Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pure Genius.

This past Monday was a bank holiday. I am still not quite sure what a bank holiday is, but I do know that I did not have to go to work and that was fantastic.

I am however still punching myself in the face for forgetting to grab my camera that morning, because Silke and I went to the Guinness storehouse and St. James's Gate brewery and did the self-guided tour. It is probably one of the most touristy things you can do in Dublin but thoroughly enjoyable. Here are some of my favorite photos that we took and I then pilfered.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My precious

This past weekend, my three new Dusseldorf friends and I took a road trip to the southeast of Ireland to the county of Kerry, more specifically to see the Ring of Kerry, with a pit stop at the Rock of Cashel, a medival cathedral. The Ring of Kerry is a 180 km (112 mile) route with the most spectacular Irish mountain and coastal scenery. It's about four hours away from Dublin, and the drive around the route takes about three hours, a little more if you take some detours. I slept the entire way to Kerry as I could barely stomach watching Silke's, my flatmate's, driving of the wine-colored Datsun mini-me car on the left side of the road. We had Frederic, the only male in our group, take over the driving for the Ring of Kerry the next day while we sat back and looked out the windows in wonder. My photos (more posted on flickr) do not do justice to the gloriousness of the landscape, partially because picture-taking opportunities were limited to the number of times we found a spot to pull over.

On a side note, my project for the next two and a half months is to get a good picture of an Irish cow. I am currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and learning that the American production of beef is unhealthy for tout le monde -- humans, the cows, and the environment. So far I have observed that Irish cows lounge around in lush green pastures and munch on grass all day long. As such, I have been gorging myself on Irish steak and waiting for a photogenic cow to come along.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22


By Joseph Heller

I'd recommend this classic to anyone. It's about bureaucracies and survival and war and courage and the absurdities of it all. I especially enjoy Heller's writing style. It's blunt and at the same time repetitive. And has lots of great juxtaposition.

The chaplain had sinned, and it was good. Common sense told him that telling lies and defecting from duty were sins. On the other hand, everyone knew that sin was evil and that no good could come from evil. But he did feel good; he felt positively marvelous. Consequently, it followed logically that telling lies and defecting from duty could not be sins. The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.

The chaplain is a sympathetic character in the book and the reader is rooting for him the entire time, especially when he stands up for himself and tells his first lie. But you also see how "the handy technique of protective rationalization" could and would be used in the wrong hands.

If anything, read it to know where the term "Catch-22" comes from.

4 out of 5

Luck be a lady tonight

On my walk home from work tonight, I stopped by the National Gallery to see this painting:

"Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid" by Johannes Vermeer.

With five Vermeer paintings consciously visited and admired, I am on a quest to seek out and pay homage to the other thirty. Unfortunately, The Lady is currently on loan in Tokyo and is not returning to Dublin until January. Without my guide books, I flew by the seat of my pants, if you can say that about something that you would do at an art gallery, and went off exploring on my own. The gallery was nice -- easy to navigate, calm at this time of day, free, and a woman sang baroque music in the corner with some chamber music accompaniment.

I saw a Hals, a Caravaggio, a Modigliani, a Brueghel the Younger, and a Reubens among others. I am only hoping that The Lady does not let me down and returns back to Dublin before I have to leave.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dinner with the United Nations

Tonight I had cod and chips and drinks at a pub called The Gasworks, which is right near my apartment development (also called The Gasworks). Sitting around the table were a girl from Singapore, a girl from Germany, a Russian/American ahem, a guy from Japan, and a girl from South Africa. We talked about our respective countries and customs, our experiences at work in our home countries, and of course about Ireland. I basked in this wonderfulness and drank it all in, along with my Guinness.

Going on a short-term assignment I expected to befriend and spend time with Dubliners. I now realize that it makes sense that I would spend time with others in the same situation as myself - visitors not knowing anyone, staying for the short term (in most cases), and wanting to explore everything in the city and the country and the continent. My Irish coworkers are extremely friendly and nice, but they have their own errands, concerns, friends, families, plans, etc. Meanwhile, the girl from Singapore has never been to Europe and wants to go to Amsterdam. Oh really? Are you intested in seeing the Van Gogh Museum. Yes? Oh really? When are we flying over?

I am extremely looking forward to building friendships with people from all over the world. Learning about the Japanese, who work 20 hours a day during tax busy season. Learning about South Africa and why people decide to leave. Learning about weddings in Singapore. Learning about card games in Germany. Truly amazing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Top ten things to get used to in Dublin

10. Passing other pedestrians on the left, not the right, side of the sidewalk.

9. My 230283989 digit cell phone number.

8. Not attempting to convert every single monetary transaction into U.S. dollars.

7. Sitting in a "bay" at work, which is like sitting in a cube, except there are no walls and everyone can see you and you can see everyone.

6. The entire office leaving work at 5:30, on the dot, in a mass mob.

5. A subsidized "cantine" at work that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner for cheap.

4. The most delicious yogurt (Yoplait!) I have ever eaten in my life.

3. A once-a-week cleaning lady.

2. Carrying around a golf umbrella. Always.

1. Pubs playing music that I like. Never Journey's "Don't Stop Believing".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What do you mean the cheapest phone costs 59 Euros?

Today I contributed my two cents to the Irish economy.

The first task was to figure out the grocery situation. There is a EUROSPAR grocery store literally a two-minute walk away from the apartment, but locals, i.e. the driver that picked me up from the airport, say that it does not have the best prices. I got a bag full of snack and breakfast food (hummus, peppers, bread, smoked salmon, cheese, yogurt, etc.) for 22 Euros, which is probably close to what I would have paid at Whole Foods for a similar bag. So I am OK with not immediately finding the elusive "good" grocery store that requires a tram ride with a bus connection or some other difficult public transport combination.

Then I walked to the city center and discovered the glory of Grafton Street, a pedestrian shopping wonder. I purchased a pay-as-you-go cell phone, which makes me feel less helpless, one of those big golf umbrellas, which will hopefully stand up to the wind, a cheaper hair dryer and flat iron, since I will not be able to bring them back home, and a "welcome to Dublin" fancy wallet from Sisley. I will be flat broke in three months' time but at least I will have a nice wallet.

Also on Grafton Street, I stopped for a minute and listened to a guy with an accoustic guitar accompanied by a guy playing drums made out of cardboard boxes. Sounds ghetto, and it was, but they were awesome. Makes me want to watch the movie "Once" again, since it features Grafton Street, and Glen Hansard used to be one of those street musicians (called a busker?) in real life.

Now I will go eat a piece of bread with a piece of salami on top, because that is how we do it in Europe.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Everything's coming up Millhouse

Tonight I went to a pub slash drinking and dancing establishment called Whelan's with my roommate and her friends. We danced to the Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, MGMT, and, believe it, DEPECHE MODE. This is what I imagine Moustrap Britpop dance night is like at the Black Cat in DC once a month. Only Whelan's is like that EVERY NIGHT. Which will make my head explode if I keep thinking about it. I did not pay for single drink all night and also talked to a very attractive Irish chap (not a sailor) before getting pulled away.

Oh and did I mention that there's glorious sunshine and it didn't rain on the day of my arrival?

OK, Dublin. This was day one. I have high hopes for days two through ninety.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Anniversary to America and Me

I am quite pretty sure that today is my eighteenth anniversary of arriving at Dulles airport as mini-me, only able to say "Hello, my name is Kate" in the English language. I would like to take this opportunity to once again say that for all of the things that I have been given or have achieved, I will always be bitter about not being president.

I mean, not everyone necessarily WANTS the responsibilities of the leader of the free world. I certainly don't. I just take issue with the fact that I don't even have the OPTION.

They should really change that pesky "natural-born citizen" rule to "came to America at 6 years of age and learned good grammar" rule. Then I could shake my head and give a throaty laugh as I casually dismiss the possibility of running a campaign. Maybe in eighteen more years?

I love you, America. Mwah.

UPDATE: It was yesterday. I am an idiot.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is this really happening?

After packing up five boxes of work cubicle belongings, packing three suitcases for my new life in Ireland, and saying a tearful goodbye to my mother, I need something to calm my nerves and make me feel at peace.

Enter German duck.

Apparently I have a fascination with fowl. Not so much observing the fowl and how they behave in their park fountain or what have you habitat, but taking pictures of every duck, goose, and swan I come across. Especially if they are foreigners.

This is Wagner, pronounced VAH-gner in German, and the water in the background looks dreamy in this photo, really accentuating his green head and blue feathers. What a dreamboat. The Gerard Butler of ducks.

As I look back on THE DAY OF PACKING and look forward to THE DAY OF FLIGHT, I know that I am supposed to be exhibiting feelings of excitement and nervousness. The thought that I am currently able to muster up in verbal form, that sums up my current state in a nutshell (help! I'm in a nutshell!), is that everyone I know happens to somehow be under the impression that I am taking off and going to Dublin. Is this really happening to me??

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Oktoberfest Issue

Here are some fun pictures from Oktoberfest 2008.

This one is called "Oktoberfest Corn". Hot. I got cat calls from Italians and a drunk texter attached to my hip simply by looking like this. It almost called into question my typical "gin & tonic in the hand" bar look.

Oktoberfest gingerbread cookie hearts. Basically all of the other girls were wearing them and I was not to be excluded. They mostly have love messages written on them as they are supposed to be given to you by a boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/spouse. In our awkwardness ingenuity, Dana and I bought ones reading "Oktoberfest". I walked around for a full day looking like this:

Our cookie hearts came with furry animals attached. Kind of embarrassing looking at it now, but then again, I haven't been drinking beer since 9 am this morning.

This is a brezel. It is delicious.

Here it is again in relation to my upper body. Point of reference.

First Oktoberfest beers in the Spaten tent. And a little later . . .

"Sorry, Mom."

And then we ate some ox. I think. Also delicious.

Meanwhile we listened to the band. Rick Steves, our Germany swami in book form, calls this genre oompah music. Learn something new every day.

Doesn't it look glorious?

Oktoberfest Ferris Wheel. Among other rides there is also a roller-coaster, which Rick Steves advises against after you have been drinking. SWAMI.

Paulaner tent, looking good for liter number 3. And I am showing off my 4.5 hours of shame shirt, which I pretty much wanted to wear every day after the actual 4.5 hours of shame were over.

Prost (Cheers) at the Lowenbrau tent and an awkward camera angle.

By 9 pm the camera gets blurry and you are dancing on the table to the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" played by a German oompah music band, having shed 5 other layers of clothing.

Oh, the shame

One of the sites to see in Rothenburg is the Crime and Punishment Museum, which has the feel of a 5th grade cut-and-paste poster board science project, and the content of a truly informative seminar or medieval law. My most favorite object was this "shame mask" that a person would have been required to wear publicly, standing in the town square, had he/she acted like a pig.

Speaking of shame . . .

In this photo, captioned "Let's Ride!", I totally look like a competent and proficient bike-rider, I mean look at that form. What this photo doesn't tell you is that 5 seconds into the four and a half hour bike tour around Berlin, I realized that I had not ridden a bike since maybe the 5th grade and I wasn't going to have an instantaneously easy time of not colliding with other bikers and metal poles, nor would I feel at ease riding in the street with cars and buses and crossing busy intersections. For extra fun, the seat was uncomfortable and too low, my gears were messed up, and the bell rang of its own accord at every small protuberance in the road. Cobbled streets, which are quite popular in Europe, evinced a continuous RING. No one would ride next to me -- not sure if it was the weaving, the scary bell ringing, or the sorry's! that put them off. I affectionately nick-named the experience the "4.5 hours of shame" and to this day, Dana will not tell me what she overheard the Australians in our group saying about us. But hey, everyone came out of it alive and satisfied. I also came out with a large bruise on my leg from an unfortunate pole collision and two spectacular, matching thumb blisters from really gripping on to those handlebars.

More favorite photos are posted on Flickr.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ein Prost!

We are back! This coming week will be tres busy with organizing pictures, posting, and running a million and one errands to get ready for Ireland! My brain has already turned the switch to thoughts of Guinness, but I will try to share pictures and stories of the Germany adventure as much as humanly possible.