Monday, June 05, 2006

The Plan

Right. So. It's been formally agreed. I'm staying at work here until the end of October. It turned out to be easier to get an extension for my work permit than I'd thought, so I figured it'd be good if I racked up at least two full years here. We tacked on an extra couple months, 'cause some equipment has just arrived, and those extra two months may be productive for me. So, it's been agreed, and the people in lab know and our collaborators in other labs know.

Now, here's my Plan. I finish end of October, and instead of starting another job right away, why not spend some time travelling? I always feel vaguely guilty taking large chunks of vacation time while I'm working, even if I'm entitled. Plus, this way, I can go for as long as I have money, instead of being constrained by my 23 vacation days. Not that money's going to last longer than 23 days, mind.

Anyway, so I figure a couple months. Where? Well, November and December are miserable and wintery here, so the perfect time for the southern hemisphere. I'd always wanted to go down there, but the flights are so damn long that it's not worth it for shorter trips, so two months seems like it'd be great. I'm thinking Hong Kong, Vietnam, New Zealand, and maybe Australia. I was thinking two weeks in each, unless I skip Australia, in which case, three weeks in each. I don't plan to do much travelling once I get to each place. I think I want to rent a place for a week each or so, see the sights in a leisurely way, and spend most of my afternoons lying around drinking foofy pastel-coloured drinks and reading. Also eating. Lots and lots of eating. I may have accommodation with a friend in Hong Kong, which would be great. In New Zealand, I think I may want to do a camping/hiking trip. But that would mean buying camping equipment, and carrying it around. Hmm...maybe I can rent them once I get there?

The big question is: how much money is this going to cost? I'm over the hostel thing, so I'm not staying at the most basic budget accommodation anymore. It'll have to be a level above shared bathrooms and drunk 19-year-old Australians coming back into the room reeking of smoke at 3 in the morning. If I have a free place in Hong Kong, that would be great, as it's an expensive city. If I don't have a place to stay in HK, then I might stay less time there and more in Vietnam, where it's cheaper. I might also skip Australia altogether and spend more time in New Zealand, where it may be slightly cheaper with the camping and such.

The upshot is that I'm supposed to be saving money these next few months. I think my plan is to not do any travelling outside of Ireland until November, and I'm cutting down my restaurant-going to once a week. These things are good anyway, because the first gives me a perfect excuse to see more of Ireland before I leave it, and the second means I can look up restaurants I like and can book ahead rather than going to just any old place, or Yamamori yet again, because I'm hungry and can't be bothered to go home and cook. The third prong of attack in my money-saving scheme is to start bringing lunch into work more often (or at all, actually), but I'm not sure how that's going to work out. Let's be realistic here, I'm still a lazy cow.

Yay! I'm so excited.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Huh, what'd you know?

Icelanders are not nearly as tall, blond, and skinny as I'd been led to believe.

Nice when stereotypes are disproven, isn't it?

I hasten to add that not being as tall, blond and skinny as we'd all thought doesn't mean that many of them are any less beautiful. But every single person we saw below the age or 30 or so was so cool and hip (but not trendy, obviously; they're way too cool to care what the current trends are) that it hurt us, as mere mortals, to be among them in the bars of Reykjavik.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Two things

1: Although digital cameras are certainly handy, I have to say that I don't like having to go to my computer to look at the pictures. I want actual, physical pictures, which I can keep in a box, sort through on a rainy afternoon, leave fingerprints on, actually frame and display (Shocking thing to do with photographs, I know). I know that digital cameras make it easier to share your photos with other people, but then what? Great for other people, but what about me?!

And, yes, I know I can get them printed, but given that I can just barely remember to bring my camera when I travel, what're the chances that I'll actually go and get them printed up?

2: I told my boss that I will not be renewing my contract after it ends this year. I thought I had 'til August, but it turns out that my actual work permit ends in mid-July, so I'll be unemployed by August. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Find another job, obviously. But if I don't manage to get one by mid-July, can I still stay in Ireland for the 60 or 90 days that normal tourists are allowed? I don't know. Also, I found out that I very likely qualify for a highly-skilled migrant visa to the UK. It'll allow me to live and work in the UK without needing a work permit and job offer from any specific employer. The UK wants to attract skilled migrants (the unskilled ones they can get from the new, poorer EU states) and the visa program works on a points system: x number of points for college degrees, y number of points for age (the younger, the better). If your points add up to above a certain number, you're in. I'm not sure how long it takes to get one, and I'm not sure if I can apply from outside my home country. It's an idea, though.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Marrakesh trip report, part the last

Oh, who am I kidding? There's no way I'm going to write a day-by-day trip report. I can barely summon up the energy to write a paragraph. Plus, I'm never sure who the hell is interested in lengthy, detailed vacation reports. I mean, it's basically an indulgence for the writer, isn't it? Like, oooh, look what I did. I guess it's useful if you're planning to go to the same place(s) and can therefore learn something useful. Anyway, so no long trip report. Instead, I'll just show you the pictures, which will be something completely different, coming from me, huh?
This is the Place Djemaa el Fna, the main square. Although it's not at all square-shaped. These are mainly the food stalls in the middle.

This is the centre courtyard of the Musee de Marrakesh, which is an old building they'd renovated in the '90's. I think it used to be some big house. I didn't pay enough attention to the explanatory pictures. They did it up really nicely, though. That huge chandelier thingy is all metal and meticulously filigreed. It's crazy. It must be really heavy.

They'd put couches and chairs around, and it was actually really nice to just sit in the cool, shaded courtyard, listen to the fountains bubbling and stare in awe at the tile and plasterwork.

Speaking of tilework: this is the fountain at the entrance to the Ensemble Artisanal in the medina. The Ensemble Artisanal is the government-run craft shops, where there are price stickers on everything, and no one hassles you to buy things. It's a relief after the endless hard sell in the souks.

The centre courtyard of the Medersa Ben Yusef, an old, old Koranic school. Those little arched windows are from the dorm rooms, where they used to pile as many students as they could into.

Fish in one of the ponds at the Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden, full of palms, cacti and other palnts Majorelle had collected and brought to Marrakesh. Gorgeous, gorgeous colours everywhere.

Lily pond and the Musee de l'art Islamique at the Jardin Majorelle. That blue they use everywhere in the garden is crazy gorgeous.

If we'd manage to catch it at a less busy time, the garden would be a great place to just sit and spend a quiet afternoon in. Even so, we managed to spend a couple hours there admiring everything.

Outside the city: we took a day to go up to the Atlas mountains to walk around and see what's up. To split the cost of the cab up to the mountains, Thierry, our riad owner, asked around to see if any of the other guests wanted to make the trip. Dominique, a French woman in Marrakesh for the week by herself, agreed to come with us. Her level of English was about our level of French, so you can imagine how well that turned out. The most embarrassing bit was when we realized we'd have to use our Moroccan guide to translate between us, because he, of course, spoke Arabic, French and English (and probably Berber, too). But actually, we got along pretty well, and spent a couple of very pleasant evenings at the riad with her and Abdeghani (I'm sure I'm spelling his name wrong), Thierry's Moroccan second-in-command. It was actually the first time in forever that I felt comfortable enough to practice some French.

But here are some pictures of our trip out to the Ourika Valley in the High Atlas.

This is why Marrakesh is called the Red City. Their buildings and walls are a distinctive red/pink colour. And why not? They're just taking their cue from the mountains around the city.

It turns out the Boy had never actually seen a snow-covered mountain before. Isn't that silly?

And what use is mountain scenery without some waterfalls?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Marrakesh trip report, Part One

First: I am totally totally sick. Maybe something I caught in Morocco, or on one of the planes back? Pah.

So the Limey and I went to Marrakesh over the St. Patrick's Day weekend. Parades full of American high school marching bands? Crowds of drunk people stumbling around the city? Pubs too full to even contemplate squeezing yourself into? Nah, we thought, let's leave. So Morocco it was. A good choice, too, because the day before we left, it was snowing in Dublin, and every day we were in Marrakech, it was 24-25C. So hah!

We flew to Marrakesh from Gatwick on Atlas Blue, part of Royal Air Maroc. Our original plan was to leave on Friday and come back on Wednesday, and thus still have two days of work the week we came back. However, Atlas Blue canceled our flight back, and booked us onto the next one, which was great- an extra day!- but then we thought, Hang on, what's the point of just coming back to work for Friday? We should have just taken Friday off as well, and stayed a whole extra weekend! But, no, it was too late.

We arrived in Marrakesh at around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. The arrivals hall, for some reason, didn't have an ATM, and we had no Moroccan money. (The bureau de change was having a field day, though.) I had done some research beforehand and was convinced there was an ATM in the airport. So, after asking around, in bumbling French, we were told there's an ATM in the other terminal, which we couldn't see because it was behind a construction site. So we manage to get some money. We leave the terminal and approach the taxi stands with some trepidation, as I'd been warned that the Moroccan taxi drivers will totally try to rip tourists off. A taxi driver comes up to us and asks where we're going and we say the medina (the old town) and how much would that be? 120 Dirhams. Ha! I say No, how about 30? He is in total disbelief and points us toward the posted sign for taxi fares into town. It says the medina for 60 Dh. So I'm like, fine, 60 Dh for the trip. And he says, No no, 60 Dh per person. Which is total crap. We point out that the sign is obviously for grandes taxis, which charge per trip. He still insists it's per person. So we say, Fine, we'll try the taxis back in the arrivals area, where there are more people about and where they might not try to so blatantly rip us off. As we leave, another taxi dude comes up to us and says he'll take us to the medina for 80 Dh, total. Still a rip-off, but since I was expecting to pay 60 Dh, a tourist tax of 20 doesn't sound that bad. So we agree and get in the taxi (which has no sign of a meter, by the way). At which point, the other taxi drivers start getting riled up that someone's come along and busted up their price-fixing scam. The original driver asked us how much this one was charging, and the other drivers are clearly less than gruntled at this development. But, anyway, we drive off. We ask the driver if there's some problem back there, and he says No. Oookay.

We pull up to Bab Taghzout, one of the old city gates that are dotted about the medina. We're instantly surrounded by a pack of kids, asking us for "un dirham, un stylo, un bon-bon." We're, like, No, we're not giving you any money or pens or candy. We don't have any. One of the older ones (mid-teens?) asks where we're staying, and we say Dar Zouar, and he starts leading the way to the place (we had been given a map, but it was, uh, less than crystal clear, although we'd probably have been able to find it, given the chance). At the door of the riad, the kids once again start their cacophony of demands for gifts, and the oldest one asks for something for guiding us to the riad. We're like, Dude! We have a map! Anyway, after spending some time telling the kids (in bad French) that we had no change or presents to give them, we get into the riad, where it is blissfully quiet and still.
This is a picture of the riad from the rooftop terrace. You can see some of the centre courtyard and the first floor. Our room is on the first floor, on the left in this picture. You can see one of our windows and just a bit of our door. The place is an old Moroccan house that the French owner had bought and restored. There are only five rooms, and the whole thing is done up really really nicely.The terrace had lots of seating, with some areas shaded. The courtyard had couches and a small table where they've just started serving breakfast, because the weather is getting warm enough. Lots of plants everywhere, which is nice. There's even a house cat, who basically sleeps on all the couches and anything cushioned, and fights off the other cats on the terrace.

We had some mint tea and a talk with the owner about where we should go and what we'd like to see. Then we went up to our room, unpacked, and rested a bit.

At about 6 or 7-ish, we decide to try to find the big square, the Djemaa el Fna, which everybody said must be seen at night. It was obvious we were going to get quite lost. The medina consists of lots of teeny lanes and alleys, none of which run straight for very long and almost all of which are not named or marked, either on the streets themselves, or on any of the maps we had. If I was by myself, I would not have attempted this at night. But the Limey has a solid sense of direction, so we set off. Happily, the kids seemed to have lost interest in us, since they mostly ignored us or just said hi as we passed.

We were staying in the northern end of the medina, which isn't a touristy part, so the area we passed by on our way to the Djemma el Fna was fairly laid-back, compared to the bits right around the square. It mostly had teeny storefronts, with a counter right at the street and goods piled around them. Lots of people selling the flat round loaves of bread the Moroccans eat all the time. Lots of shops selling the long hooded robes both men and women wear. The traffic on these teeny lanes was just crazy. Motorbikes, bicycles, donkey- and man-drawn carts, pedestrians, actual cars when the road was wide enough, all going at ludicrous speeds down swervy, uneven streets, with no sidewalks, obviously. I am amazed that I wasn't mown down by a motorbike, given the number of times I had to turn a corner without being able to see what was coming down the other way.

By basically following any path south, we actually manage to get to the Djemaa el Fna without getting hopelessly lost. You can sort of tell when you get close to the square, because the stalls start getting spangly and shinier and obviously catering to tourists. Also, while most people on our walk down ignored us and went about their business, nearer to the square, the shopowners started more aggressively trying to get us to stop and look at their wares, which is a little annoying, but okay. I can pretty much do the smile-shake head-say Non, merci-and keep walking thing, but the Limey cannot just ignore someone, and would actually stop when people called to us and then he'd stand there forever saying No, we don't want to buy we're not interested in any leather at the, thanks, really... I'm all like, don't stop and talk to them! We'll never get anywhere! Eventually, I think he learned and just started ignoring people, like I did. He feels uncomfortable doing it, but there's really no other way.

We get to the square and it really is crazy. It's not actually square-shaped at all, quite randomly shaped, actually. But there are people everywhere! There are stalls set up (these are clearly made to be mobile and set up every night- during the day, the square is nearly empty) selling glasses of freshly squeeze orange juice (3 Dh (30 cents) and sooooo good; I guess there are many pluses to having orange trees growing everywhere around town); teeny glasses of a hot, spicy ginseng-based tea, which the Limey got totally addicted to; a row of stalls sold bowls of stewed snails, where they give you toothpicks to pick the snails out of the shells (they were kinda interesting- unlike the butter-and-garlic smothered French things, these were more lightly flavoured and you could therefore actually taste snail; weird, but not in a bad way, though the Limey refused to kiss me after I ate them until I washed everything down with some orange juice); lots and lots of carts selling dried fruit and nuts; some stalls sold herbs and spices. In the center were the food stalls. Dozens of places, some with just a centre cooking part with some benches, others with more elaborate spreads of food and lots of benches set up in a dining area. Here the waiters and stall workers spend part of ther time trying to get people to stop and eat at their stalls, and we made one of them very happy by taking them up on their offer. We sat down and they put two of the flat round loaves of bread in front of us, with little dishes of olives, a tomato salad and a spicy pepper sauce. I ask for some fish and the Limey asks for lamb. I get a plate of fried fish, which is okay, and the Limey gets half a dozen skewers of grilled lamb, which were apparently quite good. They charged us 80 Dh (€8, which is total tourist pricing).

After dinner, we walk around the square some more. At the south-western-ish end of it, there are people playing some sort of drums, as well as story-tellers (in Arabic, so no clue), snake charmers, henna artists, and basically all kinds of street theatre. It's crazy. We stop for some spicy tea, walk around some more, then stop for some orange juice. When we got a bit tired of being asked for money, we decide to try to get back to the riad before it was very late, since we knew we'd have to allow time for getting lost. And yup, we totally got lost. Luckily, although most of the stalls and shops had closed up at around 9:30, there were still plenty of people in the streets at 10, so we stopped by a shop and asked for directions. I think we got back to the riad at 10:30 or so. Plenty of time to clean ourselves up and crash into bed.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New continent! Yay!

Just got back from Marrakech. Totally, totally crazy city. Have pictures somewhere. Will write more later.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It's contagious!

So the other day, I was sitting around crocheting an edge onto a sweater. Just the really simple crochet chain stitch, or whatever they call it. I don't really actually know how to crochet; I just learned enough to do this to stabilize some edges on my knitting. Looking through the huge-ass needleworks book that's the most useful present I've ever received, the Limey, who was just around to drop off some of my stuff, have a cup of tea, then go home to nurse his cold, sees the crochet section and says, hey, this looks cool and pretty easy- just one needle! Could he borrow my crochet hook? So I give him the (my only) hook and the book open to the crochet section. Two hours, the whole mug of tea and some cake later, he's still sitting around trying to get it right! Eventually he left, but not without taking the crochet hook and some practice yarn with him. The next day, he tells me he was up 'til the wee hours of the morning trying to get this crochet thing down. Then, yesterday while I was browsing the library for knitting books, I come across the Crochet Stitch Bible, which I show the Limey, who immediately insists that I check it out for him.

This morning, he announces that he has mastered the chain stitch, the single and double crochet stitches.

Ha! I should start warning all my co-workers.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Two recent obsessions

I have in the past couple of months become totally and inexplicably obsessed with two things:

1. Really nice underwear; and
2. knitting

(And I will pre-empt your comments by saying, right now: No, I'm not going to knit my own underwear.)

Now, obsession #2 is kind of a continuation of a knitting phase that started in Seattle, and which had been in dormancy for the past couple years, only to flare up again a couple months ago. However, whereas in Seattle, I was merrily knitting a couple hours a week, doing things like simple hats and scarves and basically using knitting as an excuse to fondle soft fuzzy skeins of yarn, here, I think of nothing else all day except for how much knitting I can get done that evening, after work (with some brain time set aside for obsession #1). While at work, I spend all my time on and knitting pattern central, among countless other websites of knitting patterns and techniques. And it's embarrasing how many on-line yarn sellers I've browsed through. With yarn shops so thin on the ground in Dublin, I'm reduced to drooling over yarn on the web, which at least keeps the yarns more hygienic. I'm thinking of flying over to London again in a couple of weekends, to visit the yarn shops there. I only got to one last time. I'm also entertaining a trip to Galway, 'cause I read somewhere on the web that there's a new yarn store in town. This weekend, I corralled the Limey into driving me out to a soulless commercial/industrial estate in feckin' Walkinstown, for Christ's sake (no, there's no need for any of you to know where that is) because Springwools is there. I bought 6 balls of a cashmere/cotton/angora blend that I don't even know what the hell I'm going to do with. I also ran out of the lovely GGH Soft Kid (which I'd bought in London last time) about 12 rows from finishing a cardigan I started on last week, so I went to to buy another ball. (12 rows! And you just KNOW the new ball is going to be from a different dye lot, and my lovely soft mohair cardigan will look like I spilled tea on the top few inches.) And while on the website, I thought, Well, it's silly paying all that shipping and handling just for one ball of yarn, isn't it? So I ordered 5 skeins of a lovely yellow wool that I also don't know what the hell I'm going to do with. I went to all three of the biggest bookshops in town on Sunday, to see if their stash of knitting books had expanded at all in the last week. (No, they hadn't.)

Now, obsession #1 is a surprise for me. I mean, up 'til December or so, my idea of great underwear was the cotton ones my mom had bought for me in a 25-pack at one of those Asian random crap stores that you find on Clement St. in SF. Fit OK, four or five colours so you don't get bored, a teeny bow at the front so it's not completely featureless. Most of my underwear still consists of these, and my mom died 7 years ago, for Pete's sake! This tells you how often I thought of underwear and how often I bought new ones. (Hey, they're sturdy cotton and wash well, okay?) But now! If the price tag on a bra has fewer than 3 digits, I sneer at it. I only want underwear with lace constructed of silk from hand-fed silkworms and satin that's been woven by fairies from pixie hair. Or at least, that would be the only things that would justify the prices on some of this stuff. I slink around the Agent Provocateur shop in Brown Thomas, in my Zara jacket and cheap jeans and try not to call attention to the fact that I can't afford to even look at the merest sliver of silk in there. The Myla people sent me a catalogue (thus ensuring that, should I ever move away from this address, future residents will never be able to use their bathrooms, which will be constantly occupied by their heavily-breathing 14-year-old sons), which I leaf through at night when I'm done leafing through knitting books and patterns. I had to stop myself from browsing this stuff on-line during the day, 'cause all my co-workers would then think I'm browsing porn, which is basically what some of this stuff is. Hey, at least it's expensive, high-class trash.

When I walk around town nowadays, I stop at the window of every knitwear shop (of which there are lots in Dublin- why the hell don't they have some decent yarn stores, then? Makes no sense) and scrutinize their stock. I have come to the conclusion that Aran sweaters are just absolutely hideous. I mean, the cabling, the diamond patterns, the heavy in-your-face Oirishness of it all is just disgusting. And it's not like Aran jumpers are easy to knit (although they're probably all done by machine). It would take forever to knit one of those- why waste your hours just to make something so ugly? Maybe there are simple Aran-style jumpers out there, that are nicer? There must be. In between knitwear shops, I look in the windows of lingerie shops (of which there are also lots here...hmmm...maybe I'm just obsessed with these because that's what there is to obsess about here?) and sniff at the quality (acetate lace? rayon? Pah.) and design (brown and aqua blue? Really? Together? In a bra designed with the structural engineering of bridge scaffolding?).

This is all very bad. I've spent a whole bunch of money on yarn and knitting supplies; I'm constantly disappointed at my underwear drawer; I'm not getting any work done. Even worse, since my evenings are all knit-obsessed, I haven't read a book in ages! This is bad.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Happy birthday to me!

Because of that stupid-ass sappy Valentine's Day crap, the flights to anywhere even remotely nice were totally expensive for the weekends around my birthday (but, hey, I could still go to Liverpool for cheap!). Instead, the Limey and I drove out west, to the Dingle peninsula. I'd been to the town before, but didn't have much chance to look around the area, so this time, that's what we were going to do.

We took off work early on Friday, and were heading out from my place at around 3:30. We were hoping to make it to Dingle town (or An Daingean, as it's been rechristened (or re-rechristened, I guess, as this is its original Irish name)) by dinner time, as we'd been told it would take 4-5 hours of driving. Hahahahaha! No way! We made it to Tralee at 9:30. Traffic out of Dublin was, true to what we'd been told, absolutely horrible. But even if it had been clear, we'd never have made it to Tralee in less than five hours, and it was another hour, at least, to Dingle. Instead of arriving at Dingle and trying to get a room and dinner at 11 o'clock, we decided to stay in Tralee for the night. We drove around a bit until we found a B&B that looked okay, inspected the room, agreed to pay €30 each for the night, dropped off our bags, and went looking for food. The first two places we stopped in at were packed. The third place, The Cookery, seated us after we promised we'd be quick, as the kitchen was closing. The food was good, verging on very good.

The next day, we had breakfast and drove straight out to Dingle. Unfortunately, I had a horrible headache, so couldn't enjoy the drive along the south side of the peninsula. Luckily, the headache cleared up a little bit after we arrived. We walked around town a bit. I went into every shop that looked like it might sell yarn, and hit jackpot at a little place called Commodum, which sold Aran weight tweed yarn from a Kerry mill that, the proprietor claimed, was the last place in Ireland that still spun and dyed yarn. I bought 400g of the darkest red they had. I should have bought more, and it was very hard choosing a colour from all the ones they had. They will mail stuff, though, and the proprietor dude very thoughtfully checked the colour number for me before we left, in case I wanted more later. There was also another little shop that sold yarn, but it mostly had eyelash and other novelty yarns; not quite what I was looking for. I did buy some knitting needles from there, though.

After a bit more walking, we stopped by a couple B&Bs, which turned out not to have opened for the season yet. (Dingle's pretty touristy in summer, I think, and a lot of places close for the winter. We passed few tourists on our walk around town.) Eventually we got a room at An Caball Dubh, dropped our stuff off, and decided to drive out to Slea Head while the light and weather remained favourable. The drive was gorgeous; the coast is lovely. We found a little beach that only had a couple of surfers on it and walked around, poking at things with sticks. (Hey, we're scientists.) We took the long way back, along Slea Head drive, and got back to Dingle in time to have some tea and cake at a cafe, then went back to our room to change for dinner.

The Chart House had been recommended to us, and I'd called them Friday during the drive up to book a table. It was good I had, 'cause when we arrived, people without reservations were being turned away right and left. And the food was just absolutely wonderful. I had mussels to start, and herb-encrusted skate on risotto for my main course. The mussels were pretty good, but the skate was done perfectly. The Limey had duck confit to start and a filet of organic, free-range Kerry beef (we probably passed the cow it came from during our drive) which looked amazing, even to me. I tasted a bit of it, and it was indeed good. We finished off with chocolate terrine and a glass of port, for him, and muscat, for me. We were so stuff that we could probably have rolled back to the B&B, if it hadn't been uphill.

The next day, after a small breakfast (still digesting from the night before) we drove around the peninsula some more. Connor's Pass took us through the mountains to the north side of the peninsula. It was properly, San Francisco foggy and misty at the top of the pass, which was fun to drive through, and the other side had beautiful blue water and green fields. (And hillsides dotted with sheep! Who knew that actually existed outside of schoolbooks?) Drove up to Brandon Point, with a great view of the Atlantic and the bays along the northern peninsula. After that, we started our drive back home, this time at a much more leisurely pace. Stopped in Adare for a late lunch. We tried The Wild Geese, but it wasn't open, so we had some blah lunch at a non-descript place a few doors down.

Got back to Dublin at 9 or so and collapsed. It always amazes me that I can get tired just sitting in a car all day. And it's not like I was driving.

But the whole weekend was lovely, all around.

Um, and yeah, neither of us remembered our cameras.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lookee what I did!

Look! I knitted a whole sweater!

Okay, it's not the most flattering picture of me, but you get the idea. The pattern's from the first Stitch 'n' Bitch book and I knitted it with Rowan's Kid Classic yarn. The blocking went okay, but I didn't manage to get the sleeves any shorter. The sleeves kinda have a bell shape at the bottom, which I really like.

Anyway, it's totally wearable, and everything!

Edited, a year later, to add: I've frogged this sweater because, let's face it, it's hideous. I mean, I'm proud I knit it and put it together and that it was -barely- wearable, but it's not my style at all. That loose fabric, those huge bell-shaped sleeves when I can stand stuff that drags and inhibits movement? The upside is that now I've got some lovely yarn to work with again.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Yay me!

I actually finished knitting my first sweater! (Well, my second sweater, but we won't talk about the first one I attempted.) I finished sewing it together last night, and tried it on, and it actually fits and everything. The sleeves are a little long, but that's okay. I still have to crochet the neckline a bit to stabilize it, and then block the whole thing, which I'm hoping will shorten the sleeves up a bit as well. The first long seam I did was joining the two sides of one of the sleeves, and it was a horrible job- uneven and a bit bumpy. Then I redeemed myself with an absolutely beautiful, can't-tell-where-it-is side seam. When I went to do the second sleeve, I started at the top end instead of bottom (as was recommended by the pattern) and this one turned out waaaaay better. I sewed up the second side seam, and, taking a good long look at the finished thing, decided I'd take out the first sleeve seam and re-do it.

No no no no no! Disaster. I sewed up the sweater with the same kind of yarn as the knitting was done in, so I had no clue which bit of yarn was the seam and which was bits of sweater. After pulling at various bits and scrunching up the sleeve even worse, I wisely decided to quit while I was ahead. I pulled and stretched the bits of damaged yarn back into something resembling a sleeve and called it quits. So, some advice: sew up your work with another kind of yarn! You won't be able to see it if you've done it right, but you'll be able to pick it out if you haven't. Horrors.

Will post a picture when I've done the blocking. Despite slight sleeve problem, yay me!

Reading: Watching the English, by Kate Fox. It's a study of English behavior as documented by an honest-to-goodness anthropologist. Plus she's English, so she gets to take the piss out of her countrymen. Anyway, it's hilarious. The way she describes them, the English sound very much like me.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Tristram Shandy

Should I try to read Tristram Shandy before seeing "A Cock and Bull Story"?

Who am I kidding, it's never going to happen, is it?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Busy Saturday night

This weekend, I had one of those nights that young urbanites with any disposable income at all are supposed to have, if you judged by books and TV shows. My life is usually much calmer and home-bound, which, to be honest, I prefer. If you're coming to Dublin and wish to see what the range of pub/bar/club/alcohol-serving-establishments is, here're the venues.

Early evening (pub): had a couple of drinks with a friend at The Globe on Georges St. A fairly basic pub. Big scarred wooden tables, young-ish crowd, music (but not too loud), okay beer. Not one of my usual drinking holes, but okay for a Saturday night, meaning not absolutely packed. It had started getting crowded when we left.

Later evening (bar): I have no clue what this place is called, but it's a converted church at the intersection of Mary St. and Jervis St. on the north side. As if the sacrilege of turning a church into a bar wasn't insult enough, they turned it into a fake swanky, soulless place, populated by twunts (as someone I know would say). It was all blue lighting along the bar, shiny metally table and counter tops, white leathery club chairs. It was someone's idea of good design, if that someone had only looked at blurry pictures of "cool" places from the tabloids. It was filled with overly-cologned young men in striped shirts and women in pointy-toed shoes with trowel-applied make-up. It was totally silly. Fake fake fake. Soulless soulless soulless.

Midnight on (club, I guess?): Went with Convalescing-GothBoy to Dominion, a goth/metal/whatever place in the basement of Fraser's, on O'Connell St. Filled with chicks with long hair, in black PVC, lace and boots, and guys with, uh, long hair, in black leather, geeky t-shirts and boots. Both sexes wore more make-up than is strictly prudent. Music was...pretty much what you'd expect. I recognized some Nine Inch Nails and the Cure. Convalescing GothBoy knows the Dominion organizers, so I got to sit in the DJ booth with all cool "in" people. Aren't I great? Don't you wish you were me? Anyway, I clearly didn't belong there, but I think I got groupie treatment. Everyone was very nice, and hugged me and offered me alcohol and stuff.

Got to bed at 4; didn't leave the house the next day.

Thursday, January 12, 2006 that a compliment?

In my book group, there had been some recent discussion about whether the men and women in the group rate books differently and like different books.

When I got into the bar yesterday, people were discussing who had chosen this month's book, and one person said that she would guess that a man had chosen the book, but if it turns out a woman had chosen it, then it'd have to have been me.

Is that a compliment? As it turns out, I had chosen it. What does that mean?

Friday, January 06, 2006

How to make yourself feel utterly inadequate: a recipe


Portugal (if too expensive or out of season, substitute any other non-English-speaking country with a young, well-educated workforce)
1 Portuguese friend
a dozen friends of Portuguese friend
awkward attempts to speak Portuguese, to taste


Go to Portugal. Stay with Portuguese friend. Who is studying in Paris. And writing her PhD dissertation in English.

Go to dinner with friends of Porguguese friend. Discover that they are all poly-lingual. Realize that, out of table of 9 people, you are the only mono-lingual person. And that they therefore must speak in English. Which is fine, because, in addition to Portuguese, French, Spanish and German, they are all fluent in English.

Go to drugstore, awkwardly ask if they have vaseline lip balm. ("Tem...vaseline?" while self-consciously gesturing at lips.) Have drugstore counter chick say, "We don't have vaseline, but we do have a selection of other lip balms in this tray here" in flawless English. Buy lip balm and slink out.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

An Irish country Christmas

Well, darnit, aren't they just the sweetest people down there in Offaly! My friend and I took the train out on Christmas Eve. His sister picked us up at the train station, and we squished into her car, along with her 5-month-old and her 5-year-old, who went all shy and quiet as soon as he saw me. This apparently classifies as a Christmas miracle, 'cause I was told that, usually, you can't shut up him up. Went to visit another sister, who was in the hospital (she's fine, just in for a scheduled operation), then along home to meet the parents, who were just the nicest people on earth.

My friend's parents are in their '70s and his father was a dairy farmer. When it became clear none of the sons was going to take over the lifestyle, they sold the farm when he retired and used some of the money to build a new house to retire in. They kept some of the land around the new house, for a large garden and a field that they rent out to their neighbors as grazing land. The new house is large and on one floor, and one whole half of it is taken up by the huge kitchen and open dining room. Though they have a sitting room as well, all the day-to-day living is done in this huge space. There was always a fire in the fireplace, and the mother liked to sit in one of the comfy chairs next to it. Although she's not sitting still very often. They are both quite active, still, and as soon as one of them sits down, the other will get up to make some tea or get more wood from the entryway, or to wrap up some scraps for the neighbor's dog and cats who come calling to the back door (they have already figured out that no one uses the front door). The neighbors, as well as assorted children and grandchildren, also call often at the back door although they aren't given scraps.

His mother had apparently said, "Oh, God!" when informed earlier on the phone that I was a quasi-vegetarian. Her plea of, "Won't she have even a little turkey?" was answered in the negative. So when I arrived, I found that the father had gone out to the greenhouse, picked some lettuce and herbs, washed them, and had put a huge plate of it in the fridge for me. They cooked a fry-up for dinner, making me an extra egg and offering me enough toast for half a dozen people. After dinner, my friend and his father went off to midnight mass (at 9; I don't know either). His mother had been feeling poorly that day, so she stayed in to listen to the mass on the radio and said she would go to the Christmas morning service. They did not expect that I would go with them. They showed me where the DVD player was, and where the various foodstuffs were kept and told me to make myself at home if they were gone to mass when I got up the next morning. I was relieved and disappointed. Relieved because I didn't have to go to a Catholic service I knew nothing about and would have to sit through awkwardly; but disappointed 'cause it would have been an interesting thing to see. I've never been in any kind of a church service before.

The parents were great. They just mostly liked to sit about and talk and they've lived together so long and it totally shows. She does the cooking; she takes her time, moseys about, does a bit here, a bit there. He does the dishes, and sometimes she'll join him at the sink to dry. On Christmas Eve, they made the Christmas dinner dessert, which was a fruit, cake and sherry trifle. They'd done this so many times that it was like a cozy, choreographed dance. He opened the can of fruit, she cut the cake into slices and they both put their respective ingredients into the bowl, then he pours in the sherry and jelly while she stirs. It was so cute. Plus, the dessert smelled great while they were making it. They're totally cool. I asked about the service after they came back from mass, and she was saying how everyone loved the new priest, 'cause the old one was all fire and damnation and everything was sin sin sin, and this new one is totally more upbeat and happy and was really good with the kids and young people.

Christmas day was spent at the house of one of the sisters. Another sister came by for Christmas dinner while we all sat around and played with the kids' toys. The 5-year-old had gotten a robot that shoots out these foam rings; it was cool. Dinner was turkey (here, and in the UK, Christmas dinner means turkey and brussels sprouts), goose (which I stole a little bite of, as I'd never had goose), mashed potatoes, yams, brussels sprouts, and two kinds of (veggie) stuffing. One of the sisters had already started cooking me some fish before I could stop her and say that the veggies would be more than enough.

The next morning, I sat around a bit, the father showed me the paintings he'd done since he took up the hobby when he had hip surgery and couldn't work, ate some more salad, at lunch (salmon for me, turkey leftovers for them) and then they drove me to the bus station so I could get home to feed the cat.