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!