlooks a small pond, and the other houses in this (gated) community:

Note the blue sky. Yes, it's a far cry from the rain and cold I left in Dublin on Saturday! I will be here for a few weeks helping my Dad get his house ready to hopefully sell so he can move back up North. So if you like what you see, hey - maybe you would like to move to the warm weather of Florida! All you Irish folks reading my blog: just think of the Euro to dollar conversion. You would be living *large* in a tropical paradise on the space coast!

Anyhoo - being in Florida for me is honestly as much like being in a foreign country as Ireland. So I already have found myself taking photos of things that I find funny and/or unbelievable. I can see how my views have been altered by living abroad even for just a short time. For example. When we walked into the grocery store, Publix, which is just like any regular American grocery store, I had to take photos of the displays inside because they are so different than anything you'd see in Dublin:

Then, next to the Publix, I took a photo of the postage/mail store and pizza place, called "Goin' Postal" and "Soprano's Pizza," respectively.

Going postal of course refers to the idea that postal workers frequently lose their sanity and go into post offices and shoot everyone inside. Not *exactly* the most tasteful name for a business, but I will admit, kind of funny.

And then of course we went into the evilest of places, Wal*mart. Most of us acknowledge the failings of wal*mart, but I'm not going to lie and say I've never shopped there and won't ever shop there. We went in to buy a toy for my niece and some cards. But in the toy section, I was completely appalled by what I saw! Bratz(tm) dolls have hit a completely new low - holy crap they make Barbie look high class! Here's one doll for sale that looks like a whore:

But if you prefer your dolls to look like they belong in some kind of brothel, well here's the toy for you:

Check out those gold lame hot pants! Batteries and Sex toy accessories not included.

So for a few weeks this will be a bit of an "ex-pat's journey to a strange land" blog. I hope you still enjoy it!
I had my first visit to an Irish doctor's office last week. Mark and I are applying for our Medical Cards, and we needed the signature of a doctor who had a contract with the HSE that would agree to take us on. This apparently required an appointment.

The funny thing is that when you have an appointment, you still get seen in order of arrival. So what happens is, there are chairs placed around the periphery of the waiting room, and then when someone gets seen, everyone gets up and moves down one. It's like musical chairs -- you get up and move every ten minutes or so, as someone comes out of the doctor's office and someone else gets up and goes in.

The doctor is actually the daughter of Mark's childhood doctor. She seemed nice enough. She asked us about medications, if we'd ever been hospitalized, etc. and wrote it down on an index card. Then she signed our form and we were on our way. The Medical Cards take about six to eight weeks to process, which is good because I will be out of my medications by then and desperate for refills. Hopefully I will have no trouble with that. I have heard such horror stories about Irish medicine, it's not even funny.

Friday, May 15, 2009

So my friend Stacey from high school and UNH (I won't say how many years back that's going), was in town for a couple of days, and it was so much fun! I got to be an unabashed tourist in Dublin. She got into town late Wednesday evening, so we grabbed dinner at Fortuna, a Chinese and Korean Restaurant on Parnell Street. I enjoyed the food, and found it to be better than Charming Noodle a few doors down. Then, since it was already 10:30pm and the bars close at 11:30 here, we went to Brannigan's Bar, where I'd been with Mark's Dad after "Comedy of Errors." It was great to chat and catch up!

Then Thursday morning I met Stacey at her hotel, and after I topped up my mobile phone over on Henry Street (an area kind of like Downtown Crossing in Boston), we caught some fresh juice at Nude Cafe, then went over to the National Museum because I wanted her to see the bog men, which I think are just so cool. I took some photos (ssshhhh):

Then I took her up for a quick jaunt through St. Stephen's Green, then down Grafton Street (a shopping area more like Newbury Street). We admired the pretty things in Karen Millen -- so inspiring. We decided on some key sight seeing destinations for the day, and agreed that paying for one of those tour buses would be a good way to get around town and see them. Not realizing that we could catch one right where we were at the Tourist Center, I made us walk all the way back to O'Connell Street! But we caught the tour bus there just the same, and although it was raining, there were a couple of dry, covered seats on the top level. I snapped a couple of photos. Here's Stacey, and the empty seats behind us:

We got off at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but they were charging 5.50euro to get in, and honestly neither of us wanted to pay that. So we got as good a look as possible from outside the cash register, and then got on the next tour bus, headed for the next stop: the Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness Factory hasn't been in use since 2001, and the building was converted into a museum, where they give the tours, and let me tell you it is pretty high-tech and elaborate! At the end of the tour you get to sit up on the seventh floor with these panoramic views and drink a free pint. During the tour I took a lot of photos because there were a lot of unusual objects!

Indoor waterfall:

Silk Hops display:

These held a lot of beer:

Old bottles:

A miniature ship with Stacey in the background:

Who is...

And here's me after the tour:

But the final room of the tour, just before the exit might have been most dramatic. It amused me so much that I took a little video. have a look here - there's sound, and let me tell you - it's dramatic!

After the Guinness tour, we went for a nice vegetarian dinner at Juice Restaurant, which was fantastic. After dinner, I thought we would head over to see some comedy at the International. But for some reason in my head I was thinking of a place over by the Liffey. But as we were walking over there, I spied H, from Seomra Spraoi. She informed us that we were headed the wrong direction to go to the International. She was telling us how to get there, but then she asked to join us, which was great!

H and Stacey outside the International:

When we got in there, I was a little shocked at how small it was, and additionally how many people they were packing into it! We managed to get seats and waited for the show to begin with much trepidation. I started to wonder if I'd brought us to the right place! But actually, while some of the jokes were not to my taste (a smattering of homophobic, racist, sexist jokes), there was some good material, and I laughed a lot and it was a good time.

I had wanted to take Stacey to The Long Hall pub, but as it was past 11:30 when the comedy show was over, they were closing. So we went across the street to Hogan's Bar, which was open late although the music was too loud. I admit that I'm not sure that everything I said made *complete* sense, given the beer we drank, but the three of us had flowing conversation on a wide array of subjects from politics to media to wrinkles! A full day, but so pleasant and fun.

Then this morning I met Stacey for breakfast at one of my preferred restaurants, LovinSpoon. This was my third time there, and it didn't disappoint. We both got the vegetarian breakfast, which was scrambled eggs on a pancake, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms, and toast. The coffee was nice and strong -- just what I needed. After that we traveled only a few steps to the Ambassador to the Bodies exhibit. I've gotta say that while I don't have any philosophical problems with the exhibit, and had always been mildly curious about it, first of all, I do not recommend seeing it on a full stomach. Secondly, if you have an overactive fear of death as I do, I also do not recommend this exhibit, as it consists of actual human bodies. Now, if you are a person who can separate these things in your mind (meat eaters, I'm looking at you), then maybe you're all set. But for me, I kept imagining that the bodies were my own body, and thinking about the fact that I will have to die and not be in my body anymore, and that my body with not be animated, and well, let's just say it takes me to a dark place on any given hour of the day, let alone standing in the middle of an exhibit full of dead bodies and body parts. I took a long trip to the bathroom to kill a little time.

Once we were out in the open air, it had stopped raining! So we walked up to Temple Bar and checked out that area, which isn't my favorite, so I took Stacey up to Georges Street through the Arcade Market and then through the shops over that direction, where the Powerscourt Arcade is. We went up to the Design Loft to check out the vendors, and there is some really cute stuff. This fabulous hat maker, Dessislava, made us try on all these hats, and we convinced Stacey to get a fantastic headband -- it looked amazing on, and I can't wait to see photos of her out and about in Boston with it on! Here's a shot of Stacey in one of the brilliant hats. It looked so good on her!

Then we walked back to the hotel over the Ha'Penney bridge through Moore street (the Haymarket-like area; she bought some bananas), and fetched her luggage and caught a taxi back to my apartment where Stacey's rental car was parked. I guess our parking space is good for something after all! But in order to avoid Friday afternoon traffic, she had to head out immediately, so we said our good-byes. She has a load of photos on her camera of our day together, which I will have to add later on. But it was fantastic to have someone from home visiting, and someone so much fun to be with, especially. I hope she has a fantastic weekend, completing her tour of Ireland. She now officially knows more of this country than I do, having driven all around it!

UPDATE: Here are some of Stacey's photos from our tourist fun in Dublin!
In St. Stephen's Green:

On the tour bus:

Drinking our free pint:

Me trying on a fantastic hat:

More hats! I made her buy the one she's wearing!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I grew up reading about America's founding ideology of "The Great Melting Pot." And in my formative years I read about the fallacies of that ideology, of the ways in which it fails, the ways it can be deconstructed, the ways in which the "melting pot" melts away upon closer inspection. And despite the fairy tales in history books about how our borders welcome all peoples, I remember being seventeen years old, working in a warehouse with a middle-aged woman who had lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts in the same house her entire life, working in warehouse jobs like that one for over twenty years. She talked on and on about how the Japanese were taking over the country, moving in, taking all our jobs. Being so young, I knew nothing of economics, but as the grandchild of immigrants, her speeches repulsed me. I knew instinctively that there was something wrong with this attitude, even though I couldn't say why.

Over the years I've heard this speech many times, about various ethnic groups. In fact, it seems like no matter where in the world you go, you can find someone saying this same thing about a group of immigrants, whether they are legal or illegal residents. It really makes you wonder what people with this opinion expect. Do they expect everyone in the entire world to stay put in the countries where they were born, for their entire lives, forever? Should no one cross boundaries?

A puzzling attitude I've seen here is the animosity towards people from other EU countries. It's as if people have forgotten that the benefits of having EU status works both ways: Irish citizens are free to work and live throughout the EU, but that means they must receive people from other EU countries. Then when it happened, in reality, it seems like people have panicked and would like to push them all out.

And the news reports don't seem to be helping. Take this article just from today, entitled, "Foreign nationals at higher risk of injury." The article says that since foreign nationals are usually doing a different job from the one they are trained to do in their country of origin, they are more likely to get injured on the job here in Ireland. In addition, "The researchers also found that the foreign workers sustained more severe injuries than Irish employees." And the newspaper doesn't fail to point this out that "The study, published in the current issue of the Irish Medical Journal (IMJ), found that most of the foreign nationals injured were from the new EU accession states." The message of the article is clear: hire Irish if you want the job done right and without a mess, and don't hire any of those new immigrants.

In other news from last Thursday, this article, called "Names hinder job search - survey", states, "Job-hunters with foreign names are twice as likely to be blackballed by potential employers than obviously Irish candidates, new research revealed today...The joint report by think-tank the ESRI and the Equality Authority also found high-levels of discrimination here compared with other countries." As many of you know, I have a very "ethnic" sounding name, so this article was yet another explanation as to why I haven't managed to drum up much action on my job applications in the past 5 months.

It all leaves me with a lot of food for thought. I never valued the American ideals before, always thinking of them as meaningless lip service. But I find that I am actually starting to miss that lip service. Maybe it was smoke and mirrors, a kind of dog and pony show. But when I look at the successes of my family and the families of my friends whose parents and grandparents were immigrants to America just one and two generations ago, and I think back to that incredibly hokey Naturalization ceremony I went to in September, I wonder if maybe it's impossible to get people on board to an idea without a little song and dance. I've had to go to "Diversity Training" and watch corporate videos on "diversity," until it's become a joke. But now it doesn't seem like a joke anymore. I understand what they were trying to do, even though their methods were probably ineffectual (you aren't going to turn a bigot around with a corporate video after all) -- they were trying to make the ideology of inclusion part of their corporate culture, just as America makes cultural inclusion part of their national identity.

Of course, it still doesn't actually work. I don't have to tell you about the racism that is rampant all over the United States. But it's something the ideological machine gets millions of people to strive for every single day. There are parades, school events, clubs, fundraisers, websites, and groups all over the country promoting cultural diversity. We let it hang out. Because if you ask your average American about their ethnic background, you're bound to get a mix. Personally, I'm Italian, Irish, English, and Native/French Canadian. My family certainly didn't come over on the Mayflower, that's for sure! I don't think America is ever going to re-brand away the Melting Pot story, and while I used to think it was a load of crap, I have begun to be glad for it. I would never say that I'm proud of my country, because sadly it has committed too many atrocities for me to feel any kind of American pride. But when I think about home, I think about that dog and pony show, and even though I know it's fake, it still gives me hope.
Yesterday I met A2 in St. Stephen's Green for some sitting in the sun. I couldn't pass up the chance, because here in Ireland you never know how long the sun will last. She brought along a sheet and some food and we had a proper picnic -- it was so sweet! But then it became sort of a bit too windy and cold, and despite our scarves and jackets we decided to walk around to keep warm.

So we headed over to the National Museum, but it's closed on Mondays (who knew?), so then we went around the corner to the National Gallery, where there is currently an exhibit of Thomas Roberts, a landscape artist from the 18th century:

We also stopped into Trinity, actually to use the Ladies' room, but while we were in there we wandered into where the Book of Kells entrance is, thinking it was a book shop (It's actually a gift shop, and I don't mean to say that I didn't know what the Book of Kells is, but rather that we thought the little store before the entrance sold books rather than doodads). While A2 was asking the girl behind the counter where the Trinity second hand book store was, who should come up to me but one of my former students from Suffolk University, back in Boston!! It was so random! He has been in Ireland studying in Wexford and was just in Dublin doing some sightseeing before taking his final exams and heading back to the US. He was one of my students that I had both semesters last year -- a great kid, and it was nice to bump into a familiar face, if only for a few moments.

I took a photo while we were in Trinity, and then A2 suggested that she take one of me, which I thought was a novel idea! Unfortunately I look pretty crappy in this photo, especially bulked up with all my layers on. But here you go, a couple of photos from Trinity College, Dublin:

Monday, May 11, 2009

The other day I was running some errands and I snapped this photo just for the heck of it because the building facade is pretty comical:

The weekend was pretty quiet. Mark has had a cold, but on Sunday I convinced him to get out of the house and walk with me to the Botanic Gardens, since it was a nice sunny day. I snapped some boring photos of flowers:

A peony for Sal:

Friday, May 8, 2009

On Monday I went to my first meeting with a group I'm joining called RAG, which stands for "Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group." They put out a magazine once a year, and are also a distro for feminist books and zines. From their blog, they describe themselves as "a diverse group of anarcha-feminist women in Dublin. We are all feminists, united in our recognition that women's subordination exists. We are all anarchists, united in our belief for the need to create alternatives to this capitalistic, patriarchal society wherein all are dominated and exploited." You're probably thinking to yourself, "And I thought that 'Anarchist' political party status on your Facebook was a joke!"

Back in my 20s I was a bit more politically active, working in a clinic and belonging to feminist student organizations in college. But then after I graduated I became a bit lax and sort of lazy. Over the past few years I've talked about picking it up, but overall I haven't done much for nearly a decade. However moving to Ireland, where there is no legal abortion and no gay marriage, I feel like my voice is needed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

So it's Wednesday already and I'm just now getting to posting about the weekend!

On Friday, the ever-active women of Thisisnotashop Gallery were putting on the first ever Fluxus event, conducted by American artist Larry Miller. Held in the Banquet Hall above Cultivate, the description of the event was as follows:

"Arranged & conducted by Larry Miller, a 15 strong team of Dublin based performers will present a series of original Fluxus Scores, including event scores by George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Robert Watts, George Brecht and others. This performance promises unexpected melodies from such instruments as water, balloons, paper, bubbles, combs..."

This didn't really give much indication of the evening's nuances, however, especially if the names don't mean anything to you. This photo was taken by Karl Burke of the space and the performers. (I really kind of hate it when people don't allow you to link to photos, but there are some nice photos you can view at least if you take the extra step of clicking.)

When you first walked in, you saw people walking around with signs strapped to them that said "Look at me," a piece from 1964 by Ben Vautier. Then, as part of the "Fluxcard Event" by Willem de Ridder, some people were handed cards with directions on them, for example to shake hands with the person next to you and give them the card, or to ask as many people as possible to read your card. It made you feel sort of uncomfortable, sort of the way I used to dread the part of mass where you knew you were going to have to shake hands with everyone around you in mass and say "peace be with you," but it warmed the audience up, much like the "peace-be-with-you" handshake. (Did you ever notice that more people sang the hymn right after that handshake than any other song in the service?)

Once the show began, the appearance of Larry Miller in his tux, and the quiet of the audience made me afraid that it would be boring and uncomfortable, and I actually thought for a second god I hope I don't fall asleep. But the first piece, "Shuffle," (1961, Alison Knowles), which consisted of 15 people in a sort of caterpillar-like line shuffling out en masse, made everyone giggle. The performers did a wonderful job of keeping their air of the straight man for the entire duration of the show, which of course made everything funnier. "Snowstorm No. 1" (1965, Milan Knizak) was another of my favorites, and it was the second piece, and at that point anyone who wasn't receptive to the concert had to have been opened up. The performers came on, each with several perfectly folded paper airplanes in their hands. They then started throwing the paper airplanes at the audience, who of course, laughing, picked them up, and started throwing them back! Soon, near about fifty airplanes were flying through the air in all directions. And somehow it sort of naturally died down. The airplanes got lost beyond the periphery of the chairs, or fell down into the chairs. And then the piece lulled to a stop.

Most of the pieces had some kind of element of surprise or humor in them, like one of Larry Miller's called "Remote Music." There was a keyboard in the center of the room. Then Mr. Miller went out off stage behind a screen. The audience is left to wonder how the keyboard is going to play, and what will happen. There's nothing but silence. Then you might start to wonder, "Is that all there is? Is the sound of my thoughts or the sound of the silence, the feeling of expectation, is that the music?" But no. That's when you notice a plaster hand coming down slowly by a string from the ceiling, pointer finger down, ready to hit a note! He had great comic timing, hovering it over the keyboard as the hand sort of spun around on the string. Which note would it play? Then, all at once, it drops down and plays the note, and the entire place jumps because the volume is turned up to +11. Pretty funny stuff, if only because of its simplicity.

There were 36 pieces in all, not counting the "Entry Events" before the "Concert," so I can't of course discuss or describe them all. There were several that involved audience participation, which I think illustrated well what Fluxus is/was all about. At the end of it you do feel not only that you have been educated in some way, but that you have participated in an art event, but not only that, as Mark pointed out, you have had an experience of art that was a moment that cannot be commodified, by nature of the fact that it cannot be replicated, and therefore it is yours to keep, your slice, your "happening," if you will.

Before the show, we were lucky enough to run into two friends on the street, which made me feel like hey, maybe I am making progress here! My first run-in with someone I know randomly on the street! As it turns out, they were headed to the Fluxus show too. Our friend A2 also joined in about 3/4 of the way through the show, and afterwards we all agreed we each were famished so we headed to the Lebanese place that serves (admittedly kinda meh) falafel, and then headed over to a Seomra Spraoi event at this pub called Brokers, which was attached to two other pubs (O'Briens Bar and Mercantile Bar). You had to walk through all three joints to get to the bathrooms, and it was pretty funny to see the difference in the people at each one. At Mark's insistence we hung around in O'Briens and listened to some pop music while watching "all the single ladies" dance their hearts out.

Then on Sunday I spent the afternoon at Seomra Spraoi where there was this even called the "Black Market," which reminded me of a smaller version of the Dublin Flea Market -- there were just over ten tables, I think, selling everything from second hand clothing to comics to paintings to jewelry. I'd like to get a table in a couple of months when it comes around again, but I'd have to make some really low-priced items especially for it, since no one would want to pay my prices for my regular stuff. But I can make some nice headbands, wrist cuffs, and things along those lines pretty quickly and unload them at a few euro each. The challenge (as always) is finding good fabric!

I have more I'd like to right, but this one post has taken me hours so I'm going to get off the computer and get to sewing. I have had a influx of good ideas, and a really nice flow of positive energy lately. I even wrote a new short story that with some revision I think will be pretty decent. I aim to blog more about the fashion stuff over on my other site later...stay tuned!