Tribe of the Ring Fort

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What 2.217 years in Ireland taught me 23/1/08 22:08 pm

Some of the things I’ve learned while here:

That a smash-up of Celtic-Tiger-generated double-income lives with having kids yields a couple with a saturated life. Meaning a life with no room for new, ex-pat friends.

That the Irish are champion tailgaters.

That Chinese food in Ireland is different than Chinese food in the United States.

That Ireland is dear (expensive).

That U.S. healthcare insurance is very expensive, much more so than in Ireland. However, the overall healthcare-per-cost comparison is not a simple black-and-white.

That Irish institutions have not yest quite accommodated the dual-income family. School events, for example, are scheduled under the assumption that at least one parent can regularly attend such during school hours (8:50am-2:30pm in Cobh where we live). Irish banks also seem to think all banking by couples heading such families can be performed between 10-4 on weekdays.

That the Irish go "emmmm..." where Americans go "ummmm..."

That the Irish have a placename-based way of giving directions. Woe be unto you if you are expecting an efficient route-number-based repartée in which your mention of "oh, so 610 to 569?" will yield a common understanding of the desired route. Even if that Irish person has spent their entire life on and around these routes. You must say "oh, the [destination placename] road and then the [next destination placename] road?" to have any hope.

That rainbows are a dime a dozen in Ireland. After a while, you need a full double rainbow to be even mildly appreciative.

That one acclimates much faster to driving on the left side of the road than looking the correct way when crossing a street.

That they call crossing guards "lolli-pop ladies" here, because of the big round signs they carry.

That I can’t get into concrete-block architecture. Wow, is it drab.

That the thing I like best about Ireland--this is a little hard for me to swallow coming from me, the one behind the whole moving-to-Ireland thing—is that it’s right next to Europe. So many countries, mindsets, cultures, and languages so close. Many of these, packaged together in handy human-shaped packages, have made the trip here to the Cork City environs. We are learning French as a family. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to hear it regularly being spoken by pods of French people passing us by again and again when we’re in the City on Saturdays. I experience French patter with a doppler effect.

And the Cities. London, Paris. Sorry, I’m enamoured of both. I dream of going back to Paris, and know I can, any weekend. That’s existence value for you. Was gonna head to Amsterdam for the weekend because an old friend was gonna be there on a business trip. Didn’t happen because his schedule shifted, but the point stands. I coulda done it, gone to Amsterdam for a daynightday. Existence value.

That Irish schoolkids get in trouble when they say “Oh my God” in class. Well, at least my kid does.
On which subject: currently Irish law says that Catholic children get preference for spots in a school when there’s overcrowding. This is meeting substantial objections/questioning in heavily non-Catholic areas (as they now exist).

That people are basically the same everywhere.

That the United States is isolated. Geographically, physically, linguistically. (This is the converse of the ‘So many countries, mindsets, cultures, and languages so close’ reality over here.) Two oceans on either side. And that’s just for the democratic-voting coastal states. And that this isolation (I will not defend this point here, just make it) is an underlying, cross-cutting element of its ability to elect representatives, including Presidents, who wear their world-ignorance as a merit badge because they know it will be perceived as an asset!

That all Irish license begins with the last 2 digits of the car’s year. So, for example, our 2003 Mazda 6 has the plate ’03-D-35294,’ which tells all that we’ve a 2003 model. Talk about upward socioeconomic pressure…the ‘D’ part says that it was originally registered in Dublin. If it had been registered in, say, Kerry, the plate would be ’03-KY-35294.’

The correct use of ‘ye’ in Irish social discourse. I recently realized I had it down well enough so that I began interspersing it in my texts and speech.

That there are no porches in Ireland. Due to the near-incessantly wet weather? To concrete rather than wood being the dominant residential building material? To the pub being the traditional (traditionally; everything has been changing here) centre of community life? The new estates (i.e. “subdivisions”/”developments”) also have a dearth of porches.

That your basic level of happiness is independent of where you live

That the Irish LOVE Johnny Cash. I hear it on the Tubridy Show like once a month; you hear it on RnaG; in Cobh there’s a Johnny Cash tribute band, “Strictly Cash.”

A greater appreciation of Federalism. The political structure in effect in the U.S. that allows one state to legislate and regulate many aspects of itself. Guess I came to this exciting conclusion as a result of defending my other country against anti-Bush sentiment—not by disagreeing with it, but by pointing out that federalism constrains Bush’s power. Also, I’ve seen certain hidebound insitutions here in Ireland that are so due to national laws. Though there are County Councils, Cork county can’t, say, regulate banks differently than Dublin county.

That the national conversation about drunk driving (“drink driving” in Ireland) is a different beast. Frequent are the open protests on, say, radio talk shows, against not being able to have a few drinks and then drive. Not a stance you’ll hear championed on a talk show in the United States.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's a Shame about Cobh

After a couple years here, a rough statement of our opinion of Cobh is something along the lines of: steadfastly not living up to its potential. Among our expat crowd of South Africans, French, Americans, and among our native Irish friends, some variation on that theme is expressed.

Here's a rundown of the elements making up this assessment:
1. Cobh has a spectacular set of raw materials to work with.

It lies mostly on a steep hillside overlooking a well-sheltered natural harbour; the steepness allows many, perhaps most, a good share of this view. It is a view encompassing islands, towns, and the strait into the Atlantic through failry dramatic promontories of land and lighthouses.

Due to the properties of the harbour (plus some dredging), it has a steady stream of cruise ships, some among the largest, berthing at its very town centre. These ships spill hundreds or thousands of tourists from around Europe and the US into the streets. (Well, the docks anyways. The tourists, mostly, promptly depart on buses for parts unknown-but-guessed-at--or not given a second thought--by locals.)

It has a commuter railway into Cork City centre. Twenty-three minutes into town with no traffic. Mostly with a view over bays, inlets, and rivers. 5.25 euros roundtrip, less with a monthly pass.

It has the lovely, hilly, pastured and wooded landscape of Great Island all around it (except to the south, which is the aforementioned harbour). As in, not suburban sprawl, though to be fair sprawl is making inroads. Still, much good landscape surrounds it and leads to other fine shore locations around the island's perimeter.

It has had, for a while now, the humming Cork-City economy around it. Like 23 minutes away by commuter rail, or less when the many businesses at Little Island are included.

It has the humming Cork-City. Thriving, busy, pan-European vibe. Restaurants, pubs, shops and stores galore. The two branches of the river Lee running through its heart. Although it does, as a friend's architect-father put it, "need a new coat of paint."

And more which perhaps we'll add later.

2. It is not paying attention to its infrastructure.

Hundreds of residential units are ging up. Thousands if you include those recently built. But no new entries/exits from Great Island have been made for all the new residents. It's still got only the one-lane bridge leading onto Foaty Island (Sarah's commute route) and the Cross-River ferries over to Passage West (my commute). I've watched the queues for the ferry lengthen precipitously in the last year. And hundreds more residential units are going up. I hear of a proposed water-taxi into Cork City, but that will have to hurdle the exorbitant harbour fees that have forestalled other water-based transportation ideas. The traffic to and from this place, though eminently avoidable, will depress the quality of here for most.

3. It is rough, perhaps by choice.

Cobh's centre looks run-down. Dingy and ramshackle feel to it. Very few shops, restaurants, public spaces and so on to compete with what Cork City has to offer. Several boarded-up buildings directly in the centre's squares. A general feeling of neglect. The owner of a fine-foods shop that came and went told us one morning that a Town Counselor had come in and told her basically that Cobh does not want such things. In other words, new blood/life is neglected or resisted.

4. It has a poor-cousin rep among Cork County natives.

It is considered a "north side" (of the river Lee) town. That is, considered rough.

Went to see the nationally-known comedian Tommy Tiernan in Cork City, and the opening comic comes on and asks the crowd where they're from. First voice that pipes up says "Cobh" and the comic says "oh yeah, Cobh, nice place Cobh. I, ah, was just down there today having sex with my sister." Everyone laughs; all were in on the joke.

And generally, if you ask a native's (say, someone who grew up in a "south side" town) opinion, you'll get deprecating or lampooning comments.


That's it for now.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Crayons for sale

Again, the events portrayed in this entry took place in, and were written about, in Listowel, Kerry, Ireland, in early 2006. I was unemployed in a new country and freaking a bit at the time. (note: that is only a partial alibi for the last sentence below.)

Susannah [@ 5.65 y.o. at the time] has started this thing where she puts a bunch of her crayons in a clear stiff-plastic bag with a pink fur fringe, and walks around the empty Not Us neighborhood crying out “Crayons for sale! Ten cents!” She comes to me to ask permission, I grant it, and off she goes into the grey.
This triggers a multiple emotional experience.
• A wave of pride and admiration that she thinks this up and executes it rather than complaining to me that she has no one to play with.
• A wave of anger that she has no one to play with.
• A wave of self-recrimination that I’ve taken her from a near-ideal (so it was to me) neighborhood in Montpelier Vermont USA packed with her peers, and put her here.
The visceral feeling these all lump into is a bit of nausea and a pain in my heart. I cry a little.