Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dublin Made Me Gay!!

Well, of course this is not entirely true, but I can say that living here has made me gay-ER in my daily activities.

As a recovering-Catholic Republic that only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 (and still criminalizes abortion), Dublin is not the first place that pops to mind when one thinks of gay-friendly cities. But there is something still kind of sparkly and new about the out gay scene here. Toronto's scene has been around for such a long time, and there is a whole street dedicated to everything LGBTQ. If you miss an event, no worries - there will be another one coming along soon. I suppose the same is true of Dublin, based on the small but growing body of knowledge I have about lesbian/queer activities in the city, but it hasn't been this way for as long, so there is still a kind of buzz around events.

Take, for example, the Gay and Lesbian choir I went to the other night. My friends Shannon and Debs asked me out, and we were joined by a couple of their friends; on my way out the door, another friend, Florry, called to see what I was up to that night - did I want to join him at Gloria, the Gay and Lesbian choir? Well yes indeed, see you there. When I posted the pics on Facebook, another friend of mine tagged a friend of hers in the pic of the choir. Do all the queers know each other in this city? The venue was packed - I would say there were easily 600-800 people in the church, and not a spare seat to be found. I think this is a pretty fantastic turnout for any kind of event, let alone an amateur (in the not-paid sense) choir from a slim slice of the overall Dublin demographic. (A note on the venue - we weren't sure at first if St. Anne's was Catholic or Church of Ireland, and while it would have been more deliciously transgressive if it had been the former, the fact that it is Anglican still scores one point for the good side of the schism).

Come to think of it, maybe it's not a gay thing at all. I've been amazed by how tightly knit many communities are in this city. For example, in the theatre world, the people who write about theatre (critics and academics) seem to know the people who make theatre (directors and writers and actors etc) well. I mean, they give each other little hugs and hellos when they see each other. It's not that there is no overlap at home, but most real interaction between academics and practitioners seems to be about the work. People here seem to know each other socially. I am living in an entirely different culture than my home culture, and I am continually amazed by the little Eureka moments I have that remind me of this.

In the beginning, I noticed cultural differences, and was hit with a short but intense dose of culture shock. At one point, I thought "I am an ALIEN! Who are these people??" That seems to have passed as I return to a more moderate view of our differences, but now I am starting to see the subtle differences a bit better. To come back to the gay thing -- I need to tune my gaydar to a new wavelength. I thought I was getting pretty good at quickly noting who was likely playing for the team at home, but here, forget it. The public appearance of being gay/lesbian is different than it is at home. I am sure this observation does little to help those who argue that being gay is biological (and therefore more politically defensible, somehow), but it's true! I can't even identify, yet, why my gaydar is so off, but it's been very interesting. It kind of means everyone can be gay, in my imagination. Talk about queering the world around you...

Well, I am off home for the holidays tomorrow morning, which means I will be missing at least five queer holiday events in Dublin. But I figure I can just pick up where I left off when I return - there is so much going on! I never thought I would say this four months ago, but I think I might actually miss my wacky new Dublin life...a wee bit...over the holidays.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Lights about town

They sure do know how to do Christmas lights in Dublin. Here are a few pics I snapped when I happened to have my camera in tow. I will try to take more this week - Grafton street, for example, is just beautiful. The first few pics are of my street.  Dec 16 Update: Ok- the last three are from Grafton St. area. Took them last night.

Corn Exchange workshop

Last week, I took part in an introductory commedia intensive, offered by the super cool Dublin theatre company Corn Exchange. Annie Ryan, the company's AD, led the workshop along with the Janet Moran, a busy actor who has been in several of the company's productions. Both were involved in Freefall, which was definitely the stand-out production at this year's Dublin Theatre Festival. I haven't been on stage (although the lecture hall is a kind of stage...) in about a decade, so it was quite the experience to be thrown in with a group of professional actors, but they were gentle with me :) The workshop was excellent - Annie is an excellent teacher who has a great ability to improvise her direction depending on the moment - she is in tune with the performers' energy, and really pushes participants while always maintaining a safe and playful atmosphere. She runs workshops once or twice a year, and I would go back in a second (although I'm not sure they would want me back, LOL).

What amazed me most about the actors was there great willingness to play, and to play big and small depending on the moment. I've hosted and participated in a number of theatre workshops for undergraduates in the past few years, and I have always found the students really hungry and willing, but not always entirely able to play. But of course, this is the difference between professionals, and professionals-in-training (not that we aren't all amateurs and professionals at the same time, on some level, in our chosen work).

I feel drawn to Corn Exchange because of their philosophy, their commitment to theatricality (and not naturalism), and their process: for the last while, Annie has been starting rehearsals with a group yoga practice, and as you know from previous posts, I am seriously hearting yoga right now. But Corn Exchange has also been on my radar for a long time - a couple of years ago, I assigned my students a group project: to build an entire website dedicated to Dublin By Lamplight, which Corn Exchange premiered at the Project Arts Centre in 2004, and then toured around Ireland, the UK, and Australia until 2007. It's odd how life operates in circles or spirals; many moons ago I was offered a PhD position at Trinity College, but I turned it down to attend the University of Toronto. I feel a bit like the character in John Mighton's play Possible Worlds, continually cycling back around multiple possibilities for existence.

Anyhoo, this blog posting is mostly an excuse to post a bunch of pictures from the workshop. The company draws on commedia traditions, but also updates the traditions, and infuses them with elements of story theatre. Physical postures are informed by LeCoq and several other physical theatre practices, so, for example, Pantalone types don't need to stoop over, and Capitanos can appear both in and out of uniform. The company has distilled the essence of the types, and uses these stock 'essences' as inspiration for character-building. It's a completely unique form; characters and text can be contemporary, and they discard the plastic masks in favour of fantastic makeup. You'll see what I mean in the slideshow below. Enjoy!

Corn Exchange Commedia Workshop, Dec 7-10 2009
Leinster Cricket Club, Rathmines

Meta Blog

Loyal readers (if indeed there are any out there), I know I've been away for a while. It's just that...I got kinda...distracted (bonus points for anyone who knows that is a quote, and can name the source). I've been trying to figure out why I haven't felt as compelled to write about my experiences lately as I did in the beginning, so here is my opportunity to work that out. Meta-blog: the blog posting about the process of blog postings. Here are some possible explanations:

1. First and foremost, I've been busy during the social hours. I usually write blog postings at night and on weekends, but I've been rather busy at night and on weekends. My friend Andrew even wrote me an email saying "Are you ok? Because you haven't blogged in a while!" Blogging: proof of life.

2. Related to the first: my social life has kind of taken off. Whopppppeeee! I was dreadfully lonely in the beginning, but I forced my way into several people's lives. Just picture a sad clown wearing a Canadian flag, holding a light saber, and grinning madly - that's how I likely came off. Several of those people magically adopted me! Some of them even drop me texts when they haven't heard from me in a few days! I am always delighted and just a bit amazed when someone wants to be my friend, because for a long time, I was so freakin' busy that I had no room for adopting new people, and I lost perspective. I thought everyone felt that way.

3. Cultural Life: I have been going to the theatre and other traditional cultural events since the beginning, but, partly through my very cool dancer friend Deirdre, I've been introduced to a burgeoning indie/arty/dance/performance scene. There are lots of exciting smaller-scale/one-off things happening in Dublin, and I've taken the opportunity to attend what I can. In terms of artistic tastes, I am really moving towards the visual and kinesthetic. I mean, I've always preferred theatre that verges on performance art, demonstration, or 'happening', but lately I want to soak up anything with great movement, preferably if it has few words. Blame it on the Irish dramatic tendency towards monologue theatre: I need a break from all the blarney.

Last night I went to The Back Loft for Mamuska, which bills itself as a 'cross-media arts salon'. There were a series of short performances - dance pieces, performance art, experimental films, soundscapes, clown -- and the audience was encouraged to wander around the space. At this particular event, they had the chairs (a great collection of armchairs, kitchen chairs, and office chairs!) arranged in a traditional forward-facing, aisle-in-centre fashion, so the wandering didn't happen too much, but I did manage to meet a few new people. One of the performance artists - Hilary Williams - was sitting beside me, and struck up a great chat. She told me that she had returned to do an MA in Performance Art at age 55, without having much knowledge of the field at the time. She was just bursting with energy, and wanted to chat about every performance as soon as (or before, LOL) it ended. And as I made my way to buy a raffle ticket, I saw a woman who had been in the restorative workshop I had taken earlier in the day. I keep forgetting that Dublin is not very big - there have been several instances where I have bumped into someone in one place early in the day, and in another entirely different place later in the day. I am glad she singled me out and said hi, because I was so blissed out at the workshop that I'm not sure I really saw anyone else there. Think of it as perma-dristy.

I was at another event at the Back Loft of La Catedral Studios last weekend - this one was called 'Zero Gravity', and it was hosted by a newish collective who have dubbed themselves 'Art Freckles' (at first I thought Art Freckles was some philanthropist guy with a wicked name). The event was also an eclectic mix of short performances, but I got a bit weirded out hanging around by myself because everyone seemed to know each other, so I didn't stay much past Deirdre's performance.

4. Back to the reasons why I haven't been blogging so much. I think the fourth reason - and final for now, gotta get to work - is that I am not finding Dublin as weird as I did in the beginning. I'm probably not noticing the cultural particularities so much. This could be a really big loss, but I see it as a good sign: I am integrating. My dear dear friend Paul (who visits me via the Skype gods daily) even caught me saying "em" instead of "um". My unconscious verbal tics are turning Irish! Jaysus!!

Finally, to my Canuck friends out there: I am home on Friday. Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thoughts on the Civil Partnership Bill

Ok, so it’s time that I sat down and understood the real issues with the Civil Partnership Bill, because I hadn’t been following it prior to my arrival in Ireland, and I am thinking about joining the protest organized by LGBTNoise, taking place tomorrow at 6pm, outside the Dail. I wanted to make sure I agreed with the reasons for the protest, because in some ways the government is taking a huge step in introducing this legislation, and I want to make sure I agree that it is right to, er, throw the baby out with the bathwater.On major rights issues, you never know when the first shot might be the only shot...

I thought I would learn the main contents and elisions of the bill last week when The George hosted the first session of The G-Spot – a new live biweekly ‘talk show’ dedicated to issues of interest to the LGBTQ community -- but I just learned what GLEN and LGBTNoise do and do not have in common. And then they invited a reality tv star to the stage, and given my aversion to regular tv (i.e. not Mad Men or True Blood, no, no) and general dearth of knowledge about Irish superpopculture, I had no idea what anyone was talking about. But I digress...

So, I just skimmed through the entire 118-page long Civil Partnership Bill, and I can say that it is a real snore... You may say that all legislation is that way, but just read the preamble to Canada’s Bill C-38, which was put into law in July 2005:

WHEREAS the Parliament of Canada is committed to upholding the Constitution of Canada, and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination;

WHEREAS the courts in a majority of the provinces and in one territory have recognized that the right to equality without discrimination requires that couples of the same sex and couples of the opposite sex have equal access to marriage for civil purposes;

WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that many Canadian couples of the same sex have married in reliance on those court decisions;

WHEREAS only equal access to marriage for civil purposes would respect the right of couples of the same sex to equality without discrimination, and civil union, as an institution other than marriage, would not offer them that equal access and would violate their human dignity, in breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the Parliament of Canada has legislative jurisdiction over marriage but does not have the jurisdiction to establish an institution other than marriage for couples of the same sex;

WHEREAS everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;

WHEREAS, in light of those considerations, the Parliament of Canada’s commitment to uphold the right to equality without discrimination precludes the use of section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to deny the right of couples of the same sex to equal access to marriage for civil purposes;

WHEREAS marriage is a fundamental institution in Canadian society and the Parliament of Canada has a responsibility to support that institution because it strengthens commitment in relationships and represents the foundation of family life for many Canadians;

AND WHEREAS, in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, access to marriage for civil purposes should be extended by legislation to couples of the same sex;

It makes me tear up everytime I read it.

Ireland’s bill, by comparison, is devoid of any sense of joy about actually contributing to the growth of human rights. I don’t mean to toot the Canadian horn too much because we have our own share of embarrassments and bigotry, nor to enter an Ireland vs. Canada debate, but to show that there are other ways to approach this issue. The Irish bill is mostly a long list of amendments to current legislation in order to add references to ‘civil partner’ or ‘civil partnership.’

The Civil Partnership Bill is meant to provide for the legal registration of same-sex partnerships. The praise is that it finally allows same-sex partners a version of marriage, complete with some economic rights, legal recognition, and some degree of social recognition. The criticism is that it provides same-sex partners with some degree of marriage, but not marriage itself, and importantly, there is no mention of children in the bill: no extension of adoption or custody rights. This is a biggie.

The first thing that struck me about the bill is that it is an entirely separate piece of legislation, just for same-sex partners. In other words, you can’t choose to have a heterosexual civil partnership. This might seem obvious, but it is significant, because it means that the only rights granted to civil partners (read: same-sex) are the ones included in the bill. The bill does attempt some degree of comprehensiveness, referencing everything from the Abattoirs Act 1988 to the Vocational Education Act 1930 (to take an alphabetical approach to comprehensiveness), but, again, make no mistake, it’s not the same to be a civil partner as it is to be married.

It’s rather sneaky to create an entirely separate piece of legislation like this (instead of amending current definitions of marriage), because it means that you have to continually cross-reference the rights that are granted to married couples in order to see if they are included in the 118 pages of the Civil Partnership Bill. So, I didn’t get too much out of reading the bill, but it did spur me to seek out analysis on other sites, where people have had the time to comb through current marriage rights and the proposed civil partnership rights on a comparative basis. Here’s a brief list of some of the problems (you can see I have already decided to attend the protest):

- no mention of children and parental rights. so, nothing changes in relation to the children of same-sex couples. single gay/lesbian people can apply for adoption, but they cannot apply as a couple. that’s just absurd.

- foreign same-sex marriages essentially get downgraded to civil partnership, and if one partner has Irish citizenship, it is harder for his or her same-sex spouse (if married elsewhere) to obtain citizenship than it is for the spouse of a married heterosexual person.

- if your church recognises same-sex unions and is willing to ‘civil-partner’ you, they can’t. Religious bodies can only perform marriages

- when splitting up, only married couples can have a judicial separation. And if a civil partnership is dissolved, partners cannot apply to courts to work out property rights, and married couples can.

I could go on, but there are better summaries out there on the web, so I’ll point you in that direction. When I first heard about the bill, I naively thought “how different can it be, really,” but now, it’s clear that it’s entirely insulting.

To read more, try these sites:

GLEN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network)

If you are interested in Canada as a comparative case, same-sex marriage was made legal in 2005 following fairly heated debate that rallied between discussions of religious freedoms (the clergy’s right to not perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples), and lots of discussions about the language of the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the end, instead of creating separate legislation for same-sex couples, the Canadian parliament created new legislation that defined ‘civil marriage’ - or more plainly, defined marriage itself. This legislation is what now governs all legal marriages in Canada, regardless of the number of X chromosomes in the pairing. Changes were made in relevant Acts to remove references to ‘opposite sex’ when it came to defining spouses. There was initially a lot of backlash from religious groups and Alberta, but it’s pretty much disappeared from public debate. I have to say, I felt a very rare sense of national pride the day that bill was passed. I don’t mean that I don’t like being Canadian, I just mean that I always get the willies when I see a lot of flag waving, or when I (used to) hear every American, including Ani Difranco, mention that they ‘loved their country’ before saying anything critical about it during the Bush Jr. years.

A very thorough summary of the debate, legislative process, and Act is available here: Bill C-38 Legislative Summary

One other thing of note: I read that nowhere in the Irish constitution is married defined as members of the opposite sex. So, wus de problem? In fact, the BUNREACHT NA hÉIREANN is an interesting read. You'll learn about the social changes in the last few decades pretty quickly in the first few pages. For example, divorce was only legalised in 1996. For those of you reading this who have no idea of Ireland's history, then it is also important to point out that homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993! By comparison, . But the battle continues - Uganda was in the news recently for introducing a big-brother anti-homosexual bill that would "imprison anyone who knows of the existence of a gay or lesbian and fails to inform the police within 24 hours," among other penalties (Globe and Mail, Nov 29, 2009). The UN just introduced a declaration on the decriminalization of homosexuality at the end of last year, noting that 86 UN countries still have at least a partial ban on homosexuality on their books (Guardian, Dec 8, 2008).

Ok, judging by my use of citations, this is dangerously close to becoming an essay, and I can't possibly write a comprehensive one on this topic right now, so I'll leave you to explore the links.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Liffey Bridges in Images - updated

About a month ago I posted a slideshow of Liffey Bridges, moving eastward from Heuston station. I got about half way to Dublin Bay at that point. Today I decided to talk a walk to the sea in the blustery weather, and capture the other half. So now this slideshow has all the bridges from Heuston Station to the point where I couldn't go any further along the southside quays. Didn't get to see the open sea - have to find a different route next time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Excursion: Puerto Rico

So, I've been a bit slack with the postings, but I've been busy! I know that most people's year-in-Dublin does not include a week in Puerto Rico, but mine did. I was there for the annual ASTR conference, and actually managed to hit the waves a few times. I was being extra careful, of course, because I didn't have health insurance. This is something one should know about, so I'll explain the difficulty. Basically, you have to purchase your travel insurance from your place of residence before you embark on the trip. When I was getting ready to leave Canada, I bought insurance for my time in Ireland. The insurance companies don't care where you are traveling to, unless your destinations include the US. Not thinking about Puerto Rico, which was many months away at that point, I purchased the 'anywhere in the world but the US' package. Then, leading up to the conference, I thought, oh no, Puerto Rico is the US. Kind of. I mean, when given an option of states to choose from on any online drop-down menu, PR is never there, but they are technically a protectorate. So... I thought, no bother, I will just purchase Irish insurance. Well, to do that, I need to be an Irish resident for at least 6 months, and I only just passed the 3 month mark a couple of days ago. SOL - better not let a surfboard hit me in the head. Stay away from fluey looking people. Don't let the water get too far into my ears... I was fine, but as I said, cautious when it came to one of my most favourite activities: jumping in the waves.

I could talk about the conference, but as I said in the beginning, the remit of this blog is entirely unrelated to my job. So, instead, I'll post some pictures of San Juan. The Old City is the place with all of the interesting architecture: like a mix between Spain and San Francisco. The first slide-show contains streetscapes, because they were so darn pretty! I wandered around on a few occasions with friends old and new from the conference, but most of these were taken on the afternoon I spent roaming with one of my best buds/academic partners-in-crime, Alvarez (we like to use each other's last names). Take a look at the paint jobs! I want a house with bright colours like this! And sun all day!

I was taking photos and at one point realized that the light was really curious - fantastic shadows being cast on the ground that were shaped by palm fronds. Somehow A and I decided to make a series of Nouvelle Vague inspired snaps. Here are a few, as well as some silly ones. She's giggling at my instructions to remove all expressions from her face in the last one...

I'll put a more complete series of pics on Facebook, where I feel freer, somehow, to look sillier. 'Cause A and I probably had heatstroke, and were feeling kind of silly.

Happy Weekend!

I'm sitting here in my Old City flat, and the church bells are going mad around the corner at Christchurch Cathedral. The first few times I heard them ringing wildly on an evening, I thought certainly something special must be going on. Perhaps a wedding? Christening? Church anniversary? But now I've heard them repeatedly, every Friday evening, and I've realised what is actually going on: the bells are celebrating, and heralding, the start of the weekend. "Yippeee, it's here!" they seem to call out to anyone who can hear.

A while ago, I was texting a friend to invite her and her partner over for dinner later in the week, and she said that she was nursing a Saturday morning hangover, and generally having a lazy day. That week wouldn't work for dinner, because she had a project due at the end of the week, and would be hitting the books pretty hard. I texted back "Rest up, and get back to work on that project!" Immediately she responded "No way! Weekends are for relaxation and definitely NOT work!"  It struck me how true this was, and how much I agreed with her, given the relative leisure of my current life in Dublin, where I don't have teaching or administrative responsibilities. I've been been slowly rebalancing my life, which I think was quite out of hand for the last few years. But what surprised me about her text was not the sentiment, but the clarity of that sentiment: I will not give up the small bit of leisure time I have - I want to relax, wander about the markets, and spend time with my partner. This all may be very true to many people out there, but work has a way of creeping up, and I am getting the sense that Dubliners do a better job of keeping it at bay than we do back in work-driven Toronto and environs. Yes, the Irish economy is in the shitter, but they're still going out for pints! Balance needs to be approached from both directions. 

The culture of work-life balance is certainly cultural in a geographic sense, but it is also historical. I've just finished watching the first season of the television series Mad Men, and have become quite addicted to it. I think it's fantastically well done, but if we can view it as even remotely representative of middle class life in the early 60s, then it is also fascinating from a cultural standpoint. The main character, Don Draper, is an ad executive at a competitive Manhattan agency by day, and by night, he either goes home to his family in the 'burbs, or his to lovers in the city. It's a sexy show with good production values, a hefty feminist bent, and strong writing. They manage to work the 'origins' of contemporary attitudes into each episode - for example, the most recent one I watched was talking about how all the young people drink coffee, and how it must just be a fad. They also include some of the politics of the day (e.g. the election of Kennedy to the White House). It's clever. But what is most astonishing is the image the series present of work culture: these people are well-paid, they have large suburban houses and drive nice cars, and all they seem to do all day at the office is drink, smoke, socialize, and read newspapers! Then they go home at 5pm. Surely it never was this way? Or was it? Of course the women in the office spend every minute typing away and dealing with barf-inducing sexism, and I bet it really was that way for them. The show is clearly operating in hyperbole, trying to show by exaggeration and contrast how men's lives and women's lives differed so drastically. But the relative amount of time dedicated to leisure by the high powered execs is remarkable (even if the leisure is questionable and bad for your health).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Only in Ireland, hic! Part II

As a follow up to Part I of this post, I have another Ireland-and-liquor story. I was traveling back from San Juan yesterday, and about to board my second flight at JFK. Terminal 4 at JFK seems solely for use by Aer Lingus, but I haven't done my research. However, I am led to believe this is the case, because the first establishment that you pass once you've cleared security is a pub, with a large sign in faux-ancient bubble letters that boasts "We Serve Guinness!"

I stood in line as my row of seats were called, handed the flight attendant my boarding card, and then proceeded down the ramp towards the loading bridge. I didn't get very far, however, because there was a line up of passengers about 50 metres long. The cause of the traffic jam? Duty-free purchases! At the bottom of the ramp, which switch-backed its way down, I could see about 200 duty-free bags, mostly filled with booze, waiting for their owners to retrieve them en-route to boarding the plane. Perhaps the whiskey tasting on the other end had encouraged people to raid the duty-free on the way back home? Or, maybe, people drink a lot in Dublin. Hmmm. Detained by duty-free. Backed up by booze booty.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Is It

Last night I went to the Savoy, a famous old Dublin cinema, to see the film about Michael Jackson’s final concert preparations, This Is It. As a film scholar, I realise that I am opening myself up to accusations of extremely bad taste, but here’s the truth: I was a Michael Jackson fan long before I was a film scholar, and in this case, my tweenage infatuation trumps my much more adult perspective. Or, perhaps, I can blame it on my friend Shannon, who insisted we see it after I demonstrated my moon walk one evening while she and Deb were generously hosting me, filling me with delicious homemade antipasto and red wine (real Italian antipasto, I might add – not vegetable chutney from a jar). Shannon was excited to find another Michael Jackson fan, because, she told me, there was no way she would be dragging Debs out to see the film. And then we swapped stories of what paraphernalia we remembered best from our childhood: me, the red zipper jacket from Thriller and the eight full sized posters in my bedroom; Shannon, the glitter glove, homemade by her parents, much to Shannon’s disappointment.

Michael Jackson, we all know, was a very odd fellow; there’s the Neverland stuff, the hooded surrogate children, and the multiple surgeries that left him looking like a futuristic android (gynoid?) But he also seemed like a little boy, not so much in the fun sense of a Peter Pan, to whom he is often compared, but to a child who has lost his mom at the supermarket, and who sits alone in front of the fountain, not knowing what to do next. Some of this naivete comes across in the film. At one point he talks about the importance of saving the planet, and you can feel that he really means it, but his simple language, soft voice, and even softer delivery make it sound like you’re listening to a ten year-old doing a presentation at the front of the classroom. It is remarkable how he can talk about environmental catastrophes, and humanity’s role in these catastrophes, without sounding the least bit political.

The film is basically a series of rehearsals for the big concert, shot over a limited number of days. Much to my disappointment, there was no extended moonwalk shot, but then again we have to remember that this footage was never meant to be a film. He wasn’t expected to be dead less than a year after it was shot. Some of the time, Michael Jackson is backed by a group of incredibly talented dancers, and at other times, he performs alone on the stage, making all of the characteristic moves that made him famous. (I could call him MJ as everyone in the film does, but this must be from another era in his life, because I didn’t call him that in the 80s).  On a couple of occasions, he shimmies up to one of the guitar players, or one of the backup singers, and does something that ends up looking incredibly awkward: he tries to interact with them. When the amazing electric guitar player rocks her stuff at the front of the stage, he sort of bends down a bit, and tries to do a little dance with her, moving his arms out to the side, beyond her guitar, and so on. I found it painful to watch, because it reveals so clearly his total isolation from the social world around him. And it reveals this in a moment when he is otherwise King – dancing in a way that still gives me the shivers because it’s so incredible. In one sequence, he goes into the song Human Nature, which requires him to hit some really high notes, which he does so brilliantly, his voice sounding hardly any different for its 50 years than it did when he was a teenager. How is this possible? He may have lived an extremely eccentric and questionable life, but his talent is unmatched.

I have always liked Motown - it feels like the core musical genre that speaks to me -- but I realised while watching the movie that my musical tastes, preferred tempo, and sense of the dramatic in music have been deeply shaped by Michael Jackson. A few times in the film, he has the musicians stop and take it back a few bars. Or he asks for an extended silence. Or for the tempo to increase or decrease. And each time he made one of these adjustments, I just felt YES! This is right! This moves me! But of course it does -- his style built my musical tasteS in the first place.

As money-making postmortem films go, this one isn't half bad. I expected it to waddle in the maudlin -- to show us lots of footage of Jackson in his daily life, hiding from prying eyes, another victim of paparazzi-overload. I thought there would be a lot more shaping of the material to include interviews and perspectives on his life and death. And while it does have some of this, the film over all is pretty pared down. Most of the time, it is just Michael on stage, singing and strutting. The way it should be.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Only in Ireland, hic!

I was on my way to Puerto Rico for a conference this morning, having risen at 6am in order to catch the airport bus to be at the boarding gate for 8:45am, for a 10:30am flight. It felt ridiculous for the boarding card to demand that I be there that early, but by the time I went through 5 checkpoints (count 'em!), the flight attendants were calling the back rows of the plane.

Bleary-eyed, I arrived through the first series of checkpoints  -- the ones that take away your liquids and make your pants fall down if you’re wearing a pair that requires a belt – and found that the duty free was serving complimentary shots of Irish whisky! Sure, it was a marketing ploy, but how often do you get anything for free at the airport? And whisky at that! Only in Ireland, where I still muse that the national flag doesn’t have a pint of Guinness between the orange and green bars.

Several men were standing there sampling the single malts and blends, lips pursed but chins dropped to better catch the flavours. I didn’t really feel like a shot of whisky at nine in the morning (after a mostly sleepless night, I should add), but there is something about a youngish woman joining middle-aged men for whisky. Earns instant respect and even a bit of awe, I think. The marketing woman was pouring the half-shots pretty full, and insisted I try at least two. I’ll tell you, a nice bright shot of Irish whisky in the am certainly does warm you to the lower depths of your guts! I left the stand feeling quite refreshed, and headed to the next stage of inspection, wondering if the booze on my breath would cause them to ask me more probing questions. But, you know, when in Dublin...

Dissed in Dublin, Part II: Dissed by Simon

I’ve talked about the very visible homeless problem in Dublin on this blog before, and I mentioned that I was hoping to volunteer for Dublin Simon. I went ahead and sent off an application early last month. It was quite extensive, and I took their questions very seriously. They want to know basic things like why you want to volunteer and what your experience is in the area, but they also want to know which skills on a list you could share with clients (I said I could teach cooking skills and computer skills). They also asked for two letters of reference, but feeling sheepish about my very frequent requests for letters of reference, I just put down the names and numbers of some colleagues, and sent off the form, asking if that was sufficient. The volunteer co-ordinator got back to me a few days later, saying that my application was fine as-is, and that she would be in touch in a couple of weeks, because they would be training new volunteers in November.

A few weeks went by, and then a few more, and just when I was starting to wonder when the training would take place, I got a very thin letter in the mail. I was hoping it was the earplugs I had asked my sister to send from home (can’t find those orange ones here), but instead, it was ... a ‘thanks for coming out’ letter from Dublin Simon!

I was dissed by Dublin Simon.

I had been rejected, without ever meeting anyone, as a volunteer. They didn’t want to take me on and not pay me to help homeless people! All I could think, really, was WTF? The letter said something about having an unusual number of applicants this round, but we all know that is just a nice way to say “we decided we liked other applicants more than you.” I don’t want to sound cocky, but really, I think I have things to offer. I worked on a crisis line for a year, and had pretty extensive training in how to support people in a variety of difficult situations. I know, first hand, a lot about mental illness, this is certainly an issue for a lot of homeless folks. I said my availability was very open. And that I could teach skill (I’m a teacher, LOL), but that I would also be keen to do nighttime soup and blanket runs, etc. But, no go. Of course I haven’t called them yet to find out what the scoop is, because then I couldn’t be all pissy in my blog posting. But I am going to call. What’s with being dissed first by a king and then by an apostle?

Dissed in Dublin, Part I: Dissed by David

I said to my sister the other day that I am becoming a ‘coffee whore,’ in the sense that I will ask pretty much anyone out for a coffee or pint if they seem interesting. This is a new thing for me, or perhaps maybe it’s an old thing that has resurfaced under my current circumstances – in a new country, single, and determined to create a rich and interesting social circle. Most people have been very obliging (you know who you are!), but you can’t win all the time.

Last weekend I went to see a production of Knives in Hens by playwright David Harrower. This is a very special play to me – I directed it six years ago in Toronto (almost to the day), and during the audition process, met the amazing woman I would spend the next six years of my life with. And of course it was written by a fellow Harrower, even if I don’t think we’re very closely related (who knows? Need to get on that family tree one of these days). My friend Paul suggested that I see it with his friend Florry, who lives in Dublin. Paul was one of the stage managers on the TO show, and his friend Florry is friends with the publicity guy for this Dublin production. Lots of odd connections here and there.

The production, by Landmark Theatre, was being staged at the Smock Alley Theatre, which is just steps from my apartment (like so many things!). I set out a few minutes before I was to meet Florry, taking a small winding street that conveniently connects my street to the quays. As I turned the bend, there was David Harrower himself, walking in the same direction. I knew that he was going to be doing a Q&A after the show, so I wasn’t surprised to see him, but I was a bit surprised by my own ease in chatting him up. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi, aren’t you David Harrower?

DH: Yes, I am

Me: Ah yes, I’m going to see Knives and Hens as well, just around the corner (I think I was hoping for something more than ‘Yes I am,’ so my response was a bit awkward).

DH: Oh yes.

Silence. Walking.

Me: Actually, my name is Harrower as well.


I wouldn’t normally find that so interesting, but we both know it’s not very common. I’m Natalie. Natalie Harrower.

Pause (with me thinking ‘Your turn now’).

Me again: Actually, I directed Knives and Hens years ago, in Toronto.

DH: Oh, yes. Wait – did you send me a Facebook message a couple of years back?

Me: Yes! And you never responded! Hahaha.

DH: Oh yes, sorry about that, I was into Facebook for a while, then I wasn’t, then... (mumbles something).

Me: Ah well, it was a random message.

We talked about a few other things – the origin of the name Harrower or something – he thinks it’s from Fife – and then I somehow managed to make a joke about his lack of response to my email, and slapped him heartily on the back as I said this. I was thinking to myself, geeze, no shame here! I’ve just met him on the street and already I am making fun of him. We entered the space and both got caught up in the folks we were meeting, and that was it for a bit. In my peripheral vision on one of the uncomfortable benches that made up the audience seating, I could see him sitting a few rows behind me, struggling to make notes in the low light of the production.

There was a short Q&A afterwards, where I managed to ask a couple of questions about the play, and then when I was over, I went up to him and said “I don’t know how long you’re in town, but I am here until Wednesday morning, and then I have to head out to a conference, but if you have time I’d love to have a coffee and talk more about your work,” handing him a scrap of paper with my mobile number on it. He said he was around until Thursday am, and seemed vaguely interested in calling me (I did tell him I was a theatre academic). I smiled, and went off to dinner with my companion.

He never called (are you surprised?!)

I was dissed, for a second time, by David Harrower.

Looks like our common heritage and my interest in his work didn’t warrant a response the first time, and that my shining personality, presence in the same city, and continued interest in his work couldn’t even grant me the chance to buy him a coffee! Maybe I shouldn’t have slapped him on the back. Ah well, dinner at Gruel with Florry was lovely, and now I’m going to the Carribbean.

Friday, November 6, 2009

To soothe the Tiger King's weather-beaten skin

This one is for Brian, Charlie, and all of my past Celtic Cinema students (one of whom I bumped into on the street yesterday!)

I was visiting a small farmer's market a few weekends ago, and came upon a great find: Man of Aran beauty products! Aran, of course, refers to the islands off the coast of Galway. They are known for their dramatic cliffs, windswept vistas, and proliferation of Aran sweater shops. When I visited years ago, Inishmore (made famous more recently by Martin McDonagh's macabre The Lieutenant of Inishmore) seemed to be populated by artists, innkeepers, and tourists. So that's Aran.  

Man of Aran is something else - a film released in 1934 about the poor and rugged but romantic Irish folks who 'scratched out a meagre existence' on the islands alongtimeago, digging dirt from between rock crevices in order to plant gardens, and fishing for sharks to obtain oil to light their lamps. The film was marketed as a documentary, but came under significant criticism when it became clear that many elements of the film were anachronistic, or fabricated for effect. Anyway, that's enough of a lesson for now. It just completely cracked me up when I saw Man of Aran beauty products at the local/organic market. The irony of branding luxury items on a film about the decidedly beauty-product-free characters in the film was too much. I expect several folks were wondering why I was crouching down in front of  a serviceable metal shelf to take photos of shampoo and body lotion.

Speaking about the shelves, the market had one stand that served a fabulous lentil soup (they only had half a bowl left, so I was charged half the price, and went around that afternoon half-full), and the most reasonably priced natural soap that I've seen in Dublin. Many bars are 7-8 Euros (ahhhhh, don't convert!), but this place had some for 2.50. Small pleasures...


The SuperNatural Food Market operates indoors at the St. Andrews Resource Centre on Pearse Street, and is open until the mid-afternoon on Saturdays. If you walk along Pearse St. past Trinity College in the direction of Dublin Bay (notice I refrained from saying 'east', 'cause Dubliners don't use compass directions), you'll find it on the right (south) side of the street, across from Pearse Square. If you reach the bridge over the Grand Canal/docks, you've gone too far.

Observation: Smells like Guinness

A not-so-great pic of the massive Guinness brewery, taken on my walk to Phoenix Park last week
I know that Ireland is associated with Guinness, but really, it smells like Guinness in the air. And I am not referring to the smell that wafts out of pubs on any of the city's popular nights out (which appear to be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and sometimes Wednesday).

I was walking home last night, and the air was filled with the fragrance of fermentation. It sounds nasty, but in fact it's kind of like the smell of bread baking. I estimate the air is filled with the scent of stout, at least in my neighbourhood, about every 10 days. The Guinness brewery is 2-3 km away, so it's got quite a powerful waft. I haven't figured out quite what is going on. Does it smells like this every day near the brewery, and it only makes its olfactory presence known in the Old City when the winds are right? Or am I catching the smell of a particular moment in the brewing process? My guess is that it's the latter. Anyone know? Is 10 days a key number?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Around Wicklow in Images

These pics were taken this weekend in Co. Wicklow, around Glenmalure, Ballinaclash, and Avondale. It had rained quite heavily in the valley, so you can see flooding on the fields (neon green in November!) in some of the later pics. Thanks to my lovely hosts, Nicky and Eleanor!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No Boozing in the Library

I thought this was really funny. We all know you can't drink or eat in the library (unless you're at Queen's), but it's like there was no other option than a booze glass for the icon to represent drinking... No really old cell phones, either!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Economy of My Street

They're filming right outside my building. For the last two evenings, I've had to wait for the director to yell "cut" before I can cross Cow's Lane, and make my way along Essex Street. This is a minor inconvenience, and of course it's always fun when a film crew sets up in your hood - especially if you're not a driver, and the diversion causes few hassles. When I realized that there was a film crew in place, I was actually quite relieved, because the afternoon before the filming began, I came home to find crews stringing Christmas lights across the lane, a Christmas tree vendor in place in the alcove at the end of Cow's lane, and fairly elaborate Christmas decoration displays in all the shops on the corner. I was feeling really cynical about it - I mean, cripes, it's not even NOVEMBER and "they" are pushing Christmas on us already? What happened to Hallowe'en? The city crew decorators had skipped right over Samhain, and were in full ho-ho-ho mode. But of course they weren't city crews - they were film crews decorating the 'set' that is my neighbourhood.

The film crew - which is making an ad for Meteor that features carolers - (watch for it on tv to see my hood) got me thinking about the economy of my street. I think I've mentioned before that I often come home at night to people sleeping in the alcove in front of the door to my apartment building. They are not bothersome to me, and have never seemed aggressive - they're cold, homeless, and trying to find somewhere safe to sleep. One night I came back around 10pm and found a lit cigarette burning on top of one guy's sleeping bag. I said quite loudly "Um, there is a cigarette burning on top of you - did you mean to leave that there?" He looked up, in a bit of a daze, grabbed the butt and took a haul, then tossed it into the street and tucked his head back into the sleeping bag. I do admit that a wee "thank you" would have been nice :) A few days ago, there was blood all over the tiles of the alcove. I'm not sure what's going on, but it can't be very good. Still, I've never felt nervous or put upon.

And then yesterday - the day the filming began - I was leaving the building, and found my building manager and a few workers taking out the perfectly nice dark grey tiles that made up the floor of the alcove. "What are you guys up to?" I inquired, thinking that the tiles had seemed more than adequate for my standards of apartment-building external decor. "We're moving the door out to the street," my manager said. "So when you come in, you'll just walk right in off the street." They were making the door flush with the building. How do you stop homeless people from seeking shelter in the alcove of your building? Remove the alcove! I was really taken aback. I mean, if you asked me if I would prefer to pass homeless people sleeping in my doorway at night or NOT pass people sleeping in my doorway at night, I guess I would have to choose the latter. But this is for complex reasons. The construction seems so extreme! My friend Sophie reminded me that Toronto planners did something similar in the past to benches in street-side bus shelters - they made them all twisty and weird with lots of armrests bisecting the benches, so no one could stretch out on them. And presumably, they're not worried about middle-class commuters taking a little nap while waiting for the next bus. What do you think about all of this? I am curious, because it just feels really wrong to me to move a whole frigging doorway to keep away the odd body in a sleeping bag. But you can't be filming Christmas ads for Meteor with homeless folks in the background...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Liffey Bridges in Images

I love bridges, so I've decided to make a slideshow of the Liffey Bridges from Phoenix Park eastward, taken from the south bank of the river. This is just the first installment -- I will add the rest later. They start off quite interestingly, but as you can see, they become architecturally a bit as the set goes on...

See my updated post on this for the full slideshow.

Phoenix Park

I've been fever-free for a few days, and I even left the house a couple of times this weekend, so today I took a longer walk to Phoenix Park. I think I am almost over the nasty flubug that wiped me out for the week, however, that little bug appears to have left me with a parting gift: the spins. Or to be more specific, I think that I have labyrinthitis, which is a kind of vertigo.

Now, I am not a doctor (well, not that kind of doctor at least), so I only have the internet to go on for self-diagnosis, but I don't think that the physician's diagnosis on Friday was accurate. When I visited the little clinic, still in the throws of fever and weakness, she told me that I was likely suffering from a well known condition that affects people in Ireland: Nightnursitis. Nightnursitis is caused by taking the over-the-counter medicine Night Nurse, which contains the mind-alerting antitussive DM. I felt like that diagnosis may have been accurate, because DM is pretty crazy stuff, but I was a little puzzled by the fact that I was still feeling the symptoms later the next day, when I hadn't ingested any Night Nurse for almost 24 hours. When I woke up dizzy again on Saturday and then again on Sunday, I figured that I couldn't possibly still have significant amounts of DM swimming around in my system. So this is what brings me to determine that I have labyrinthitis, which, according to, often follows a viral illness such as the flu. According to the same website, labyrinthitis can also be caused by tumors at the base of the brain, but I am going to go with common sense on this one, and just assume that my brain base is fine, and the flu is the culprit.

Anyhow, I digress. I was feeling a little less spinny this morning, so I decided to take a walk to Phoenix Park. The sun was shining for the first five minutes of my walk, and then, phew, it returned to normal. It took me about 25 minutes to get to the entrance, but I was keeping the pace relatively slow, just in case the labyrinthitis decided to act up again, and I accidentally strayed into the Liffey. (I did notice, by the way, that ladders have kindly been placed at regular intervals along the inner concrete walls of the Liffey in anticipation of such a thing occurring).

The flotation device I would have used, had I fallen into the river

The park emerges right out of the cityscape, like an oasis beckoning tree-deprived Dubliners. If you follow the quays on the north side of the Liffey past Heuston station, it's hard to miss:

Phoenix Park is the rough equivalent of Toronto's High Park, or New York's Central Park. Dublin Tourism boasts that it is the largest enclosed urban park in Europe, and at over 1,700 acres, it does have a lot of space to offer. I only walked through about a third of the park this visit, and most of what I saw was well manicured and shaped by pathways.

The park also houses the Dublin Zoo, which I was too cheap and tired to visit this time around, and the mowed fields were full of soccer games that looked both planned (some coordination to shirt colours) and impromptu (five players ranging from 6 years old to 60, with skinny tree branches sticking out of the ground as goalposts).

I ended the exploratory part of my visit in the Tearooms, situated adjacent to the Zoo. For 5 Euros I had a machine-brewed hot chocolate and a very nice raisin scone with butter and jam. It's still pleasant enough to sit outside (actually, I think the temperature has been exactly the same every day for two months), so I parked myself on a bench, and listened to an American woman exchanging language lessons with a Spanish woman at the next table. The Spanish woman was trying to get the pronunciation of the English word for "Camión" right, and she kept saying "Lorr-a"? "Lorr-ee"? "Lorry"?, looking for guidance, but the American woman just kept throwing out other terms, convinced that the Spanish woman was totally off track: "Cam-ee-own, right? Um, truck? Van? Bus? A large vehicle, right? Truck." No lorries in Dublin.

Here's a pic of the Tearooms, and a bandshell-type thingy, and some holly. The holly is clearly just the height of all marketing ploys to get us thinking about Christmas -- it's not even Hallowe'en yet!


Friday, October 23, 2009

Giant's Causeway in Images

While I am still stuck on the couch, I figured I would get caught up. These pics are a month old now - from the same weekend that I went to the Famine Village in the Inishowen Peninsula. The Causeway is one of the island of Ireland's (how else to I say Republic and Northern Ireland economically?) three UNESCO world heritage sites. The site looks like a jigsaw puzzle made out of basalt columns that were formed millennia ago by volcanic activity. The columns look like they could be stepping stones for a giant, hence the name. They're quite fascinating because they are so geometrically even, with most having 6 edges. Enjoy the pics, and remember that if you click or hover over the bottom right corner, you can make the slideshow appear in full screen. Might as well take advantage of the unnecessary 10 megapixels on my point-and-shoot.

Dispatch from the couch

If you want an idea of what I've been seeing in Dublin for the last week, then look no further than the picture above. It is a very pretty view, indeed, but after four days, it becomes a little less interesting.
I do admit that an extended view has brought out things I may not have noticed from an everyday glance out the window. Look, for instance, at how my plants are magically lined up to colour-coordinate with the trees and ivy outside! This was a fluke. I have one flowering plant, which is a nice hot pink colour right now, and from my current view, it appears to be placed right in front of the reddening ivy that is growing on the opposite side of the courtyard. And my little bonsai, bought at a street sale days before the plague hit me, is placed nicely in front of a similarly shaped tree outside. Most plant pots are white; so is the wall of the building! It's amazing, really.

I should have noted at the start that this posting very well may not make any sense. I make no promises that the grammar is correct, or that my writing will be relatively free from typsos. You see, I've been prostrate and mewling to myself for days, and as of this morning, I can add 'delirious' to the list. It's probably H1N1, but they don't bother testing for it anymore because it's so prevalent. All I know is that I've been on the couch since Tuesday am, watching the thermometer rise as the ibuprofen wears off, and watching it fall as I metabolize another dose. And things were coming along swimmingly (swimming in my head, in my bed...) until this morning, when I woke up feeling so dizzy that I had to lie down approximately 30 seconds after I finally got out of bed. I felt...completely stoned. The rest of my symptoms -- sore lungs, achey body, cough - were all lessening, but this dizzy thing was new. Of course I pictured myself passing out, only to wake up hours later wondering where I, I called a doctor.

Thankfully my colleague Lisa had given me the number for the clinic she attends. She said it was run by a handful of female doctors, and that they were all the no-nonsense type. Sounded perfect to me. I called up, and the secretary said that she could fit me in right away. Now this is amazing to me. I've waited months for an appointment in Kingston before, and even weeks in Toronto. This clinic -- the Suffolk Street Surgery -- is very near to me, so I managed to get myself upright, stuff my feet into a pair of shoes (I was happy to see that the pair matched when I took them off after returning home), and off I went to the clinic.

Sometimes I really appreciate the more relaxed demeanor in Ireland, even if it is scary. For instance, the secretary knew I was coming in with potential swine flu symptoms, but she still had me into the reception to get a form. Then she asked me to go sit on the stairs, in order to stay away from other patients. It was all very casual - no mask or clear quarantine - just a half a flight of stairs between me and potential new victims. To be fair, I wasn't hacking all over the place, and I was clearly aware that I should keep my distance from others. I was able to see the doctor within 20 minutes of my arrival, and she checked all my vitals. The overall diagnosis: definitely a bad case of the flu -- swine or otherwise. The diagnosis for my dizzyness: just what I had felt: I WAS stoned out of my tree! Unable to find Neo Citran in this fair city, I had purchased a capsule medication called "Night Nurse." Night Nurse has acetaminophen (known as paracetamol here) in it, as well as an antihistamine for drowsiness, and the antitussive dextromethorphan hydrobromide, otherwise known as DM. The DM is definitely the culprit. "But my last dose was 14 hours ago! And  I've been taking it for 3 nights," I protested, "And this is the only time I've felt wacked out!" Apparently the Nurse can have varying effects on the same person at different times. My sickness combined with my slightness had somehow brought about an extreme sensitivity.

A good ten or fifteen years ago, I had an out of body experience after taking a cough medicine with DM in it, and I swore off ever using it again. I remember sitting at the round white kitchen table with my mom, and thinking that I was floating above everyone, and that the world wasn't actually real.  But a few years ago I was experimenting with cough suppressant alternatives to the narcotic codeine, and I successfully used DM on a couple of occasions. But now I am thinking, No More Night Nurse for me. It's been 17 hours since I had the last dose, and I am still feeling stoned.

I must say that my first encounter with the healthcare system in Ireland was successful. They managed to fit me in right away, and the cost for the consultation was only 55 Euros. I must remind myself that I paid 55 Euros to be assured I wasn't dying, as opposed to paying 55 Euros to be told I was stoned from medication I had knowingly and willingly taken. The Doc did provide me with a prescription for Tamiflu, an antiviral that has proven quite effective against H1N1, but it's up to me to decide if I want to fill it. Right now, I am feeling remarkably better, so I think I will wait. Now I just have to muster the strength to get those damn pink elephants out of my livingroom. Hey! You! This is not some kind of circus ring! This is my FLAT!

PS: A few other things I have learned about drugs: While Neo Citran doesn't exist, you can get a hot lemon drink that contains paracetamol and vitamin C. It's called LemSip. Ibuprofen, which is best known by its brand name at home as Advil, is known as Nurofen here. Acetaminophen is known as paracetamol. Apparently, you can take these two together without any harm, because Ibuprofen is excreted by the kidneys and Acetaminophen is excreted by the liver. So you won't over tax either organ if you have regular doses of each medication. I had always lumped the two, along with Aspirin/acetysalicylic acid in the general category of "pain killers" and thought that if you were on one, you couldn't be on the other. But my local pharmacist told me otherwise. This page from the brand Nurofen gives a brief explanation of the differences: Ingredients. A friend of mine who is in medschool here told me that this is the best website for medical advice -- it's the one that doctors use:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yoga Studio 2: Trinity College

The title of this post is a bit misleading, because it's not really a studio, but a smelly little room located just off the main square of Trinity College Dublin. During freshers week in late September, all of the student societies had their tables spread around the main square, enticing Trinity folk to join their societies. Now, I am most definitely not a fresher, but they let me join anyway! The membership for the Trinity Yoga Society was very small - under 5 Euros, and it's only 3 Euros for a one-hour  class. The point isn't to make a lot of money, clearly, but to provide a community for students and staff. The money is meant for the teacher, but I am not sure if it all goes in that direction, or if some is held back for society purposes. Regardless, it made me think about how much of each student's daily tuition must go to building costs in private studios, because I think it is fair to assume that the TCD Yoga society gets the room for free.

So I arrived with my mat, half dressed, and kind of confused about how to negotiate my way around the building. When I say I was half dressed, I guess that is a bit misleading as well. I was FULLY dressed, but only half-dressed for yoga purposes. I don't currently own any full-length yoga pants, because I just started my practice again in the summer, and I was attending a lot of hot-yoga, shorty-shorts classes. There are were no changerooms, but there was a little fence-like object for quick shifts. I was surprised by the room (Room 50, in the Atrium above the Buttery), because it was small, stuffy, carpeted, and kinda  smelly. The yoga mats were already out on the carpet, so I just set my own on top of one. My mat is starting to wear out - bits are popping off - so the extra cush is nice on the knees. But frankly, it is kind of gross to use a communal mat, unless there is some nice mat spray and a towel around to give it a wipe.

The room was all achatter for the 10 minutes I lay there, trying to centre myself, concentrating on my relaxing my third eye, and getting the Ujjayi breathing going. After all of the home practice sessions, it was actually quite shocking to be among so many (talking) people. But in some ways, it posed a good challenge - could I sink into a good personal space despite the distractions?

When the teacher walked in, the room suddenly went quiet. I looked around, and it was packed. I was impressed by the interest, but it is a bit frustrating to do swan dives, or any other pose for that matter which requires your arms to reach over the sides of your mat. People did their best to stagger themselves on their mats, but my little critical side couldn't help thinking: um, how 'bout staggering the mats?

Room criticisms aside, the class was fantastic. The teacher even adjusted me at one point, which I know I desperately needed. I am sure that I have developed some not-so-great habits at home. (Actually, as an aside, I just tried out a new and very useful podcast through iTunes. It's called CalYoga, and it provides short video podcasts of individual asanas - showing you how to get into them, when to breathe, how to check your own alingnment, and, importantly, how to get out of the pose. Searching CalYoga on iTunes should bring it up). YogaSoc brings in qualified teachers from other Dublin studios, so you get a nice mix of styles and traditions. Today's class was taught by Dierdre, who also teaches at Yoga Dublin in Ranelagh; the class combined Hatha principles with some flow. She has a great energy, and was attentive to the room. It was good for me to slow down a bit and sink deeper into some of the postures. Something is going on with my downward dog lately - I am finding myself really shakey, particularly in the legs. I think that I'm starting to get my hips higher and my heels lower, and it is challenging different muscles and tissues, but Dierdre also told me to broaden my hands on the mat a bit. You know when the teacher is adjusting your hands in downdog that it's really best to practice with other humans in the room... Anyhow, I highly recommend the teacher, but, uh, too bad about the room.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A portrait of the woman who used to live in my flat

I never met her, of course, but I know that she used to live here. When I rented the flat just over a month ago, the letting agent told me that the previous tenant had stayed for two years, because "she liked it so much." In this short statement, I found out that, well, the previous tenant was a woman, and that she, like me, really liked this flat.

I like my home to be very clean. In fact, I am just a bit freakish about cleaning when I first move into a new place. I want to know that I'm starting fresh, and that, as my Aunty Nancy said, when dirt finally does accumulate weeks later, at least I know it is my dirt. So the night before I moved in (which consisted of dragging two suitcases along the cobblestones), I came over armed with microfibre cloths, eco cleaning products, and a bottle of wine. (Side note on the bottle of wine: I am a notorious nester. I hate moving, and find it extremely stressful. I actually was happy to return to my residence room the night after my clean-fest, because the residence room had become familiar, and I really like familiarity in a domicile. So the red wine was meant to drown my sorrows at having to acclimatise, again, to a new space. And I already liked this new space - imagine if I didn't?) Cleaning the space is a kind of ritual - a ritual of making it my own, and putting my little Ecover stamp all over the floors, doors, walls, bathroom grout, baseboards, light fixtures, sinks, door handles (you get the picture).

As I was cleaning (moving furniture around, etc.), I came upon a very small number of items that collectively told me a little bit about the previous tenant. It's time for me to dispose of them, so I arranged them on my counter, and took a pic:

I know these are very few items upon which to paint a portrait of an entire human, but if you consider that the letting agency had professional cleaners in before I took possession of the place, then really, this is a fairly good haul. Let's take a closer look, from left to right:

The first item is a bookmark that contains a poem about beagles, so from this we can assume that the woman who used to live in my flat (WULMF for short) like to read. And she liked dogs -- particularly small ones with good noses. And... unless this was an unwanted present that she failed to regift -- she was okay with something as cheesy as a bookmark with an ode to beagles on it. This tells us something of her personality, but admittedly, not that much. I found the bookmark under the bed, so I guess she liked to read in bed.

WULMF is either a woman of simple tastes, or of small means, when it comes to clothing. But she does buy clothing, so that tells you something. The hanger is from Dunnes, a medium-end department store that has decent stuff, but also some really cheap stuff. Such as the "Le Bain" toilet brush I bought for 5 Euros, which just broke this morning because I was, er, scrubbing the toilet too vigorously (I don't spend my all my time cleaning, despite the apparent focus of this posting. But it's Thanksgiving at home and not here, so what else am I to do with my weekend?) Anyway, this hanger is just representative of the 10 or so identical hangers she left behind in the wardrobe. There were also some metal hangers, and one hanger from Penny's (kind of like Walmart), but the bulk of the hangers were from Dunnes. Dunnes puts the size of the clothing on the hanger itself, and they are all size 12. This means that WULMF is an average sized person. I'm a size 8, which is actually the smallest size they carry at Dunnes, and I am kind of puny. Back in Canada, I think they would call it a 4 or 6. So, WULMF is bigger than me, but not too big for our very modestly sized flat. Oh yes, she also likes girly things, because there was a tag from Dunnes underneath the bed, and it read "Shorty Yellow Polka Dot Dress." The tag didn't make it to the picture -- it was likely recycled with the empty bottle of wine.

Speaking of things that didn't make it to the photo, I also found out that WULMF is straight. Or at the very most, bisexual. OR she just likes to play with condoms. I'll never really know, but the empty, torn condom package that also made its way out from under the bed means that at least one of the previous statements is true.

WULMF fancied herself a gardener, but she was not a very good one. There are about 5 pots filled with earth on the balcony, but nothing survives in any one of them. The earth has been very useful to me, however, for repotting those IKEA plants from several blog-posts ago.

WULMF was not a very thorough person, because as I was cleaning out the (emptied) kitchen cupboards, I found a package of instant noodles (one of those "yummy real Italian side dish in 5 minutes!" thingies) that expired in 2004. Recall that the letting agent said that WULMF was here for two years. This means that the pasta side dish predates her occupation of the flat. She just never looked that far back in the cupboards, which I think means that either a) she is very short, b) she is not very curious, or c) she didn't cook much, because she didn't need the entire cupboard space for food storage.

Back to the photo. The blue thing with an "R" on it is, I think, a perfume bottle. I don't know of any brand of perfume that has this kind of bottle, so I am going to assume that her name starts with R. That, and the fact that the piece of junk mail in the mailbox had her name on it, and indeed her name does start with R. I like this little bottle, and might just keep it on my counter for its decorative properties. WULMF likes pretty things.

WULMF (or should we call her R?) had medium to long hair. She didn't have short hair, because she's straight. Whoops, I mean, she didn't have short hair, because she had this red baubly thing that is only useful if your hair is long enough to pull back in some fashion. I found this hair tie between the couch cushions (or should I say, the vacuum found it, announcing its catch with a deafening squeal of delight). From this fact, we can also surmise that she would recline on the couch, release her hair from the bauble, and watch television. The tv placement corroborates this rather speculative 'fact'. I must add that she was very careful with her hair ties, because if this had been my flat prior to when I moved in (?), there would be at least fifteen hair ties in the couch.

And finally, we come to the last bit of information. On the right of the picture there is a ticket. It's a receipt for the Dublin bus from the airport to another location in the city. There is a fair bit we can learn from this artefact. First, she took at least one trip by plane while living here. On this particular trip, she returned back to Dublin on July 6, 2009. Also, she had at least one friend or acquaintance in Dublin, because instead of coming home to this flat, she went to a different address on the way back from the airport. She's also fairly frugal, because this receipt is for the regular city bus, which costs just over 2 Euros from the airport, when, by comparison, the airport shuttle costs 6 or 7 Euros one way.

WULMF: A short, girly woman of medium build with medium to long hair, who earns a modest income, likes dogs, reading, and watching tv while reclining. Doesn't cook much, once tried her hand at container gardening, travels abroad, but likes to keep costs down. Had sex with a man once.

Nice to meet you, WULMF.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Inishowen Peninsula in Images

I don't have that much to say about the places I drove to in the Inishowen Peninsula, because they were just beautiful, and my blog posting would look something like this:

"Wow, this place was so stunning"

"Holy crap, this place blew me away"

"OMG, I can't believe how stunning this place is"

So, I will save you the drivel, and just post a bunch of pics of Ballyliffin, and Malin Head, and Five Fingers Strand, and... If you want to know where any given picture was taken, email me. The beauty and softness and silence of these places speak for themselves. You can click on the bottom right of the slideshow to make it full screen, or to change other options.

The Battle of the Boyne @ the Boyne Valley. Blah.

I promised this blog would not be very academic, and here is proof. This is what I have to say about my visit to the site of the Battle of the Boyne:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Newgrange, and the most remarkable individual I have ever met

A couple of weeks ago, I made a research trip to the Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal. I was visiting the Doagh Famine Village, because I am interested in how the site -- which is a kind of hybrid theme park/historical recreation about the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s -- 'performs' a kind of Irish identity. And I'll save you from the rest. Anyhoo, I just finished writing the paper, so now I finally have time to write something about the rest of the trip, which was beautiful, and moving, and contained a number of surprises (aside from my lost wallet and damaged rental vehicle). I say unexpected, because I didn't realize that I would be passing so close to a number of important historical sites. I guess this year is going to be about this very thing -- breathing in experiences whenever and wherever I can. I have so much to write about this trip, but it already feels like it happened a long time ago, so I will try to make these postings short. For tonight, I'll talk about Newgrange.

I picked up the rental car early in the morning, and despite my pleas, Thrifty could only offer me a standard. Now, I had a standard for five years, and drove it around a lot for at least four of those years. The last year it was parked on the street, because I couldn't bare to give it up (but it was undriveable). I love driving standards. I love driving standards when I am driving on the right side of the road. And shifting with my right hand. But over here, these two things are the opposite: Left side of the road, left hand for shifting (and I still have a stiff finger on my left hand from a yoga mishap), but most importantly: the bulk of the car to the left side of the driver. I didn't realise that this would be the most difficult thing. Left side of road? No biggie. Left hand on the stick? No biggie (except it hurt). Bulk of car on left side of me? Not so good. I just couldn't get a proper sense of how close I could drive to the side of the road without hitting the bushes. Or the large diamond-shaped road sign that appeared out of nowhere and left a nice 18 inch present along the side of the car... Normally the proximity would not be a big deal, but the roads are EXTREMELY narrow in much of Ireland,  and the "highway" I took up to the Peninsula was not an exception. But anyway, I digress.

I was about 50km out of Dublin, taking my time getting north, and I saw a sign that said "Newgrange, 5km" and pointed to the right. I was shocked. I truly feel I wasn't meant to go to this place alone, but there I was, five kilometres from one of the world's most sacred and celebrated ancient sites, and I had finally figured out how to turn right. Off the highway I went, and found myself driving through the valley of the Boyne, which also happens to be one of Ireland's most important sites, but this time in the realm of political history. The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is where King William of Orange (a Protestant) won the battle against King James (a Catholic). It's a big deal.

But Newgrange is a bigger deal. It is one of only three UNESCO world heritage sites in Ireland, and it is about a millennium older than Stonehenge. It's 600 years older than the pyramids in Egypt. It's older than Aristotle and Plato and Sophocles and Aeschylus!! But importantly, it is a site of great significance from a spiritual perspective, because it was both a tomb, and a kind of astronomical observatory. At the moment the sun rises over the horizon on the morning of winter solstice (Dec 21), the light beams through a very carefully constructed aperture to illuminate the inner chamber. Last year over 30,000 people entered a lottery for just 50 tickets to be in the chamber during the 17 minutes that it is illuminated by the first rays of solstice. The magnitude and precision of its construction is mind boggling, especially when you find out that the kerbstones that surround the tumulous weigh several tonnes each, and come from quite far away. And oh ya, Newgrange predates the invention of the wheel...

On a regular day, you have to join a tour to see the monument, but the whole process is quite relaxed, and I think I was there early enough in the day to be assured a spot. Once you pay for your ticket, you are bussed from the visitor centre to the site, and a guide gives a lot of background information about the mound, its meaning, its significance, etc. But the special moment comes when you get to enter the tumulous, and crouch along the pathway into the inner chamber. Once inside, our guide spent a good ten minutes arranging the 25 or so people on my tour in order of height. He was trying to make sure that everyone would have a good view, and for once, I felt blessed to be a shorty. I got to stand in front! He checked to see if anyone was claustrophobic, because he was about to turn out the lights.

The entire monument has been beautifully preserved, and great pains have been taken to disturb it as little as possible. But, he explained to us, they have mounted two little light bulbs near the opening of the chamber that admits light, in order to simulate the experience of being there at solstice. As the lights went out, I held my breath. And then suddenly, the smallest stream of light crept along the floor into the chamber. I started crying. Like, a lot. I knew this was a simulation, but it felt remarkable and rare and sacred all at the same time. Thinking about the great wisdom and power of the people who made this place, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of human history. I felt overwhelmed by my own history. I felt...uh, overwhelmed in general.

I think I managed to get some beautiful photos, because the sky was so bright and clear. You can click on any of the blog's photos, by the way, if you want to see larger versions. Below is the entranceway to the tomb. The stairs have clearly been built for visitor access, but otherwise, every effort was made to restore it to what archaeologists believe it would have looked like 5000 years ago.

The picture below is a close up. You can see the spirals on the entrance kerbstone - they are also found on many of the other 96 stones that surround the mound, and on the walls inside. The inside walls also have graffiti, with the most recent scratchings of initials dating to the Victorian era.

Here is the view from the entrance, looking out to roughly where the sun rises:

And finally, the latest sparkling water I tried. It doesn't quite have the bubbles of the PC low sodium cans I'm so fond of, but it gave Ballygowen a run for its money. But I bought it, of course, because its label has Newgrange on it!

So, that's my little bit about Newgrange. I feel unsatisfied leaving it at this, but I can't really post my guts up all over this blog, now can I? The experience of being in a place like this is not best expressed through language, because its effect is much more internal. So, I'll stop writing now. G'night.

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death" -- Anais Nin