You are browsing the archive for 2009 December.

Gab Gab Gab

December 28, 2009 in dublin, Looking

From Johnnie Fox’s – a 211 year-old pub high up in the Dublin Mountains:

I believe this is what they mean by the Irish gift of the gab.

Christmas Crackers

December 22, 2009 in dublin, Ex-Patriate Games

I read a story written by one of my lecturers recently. It was about a family Christmas and in it, the mother bought two kinds of Christmas crackers – ones for the adults and ones for the kids. I was confused. Why would the kids need a different kind of cracker – were the adult ones made with crack instead of baking powder? Sean to the rescue: Christmas crackers are twists of shiny paper filled with a prize, so named because of the “crack” they make when opened. Two people grab either end and pull until the thing pops; the one who gets the larger end gets the gift inside. How fun. How insidious. They’re deemed Class One Explosives by the Anpost (Irish postal service). Terrorism, like. Explosions. Obviously. They couldn’t go in the holiday package.

Oh, well. It’s not as though there weren’t plenty of other things to buy. The nice thing about living abroad is that holiday gifts are simple to choose; just raid the local trad goods shops and you’re set. This year, Aran jumpers, Butler’s chocolates, and Fair Isles socks for the whole family. Should help them deal with that cray-cray New York blizzard.

File:Green Aran Sweater.JPG

Snow flurries in Dublin, holiday shopping madness on Grafton Street, mince pies sold everywhere, and apparently I can drink quite a lot of hot port without getting drunk.

The Call

December 19, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games

While I was growing up, I was sent to Catholic school in hopes that religion would take. While it never did, I remember being powerfully impressed by one particular idea when I was a child – The Call. 

“It’s a message from God,” said my 2nd grade teacher. “When God wants you to become a nun or a priest, you receive a call to do so. When you accept, you will enter a life of servitude to God.” 

Oh please, oh, please, I thought, don’t let me get that call. 

And for weeks, I flinched each time the phone rang. 

There’s a different kind of Call that strikes terror in my heart now. As I get older and as I stay longer and longer away from home, the mere thought of the Bad News Call can send tears rushing to my eyes. It’s bound to happen at some point. No one escapes it. It is the Expatriate’s Nightmare. 

When I first made plans to move to Japan, a number of my acquaintances said: “I’d like to do that, but I love my family too much.” As if I don’t. As if the mere act of leaving heightens the chance that something terrible will happen. The reason religion never took with me is because I don’t believe in the supernatural. No one in my family is going to get hurt because I choose to experience a new culture. Speaking in religious terms, that would be punishment for … what? A hankering for authentic exotic foods? No. I know nothing will happen to people I love because I’m far away, but as time continues to pass, I realize that I’ve experienced very few such Calls in my life and that it’s only a matter of time before  I do receive one. I know that if something does happen, being far away will make it much harder. Feelings of guilt for not being there; have I been selfish after all? Fear that I won’t make it back in time; will I lose my position here? I can only imagine that long plane ride – heading home yet sealed off from home, alone in a crowd with your grief. 

A word of advice to all readers who have friends and family members living abroad: ingrain the time difference in your head and never, ever call at odd hours. You have no idea what a random call during the work day or, worse, the middle of the night, can do to us. The reason I’m even writing this post is because I got such a call at dawn this morning – an Unknown Number. I don’t know who it was because I was too groggy to find my phone in time. They didn’t call back. I’ve been awake ever since. 

It could have been a drunken wrong number. It probably was. And if it was really The Call, I’m sure they would have kept trying. But I won’t be calm until I know for sure that everyone’s okay.

On This Day in Dublin, 12 December 2009

December 13, 2009 in On This Day in Dublin

A group of rowdy teenagers is singing loudly on the top deck of the double-decker 74 bus into City Centre. Their voices float down in ecstatic screams as they switch the program from Christmas carols to Beyonce hits and, shockingly, to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” They might be drunk. They might be 13-16; hard to say when they’re up on the top deck and the rest of the bus passengers are on the bottom. Some passengers chuckle good-naturedly,  some grunt in annoyance as the teens shriek over each other, a jumble of mumbled lyrics and styles. Up on the top deck, they can see none of this. They wouldn’t care anyway – they’re having the time of their lives. 


Female bus passenger: Which do you think is their worse crime – singing off-key or singing “Barbie Girl”?

Male bus passenger: What little wankers. Knackers, the lot of them!

Female bus passenger: Oh, lay off. Think about how much fun they’re having. In 15 years, this will be a great memory for them.

Male bus passenger: Not if I go up there with my stick. 

The teens switch from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” to “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer.” They sing the version with the call back chant: “… you might even say it glows (like a lightbulb!).” When they reach the final line – You’ll go down in history! – the voices clash again. One girl says “Like Elvis!” Another yells “Who?” And another still says, “No, it’s George Washington!”

Damn straight.

On This Day in Dublin, 11 December 2009

December 11, 2009 in On This Day in Dublin

Yep. People are still mad about The Budget. But at least South Park’s on at 10.

What Good is Sitting All Alone in Your Room?

December 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

You know how it goes. Move abroad, start making glittering plans for all of the new international trips you’re going to take. After all, Thailand/Russia/Peru were never so close before! Then: Work. Life. School. Life. Work. School. Or in my case: School. School. School. 

You wouldn’t think that having class for only 6 hours a week would be very demanding. It’s not, because we’re meant to be writing the rest of the time. There is an old Georgian home open to us to use as our writing center. We’re there at the computers for hours, sipping tea and working on our workshop and anthology submissions.

In the writing center, it goes like this:

  • Insert flash drive
  • Read book reviews in The Guardian, NYT, and the Irish Times
  • Type. 
  • What’s the right adjective?
  • Wait. Too many adjectives are a sign of a weak writer.
  • What’s the right verb?
  • More tea. Lunch – soup from Insomnia or a piece of foccaccia from Carluccio’s?
  • How do I solve this narrative problem?
  • Oh my god – is this story I’ve been working on for years actually just a retelling of A Christmas Carol?
  • Everything I write is childish drivel
  • Actually, this part might be all right. 
  • I didn’t mean to insert a symbol there, but somehow, one appeared. It works. 
  • I don’t like the way this sounds – delete.
  • Are you really deleting that whole paragraph?
  • I’m not, just moving it over … here.
  • Remove flash drive
  • Wait – did I save? 
  • Sonofagrinch.

In the workshops, it goes like this:

  • ego inflates
  • ego deflates. 
  • Repeat. 

That’s what it’s like getting your master’s in Creative Writing. 

Anyway, last weekend I finally got a chance to make a weekend trip to the Continent. Two wet, gray days in Berlin, that left me hankering for more – more days, more photo-worthy sunshine, more schnitzel, more time spent hunting down landmarks that reminded me of Cabaret. Just more impetus to return. 

There was a train station that looked like this: 

Trash cans that looked like this:

A dinner that looked like this:

A snack that looked like this: 

(that’s currywurst – sausage slathered in ketchup and curry powder).

Street signs that looked like this: 

A commemorative checkpoint that looked like this: 


Two days, a two hour flight, and we’re back to tea and writing.

Your 84-Word Mini Berlin Culture Lesson

December 10, 2009 in Looking

There is an extensive railway system – underground U-bahns and rapid transit S-bahns. You buy a ticket to ride at a machine near the entrance of the station, and then you take the ticket to another machine on the train tracks to validate it. 
There are no barricades between the ticket machine and the validation machine. There are also no barricades between the validation machine and the train itself. Officials rarely come to check to see if tickets have been validated. 
That’s all I’m going to say about that.