Sunday, January 31, 2010

A New Season, A Familiar Hike

Yesterday on the radio (I've been streaming 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 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...