I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Monday, November 29, 2010

Home again home again


The Lincoln Tunnel, from the back seat of a cab. At least this driver wasn't using his cell phone to make a video of the road ahead of him, unlike the one who'd brought me to the Dublin airport. We were snaking along in one lane on the highway with snow piled on either side, clearly a wondrous sight that had to be recorded for posterity, even if it meant that posterity might be coming into their inheritance a lot sooner than anticipated.

Fortunately there wasn't much traffic.

Welcome to the working week

A doorman in one of the posh stores on Grafton Street. Although Dubliners in general seem to dress up a little more than Americans (and it would be difficult not to) I didn't see anyone else as well turned out as this gentleman.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dublin geometry

A slushy slippery sidewalk window on Dawson Street.

Before and after

St Stephen's Green on Wednesday (a little blurry due to my advanced state of catatonia) and on Saturday morning.

Trinity College

Fortunately I'd planned to devote Saturday to indoor activities -- shopping and the Book of Kells -- as the streets were too treacherous to make any more long hikes across Dublin a possibility.

Outdoor photos were unfortunately all that were allowed at Trinity, so these pictures are only a small part of what I saw. The Book of Kells! I had thought I didn't really care for Celtic art, all those intricate interlocking zigzags, but the way the colors were used (still vivid after twelve hundred years) made me see the ornamental knots and swirls with a different eye. And I've always loved how you can see the daily life of medieval artists incorporated in their work -- the birds and animals peeking from the borders, the clothes and hairstyles of the saints -- while the main lineup, in this case the Gospels, plays in center court.

The Book is bound into four volumes, two of which are on display, so you only see four pages of the actual manuscript, two of text and two of the full-page illustrations, but the accompanying exhibit includes photos of many of the illustrations, along with information on how the sheets of vellum were made, where the materials for the paints came from, how the book was bound, and its history. I was especially fascinated by the way the initial words on the text pages were decorated. Et for example is the first word in many of the paragraphs and it's never painted the same way twice.

You leave the Kells exhibit through the Long Room, part of the Trinity College library, with hundreds of thousands of books in shelved alcoves with vaulted ceilings. There are marble busts of writers outside each alcove, a wonderful spiral staircase going up to who knows what, and the air smells of wood and old books. It's the most wonderful library I've ever seen, and I wanted to sit there forever and read. Just read.

One oddity: the books are arranged by size, with the shortest books on a shelf closest to the ceiling. Each subsequent shelf is a little taller than the one above, and the books fit the shelves exactly. It's a very efficient use of space, but you'd have to have the world's most detailed card catalog to be able to find anything.


The news has been full of the early winter storms raging across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, while I've had three days of sunshine in Dublin.

I woke up in the middle of the night and heard rain against the windows and thought my luck had finally run out, but when I got up this morning and looked outside, the skies were mostly clear and the sun was peeking through.

But I didn't look down, and it wasn't until I was walking across the lobby on my way to breakfast that I noticed the four or five inches of snow on the ground.

The good news is I didn't break my neck, despite having only sneakers. And everyone in Dublin seems so delighted with the snow it would be rude to complain. (The snowman is at Trinity College.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

The streets of Dublin

The New York influence

Two shops on the same block with New York names.

I understand why you would advertise Ray's Pizza as A Slice of New York. There are almost as many pizzerias called Ray's in New York as there are McDonalds. It's just that none of them are very good.

But Bed-Stuy is not an association you are likely to brag about. It's poor and crime-ridden and there's nothing remotely glamorous about either the poverty or the crime.

Sad stories of the death of kings

Some of the really beautiful decorative elements at the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. They're early nineteenth century although they look much older.

Dublin Castle

It wasn't the kings of Ireland who made their home here. This is where the English authority was based, and I have to say as a symbol of oppression by imperial overlords in the middle of an otherwise charming city it works very well.

Not that my Irish ancestry in any way influenced how I felt about it, or the pictures I chose to take. No. Not at all.

Except for the chapel, which has lovely windows and statuary, this really does have all the appeal of a minimum security prison. The only sign of color other than brick and stone were these lights outside the Garda (police) office.

The eyes of God are on you

I love the way the windows on the covered passage by Christ Church cathedral above look like eyes. They're rather owlish and benevolent though, nothing that would scare you into skipping a sin or two.

Here on the right are the flying buttresses on the cathedral itself. I didn't go in -- six euro charge, and I have a deep-rooted belief that churches ought to be free. (I can hear my mother hissing in my ear that of course it's a Protestant cathedral but we won't go there.)

Lunch special

The Irish seem to take breakfast very seriously -- every grocer and hole in the wall news agent advertises their deal on a full Irish breakfast -- but lunch is apparently open to interpretation.

I love this lunch special: three "courses," of which one is coffee, and another has the option of being a glass of wine. I think only in Ireland are the coffee and the alcohol so sacred they qualify as separate courses.


Behind the bricks and Christmas lights, Dublin is seething. The story is depressingly familiar: banks taking major risks, facing huge losses when the bubble burst. The government guaranteed their debts, and now is putting in place austerity measures that fall heavily on the middle and working classes. There are protests daily, but the government is holding firm.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And so this is Christmas

Dublin is already decorated for Christmas, with trees and ornaments and sparkling lights everywhere, and it took me a while to realize that the lampposts aren't part of the holiday scheme -- they're dressed for Christmas all year round.

Below, the lights on Grafton Street at dusk.

North and South

Like most European cities split by a river, Dublin north of the Liffey has a very different character than south of the river. Most of the tourist attractions and upscale shopping streets are on the south side, and that seemed to have more of the charm as well.

But when you're on one of the bridges or quays, the north side (above) has a kind of Parisian look to it, while the south side looks more gritty.

Canal Bank Walk

                     the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me

 -- Patrick Kavanagh, Canal Bank Walk    


Redemption is a lot to ask for. But for a place to sit and daydream and figure out how to redeem yourself, I don't think there's a better choice.

Grand Canal

Twelve hours of sleep and four cups of strong Irish tea with breakfast turned out to be all that I needed to regain my bearings, and I walked miles across Dublin today, hands jammed in my pockets, nose running from the cold, but wanting to see everything while I could.

This is the Grand Canal, where a statue of Patrick Kavanagh sits in perpetual peaceful observation. The towpath was an unexpected oasis, and I sat on the bench one over from Mr Kavanagh and watched the water and the moorhens until the chill from the metal ate through to my bones and I had to walk again.

There were a dozen or so stands straddling the canal a few hundred feet away, selling Thai food and burritos and bratwurst along with the Cornish pasties and grilled lamb you'd expect. And though part of me just wanted to be snarky about the selection and mutter There's nowhere that isn't everywhere anymore, I was grateful enough for a hot sandwich to warm my hands on.

But I loved being in a country that honors its poets (well, eventually - Kavanagh's neighbors in County Monaghan were not exactly respectful of his literary aspirations.) There are huge posters of Yeats everywhere, and amid the buskers and the shoppers on Grafton Street, there was a man selling books of poetry.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Alive alive-o

Well, just barely.

It's less than seven hours from Newark to Dublin, and I was in Business First, so comfort and leg room weren't a problem, and when I arrived at my hotel at 7:30 this morning, they let me check in immediately.

So I should have felt reasonably refreshed when I woke up at around one and headed out to see a little of Dublin. Instead I found myself unable to interpret a simple map and wandered around in a kind of daze hoping that I'd manage to find my hotel again some day. Dublin seemed a little like London, a little like Paris, a little like a dozen other places I've been.

Except for these hallucinatory clouds over the Liffey, and the constant crying of the sea birds, which kept reminding me that I wasn't in Newark anymore.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Welcome to the working week

Cabs outside the Port Authority.

It's a short week for working -- even shorter for me as I'm off to Dublin tomorrow -- but I haven't done a working week photo for a while.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Capitol reflections

Another picture from my Washington weekend.

Since I ended up having to stay over until Monday for business, after I switched hotels I wandered around the streets near the Ritz Carlton and found some wonderful windows to photograph. The business districts in Washington on a Sunday are as deserted as New Orleans, and it's much harder to find decent food, but at least the pictures are good.

Here, a building under construction on Connecticut Avenue.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The end of fear is where we begin

Belatedly, as promised, a few pictures from the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington a few weeks ago. (Really -- only three weeks ago. It seems much longer ago than that.)

I was lucky enough to get into one of the sections reasonably close to the stage, and the police closed it off to newcomers before it got very crowded, so I actually had room to lie down on the grass and read while waiting for the show to begin. Which seemed quite, well, reasonable.

And though all the reports said the crowd was very young and very white, that wasn't the case in my section, and a rather petite gray-haired woman in front of me managed to insert her hair into almost every picture I took, making Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert appear to be floating on a blurry gray cloud.

The crowd was uniformly good-natured and polite, as was the show. There was nothing inflammatory whatsoever about the event (except maybe the appearance of noted terrorist Cat Stevens) and while I suppose that was the point -- to show how far the reasonable liberal-leaning middle is from the Fox News stereotypes of the Angry Left -- I think I would have liked a little more inflammation. Jon Stewart is often at his funniest when he's angry, and I think it's hard to be sane right now without being furious at all the insanity around us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Do Not Tip. Ever.

The world takes as much care with the fragile as your average moving company. Sometimes tragedies pile upon tragedies, new stresses upon already jangling nerves, losses and betrayals you never saw coming hit you from behind. My trip to San Francisco combined the professional and the personal: a conference, a memorial, and the final cleaning out of my mother's things in storage four years after her death, all while reeling from a catastrophe at work and trying to evaluate and mitigate the damage long-distance.

Old friends gave me hospitality, conversation, and assistance with the storage cleanup, along with way too much food and alcohol, and together we held a memorial for Laurie that she would have approved of.  I left San Francisco feeling like a very different person from the one who'd arrived there, and I am deeply grateful.

This is Bella, a shepherd barely past puppyhood, who insisted on sharing my bed every night, and licked my face thoroughly to wake me up every morning. Dogs live so completely in the moment, enjoying every tossed tennis ball as though it were the first, and refusing to agree that it might have to be the last, that it's difficult to hang on to griefs in their presence.

And after a while, I didn't. Which made it easier to clean out the storage space as well. There was surprisingly little I wanted to hang on to, and nothing I really needed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blackberry photography

The Blackberry camera could not really do justice to the fascinating geometries of the Moscone Center, especially the Mondrian-like ceilings, but  what the photos lack in detail they sometimes made up for in effect.

This picture, for example, of a fairly recent Art Deco-style building shot through the window of the Moscone Center has a fun kind of Mad Men vibe, like an advertising brochure from the Fifties or Sixties.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gloomy Sunday

The ten minute walk to the convention center was much less attractive in the pouring rain I woke to this morning, and the shuttle that was supposed to be running from the hotel turned out to be as easy to locate as yesterday's breakfast. Finally I walked, stopping at Walgreen's again to get an umbrella since I managed to forget mine. I picked pink because I thought it looked cheerful on such a gray day.

And when I got to the Moscone Center, soaking wet and barely on time for the 8:30 session, I shook it off and folded it up and put it on the floor next to my purse. FWAP! It exploded open, spraying everyone in the vicinity with refreshing ice-cold rainwater. I muttered apologies, collapsed it again, settled my notebook in my lap and started taking notes. FWAP! I wrestled it closed again, and this time I held it to the floor with my foot just to be on the safe side. Which worked fine, until about half an hour into the presentations when I got a little too comfortable and crossed my legs. FWAP!

The Streets of San Francisco

...look a lot like this one, right outside my hotel.

What this does not in the least resemble is Union Square, although the name of the hotel -- the Park 55 Union Square -- does imply a certain proximity. I know it's all marketing and location, location, location, but Fifth and Market is not Union Square. Not even close.

But I'm not here to shop at Macy's, and this is much closer to the Moscone Center than the authentic Union Square. What I do mind is the lack of amenities -- no minibar or refrigerator, no bathrobe, no tissues -- and the misplaced priorities of their customer service. Someone knocks on my door every hour or so to see if "everything's okay" but the breakfast order I dutifully hung on my doorknob was still there at 6:30 this morning so I had to spend 15 minutes on hold with room service to get coffee.

And I was reminded once again of how different my standards are when I'm traveling for pleasure. I do require more creature comforts than I did when I was younger but I'm really not all that fussy. When I'm on business, I'm already stressed out and I need my travel arrangements to alleviate that stress, not create more of it.

Last weekend I spent one night at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown. I had already arranged to spend the weekend there for the Rally to Restore Sanity (which I may post pictures of at some point though it already feels like old, old news) and my firm asked me to stay over Sunday night and do a presentation in the office there on Monday. So after two nights at a perfectly acceptable but by no means luxurious hotel on Capitol Hill, I traded up to the Ritz. And it was very nice, but oh so pretentious, and I was making fun of it all week. For instance, while I was checking in, a woman appeared with a silver tray of hot towels and a bottle of water. So while I was digging around for my wallet and signing the registration, I was also juggling a wet washcloth and I had to stick the water away so I could manage the elevators, which required a room key for operation. How much nicer, if less of a production, if the water had been waiting in the room and we ignored the hot towel altogether?

But I wouldn't mind a little of that silly pampering now. The fact that I have a vicious sinus infection and there's no Kleenex in these rooms reminds me of staying at the late, lamented Ritz Carlton in Hong Hong many years ago. I was sick -- I'm usually sick in Hong Kong -- with what later became pneumonia, probably because I continued to work sixteen hours a day. The wastebaskets in my hotel room were full of crumpled tissues, and when I came back to my room late one night, I found that there were boxes of tissues on every table and nightstand in the room. That's honestly the single best example of customer service I've ever experienced.

Not much resemblance to this place. I'd used up all my tissues on the plane but I forgot my toothbrush so I had to go out to find a drugstore last night anyway. The toothbrushes were inexplicably in a locked case (really? toothbrushes are that attractive to shoplifters?) By the time the customer service representative showed up to unlock the case I was so irritated I headed straight for the checkout, forgetting all about the Kleenex and I ended up sleeping with a roll of toilet paper.

Glamorous this isn't.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town

Or the recycled and the composting, anyway.

I'm in San Francisco for a conference through Thursday, and then a memorial for Laurie next weekend. I deliberately didn't bring a camera because I thought I should focus on other things, but that might have been a mistake. I'm rather fragile, and taking pictures of things that make me smile is a pleasure.

Fortunately, my Blackberry was available to capture the elaborate waste disposal system at the Moscone Center. Now I know I'm home.

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