Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Iran so Far Away?

Sometimes it snows in Minnesota; not as much in recent years, but the past few days we have been hit with a couple of storms. Even people in winter climates tend to lose their heads with the first snowstorm, and they lose the ability to drive. It’s because people are not by nature logical, they are emotional. We become used to certain systems, and the injection of any new element into that system causes our responses to become skewed.

I was driving home yesterday, during rush hour, in a snow storm. It took me an hour and forty minutes to make it the 3.5 miles to my house on surface streets. I had plenty of time to observe all sorts of human behavior (as well as time to knit, believe it or not). The people around me in their cars were doing all sorts of things that they would not have done were the streets clear: clogging up intersections, creeping over lines, crossing over three lanes.

While I sat in my car knitting, waiting for traffic to move, and watching drivers try to squeeze a few more inches off of the distance home, public radio was reporting on the president’s news conference. It appears that, as with Iraq, our intelligence reports were a bit off. It appears that information was thinly sourced and based on less than rigorous methods. Again, officials were saying, we were wrong, but we could be right. Again, it seems like intelligence has been overstated to correspond with the administration’s rhetoric in order to ramp up a case for military action.

Not surprisingly, the injection of this new element into Bush’s system has caused him to be less than logical. But in his case, the system was already skewed to the point that he believes that he is behaving logically. Or at least, he acts like it.

Have you heard of the Axis of Evil? It’s not a rock band or a new hell-themed circus troupe, it was, of course, the triumvirate of terrible regimes named in George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address; the countries upon whom we, as a nation, needed to focus our fear in order for the federal government to squeeze dry the national coffers and bankrupt our schools, social programs, and local communities. Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are out there, and they are out to get America.

Well, we sure showed Iraq, and it seems we are going to show Iran as well. And just to make sure that we have the most satisfying flashback possible, George W. Bush is going to provide us with practically the same situation as we were handed in 2003: spurious claims, imaginary weapons, and repetitive propaganda. Does anyone else feel that not a moment has passed? Maybe for the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, we can bomb Tehran. What are you doing March 18th?

I have to wonder, is Congress smarter now? Is the American public warier now? Is the government going to reevaluate its approach to foreign relations?

It would seem not.

In September, Congress passed a nonbinding resolution naming the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Currently, 57% of Americans believe that it was a mistake to send American soldiers to Iraq in the first place, which is more of a majority than Bush had in either election, but this means that 41% still think it was a good idea (2% had no opinion). In November, 39% of Americans polled still think that American will definitely or probably win the war in Iraq (the highest point was 49% in December 2005. All figures While the numbers in support of the war have gone down, I still find them to be alarmingly high.

And the administration’s attitude? Iran was, is, and will be a danger.

In October, President Bush was telling us that if we wanted to avoid World War III, then we had better stop Iran. All indications from yesterday’s news conference say that he still holds this view, even though he likes to say things like “The best diplomacy, effective diplomacy, is one of which all options are on the table” and “Why would you take time to analyze new information? One, you want to make sure it's not disinformation.”

I don’t know what piece of new information could be added to the current situation in order to cause change. Americans seem to be entirely un-phased by revelations I find appalling, and every time I think the administration can’t possibly recover, Americans sigh and change the channel.

Enough people believed Bush in 2002-3 to help get us in the present mess in Iraq, and it seems that he has the audacity to think that the same thing will work again, this time for Iran. A few news conferences ago he said that he could look in the mirror and feel good because he knew that he had acted on his principles. If that’s true, he is either extremely lacking in self awareness, remarkably uninformed, blissfully obtuse, or rotten to the core.

Friday, November 16, 2007


A friend of mine and I were talking about death today.

Actually, the conversation started with celebrity gossip. I found a funny icon on a gossip site that said "Scientology: Making celebrities pay for god since 1950," and shared it with her. The same post contained a video of Scientologists accosting a camera crew that was trying to enter a "Scientology Street Fair." Neither of us could watch the whole thing due to its high levels of blindness and stupidity; the cult members are irrational and confrontational, and the level of nonsensical delusion is painful. It's hard to understand what makes someone join a cult, especially one as patently ridiculous and corrupt as Scientology, but people have been flocking to cults since people were people.

Even more difficult to digest is that there are many millions of blindly devoted people in this world adhering to obviously false and hurtful doctrines, including political movements such as the one America has been experiencing for the past 8 years or so. It boils down to the same thing: corruption. Corruption thrives on insecurity and delusion.

In the video, one of the Scientologists asks the reporter "Did you take a break from beating your wife to come down here?" and they repeatedly accuse of him being "afraid of Hubbard" and only being there with a camera to "hide his crimes." None of it makes sense, and the reporter makes a mistake in trying to argue with them at all.

I don't think you can join a cult without at least a profound insecurity complex. I also maintain that it's one thing to join a cult, but it's a whole step beyond to raise your children within one. One does not have to point much farther than Jonestown or Waco to see that, but I am not even talking about such extreme events, I am talking about progressive damage to vulnerable psyches on a day-to-day basis.

Because for me, it's not just raising your children in a cult that concerns me, it's all religions. I think that such indoctrination at such a young age, before children have a chance to experience anything else, can lay groundwork for unnecessary psychic pain in the future. Giving them a lens before they have worked out how to see on their own can lead to therapy and a lifetime of clearing out the clutter of the church. When you have been raised in a religion, your perspectives will always be a bit tinged by that religion, no matter how much you reject it. Even in rejecting it, you are responding to it.

There's a lot of discussion going on these days regarding religion and god, from questions concerning its evolutionary role to experiments regarding brain function and electro-magnetic waves, and I applaud it. While I do not expect atheism to become the new "black," I applaud a few prominent thinkers for bringing non-belief into a positive spotlight. Putting "faith" under the microscope can only do humanity good, I say.

It's also very strange to me how one dead guy can hold so much of the world in such a thrall for so long. Personally, I think that Thor was much more interesting, not to mention the fascinating choices ancient Greece offered us. But there's something about the concept of salvation and eternity that really grabs the human mind. With the development of consciousness came the development of self and the understanding of mortality, and then came the fear, and thousands of years later, we are still killing each other over our fear of death.

Along the way, we have removed ourselves even more from the actual experience of death and made our lives more antiseptic, making it an even more unknown and fearful prospect. This while we see more and more death filtered to us through television, movies, video games, and the news.

I had not made the connection between religion and death until one of my friends found out that I am an atheist. His only response was "But then what do you think happens when you die?" I found this question to be illogical. What did that have to do with anything? I brought it up to Pete, expecting the same bafflement, and instead found that it made perfect sense to him; I started to realize that death must be what it's all about.

People need god in order to believe that they will live forever in some manner. Apparently, accepting that you will not live forever and living your life as such is not an option. I guess that's fine as long as you leave everyone else alone. Thing is, a lot of believers can't seem to do that, and their belief winds up expressing itself in repression, violence, suffering, or death.

Do I want to die? Not really. Am I afraid of death? Sure, on some level: it's unknown, and it could happen at any time. But my death would be of no consequence to me, being dead. When I think about dying, I think about Pete and about my family and friends, and what pain my death would cause them. God is not going to help me with that. If a belief in god is there to help some of them, then so be it.

I just wanted to point out that my obsession with celebrity gossip can come in handy sometimes.

(special thanks to Marina for the conversation and insights)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dead Cat Walking

We never meant to have four cats.
Some things just happen.

My long-term cat, Fritz, was used to roommate cats, and when I moved out on my own, he became insufferable. He was on me all the time; following me around, talking to me, sitting on me, and generally making me crazy. I decided he needed a cat of his own.

Enter: Max.

Max was an adorably tiny and spastic kitten, and Fritz took to him right away. He was also the cleanest kitten in the world as well as the most interactive cat toy ever purchased. While he did keep me up and get into a lot of things around the apartment, he was good for Fritz.

Sometime in 2001, I agreed to watch a friend’s cat while they were away working in Colorado. During the time they were gone, I moved into a house, bringing my two cats and her cat, Hazel, with me. They returned from Colorado, everything was busy, and it was September when she said “Do you want to just keep her?” By that time, I was totally attached to her, and so was Max, so I said yes. Just like that, I had three cats.

In 2004, I met Pete. Pete had a cat. In the fall of that year, we moved her in, in anticipation of Pete’s move a month later. Bang! Four cats!

She never adjusted. She hated the other three cats, who only wanted to sniff her over a few times and check out her litter box. She was a screaming, hissing mess, and she would not use her box if any of the other cats used it. Since you can’t explain any of this to a cat, and she was peeing on the bed, on pillows, on the rug, and pooping on the floor, we had to put her litter box in the guest room and close the door. Because she was not getting along with the other cats, and she needed access to a litter box, we had to put her in there too. The guestroom became a studio apartment for an old, grumpy kitty: food, water, toilet, bed. If she were a tormented artist, it would be interesting. But she was just a cat who had become convinced that she was the only cat, and the awakening to her misapprehension was rude.

It’s been three years, and it’s still the same. She’s our Flower in the attic. She hisses at the other cats when she comes out; she slinks around like a victim and Hazel and Max chase her because it’s irresistible; she won’t mingle with them; and she wants to stay in her room. We recently returned from a two-week trip in Ireland, and Asia seemed to be having new issues. Yesterday at a trip to the vet, we found out that either her kidney disease has progressed, causing an ulcer under her tongue, or it’s a tumor, and she is probably in quite a lot of pain. We decided to put her down this week, on Thursday.

This is a strange and new thing for me. My childhood cats died in my parents’ house, after I had left for college, and Fritz is now 18. I have never had to euthanize a pet. I feel a strange mixture of relief and sadness, not to mention a bit of guilt. Asia has been the casualty of my happiness. Pete pointed out that she would have gotten sick anyway, if she had never had to move into my house, and I know that it’s true. I also know that we did everything we could think of to make her comfortable and to fit her into the life of the house, but there’s this nagging feeling: her life certainly would have been better had Pete never met me. I felt bad for her then, unable to adjust and be content in her new surroundings. Here she was, happy in her apartment with her person all to herself, all that time, and then I come along and steal him away.

How’s that for anthropomorphizing?

I know it’s silly, and we don’t really have any other choice. That part of me feeling relief is going to be so happy to have that room back; to be able to clean it out and leave the door open; to be able to have guests; to not have to clean cat pee out futons and comforters.

Until then, we are living in a house with a cat who is under a death sentence that we prescribed. I can’t look at her without thinking about it and feeling terrible in many ways. I brought her out to sit with me on the couch for awhile, but it wasn’t making her happy; I was only doing it for me. Because I could not do anything for her, I could not seem to do anything. I didn’t want to clean or knit, read or write. I sat on the couch and watched “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Bachelor,” two things I have never done in my entire life and which certainly did not make me happy. I was not reveling in the decency and loveliness of my fellow humans. It was a bit of a rude awakening.

I guess that is how Asia has felt for three years.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

We made it to Wexford, and nobody died...

...though I was more ready for a Guinness than perhaps I had ever been in my life. The pub was right down the street from the Faythe Guesthouse, stumbling distance, really, which was good. They were expecting Pete, even though no one had gotten back to his recent emails; he got to play a few songs before we got too drunk, and then he played a few more. It was a benefit for a helicopter ambulance service, held in the beergarden of the bar (Everyone has beer gardens now that you can't smoke in pubs). I was trying to keep track of Guinnesses, but I don’t have any idea of that night. I can remember seven pints, I think. I’ll never know. But judging by the hangover and the fact that we missed breakfast entirely, it was definitely more.

It was late morning when we made our way down the mainstreet to find cash and a place for coffee and breakfast. I ordered the “mini” which was an astounding amount of food. I have found that if I have a big breakfast and then perhaps a soup for late lunch, I am fine for the day. Well, plus Guinness and HobNobs, of course. Oh, and crisps.

From Wexford, we were off to find a Farmhouse Accomodation near Clonmel, near Ardfinnan. In between, we had more crumbly bits to see. I had wanted to catch a few sights around Wexford, including the Irish Agricultural Museum and the Irish National Heritage Park, but there was not going to be time. The country is the size of Indiana, but I think there might be more to see and do in Ireland, not to knock the Hoosier State.

It had been raining off and on, but by the time we reached the village of Inistioge, the rain was just "on." This is a charming village on the Nore River, where we enjoyed a ramble; I had a great bowl of potato onion garlic soup and Pete had his first scone with clotted cream. I guess the film "Circle of Friends" was filmed here, but I had not seen it. The cafe we ate in was named after the film, so I guess it must have been a big deal.

After we stuffed ourselves, we made our way to Jerpoint Abbey and arrived just before they closed.

We had been trying to buy a Heritage Card, which is good for a year and gets you into historical and park sites all over the Republic. At Glendalough, they practically discouraged it, saying that we would not get our 20 Euro out of it. I was thinking that 20 Euro seemed like a deal, and that even if we did not get that back, we would be supporting the parks and historical sites, which was fine with me. At Jerpoint, he just let us in because we only had half an hour.

After that, we went to the Kells Priory, which was an open access site, and very impressive. Then it was a ramble on tiny roads to the Farmhouse. It was getting dark by the time we found it, and we settled in.

Ber, the proprietress, set out tea for us, and we decided to sit in the tea room, have some Guinness Foreign Extra that we had bought at the Storehouse, and do a bit of planning. This was our last booked stay, and we only had an idea where we were heading, not where we would be laying our heads. Kevin, the proprietor, gave us some excellent suggestions, and we had a nice chat with him. I tried to hook up and download pictures, but the battery on the laptop fried out and the computer would do nothing--would not even turn off. So that was that. We needed a three-prong adapter, and we had not purchased one yet.

At breakfast on Sunday morning, we talked to an Irish couple who joked that the McCauleys had been sheep stealers. Which made me wonder where all the sheep were, now that I was a McCauley. I do knit, after all, and sheep could be helpful. The gentleman said that we should wonder more what they stole the sheep for.

We again were inundated with massive quantities of breakfast food and were sufficiently weighted down for the day that we were facing. Into the wild, with only a vague destination in mind.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dublin Photos

The pictures from Dublin that I have posted online can be viewed here:

Dublin with the McCauleys

St. Kevin? Really?

When we came to Ireland, we had four nights of accommodation booked, and after that, we knew what we wanted to see, but we were not certain of our route or itinerary. It’s not my preferred way of travel, but in the off-season, you can do this. We knew we had two nights in Dublin, and Pete needed to be in Wexford to play a gig the third night. Then we would head further into the country to stay at a farmhouse near Ardfinnan. After that, there were no set plans. This was a compromise between Pete and I; between his ability to play-it-by-ear and my inability to relax unless I knew where I would be staying that night.

From the car rental office in Dublin, we were heading south to Glendalough, a monastic complex about 75 kilometers away. In order to get there, we had our Ordinance Survey book, our Michelin map, and luck.

There are five kinds of roads in Ireland. M roads, N roads, R roads, L roads, and all the other roads. M roads are motorways, N roads are National roads, R roads are Regional roads, and L roads are Local. Each of these roads has its corresponding speed limit, and in total, there are five different types of speed limits: town and city (50km), national road (100km), regional and local (80km), motorway (120km), and special (30km or 60km). I can tell you now that most sane people in America would not drive 80km (50mph) on a lot of those R and L roads, let alone the 100km (62mph) that is in place on those N roads. Often, the only noticeable difference between the R, L, and N roads is the absence or presence of a white line down the middle. When you are flying through the coutryside in a pillbox on wheels with a 10 foot high stone wall on your left and cars coming at you on your right down a 12 foot wide road, 50 miles an hour feels very fast.

We took the M50 around Dublin from north to south and got off on a likely looking R road. Being used to looking for exits based either on numbers or on the largest closest town, I thought I would be all right, as they seemed to be using both. But I missed the exit I was looking for, we took the second, and none of the towns on the signs were the ones I thought would be there.

We finally made it to the little town of Enniskerry, which I could find on the map, and in which I knew we simply had to find the appropriate R road, so we could be on our merry way.

Let me tell you now that the R roads are not always marked.

I found myself falling back on "I think we should be going that way" more than I would have wished, especially given the imminent peril in which I continuously felt myself to be. Finding ourselves in the parking lot of Glendalough was a fantastic relief. We were planning on getting our Heritage Card there, touring the site, and then getting something to eat in nearby Laragh.

The Heritage Card is a 20 Euro card akin to our National Parks Pass: an annual pass that gets you into all Heritage Sites in Ireland, which are managed by the Office of Public Works. It’s quite a deal if you are going to be visiting a lot of them; most sites are 2-5 Euros per person, and they can add up. To me, it seemed like a good idea, even if we did not make it to a value of 20 per person: it’s good to contribute to public parks and historical sites.

The woman at the counter in the visitor centre did not seem to agree. We said we wanted one, she said they were cash only, we did not have quite enough cash, so we needed to go into town to get some. She proceeded to try to discourage us from buying one, and then told us that if we did not want to use anything in the visitor center, we did not even have to pay there if we did not want to. But, we want to pay. We want a card. We decided to go in to town to get cash and some food and then come back.

The first restaurant was teeming with seniors and bus tours. It was cafeteria style and very noisy. We liked the interior of the place and its pubby atmosphere, but we wanted a menu, we wanted to sit, and we wanted to relax. The drive had been harrowing for me, and I didn’t want to navigate anymore. We walked down the street to a little restaurant called the "Wicklow Heather" that was much quieter and more expensive. It was a nice lunch of stew, seafood chowder, coffee, and tea to go with the rather rainy day that had developed over our drive down.

Rain at Glendalough seemed appropriate. Though it was not as awe inspiring as I was lead to believe from the photographs, the grey misty raininess gave it more of a feeling of age and isolation appropriate to its history. Even relatively people-free, there were too many people, it was too close to the road, and not remote enough. It’s like pictures of Yosemite: it seems far away from everything, but what is happening behind the picture is a bustling hive of humanity. This place must be a zoo in the summer. All the same, it is amazing what humans have built.

Glendalough is a monastic complex founded by St. Kevin (St. Caoimhghin) in the 6th century. It sits in a dramatic valley in the Wicklow mountains, and is named as such: glen of the two lakes. There is a 30 meter tall round tower and numerous stone churches and crosses. This was the first of our many visits to places of Irish antiquity, and it was one that I did not want to miss. I figured we would need a couple of hours to poke around, and we could well have done with more: the mountains host many hiking and walking trails, but time was not on our side for such things, and neither was the weather.

The place is crawling with photo opportunities. I crouched in a roofless stone structure, looking through a window that perfectly framed the oldest stone cross in the complex, looking for a shot... when a group of German tourists came along and took turns... hugging it. Yes, hugging an old, wet, grey, rock.

But I can file this little ritual with other things I don't understand, like throwing coins into fountains or, at Glendalough, into the stream that borders the monastic complex. Is it wishes? Wouldn't it be more productive to save up those most likely selfish dreams and perhaps donate a sum at the end of the year to a charity? Maybe if you hug a cross and toss a 20p piece in the water, you will live forever and escape the vengeance of an irrational god, and I am totally missing out.

It's not only a country's history, scenery, and people that are fascinating and worth observing and noting; the little things can be equally engrossing. Signs, for example. The way in which different cultures choose to denote things of importance can be odd sometimes to the outsider. Highway signs and the like are usually quite similar, but more specific signs for the public good can be quite funny to me. The one on the edge of the upper lake at Glendalough was excellent.

I am not sure exactly what is going on here. Am I not supposed to throw myself into the lake? Will the rocky shore of the lake suddenly drop out from under me? If I get too close to the end of the lake, will it suck me in. In any case, I decided to keep my distance, and we left Glendalough in one piece.

Driving: Why the Irish Believe in God

I may not be built for vacations. My friend, Linda, told me to be in every moment and not miss a thing. This is a state of being that, no matter how much yoga I take, I may never be able to master. I am constantly worrying about time and repercussions, plans, and what we have to do next. I will never reach a zen state of “now.”

For instance, before we left, I had to worry about Euros and planes, cat sitters and mail, packing and plants. Once we made it to the airport in Minneapolis, I had to worry about Newark. Once on the plane in Newark, I had to worry about getting to the B&B in Dublin. Once at the B&B, I could relax for a couple of days until I had to worry about getting the car. It sounds tedious and worthy of eye-rolling, but for me, it’s a way of life, and it would be more worrying not to worry.

On Friday morning, we were scheduled to leave Dublin. Back home, we had searched through deals and recommendations and settled on Dan Dooley Car Rentals, an Irish company—we wanted to put our money into Ireland as much as possible. Their price was the best and included all the charges up front. I had figured out the insurance issues: we needed CDI coverage, and Ireland is one of the countries not covered by Mastercard, apparently because they think it’s too much of a risk.

I think I may not be built for vacations; I know that I am not build for Irish driving. Everyone was asking us the question “Have you driven in Ireland?” and when we said no, they would look down, shake their heads, and laugh. “It’s hair raisin’,” a fellow guest at the B&B said, and he was born in Ireland and lived here for the first twenty years of his life. No matter how many people said this to us, I thought “Ok, Ok, it can’t be THAT bad.”

I also figured I could start to really focus on worrying about the actual driving once we had the actual car. Right before we left, and after we had confirmed and paid for the car, I read some scathing reviews of Dan Dooley. I was feeling some internal panic about it, but I kept it to myself because there was nothing to be done about it now. I would just have to be vigilant at the car office and try to make sure that our asses were covered without being a bitch.

We caught the bus back to toward the airport. The rental office was right on the way; I had seen it on the trip to the B&B because this was another thing about which I had been worrying. The parking lot seemed rather devoid of cars, but they should know we were coming, right? The woman at the front desk paused and looked out onto the desolate blacktop and said “The only thing we have is that Fiat Panda.”

It was a bright blue, teensy little four door that looked like it might dissolve in the rain like hard candy. Would we even be able to fit our things into it? The guitar, especially, needed to be out of view. Turns out, the little monster was quite roomy inside, much like the Weasley’s Ford Anglia. The guitar fit into the little trunk space along with one other bag, and the rest went into the cabin. There was plenty of room for us as well. Sure, you felt like you were right next to everything outside of the car, especially in front of the car, but, we figured we would be comfortable enough. It was not luxurious, but it was serviceable. I did not even find it too weird to be sitting on the left side of Pete, watching him figure out the controls and orient himself to the right side of the car.

We paid for two drivers, figuring that two weeks was too long for one person to do all the driving. I fully intended to help, but not today. My personality needs time to adjust to new situations. Once I became comfortable with these new surroundings, I would be fine.

Well, driving in Ireland IS hair raising, and for the first day, I was in a state of perpetual terror. It was not the right-hand issue, it was navigation, speed, and road size on top of being on a different side of the road. I had that same tightened chest feeling that I have on airplanes, when I have ceded all control over my destiny. Pete said I was doing a pretty good job of not being in control, so I must also have been doing a pretty good job of hiding it.

You will hear that the Irish are not in a hurry. I would add that they are not in a hurry unless they are in their cars. The speed limits on these tiny winding walled-in roads are far and beyond anything you would see posted on any American roads. I guess if you grow up with it, you are used to it, but I can’t help but wonder how people don’t run into something or someone every single day. Certainly, left-hand mirrors must be removed by hedgerows and walls on a daily basis.

Overall, Pete is doing a marvelous job driving though, my panic notwithstanding. We are used to the left hand thing, though we remind each other out loud every now and then, and he’s negotiating the roundabouts well. We have a great Michelin map and an Ordinance Survey road atlas, but you can look at them all you want. They are often just for show or for a general idea of where things are. When you are down there in the map, you have to just relax out of ever thinking that it will actually help you to find something. The signs are small with tiny writing, inconsistent, and hard to spot, if they are even there. We have found a number of places through my internal GPS and guesswork. We have done amazingly well, considering. You just have to give up the idea that you are in control of where you are going, and you will be fine. It’s growing on me, this country. By that, I mean the way of life. I can use to let go sometimes, and though I will never fully do that—and that’s OK with me—a little moderation of my control freak nature can only be a good thing.

The Only Redhead in Dublin

During the short break between pubs the previous night, we had chosen our breakfast on the strip of paper pinned to the door of our room. We were the only people in the breakfast room in the morning, and P.J. brought us coffee, eggs, toast, and beans. This was our second and last full day in Dublin, and there were many more things that we wanted to do. We caught the bus into the city center and made our way toward the National Museum. The block consists of a compound of Parliament and the National Museum (Archaeology and History), Gallery, and Library, respectively. It’s a bit of an unattractive maze with a central car park and black iron gates rather marring the facades of the buildings themselves and making it unclear how to enter them.

We chose the National Museum first because we wanted to get a better sense of Irish History, and as this is where “all archaeological objects found in Ireland” end up, apparently, this seemed like a good choice. The building itself—from rotunda to mosaic floors, carved wooden doors, decorative moldings, vaulted ceilings, and inlaid stone fireplaces—is exquisite in an of itself, and I spent a lot of time checking out the architecture. The exhibits cover Ireland from 7,000 BC through the late medieval period, including gold jewelry recovered from bogs, Neolithic tools and pottery, and an exhibit of bog bodies.

Yes, Bog Bodies. This was the bit I enjoyed most, I believe, because it is macabre and strange. Bog Bodies date from 8,000 BC to the early medieval period in northwestern Europe. Be they sacrifices, executions, or offerings, it’s pretty safe to rule out accidents: hundreds of people didn’t lose their way and “accidentally” get tangled up in ropes or belts that strangled them or fall on knives that cut their heads off, slit their throats, and hacked their limbs. One would think that people would move far, far away from bogs if they were so effectively dangerous.

When we left the museum, we realized that we needed to make our way toward the Guinness Storehouse, if we wanted to make it there before closing. I sighed at the National Library as we walked past with its banners announcing a W.B. Yeats exhibit waving in the wind, beckoning me to enter. There was no time; the Storehouse was on the other side of the city center, through the medieval section, and down the road apiece. We decided to catch a bus, so we figured out which number we were looking for, found the route, and decided to walk until we saw one. We walked the whole way.

The Guinness Storehouse is actually more of a working demonstration. Housed in a storehouse built in 1904 for the fermentation process and located on the massive grounds of the Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate, multimedia displays take the viewer through the history and process of brewing Guinness. As we walked back through the narrow streets leading to the Storehouse, passing a black gate inscribed with “Guinness” in large white letters, and signs leading you in the right direction, I said to Pete “I can feel the presence of the Ring.” I was first date nervous, excited about something I had been looking forward to far a long time. A facsimile of Arthur Guinness’ famous 9,000 year lease on the brewery is embedded in the floor in the central rotunda, and after you get your ticket and pass through the doors to the display, you are greeted by the words “The essence of Guinness is all around you.” That’s a glorious thing, indeed.

You travel up and through seven stories of Guinness, modeled on a giant pint glass, learning about water, barley, hops, and yeast—the four ingredients; Arthur Guinness—the fifth ingredient; and the brewing process. The Master Brewer guides you though this process on video, self conscious hand gestures included. After watching Talledega Nights on the plane, I could not help but think of Ricky Bobby as I watched the brewer’s hands waving slowly yet emphatically near his face, seemingly unconnected to his words. Pete asked if I thought he was an actor, and I answered that I would hope that Guinness would have enough money to hire a better one. Lord knows, my tab alone could have paid for it.

It was during the displays on the brewing process that I learned that there are other kinds of Guinness, which have been kept from me by oceans and marketing. There’s a Foreign Extra that has more hops and more alcohol and is shipped to places like the Caribbean, and there’s a Brewhouse Series, only available in Ireland, it appears. The Brewhouse available in the tasting lab on the first floor was called “Northstar,” which I found to be particularly perverse and taunting, given that we are from the Northstar State. Were there a way to smuggle a keg of this home, I would have. It was very, very tasty.

The display on the “Craft of the Cooper,” showing how the casks that carried Guinness were made, was informative, especially the revelation that when a new cooper was initiated, he was placed in his first completed cask along with anything they could find on the floor, and rolled around and around the cooperage. At one point, the brewery employed 300 coopers, and after the brewery switched to metal kegs, many of the casks were made into furniture and sold.

Apparently, on the third floor, there’s an exhibit which “challenges visitors to look at their own drinking habits and recognize the fine line between enjoying yourself and drinking to excess.”

We didn’t go in there.

We did peruse the advertising display at length, however, being highly susceptible to marketing.

Last, but not least, is the Gravity Bar, on the seventh floor. Here, you get your complimentary pint of Guinness along with a 360 degree panorama of Dublin. It’s quite spectacular, and the place is buzzing with people. But the real gravity of the gravity bar is the amount of unfinished Guinness. We all know that people can’t resist a free thing, but the half, three-quarters, and almost entirely full unfinished pints lolling around on tables was shocking and disturbing to me. If you aren’t going to drink it, don’t get it. In fact, if you have never had Guinness or you know you don’t like it, why are you here? I know, it’s a historic place, and everyone tells you to go, but I don’t think I would visit Budweiser just because I was in town, because I don’t care. And if I did, I would drink the free can of beer they gave me at the end. I sat in horror, watching as person after person set their pint down and left. I watched one woman take her pint, standing there with her shoulderbag, take a tentative little sip, lean back over to the bar, set it down, murmur “Thanks” with her simpering, pursed little lips, and walk away. For chrissake, at least reduce the waste a teensy bit: get a freaking half pint if you are going to be such a girl about it. I could have sat there longer and savored another pint, enjoying the view, if it were not for this travesty, and I don’t think they would have appreciated me finishing all the left over glasses.

Later that evening, in a pub not far from the B&B, discussing the day’s events and tomorrow’s plan, I realized that, so far, I had not seen one single redhead. I seemed to be alone in Dublin. I had been expecting to fit in here, what with all the romanticizing of the Irish and the stereotypes, but apparently, all the redheads have moved to St. Paul.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The First Pint

The First Pint

Do—DO—pee before you get onto a bus in Dublin City Center. The buses are numerous, but they are not speedy. Once you are on one, you will feel like you could have walked faster, but if you have to pee so badly that you are afraid to breathe, you don’t have much of a choice. The buses are mainly double-deckers, and you can get good views from the upper deck, but, again, if you have to pee worse than when you were 11 years old in the back seat of the car on the Chicago tollway, crying into your pillow, and the only things you can see are rivers and fire hydrants and pubs that probably have toilets, you probably are not enjoying the scenery.

After we left Trinity College, we walked over to St. Stephen’s Green, down a busy shopping thoroughfare. Things started to look familiar, and Pete noticed that it was because we were walking through locations from the charming movie “Once.” Inside the main gate of the Green was the spot where the guitar player caught and wrestled down the junkie who stole his busking money. Trust me, the movie IS charming.

Dublin is buzzing with people. It’s a bit of a shock to the system when you are in the dream state of the early hours of international travel, and the consistent and jumbled drone of humanity was a little overwhelming. I did not come to Ireland to shop, and generally, shopping is not a pastime in which I care to indulge. I was having a bit of an “oh the humanity” moment, and it did not take long for us to decide that we wanted a pint, and that we did not want a pint in Temple Bar or in any of the pubs off the main drags: it was too much input. We settled on a little pub called “Grogan’s Castle,” and seated ourselves at the bar. The lovely bartender, Mary, was humming a lilting tune, there was local art on the walls, and people were calling each other by their first names, eating toasted cheese sandwiches. We were the only tourists in the place, which was what we wanted. We spend plenty of time around Americans in America.

We ordered a pint of Guinness and shot of Powers each.

In Dublin, expect to pay the same amount in numbers for goods and services that you would pay in America. This is not a deal. Two pints and two shots was the same amount of Euros in Dublin that we would hand over in dollars at the Dubliner in St. Paul. Pete looked at me, holding up a pint, and said, smiling, “This is where all our money is going to go.”


It was lovely. Everyone kept going on to me about how I had never had Guinness because I had never had Guinness in Ireland, and it had become a bit wearing. While it was true that this Guinness tasted different and better than the Guinness in America, it was not an experience that blew me away and left me staggering, ready to pack my bags and move. What makes the difference is that they pour it right, they drink it a lot, and you are in Ireland, not down the street from your own house; it’s 4:00, you are on vacation, and it’s time for a pint.

That pint went down successfully and quickly, and it was time for another. It was 4:10. We had meant to have one pint and then head back to the B&B as we had not even been into our room yet, but we were also on vacation, and one was simply not enough. We talked about what else we wanted to do in Dublin and had the cell phone debate.

Before we left, we had decided to buy a cell phone for traveling. It would have cost us around $120 dollars, we would have had the phone for other people to use when they travel overseas, and it would be cheaper than renting one. In Ireland, you don’t buy a plan, you buy time, so there would be no commitment. Our phones were not compatible, so we turned them off in Newark. I had located the store for our purchase, and it was not far from where we sat drinking. We asked each other what we thought about it, and we both wrinkled up our noses and shook our heads: we did not want a cell phone. Sure, we could more easily call ahead to book our rooms, and our cat/house sitters could reach us if they needed to, but then so could everyone else, if we called them even once to check in. It would be nice to have a break from ringing phones. Heavenly, in fact, for me, considering that every time the phone rings, I think I am in trouble.

Another pint later, Pete did not come back from the bathroom. It was nothing biological, it was just that he overheard a group of men talking behind us, and most of their conversation was about music. He pulled up a chair with them and eventually had me move over from the bar. Turned out, these young men were in a band; one of them had lived in Minneapolis; another was a naturalist interested in birdwatching; and the other was wearing a stripey jumper his (now) ex-girlfriend had knitted. We would have a lot to talk about. I found out what road atlas to buy (Ordinance Survey), what bird book to get (Collins), and Pete got some music recommendations.

We also gained a new, and now favorite, phrase. A pint or two into the conversation, I noticed an odor wafting over the scene. Stripey Jumper caught a whiff as well;

“Who opened their lunchbox?” he said.

This was both funny and embarrassing because I knew it was Pete. Pete heard him but was baffled. I don’t know if he was looking for an actual lunchbox, or if he had not understood all the words, but he questioned the phrase. It took a moment, and then I said to him, clearly, “He’s asking who farted.”

I think it was nearing 7:00 when it was either time for another pint or it was time to go. I decided that we really should head back to the B&B and actually check into our room, and we most likely did not need any more pints, considering that we had not slept in over 24 hours and had not eaten since noon. I’m so unreasonable.

We made our way toward the bus stop in that heightened yet hazy drunk-in-daylight state of which I am not too fond, and though I had used the pub loo more than once, the seven or so pints I had consumed seemed to have caught up with me all at once. By the time we reached the bus stop and began our wait, I was dancing in place and whining. Of course, our bus was the seventeenth bus to arrive, and it was packed, the streets were jammed, and we crawled back toward our neighborhood. Painfully. I figured that we could probably stop, have a pint, and get back on the very same bus. We were about six blocks away when I spotted a corner pub which I had noticed on our way in to city center, and which was, of course, painted blazing yellow. I said we had to get out. Now. I could not make it back to the B&B. We went in, Pete ordered two pints, and I limped and skipped to the toilets. The aftermath of this sort of pain and discomfort was one of such great relief, that I don’t remember ever being happier.

We arrived at the guesthouse, fumbling with our bags, trying to work the key, and be quiet and not giggle, even though it was only 8:00. There’s something about staying in a stranger’s house that is a bit odd, and I did not want our host to know that we were wasted. It would be like your parents seeing you come home drunk.

The room was lovely, our things had been brought up, and all was well. But we still needed to eat dinner. We walked down the street to a restaurant that we knew was open and ordered from the odd menu of pub food, Chinese, and curry, as well as two more pints. I think. Pete was so tired that he was actually falling asleep at the table, and the copious amounts of stout were not helping the situation. When he went to the bathroom, I was worried that he would not come back, and I would have to get the waiter to go in and wake him up. Then I worried about how I would get him the three blocks back to the B&B. He returned, however, and we paid successfully and made it home. After a shower, some instant decaff, and a little Sky News, it was bedtime.

Pete still has no idea what he ordered at that restaurant.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Book of Kells

If you want to see The Book of Kells, it’s going to be crowded, and it’s going to cost you 8 Euros per person.

Pay it.

No one can describe it to you, and reproductions do not do it justice. But it’s not only The Book of Kells (800 AD) you can see; The Book of Durrow (675 AD) and The Book of Armagh (8th c. AD) are also on display in the Library at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is a decorated copy of the Gospels in Latin. It is now in four volumes, two of which are open to the public, one to a text page and one to a decorated page. The Book of Durrow is also the Gospels in Latin with decorated pages, and The Book of Armagh contains some of the earliest examples of Old Irish. All of these books are relatively small: the Book of Armagh measures 7.75 inches by 5.75 inches, and the detail is astonishing.

They are part of an exhibition called “Turning Darkness into Light” which places them into their historical context as well as shows how they were created, including making vellum and coloring ink. You learn about symbolism: the snake, while being a pre-Christian symbol of rebirth was similarly used in early Celtic-Christianity as a symbol of resurrection: reborn when it sheds its skin. There are also little monkish poems about cats, a riddle about vellum, and an odd little ditty about writing about god, that shows that, perhaps, at least some of these boys needed to get laid:

“St. Collum the Scribe”

My hand is weary of writing
My sharp quill is not steady
My slender-beaked pen juts forth
A black draught of shining dark-blue ink

A stream of the wisdom of blessed God
Springs from my fair-brown shapely hand:
On the page it squirts its draught
Of ink of the green-skinned holly

My little dripping pen travels
across the plain of shining books
without ceasing for the wealth of the great
whence my hand is weary from writing.
(11th c. poem in honour of St. Colum Cille)

I have written about writing before, but it never sounds quite like that. In fact, when I write about writing, there is far less jutting, streaming, squirting, and dripping.

The exhibit not only gives you background and context, it gives you an idea of the amount of labor and care that went into the creation of something that we take very much for granted today: books. It gave me the feeling that the written word was respected and the crafts of bookmaking and lettering were revered: a lot of time, resources, and thought had to be put into these books from beginning to end. While I do not want to be living in 8th century Ireland, I do sigh at the perseverance and dedication, not to mention eyesight, necessary for such works of art.

I have found that in museums or places of great historical import, people whisper, which is not only fine with me, but appropriate in the face of such human achievement. I know that most people probably find these works holy because of the subject matter, but I find these creations to be singularly human. Also, when people are whispering, you don’t have to hear what they are saying and be reminded that human achievement is not always great. My favorite comment at the Book of Kells was uttered by a young American woman as she looked at the detailed, beautifully illuminated manuscripts: “There’s holes in the paper.”

Wow! 8 Euros well spent! I wanted to send her back through the exhibit to read every single word. And then give me a report. It makes you realize that a lot of people who are on vacation only go to places because the guide books says so, not because they actually have a personal interest in the subject matter. It makes me wonder why some people leave home.

After we looked at the manuscripts — and we went back a couple of times to make sure that we got a good look at each page on display - we went upstairs to The Long Room where they had a display about Watson and Crick. The room itself is gorgeous, lined with 200,000 of the oldest books in the library’s collection, on stacked wooden shelves with iron spiral staircases and a gorgeous vaulted ceiling. You walk along a gallery of very dusty white marble busts of famous writers and thinkers that also contains Ireland’s oldest harp, said to be Brian Boru’s, and more importantly, used as the model for the harp on bottles of Guinness.

Best advice from the Long Room?
“Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science” by James Watson

Coffee & Sausage Rolls

LePhare Coffee House, Dublin

It’s a strange feeling, morning in a new place; especially if that new place is 3,726 miles away from the old place, you have not slept, and your body thinks it’s 4:00 p.m. and not 10:00 a.m.

We arrived in Dublin on time and without trouble. Customs was busy but not too slow, and we found the bus easily. Our B&B proprietor, P.J., had given us very good directions, which I had printed out, and soon enough we were on the 16A into Dublin, instead of the 16A into Minneapolis. The bus was just as P.J. had said it would be, and we disembarked half a block from the door of “Tinode House.” P.J. greeted us, showed us where to put our bags, gave us a map of the city center, and directed us on our way. We decided to walk for a bit as we had been sitting for hours, and we wound up walking the whole way. It was not far, it turned out. Google Maps just made it look that way.

Looking at it now, I would have to say that the trip itself had gone very well, its inauspicious beginnings notwithstanding. Even the airplane dinner was pretty good. They did not charge extra for it, which was shocking in this day and age of airline hospitality, but they did charge me for my therapeutic tiny bottles of chardonnay. Our time was passed quickly enough between the ridiculosity of “Talladega Nights” and the pleasant conversation of our row-mate, a Mr. Naughton, who was born in County Roscommon in 1929. One of ten children, he moved to America when he was 18 and lived with his aunt in New Jersey, attending school and then fighting in Korea for three years. His sister still lives in Roscommon, and he was going to visit her. “America has been good to me,” he said. These are the things you learn when you are Pete and you talk to random people. I am always happy for the information, but I am not solicitous. On my own in a strange place, I tend to like to blend in.

It took me awhile to adjust to being here. By this I mean to sink into my “I am a tourist, and I don’t care who knows it” role. I have always hated being a tourist. It’s rather silly, really. I mean, if you are a tourist, it means you are on vacation, and who does not want to be on vacation? But when we get on vacation, we don’t want to look like we are on vacation. When I lived and worked in a tourist town, I had to remember what it’s like to be in a new place and not mock the tourists. I always have to remember what it feels like to be on the other side.

That said, walking in Dublin is like walking at a Renaissance Festival. There are people everywhere, and there is no pattern to either the foot traffic or the auto traffic. Everything is a speedy blur until it stops unexpectedly, right in front of you, for no apparent reason.

We sat in a little coffee shop with our Rough Guide and huge Michelin Map, planning our day. Apparently, Pete subsisted on sausage rolls when he lived in London, so we had a roll a piece. To me, “Sausage roll” sounds like a nickname you use for someone you love, preferably said with a fake French accent (“My leetle sausaahge rrroll”), but it was quite tasty.

We had a little list of things that we wanted to see and do in Dublin and only two days to do it:

The Book of Kells and Trinity College
Guinness Storehouse
Jameson Distillery
Kilmainham Gaol
The National Museum, Library, and Gallery

The above is merely a small sample of Dublin’s offerings. But even that was a lot for two days. We decided upon the Book of Kells as the first stop, and then we would see how things were going. I had consented, for this trip, to be somewhat flexible. As this is not in my nature, I knew that I would have moments of near panic that I would try to keep to myself. Pete had agreed to let me book the first four nights of lodging, as we knew where we needed or wanted to be for those nights, but after that, we did not have a plan, only a general idea of the direction in which we wanted to head and the sights which we wanted to see. It was only our first day, so I was still relatively calm about the fact that I did not know where I would be sleeping five nights from now.


It was over half way through the flight to Newark that I realized: the next time I set foot in a Someone’s Land, it will be Ireland. Airports are not the place they are in. They are no place. They are Airportland, all pretty much the same, location to location.

Newark was like Minneapolis is like Houston is like Atlanta (except that Atlanta is more like a spaceport, when you are on the runway at night). On the airplane now, it’s morning, and Ireland is beneath me. Behind me, under the wing, it’s just what I wanted: green uneven fields, hedgerows, villages, lakes and rivers, windmills.
We’re going there.
We’re going to be down in that.

The plane has landed in Ireland, but we are still in America. The plane, like the airport, is a no one’s land. We are still in America until we disembark: the people are the same, The Beach Boys are playing through the speakers. But there are cows by the airport, and it’s very, very green out there.

I know.
Observant am I.

Random Scary Thought

Do you ever think about how much of yourself you leave behind? I am not talking about impressions or neat little stories, I am saying that I am leaving behind a lot of DNA on this plane.
Pete said that this was one way that someone could make another one of me.
“No thank you.”
“Be fun for me. At times,” Pete smirked.
“But I would never get along with her.”

Second Leg

We have not reached cruising altitude, and Pete might be asleep.

For my part, I have discovered that two tiny bottles of airplane chardonnay tend to mellow my ass out just enough for me to get through the flight tolerably well, but I don’t sleep on planes. I don’t even get out of my seat, to tell you the truth. I love watching planes fly, especially near the airport—landing and taking off. I am just not so into this whole being-on-them thing.

Maybe I need to understand exactly how planes fly, and then some of my fear will be assuaged. Because it just seems like magic to me.

Speaking of magic, I think that one of the charms of Harry Potter for me is that it is distinctly un-modern. How’s that for a distracting nonsequitor? By “unmodern,” I mean that the world of Harry Potter does not rely on gadgets, machines, and technology. I know, they have magic, but they have not used magic to create more work for themselves. No one is worried about his or her cell phone. No one comes home from work and watches TV. No airplanes.

As much time as I waste on the Internet, I think I could do without it if it did not exist.

Yeah, he’s asleep. His mouth is open. How do people fall asleep so quickly? It’s a skill I have never mastered.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Small Wonders, Equally Small Worries

September 25, 2007

I never thought I would be happy to be in Newark.
I know.
It’s an easy joke.
Bit of a low blow, really.

But it has not been the most auspicious of beginnings.

Checking in at the Minneapolis airport, my information did not match, and I had a moment when I thought that my reservation was not going to be there at all. The magic of computers is that they can both cause heart-stopping woe as well as breathtaking relief. I still don’t know what happened, but the nice, blonde lady at the counter punched some information into her seemingly very old terminal, resolved the situation, and I was checked through to Dublin.

The night before, at home in St. Paul, we debated back and forth about luggage: to check or not to check. Pete was bringing his guitar, Woody, and we figured we would just bring everything with us on the plane. That way we did not have to worry about things not making the connection in Newark. You can imagine our joy upon realizing that the plane was an 18 row by 3-seat little wonder with enough room overhead to hold a vanity bag. At the Jetway, we hastily removed computer, reading material, and purse, and Pete watched in anguish as Woody moved slowly down the conveyor belt in what we hoped would not be a death march. Next time, I check ahead and pay attention to the kind of plane I am on.

To further the comedy of errors, my in-flight magazines clearly had fruit juice spilled on them, and Pete’s flight card was stuck to the cover of his magazine, which was removed from the pages, by a fairly new piece of chewed Doublemint. These are not terrible things, in and of themselves, but they strike me as signs of inattention, which is not what you want from your airline, especially if you are a nervous flier. Every little thing can seem like a bad omen, even if your analytical mind doesn’t believe in that sort of crap.

The woman behind Pete had boarded the Houston 5:05 pm flight and was mad that they had let her do it. I thought, “Grab some personal responsibility, lady. First of all, why would you be boarding at 3:50 for a 5:05 flight? And secondly, you sat on your own take-away cup of tea that you put on your own seat. Who are you going to blame for that?”

These things made me feel anxious and uneasy.

Overly dramatic, I know, but we do lead a relatively privileged life. Our worries are comparatively minimal and almost unbearably silly.

As planes do not have dealer or maker logos like cars, let alone hood ornaments (I think that might interfere with wind resistance or something), I did not know what kind of plane I was on, aside from the fact that it was unexpectedly small for a flight to the east coast. Once I found a flight magazine that was not sealed by gum or pink, warped, and crinkly with fruit juice, I discovered it was plane from a Brazilian manufacturer that I had never heard of, which also did not inspire confidence.

Once in the air, the densely packed though not terribly thick band of clouds below us gave the illusion of safety, like an airbag. I was not always a nervous flier; I have developed into a nervous flier. It has a lot to do with knowing what you have to lose, which has a lot to do with actually having something of great importance to lose. This thing of great importance is my life with Pete. I try to remember Pete’s advice: There’s nothing you can do. All of this is out of my hands. But Pete is already on vacation, and he has been for a while; I am not. I’m already a bit of a worrier, and the last few days had been nothing but go, go, go--absolutely chock full of to-do lists. I was feeling a bit put upon. At this point, with all that behind me, I had moved on to my immediate worries: once we landed in Newark, there was the connection to make to Dublin. Once there, we have to make it to our B&B. I would be able to relax for a couple of days then, or at least a day, until we had to pick up our car.

Sad, really.
It’s nice to know that a country awash in Guinness awaits me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dear Abby,

I am thinking about remodeling my home, but I am concerned about the possibility of martial law being declared in or around the fall of 2008. Should I proceed? What do you think martial law will do to home values in middle America?

Addled About Adding On

Monday, August 6, 2007

That Bridge, When We Come to it

When I was in my junior year of college, I lived in a house on the corner of University Avenue and 10th Avenue in southeast Minneapolis. Until August 1 2007, that location meant nothing more than a lack of parking and some freeway noise. Now, it’s kitty-corner from a national disaster. Yellow police tape, satellite trucks, law enforcement officers, and onlookers teem about the area.

I work at the University of Minnesota, and today, I decided to take a walk. I caught the 16 bus downtown and walked over to the river. A granite and limestone bridge built in 1883 spans 2,100 feet across the Mississippi from downtown Minneapolis to St. Anthony. The Stone Arch Bridge was rehabilitated and re-opened in 1994 for pedestrian and bike traffic, and it’s the nearest accessible bridge from which the public can view the bridge that collapsed on August 1st. It’s only the second time I have been on this bridge, the first being only a month ago. But that was just a walk.

I was half hoping a reporter would stop me and ask why I came down because I actually have an answer: a news event of national importance happened here less than a week ago, and I wanted to see what I could see with my own eyes. Like many people, I have been following this relatively closely. I watched TV from the moment we turned it on Wednesday evening expecting the frivolous spectacle of “So You Think You Can Dance” and instead saw a spectacle of another sort unfolding three miles away.

At first I thought it was another country, and then another city, and then I realized that it was local television, so I thought it was the suburbs. We have a lot of water and a lot of bridges in the Twin Cities, but it never occurred to me that a bridge of that size, right in the middle of Minneapolis, would be laying in the Mississippi River on a Wednesday evening. I called my parents, who were visiting family in Denver, as a preemptive measure, and Pete did the same for his family, who live in Massachusetts. Texts and phone calls crisscrossed the Metro as people located each other. Aside from a friend who had crossed the bridge twice that day delivering beer, no one I knew had even been on it recently.

My boss sent me a text telling me not to come in to work Thursday morning unless he called me. I guess he did not want me to have to deal with the possible mess that campus could be, I-35W being a close-by major thoroughfare. I sat at home and watched the coverage. The contrast between the national and local news was interesting, and I had a brief flash of what it must have felt like for New Yorkers in the days after September 11th, 2001. This is a fragment of the magnitude of that event, and its implications are much different, but the media attention and the ensuing inaccuracies have to be similar. Little things bugged me, like people saying that it was a bridge between Minneapolis and St. Paul, or using sound bytes from the NTSB chief to misinterpret the facts as he actually stated them. When WCCO TV signed off on Wednesday night after an evening of what I thought was respectful, informative, and responsible reporting, Don Shelby said that CNN was claiming that the bridge collapsed due to concrete failing on posts in the river. He added, shaking his head, that he saw no way that anyone could possibly know that, and that the people reporting it had probably never been to Minneapolis, let alone crossed that bridge.

It’s a scrutiny that we are not used to here, and it’s interesting. People are calling Pete and I, wondering how we are “holding up,” believing that our spirits need lifting during this time of tragedy. And you know what? We’re fine. It may sound callous to say, but we are. I am only upset when they show pictures of those who died and talk to their family members, but that would be true for any tragedy, anywhere in the world. This is a tragedy of infrastructure, a shock to the American sense of public safety, a wake up call, and an absolute devastation to those who lost loved ones when that bridge fell. It’s no comfort to tell them that it could have been much worse than it was, but it’s true. It’s astounding that more people were not killed.

From the Stone Arch Bridge, you can’t see a lot: you can see the slumped south side and part of the north side; you can glimpse the deck that is in the river. Without binoculars, you can’t see much else. I did not bring binoculars as this walk was an impulse at 1:00 in the afternoon, and I probably would not have brought binoculars anyway, though many people did. And there are a lot of people down there—all ages and walks of life trying to get a glimpse. On the north side, you can get relatively close to the deck that crashed down onto land, the part that crushed the train cars and came down over the River Road. Once you get up onto University Avenue, you can see across the river and the deck that is almost at a 45 degree angle. Cars still sit all over, perched at various spots all over the structure. On the chain link fence on University Avenue crossing I-35, someone has pinned a sheet, spray painted with the phrase “Stop Gawking-Go Home and Watch it on TV,” which is, I think, supposed to make us feel shame. It did not work. If anything, I smiled to myself and thought “Hypocritical.” And then I thought “That seems like the opposite of what people normally tell you to do.” As long as people are being respectful of the scene and are not getting in the way of those who are there to recover and clean up, people probably should see for themselves.

As I approached my old house, I noticed two other signs hanging from a fence and an apartment building. One read “Rebuild America (Not Iraq)” and the other “Bridges Not Bombs.” These were, I thought, better use of both words and sheets.

In my estimation, Minneapolis police and fire fighters and other “First Responders” did a remarkable job, and the citizens who were present on the scene and on the bridge were heroic in their efforts to help each other. Our political leaders can talk all they want about a “Minnesota Spirit,” but I don’t think that’s it. Nor do I think it’s an “American Spirit.” I would like to believe it’s a human response; that faced with such an event, there is something in the species that reacts with a moral impulse to help those in need. What else can we take from such a thing? We can get into the political and practical issues later, as we no doubt will, but right now, a bunch of strangers lent aid to each other, and a little of that can go a long way in times such as these.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I've been waiting for so long. The anticipation has been exhilarating, almost overwhelming at times. I have become emotional and misty thinking about it. I am filled with excitement and dread that it is almost here, and it is almost over. My friends tell me that I should not be sad. This is a GOOD thing. There will be others. It's not really ending.

But it will never be like this again.
THIS will never happen again.

I want it, and I don't want it.

I don't know if I am ready.

But the die has been cast. The wheels are in motion. The pieces are in place.
The cliches are circling.

It cannot be stopped.

I have my wristband.

There's no turning back now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Constituency, Bushly Defined

"constituency: a body of voters in a specified area who elect a representative to a legislative body. 2. a body of customers and supporters." (Concise Oxford English Dictionary)

Just so you know, President George W. Bush made it clear in his press conference today that he has many constituencies to consider in his decision-making process regarding the war in Iraq.

They are as follows:
1. "Clearly, the American people, who are paying for this, is the major constituency."
2. "The second constituency is the military, and I repeat to you, I'm pretty confident our military do not want their commander in chief making political decisions about their future."
3. "A third constituency that matters to me a lot is military families."

I getcha: most of those people are probably American citizens who are eligible to vote; the American people are paying for this, in more ways than one; by "military," I am assuming that he means members of the armed services, and yes, they would be considered a constituency; same goes for military families (again, with the caveat of assuming that he means family members of those serving in the military, not families that are very strict. It would be unfair to parse the off-the-cuff, live remarks of President Bush.).

But after that, I think I must take issue:

4. "Another constituency group that is important for me to talk to is the Iraqis."


5. "And finally, another constituency is the enemy, who are wondering whether or not America has got the resolve and the determination to stay after them."

I don't think it's parsing to state that Iraqis and "the enemy" are not constituencies. Maybe you could consider Iraqis "customers" if you expand to definition number 2, but I don't believe that Iraqis would consider themselves "customers" of either the United States of America or of this particular war. Nor do polls indicate that the majority of them are supporters. There is defining stretch that could make the fifth group a constituency.

Aside from the general irrelevance of President Bush's comments to the actual political landscape of the United States at this time, I have to wonder about his choice of words. One is usually beholden to a constituency, and one is therefore expected to make political decisions on behalf of that constituency. Either he does not understand the meaning of the word, or he equates these groups in his head as deserving of the same attention when it comes time to make decisions about the war. Neither of these options are pleasant or desirable in our commander in chief.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rolling Rocks in Hades?

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

--on "The 700 Club" September 2001, in reference to the attacks of September 11th.

Jerry Falwell

Monday, April 2, 2007

Spring in the Garden

I took these this morning in my garden: Strawberry leaves and Catmint. Something for everybody. This is one of my favorite times in Minnesota; it was 81 degrees two weeks ago, today it is 40, and it might snow tomorrow. The garden is ready, though, and it is off and running. This is just a sample. I have many things to say about George Bush's favorite history book, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, and crazy people with radio programs, but today, I am going to bask in Nature.

(especially for Marina, who loves this sort of crap from me)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thank God You Can't Go Back

“I have to tell you about Chuck.
He’s indestructible.
Well, he is six and one half feet tall;
and he’s witty and pretty and all-American,
I’m afraid…”

You will have to excuse me while I have a moment.
Actually, a series of moments.

I am a child of the eighties. Today, you will not catch me in a tiered, knit, turquoise and white mini skirt, but, in ninth grade? Look! There I am, walking down my institutionally-colored junior high school hallways with my backpack and my anorectic best friend.

I’m pathetic. I have dumb hair and grodey braces and I am chronically insecure and hung up on one boy who I will never have, though I will continue to try in my sad, anemic way for the next fifteen years.

(At least now, I don’t have braces.)

The 80’s can be faulted for many things. Girl mullets. Perms. Permed girl mullets. The above-mentioned mini skirt as well as many other Crimes Against Knits. Flipped up collars on pink polo shirts. Safety-pinned jeans. Bandanas wrapped around safety pinned jeans.

OK, I am focusing too much on the fashion disasters. But when you are in junior high and in the fifth year of your ten-year awkward phase, those are the things that stick with you. And show up in pictures.

My niece and my best friend’s daughter are both in seventh grade. They are very different from each other, but I know they won’t suffer the same inequities looking back. They are gorgeous and their clothes are good.

I have to admit that I don’t know about their music, however. I have hit that point where I no longer know what “the kids” are listening to. I don’t really mind. I kind of want to punch that Fall Out Boy kid, shoot tiny stinging rubber bands at John Mayer, and I wouldn’t know a Good Charlotte from a Bad one. The aforementioned best friend’s daughter has tried to tell me what is popular, and I am afraid I am just old.

It’s hard to relate when you can still buy new, albums from Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and U2; The Red Hot Chili Peppers are winning Grammys; The Police are selling out concert venues; and teenagers are swooning over Johnny Depp. They weren’t even swimmers in the gene pool when “21-Jump Street was on.” At least I was alive in a four-Beatle world.

Heck—speaking of the Fab Four—even the Beatles have an album on the Hot 200 right now.

And, yes. I know they don’t call them “albums” anymore.

But I just got the best album in the mail. I’ll say one thing for the internet: it has reduced the scarcity of “collectibles.” It has reduced scarcity, period. At least in shopping. For people in the West. With money. And time to consume luxury products. It used to be that I would have to track down that one record store in the city that specialized in “imports” and flip through my favorite artists to fish out the singles from the UK and the alternate pressings. That is not necessary anymore, and the term “import” has lost its mystique.

That being said, it also used to be that if I wanted to hear “Bogart” by Nik Kershaw from the album “Human Racing,” I would have had to dig out my cassette tape from 1984 and hope that it still worked. And then, when it did not, cry. Instead, eBay and have opened up the world of Obscure Moments from my Musical Past, and I have received “Dark Adapted Eye” by Danielle Dax, “We’ve got a Fuzzbox and We’re Going to Use it,” “Giants” by The Bolshoi, and the above-mentioned Nik Kershaw gem. It’s heaven. I am 14, 16, and 18 again, but without the demeaning clothing, emotional turmoil, and unfortunate appearance of those times.

Instead, I am cooking soup, in a house I own, while my lovely and talented husband is off for a bike ride on a gorgeous Spring evening. Listening to my CD player shuffling those four fantastic discs at its discretion, drinking a pint of Guinness, and writing these musings on a killer computer. I'm not bragging. I'm just thankful. And lucky.

I loved the 80’s.

Or at least, I love them now.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Toil and Trouble

I don’t want to be a downer, but I don’t quite understand all the fuss about this latest Bush Administration scandal. So, they fired eight United States Attorneys for political reasons and lied about it.


It seems a little like busting Al Capone for tax evasion or giving Martin Scorsese an Oscar for “The Departed.”

“It’s not your best work, but... you’re due.”

Maybe America has just hit Maximum Scandal Density, and there is simply no room in the collective denial cavity for one more. After Ken Lay, Enron, and closed-door energy task force meetings; Abu Ghraib prison torture; no-bid contracts for Halliburton; Halliburton overcharges to the army for fuel; missing documentation for $1.8 billion in Halliburton charges; fabrication of evidence to get us into a prolonged war in which over 3,200 Americans and countless Iraqis have died; outing a CIA agent; and tampering with elections, to name just a few, it’s no wonder that these people believe that they are superheroes and cannot be stopped by mere humans. So far, it’s been true. When this one bubbled up, I just rolled my eyes and thought sarcastically “How SHOCKING! I cannot BELIEVE that our government would be involved in anything politically untoward.” I figured it would vaporize, just like the rest of them.

Then yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee authorized subpoenas for Karl Rove and others, and two and a half months after the attorneys were fired, the scandal just keeps roiling.

I think that my shock levels have been so altered and my sensibilities so numbed by six plus years of deceit and nefarious behavior that this one was just absorbed into my consciousness and stored away with other lies, like “I’ll call you,” and “Of course you don’t look fat in that.”

The Administration’s response to this event is the same attitude of scoffing challenge that I am used to. It rivals that of any 18-year-old kid still living at home: “Yeah? Well what are you gonna do about it?” *insert smirk and shrug, swagger out of kitchen into basement room*

This time, the message comes along with a buddy-like-yet-threatening-slap-you-on-the-back “Trust us! You don’t need a transcript or a fussy oath. We’ll tell the truth.” Well but of course; transparency is the modus operandi of this administration. They deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Because it turns out that The Bush Administration is very concerned with the separation of powers. Who knew? They are also concerned that someone out there might be doing something for political reasons that are less than honest. This is why they don’t want Karl Rove to testify, under oath, with a transcript: the constitutionally established separation of powers and honesty.

See, they should have explained that right at the very beginning. Clearly, they have precedent, posterity, and the country’s morale close to their hearts. It’s not because they are afraid of exposure, censure, and possible criminal charges. They have not operated for over six years in a culture of alarming opacity for reasons of greed or consolidation of power in the hands of a corporate oligarchy; it’s that they firmly believe in the sanctity of the plans of our Founding Fathers and the veracity and purity of their own motives. They do not want to take part in a political game such as this; to sink into the quagmire of political muck that the Democrats are slinging around.

Give those liberals a little bit of power, and they go and take advantage of our poor, beleaguered president and his posse.
They just can’t catch a break.

(By the way, I’ll be holding my breath until Karl Rove swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cooking is Informative

The above image makes me feel:

a. hungry
b. aroused
c. inadequate
d. dirty
e. confused
f. confrontational
g. all the above
h. a & b
i. a, b, & d
j. a, b, & e
k. other (please specify)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"What do you DO with something like this?"
she thought as she attempted to untangle the necklaces from the mess they had lain in for months on her dresser.

Not what do you do with the mess, but with a piece of jewelry like the one that was causing most of the trouble. It was a slim gold chain—-one of those smooth ones with the tiny square links like little magic boxes—-and hanging from it was a small gold tear drop pendant with three tiny diamonds and two small emeralds.

It wasn’t her.

It never had been.

She assumed that the stones and the metal were real—-that was the sort of retarded thing that he would have done. Bought her a too expensive and not at all right piece of jewelry when what she really wanted was for him to come home from the bar after his shift. Just to come home. Not be drinking after hours with his coworkers every night while she lay awake in their apartment in the city, waiting, crying, simmering. Wearing the wrong necklace. And here, ten years later, she sat on the couch in her bathrobe, a world away from that place, that girl.

She had worn the necklace until the end of the relationship and then it had moved with her to a new apartment through a series of relationships and not-so-relationships, to a husband she knew would never pan out and who also gave her jewelry she never now wore. (What is it with jewelry? she thought. Has society just pummeled this into their heads to the point where they wandered out like robots, mechanically handing over their maxed out credit cards to suited men in malls all over the country?) She didn’t want jewelry from them. She never had. She wanted love and acceptance. She wanted safety and comfort. She wanted cookies. Like now. Pete had just walked in the door from running off to the store in the ten degree weather because she wanted cookies with her coffee.

Pete who had given her the two rings she now wore, amounting together to less than a hundred dollars and without measure in their worth.

"But what does one DO with something like this?"

If she ever got it untangled.

It was a little knot of experience. The waxed cord attached to a pewter talisman she had bought at the renaissance festival when she was in high school and interested in witches and darkness and punk rock; the recycled glass orb on the leather thong she had bought when she was working in Jackson, Wyoming; the frail little silver and green bead necklace her friend Greta had bought her "just because"; and this ridiculous gold necklace—a little reminder of her crazy period. Addled on birth control pills, migraines, and unsatisfactory attention from an unfulfilling man.

"Wear it," Pete said.

She told him where it came from.

"Sell it?"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kudos to Representative Virgil Goode (R-VA) for pointing out that passing a non-binding resolution against sending more troops to Iraq would inevitably lead to “In God We Trust” being replaced on our coins and legal tender with “In Muhammad We Trust.” Representative Goode reveals his stunning grasp of cause and effect, logic, the powers of congress, and comparative religion in his reasoning. I’m impressed. I’m pleased to hear the Representative Goode (what a lovely name) equate God with Muhammad. That shows that he is really paying attention.

He also asserts that the main goal of Islamic extremists is to wave the star and crescent over the United States. If Islamic extremists really want to replace the Stars and Stripes with the Star and Crescent, they are going to have some work to do. They will be quite occupied for some time putting new stickers on bumpers, raising flags over malls, and replacing little nylon banners on wooden dowels sticking out of chain link fences all over America, because if Americans know one thing, it is respect for the symbol of our nation. Why, just this morning, I was behind a lovely Ford F-150 sporting a back window screen emblazoned with the red, white, and blue.

Now there's an S-Word

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much... It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

Never have truer words been penned.

The above sentences come from the 2007 Newbery Award winning book “The Higher Power of Lucky” by Susan Patron. I guess it’s about a ten-year old orphan named “Lucky” and apparently, some school librarians want to ban it because of the s-word.

One thing: were these people never children?
Another thing: don’t these people know that by censoring something, they make it more popular?

This book was written for 9-12 year olds. Even if I did not know what the word scrotum meant, I certainly knew to what it referred. Like the heroine of this tale, I may have thought it involved mucous. It does, indeed, sound phlegm-y. These grown ups who continually try to protect children from things seem to have no memory of being children and no frame of reference for what children know and when they know it. And from what they actually need to be protected. They certainly have little respect for children or trust in their comprehension. Personally, I think that a ten year old boy child certainly should know what a scrotum is because he probably has one.

Librarians and teachers are saying that they don’t want to stock the book or teach it because they don’t want to have to explain what the word means. I would like to point out that they probably would not have to, and if they did, it would not take much explaining. This also reveals what their true concern is: themselves and their own embarrassment over the human body. They certainly are not interested in furthering children’s knowledge.

A librarian in Durango, Colorado was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “I don’t want to start an issue about censorship, but you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature... at least not for children.”


She’s probably right. Actual men’s genitalia probably are not included in “quality” literature. Or even in quality pop-up literature. She shows the precise amount of care for literature and context that I want in my librarians.