Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I had a dream last night that the GD was away and Bret and Jemaine came to visit me, only at my mom's house in Vancouver, WA.  Jemaine wasn't around much, maybe he's just a more devoted husband slash father and so he had better things to do.  Too bad, because he's actually my favorite (no offense, Bret, if you're reading this, I'm just attracted to awkward and kind of weird looking).  Anyhow, I tried to pass Bret off as the Good Doctor so my mom wouldn't ask any questions, mostly by hiding him so she couldn't see that he wasn't actually the same Kiwi boyfriend she had met just months earlier.  She came into my room once as we were setting up my childhood trundle bed (that's right, I wasn't actually going to cheat on the GD with Bret-- we slept in separate, nestling beds), but a fortuitous blinding ray of sunlight came streaming through the window and prevented her from getting a good look.  Whew!  Anyhow, then Bret and I had kind of an awkward slumber party.  I drew a picture.

My sister used to sleep in that thing.

Then, back in real life, the GD woke me up to say goodbye, he was going to work.  I told him what I was dreaming about.  He whispered, "Go back to them.  Go back to sleep."

What new music should I buy?

It just occurred to me that I haven't bought a new CD in over a year.  I am bad at keeping up with new artists in the States, but when I'm abroad, I don't listen to the radio at all and (apparently) don't hang out with people who know about new music.  I am sick of my iPod and the Good Doctor is in the same boat.

Suggestions?  Dissuasions?  Food for my starving artist?

Monday, September 28, 2009

On fashion: the tracksuit

Ireland is not (ahem) at the height of fashion, but it really, really wants to be.  

There are the knackers (not my term) who are unwavering in their determination to make the tracksuit an outfit for all occasions-- shopping; eating fast food; weddings; running drunkenly into oncoming traffic; celebrating 14th birthdays with tall boys on the top story of a Dublin bus; cursing; pick-pocketing a woman in broad daylight and then denying it when that woman and her friends follow her, demand the wallet back, and finally call the Garda (this really happened to someone I know); and probably, in a tasteful black, funerals.

I do not, as a rule, wish to make sweeping generalizations about a population.  "Knacker" began as degrading term for "travelers," those living in mobile homes and trailer parks and generally viewed with the same disdain as the Romanian Gypsies are in Italy.  I don't like using it (though the Irish pull it out without censor) because it is, in essence, a discriminatory slur.  There is also the more severe term "scumbag," which was developed to describe a smaller subset; those who might pull a rusty needle out of their own arm and stab you with it if the heroin isn't doing its job yet.

Things have become a bit more simplified.  

Knacker = any boisterous, drunk, track-suited person with a gelled mullet (man) or scrunchied ponytail (woman) who is openly breaking the law (e.g. drinking in public, running against a traffic light, screaming at the Gardaí who pulled them kicking from the restaurant where they were causing a stir); age does not make a difference, but the majority seem to be between the age of 13 and 20; annoying, but generally harmless (just watch out for the purse-snatchers).

Scumbag = junkie stabbing.  You do not want this.  
It's a bit of a square, rectangle situation.  A scumbag is a knacker, but a knacker isn't necessarily a scumbag.

So I've moved to Ireland, learned some degrading words for the locals, noted that track suits really aren't a good look on anyone (I felt this way several years ago when J-Lo popularized the pink velour version); drinking is not an organized sport, folks, you don't all need to look the same.  

Not everyone here is strung out or an alcoholic, so how to explain the overwhelming bad taste? When the GD first moved to Ireland, he was working in A&E (that's Accidents & Emergencies, a.k.a. the E.R., for all y'all Americans), and I think, for a time, he did believe that every Irish person had a serious addiction problem.  But those were the only people he ever saw.  And I, despite seeing people shooting up or smoking heroin on our street on nearly a daily basis, know that this is not everyone.  Just the ones who think that a doorway is a secret hiding place to do drugs.

What's really to blame?  Well, I think peer pressure is always a part of bad fashion choices, but the cyclical nature of the fashion world is always what astonishes me most.  I remember when I had to stop wearing leggings because they were not cool anymore and I had enough other reasons to be picked on (I know you can back me up on this, J).  So yes, I am moving away from the tracksuit, and on to Ireland's secondary fashion crime: a full return to the 80s.  

I know that hipsters in the States have been moving in that direction for years-- the skinny jeans (guilty) eventually had to lead back to the source, right?  A return to leggings was inevitable.  People really started re-embracing them around my junior and senior years in college, but only the really cool, skinny girls could pull it off, and I secretly thought they looked ridiculous.  I will wear skinny jeans.  I will wear leggings under a dress.  I will not wear leggings with a tee-shirt that exposes my bum and makes me feel as though I'm wearing nothing at all.*

I think the irony of the whole hipster movement was lost long ago, really as soon as it because a cultural phenomenon and Target started selling those fake leather stretch pants (the worst!).  But in Ireland, there is no irony.  There never was.  There are just throngs of teenage girls who maybe never saw Sixteen Candles and don't realize that what they are doing has all been done before.  The neon colors are back and the bad, bright make-up with it (though I think the orange shellac as foundation never went out of style in some circles).  Some of the more daring girls have "edgy" haircuts-- short! asymmetrical!--, salon-styled and product-filled as ever.  The longer-haired ones make sure that their ponytails are good and frizzy; no one thinks you just rolled out of bed, honey, your eyeliner would be on your chin if you went to sleep like that.

So maybe I sound mean, or just plain bitter.  Maybe I am longing for my own days of legging innocence, before I tried on my first pair of jeans and thought Horrible!  Stiff!  Who would wear these?  The result?  Years of wearing wide-leg jeans (again, long after they were in fashion), more awkwardness and being ostracized by peers.  Or maybe I just want these young women to realize that they don't have to wear a tracksuit or leggings to fit in and be cool.  In fact, it doesn't really look cool at all.

*I may some day eat these words.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm making business cards

Attempt number one.  Later versions are tidier and more regular in size.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Amsterdam: Disneyland for Grown-ups

Just off the train, Amsterdam wasn't much to look at. The station was surrounded by some construction, and as the GD and I wandered down a ramp towards the office of tourism that seemed to be housed in super-portable lifted from my high school and dropped on that vacant lot, I thought, At least I'll be stoned tonight.

We bought a map, got directions, and after I led as a little bit the wrong way, we were soon heading down the right street, into the Red Light District where our hostel was located. As soon as we got off the main road, I started to see the beauty of the place (no, I'm not talking about all the dildos in the shop windows). Amsterdam is a maze of canals. For every two or three streets crossed, there is a canal to walk over as well. I was getting more and more excited as we entered the heart of town. Porn cinemas! Cannabis! Beautiful old architecture! Sparkly water! And at last, our hostel!

We had managed to book a private room for out first night, but night two would be a different story. The room was awesome (St. Christopher's), though it had cost a pretty penny. Accommodation is pricey in Amsterdam, which is why we had decided to go the hostel route, but a private room was still well over 50 euro a night for both of us, and the second night in an 8-bed mixed dorm put the total over 100. In any case, it was a cool room with lots of weird art on the walls and though there was no smoking allowed in the rooms, I imagined it would either be a really awesome or really creepy place to come back to after a festive evening. Or afternoon. Whichever.

Amazing, futuristic, gigantic library of Amsterdam.

First order of business: dinner. The hostel was in a perfect location, just off the Damstraat, a great street for food, perpendicular to the Damrak, a main road leading to the train station, and right on the edge of the Red Light District. There was no window prostitution on our street, which was kind of nice, but you only had to go around the corner to see it. But we were hungry. We headed down Damstraat and found a Mexican restaurant. I still marvel at the fact that I can eat Mexican in Europe after living in France for seven months, where they don't seem to have gotten the memo.

There's always something just a bit off about about European Mexican, as though something was lost on the trip across the Atlantic. When my mom tried to order a vegetarian burrito in Edinburgh, the waiter said, "Okay, we will invent a new one for you!" When the GD and I ordered a guacamole appetizer in Amsterdam, the dip was delicious, but where there should have been delicious, fresh tortilla chips, there were Dorito-style, red-flavored chips from a bag. Oh well, you can't win 'em all. My tacos were delicious.

It was probably a bit counterintuitive to eat Mexican before getting stoned, but we were hungry, and we needed fuel before setting off in pursuit of a café. The search did not take long. We stopped into a nearby seed shop and asked for the recommendation of the woman working there. She pointed across the canal. "The Green House is very good." Awesome. After a bit of a trial*, we got some cash and headed to our destination.

The man with the weed was super friendly and helpful. And British! He told us about all the varieties of cannabis available and their different effects. For walking around (as we were planning to do) he recommended one that had the highest levels of... well, whatever it is that makes you high (giggly, energized, talkative) rather than stoned (vegged out in front of the T.V. popping JuJu Bees). Twelve euro for a gram. Five euro bought enough to roll a joint.

Let's just say that my stoner days are more or less behind me, and while I'm at it, let me remind everyone that this is not an incriminating post as everything we were doing was legal, but I do still take pride in my rolling. If I were I smoker, I'd definitely roll my own cigarettes. I am a premo joint roller. And I put my skills to good use to roll myself a pure one, as well as a a spliff for the GD (he's a half-tobacco kind of man).

We lit up and walked out. We wandered into the heart of the District, and it was a bit grim. I don't know why, but I expected window prostitution to retain an element of class and glamour. I guess I was picturing French lingerie, seductive poses, elaborate hairstyles. The reality was a stark contrast to my suppositions. All the women looked the same. Well, not actually the same, but they were all wearing bikinis, bad make-up and tans glowing under the red, florescent light over their window, and most of them were having fake conversations on their cell phones. Most of the women were standing in front of staircases, presumably leading to other rooms and other prostitutes; some, however, were standing in a bedroom. We were stoned, and the whole thing was pretty surreal to begin with. These were real women; this was their job. We saw a lot of people milling around, but no one went in. The GD wanted to go back to the hostel. So did I.

Monday morning we woke up and checked out of our room. We hired bikes to see Amsterdam like the locals see it. It is an amazing city for biking. Not only are there bike paths everywhere, but the bikes are well-integrated into and respected by the general car traffic. It was a sunny day, the canals were shining, and it could have been the weed, but I truly felt like I was riding through a magical chalk drawing from Mary Poppins. It was all too beautiful! We rode to the Van Gogh museum, which I highly recommend. We rode to the gigantic, architectural wonder that is the Amsterdam library. Technically, the GD's week off was study leave, so he got in a couple of hours of anatomy and physiology while I wrote and then explored the building.

We went back to the hostel to check into our new room, the mixed dorm. I was the mixer. Six men, the GD and me. We didn't stay to chat. Studying out of the way, we went back to the Green House to use up the remainder of our supply before our flight out the next day.

We explored a bit more, walking past several theatres with live sex shows. Suspiciously, most of them had the same pictures on the marquee outside. There must be a standard set. We went back to the hostel, had a quiet evening and were asleep before the roomies got back. Two of them were up around 6 a.m. to check out and probably couldn't have taken longer or applied more spray-on deodorant in the process. By midday we were at the airport and then on a plane back to Dublin; back to the Fringe for me and a start on some real studying for the GD. We'll miss you Amsterdam. Until next time.

*Apparently, on a Sunday night in Amsterdam, all of the cash machines are empty. We kept coming across machine after machine that was out of order. We finally stopped into a cash exchange kiosk to ask what the deal was and where we could get money. He explained that the only safe bet was the train station, that everything else would be sucked dry. We were heading that way (quite a walk), when we saw a line of about ten people waiting for what turned out to be an ATM. We crossed our fingers, got in line, and made it to the front before the supply was depleted.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Belgium in two days

The GD and I flashed through Belgium in a day and a half.  An early flight Saturday morning, in Brussels by 9:30 a.m., drop the bags at the train station, wander around town for the day and on an evening train to Bruges.  Check in to hotel, sleep, shower, repeat.  Brussels and Bruges are both lovely towns to walk around, which is good, because that's about all we had time to do.  Brussels is on the cusp of the Flemish and French regions, so I did bust a couple of second-language moves, but Bruges is Flemish, all the way.  Of course, everyone is like trilingual, so it's no problem for us English-speaking tourists, but it was cool to see the signs changing from predominantly French to Flemish as we rode the train north.  Saturday night, once in Bruges, we indulged in some highly-recommended, traditional Flemish food.  

The Good Doctor rocks the main square in old Brussels.

The GD and I wove down the cobble-stone streets to the hole-in-the-wall restaurant where our hotel had booked us reservations.  We were early, so we popped into a hotel bar just up the road.  We were the only ones there and had a great chat with the extremely friendly (multilingual) bartender.  When we asked what was good to drink, he handed me a very fruity drink and said, "The ladies like this one."  I explained that I like beer, despite being a "lady." After this initial misunderstanding, he was very eager to offer us Belgium's finest, or you know, strongest.  

A bit buzzed, we made our way back down the road to the restaurant and squeezed inside.  We didn't have to wait long for our table, which was fortunate because there wasn't really anywhere to stand except between two tables of people already enjoying their meals.  We sat down, redeemed out champagne vouchers, (thanks Martin's Brugge!), and both settled on the beef stew.  Now when they say beef stew, they mean beef stew.  No veggies, no nonsense, just beef.  It was delicious and served with hot applesauce and fresh fries.  That was not a typo, fries are Belgian, not French, and a nice waiter literally carried around a pot of bubbling oil from which he extracted the hot fries directly and placed them on our plates.  I took seconds on the fries even though there was no way I could finish my first round, let alone the beef stew, just because they were so good hot.  And that was the culinary highlight of Belgium.

We missed our waffle window.  I thought about getting one from a street vendor, but we really wanted fresh waffles, not sat-out-all-morning waffles; we wanted the experience Belgium through waffles, as waffles, by waffles.  We waited too long.

Canals are funny!  I am chilly!

It was Sunday afternoon.  Trains run every hour two minutes before the hour to Amsterdam, but we were aiming for the 13:58 train.  We spent the morning exploring the canals, walking through a flea market (smaller than the awesome one we had seen in Brussels) and being too full from breakfast to stop for waffles.  We'll get some on the way out of town, we thought.  No problem, we thought.  There's loads of restaurants with waffles, we thought.

We grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed to a square with several promising restaurants, and settled on the first one that listed waffles on their menu.  Rosy-cheeked from our walk, heads filled with visions of days in Amsterdam ahead, we walked in, anxious only to have a real, Belgian waffle before moving on to our next destination.  Then everything fell apart.  

A woman came to take our drink order (tea), but wouldn't take the waffle order.  Around seven minutes later I finally wrangled in a waiter who had walked past us at least five times and made the long-anticipated request: one Belgian waffle with lemon, please.  Easy enough, right?

At this point it is about ten past one.  Our train is in 48 minutes.  The station is a good fifteen to twenty minute walk from where we are.  We think, It'll be close, but we'll make it.  How long can two cups of tea and one waffle take?  Too long.  Too long.  After (I kid you not) 15 minutes, they had not even brought out our tea.  Mind you, there were maybe three to five other people in the restaurant, and we had ordered the tea nearly ten minutes before the waffle.  It was nearing half past, and we started to wonder weather we were going to have to leave without eating.  The GD stopped our waiter and explained that we had a train to catch, and Is there any way to get our tea now? and possibly know weather our waffle has been started? thanks.

The waiter was not impressed.  We should have told him at the get-go that we had a train to catch, then they would have made our waffle first.  Never mind the fact that when we had arrived 40 minutes earlier, we hadn't thought time would be an issue.  He berated me a couple of more times, and I began the transformation into ugly tourist.  Where was the customer service?  The Belgian charm?  The man brought out our tea immediately --two cups of hot water and two tea bags, how hard was that?-- and said he would check on our waffle.  We sipped our tea and watched as the precious minutes left between us and the train station slipped away.  We were about to leave when another waitress plopped the waffle down in front of us.  My building anger and frustration was channeled into my knife as I cut off a bite.  I put it in my mouth.  It was mediocre at best and-- wait, is this possible?-- still frozen in the center!  

I lost it.  Well, lost it as much as I lose it in a public place in a foreign country.  A waitress was passing me, speaking to another woman in another language.  "Is this waffle from the freezer?" I demanded.  She looked confused, then said, "Um..."  

"It's still frozen in the middle," I retorted.  She wasn't even our waitress, but I was pissed.  I had completely interrupted her while she was dealing with another customer, I was raising my voice in English, and I may as well have been wearing a shirt that said American asshole, but I didn't care.  We were so out of there.  We were already grabbing our bags, desperate to pay and try to make our train.  There was some confusion with the bill and I left fuming before I hit someone, but the GD said they didn't charge us for the waffle.  Damn right, they didn't.

We hauled ass toward the station.  I had only looked at the map once before "lunch" to plan our route, but it was not the moment to be slowed down by such cumbersome things as directions.  I was peeling through the crowds with my rolling suitcase, the GD a slightly more relaxed ten paces behind me.  We got to the main road the station was on with about seven minutes to go, and I suddenly realized we were very much on the wrong side.  We were on the same side of the road as the station, but it split in such a way that we would have to veer away from our destination or cross several lanes of traffic without a crosswalk.  The GD reminded me that it wasn't worth running in front of a semi.  I resignedly slowed my pace, stopped, waited to cross the street.

We had missed it.  We were still minutes away and there was no way we were going to make it.  I hated Belgium.  I hated waffles.  I still really wanted one, but I hated waffles and most of all frozen waffles.  At our new, defeated pace, we rounded to the corner to the entrance of the station.  As we crossed the threshold, the giant, official clock told us it was 13:55.  Three minutes.  My eyes locked with the GD's and we exchanged a look that said, Let's do this thing.  We made a b-line for a ticket counter, miraculously line-free.  "Two tickets to Amsterdam, please!" I said.  My politeness had returned.  "Sure," she said, as she took thirty painful seconds to collect our money and print the tickets.

The GD turned to me. "Now it might be worth it to run."  We ran: to our platform, up the stairs, and into the first car with two empty, adjacent seats.  I let out of a breath of relief as we sat down.  Yes!  We did it!  Fuck you, Belgium, we're going to Amsterdam!  And so we did.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Facebook: Lifting the Feminine Mystique?

None of my good friends are married and none have kids, but this is the beauty of facebook: people from high school send me friend requests all the time, and I'll usually accept it if, after ten minutes of reflection, I can remember at least one class we had together.  In this way, I have been unwittingly (if not unwillingly) immersed in the new culture of early motherhood: the facebook status update.

I am fascinated by this phenomenon of the moment-to-moment, unabashed blurt from the minds of new mothers.  When one can send mobile updates to one's page at any time of day or night, the realities of parenting are no longer blended together as in a book like What To Expect When You're Expecting*.  It's no longer a general overview.  Motherhood (as the updates are nearly always written by the stay-at-home moms) is neither glossed over as nothing but sunshine and baby burps nor completely written off as drudgery, loneliness and sacrifice; the update provides a window into the ever-vacillating reactions and emotions of the young mom.

I have been following a particular former classmate of mine for the past few days.  She, of course, does not know this (further beauty of facebook) and wouldn't have time to care if she did, as she's taking care of a 2-week old.  Let's call her S.  In one update she writes, "S... loves her little [girl] more with each passing moment.  I may die from cuteness overload!"  This post is beautiful, and perhaps typical, but it comes nearly a week after the baby is born.  Obviously she loves and is in awe of her baby, but the six previous days of updates include exhaustion, pain, breast-feeding, exhaustion, no sleep, diarrhea, love, gratitude, and more sleep deprivation.  

Two days after the "cuteness overload" update she writes, "fussy baby, 4 hours sleep, no one around to take her. *Sigh*," then the next three days are all sleep-status updates.  On Tuesday she wrote, "[Baby] had a rough night and I have to [be] at work at noon.  Ugh."  Her friend (also a mother) responds, "I can't believe u have to work.  Well what am I saying I want to go back I am sick of being home alone."

And this is the thing: all of her friends seem to be moms.  Or maybe all of her other friends simply have nothing to say on the topic of "baby explod[ing] out both ends."  Nearly everyone who has written on her wall in the past two weeks is either a relative, an in-law or a fellow new mom.  The page is overrun with profile pictures of babies, mommies and babies, and the rarer family portrait.  One young woman has a baby and suddenly her facebook page becomes a forum for any young mothers she knows or may have met once and added as a friend.

The remark about being "sick of being home alone" really stuck with me.  Of course, these women aren't home alone; they're home with an un-intellectual, undeveloped being that demands all of their time and energy, but that being is still someone and the expectation is that to the mother, the baby should be everything and time spent with the baby should be enough.  This, of course, is not the case, and I've seen it expressed elsewhere on facebook.  Another former classmate of mine wrote a really interesting blog during her pregnancy following her preparations for motherhood that went as far as a detailed description of a fight with her doctor over the question of episiotomy; she didn't want one.  Since having her baby, she has been very open about the ups and downs of early motherhood.  I have seen her write, on more than one occasion, "I love this baby, but..."

I admit that I found this attitude to be shocking, at first.  I am not a mother, and the idea of being one (some day in the far and distant future) excites and terrifies me, partly because I'm afraid it will drive me nuts to be at home (alone) with a little blob of life all day.  Since the birth of her child, the pregnancy blogger has blatantly expressed her desires to get out of the house, spend time with "real" people, and recently, go back to work.  The whole phenomenon of mommy updates puts me in mind of Betty Friedan, of the isolated, lonely housewife, and how little "housewife syndrome" has changed since The Feminine Mystique was first published.  What is incredible and completely different, however, is that a: women feel free to air their grievances about motherhood as well as their joys, and b: that facebook has become a forum through which young women can reach out to each other and commiserate and celebrate being moms together.

But is facebook simply the new drug of choice?  Is it just another way to end the monotony of being "home alone"?  Where there was once a steady flow of sedatives and anti-anxiety pills a woman can now find a constant stream of information: photos, updates, moment-to-moment windows into the lives of others.  She can share pieces of her own life, she can seek pity and congratulations from her cyber-network of friends and perhaps gain a sense of fulfillment and community that she cannot find at home.  

I know that I have spent hours of my own life quelling boredom by spying on people I have not seen in years and secretly taking pleasure in the failures of people I didn't like in the 10th grade.  I was uncomfortable and even a bit aggravated when I saw the first wedding album of someone I knew on facebook.  If you're getting married, isn't it time to be a grown-up?  I thought.  Isn't it time to delete your page and be a wife or career-woman or mom or whatever?  I had a similar response to the first baby photos.  Get that child out of your profile picture! But motherhood seems to be the great unifier on facebook, and I am not on that page.

And what of these children who are growing up in an online community?  Long before they can give consent, their images are all over their parents' walls, their first steps are documented for any friends, family members or stalkers from sophomore-year biology (ahem) to see.  Kids just ten years younger than me are spilling their guts on youtube to anyone who will listen.  When I was their age, the blog was the great, new act of exhibition: a journal of your deepest thoughts, fears and desires that anyone is cyberspace can read!  Kids ten years before that didn't have the internet.  What will these featured facebook babies being doing in ten years' time?

*I've never actually read this.