Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I'm so old

I'd bought some fake logs ("logs" made of sawdust and wax) for the fireplace for Thanksgiving dinner and liked having a fire so much that I bought some more last night. Plus, it was absolutely freezing last night, so it was the perfect time. I pulled one of the couches as close to the fireplace as I dared, and sat there, knitting, with the cat on my lap, for hours. I had some wine, but now it occurs to me that hot chocolate would have been ideal.

I always aspired to growing old disgracefully, but so far it hasn't happened yet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I also quite like London

Ha, this blog is like A Tale of Two Cities! Except not at all, really.

I spent last weekend in London, for my November trip. I flew in on Friday early evening (Aer Lingus into Heathrow, as I like to avoid Ryanair whenever possible) and flew out late Sunday night (BMI, first time I've flown them, and they were quite okay). I've been to London maybe half a dozen times before (although never for more than a few days at a time, unfortunately) and did most of the touristy things the first couple times, so now I go there usually with something specific in mind to see or do, in addition to the random wandering about. It occurred to me more than once throughout this trip that I wouldn't at all mind living in London.

This time, my mission was threefold: 1) find a good bowl of pho; 2) see the Chihuly exhibit at Kew Gardens; and 3) visit Loop, a yarn shop that I'd heard had just opened in Islington . (It's getting seriously cold, and my knitting activity is inversely proportional to the temperature.)

The yarn shop I found by looking up British knitting groups on-line and the pho I found by asking on the Lonely Planet message boards. It turns out there is a cluster of Vietnamese restaurants in Shoreditch on and around Kingsland Rd. We passed a few quite promising looking ones and settled into Song Que, a longish trek from Old Street tube station. It was a good choice. The pho was great- I'd forgotten how much I missed the stuff, and the whole meal with drinks was about GBP10 each, so cheap as well.

The yarn shop was small, but lovely. They had a smaller selection of yarn that I am used to (their whole collection would barely take up one free-standing display case at Weaving Works) but everything they carried was beautiful. I couldn't find the Debbie Bliss cotton in the color I wanted (I'm in the middle of a wavy pattern scarf and ran out of yarn) but I did buy some very soft kid mohair that I'm planning to do something in a lacy, open-work pattern with. Not sure what yet. The best part about the yarn shop, though, was getting to it. It's in Islington and and I took the tube to Angel station and walked to the shop. And discovered a great neighborhood in the process. I passed by merchants packing up stalls from what must have been an antiques and second-hand merchandise market. I was sorry that I didn't make the trek out earlier in the day, 'cause a lot of the stuff still out looked quite interesting and browsable. There were lots of little independent shops as well, which is a nice change from the chains. We stopped at a cozy looking pub for a quick pint (of bitter, since it's harder to find that in Dublin) before dinner. This was one of those times when I felt I could really enjoy living in London.

The Chihuly exhibit at Kew (I know, all way across continents just to see Chihuly) was totally awesome. I mean, yeah, glass art is just sort of inherently pretty and cool, and Chihuly's stuff definitely as a large "wow" factor, and there were lots of pieces at Kew that showed that off. The bits I liked best, though, were the simpler sculptures. The best ones were pieces where the glass mirrored or copied the shapes and colors of the plants around it. There were a couple times we stopped to admire a plant or to touch the leaves, and didn't even notice for a long time that the "plant" next to it was one of the glass sculptures. The other installation I liked was the blue and white "Heron", where the glass pieces, blown into shapes reminiscent of herons and long-necked birds, were put into one of the lily ponds. We had only intended to spend two or three hours at Kew and then spend the rest of the day at Camden Market (highly recommended by some friends) but we liked it so much we spent the whole day there and only left when they closed. That's okay, that means Camden will make the perfect excuse for going back.

Monday, November 14, 2005

And you know what else?

I totally dig the Saturday market in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar. Organic fruit and veg, a crepe stand, a French baker's stall, a chick who sells flowers of the kind that you would actually grow (sweet peas, wildflowers) instead of your fake-looking standard hothouse lilies and roses, two cheesemongers, a few butchers and plenty of other stands filled with food you can buy to bring home or eat right there.

The absolute best thing, though, is that it's open during decent hours. Now, I'm as excited about farmer's markets and local produce as the next person, but who the hell wants to get up at the butt crack of dawn on a weekend to rush to the market? That's just positively uncivilized! On a Saturday or Sunday morning, you want to stay in bed at least a couple hours past when you'd have to get up for work during the normal drone week. Then lie around, maybe read the paper, have your first cup of tea or coffee, then make your way leisurely out of the house and have a pleasant stroll to the market. Who the hell wants to get up while it's practically still dark out, shivering and tired and sleepwalk to the market so you can get there before all the good tomatoes get snapped up? I mean, Jesus, no wonder most people take what they can get at Safeway.
The Temple Bar market, however! Now they know what's up. I get there between noon and three most times, and it's still swinging. The workers at the big veg and fruit stall that anchors the market are still bringing out fresh stuff, the chick who works at the baker's stall is still reinforcing her wall of bread at her table, the guy who sells cereals, grains and dried fruit still has his sacks of product half full. If you get there at three, there's still a good couple hours of browsing and buying. At the places I tried (rarely) in Seattle, stalls were packing up as I got there in the early afternoon. It makes no sense.

The only way they could impove upon this market is to open it on Sundays, too. But I won't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

And now for something completely different

Since the last Dublin post was a whinge, this one shall be a rave.

I love the Georges Street Arcade. It's awesome. For one thing, it's just a great building- all red brick and little turrets. Mostly, though, it's because the teeny shops in there are a great relief from the British high street chains on Grafton St. When you get tired of the endless sameness of Next, M&S, River Island and whatnot (and you get tired of them quickly), you can pop into the Arcade and find shops selling, among many other things, heaps of ethnic silver jewelry, piercing jewelry, hippy-dippy "oriental" clothes, funky alterna-wear, used CDs and books, secondhand German military jackets, cheap Chinese copies of the trendy clothes you see elsewhere, organic foodstuffs, handmade soap and a stall selling nothing but cool hats. It's just great all around.

The second time I was in Dublin, I wandered in while strolling around the city centre and was totally excited at what I found. The next time I was in Dublin, for the job interview, I tried to find the place again, but no luck. (I have absolutely no head for directions, so I had no clue where it was, except that you could get to it from a side street off Grafton.) When I moved here to live, I made it a quest one weekend to find it. Now, I'm happy to see that some new stalls and shops have opened, but I'm sad that one of the guys selling used books is gone.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Holy rusted metal

Now, I'm all about the Firefly- I left work early yesterday so's I could get as many episodes in as possible before going to bed. I managed eight episodes and would have finished the whole series if it wasn't for the need for an early start this morning.

However, much as I'm loving the Firefly, I have to say: Joss! What the hell were you thinking with that theme song?! It's horrific! It's so cheesy it makes triple-creme brie seem like microwaved Velveeta. Now, maybe you thought you'd just take the Western theme the whole way with the cheesy Western theme song? Is that it? Maybe you wrote it specifically to be really bad and cheeserific? That's what I'm gonna think, because surely you didn't think it was good?

Reading: Nuthin'. Knitting. Can't read and knit and watch DVDs at the same time, dammit.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Mmmm...Joss Whedon

I borrowed the Firefly DVDs off a friend, 'cause I semi-wanted to see Serenity, and was advised to watch the series first. And damn! They're good. I watched the first disc last night and was only barely able to stop myself from going right on through the night. But I tell ya, I'm glad I didn't have to sleep alone after watching about those Reavers. Scary.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Mildly frustrating

Okay, I usually try not to do the bitching about Ireland that a lot of people here do, 'cause I think one should be generous with one's host country and, besides, what's the point of moving somewhere else if I expect it to be just like home? However, there are a few little things that I feel I'm justified in whinging about.

For a country that managed to turn itself from one of the poorest to one of the richest nations in Europe (hey, highest standard of living in 2005, according to The Economist!) mostly by luring in high tech companies, it sure is a little strange that, high tech-wise, Ireland is 5-10 years behind. And I'm not talking about the big life-changing things- I'm sure the hospitals here have the latest machinery, and I know the universities are fairly well-equipped. I'm talking about the little things that make my life just a teeny bit more difficult.
For example: the Dublin public transportation system. Look as long as you want, there is no page on their website that will show you a map of the bus routes superimposed on a street map of Dublin. The web site shows you what neighborhoods the various routes go to. That's it. However, this is not surprising, because even if you went to the Dublin Bus offices, there are no such maps. There are maps of some of the neighborhoods with the bus routes, but why they can't make a big one with all of Dublin on it and put it on-line, I don't know. There isn't even a little cartoon of what streets the buses go down and what the cross streets are. The information on the poles at the actual bus stops are less than useless: they simply ugly up the street. And on-line trip planning? Ha!
Example two: high speed internet access is a joke. You can get broadband if you have an Eircom land line. The resulting connection is, I'm told, barely adequate. The land line costs you €40/month and the broadband is €30. If you are unlucky enough to move into a place that did not have an existing land line, Eircom will happily charge you upwards of €100 to put one in. If you don't want to pay the exorbitant sums Eircom insists on, then you could go for one of two other choices. For both, the coverage is patchy at best (doesn't even cover all of Dublin, for Pete's sake) and will randomly cut out on you.

None of this is horrible. Mostly the solutions involve my having to walk a little bit further or to have to stop by an office and talk to someone rather than do what I want over the computer. But I'd gotten too used to being able to do practically everything from the comfort of home. Perhaps it's just as well that this kind of thing forces me to move my ass out of my chair, huh?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Find something else to talk about, people!

Everyone else has linked to this article, so I may as well: excerpts from NYTimes columnist Maureen Dowd's upcoming book Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide. Okay, listen up, people, it was entertaining for a while, but I am now sick and tired of books, articles, blogs, movies, TV shows, and other crap purporting to report and comment on how difficult it is for the "modern woman" to hunt, find and catch a husband and then, if the stars are aligned and they get that magical band around their fingers, how to balance a career and family. I am convinced that the authors/producers/directors/whatever of these cliches masquerading as commentary with real insight live in some alternate universe. Okay, so you and your two buddies, one a high-powered Wall Street trader and the other an interior designer who counts Julia Roberts as one of her clients, are having trouble finding "Mr. Right". Maybe you're too good at your job and you're scaring them off? You were told that you should always let the man pay because otherwise you're not feminine enough? And once you find this magical person and somehow manage to reproduce (after rounds of IVF treatments at $10K a pop, of course, which you will write about in Salon), should you cut back on your work hours, or just quit entirely? After all, it's not like that law degree that you spent 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on is worth anything, really, compared to the Miracle of Motherhood and Being There to see the little snot-nosed brat take his first shit in the plastic potty, right?

What universe do you live in?! Most women, wives and mothers have to work because two incomes are necessary just to pay the damned mortagage. Many people married their college or high school sweethearts because they fell in love with the pimply-faced, gangly dude who made them rice crispies bars in their dorm kitchens, not because they want to be wined and dined by property magnates in shiny Prada suits. Many women have normal jobs, that pay somewhat less than decently, and they meet their dates at the local bar with the sticky floor; they get taken to the Olive Garden and make random chitchat. But of course, you! Jesus, how difficult your life must be! Those sample sales are a killer, aren't they? Those charity balls and book signings just get soooo tedious, and the men you meet there keep giving you mixed signals and never respond to your e-mails, anyway. Shut up! Just shut up! The only people who live like you and share your experiences are your buddies at those press junkets. You comprise maybe 0.2% of the population and have 10% of the wealth. The first couple of books and movies and whatnot were entertaining in a "Hey, see how stupid and miserable the rich people are" way, but now it's just getting insulting and, worst of all, boring.

Reading: Alice Sebold's Lucky: A Memoir, and the Susanna Clarke.