Goodbye Fucking Ireland

November 30, 2010

One of my last nights in Dublin I went to the Brown Bread Mixtape with Carolyn. Brown Bread is a monthly theme night that laces music, spoken word, comedy, and poetry with sly social commentary and, at times, outright rage. I heard about it from a guy I met at work, Kalle, a writer and performance poet from Waterford.

I was enormously impressed by the energy and passion of the players that took over the upstairs of The Stag's Head. The performances were funny, creative, and emotional, showcasing a variety of talent from both Irish and international performers. Although I tend to be skeptical of spoken word poetry which all too often lapses into Beat-speak, I found Stephen James Smith's sultry rhythms moving and was quickly won over.

During the intermission they brought in a great deal of delicious brown bread with butter and jam for the packed audience which went rather well with a nice pint of Guinness. Carolyn and I were interviewed for an upcoming radio show about Brown Bread and we met many of the performers who were absolutely gracious and thankful that we had come.

Although the offerings vary each month, it's clearly Kalle's passion and energy that fuels the Mixtape and makes it so unique. Check out his spoken word piece railing against the Irish politicians in charge of the banking system:

Finally, at the end of the performance, Kalle led the audience through an anthem that shook the walls with heartfelt passion. It reminded me of why Ireland has had such a fierce and bloody history of standing up against political and social repression. To hear a room full of Irish folks roaring, "My blood is boiling for Ireland" is bone chilling. It's hard not to respect the Irish passion for political discussion and action, especially when compared to the level of apathy in the States. "Ireland, Ireland, Ireland fucking Ireland!" the crowd sang. I can't think of a better sentiment now for that troubled island.

Angel of Dublin

September 14, 2010

I met Angel at Slattery's, a local pub frequented by the young, tech folks working for Google and Facebook. Angel's a Chinese immigrant and Slattery's is one of three jobs she's working while putting herself through school to get the European equivalent of an MBA. It was clear that she's a hard worker and ambitious, eventually wanting to start her own business. But for a lot of immigrants, the opportunities (especially in Dublin these days) are limited.

"Angel" (whose real name is Hui Fang) was amused that the more I drank, the more my eyes closed to a squint. Must be a function of old age because it's been commented on more and more. She was intrigued that I was from New York and I would drop in and visit her for a pint now and again to visit with her. She always knew I wanted a Guinness and somehow always had the correct change waiting for me before I even payed her.

The Chinese are incredibly hospitable, she said, even giving up their own beds for guests and she insisted on showing me a good time in Dublin. That I was her American "guest." I couldn't argue and we made plans to go see a movie and then perhaps go dancing later.

Dublin has a lot of immigrants. In fact, most of the people I've met weren't Irish at all. They were Spanish and Romanian, Chinese, French, Moroccan, Mexican, Slovakian. They also tend to get paid less than the comparable Irish worker, but certainly more than they'd be making at home, so there's some understandable hostility and resentment toward the hand that's feeding them.

A lot of immigrants, like Hui Fang, come over to learn English which means they end up with some hybrid of an Irish brogue superimposed over their original accent. In Hui Fang's case, it was rather cute, but I must admit that I struggled to understand her here and there. Since she's only learned English in the last few years, she also struggles a bit to understand English and goes to the movies regularly, which I imagine is good practice. Though in hindsight, perhaps it wasn't terribly wise to take her to see Inception of all movies. Difficult enough for an English-speaker to follow, much less someone already struggling with comprehension.

We took the bus into town and went to a Chinese grocery store so we could sneak snacks into the theatre. I was pretty lost in there and we ended up with some round textured crunchy nuts that were a bit too sweet, some dried chewy strands of salty yellow fish fiber, some sweet creamy gelatin to be slurped out of plastic shot cups, and some green tea drinks. As we covertly opened our snacks under the cover of darkness and the dried fish rose to meet me, it occurred to me that we were likely the only people in the theatre eating some kind of contraband fish gut. There's something special in that.

We went to a pub after and exchanged stories and relationship history. Was this a date, I started to wonder? Hard to be sure. But Angel was refreshingly forward about asking me questions and forthright about answering. I admired her for striving so hard to better herself and told her I'd be happy to show her around New York if she ever visited. After we went to a disco and met her friends, a couple of lovely young Brazilian girls. The club was playing songs like Kool and the Gang's Celebration and Let's Hear It for the Boy, but based on the crowds overwhelming approval, I'm pretty sure they weren't doing it ironically like in some New York borough's. Angel ran to get me drinks regularly (against my protests) and I talked with her friends. One of them, a lovely blonde started making out with a young punter who she apparently kind of knew and I talked to the other about Dublin and places to travel in Europe. When Angel returned, after a short consultation, she insisted her friend liked me and tried her best to get me to pay attention to her. If this is hospitality in China, I certainly can't complain.

After a stop at Burger King for the girls, we ended the night ridiculously late and not a little tipsy, despite the fact that I was meeting Carolyn in Edinburgh the next day for the Fringe Festival. I promised to help Angel with her resume when I got back and that we'd watch another movie together, perhaps Gone with the Wind, which she had downloaded online.

"Gone with the Wind, huh? Is there a Chinese translation for the title?"

"Mmmmm... something like... Girl Who... Girl Who Have Very Long History."

I made a comment about how the movie represented such breakthroughs in technology for its time. Angel didn't believe me.

"Why? When do you think the movie came out?"

"Oh, like very soon. Within last ten years."

Globalization meets pirated media. Certainly the Chinese can't expect we're all walking around with waxed Rhett Butler mustaches... although lately I've been seeing some hipsters that might confirm that very image.

The Galmire Girls

August 30, 2010

Me: On the train to Killarney surrounded by the Glanmire women's basketball team.

Jesse: Dirty limerick ensues?

The Glanmire girls were terribly tall
And up to no good I recall
They were headed to Killarney
For some sporting and blarney
After filling their baskets with my balls

Don't You Forget About Me

August 29, 2010

I've been talking with Ayako about some fundamental differences between Japanese and American culture. While Americans are certainly considered hardworking, frequently turning up in the top 10 hardest working countries, I'm convinced we've got nothing on the Japanese.

According to Ayako, entry-level Japanese workers are expected to put in 12 - 15 hour days the first year working at a company. After that, they're able to finally relax and settle in to a mere 10 - 12 hour day. This is so common there's even a term for death by overworking, called karoshi.

Such devotion to work is perhaps compounded by the idea that Japanese at a young age are expected to plot a strict course in life from which they're not expected to deviate. The Japanese sense of happiness also seems to be bound up in their individual talents. There doesn't seem to be an inherent separation between what motivates someone out of preference verses innate aptitude. It was interesting when asking Ayako what drove her to follow how she spends her time (whether it was working or playing piano), she would respond simply that she was good at it.

We talked a lot about this and what it means to be "happy". Is life any less fulfilling if your happiness is predicated on what you're good at? Can we be bred to be satisfied in our jobs, as opposed to more base inclinations? The American perspective is so different -- one of working hard and playing hard -- but there's a strict separation there. There's not an expectation that people should enjoy their work simply because they're good at it. For those slogging through their jobs (and let's face it, that's a fair number), that's what weekends are for. To reclaim what made life important in the first place.

Desperate to communicate the American idea of having a personality totally independent of work, I wandered past a decrepit theatre in Dublin hosting a John Hughes retrospective. I could hardly resist then, taking Ayako to see The Breakfast Club, complete with the dust and scratches of 25 odd years and a warbling sound track. I couldn't think of a better movie to show teenagers resisting categorization, an inherently American claim to individuality. Not sure she totally liked it, though we both had some giggly moments along with the cheering audience.

These are some statistics of estimated annual hours over 8 centuries (to put our contemporary work ethics in perspective) courtesy of Wikipedia:

year               type of worker                      annual hrs
13th century    Adult male peasant, UK            1620 hrs
14th century    Casual laborer, UK                  1440 hrs
Middle Ages     English worker                        2309 hrs
1400–1600      Farmer-miner, adult male, UK   1980 hrs
1840              Avg worker, UK                       3105–3588 hrs
1850              Avg worker, U.S.                     3150–3650 hrs
1987              Avg worker, U.S.                     1949 hrs
1988              Manufacturing workers, UK        1855 hrs
2004              Avg full-time worker, Germany   1480 hrs
2008              Avg worker, India                     2817 – 3443 hrs
2010              Investment Banker, NY              5082 hrs

What do your work hours look like? Are they in line with the contemporary average of where you're living?

Killing with The Colleen Bawn

August 28, 2010

I took my roommate, Ayako, to see a play at the Temple Bar Project Arts Centre called The Colleen Bawn (which loosely translates as beautiful blonde girl). I had no idea what it was going to be about, but considering the long history of good Irish theatre, felt compelled to see something while in Dublin and was itching to get out of the house on a Friday evening.

The Colleen Bawn is a melodrama written by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault in the 19th century. It was first performed in New York in 1860 and so definitely had dated notions of comedy, suspense, and propriety. That being said, the players did a wonderful job with the material given, considering how ridiculously melodramatic plays of that time could be.

To sum up (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Hardress Cregan and his mother have fallen on hard times. His mother tries to persuade Hardress to marry the wealthy Anne Chute. He agrees, although he is already secretly married to Eily O'Connor, a beautiful fair-haired girl (in Irish cailín bán or colleen bawn) who has many admirers including the roguish Myles-na-Coppaleen. Anne, seeing Hardress with Eily one night, mistakes him for her lover, Kyrle Daly, and, angry at Kyrle, she agrees to marry Hardress. Hardress's servant, the hunchback Danny Mann, offers to murder Eily so that Hardress will be free to marry Anne. Thinking that Hardress has agreed, he takes Eily to the lake where he attempts to drown her, but he is discovered and shot by Myles-na-Coppaleen. At the wedding of Hardress and Anne the police come to arrest Hardress for the murder of Eily, but before he is taken away Eily appears. Hardress is released, Eily is accepted by Mrs. Cregan, Anne and Kyrle are reconciled and Anne offers to pay off the Cregans' debt.
This was based on the true story Ellen Scanlan who at 15 was married to John Scanlan, but when his family refused to recognize the marriage, he persuaded his servant kill her. The servant took her out to the River Shannon in County Clare where he killed her with his gun, stripped her, and weighted her down with a stone before tossing her in the river. After her body washed ashore, Scanlan was arrested for murder, tried, and hanged at Gallows Green.

After the play, we grabbed dinner at the delicious Eden and walked the streets of Temple Bar. There we saw an Australian offering a rather intriguing outdoor amusement. He had a bicycle in which he had reversed the handlebars, so when the rider turned right, the bike went left and vice versa. The Australian had laid out a carpet over the rugged cobblestone street, and charged 4 euro for people to ride the bike roughly 8 feet. For those successful, he would give 40 euro. Every ten minutes or so the Aussie would jump on the bike and ride in circles effortlessly. Of course, when anyone else tried it, they couldn't ride the bike more than a foot before awkwardly stopping or crashing to the cobblestone. But considering the amount of drunken revelers at any given moment in Temple Bar, it was the perfect scam. We watched for about 45 minutes as patron after patron tried to master the reverse bicycle before being humbly thrown to the ground. We estimate in less than an hour, the Aussie had made over 100 euros and had a line of brave, inebriated souls still behind him.

For your amusement, here is a small sample:

Awash in Amsterdam

August 25, 2010

I've always wanted to go to Amsterdam. Not simply for its reputation of wanton permissiveness, but for its ecological consciousness and relaxing pace. It always seems to rank as one of the top 20 best cities to live and with good reason. It's a city that's largely tolerant of diversity, lovely to look at, and a marvel of urban planning.

Because the summer tickets were ridiculously expensive, I had to catch a taxi at 4am for a 6am plane. The cab driver told me all about his homeland of Romania where they grow plums in bottles to make ţuică, a kind of plum brandy. There were old Irish people drinking Guinness at the airport at 5 in the morning. God bless.

Jeanette flew in from Copenhagan and because she works in the hotel industry, got us a room at the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, which first opened in 1867 as a destination for royalty and noblesa, more recently hosting the likes of Queen Elizabeth, The Rolling Stones, and U2. It was a gorgeous hotel right on the water and within walking distance to the center of town. We grabbed some ham and gruyere pancakes with a crowd of Dutch senior citizens and then strolled through the city. We walked around Albert Cuyp Market sampling cheeses and drooling over the smoked fish and pastries, then headed toward Westerpark to the Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks with galleries, cafes, and performance spaces.

We found ourselves in a crowd that looked suspiciously like The Hell's Angels -- lots of leather, large beards, and tattoos. Jeanette looked at me nervously, wondering exactly what I'd gotten her into, until we intrepidly entered a hall to find... well, a biker rally. These were bikers alright, but of the distinctly Amsterdam variety who had tricked out their bicycles in the most bad ass ways. We walked around stunned at the amazing design, a testament to the commitment that Amsterdammers have for cycling.

Everywhere you go, you find bikes lined across canals, corralled into corners, chained to public property. The sidewalks were the only part of the city I found truly challenging, as they negotiate with bikes, mopeds, motorcycles, light rail, pedestrians, other bicycles, and at intersections: cars. But the commitment to being energy efficient is impressive, especially considering the frequency with which it rains.

After dinner we walked down to the red light district to see what all the fuss was about. To be honest, I was disappointed. Though larger than I'd imagined, it appeared to simply be a lot of women in windows wearing bikinis. I'm sure if we'd taken in a show or something I would have had my boundaries challenged, but I found the red light district to be surprisingly sanitary. That probably shouldn't surprise me, as the rest of the city seems just as efficiently managed.

The next day we did a canal tour and hung out in the luscious Vondelpark where we caught a free show -- some inoffensive bluesy music that made it a fine family affair for a Sunday. Still, it's hard to get used to the amount of marijuana smoke wafting through the air at any given time. Though not unusual in New York, the frequency is just ridiculous in Amsterdam. Literally, everywhere you go. But there's also something liberating in knowing that the state isn't wasting precious resources busting people for drugs as they're going through museum security checks. They're able to focus on what's truly harmful. It's hard to realize how tense it is to live in a security state when it comes about so gradually.

Jeanette flew back and I checked into the humble, but clean, Zandbergen Hotel. Not sure why they would put such a menacing clown painting over the bed, especially in the one city where you don't need to be going to bed with menacing clown paintings over the bed... but I digress.

The next day I rented a bike and rode to the Riksmuseum to see some amazing Dutch painting. The Rembrandts were absolutely breathtaking. Some of the colors and textures looked so surreal, they seemed to be popping off the canvas. Amazing that those kinds of effects could be created hundreds of years ago. Makes me think that most digital art strives to achieve the same affect with less than half the effort. Maybe that's efficiency or maybe just laziness, I'm not sure. I then popped over to the Van Gogh museum where I saw many of his early works I'd never seen and learned much more about his life. Those textures and colors of the French countryside are gorgeous and I found myself eager to travel through the south of France.

I walked around the canals, visiting antique stores full of well designed porcelain and Napoleanic memorabilia. Sat in cafes on the water and watched people enjoying the warm weather and boats drifting lazily through the canals. As the sun went down, turning the canals a dusky gold and the strains of accordion players wafted through the air, the scene around each corner seemed lovelier than the last and I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually here.

It made me think that I could easily chill in Amsterdam for a year or two. It's hard to imagine the quality of life being much better with such kind people who seemed so content. I worked out of the Amsterdam office on Monday which is small and has communal tables for lunch. As I was taking a cab back to the airport, the driver asked me if I had any coffeeshop contraband on me, for he would be happy to take it off my hands.

"I don't smoke myself, you see, but people forget it at the airport and can get in some trouble. I usually offer to take it off their hands and just give it to my friends."

Na Zdravie!: Part 2

August 17, 2010

The festival closed down early, so the throng of revelers descended on the poor town of Dun Laoghaire mad with hunger. There were lines everywhere, but none more so than at the off-license liquor store which wound around the block. We walked up the hill toward the center of town and I hit it off with a couple tech guys: Julian a tall strapping Australian who was dating the lovely Judith, and his jovial co-worker Sam (who I believe was Irish, but sounded suspiciously Australian). We opted for fish and chips which had the shortest wait, but even then our party broke apart as others went in search of shorter queues.

We all met up again in front of a local shop where we sat and chatted, eating and smoking. A small, wiry Irishman with a shaved head (not looking unlike Milan2) came up to the tallest of our party, Granko, and snarled drunkenly, "You're sittin' in my seat." At first we all thought he was merely being coy, but he adamantly insisted Granko had taken his seat. Granko explained congenially in a heavy accent that we had been here a while and that this couldn't possibly be his seat. The Irishmen railed that he had paid for his food and this was always his seat. Amused, Granko pointed out that, "Well, there are 8 of us and 1 of you." This set the Irishman off. "I don't care how many you are. You think I care? I'll kill each and every one of you. Don't worry, I'll kill you all quickly, except you..." He turned back to Granko. "I'll kill you sloooowly."

We laughed heartily over the distinction which inflamed the Irishman further. Granko is around 6'4" and a former security guard at Google. Though thin and wearing glasses, he didn't look like someone you'd opt to mess with unless you were an intoxicated Irishman or had mental problems or both. After exchanging some more words so as not to sacrifice too much dignity, Granko graciously gave up his seat and we walked away while Daniella berated us for not walking away earlier. It's well known that people get knifed in Ireland all of the time for lesser misunderstandings. There have been 100 fatal stabbings since 2003 in Ireland and a quarter of these were foreign nationals. Most were Eastern European.

As we walked back down to the port the city was exploding. Lines were queued up around nightclubs and women walked by in soaring heels and strapless dresses. Some of the girls looked young, in their mid-teens. "That one's almost worth the jail time," Sam muttered as we stood in awe of the shortness of passing skirts. We stood on the corner discussing the best strategy to integrate into the madness.

"Hey, isn't that Milan?"

We looked across the road to see Milan2 sitting on a stone wall, his knees to his chest, looking dazed and a little scared. Lucy and Daniella went to go talk to him as we watched hungry men with turned heads and laughing women. A tan, bleach-blond girl in a see-through white dress and white thong walked by prompting speculation that she was Russian. "Эй, ты русский? Я говорю на русском!" She walked up the block without turning. Ten minutes later she walked by again.

Milan2 had been convinced to rejoin the group. He walked up and looked down shyly, "I'm sorry. Sometimes I get a little too much, too intense." "Oh, don't worry. I've been there. I completely understand." He smiled appreciatively.

It was decided we would go back to Julian and Judith's who have a place across the road from the harbor. We entered into a charming little apartment with a view of docked sailboats and sat around the table. They were impeccable hosts bringing beer and vodka, delicious ouzo, coffee, and tea. Judith made popcorn and we sat around and talked with people filtering out leisurely to the porch to smoke. I realized suddenly that I was in the midst of some European fantasy I'd had for years, some mixture of my mother's Peace Corp stories and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. strangely perfect, sitting around with these lovely accents, passing around shots, talking and laughing. A bidet sitting serenely in one corner of the bathroom.

Milan2, feeling overly thoughtful in his drug-induced state, talked to me of life, death, and what it meant to be American.

"You Americans... you left behind your home country. You left behind and never looked back. You don't even know any of your history."

"It's largely true," I admitted, "though my family has been able to trace back at least some basic ancestry on my mother's side. They were Polish on the German border.

Milan looked at me suspiciously. "Let me look at you." He looked me up in down. "No, you're not Polish. You don't look Polish."

I shrugged. "Perhaps, I got more of the German side."

He nodded. "Americans... you have no history. No accomplishments. You were never the first to do anything! You only follow the Europeans."

"Hmmm... maybe... maybe..." I replied attempting to mollify him. "Except, of course, the iPhone. You have to admit we did come up with the iPhone first."

"Oh. Yeah, yeah, okay that's true. The iPhone."

"And also modern air conditioning. We came up with that."

"Hmmm... yeah, I give you that."

"And what about the Internet?" someone chimed in. The Americans invented the Internet."

"Oh, the Internet," Milan2 grumbled.

"And the car? The telephone. What about Google?" Suddenly, I felt like I was in that scene from The Life of Brian, "What 'ave the bloody Romans ever done for us anyway? Nothing!"

Someone reminded us that the last train left at midnight and we scampered across the road in various states of intoxication and merriment. The turnstiles were open to accommodate the crush of people and we hurried on to the DART to be hurled northward into the night back to Dublin.

Na Zdravie!

August 13, 2010

I spotted Milan almost immediately, grinning proudly amongst the throng, his beer chastely covered by a coffee container. We work on the same team at work and he has the habit of making jokes constantly throughout the day, most of which I don't understand, but all of which make me laugh, largely due to his Slovakian accent and second-hand English. He's got these great Slovakian parables, so when the subject of traveling to Amsterdam with contraband arises, he'll say: "In Slovakia we have saying: don't bring wood to forrest," before laughing uncontrollably.

He's playful and keeps the mood light during stressful situations. Of everyone I've met here, he knows how to have a really good time. He's friendly with everyone, so it's not uncommon for a drunken old Irishmen he's met at the bar to come stumbling over to sing a song or two and stamp his feet, as Milan sings along merrily in absolute gibberish. It's also clear that he absolutely adores his wife Lucy and is a trustworthy friend.

The Slovaks welcomed me by first making sure I had something to drink. At the main stage drinking wasn't allowed, so they had all sorts of accoutrement to make sure the beer and vodka was well hidden. His friends were generous, refilling Milan's coffee cup which he'd gifted to me and introducing themselves. We stood around listening to Khaled, an Algerian singer, sipping beer and watching the girls (and an occasional drunk Irishman) limbo.

I got to talking with another Milan, Milan2 as I like to think of him, a wiry, passionate fellow about my own age with a shaved head who was clearly in an altered state and treated me a 45-minute synopsis of Slovak-Hungarian-Czech relations. The short of it is that after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarians employed an ethnic assimilation policy known as "Magyarization" or ("Hungarization") that outlawed Slovak language in schools and imposed Hungarian language and culture on ethnic minorities within the border. In 1918, a Slovak patriot Milan Rastislav Štefánik (the original Milan, which is how we got to talking about all of this) helped organize a Czechoslovak army against Austria-Hungary which became its own nation following World War I.

After a brief stint seceding from Czechoslovakia at the behest of the Nazis and aligning themselves with Germany, Slovakian rejoined Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II only to be federated by the Socialists in 1969. Thus began life under communism that lasted until the end of Communist rule in 1989 and by 1992 Slovakia had become an independent nation. Thus, as Milan2 put it, the Slovakians hate the Hungarians and they used to dislike the Czechs although now they'll hang out with them (pointing to other members of the group), but they don't actually trust them because Czechs like to stab Slovakians in the back.

I guess it's one of the stark differences between America and Europe in that we don't have this weighty history on our backs. These old grudges that stem from years of invasion and persecution that don't die easily. The Slovaks hate the Hungarians who hate the Czechs who hate the Russians. The Danish hate the Germans. The Irish hate the English. There's so much national pride that has to be waved around, flouted in others' faces, traced as a line in the sand to see if anyone will dare cross. That's the gift of growing up in a country that just happens to be a global power I suppose. Not insecure enough to worry about bad blood with the British or Mexico, Vietnam or even Iraq. We've never suffered defeat that was in any way culturally humiliating (yet), and so we don't wear the same chips on our shoulders.

Milan2 excused himself to "let the water out of my body" and stumbled off. As the concert wound down, people started to complain of hunger and a plan was made to seek out fish and chips, but Milan2 was no where to be found. Someone pointed out that he'd left his shoes, which is about the one item of clothing you'll need when seeking out a portable toilet. No one seemed to have his cell phone, not even Daniella, his tall blond girlfriend with the full pouting lips. She was upset and concerned, but after the sky began to get dark, we had no choice but to go for food hoping that fate would throw Milan2 in our path again.

You Can Dance If You Want To

I took the DART (light rail) down to Dun Laoghaire, fondly called the "Irish Riviera," for the Festival of World Cultures, a weekend of music, crafts, and workshops from performers around the world. This seemed fitting, as I've actually met few Irish people since I've been here. Instead, it's been all Spaniards and Frenchmen, Argentines and Slovaks, Romanians, Chinese, and Japanese.

Dun Laoghaire (or Dunleary) was a cute city with gently sloping hills and picturesque sailboats moored in the bay. I was heartened to see plenty of booths advocating for various causes including being green and the realities of the World Bank. I wandered up to a stage on a grassy hillside, grabbed a beer, and enjoyed Afro Eire (Irish African drummers), Alale from Galway who blend Irish and Spanish folk music, Biko band which mixed French and Irish traditions, and the Najib Soudani group that performed classical Sufi dance to African and Moroccan beats.

I was struck by how natural everyone looked, how comfortable in their skins they seemed. In New York (at least on the L train) you have so many people dressing with a sense of irony, or looking outlandish (presumably for the sake of looking outlandish). There's such a self-consciousness to the culture that seemed refreshingly absent at this festival. As the Biko band settled into some light world grooves, people happily joined the big-bearded hippie with dreads on acid who had been dancing crazily on his own and started dancing arm and arm together. My first reaction (shamefully) was to be embarrassed for them, prancing around with those blissful smiles on their shining faces. But then I realized that these folks were really in touch with the sound, the music around them, the expressions of cultural pride without a hint of embarrassment, self-consciousness, or irony. No one was advertising a persona or canabalizing styles from the past. It was just simple, unadulterated joy. If you squint really hard, you can see them in the background of the video.

After, I walked around sampling olives stuffed with feta and almonds; moist, honey-soaked baklava with ground pecans and cinnamon; a delicious paella heaped with seafood, and frozen yogurt drizzled in Baily's. My co-worker Milan called to say he was hanging out with some Slovak and Czech friends over at the main stage so I began to make my way over to join them.

Man About Town

August 6, 2010

Went and saw a couple bands at a popular venue called Wheylan's a couple weeks ago. The first was Lou McMahon, a lovely singer-songwriter that played acoustic folk pop along with more uptempo numbers with a backing band. She told a story in which a man broke into her and her roommate's house the week before. The roommate, she explained, was exceedingly messy, in fact, creating a mess pretty much wherever she goes. As they huddled in a locked bathroom listening to the intruder go from room to room, they heard him open the roommate's door and simply mutter, "Jaysus," before quietly closing the door and moving on to other parts of the house.

After was The Pulpit, who were a bit more my speed. A cross between Dick Dale and the B52s, The Pulpit was fronted by a sultry lead singer (the nicely named Laura Lovejoy) in skin tight pants, spiked heels and a large gold glitter guitar that she wielded deftly along with two skinny lads on drums and keyboards respectively. There was something completely alluring about the way she played, her long gold lashes turned coquettishly downward and she banged on her guitar. Why is being passionately indifferent so damned sexy?

Stumbling home around 3 am on a dark street bordering Marrion Square, I was propositioned by my first prostitute. She wasn't unattractive and looked unusually dressed up, as if waiting for her friends to pick her up to go clubbing. She said something to me and I stopped and took out my earbuds.


"50 for hand, 70 for oral, 90 for sex."

I tried to make sense of what she had said.

"Wait... 50 FOR HAND? Fifty? Wow, I find that disturbingly consistent with the rest of the prices in Dublin."

She stared at me blankly.

"No thanks," I said smiling softly, stumbling off into the night.

Going Galway: Part 4

August 4, 2010

A couple other observations about Galway. Galway is a small town of under 100K people that, like much of Ireland, is mired in deep economic recession. It's not really evident how much until you see headlines from the Galway Independent like "Jobs boost for Galway" where a pitiful 35 jobs will be created in the next year.

Though economically depressed since the famine of the 1840s, the city had had a brief resurgence in the last decade only to find itself on the skids again. Even our tour guide on route to the Cliffs of Moher made a mournful pitch for us to stop and pay money to all of the touristy places along the way like the Aillwee Cave in order to help out the local community. You got the sense that the young lad leading the tour through the underground caves was thankful for the change doled out at the end in the form of tips and, reminiscent of Peru, there were locals next to many attractions selling home spun wool scarfs and Celtic crosses.

It's curious to see how it's size and Catholic upbringing renders romantic relationships here in Galway. A local column in the Indpendent called "Single and the City," ("a tongue in cheek look at single life in Galway") when not writing about beauty products, offers advice to those looking to date:

"Was that a date?" the taxi driver barks at me the second I get in the car, pointing at the (male) friend who had just seen me off. This is a very odd question indeed. I'm starting to wish that I'd sat in the back and not in the passenger seat. I look at his registration photo, feeling a bit too intimidated to actually look at him, with the full intention of memorising his face in case he tried to feel me up and I had to bail out of the car while it was still moving (ask any smart woman who takes a taxi by herself at night - we all do this on some level).

The level of inappropriate sexual overtures (particularly for a culture committed to copious drinking) can definitely be felt in many social situations.

I've heard a song a couple times since I've been here called The Galway Girl. It's actually by Texan Steve Earle, though it's good enough that musicians will play it in the pubs over here. I quite like the lyrics:

Galway Girl

Well, I took a stroll on the old Long Walk
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
I met a little girl and we stopped to talk
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what's a fella to do
'Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
And I knew right then I'd be takin' a whirl
'Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl

We were halfway there when the rain came down
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
And she asked me up to her flat downtown
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what's a fella to do
'Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
So I took her hand and I gave her a twirl
And I lost my heart to a Galway girl

When I woke up I was all alone
With a broken heart and a ticket home
And I ask you now, tell me what would you do
If her hair was black and her eyes were blue
I've travelled around I've been all over this world
Boys I ain't never seen nothin' like a Galway girl

Going Galway: Part 3

After the exhibition, I walked across town to check out The Grippe Girls on Carolyn's suggestion. One of Carolyn's friends from acting school starred in this quirky two-woman play about two sets of twins living in a crumbling country estate. Obstina and Hildegard Grippe are elderly British women who have lived days of bygone and reckless adventure. They are being cared for by the devoted Margaret and Brigid, working class Irish and also twins who scheme to keep the Grippe's dark past away from a nosey documentarian by any means necessary. Although I hadn't much interest in the play apart from Carolyn's association, I was so happy I went. It was sharp and darkly comic with the actresses putting on just the right amount of affectation without overdoing it.

After a Guinness stew (which I can't say I would order again), I bought an umbrella that staved off the rain and wind for about 2 minutes and headed over to the Badly Drawn Boy show. It was either that or The Human League reunion which, after 28 years, was looking a little less human than I remember. I'd only known one song by BDB, but it's a song I really love called A Minor Incident.

Badly Drawn Boy was unlike any show I've attended. Shubha had set my expectations low by saying she'd seen him years ago where he kept the audience waiting for a couple hours before stumbling through renditions of his songs. It was so bad, she thought he was on heroin. So I wasn't sure what to expect when he strolled out on stage perfectly on time with long greying hair under a stocking cap, looking quite a bit shorter than I expected.

He started the concert by saying he doesn't play out live very much because he was just "shit" and the self-recriminations continued throughout the show. Sometimes he would stop a song in the middle commenting that he didn't know what the line he just sang even meant. Then continue the song only to stop 10 seconds later to explain the next line. It was almost like Behind the Music meets stand-up meets some odd performance art. I don't think I've ever seen a singer be so self-deprecating on stage and in some way it was refreshing to see all of the insecurities usually hidden behind such rock star pomp laid bare on his sleeve. He seemed grateful of the encouraging crowd and kept expressing surprise that Galway was being so kind to him.

BDB's relationship with the crowd was pure stream-of-consciousness and at one point he started talking about an iPhone game he was addicted to. Then he took out his phone and played a game (in case we didn't believe him) for about two minutes, talking all the while that his contract merely bound him to staying on stage for a certain amount of time and getting through a number of songs. The audience was graciously patient and BDB eventually decided he needed a drum track for his next number and used one of his iPhone apps to lay down the beat under a microphone. He started the song and then stopped because the drum beat was crap, then finished the song, then apologized that the drum beat didn't really fit at all. It was the first time I'd ever seen an iPhone used "professionally" on stage for music. It's a new age...

It sounds terrible, but in fact, the audience was into it, perhaps even sympathized to a degree with how hard it was for him to play live. Those of use who've played on stage (or even open mic) know that it's not easy pulling off songs solo. By the end of the concert, I think we were all rather endeared to Badly Drawn Boy and in return he played song after song long after we expected he would walk offstage. When he finally left, a number of people gave him a standing ovation.

Going Galway: Part 2

July 28, 2010

Galway started to grow on me the next day. Once the nightlife had passed, I found myself in a cute seaside town with lovely cafes, medieval looking churches and buildings, and an arts festival with some intriguing events. I grabbed a lovely blueberry scone and coffee at Providence Market Kitchen followed by a traditional Irish breakfast at Ard Bia. Ard Bia was charming, decorated like your aunt's living room with lots of local food sourcing as indicated by the printed sign on the wall:

"Anyone with anything from their garden they want us to buy Irish strawberries, any fruits or vegetables please bring them in and we can give you a few bob and make lovely things with them!!!"

After touring some of the local scenery, I headed over to the Fairgreen Festival Gallery where they were showing a retrospective of video artist Bill Viola, a short film by Spike Jonze, and some paintings and drawings by an Irish artist Brian Bourke that looked intriguing. I hadn't seen any of Viola's work before and, although some of his videos can be tedious, he has a great knack for calling out corners of our world, little details that generally go unnoticed, but when recorded become these pivotal centers of human connectedness. He'll focus on a puddle on a street reflecting neon lights for several minutes with the drone of a city in the background. Or a light on a ship speeding across the ocean in darkness. Or a larger than life heart beating nakedly.

I found much of it impressive (the live installations must have been stunning), especially considering he was doing much of this in the early 80s before video was taken too seriously, but the interviews between the respective pieces revealed him to be such a pretentious windbag, it was difficult not to be put off. He loves to talk about how much eastern philosophy has influenced his work and how he focusses on timeless themes like love, death, birth, rhythm. But it seemed to me if he had understood any eastern philosophy at all his ego would have withered away long ago instead of being so wrapped up in his own "art". At one point he was discussing the dying of his mother and offhandedly remarked something to the effect of, "Well of course I'm going to record my mother dying. I'm an artist. I'm compelled to do it." Oh, the angst of being a successful artiste! Sure enough, they cut to his footage of his father sobbing on his mother's stomach in a hospital bed. It's his right to capitalize on it of course, but it seems to me that he's selling out the very sacredness of the themes he professes to uphold.

After the tedium of Viola, the short Jonze video with his usual brand of light-hearted cleverness was a welcome relief. I'm Here was about a clunky boy robot (in an LA that treats robots as second-class citizens) that falls in love with a more liberated girl robot that shows him how to live in joyful abandon. As they fall in love, ignoring society's expectations of them, her iconoclasm takes its toll on her fragile robot body. The boy robot offers up his own precious parts in sacrifice to her for the enriching perspective she's given him. It's a well told, simple story that reminded me that good art, indeed some of the best art, doesn't have to be incredibly complex or obscure (Bill Viola, take note!).

I really enjoyed Bourke's work as well. He paints himself as this impressionistic Don Quixote figure, unabashed in his ludicrousness and sometimes withering nakedness. There's a playful, dark humor to his work which often includes thieves on crosses and lovely distorted, almost cubist portraits of women somewhat past their prime with backdrops full of vibrant energy. Although the art show, like Galway itself, was unexpectedly small, it definitely made the afternoon (if not the trip) worthwhile.

Artsy's Bill Viola page

Going Galway: Part 1

July 26, 2010

I booked a train to the west coast for the Galway Arts Festival, a weekend of theatre, live bands, and art installations. It was my first time taking a train in Ireland and, as such, there was a bit of an... altercation. I reserved a seat on the train so I would be sure to get a window seat, but when I walked up there was an older Irish gentlemen sitting there.

"I'm sorry, I believe you're in my seat."

He waved me off. "I can't see the print on that ticket. And anyway, there's no sign, except for this one across from me."

Sure enough, there was a flier on the table across from him spelling out reserved, but none where he was sitting. I shrugged and sat down in the reserved seat, making small talk with him. Soon a crisp guy in his early 40s with a shaved head wearing a suit, sat down next to me and set up his laptop to begin work, followed by another older gentlemen across from him.

Five minutes before the train was to depart, a guy roughly my own age with split teeth and curly black hair with a dust of grey came up and told me that he had reserved my seat. I explained that the guy sitting across from me had taken my seat and he explained that there was no reservation slip. Words were exchanged and the gentlemen next to me scoffed at our latecomer, telling me not to move because the train reservations were always fucked up and you're supposed to get there early. We were at an impasse. We kept going round and round until someone asked who the last person to sit down was. We all looked at the second older guy who sheepishly shoved his nose in his newspaper.

Finally, it was decided that he would move across the aisle, the first older gentlemen would move to the aisle, and the guy my age would sit across from me, effectively switching seats for our reservation. This was fine by me, as I would have been going backwards had I kept my original reservation. The shaved man next to me kept cursing our latest arrival under his breath for making such a fuss and our new arrival promptly busted out tall boys of beer and began drinking. You can drink on the train? Fuck. Should have grabbed some beer.

I got into Galway, checked into my modest hotel, and immediately took the bus into town. I had heard such lovely things about Galway, but I was shocked walking into City Centre to find it so touristy. Neon Bud Light signs hung in every pub window and crowds of young Europeans swayed drunkenly through the streets. It was reminiscent of Playa del Carmen. I wouldn't have minded so much had I been with my mates, but this was not what I expected. I had some seafood and went to see a solid production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, and then walked around the city looking for any redemption.

In the back alley behind a club I heard some lively music and found that it was a Pogues cover band, The Bogus Pogues, were playing a benefit for West's Community Garden Project at a club called Róisín Dubh. Róisín Dubh seemed like a fairly good venue, as the Saw Doctors and Jakob Dylan were playing there in the next couple weeks. I was pleasantly surprised to see people my parents' age in the audience, but everyone was nonetheless dancing and pogoing excitedly to the band who, in true Pogues fashion, were getting increasingly shit-faced and having a lovely time. Seduced into the abandon of Galway, I started downing Guinness and screaming along mightily.

Dublin delectables

July 25, 2010

Who would have thought I'd come to Dublin only to eat Italian food? The city, as a result of the last decade's extreme gentrification, has undergone a renaissance in fine dining. While the Irish are known for liking food on the blander side, European fine dining has emerged with a smattering of French, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese places along with gourmet American burger chains and a deluge of delicious Italian cafes, delis, pizza bistros, and wine bars to satisfy the immigrant populations, as well as the new Irish middle class.

That taste comes with a price though and it's hard to eat out at any place decent for less than 15 Euros (almost $20 USD). You really have to look hard for deals and, due to the economy, a number of restaurants are announcing early-bird specials: eat 2 courses for 20 Euro between 6 - 7 pm. My complaints about the prices have always found a sympathetic ear. It's almost shocking how expensive it is to generally eat out. You'd think living in New York would lessen the sticker-shock, but being such a large city by nature provides competitive prices and Dublin (apart from the rent) appears to unequivocally be a more expensive city to entertain oneself. The best deal I've found was through a Mexican kid I met in Galway named Carlos, a chef at Pablo Picante, that is trying to introduce cheap burritos to Ireland. Despite the terrible name, the burritos were surprisingly tasty and at 6.50 Euro, the best deal I've found in Dublin so far.

Despite the expense, I've had some delicious meals here, the most memorable of which haven't even been Irish. But they have a uniquely European flair, especially at work where my first meal consisted of chicken breasts wrapped around creamy chicken livers. Every work meal (and practically every other meal) includes a different potato side, ranging from new potatoes with rosemary to silky potato babka, usually accompanied by a kind of mid-Atlantic fish like salmon or hake. Today work even had a fluffy whole wheat pizza with german sausage, bacon, and swirls of mustard! It was actually pretty good. The snacks feel more European (and thus healthier) as well: individual rounds of cheese or brie with whole wheat, cracked pepper, or water crackers; dried apple rings and crisps proudly declaring they're cooked in 100% sunflower oil without preservatives.

But the most delicious by far have been the Italian meals. My manager Jorge has taken me to this deli around the corner from his house in City Centre called Taste of Emilia that is absolutely fantastic. They have fresh sausages, melons, mozzarella and parma ham flown in from Italy weekly. We ordered a couple antipasto boards with parmesan cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar, kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes, mortadella, Italian sausage, parma, mozzarella brushed with olive oil and ground pepper, and a shaved carpaccio sprinkled with artichokes. For dessert with had hand-made milk chocolate with hazelnuts served room temperature so it was just perfectly gooey. I left with some strolghino salame, some parma ham, parmigiano reggiano, and a giant yellow melon for later.

In Temple Bar they have a farmer's market every Saturday where I picked up half a loaf of rye sourdough which I paired with a selection of raw cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk Irish cheeses, some cress, and the parma, sausage and melon for dinner with my roommate Ayoko. Ayoko is from Tokyo and hadn't eaten a lot of Italian food (if you don't count Domino's Pizza), but needless to say, she loved it. The Temple Bar market also has a booth with fresh oysters from Donegal (half a dozen for 12 Euro). They shuck the oysters in front of you and serve them with just a splash of lemon (and vinegar if you get a milky one) and a side of soda bread. The oysters were absolutely mammoth and fresh tasting. I've never had oysters this good. They were firm and chewy, tasting clean and lightly salty. I gobbled them down with some sparkling wine, though a good pint of Guinness would have completed that meal.

Although my neighborhood is a bit of a dead zone, there are a couple good restaurants nearby. The tiny Juniors around the corner is absolutely lovely, featuring seasonal new European cuisine and a selection of reasonable wines. The clams cooked in white wine, garlic, and parsley were rich and savory with sides of toast smothered in fresh herbs and oil. The taste of dipping those toasts into that golden broth with the taste of mussels still on the tongue has stayed with me for weeks. I had the monk fish for dinner which was thick and sumptuous. It came with new potatoes, but (and a thanks to Anjali for teaching me this), I substituted the potatoes with Irish "mash" thinking I'll be able to control my ratio of fish, potato, and broth. It was absolutely delicious. Afterwards, the chef said no one had ever asked for it like that and he was seriously considering revising the menu.

An Irish Wake

July 15, 2010

After the funeral we went to a wine bar called Pinot's for the wake. Pinot's is in a chic urban mall nestled by apartments built on top of small offices, testifying to the gentrification that has overtaken Dublin within the last decade. People can literally live, work, and shop all in the same place. Pinot's had the stylish ambiance of a New York wine bar with leather chairs, good wine, and stewards circulating with thoughtful renditions of fish + chips and other appetizers.

At the wake I met Felicity's nephew, a precocious 14-year old Michael who was schooled in London and building his own computer. I was amazed at how well mannered and thoughtful he sounded for that age (when was the last time I was impressed by anything that stumbled out of an American teenagers mouth?). He was thrilled to hear I worked for Google and we talked mobile phones, the cult of Apple, and social networking. Later his mother came up to me thanking me for talking to him and saying I was exactly how he pictured a Googler: looking unintentionally suave I guess in my black suit and t-shirt. I guess there's something to be said for ill preparation.

A more informal wake followed at a local pub where we loosened our ties (at least those of us that had them) and relaxed with some Smithwicks (pronounced "Smithicks") and Guinness. We hadn't eaten enough at Pinot's so ordered some "toasties" -- small grilled cheese sandwiches sliced diagonally which were unexpectedly good. During the course of the next few hours we processed the day's events, talking and laughing, getting increasingly drunk and friendly. I was introduced to dark Irish humor, that brand of wry humor that goes to deeply inappropriate places, while being simultaneously hilarious. By midnight we had all been drinking for 10 hours and stumbled out the bar searching for cabs to take us home.

Speaking of dark Irish humor, I was confronted with this advertisement as I exited the train to Howth, just north of Dublin. I sent it to my father of course. On his birthday:

An Irish Funeral

July 11, 2010

I was in Ireland three days before I went to a funeral. My friend Felicity's mother, Frances McKevitt, who had been struggling for a long time with cancer and ataxia, passed away the day I arrived. She had been in a coma for two weeks and off life support for eight days. She was, needless to say, an extraordinarily strong woman. Although I hadn't met her, I went to the funeral in support of Maxwell and Felicity who are both amazing and lovely people.

When I'd arrived in Ireland my mother asked me if I'd brought a suit. "A suit? What would I need a suit for? I didn't even bring a button-down." Always listen to your mother. I woke up early the morning of the funeral and went into City Centre to Marks & Spencer, a very European clothing shop my manager had suggested. I found a form fitting black jacket and pants, but the cost was already running me over an unbudgeted 120 Euro. I had a black t-shirt and decent shoes and decided to make due. It was perhaps too "rock star" without a tie or button-down, but I hoped that my presence, on such short notice, would make up for it.

As I jumped in the cab requesting Foxrock Church, the driver asked if I was going to a wedding (damn, maybe should have bought the tie). "Unfortunately, quite the opposite." On the way down we talked about how much people were eating these days and the ever increasing portions at restaurants. He told me about some grossly overweight Texans that got in his cab and kept requesting to see the "real" Ireland. The driver merrily told me he obliged by dropped them at a well-known gay club. "I even waited around the corner to see their faces as they came out. I just couldn't resist!" He was a decent fellow and we talked cordially on the way down and wished each other well.

As I entered the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, I noted a sign that CCTV (security) cameras would be in use. The church itself was lovely and modest with mosaic tile spelling out sobering Latin phrases over the apse. Feclity's family had been going there for decades including weekly services, weddings, and funerals. Mr. and Mrs. McKevitt had been married in that church, as had their children and it was wonderful to think how this tied them to their community. The pews were appropriately penitent, having no proper backs to even lean against. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to mass, but much of the phrases returned easily, having spent so many Saturdays and Sundays of my youth in rote recitation. The service was led by Felicity's uncle which made it very personal and was supplemented by The Decibels, a singing group that Mrs. McKevitt had formed in her youth that added beauty and reverence. Felicity's father spoke eloquently and with such passion, I found myself moved to tears although I hadn't met either one of them.

Afterward, we drove out to the cemetery which was morbidly picturesque. The trees and grass looked brilliantly vibrant against the grey Dublin day and black forms moving somberly across the grounds. As the priest said the final blessing, crows cawed in the distance and two tattered gravediggers lowered her into the ground. We sank our heads, silently paying our respects and headed back for the wake.

The Google Ghetto

July 7, 2010

I'm staying in the South Docklands neighborhood near the River Liffey. The Docklands was a rough area of hardened sailors and dockhands in the 19th century when port traffic such as thousands of cattle walking down the streets, the gasworks, and smell of sewage dumped into the river made it into one of Dublin's worst slums. In the 1980s, the city began a process of revitalization to regenerate the area. Now, the Docklands is a strange amalgamation of older cheap, modest houses and newer chic corporate apartments and urban lofts that have sprung up just south of the river.

In this way it resembles Williamsburg in that the local population keeps getting fractured and displaced as the city builds housing for Dublin's corporate population, recently building the enormous O2 stadium and developing chic restaurants and bars along the waterfront. Maybe it's a bit more like what Williamsburg will be in five or ten years: surrounded on all sides by chic, empty apartments with expensive organic grocery stores and a built-up water front where the bands of the moment come to capture everyone's attention for an evening. Google's offices are here, as well as Facebook's, but there's an unsettling emptiness to the place, a cold sterility that makes it feel soulless and void. The Irish have nicknames for many sites around town and this one, appropriately enough, is "The Google Ghetto".

The apartment itself has the predictable industrial design of cheap metal, glass, and hardwood floors. It's deathly quiet and I don't believe I've passed a single person in the hall since I've been here. At night there are very few people out, but sometimes you see them in their living rooms working on their laptops or watching television as if reflections of your own apartment. In the mornings everyone heads to work purposefully, either walking or on bikes, not speaking or looking very happy. Although this is ostensibly one of the "hippest" areas of the city and one by most standards its residents would be considered "successful," there sure seems to be an absence of smiles on people's faces.

Still, it's within walking distance to City Centre and right next to the DART (the local light rail transit). I've even discovered a couple local bars to go for a pint where the locals, those Irish slowly being squeezed out by the tech boom, seem friendly and full of advice and opinions. There are, of course, good restaurants within walking distance, including an oddly out of place upscale Filipino restaurant.

Behind my apartments is an old gasworks that used to manufacture gas from old coal. The smell was notoriously putrid and these were generally housed in the poorest of neighborhoods. Now, of course, it's been turned into luxury corporate housing, but the architecture resembles Jeremy Bentham's proposed Panopticon. It's quite stunning to look at, despite the fact that I've never seen anyone enter or leave.

Dublin Days

July 4, 2010

The flight to Dublin went fairly smoothly except for the weight restriction which left me scrambling to transfer 7 lbs. of my life from one bag to my carry-on. That and the fact that the seat wouldn't lean back were the only glitches in what was an otherwise pleasant flight.

My friend Maxwell has been staying in Dublin the last month to tend to his wife Felicity's mother-in-law who has been sick and was gracious enough to pick me up from the airport. I met him at the airport bar where he was already drinking a Guinness at 9 am. Because you must show a boarding pass in order to drink that early at the airport, Maxwell found himself in the awkward position of having to produce a boarding pass within 30 minutes after telling the bartender his wife had the passes in the airport gift shop. To his credit, Maxwell deftly downloaded his boarding pass from the month before into Photoshop and changed the date in order to satisfy the bartender. This is the man's commitment to Guinness.

After setting up my phone, Maxwell took me to The Bank on College Green, former site of the Belfast Bank built in 1892 which has the bathrooms downstairs in the vaults. I had a delicious bangers and mash that were chewy and garlicky and smothered in brown gravy with, of course, more Guinness.

Then we walked over to Mulligan's pub which Maxwell claims is the best pint of Guinness in all of Ireland. It certainly didn't disappoint. There is clearly something superior about the Guinness here than in the States. At Mulligan's the texture is smoother and tastes light and pure, like spring water with a small sugary finish on the tip of the tongue and virtually no aftertaste. Originally a shebeen (or unlicensed drinking venue), Mulligan's has been ‘legal’ since 1782, making it one of the oldest pubs in Ireland.


June 21, 2010

A self-indulgent exercise charting happiness over my lifetime:

Using Google Desktop Gadgets to Promote Content

March 16, 2010

Google makes a bunch of free desktop gadgets (also known as widgets) that you can customize for your own use. Today we're going to look at a Google gadget you can use to push out content from a Google Spreadsheet, which I've found really useful for promoting changes to our Learn and Help Centers. It allows you to push out new information to clients on an opt-in basis without having to spam them with email.

First you will have to create a Spreadsheet with the information you want to push out. In this example, I've set up a spreadsheet with the headers: "title" and "answer". I use these to give each entry a title, as well as some html on the page that will slide out when clicking the link. I include a link to the actual page at the top of the slide-out window.

Once you have populated your spreadsheet, you must first make the spreadsheet public, which means you should not publish any data that you wouldn't want to be public facing. Go to the Share button on the right and click "Get the link to share". Make sure you have checked "Allow anyone with the link to view (no sign-in required). You will need to do this to allow the gadget to access your spreadsheet.

To bring in your feed, you will also need to include a key from your spreadsheet that will allow the gadget to talk with the spreadsheet. To get the key, go to Share and click "Publish as a web page". You should see a link that looks like:

Copy and paste your key. You will use this key in the gadget javascript. Now download the gadget to your desktop (make sure it's not in any temporary download folders or it won't work) and unzip it so the folder "Google Gadget with RSS feed" is on your desktop. If you open this folder, you can click gadget.gmanifest to install the gadget (note that you need to have Google Desktop already installed). You can see what this gadget looks like:

To bring in the feed to your spreadsheet, open the "editme" folder. Inside you will see a file named "config_constants.js". Here you can set the key for your URL feed, the refresh interval, number of entries, etc. At the top of the screen is a bit of code:


You will need to simply update the part in red with the key you copied earlier. Then you should be able to bring in your content easily. Anyone who installs this gadget will be able to view the content you're pushing out.

You'll also want to change the title and description of your gadget. To do this go to the folder: C:\Documents and Settings\cjennings\Desktop\Google Gadget with RSS feed\en and open up the strings.xml file. Here you can change the title and descriptions.

Finally, you can upload a graphic header. To do so, go into the C:\Documents and Settings\cjennings\Desktop\Google Gadget with RSS feed\default folder and replace the frame_TopLogo.png file with your own graphic of the same size.

And presto, you've built your first Google Desktop gadget. Please let me know if you make any improvements or have any successful implementations of this gadget by commenting below.

Using Google Spreadsheets for Content Management (part 1)

March 14, 2010

If you're looking to use Google Spreadsheets as a content management system to populate your learning management system (LMS) or other hosting platform, you've come to the right place. I'm going to show you two scripts that allow you to send out data from Spreadsheets using javascript.

The first is a script that Ruben Perez in our EMEA region adapted from this javascript query api to automatically publish webinar registration content into our Learn Center. The great thing about this script is that it can limit the amount of items shown and has a trigger to automatically unpublish each row's content once the registration date has passed. Keep in mind, however, this is NOT intended for sensitive data. Because you must keep the spreadsheet public, any information in the spreadsheet will not be secure, so you should only use this for non-sensitive publishing of content.

First, you'll need to create a Google Spreadsheet with several column header categories. For the purposes of this tutorial, we'll use: "Title", "Description", "Date", "Time" and "Registration".

Once you create the spreadsheet, you can populate each row with your data:

Now, you will have to make the spreadsheet publicly available. On the right, click Share, then "Publish as a web page". From the pull-down menu, select the page you wish to publish and click "Start Publishing". Be sure that the link to the published data is set to "Web page" and "All sheets". Then copy and paste the link below. Notice in the link there is a key:

We will copy and paste that key to use in our javascript below.

Once you have set up your spreadsheet, you'll need to embed the javascript on the intended publishing page to pull in the data. You can use this code below (adapting it as you need):

<div id="table"></div>

<script type="text/javascript" src="">//<!--
</script> <script type="text/javascript">//<!--
google.load('visualization', '1', {packages: ['table']});
</script> <script type="text/javascript">//<!--

var options = {allowHtml: true,'showRowNumber': false};
var data;
var queryInput;
var formatter_date;
var formatter_time;
var formatter_link;

var query = new google.visualization.Query(
'[insert key here]');

// Apply query language.
query.setQuery('SELECT A,B,C,D,E WHERE (C is not null and C > todate( now())) order by C asc limit 20 ');
function sendAndDraw() {

// Send the query with a callback function.

function handleQueryResponse(response) {
if (response.isError()) {
//alert('Error in query: ' + response.getMessage() + ' ' + response.getDetailedMessage());
var displayError=document.getElementById("table");
displayError.innerHTML='Error in query: ' + response.getMessage() + ' ' + response.getDetailedMessage()
data = response.getDataTable();
formatter_link = new google.visualization.TablePatternFormat('<a href="{0}" target="_blank">register</a>');
formatter_time = new google.visualization.TablePatternFormat('{0} EDT');
formatter_date = new google.visualization.DateFormat({formatType:'long'});

var table = new google.visualization.Table(document.getElementById('table'));
table.draw(data, options);


function setQuery(queryString) {
// Query language examples configured with the UI




Once you do that, the contents of your spreadsheet should publish into a nice table on your page that looks something like this:

Note: very rarely the Google hosting for this javascript goes down, so you may wish to provide a direct link to the spreadsheet just in case. Something like this should suffice:

<div id="text">If the registrations do not appear below, please access our <a href="">webinar registration page</a>.</div>

Would love to see any other uses of this code. Please feel free to leave comments below on any successes you've had.


Using Google Spreadsheets for Content Management (part 2)

Now it's great to be able to publish Google Spreadsheet fields as a table in a learning management system (LMS) or other hosted platform. But what if you want to get rid of the table and have your Spreadsheet data to look more like your typical LMS content? Well, you're in luck. here's a script I adapted from Todd Huss that allows you to pull in Spreadsheet content as a JSON feed and publish it to your LMS. As mentioned before, this is NOT intended for sensitive data. Because you must keep the spreadsheet public, any information in the spreadsheet will not be secure, so you should only use this for non-sensitive publishing of content:

Like the tutorial above, you'll need to set up a Google Spreadsheet with several column header categories. For the purposes of this tutorial, we'll use: "html", "description", and "duration".

Once you create the spreadsheet, you can populate each row with your data:

Again, you will have to make the spreadsheet publicly available. On the right, click Share, then "Publish as a web page". From the pull-down menu, select the page you wish to publish and click "Start Publishing". Be sure that the link to the published data is set to "Web page" and "All sheets".

Now, you will have to get the link to share. On the right, click Share, then "Get the link to share". Make sure to check "Allow anyone with the link to view (no sign-in required)". Below there should be a link that looks like this:

Notice in the link there is a key:

Copy and paste the key from this; we will use it in our javascript below.

Once you have set up your spreadsheet, you'll need to embed the javascript on the intended publishing page to pull in the data. You can use this code below (adapting it as you need). You will need to replace the area in red below with the key you saved earlier:

<script type="text/javascript">

function displayContent(json) {

var pTag = document.createElement("p");

for (i in json.feed.entry) {

var table = document.getElementById('endtable');

var divTag = document.createElement('div');
var pTag = document.createElement("p"); = 'link' + i;
divTag.setAttribute("align","left"); = "normal";
// = "#666666";

var divTag2 = document.createElement('div'); = 'description' + i;
divTag2.setAttribute("align","left"); = "normal"; = "#666666";

var divTag3 = document.createElement('div'); = 'duration' + i;
divTag3.setAttribute("align","left"); = "normal"; = "#666666";

document.getElementById('link' + i).innerHTML = json.feed.entry[i].gsx$html.$t;
document.getElementById('description' + i).innerHTML = json.feed.entry[i].gsx$description.$t;
document.getElementById('duration' + i).innerHTML = json.feed.entry[i].gsx$duration.$t;



<script type="text/javascript"
src="[replace with your key]/od6/public/values?alt=json-in-script&callback=displayContent">

Once you've done that, you should see the Spreadsheet data populated into your page with the appropriate formatting that we've indicated. This can includes links, bolding, italicizing, font colors, etc.

Again, would love to see any other uses of this code that you come up with. Please feel free to leave comments below on any successes you've had.