Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sights, Smells and Sounds

I was riding home from a friend's tonight after a rather commendable session of acro-yoga (commendable because all three of us were 'wrecked', which is Irish for the Canadian 'bagged' or simply put: tired and creaky), and suddenly the city was on fire with sights and smells. The moon was full, and so I howled, honoring the hunky new werewolf guy on True Blood, who my friend Paul and I were lasciviously ogling on IMDB this morning as we Skyped. And when I reached the Liffey I could smell - I think for the first time -- the scent of the sea coming off the river. I forget that I live right by the sea - it's only a 30-minute walk from my front door - but the industry around the centre of the bay makes it less appealing. Sure, I see and smell the sea when I go to Howth or Dun Laoghaire or Greystones, but it is absent on my daily strolls about town.

But tonight, with the balmy breeze blowing, the stars just beginning to come out, and moon full, that gorgeous salty air was all around me. As I pulled into my courtyard, I saw a wee wee mouse scuttle under the gate. This surprised me, because I think it's the first rodent I've seen in Dublin - no kidding! The gulls are building some kind of uber-colony on the roof of my building, I am sure of it from the cacophony of wails that wake me up in the wee hours, but the four-legged wanderers are less in view.

Last weekend I biked to Dun Laoghaire, and was amazed at all the cute pubs and shops and parkettes along the way. I spend a lot of time in very few areas of Dublin. It's under 12km from my door to the DL pier, which is about the distance it took me to travel from the Berkeley St. Theatre to my home the last year I lived in Toronto. Peanuts. But in Dublin terms, it's a hike, and it hadn't occurred to me to do it until my friend suggested it. The purpose of the trip was to do yoga on the pier as part of the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures, but it was raining, so the yoga teacher took the lot of us back to her studio, and ran a lovely gentle hatha class that contained a fair degree of challenge. I chatted to her afterwards, trying to place the accent, and found out she is a New Yorker who has been living in Ireland for 7 years. It's funny, because some people, like my friend Aoife, pick up the accent very lightly and evenly, with all words being inflected just slightly. Others, like this yoga teacher, have some words that sound very clearly Irish in pronunciation (usually 'but' is one of them), and others that still sound quite North American... Anyway, her studio was lovely, and she says that she does authentic hot yoga - not the lukewarm kind that I encountered way back when I arrived in the fall. I'll be biking back to Dun Laoghaire for fresh sea air and hot yoga sometime in the next couple of weeks...

PS I know I haven't written a single entry in 3 months. Oh well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I live on an island

Eyjafjallajökull, erupting. Image source: Reuters

Many people forget that Ireland is an island. Much to the chagrin of many 20th century nationalists, I think that many people who have never lived in Ireland picture it somewhere in northern Europe, attached to the UK. But there is a big, wide sea between Ireland and the continent, and this becomes very evident when, say, a volcano erupts and sends ash into the atmosphere, grounding all air travel to a halt for days (and maybe weeks) on end. I missed a scheduled trip, and when I was still thinking I could work it out, a friend said "can't you take a train?"

Image source: Lonely Planet

I was supposed to attend a conference in Manchester this past Thursday. I was looking forward to meeting some of the people involved in the loose research network that is linked to the project I'm working on. I dutifully packed the night before (packing, even for a few days, kind of stresses me out), and was up around 6am to get ready for the airport bus, and I looked at my phone, only to see a whack of text messages. This is a very odd thing for six in the morning. The first message to greet me was from Aer Lingus: "Due to the closure of UK airspace as a result of volcanic activity, we have no option but to cancel your flight." By now the whole world knows what is going on with old puffy over in Iceland, but I'll tell ya: this was a very odd message for my dazed and sleepy head to receive at 6am. I thought it was a joke, but then I thought - how did someone hack Aer Lingus's texting system? Too much to process at that early hour. Onto the next message: there were a few from Elisabetta, who was already at the airport en route to Italy: Check your flight before coming to the airport because a volcano exploded somewhere and the majority of the flights are cancelled...like mine." I immediately called Lisa, who was planning to be on the same flight as me, and then thought of Aoife, who I was expecting to run into on the airport bus, because she was off to a theatre conference in Berlin that morning, also on a 9:30am flight. I rebooked for later that day, but it was cancelled. And then all flights were cancelled on Friday. And Saturday. And today. And tomorrow...

In the last few days, Facebook has been plastered with people talking about not being able to go places, and more recently, not being able to come home. Now, if you live in London and are off in Paris for a holiday, you could take a train home instead. Yes, the trains are being booked up by stranded travellers across Europe, but eventually, they will be able to move everyone around. And there are buses, and cars for hire. And frankly, when it comes down to it, if you REALLY had to, you could get all dressed up like the characters in The Road, and walk home! But if I am not on the island of Ireland, I cannot walk home! It's not even possible. And I know that if I am suggesting that one could walk from Paris to London, then I should consider that one could swim from Holyhead to Dublin, but really, we both know that is too far to swim, unless you are Martin Strel. This is why it's a blessing in disguise that I didn't make it to that conference in Manchester - I would still be there, maybe for all of next week, I'm am so over living in a city where I don't know a single person. That was so Autumn 2009.

Anyhoo, I am getting off topic (wait, there was a topic)? What I have realised is that people here fly A LOT. I know at least 10 people whose travel plans have been affected by Eyjafjallajokull. I wondered (aloud on Facebook) if the carbon produced by the Icelandic eruption would outweigh the carbon saved by the cancellation of flights, and two friends sent me this link within minutes. The rise of Ryanair and Easyjet, and the concomitant competition this has created with other regional airlines, like Aer Lingus, has radically altered the way we travel, and we're really not disaster-proof in this area. I wonder how many fewer train trips and ferry crossings occur now, compared to the mid 1990s, when Ryanair really started to take off? It's not just a pain to catch a train instead of a flight (in terms of the time it takes, and the unexpected nature of it), but apparently, it's not even possible: stranded travellers are reporting that they can't get train tickets, because, well, everyone else thought of that as well. But if we all just considered taking the train more often - for its convenience (no full body pat-downs and invasive security scans; you only have to arrive 15 minutes early), and for its relatively small level of emissions, then we wouldn't be so f*cked when mother nature decided we all needed to be just a bit more grounded...

Much to my amazement, both Ryanair and Aer Lingus have announced that they will be refunding or rebooking all tickets without charge. This is shocking, because when other disruptions occur because of mother nature, they are not always so willing to bear the financial burden. Perhaps they realise that their clients might just start thinking about other options...

As for the volcano, it keeps erupting. My friend Angela Rawlings is keeping a blog with frequent updates and interesting tidbits. Check out No Slumber for Volcanologists. And I found this time-lapse video of today's eruptions really beautiful:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Crystal Swing

For those of you who do not know them, Crystal Swing is a band from Cork, consisting of Mary, the mother, and Dervla and Derek, her daughter and son. Mary plays the keyboards, and her clothing and gestures are right out of 50s America. Dervla fancies herself a purer, more Irish Shania Twain, and Derek is.... well, a cross between Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Gumby.

Recently, Crystal Swing made it onto Ellen DeGeneres's show. It was a boon to Irish people all around, but Irish people in Dublin, if I can generalise for over a million individuals, think that Crystal Swing are funny. As in, silly funny.

When I first saw Crystal Swing, I thought that they had to be kidding. I thought for sure that they were ironic -- pretending to be all innocent and country bumpkinish, but really, this was all a ploy to differentiate themselves from other bands, and their performance was faux-innocent. But my friends in Ireland assured me that they were serious. Very serious. I couldn't understand -- I mean, check out Mary, and her little head bops, and her hair style and dress and makeup, and facial expressions...it's so June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver! She can't be serious! And the kids -- siblings -- singing about sex to each other, all the while looking at the camera with faces of pure innocence! Is this a joke? I was really confused.

Things only got worse (for my comprehension) when Panti -- a famous drag queen here in the Dub -- did a parody of "He Drinks Tequila" in her weekly show, referring to her band as Cryshtal Shwing. I thought that Crystal Swing were already parodying something else, so how could Panti parody a parody? Is there a word for this? Linda Hutcheon, where are you when I need you?

But recently, after watching way too many YouTube videos of these folks, I figured it out. Crystal Swing are popular because they tap into what we all want, but are afraid to admit we want. They stand for hope in a world of cynicism. They make us want to believe that life could be so simple and clean. They are ... pure and innocent, and we all want to taste just a little bit of that. I heard them interviewed on Irish radio a few days ago, when they were in Los Angeles for Ellen's show. At the end of the interview, the host said that they were "genuine, warm people," and that they were good people, "and that's the truth." The fact that he felt the need to mention that last part -- to clarify that he was talking truthfully -- is telling, because it's hard to know if anyone (the performers or hosts or cheering audience members) are taking the piss. Audiences are made defensive by their earnestness. Watching Ellen DeGeneres watch Crystal Swing while they perform on her show is telling: she dances around a bit, but every few seconds, she looks over at one of her crew. The look is small and discrete, but it is clear. She is asking: are these folks for real? Do you actually LIKE this? Because, uh, I think I actually like this, but I'm not sure I'm supposed to, because I think maybe they can't really be serious. And then I would be the silly one.

And the truth is this: people like Crystal Swing, but more importantly, they want to like Crystal Swing, but they fear they will look like fools for doing so. So the telling looks appear, and the under-the-breath guffaws break the surface. I understand, because I do it as well. How could I enter into pure enjoyment while watching them, without feeling like other people might think I am naive and have bad taste? It's only possible to like them if... well... if you pretend not to. This whole discussion reminds me of what Carl Wilson writes about in his book about Celine Dion. He hates her music -- he finds it mewling and appalling -- but still, he is driven to understand why so many people are moved by it. He meditates on the nature of taste, and the elements of ego and aesthetic judgment that constitute taste.

I could say a lot more about Crystal Swing and how they provide a way to measure our perspective on contemporary life, but instead, I'll leave you with Derek, and his mouth full of adolescent teeth, doing the Hucklebuck on Ireland's Late Late Show:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shifting perspectives

As you may have noticed, the blog entries have slowed down considerably. I'm aware of this, but because I promised myself that this blog would not be about work or anything resembling work, I needed to keep it purely in the land of inclination. And I guess I haven't been so inclined, for various reasons.

But one reason is simply this: Dublin just isn't as weird to me anymore. When I first got here, my eyes were peeled in a newbie kind of way - I noticed the odd phrasings on street signs, and the way people walked, and the different foods on offer in the shops. But now that I've been here for seven months (today), the quirky has started to shift into the mundane, and it isn't captured by my consciousness in quite the same way. I have to intentionally create Brecht's verfremdungseffekt , in my mind's eye, to see the cultural peculiarities.

The fact that life here is becoming familiar is very interesting to me, because acculturation happens on many different levels, and at many different paces. Plenty of things still appear unusual or alien to me, but the things I notice now are harder to articulate, because they are about the fundamental ways that people interact with the world and others in it. When I have a better grasp on these more intuitive aspects, I will write about them.

My shift in perspective has been highlighted recently by a couple of factors. I have a new friend who is originally from Italy, and immediately I found her compelling; she is so different from the Irish. It's not that I am tired of the Irish, but more that, maybe, her particular cultural distinctiveness is refreshing, and it puts Irish customs and practices in relief. It helps me to see Dubliners, and myself, in a new light. My Italian friend, Elisabetta, is animated, and quick to engage passionately in conversation, and verbally free - she says things directly. She told me that in order to get along with colleagues in Ireland, she had to learn to be less direct; she's had to figure out how to come at things a bit sideways, because her regular approach - which she would use with colleagues at home - would be considered too forthright.

The international stereotype of the Irish is that they are friendly, and quick to bring outsiders into a chat, and great conversationalists, etc. Just look at the first 5 minutes of The Quiet Man, when the American is greeted with glee and offered directions by half a dozen animated little 'ole wans'. Or all the shenanigans that go on in films like The Matchmaker and Waking Ned. I choose the Hollywood Irish films because they have been instrumental in fabricating Irishness for lands beyond Ireland. And these representations are not complete fabrications - the people I have met are friendly, and they do love a great conversation and opportunities for good craic, but I am also finding that there is often a barrier or wall to real social intimacy. My friend Paul pointed out to me that Torontonians are not quite so different - we, too, can be friendly and welcoming to the outsider on one level, but then slightly closed when it comes to really letting people into our inner circles. I like to think that I have thrown away that barrier as I crossed the Atlantic and allowed myself to become vulnerable in so many ways. But it's hard to tell, of course, because how does one use the V-effect on oneself? I know that, in this blog in general, I have been approaching people entirely as products of their culture and society, and that this leaves out a whole realm of other factors that shape identity and behaviour, and that such an approach is reductive and potentially stereotyping, but... oh, well, I said this wasn't work :)

The second recent thing that has shifted my perspective is the arrival of my sister Amber, who in fewer than 12 hours has shown me how accustomed I have come to this place. She is finding so many things interesting that I now take for granted. She giggled at the sign for 'Irish Ferries' that was pointing in the direction of the harbour, and seemed genuinely concerned that our bus was going to crash into other vehicles on the way back from the airport. She isolated the combination of the short buildings and narrow streets as the distinct architectural feature of Temple Bar that creates the character of the space, and she noted the oddity of having one's washing machine in the kitchen. These are all things I noticed when I arrived, but that do not cross my radar any more. They seem like simple differences, but I think they are fundamental differences - radical differences, in fact. What I mean by this is that objects and the layout of objects in space affect our movement patterns in daily life. The narrowness of the streets means that bodies interact in a closer proximity than they do in places that have more space, like Canada. The height restrictions create a different aspect relationship between the human body and the world it inhabits - we are not dwarfed in the streets of Dublin. Amber said that the smaller scale made her focus more on the people and how they were interacting (she also had her ear opened outward, trying to soak up all the Irish accents). The placement of the laundry machine means that certain household tasks become related to one another in particular ways. It might sound like I am grasping at straws here, but I really do think that the shift in spatial relationships can have a concomitant effect on social relationships and customs. But this is starting to sound a bit like work, so perhaps I will switch gears, and leave you with two pictures of my lovely sister Amber, excited by the cobblestones of Temple Bar, and the Liffey and the beauty of its bridges, on her first night in Dublin (and her first night in Europe).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin

Just came back from the parade - I was able to watch it about 200 metres from my apartment, which reminds me how glad I am that I chose such a central location. It makes finding a bite to eat (at home) and changing clothes for the next adventure (at home) quite convenient.

This was my first Patrick's Day parade in Ireland, and I was quite excited, because it has to be the largest and most public way that Ireland performs her identity for herself, for the tourists, and to the world. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I did think it would be big.

I was right, but it was not big in some of the ways I expected. For one, there seemed to be a real emphasis on bicycle or people-powered floats. There were lots of huge puppets operated by groundlings, and usually one person cycling, while others helped to push the float from behind. In some of my pics, you can see them struggling to get up the hill on Dame St. at Parliament. Only a few floats were gasoline-powered, and this was a nice surprise. I mean, I barely made it through all the cigarette smoke that surrounded me on Dame Street - burning fuel would not have been very pleasant. Most of the large spectacle items were animal figures, which I guess fits with the whole pagan thing, and the colours were bright and lively. There was an artisanal feel to many of the large puppets, which was a nice contrast with, say, all the plastic used in the Pride parade in Toronto.

There was hardly a nationalist inkling in site - in fact, there seemed to be an absence of demonstrably "Irish" elements. A few Irish cities/counties had contingents - Donegal, Waterford, Belfast, and there was an international presence as well - I saw Madrid, something from Italy, a group that looked like they were in traditional Indian garb, and a couple of African-themed groups. The most random one had the be the North Carolina State Marching Band. I was like, WTF? Overall, I would say that the multiculturalism of the parade - the presence of different ethnicities - outweighed the visibility of different ethnicities that I encounter on my wanderings around Dublin. But I don't really wander all that far around Dublin, so whaddoIknow?

The crowds were upbeat, but as far as I could tell, not really drunk yet, so that was a relief. Someone told me to wear wellies because it can get that messy outside. But right now, in my very central apartment, it's once again quiet outside, and the barriers on the street were coming down as the last group of cyclists passed by.

Anyway, off I go to other Patrick's Day adventures. Just needed to dump the SD card, recharge the camera battery, and fuel myself.

The pics below show my wanderings around Temple Bar and O'Connell/the Quays before the parade began, the parade itself, and then my street afterward. I had an ok position on the street, but there are lots of heads in the shots, so please skim through quickly!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bray to Greystones in Images

Last weekend I decided to shake up my regular trek around Howth, and instead take the DART south to Bray. There is a walk that goes from Bray, which is small seaside town, around Bray head and to Greystones, which is a slightly bigger seaside town, but one that seems to be growing. The pics below start at Bray's promenade with Bray head in the distance, and then they follow the 6km walk to Greystones. I love train tracks - always have, so they feature fairly prominently. I also have video of a train coming out of tunnel, but I haven't looked into uploading video yet. Greystones is a hip little place, with lots of fairtrade this and eco that for sale. The last pic is from my (alone at coffee shop, armed with camera) still-life study of a cappuccino and my gloves at The Happy Pear. What comes to mind most when I look at this pic is: I wish they washed their windows. I was punch-drunk on sea air and sunshine by this point, so the angle's a bit canted.

Uncool pubs and off-nights

It's become clear that I really like pubs that aren't cool. The cool ones are busy, and this suggests that lots of people like to go to them, and get packed in like sardines. But that's just not my scene - I need more personal space than your average Dublin venue offers (and this includes sidewalks, shopping centres, pedestrian walkways, and queues, where people stand really close behind you, even if they have several feet of space available behind them).

So, I've been steadily cultivating a list of uncool pubs. Of course, they are cool by virtue of being uncool, but it's all about taste.

For quiet drinks in a cosey old-school atmosphere, there is the Library Bar in the Central Hotel on Exchequer St. It looks like it sounds - bookshelves, old worn-velvet arm chairs, open (gas) fireplaces, and a little bar tucked in the corner. I've seen people reading here on a Saturday night, or opening presents at a little party of six, and generally just chatting. The sandwiches are great, and the academic in me feels at home. The lights are a bit bright, but there is no music, and this means that voices aren't competing for aural space. It's all about the space. Incidentally, the Central just opened a 'gastropub' next door recently, called Gastropub. The food is good, but it's a sardine kind of place.

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Library Bar, Central Hotel, Exchequer St.

A similar venue is the Lord Edward Pub, near Christchurch, above a fish and chip shop. Again, lots of red velvet benches and little wood tables, slightly bright lights. I had one of the oddest conversations I've experienced in Dublin with the bartender that night. My companion and I had picked up some fish and chips from the takeaway below, and brought them up to the pub to see if they were ok with us eating them there (while sipping a pint of course). The bartender quite firmly (but kindly) said he was very sorry, and wished that he could say yes, but he just could not. I asked whether it was because they also served food (we were unaware of this), and he said "Oh no, that's not it at all. It's just that, if you take your dinner over there (pointing to a far corner), and start eating it, sure enough the head on this pint of Guinness will just disappear. It's the oil they use - takes the head clear off the Guinness." Naturally, we were kinda confused. I thought he meant that the oil would travel through the air and attack the poor defenseless Guinness, and my friend thought that he meant the oil from our mouths would remain on the glasses, and affect the next user. We talked to him for quite a bit, practically falling into hysterics, and really, I'm not sure we ever figured out what he really meant. The oddity of that conversation endeared the place to me for good, I think.

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The Lord Edward Pub, Christchurch

The other uncool thing to do is go to an otherwise cool pub on an off night. I find Mondays-Wednesday are good for this, and my favourite place to go is the Front Lounge. It does happen to be right around the corner from my apartment, and it's a queer friendly pub, but at weekends, it's terribly packed. On a Monday night, it's the perfect place to sit with a pint and your laptop and write on your blog about sitting with a pint and your laptop in Dublin...

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The Front Lounge, Parliament St.

In terms of fun factor, however, uncool pubs can also really give it up. Take last night, which had to be just about the most fun I've had in ages. After yoga, I joined a few people at the Mercantile on Dame Street to hear this wacky band called The Sick and Indigent Song Club. (Yes, I did say that I went to a pub after yoga - this was a shocking thing to me the first time I did it, because post-yoga usually screams 'green goddess smoothie' to me more than 'pint,' but I got over this ridiculous Canadian confusion shortly thereafter). The band is great - the lead singer is Scottish, and she plays the banjo, wearing a flower in her hair, and looking very proper, but her expression is fantastically ironic, so you know she is much cheekier than she appears. Their sound is really hard to describe - lots of instruments, and a mix between gypsy, celtic, and chanson. They remind me, in mood, of Les Singes Bleues, who used to play at The Press Club on Dundas West in Toronto, before one of the band members moved back to France and killed our favourite weekly gig. So we were dancing around a bit to the band, but they are too fun to watch, so the real cutting loose didn't happen until the band retired and the DJ pulled out the chart tunes. We tore it up! And this was only possible because...the pub didn't have many people in it, so we could spread out over the dance floor, jump off the stage, and swing around the railings. You know, regular dancing-to-pop in your 30s kind of behaviour.

Love the uncool pubs of the Dubs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yooooo! Gaaaa!

I committed myself to a personal 30-day yoga challenge recently, and I figured it’s about time to update the blog on all things yoga, ‘cause I’ve been doing a lot of it in The Dub, and I don’t think the blog quite reflects this.

The 30-day thing is all over Facebook – different groups imploring you to join their challenge – and several studios back at home have created courses around it. I am not sure why one month is the key amount of time (other than Gaia’s womanly cycles), but it seems like a long enough commitment to feel substantial, but short enough to … not cramp my lifestyle too much. My dear sister Amber (who currently can’t actually do yoga due to a shoulder injury) and dear friend Paul (who lives on my kitchen table via Skype) have committed to join me in this journey. Amber is going to do some sort of physical practice every day that accommodates her injury, and Paul is going to keep up with the yoga. For myself, I decided that anything counts. Committing to 30 days is substantial, so I decided that I would not put other restrictions or limitations on myself. If I can only do 10 minutes of pigeon and cat-cow, then that counts.

I’m not sure about you, cyberspaceanonymous reader, but I have this thing: I don’t do very well with fitting important things into small spaces of time. If there is something that matters to me, I feel like it needs a big amount of time. An example might help to illuminate what I am saying: say that it is 6 pm, and I have tickets for a theatre performance at 8pm. And I haven’t had dinner yet. And I haven’t practiced yoga that day. In this scenario, I would not unfurl the mat on my laminate faux-wood flooring, because yoga takes an hour. If I do yoga for an hour, it is 7pm. And then I need to eat and change and get to the theatre, and there is just not enough time. So, I don’t do the yoga. BUT ... why don’t I just do 20 minutes of yoga, and call it a day? I am not sure ... I think I have issues around personal achievement. I think I have high-achiever syndrome. I once told my partner that I was a ‘competitive yoga player,’ but that was a long time ago, and I am so glad that I am older and wiser now. Time and space. These are things I am working on, during this sabbatical year ... during my personal sabbath – my year of rest and restoration.

So, enough soul-searching blather, and onto the yoga. There is a lot of yoga going on in Dublin. Kinda suddenly, things seem to have exploded. I would like to account for it based on my own great enthusiasm for the practice, but, it’s probably just a kind of Yoga Zeitgeist. A couple of months ago, the Open Minds Project opened their doors on Pearse Street, with donation-based yoga classes seven days a week. They have multiple classes with different teachers and different styles everyday, and the donation system makes it affordable to go frequently. This is important because -- I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this – established studios in Dublin charge 18 Euro per class, which is, frankly, astronomical. I mean, take your salary (if you are lucky enough to have one) and divide it by 356 days and subtract your required living expenses and ... can you afford to spend 18 Euro per class on a regular basis? I can’t. Anyway, I digress...

So, the Open Minds is pretty cool. Apparently it is run by a Dublin businessman who owns a bunch of properties, and wants to invest (morally?) in a not-for-profit space.

The other place I frequent is Yoga Dublin at Ranelagh (they have a studio now at Dundrum as well), but the reason I go there is because I LOVE the Thursday evening class with Deirdre. Yoga in Dublin is generally kinda relaxed and gentle. But Deirdre, with her Ashtanga background, really pumps it up. Last week I actually felt a bit out of breath, and I fell on my butt several times trying to achieve tittibhasana (this is an improvement - I usually fall on my head). I cherish the almost-bruises. I like to think that I do yoga primarily as a spiritual practice – as a way to balance myself in the universe – but let’s face it, I want to rock it out and do all the cool arm balances and inversions and REALLY DIFFICULT AND TOTALLY GORGEOUS STUFF. I’m not a competitive person by nature, except when it comes to athletic things. I used to play squash, and frequently I felt like I would rather beat my squash partner with my racquet than lose the game. I used to go a bit John McEnroe, but only in sports! I blame all of this on my Dad, who got me involved in sports, and never let me beat him. Well, blame is really the wrong term, because in fact I thank him. He kept saying “one day you will beat me, and you’ll have really earned it”. It’s funny, because this makes him sound like a drill sergeant, when really he’s a big teddy bear. He never pulls this crap in any other area, but I think he does it in sports because he is competitive with himself, and that is an important part of his identity, and he wanted to pass it on to me. To go all Irish on ya, ‘tanks Da!’

Where were we? Oh ya, at Yoga Dublin @ Ranelagh. I like the class, but I also really like the space. There are usually only a few of us, and the room is intimate, and the light is low, and it feels like ... community. I just wish that Deirdre would crank up the iPod and maybe play a little Florence and the Machine. I want my practice, sometimes, to just ROCK IT OUT.

In a previous post I mentioned that I joined this LGBTQ women’s group. I decided that I wanted to contribute something to the group, so I am in the process of organising a 6-week restorative yoga course. I do a lot of strength-building yoga by choice, but this has led to frequent muscle-cramping (don’t point your toes!), so I decided I needed a restorative course. I took a 2-hour restorative workshop several months ago at Samadhi, but I think I need the deep stretching and yin-calmness on a more regular basis. We’re in the process of working out the space and time (ah, back to space and time!), but my new friend Luna, who teaches at Yoga Dublin and Open Minds, is game to teach it. I feel good about organizing this course, because it means that I am creating something, as opposed to just availing myself of what is already out there. We’re all creators, but when we’re tired we can forget this. I am so glad I am not so tired anymore. Namaste, anonymousblogreaders.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A New Season, A Familiar Hike

Yesterday on the radio (I've been streaming newstalk.ie in an effort to see if it's any less morning-showey than RTE 1), someone mentioned that February 1 is the first day of Spring. And the ole guy I was chatting to at the reception desk of a building the other day assured me that "oh sure, once February first has passed, the worst of it is over, ya know. It's all just a bit better from there." So, in honour of the last day of winter, I went for a hike at Howth. I haven't been there since the late fall, and I missed it. I was taking pictures and thinking to myself "how may pictures can I take of the same place??!" But then I reassured myself that, after all, it is a new season. The pictures will surely be different, no? In the interest of keeping this posting short, which I am not exactly known to do, I will stop now, and include a photo essay. It was a crisp but beautifully sunny day, with stunning light. My walk revealed that Howth has a Sunday Farmer's market (I bought a brownie that tasted like fudge), that sometime since my last walk, a car drove over one cliff and landed on a lower one, that far too many people leave their dogs' poop on the sidewalk (not pictured), and that the gorse still has yellow flowers in the winter. The soundtrack for this hike was Moth stories from the past couple of months, and several Savage podcast episodes. The last pics are of the Halfpenny bridge just moments ago.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to Meet People in Dublin

I've been thinking a lot about the act of meeting people, because my first months here have been pretty focused on this pursuit. Life is pretty crap without other people in it, so naturally, I wanted to avoid having a crappy year. My experience has been about Dublin, but I bet this applies to lots of decently-sized cities that have things going on. If you live in the suburbs or a really small town, I can't help you. I sure someone can, but I haven't been both a)in a small town and b)available to meet new people since I was doing my undergrad. And back then, the town didn't matter, because we were all so navel-gazing about the campus-as-world.

Just recently, I discovered a site called Meetup.com. It is AMAZING! Basically, the site acts as a hub for social groups. Kind of like Facebook, only the main organizing factor is the group, as opposed to the individual. A Marxian Facebook, if you will.

Anyone can start up a group on Meetup, and a quick perusal of the Dublin nexus shows that all sorts of different people have done so; there are groups for cinema-going, naturism a.k.a. nekkidism, restaurant-going, ex-pats of all origins, queers, meditation, spirituality, business networking, and so on. I joined a few groups, and have somehow (twist me rubber arm) been drawn into helping out with one group's organisation. I went to events this past weekend with two different groups; first, an afternoon tea party with the brand new Dublin LGBTQ Women's Social Networking group, and second, an exhibit of New York photography with the New and Not So New in Dublin group, which seems to be one of the most active Dublin groups. Both events were relaxed and the people were delightful. I didn't really know what to expect, because usually I meet like-minded people by going to things I like, and therefore, finding myself amongst other people who like the same thing (ya, I guess I just defined 'like-minded'). But in this case, the group descriptions were quite open, so I had no idea what to expect. Maybe only weirdos attend these events, hahahaha... The art event in particular was good for easy socialising, because if you're shy about jumping into extended conversations, then the activity facilitates a kind of casualness. "Oooh, that's an interesting angle on the Chrysler building; "Wow, that Cindy Sherman is such a chameleon;" "I wonder how they captured that panorama?"

As I said, I only came upon this Meetup thingy last week, but I've been here for months, and thankfully this weekend wasn't the first time I met people. Here are some other ways:

1. Talk to people in airports. I've picked up four people this way! One of them, Carla, has become my go-to gal for all kinds of emotional blubbering here in The Dub. I met her at the gate in Toronto before I actually immigrated. Met some cool folks watching other people's luggage endlessly circle on the belt... Met one more person on the way to the airport - at a bus stop. So it seems that anything to do with air travel works. Perhaps this is because it's so frigging boring, that people are desperate to socialise!

2. Have lunch with your colleagues. Everyone needs to eat. If you don't have any colleagues, get a job so you can have some.

3. Join a yoga class that meets regularly. Often, these classes have the same people attending them every week, so you can chat while rolling up your mat, or unpacking your stretchy clothes. Or, like me, you could follow your yoga teacher from a class in one studio to a class in another studio, joke that you're her yoga stalker, and then hope she wants to become your friend. Now, I suppose you could join other classes if you don't like yoginis, but yoginis are known for being calm, open-minded, and present. What more could you ask for in a friend?

4. Take a workshop on something that extends over a few days. If you do this, you will see the same people everyday! It works.

5. Look like you know where you are going. For some reason, I get asked for directions no matter what city I am in. I don't necessarily know where I am going, but I must look like I know where I am going. And no, I don't carry a map anymore.

6. Do some things by yourself. Now I know that this can suck, and once you've made one friend, you may be tempted to do everything with that friend. But then you talk only to that friend, and miss opportunities for meeting new people.

7. Squeeze every potential contact out of your friends and family at home. I've met some of the most special peeps here in Dublin because someone at home knew someone who knew this person in Dublin... The common connection, no matter how tenuous, somehow breaks down the initial meeting barrier a bit.

And finally, say Yes to everything. Talk to strangers. Ask people out for coffee, even if it feels too soon. Push your own level of discomfort as far as you can - what do you have to lose?

Me and Carla checking out Dun Laoghaire

Monday, January 25, 2010

Locked doors and other totally irritating things

Dublin is not all romance, let me tell you. There are plenty of irritating things about being here - I've just been holding back. But seeing I am currently experiencing a yoga deficit (I have had less today than I require), and I have realised that my particular brand of politeness that is Canadian is part of the problem, I'll just let it rip. Here are some irritating things I've noticed in Dublin:

1. Doors to public and semi-public buildings are locked, and you have to buzz to get in.

This can make for awkward situations, such as when you decide to 'drop in' to a place that, well, welcomes you on their website to drop in. I went to this institute for work-related purposes a while back, and when I arrived, I had to buzz to be let in. Of course when you buzz, they ask who you are and what you want. My response was something like "My name is Natalie, but you don't know me, and I'm just dropping in to visit your place, with no particular agenda." Talk about feeling like a weirdo. It's as if that kind of free communication is not welcomed, which is odd, considering how well people do talk to each other here at pubs and cafes.

But the incident that prompted this posting happened earlier today, and caused the yoga deficit, which means I haven't breathed yet today, which means I am off-kilter and I might swear soon. In the blog. Anyhow, I had a few things to do this morning so I was rushing around, but I was all packed up for a class that is not too far away. It's farther than I budgeted for, clearly, but not too far. Off I go. I can see the time is going to be tight, so I start running a bit. But I have to keep stopping for traffic (see irritation #2 below). I finally get there, out of breath and flustered (which feels wrong, heading into yoga), but it is two minutes after the hour. Now, if this were in another city without such freaking weirdness about locking every door, I could have calmly slipped in without disturbing the class. In fact, that class probably hadn't started, but I didn't KNOW, because the only way to find out would be to hit the buzzer, and that would definitely disturb the class. The teacher would have to get up and buzz me in, which I know means crossing the entire room, and stepping over people in downward dog. I deliberated for a bit, and decided that I just couldn't do it. See, there's that useless Canadian politeness coming in. I would have been mortified to interrupt the class, because I knew that it was my own fault for being late, so I chose to trade mortification for irritation, grumpiness, and stomping home.

2. Stupid useless walk signs that never say walk even though no cars are crossing in front of you.

It's true! There are walk signs - with little red, yellow and green man options - at most every corner, but they make you wait forever, even when all traffic seems to be going in the same direction as you intend to go. People ignore the red men all the time and just cross, and I try to do the same thing, but I still find myself looking both ways, never sure which way the traffic is actually coming from. I am not sure I will ever get over the instinct to look to my left first. Sometimes, when I am not feeling bold, I decide to wait for the green man to actually appear. It can take a really long time, no matter how many times you hit the "please let me cross" button. It makes you later for yoga.

3. People wearing big bags standing sideways who don't move in the aisle of stores even though they see you coming.

Ok, I grant the fact that this can happen in any city, but it is WAY worse here in Dublin. Stores and sidewalks are really narrow here, and there are lots of people, so one is always doing the two-step to try to get around. But people just don't seem to move! I swear I carry a field of energy around me that tells me someone is coming, so that I can make myself smaller, or hug in closer to the edge. Well, apparently that field does not exist here. People just stand in the middle of an aisle, slowly contemplating their purchases, and making no effort whatsoever to share the space. Do they not see me coming, I wonder? Is there something in the Dublin water that has wiped out peripheral vision? Or is space always at such a premium that if you can grab a little bit of it, you hold onto it for dear life? Of course, I could say 'excuse me,' but the phrase would soon become way too frequent in my vocabulary, and that peculiar brand of Canadian politeness prefers to use body language before verbal language. Oh ya, no one moves over on the sidewalks, either, but I found that at home as well. WTF is wrong with people?

 4. You have to buy the mixer separately from your booze.

Ok, I know this one is on a different topic, but I was sitting here thinking about what else irritates me (aren't I a productive little bunny), and I remembered this one. If you order a whiskey-soda in a bar, you have to pay for the whiskey and then the soda. This is just dumb. And expensive. And the bottle of soda is usually really tiny, which sucks. At least they call hard alcohol "spirits," which sounds uplifting. Oh, and while I am on the subject of soda water, it's frustrating that I can't buy it in cans. I swore off buying plastic-bottled water at home, but I love the bubbly, and I can only find it in plastic.

5. No one drinks ale.

While I'm on the subject of drinking, it's super irritating that no one drinks ale. I mean, we're in Ireland, folks - - what's up with the ubiquity of Carlsberg and Stella Artois, and, egads -- Budweiser -- on tap?! Smithwicks is a damn fine beer, and yes,  you can find it on tap in almost every pub. But hardly anyone drinks it, so it means that I have to drink stale crappy stuff that has been sitting around for a long time. I mean, I love the Guinness, but you can't drink that stuff all the time. Like, for instance, when you're thirsty.

6. The bus drivers don't give change.

I hardly take the bus, but this one is a pain. Now, you need exact change in Toronto as well, but in Toronto, the fare is the same no matter how far you are going. I'm not saying this is superior to charging based on how far you go, but I think if it's a mystery what you are going to have to pay each time you get on the bus, then the driver should provide change. Oh, they give you a little slip that you can redeem at this office on Merrion Square, but who wants to show up and say "Gimme my 10 cents"?! I've decided to walk everywhere, no matter how far. But then there's the little problem of nos. 2 and 3 above.

Ok, I got it out of my system. Oh, I know that I've forgotten many irritations, but I feel much better now, and will get back to work. I have to leave time to do yoga at home this evening, after all...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Of travel and things lost and found (and how to get from Toronto to Dublin in only 53 hours)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of 'coming home,' because I currently feel that I have two homes. I've never quite felt this way before, and perhaps it is because I am living, eating, and traveling alone so much of the time... In some ways, I've started to build a life here in Dublin, with friends, and a job, and bits and bobs of schedule and ritual. But it feels like an additional life. It is not a parallel one, nor simply a new one, but it feels like a life in addition to the one that I have in Canada. I have a collection of things that constitute a life in two different places, and oddly, these two lives feel almost mutually exclusive.

I've always associated the idea of 'home' (as distinct from 'house') with the people or person who lives there in that home, and when I go away and return, it is with that person, or to that person. Yet I return to no one in the house that is my home in Dublin. Still, the place is starting to collect the attributes of home. Four of my five livingroom plants survived my three-week absence. Or more accurately, they survived the indoor drought, and the coldest weather Ireland has seen in 40 years. It snowed more here than it did in Toronto over Christmas, and that is a real anomaly. One plant -- I suppose the most tropical of the lot, a once bushy and abundant deiffenbachia -- did not survive, and weeped at me as I stepped into my chilly living room:

I watered it well, but after a week it still looked pretty much the same, so I tossed it, and replaced it with a gorgeous flowering plant with blood-red leaves. I think I miss True Blood. Go big or go home: when something of great beauty leaves, try to fill the space with something even more beautiful. It's what the heart wants (and it matches my occasional chair, which sits right below the ledge).

I'm not sure that I am making any sense here, but my senses are all askew anyway, so what the hell...

I had quite the time returning to my new home -- my additional home --  here in Dublin. I left Toronto on Friday night, after having only slept for 4 hours the night before. I made a last minute visit to some friends in Toronto, got back to Oakville late, and then really couldn't get to sleep. Change is very difficult for me, but it's hilarious, really: here I am living change every day, but knowing I had to fly from one place to the next - from one home to another - did my head in, and no number of Kalil Gilbrain poems could lull me to lala land. My Dad and sister and I arrived at the airport fairly early, only to find that the lineup to the security area was pretty short. We hung out for a while in the cafe. Isn't it funny how airports create little cafe and restaurant spaces, like in the real world, when we all know that airports are just mirages where we touch down and depart for other places?

I include these pics as proof that I was already super tired before the whole transatlantic travel began, so that I can gain silent blog-reader sympathy for the ordeal that was to follow.

So... the flight was lovely, but I did feel a pang of jealousy at all those folks angle-parked in their little pods in Business class. I've never seen that kind of seating before -- Jetson-like seats which no doubt recline all of the way, providing the traveler with a restful red-eye experience. My communist side really rears up in these moments, as I ask why these particular people deserve such comfort, while the rest of us head-bob our way across the Atlantic, with pasty mouths and flaking skin. But then I clear my throat, and remind myself of all the jetfuel, and well, something like the situation in Haiti. Comparisons under capitalism are really useless.

We arrive in Heathrow, and I hear something about Dublin over the PA, but can't quite make it out. I go through eighteen levels of security, and then go to check into my BMI flight, only to find out that the Dublin airport is closed. I have to pick up my bags, and then come back to the counter to figure out what to do next. Off through the maze that is Heathrow, I feel thankful that, really, it's not going to be a big deal if I am delayed for a bit. I had the good sense to plan my travel for the weekend, so that I could get myself sorted before Monday. Not that I had anything in particular planned for Monday, but I was feeling the urge to get back to work. Too much free, unstructured time can be a bit difficult.

Retrieving the bags took only, oh, TWO HOURS, but I managed to meet some great folks who were in the same situation. In fact, in some cases, they were in a worse situation. Noel and Padraig, who had met on a plane back from Sydney, for example, had already been traveling for 36 hours. In the baggage room, standing by the belts that kept revolving and promising luggage, we bonded, and decided to face BMI together.

At the counter, we were told that the Dublin airport was closed because of weather conditions, but while they were saying this, Aer Lingus was making its final boarding call for a flight to Dublin. Hmmm, something fishy. As it turns out, the airport was now open, but BMI had no de-icers, so they had canceled all flights. What were we to do? Noel asked about flights to Cork and Shannon, but they were no-goes. I finally suggested Belfast, which I think is closer than either of those places, and, woo-hoo, there were flights available! The friendly staff at BMI booked us on a 6pm flight to Belfast, and off the six of us went to have some lunch, and figure out the best route from Dublin to Belfast. In the airport pub (another mirage...), we ate sandwiches, unwisely drank pints, and decided we'd try the train, but if it was too late, we'd split a cab. Noel was starting to look a little delirious from lack of sleep, and unknowingly, we were getting carried away with our North to South travel plans. Because when we left the pub and went to check in for our flight, we found out that it was canceled as well. Hmmm, back to the BMI counter.

No more flights for Saturday anywhere to the island, and not surprisingly, everything to Dublin for Sunday was full. Note to self: living on an island is trouble. While we were in the pub, dutifully waiting for our Belfast flight, other wayward travelers were arriving at Heathrow only to find that they couldn't get out that day. They filled up the Sunday flights. NOW what do we do? Lots of discussion and text messages. News that a huge storm was expected for Sunday. Shall we take a bus to the train to Wales to the ferry? I decided to cut my losses, and book a Dublin flight for Monday. Back to pick up the luggage that I had recently checked to Belfast. We had to undergo a full body frisk, and as the woman patted me down, I said something like "woo, this is the most fun I've had all day!"| She responded with something about how it would have been better if she were a tall, dark, and handsome guy, and really, I didn't want to break her bubble. How nice of her to have been playful in her response, when airport security folks can be so damn serious!

Steve, Joe, Noel and Padraig near the BMI counter, after finding out our Belfast flight was canceled.

It was easy for me to decide that I would just stay over in London and not pursue the god-awful-sounding ferry option, because my dear friend Sophie lives in London, and would be happy to put me up. No matter that she already had an Australian house guest. I figured we'd make a nice little mini-Commonwealth.

So on this trip, I lost a few days in Dublin, but I gained a few days in London. I lost a lot of sleep, but I gained the experience of meeting these other travelers, and maybe I'll even meet up with some of them back here in the Dub. I lost some money, but I gained a most magical weekend in London. I used to make fun of places that shut down after only a centimetre of snow, but I've backed off. I mean, they just do not have the infrastructure to deal with it. No ploughs. No grit. No shovels! No idea. I read that Dublin is importing a boat-load of salt to replenish its supplies. But, I think that they use this lack of infrastructure to their great advantage. Close all the schools! Shut down work! Relax and just be snowed-in! I've mentioned before in the blog how Dubliners seem to make the act of socialising an unequivocal part of their day, but it goes further: if there is an honest opportunity to turn it down a notch and enjoy family time, then take it! I realise I am conflating Dubliners with Londoners and that I could be lynched for this in certain circles, but ah well, the real comparison point is to North Americans...

When I arrived at Sophie's on Saturday night, I was kind of delirious from being awake, but I think I sat at the table and used language. The next day, we (including the lovely Australian traveler Josh) put on our woolies, and ventured to the market as soon as we got up (that was 1pm for me, holycrap).

Some very hearty vendors were outside, offering all sorts of delights: flatwhite espressos, organic fruits, pies and apples... I got a great espresso, and a delicious cheese toastie:


SF took some ghostly Polaroids, and headed home to scan them before the colour faded: he's not only using old cameras - he buys vintage film. Sophie, Josh and I decided to roam around Alexander Park and watch the tobogganers. Walking down the hill, we had to dodge a few. Not very experienced, you see.

The snow-travel was indeed a delight, but the real magic came back at the cosey flat, with blankets piled high, beautiful chili-chocolates passed around from bed to couch to settee, and great books at every turn. I devoured two of SF's novels in the afternoon, with great music playing in the background. We napped, we read, we spent silent time together...

All told, my little unexpected sojourn in London was the best possible thing I could have done to transition back to my additional life in Dublin, and I could never have planned it. It was a little moment out of time, filled only by time...