Friday, December 26, 2008


by James Joyce

This book is a collection of short stories about ordinary people living in Dublin in the early 1900's. I picked it up because at the bookstore, this book was screaming at me from the shelf, READ ME. It's a classic and James Joyce is a Nobel Prize-winning author born in Ireland and the book is about Dublin and I am temporarily living in Dublin. READ ME it screamed.

I had a hard time with it. The stories never got me fully engaged, and I found myself exhibiting the attention span of a squirrel, as in being able to focus for one second on normal things and four minutes on acorns and nuts. Joyce seems to be somewhat of an acquired taste. Thus, Ulysses has been squirreled away to be read maybe next winter.

3 out of 5

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas POD

Papa T and I are locked in an epic BATTLE OF THE CAMERAS. Me with my Canon Rebel XSi. He with his Nikon D90. I am winning by sheer force of will, i.e. the crop and auto correct buttons on my Microsoft Office Picture Manager, having to contend with his freakishly giant lens attachments, that cheater.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A quarter of a century years old POD

I am hard of hearing and practically blind. The joint on my big toe creaks.

I prefer a fancy dinner to a noisy, crowded bar and Parisian macaroons to yellow cake.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Moon

New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2)
by Stephenie Meyer

I am still embarrassed about reading these books. And yet I continue reading them. For most of this installment, my eyes were fully rolled into the back of my head, even more so than for the previous book. And yet I turned the pages faster and faster. If I could actually speak to the characters (and they could hear me), I would say, "People, chill out". At which point I would probably get bitten by a vampire and ripped apart by a warewolf, all at the same time, but not before they profess their undying love and describe their unbearable pain to the main character, Bella, through various and subtle facial twitches and eye-color changes/pupil dilations that only she can detect and interpret.

Don't know if it's the same for you but if I watch the first episode, even if by accident, of say, The Bachelor, I feel committed to seeing it through to the end. Despite knowing that I am watching trashy television, despite feeling stupid when I faithfully tune in each week, despite yelling obscenities out loud at the screen and at myself as I am watching, I feel compelled to finish the series. And so it goes with this hot vampire madness.

3 out of 5

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Guinness is good for you

One of the exhibits on the Guinness Storehouse tour is a collection of the classic poster advertisements that the company has put out throughout the years. These are some of my favorites.

1932. According to the Guinness website, this ad contains historical product claims that are no longer endorsed by Guinness. Guinness is, in fact, probably not good for you. This poster is so classic though, and also slightly reminiscent of Russian propaganda posters that try to assure you that communism is awesome.

1937. Very seasonal. The man seems totally surprised and delighted to find in his stocking/sock something that he should supposedly be drinking every day anyway.

1950. Speaking of Russian propaganda posters...this one says "Drink Guinness / To Your Health". I am guessing that this ad did not actually run in the USSR.

1958. This is one of the few posters drawn by a female artist. Fun fact: the harp is the national symbol of Ireland. It is also the symbol of Guinness, however the Guinness harp faces to the right and the Irish harp faces to the left.

Mulled wine, Czech dumplings, Missed flights

Prague photos are up on Flickr.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dear Santaland Diary,

Usually at this time of year, I like to sit in a comfortable chair and re-read one of my favorite short stories, David Sedaris's "Santaland Diaries." The setting: a winter wonderland at Macy's. The players: demented Santas, screaming children, photo-happy parents, Jon Bon Jovi, and a chorus of elves, as told by David Sedaris, a 33 year-old man dressed in a green frock as Crumpet the elf, who just might possibly be a little bitter about his station in life. Today, the universe smiled down upon me and brought me some extra Christmas cheer as several moving forces converged and I found myself eating a bowl of soup and watching my favorite story being acted out on a stage in front of my nose.

Act 1: My Dublin travel guide had mentioned lunchtime performances at Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street. But my travel guide also says that Dubliners call the pub the "chipper" and urges the traveler to do the same. So basically anything that comes out of that travel guide has a 50-50 chance of being either really useful information or utter horseshit, and you are really taking your chances on it each time.

Act 2: Yesterday at lunch, I walked into Bewley's to buy yet another Orla Kiely tea tin. A girl at the door, trying to stuff a flyer into my hand, mumbled something about a lunchtime performance. I was on an Orla Kiely tea tin mission, so needless to say I did not really pay attention and all she got was my polite sidewalk smile.

Act 3: This morning, coming up on lunchtime, with half of the office gone and me waiting around for the work day to end, I suddenly remembered that poor girl outside of Bewley's and the lunchtime performances I had read about in that horseshit slash good travel guide. An Internet research project was born.

Act 4: With a bowl of soup and some soda bread, I watched/listened to that favorite story of mine.

"We were packed today, absolutely packed, and everyone was cranky. Once the line gets long we break it up into four different lines because anyone in their right mind would leave if the knew it would take over two hours to see Santa. Two hours - you could see a movie in two hours. Standing in a two hour line makes people worry that they're not living in a democratic nation. People stand in line for two hours and they go over the edge. I was sent into the hallway to direct the second phase of the line. The hallway was packed with people, and all of them seemed to stop me with a question: which way to the down escalator, which way to the elevator, the Patio Restaurant, gift wrap, the women's rest room, Trim-A-Tree. There was a line for Santa and a line for the women's bathroom, and one woman, after asking me a dozen questions already asked, "Which is the line for the women's bathroom?" I shouted that I thought it was the line with all the women in it."

The actor channeled David Sedaris's voice and mannerisms pretty convincingly. The only times I doubted that he was an American was when he said "tay-co" for taco and "Karl" for carol. Also when I saw on the program that his name was Patrick O'Donnell.

Epilogue: To continue on the Christmas spirit, after work I rushed to the first day of the "12 Days of Christmas Market" across town. After such a hard day's work I felt it necessary to reward myself with some mulled wine and garlic mushrooms and Christmas stollen. In a few days I will go back for the German sausage, crispy potatoes, and mince pie. Possibly also to browse the actual wares stalls. Definitely to get some Christmas market PODs. I hope that woman standing by the mulled wine vat is ready for her photo feature in the Review Notes blog!

The End/Sincerely,


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The best and worst decisions of the day

Bad decision: Voluntarily sign up self for Advanced Tax training at work and sit through hours of topics called "Urban Renewal Relief" and "Land Dealings" with only a limited understanding of Irish income (individual) and corporate tax systems.

Good decision: Run to Bewley's immediately after work and snag what looked like their last limited edition tea caddy designed by Irish phenom Orla Kiely. Her handbags and wallets cost hundreds of euros/dollars, and I haven't truly been on board, but her designs are slowly growing on me. The caddy only set me back 7 euro and includes 160 Bewley's Gold Blend Tea bags.

Bad decision: Purchase a ticket for Cinderella, thinking it is a holiday performance of the opera variety. Sitting in the theater, munching on my popcorn, I quickly realized that I would be the only person in the audience without at least two elementary- and middle-schoolers in tow who wave laser sabers and butterfly wands. Although the overture was the theme of "Sex and the City", the fairy godmother lamented about botox, and the wicked stepsisters sang "That's Not My Name" by The Ting Tings, the was a show clearly geared towards little children. The clownish character named "Buttons" was the ringleader of my misery, urging the children to shout his name, no louder, no louder!, no LOUDER! I joined in. BUTT-INNSS!!!

Good decision: Leave Cinderella at intermission, treat self to a warm cab ride home, light up the "Christmas wreath" candle, and turn up the Irish All Christmas Radio. Mmmm.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter wonderland

In the Netherlands, I fell in love with Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp's winter landscape paintings. This particular one I saw at the Mauritshuis in The Hague and it made me want to jump right into the scene with a mug of steaming hot chocolate and the Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal" playing in my ear.

Avercamp's paintings are anecdotal and humorous, with every figure performing a different activity -- washing clothes, playing hockey, slipping on the ice and having a bare butt exposed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

An Unsocial Socialist

An Unsocial Socialist
by George Bernard Shaw

Not quite sure what to say about this book as I am even struggling to decide whether or not I liked it. It's a satire and social commentary. It's a platform for Shaw to brief us on his Socialist views. It's a love story, sort of, not really. Mixed parts enjoyable, mixed parts bizarre. It definitely makes me want to re-read Pygmalion.

3 out of 5

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Smells like Christmas wreath POD

The theme of today is randomness.

1. At the Dublin City Gallery I found myself somehow being ushered into a chamber music performance. I sat though a cacophony of sounds. A screeching clarinet. A woman's soprano. A cello with an incomprehensible melody. As it turns out, American composer Elliott Carter is celebrating his 100th birthday in a few days and there are performances happening all over the world.

2. Next door was the Dublin Writers Museum. With no previous intention of ever going there but finding myself next door, I went ahead and walked in. Instead of focusing on the exhibits, my attention was focused on the two Spanish women who took photographs of every single piece of paper put on display despite all of the signs prohibiting photography. They made me angry, and I really wanted them to get caught.

3. At Eason bookstore, my goal in life became to find some scented candles, in their massive Yankee Candle display, that would fool me into thinking that there is a Christmas tree in my apartment over there in the far corner, you can see it if you close your eyes. "Christmas wreath" came in a set with three other candles. Christmas Eve. Christmas cookie. Mistletoe. They all kind of smell the same. "Christmas Eve" will be lit on Christmas Eve, that goes without saying. "Christmas cookie" may be a good choice for Christmas day. Mistletoe is for other special occasions.

4. At the grocery store, all pork products had been pulled off the shelves. Irish pork has been contaminated, most likely through the pigs' feed. No salami = disappointment.

5. A 21 year-old college student went missing a few days ago. Posters on all of the lampposts. His body was found yesterday morning in the Grand Canal. On the walk home I passed by students milling around, gathering for a memorial or perhaps a vigil.

Every day is a collection of random events, but today, unlike most other days, just felt so strange.

Giving books

Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda's 10 Commandments of Book Giving. Books make the best presents!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Getting a high from the Christmas potpourri POD

Today, the entire population of Ireland and half of Europe congregated at Grafton Street, where I was innocently trying to buy some Christmas decorations at the Marks & Spencer. The "3 for 2 deal" turned out to be a test of endurance in disguise. As proof of my triumph, there's pine cones and ornaments littering the apartment.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Going through books almost as quickly as I am going through boxes of delicious Irish chocolate

Currently reading An Unsocial Socialist by George Bernard Shaw. I stumbled upon this gem at an outdoor book market, which in turn I had stumbled upon in the Temple Bar area on a Saturday stroll (i.e. a determined-not-to-get-lost power walk to the Gallery of Photography). I had never heard of this novel and in my ignorance had thought that Shaw only wrote plays. After a moment's hesitation, the decision was made. George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, he won the Nobel prize for literature, he gave us Pygmalion and consequently My Fair Lady -- so what if there's potentially some good ol' socialist propaganda in the mix?

I am about a fifth of the way through and so far have not directly been called to rise up against my capitalist masters. In fact, I've been enjoying the amusing characters and light-hearted narration.

The book itself is old and quite smelly. Has tons of character. Ordinarily I'd be partial to a brand new book, but somehow reading this somewhat unknown Shaw satire in the "smelly old book" edition makes the experience all the more enriching.

Now if you'll excuse me . . .

. . .I am all out of Irish chocolate so I will have to eat those organic shortbread cookies from Wales.

Can't be everywhere at once

In honor of the Vampire Weekend shows I missed in DC this week, here is, in my humble opinion, their best song and their best video:

Yes, I've posted this video before. It's just that enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Even if you cannot hear my voice I'll be right beside you dear

Great cover. Chill-inducing.

Let's compare to the original.

After a thorough and detailed analysis, taking into consideration the hotness of Snow Patrol's lead guitarist, Nathan, the winner is clearly Snow Patrol. Although I must say that their new album doesn't do it for me this time. I have promised several people to give it another chance though. In return I hope that Snow Patrol promises to come back to DC to give a performance at a respectable venue such as the 9:30 Club (where I have caught their guitar picks on two separate occasions and now proceed to carry them around everywhere I go in my wallet like a crazy person), not a pajama party on the basketball court of American University. The Black Cat is also acceptable, as long as none of the band members have me contract pink eye (I am looking at you, Keith Murray from We Are Scientists). Thank you.

On a related note, I've started watching The X Factor on Irish TV, and last week the guest was Britney. I felt embarrassed for her. She lip-synched the entire performance, or "mimed" as the Irish would say. If it weren't so sad, it would have been hilarious. "That's gas" the Irish would have said.

Coffee napkins

I loved this fun coffee story told through the power of coffee stains on napkins by Christoph Niemann for the NYT.

Simple and brilliant.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Walk to work

By the end of my stay in Dublin, I will have made the walk to/from work one hundred and twenty times, give or take a few times. Even though there's nothing especially beautiful or special on the walk, I wanted to create a photo project. I am just being sentimental. Of course often such projects always sound grander and more inspired in my head than they end up being in reality. No matter. Click here to see what I see on my walk to work.

Notes: 1) I took the photos on a Saturday. All of the photos are missing crowds of people that I am trying not to run down and that are trying not to run me down. Dubliners walk fast. 2) I listen to iPod Jr. The song that often puts an extra bounce in my step is the Kaiser Chiefs' "Never Miss a Beat".

What did you learn today?
I learned nothin
What did you do today?
I did nothin
What did you learn at school?
I didn't go
Why didn't you go to school?
I don't know

It's cool to know nothin

Drunken POD

A new favorite Dublin photo.

My Internet seems to be back up and running in the apartment, and I am just about dizzy and drunk with frantic blogging, facebooking, and flickering in the comfort of my own home. For the love of God, work faster, Internet, work faster!

Brighter yellow urine

Read this article about a doctor who eats organic food for three years. Nothing but organic. For three years. He cites increased levels of energy, earlier wake-up time, fewer illnesses, and brighter yellow urine (more vitamins) as the positive effects of his diet. He does not recommend this way of eating to anyone because of how difficult it is to maintain.

Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes
by Frank McCourt

Today I finished reading Angela's Ashes, drinking tea and eating Irish soda bread with jam (tea with bread and jam make a frequent appearance in the book). Only there weren't four kids sitting in the bed with me dressed in rags, and I had eaten other meals today.

This book is a memoir of growing up in Limerick, Ireland in the 1930s and 40s. Frank McCourt sums up his story quite poignantly on the very first page:

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

The story is quite sad from beginning to end, and you really do wonder how he was able to survive such harsh conditions. The words "resilience" and "spirit" spring to mind, and I am left with a harrowing picture of what Ireland used to be like.

4 out of 5

Monday, December 1, 2008

The White Tiger

The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga

Review from Amazon/The New Yorker:

"In this darkly comic début novel set in India, Balram, a chauffeur, murders his employer, justifying his crime as the act of a "social entrepreneur." In a series of letters to the Premier of China, in anticipation of the leader’s upcoming visit to Balram’s homeland, the chauffeur recounts his transformation from an honest, hardworking boy growing up in "the Darkness"—those areas of rural India where education and electricity are equally scarce, and where villagers banter about local elections "like eunuchs discussing the Kama Sutra"—to a determined killer. He places the blame for his rage squarely on the avarice of the Indian élite, among whom bribes are commonplace, and who perpetuate a system in which many are sacrificed to the whims of a few. Adiga’s message isn’t subtle or novel, but Balram’s appealingly sardonic voice and acute observations of the social order are both winning and unsettling."

This novel won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2008 and was an Amazon Best Books of 2008 Top 100 Editors’ Pick. I expected great things but was disappointed. Balram's sardonic voice was not appealing to me, and I was constantly waiting for a bombshell or some kind of amazing revelation that never came. Perhaps I read it too soon after Twilight and still had hot vampires on the brain.

3 out of 5