Monthly Archives: November, 2012

Three Things I love About Dublin

O'Connell Street Bridge at night in Dublin

O’ Connell Street Bridge in Dublin at night (Photo from Wikipedia)

In the great words of the Monty Python crew, “And now for something completely different.” I’m coming down from the politics-junkie high of election season as we all slowly exhale and put the presidential pugilism of the last month or two especially behind us. I’m not actually of the belief that, as social animals, anything we do is completely divorced from the political/social sphere, but I did think I’d get back to travel this week, which is not so overtly political.

To that end, inspired by fellow blogger Marina from Hercules Gets a Passportwhose blog post on San Francisco has motivated me to want to one day explore that wonderfully sunny looking city that was once a political hotbed of flower-power and beat poetics in the 60s, I’ve decided to write about a city I love, Dublin. Marina’s blogpost was for a competition and, whilst the competition is closed, I like the idea of taking three  things you know and love about a city and exploring them.

I spent four years in Dublin (actually close to four years, but I have to say something to explain my accent). It is a city rich with a history of wit, of poetic souls, and of artistic temperaments. This year, Ireland celebrates 2013, The Year of the Gathering, a year-long celebration of Irish cultural identity in which particular emphasis is placed on welcoming back the sons and daughters of Eire from the far and wide diaspora to come back home and celebrate their roots. So, just in time for The Gathering, I thought I’d take you on a very quick mini-tour of my Dublin and hope to entice you to join in the celebrations in some way this year.

Lunch in Govinda’s

Govinda's, Aungier Street Dublin

Govinda’s on Aungier Street in Dublin

Who, outside of Ireland, outside of Dublin even, could conceive of a popular Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurant close to the city center? Who could further guess that such a cafe would serve top-notch food at fairly reasonable prices? Every year, at least once, we make our pilgrimage to Govinda’s for lunch in town. Warm, friendly staff will pile your plate high with steaming lasagne, the most perfect sag paneer I’ve yet tasted and generally comforting peppery, spicy potatoes, vegetables and assorted dollops of  scrumptiousness to fill you with virtuous goodness for the rest of the afternoon and possibly the evening. Having spoken to the knowledgeable staff before about the topic, I now know that there are Govinda’s restaurants in cities throughout the world. We’ve been to the one in Toronto which was supposed to be pay what you like but was closed for a festival during out visit, and still periodically frequent the London Govinda’s, which has good food and a more accurate representation of Thali plate dining. But nothing beats the Irish Govinda’s on Aungier Street for a welcoming, relaxing ambiance, generosity of portion size and quality of cuisine.

Swing by Butler’s for a Hot Chocolate after lunch

Butler's Chocolate Cafe in Dublin

Butler’s Chocolate Cafe in Dublin

Butler’s is a Dublinian institution, without a doubt the best hot chocolate and the best chocolate to be found anywhere in Ireland; rich, decadent, warming the cockles and mussels of one’s heart, the piece de resistance is the little sweet Butler’s presents to you on the saucer, which you dutifully drop and mix into your drink. Great place to get gifts to bring back home, meet, reunite and chat over warm, creamy, frothy cocoa.

Butler's Hot Chocolate Dublin

Butler’s Hot Chocolate (Creamy!)

Take a Walk on the Wild Side… Otherwise known as The North Side

The Royal Canal in Lower Dromcondra Dublin

The Royal Canal in Lower Drumcondra, Dublin (photo from http://www.geograph.ie)

Years ago, working at a school in one of the poshest neighborhoods in South Dublin, Ballsbridge, I certainly heard my fair share of Northsider jokes (What separates us from the animals? The Liffey. Ha ha ha ha), but I also always found something genuine and beautiful and full of character about this gritty, underrated half of the city. I lived on Clonliffe Road, near the Gaelic Football and Hurling Stadium, Croke Park. We used to get checked for tickets coming back from Tesco with our shopping and the excitement and buzz of the atmosphere was unparalleled.

James Joyce, in Portrait of an Artist as A Young Man has his hero Stephen Dedalus claim that Drumcondra is “where they speak the best English,” but something about Joyce makes me think that, though he was clearly no nationalist, his sympathies laid with Stephen and the local pride he took in the North side. It is also a place that will afford you, with a brisk or leisurely stroll, some of the finest period architecture the city has to offer. Neither is it without its simpler pleasures, for at the end of your sojourn down this thoroughfare, you will find Fagan’s pub, Ireland’s former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern’s local, a fine establishment in which to sit and relax with a pint of Arthur Guiness’ best and time to ponder and philosophize as Dublin cannot fail to inspire you to do.

Pint of Guinness, North Dublin

The Black Stuff, poured the right way

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Whew! That was close… But why?

President Obama celebrates re-election

Jubilation as we Americans just about manage to make the sane choice for the second time in the last twelve years (Photo from ABC News)

And the rest of the world breathes a sigh of relief. Because this is a president with whom the world likes to talk. This is a president that has built bridges and restored our image. This is a president who realizes the value of international cooperation and of pragmatically building constructive relationships, even with former ‘enemies.’

That argument won’t sway many moderates or independents, who are, after all, the gold dust that campaigns painstakingly panhandle for before elections. It does matter, but it won’t sway most Americans. After all,  it was the economy, stupid, with a few issues to do with equal rights thrown in, moron. Which doesn’t square, I know, since more voters tended to say they trusted Romney with the economy than Obama, until you look at the demographics of the voters. In times of economic difficulty, conservatives have trouble convincing those less well off, who voted en masse for Obama, that they can provide jobs and economic security. It’s summed up well in the plutocratic image that Romney projected in the 47% video. Those living on significantly meaner incomes don’t generally think the conservative, especially the rich conservative, will give a damn about their situations.

And yet…

It does baffle me, not so much that the race was close, but that so many issues that still feature so prominently now seem so foreign to me, morally. I do understand there is a socially puritanical vein that runs deep in us, but not so deep that we willfully stand knee deep in the mire of the social stone age of the world while everyone else moves on. I offer below three such examples of issues that, really, we could do without in our politics.

  • Healthcare — This is that great fantastical, fire-breathing boogeyman of American politics. Mention it and watch Rush Limbaugh foam at the mouth and Karl Rove manipulatively asking hard-working Americans if they really want to pay for some freeloader’s healthcare? Of course you don’t, you’re a God-fearing American. I don’t not get the healthcare thing because I’m an expatriate. I don’t get the healthcare thing because we call it moral to take money from sick people and refuse to take sick people with no money. Paying more in taxes for universal healthcare is not giving a handout. It’s investing in your fellow human being. It’s time to welcome ourselves as a country, my compatriots, to the rest of the developed world as well as the human race. That way everyone has one thing guaranteed and one less obstacle to individual independence and initiative.
  • God — I have to admit, I was a bit surprised that Martha Raddatz asked about both Biden’s and Ryan’s Catholicism. It’s not her fault. She’s just the moderator, but we have to get over the idea that a person’s very personal religious beliefs should in any way be outwardly manifested in the way we govern ourselves. The more I hear the left talk about it, the more I think that the separation of church and state is the worst thing that ever happened to America. Do you know who the head of state is in the United Kingdom? The Queen. Do you know who is the head of The Church of England? The Queen. Do you know, in 2012, how high profile a role religion plays in British politics? It makes not a visible difference to a single issue. John Prescott, Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister used to talk about how he likes to avoid all that “mumbo jumbo” and the current Labour leader has professed himself an atheist. Political suicide in America, but a passing novelty here. As it should be. We need to leave the personal beliefs of an individual firmly in the personal world of the individual.
  • Gay rights — I’m not saying homophobia no long exists in England. It does. Nor is the legal status of gay marriage necessarily any better here. But it is indeed courageous for a British Prime Minister to come out (tee hee) in support of gay marriage and promise to the electorate to  introduce legislation by the end of the year on it. But that is also suggestive of how socially liberal conservatives have to be in order to survive politically over here. We’ve had gay cabinet members including Peter Mandelson, and high-ranking conservatives turned journalists such as Mathew Parris. According to a Yougov poll, 71% of British voters support the introduction of gay marriage throughout the country.  And yet, for nearly half of Americans, it still seems to be an acceptable prejudice for no apparent reason. Legal recognition in three states in one election gives me great hope, but it also explains why the GOP are screaming unintelligible oaths about their country being overrun.

Four years ago, Obama ran on the idea of ‘Change.’ The next four years are supposed to be allowing him to ‘finish what was started.’ I hope for the sake of the country that he continues the great work in changing Americans’ attitudes towards issues like these.

As a reminder, I am still doing Movember and have raised £135 for research and awareness of men’s health issues. We are coming into the giving season and it is a worthwhile cause. Please follow the link to give:

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page

In honour of POTUS winning a second term, here is a special list of presidential mustaches:

The Best Presidential Mustaches

Clouds from the Past: My Reflections on Sandy, Gloria and the Jersey Shore

The effects of Hurricane Gloria Hurricane Sandy

Many meteorologists say the last time we saw destruction on this scale, it was wrought by Hurricane Gloria in 1985 (Photo from  Wikipedia)

I feel confident in saying I grew up on the Jersey Shore. I don’t mean that in the way that many would nor do I mean to offend proper Jerseyans. Anyone who has read this blog much at all knows that I am a de facto Pennsylvanian.

But most and the best of my summer childhood memories are rooted firmly in that area of America. I was born in Northern New Jersey and spent my childhood there. My mother used to take us down to the shore for a couple weeks every summer, leaving my father alone with his annual fortnight of peace to do the tax returns. So we’d stay with my grandmother in an affluent (I perceived it as affluent then and still do) little town called Normandy Beach with a sweet little bay not more than two minutes away and a vast expanse of beach just three or four blocks in the opposite direction from the bay. I learned to associate the salty smell of the sea air as we passed The Amboys on the Parkway with the anticipation of long sunny days spent lazily frolicking through waves, collecting shells, and cautiously avoiding jellyfish (I went through some very cautious phases).

Sucking the marrow from life doesn’t quite capture it for me and The Shore. I learned to swim with and against the waves there. I came home with my belly raw-red from the friction of awkwardly attempting to ride my cousin’s boogie-board as long as my skinny little body could manage with teeth chattering and skin pruny by the end of the day. I learned how to play Spite and Malice with my grandmother and heard many tales of the Irish side of the family at her house down the shore. I played skee ball in Point Pleasant and Lavallete, stayed up nights with bloodshot eyes watching my cousins play family reunion Monopoly and spent mornings eating bagels and reading discarded sections of The Asbury Park Press. I envied extended family that lived on the coast for their regular proximity to a place that, to my imagination, seemed to embody paradise.

Point Pleasant Beach before Hurricane Sandy

Point Pleasant Beach in happier times (Photo taken from best-beaches.com)

So it is great horror and no adequate articulation that I have watched events unfold over the last week.

As a seven year old child, I lived through Hurricane Gloria. My memories of that storm, destructive though it was, are tinged with a sort of romantic nostalgia. Our power went out, we gathered candles, we sat on our lawns with our neighbors and other neighborhood kids, we played cards and we had power restored soon after. It felt like an adventure with no tangible sense of impending danger. Of course, time plays with memory and you imagine that nature can do damage when it wants to, but — and this goes without saying — nothing prepares you for the destructive force of nature when it hits hard close to home.

Manasquan after Hurricane Sandy

Manasquan after Hurricane Sandy (taken from Manasquan’s facebook page)

Much intelligent thought has been published about the aftermath and the lessons of Sandy. Scott Erb’s Blog does a good job of summarizing what way forward for the elections and the flawlessly non-partisan job that Governor Christie has done in the wake of the disaster. Naomi Klein has posted several articles, as you might expect, that are well worth a read about disaster/venture capitalists vampirically profiting from all of this.

And I’m tempted to ponder platitudinously and quote from Melville and Jack London about the awesome power of nature and our infinitesimally small position standing against it. I certainly think discussion, not silence, is the best way forward.

But here and now, when things are raw, when my cousins have been without power for a week and my parents are cooking with a propane tank and a Coleman portable grill even high up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, I mourn. My heart goes out to those suffering and I mourn for that place of childhood sunshine and wish it a good and steady recovery in the coming months.

All the best, Jersey. I am thinking of you.

Hurricane Sandy aftermath

To quote Gov. Christie, “Unfathomable”. (Photo taken from the Asbury Park Press website)

Under Any Other Business (for now)…

Even in times of crisis, and maybe especially, working for good causes is of great importance. I raised over £200  for Movember last year, all of which went on research and awareness of men’s health issues, especially prostate and testicular cancer. I hope to more than double last year’s result by the end of the month. In order to do that, I need your help. Please take a couple minutes to donate to a fantastic cause. Even the smallest donation can make the biggest difference and it doesn’t take much time or money to make that difference. Follow the link below to give to my Movember page.

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page

And follow the progress of my facial hair growth through Movember here. I’ll take requests if it helps you to donate!

It’s That Time of Year Again: Movember!

Movember 2011 with with a mustache

My aren’t you a handsome, rakish devil?

Men’s health is a difficult issue. No question. We are supposed to be the sex that stoically soldiers on no matter what sort of pain we’re in. Go to the doctor? Never! I’d much rather bleed it out. That’s what real men do, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong in many cases. I wish I could say that last sentence was merely figurative, but knowing at least one person in my lifetime who might well have avoided a painful and fatal case of testicular cancer has helped to hammer home to me the vital importance of changing the way we think about our health and taking prostate and testicular cancer more seriously.

These are just a few reasons why I’ll be doing Movember again this year. I’m starting out clean-shaven as you can see from my Movember Day One picture here and I’ll be keeping up a Movember section on this blog throughout the month and for a few days in December for any last minute donaters. You can read more about the rules that every Movember participant has to follow here where you will also find inspirational articles and stories about the kinds of work that Movember funds. 

I admit, it’s not running a marathon, but it does hit men at our most vulnerable point: our vanity. And it is also a lot of fun. I enjoy it because it makes me feel a bit World War One Poet and I start to spout Siegfried Sassoon in my sleep by the beginning of December. 

But the more important aspect is that I get to become a living breathing conversation piece that draws attention to and raises money for a good cause, which brings me nicely to my appeal.

I raised £208 (that’s $335 and 258 euro) last year for research and awareness of men’s health issues especially prostate and testiculary cancer, and that was only properly joining late in the game. I reckon with a little effort I can more than double that and raise £500 this year. All I need is for at least 100 of you kind readers to donate at least £5. Not much for a good cause and one that’s not really given due thought and consideration in this day and age. Please be generous, follow the link, and donate. 

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page

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