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 "CamiĆ³n" 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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Everything in Perspective

I've been Dublin Theatre Festivalling all week, and while that is exciting in itself, it's also a great way to occupy my evenings, which are usually rather quiet. I saw DV8's To Be Straight With You last night up at the O'Reilly Theatre in Belvedere College.

Image source:

On a map, Belvedere College looks far away from me, but it's really only a 20-25 min walk, so I killed time after dinner so that I would leave around 7:15, take a very leisurely walk, calmly take my seat, and do that thing I'm not used to: be just a bit early. (Dinner, by the way, was composed of smoked salmon and pre-made carrot-parsnip-turnip mash, because my stove/cooker blew yesterday and I had to blindly buy things from the prepared section of the grocery store. I'm not so good with prepared foods).

So, 7:15 rolls around, I leave the flat, I return 30 seconds later for my umbrella (this little farce is standard practice - I'm still not in the habit of bringing it automatically), and when I step back outside again, the misty rain has stopped. I double check my wallet to make sure I have the ticket (and the wallet, LOL, because I 'lost' it on the way to London last weekend, but that is another story), and then I glimpse the ticket: Start time 7:30pm.

Check phone. Current time: 7:24. OK! Time to hail my first cab! I frantically run across the bridge to the north side, because the traffic flows east along the Quays on the north side, and I have to go a bit east before going north (these are directional indicators that don't mean anything here, but my brain is hardwired for Never Eat Shredded Wheat). I jump in, and the guy says "Hello Pet, where can I take you?" and I blurt out something about thinking the show started at eight but realizing it starts at 7:30, and he's like "Oh sure, I'll get you there in time." Which is vey nice of him to say, but his driving revealed otherwise, as he leisure wove his way up to the theatre.

Arrival. Check phone. Current time: 7:33. I go inside and there are about thirty people standing around chatting, and I'm thinking, boy, aren't they casual - shouldn't they be inside right now? Until I ask someone, and it turns out this is the group of late people. They finally let us in, but they did little to guide us to any available seats, so I ended up following a bunch of women who were hiking up their skirts to climb over the front rows to available seats farther back. I admit that it was fitting, as DV8 is a physical theatre company, so it sort of put us in the mood. The show was a kind of testimonial/doc theatre piece about politics and social dangers of being gay in the world, all supported by beautiful movement, but talking about it in any detail feels like work, so nah-uh. It appears that DV8 are travelling to TO for World Stage, so you can see it yourself if you're interested.

I tried making friends in the lobby (Hello! (said like Carm), I was at the theatre, for a show about homosexuals, so you think I'd have a lot of people to talk to), but that didn't work, so off I trotted home, down O'Connell street, past a million Spars and Centras and Londises, past the Spire, along the Quays. I've been experiencing an acute bout of loneliness the last couple of days - it's the beginning of flu season so perhaps I've caught an emotional strain - and moments like the walk home are particularly hard, because as I leave the theatre (or cinema, or talk, or resto), the illusion of belonging created in that space slowly fades away, and I remember that I am going home to my cool pad -- my cool, empty pad. Cue the violins.

I decided to walk over the Ha' Penny Bride, 'cause is sure is purty, and it's lit up quite nicely at night, with the period lanterns at the top of the arches reflecting brightly off the shiny white paint below. This bridge is always really busy, with people stopping to take photos, or pausing to look down the Liffey in either direction. And there are often a number of people sitting in sleeping bags, trying to gather some change, and, I think, stay safely out of the dark and pissed-filled back alleys of the city. I think I have some kind of internalized bougey middle class guilt, because everytime I see someone who appears homeless, I feel terrible. But most of the time, I do nothing about it. And then I feel more terrible, and I really have no idea what the whole thing is about, but aside from giving people change every now and then, I do not interact. I want to interact, but I don't. And I don't like myself in these moments. But being in a new place, and in a remarkably new and porous headspace in general, all I could think is - cripes, if I am feeling low and lonely, how must these people feel? Talk about isolation. I walked by one young woman who was huddled in what looked like a damp sleeping bag, and I looked down and smiled, but I kept going. I got down onto the sidewalk, and just stopped. What was my fear? I felt like I wanted to connect, but there is something in me that tells me to shut off that feeling - to preserve something. Feck it, I went into the convenience store (not sure which one, but certainly a SparCentraLondis variety), bought two bags of chips with markedly different flavours, and headed back to the bridge. As I approached her, I felt I had to make as if this wasn't planned - I just happened to be walking by with two bags of chips, and I happened to think about offering her one. What is this BS? Why the performance? I don't know.

So I kind of paused, held out both, she scanned the labels, and chose the plain one (good choice, the salt and vinegar ones nearly took the roof off my mouth). I crouched down, and we ate the chips, chatting casually about nothing, the way one does with strangers on a bridge in the middle of a city. Except I was probably saying dumb and obvious things like "do you have somewhere to go," etc. But here is the thing that killed me. I pulled 5 Euro out of my pocket and handed it to her, and she looked at me with a perplexed face and said "Are you sure?" And all I could say was, "Yes, yes, I am sure," thinking how little 5 Euros really was to me, and absolutely taken aback by her question. I don't know why she asked me that. Was it, "Are you sure you can spare this, because it's so much more than the 20 cent coins I usually get," or was it "Are you sure you really want to give this to me - is it worth it?" Or something else that I haven't thought of. But I was really moved by the impulse, and so so so glad that I finally stopped to chat. I eventually got up and wished her well, and as I walked home, my head was ajumble with thoughts of my theatre-going and her bridge-living. My funky leather jacket and her damp sleeping bad. My loneliness, and whatever it is she must be feeling. It's never going to make any sense to me, so I came home and did some research, and I just sent off my application to volunteer with Simon Community. It's about frigging time.