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October 26, 2004

Follow-up to TV Name Game

Here is the promised follow-up to the TV Name Game. I chose these shows because of their catchy titles and also because they, along with the ones described in “Couch Potato Views,” illustrate much of the range of TV programming.

What I have not included are the regular news shows, both national and international, and the US sit coms, movie re-runs, and HBO offerings. US programming seems to take up fewer than 10% of the time slots. That said, it has been fun for us to see for the first time some US programs that were only been available on HBO at home, such as "Deadwood," which is written by an old friend of Mark’s, David Milch. And that has been a treat!

"Car Booty"
No, this is not about accoutrements you can pirate in or for your car. Nor is this about the latest in car booting or clamping (though we can actually tell you a real life, personal story about car clamping and how easy it is to get it taken off, for a mere 80 euros). This is one of many shows related to material acquisitions and improving one’s lot in life. The boot, as many of you may know, is the trunk of a car in the British Isles, and a car boot sale/show is basically a group of people holding garage sales out of the trunks of their cars. "Car Booty" is a poor cousin of "Antiques Road Show" in game show format. The challenge is to try to sell enough of your household treasures at a price determined in consultation with experts so that you can have the family reunion or buy the barbecue that you have set as your goal for the day. Accompanying experts keep things hopping.

"Hangin’ with Hector"
Probably most of you know that the European Union considers capital punishment barbaric so this show would never be about the legal system or about the prison system. It is a talk show, and talk shows are the coin of the realm here. Hector interviews Irish politicos and celebrities in a folksy style. One could probably watch one talk show or another all day long on British or Irish TV. This is a chatty crowd.

"Rasai Luas Tuathal"
Not only would you have no idea what the above words mean, you wouldn’t even be able to pronounce them. And, until recently, that was the case for me as well. We have access to one Irish-speaking TV station. (Irish is a Celtic language like Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton.) I still look blankly at most of the show titles, but there are English sub-titles, and my Irish language teacher tells us it is (will be…?) helpful to listen to Irish TV. So far, my experience is that they speak way too fast! The above title has something to do with talking, speed and, literally, the wrong direction against the sun, i.e., blundering or counterclockwise. My guess is that it is/was a talk show about history or tradition. It doesn’t seem to be listed in the TV guide anymore. Perhaps there was a blunder.

"A Place in the Sun"
There is an extraordinary amount of interest in other lands on the part of those who live in western Europe. You see it in recurring newspaper ads for vacation deals, numerous storefronts in Dublin for travel agents, and the proportion of TV shows that are devoted either to vacationing or, even more often, to the purchase of a vacation home in/moving to another country – which would be, of course, warm and sunny. I haven’t yet noticed anyone eager to move north. The host of "A Place in the Sun" is a realtor (and perhaps a model on the side) and takes various couples to view properties, often around the Mediterranean. It has become apparent that prospective buyers need to be alerted to the possibility of fraud. Just last week they focused on a couple whose life savings had been ripped off in Turkey by a local theoretically facilitating a house purchase. "A Place in the Sun" runs alongside "Home and Away," "A House in Florida," "Trading Up," "I Want That House," and "Fly to Let." (And, no, I have not watched all these shows, but they are all listed weekly in the newspaper TV guides.) Part of this interest stems from the fact that Irish and British property has increased enormously in value over the last 5-10 years (as have taxes and crime, which people are looking to avoid). In addition, Europeans have traditionally traveled outside their countries a great deal; some 40% have passports as opposed to 25% of Americans. Europeans see their countries in the context of a larger world. Were the Irish asked what their priorities were, my guess is that they would say, family, vacations and then, perhaps, work. Not like a large part of the good, old US of A, huh? – much less Poughkeepsie Day and Night School.

"Ground Force"

Until the last few years, I would say all houses in Dublin had groomed yards in the front and back of their houses. Often the strips of land were quite small, but all had grass and carefully tended shrubs and flowers. That has changed somewhat as the Celtic tiger has provided families with more than one car and, therefore, required that people come up with parking space for their multiple vehicles. Front yards have given way to gravel parking areas. Nonetheless, gardening is still of prime interest here, and "Ground Force" is a show about redesigning gardens. While its name might make one think it is a military show, there ain’t no such animal here.

"Flog It!"

Child beating? Self-abuse? Cruelty to animals? No way… This is another car boot sale programme, as we spell it here.

So, that's it for TV life in Dublin - just one more way to access a culture.

Posted by gretchen at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2004


One of the nice things about Dublin is that you can get out of the city and into the countryside almost immediately. There are interesting road trips in each direction. Last Thursday, a sunny, crisp morning,

we drove south with Jesse to Enniskerry, DCP_1157.jpg
a little village at the tail end of one of Dublin’s city bus routes, where Powerscourt with its gorgeous gardens overlooks the valley.

Great Sugar Loaf Mountain rises in the southeast, looking just like a pile of fresh sugar on the cutting board.

A mare and her foal rest comfortably in the field on the side of the long drive in.

The Le Poer (hence, Power and Powerscourt, certainly not Poorcourt) family originally built a Norman castle on the ridge in 1300. Several Anglo-Irish owners followed, and eventually, in 1603, it landed in the willing hands of the Wingfield family. They had eighteenth century architect Cassells design the Palladian-style mansion it is today, incorporating the castle in its center.

Classic fountains continuously spout, regardless of the weather, less impressively in the wind and rain.

The Wingfields kept the 64 square kilometer estate in the family until the 1950s – until just yesterday, really. The day before it was to be opened to the public in 1974, a fire gutted the entire interior. Enter the Slazenger family, who took it on and are still in the process of completing its restoration. They let out much of the mansion to retail shops (and for funeral receptions, I noted on a return trip yesterday), and they also open their gardens to the public for a not so nominal fee.

There are the informal cutting gardens with a wide range of perennials.

Hydrangea edge one wall of the formal rose garden.
The roses are beleaguered at this time of year, but the impatiens inside the greenhouses is thriving. The gardens are the reason for the visit, and they are a lovely place to walk, year-round. DCP_1123.jpg
The grass is always green and closely clipped, and annuals are rotated through the ornamental beds at the foot of the Bray stone steps. DCP_1087.jpg

Leaves fall in autumn, but only a few species turn colors that remind me of home.

The Japanese garden is particularly spectacular in the spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas bloom, but it is a peaceful refuge at any time of the year. DCP_1094.jpg

A wide variety of lovely, aged trees dwarf us strollers.

The de rigeur palm trees are huge, much taller than those that stick up in the little front gardens in Dublin proper. How strange it is to see what I think of as tropical plants in this northern clime.

The enormous eucalyptus tree sheds layers of bark.

Mark and I have made quite a few trips to Powerscourt to share it with visitors in the past, but this trip with Jesse was our first of the year. The family’s pet cemetery continues to be one of my favorite spots These are not the Slazenger family’s pets, but the Wingfield family’s. Clearly animals were central in their hearts.
It is an intimate spot on a western hillside where the select few are honored. One has to wonder how or, rather, if they actually buried not just the faithful dogs but also the horses and cows in these little plots.

Some homages are quite poetic.


Some headstones represent what we assume were the animal's most significant traits. This is the monument to the horse, Sting.

I find Tommy's and Magic's headstone quite bittersweet. Tommy had ten lonely years without Magic.

These days, especially, this horse's name hits home. The Irish, and much of Europe, resent Bush's actions in the Middle East and are much less enamoured of America and Americans.

Who would have thunk it??!
This twofer must be a pretty cosy spot.

One headstone was covered in burlap and remained a mystery to us, despite Jesse's quick peek.

Yesterday I made a return trip to Powerscourt. As I was hiking back out of the estate to head down the hillside to the public bus stop in the village, I wandered off the path. Peeking through gates marked “Private,” I saw the family graveyard. It was too far off to be able to read any of the headstones. I could only wonder what heartfelt inscriptions lay there – or not. What would the Wingfields have said about their relatives? Is it easier to express feeling for one’s pets? Is it too difficult to sum up a person in one phrase? Someday I need to find out what the family headstones actually say. How surprised would we be to find, “Here lies Lady Louise, mother of 4, a good milker.”

Posted by gretchen at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2004

Trip South

We planned our overnight to the south with an eye to the weather. Remnants of Frances had crossed the Atlantic, bringing mostly wind and a bit more rain. We wanted to be able to tromp through fields without getting soaked. Indeed, we were lucky and were met with mostly sun and a bit of what the Irish call soft weather, showers, light and heavy, that pass on through.

Over the last four years the motorway has reached out a few more miles so we had a divided highway for a bit when we left Dublin. Then we were back on our old favorite N roads, two-lane roads that carry cars, trucks, buses, and, Mark’s personal favorite, tractors towing loads of hay; these are the major highways between cities. Traffic lights and sharp turns in the intervening villages bring traffic to a standstill as do roadworks. But we were not in a hurry as we took in the lush green countryside, the shorn, brown fields with enormous spools of hay ready to be carried out, herds of cows or sheep and the Wicklow Mountains in the background. We were headed for Moone, a little village on the N9, south of Naas, where the Carneys, Fairleigh and I had come across the ruins of a high cross, through a field, behind a farmer’s barns, four years ago. Mark had never seen it, and I was excited to share it with him. We had more trouble finding the cross than when David was driving, David with the eagle eyes and quick reactions. The landscape had changed recently – there was an overpass (a rarity, really) at Moone. As we wandered around the village streets, we stumbled on road signs, some old, some new, indicating the way to Moone high cross. We pulled off to what verge there was on the narrow back lane by the familiar stone wall and climbed through the V in the wall.Moone high cross 024 (2).jpg
It was not as I had left it four years ago. The Heritage Society had been there and left their mark – gravel pathway, plantings along the side, signage posted on the walls of the crumbling church walls, stone pedestals on which cross remnants were displayed and a plastic roof over that portion of the ruin. Moone high cross (2).jpg
Fortunately, the slender high cross itself stood undisturbed – some 5 ½ meters tall, carved on all four sides with images from Bible stories and fantastic monster heads and bodies intertwined in a Celtic knot. south face (2).jpg
The Christian images are among my favorites here in Ireland – simple, close to identical outlines of the Apostles arrayed 3x4, loaves and fish - a pair of facing fish float on five circles. west face (2).jpg

Mark certainly enjoyed seeing the high cross and walking through the graveyard and ruins, but I learned that perennial lesson. You can’t go home again. Nothing stays the same. My first trip with the Carneys and Fairleigh was a magical discovery, an experience not to be repeated.

From there we headed further south stopping in Bennetsbridge, a village where several craftspeople and businesses work in clay, wood, fiber and leather. Bennetsbridge.jpg

We spent some time at The Bridge Pottery and Mark chatted up Mary O’Gorman, an energetic, very redhead, who paints surface designs on her partner’s pots. >rainbow at Bennetsbridge.jpg
A downpour drove us off the street, then, into Chesnau leather, a Frenchman’s high-end business, somewhat more delicate work than Coach bags. Dyed in the Wool no longer has a retail store, but Nicholas Mosse’s business was open to the public. There was even a seconds room, but prices for seconds were not much different from the firsts, all of which were expensive, especially since we Americans have to think in euros. There seem to be two categories of craft production – successful businesses that produce in quantity and market internationally to high end stores and struggling individual/partnered craftspeople who do not have ready outlets for their work. They sell from their studios, which have to be out of the way due to zoning issues and the high cost of property. Many have websites, but, as far as I can tell, they do not use advertising, and the few city stores that carry crafts seem to carry the same, few national names. It is clear from wandering through towns and villages that there are plenty of makers, and it is too bad their work isn’t out there for more people to enjoy – and it is more than too bad that they struggle economically. Mark and I did what we could to support them. Isn’t it nice to have Christmas and birthdays as an excuse?

Mary O’Gorman sent us on to Kells Priory (no connection to the Book of Kells), where she loves to run their dogs. I had read about the site, the perfect ruin – always open and often empty. We wandered south and west on the lanes and stumbled upon the highpoint overlooking the monastery ruins.Kells Priory 1.jpg

Sheep were keeping the grass clipped, and there wasn’t a person in sight. We walked the high field, the sheep scurrying away from us when we got too near, and went and peeked through the arrow slots – to see more sheep inside the ruin. Kells Priory 5 (2).jpg

We drove around to the far side of the ruin, walked past the old mill, along the river and approached through the untended graveyard – to see some kind of fabric blowing in the wind, suspended from the aged, overhanging trees. ghosts 1 (3).jpg
Rags? In fact, dress silhouettes of net, top-stitched, areas painted in mossy green… Kells’s ghosts… ghost fabric (3).jpgWe clambered through the ruins for some time. Kells Priory 9.jpg The emptiness, the sheep, the wind, the ghosts – my memories.

At this point, the end of the day, the no-gas light on in the car (few villages have gas stations) and no place to sleep for the night, it was time to reach for our mobile (read, cell phone). We called a place in Kilkenny, our ultimate destination, but they were full – and kindly warned us that the streets were being shut down in half an hour anyway, for the celebration, and we had best hurry. What celebration? Well, the All-Ireland hurling championship had been played against Cork the day before (in Dublin), and County Kilkenny wanted to welcome home their heroes, who had lost, but are nonetheless heroes.

We decided to skip the celebration and found a room at the B&B over the pub in Inistoig, the picturesque village in which Circle of Friends was filmed. It is a gem, along a hillside and the banks of the river Nore.
Circle of Friends.jpg

Inistoig PO (2).jpg

restaurant at Inistoig (2).jpg

Moone high cross 064.jpg

We found one place open for supper, run by an English couple who had moved here a dozen years ago. We were the only customers so they kept us company as we ate, and we chatted about the IRA, schools, round-abouts in Ireland and England, and Bush. Fortunately, people do not make the assumption that all Americans support Bush; the Irish can’t stand him – anyhow, his opponent’s name is after the Irish county, Kerry. After dinner we headed across the empty street to our spare but clean B&B. Woodstock Pub and B&B.jpg
Really, everyone WAS in Kilkenny welcoming home their hurlers.
The next day we walked the river 10 arch bridge at Inistoig.jpg

river Nore at Inistoig.jpg

river Nore at Inistoig 2.jpg
and then drove up the steep, winding village road to Woodstock Park for breathtaking views of the Nore River valley. Nore Valley 2 (2).jpg

view from Woodstock Park.jpg
From there we had an easy drive north to Kilkenny where we took a tour of the Butlers’ Anglo-Irish- Norman castle and then across the street to what was the mews and now houses Ireland’s contemporary craft exhibit, Kilkenny Design Center and several craft workshops. Once again we did what we could to support the Irish craft community before having to hustle back up to Dublin for Mark’s afternoon meetings at UCD.

It was wonderful to get out of the city for that overnight, to see again what a beautiful country Ireland is, to meet people and to explore. We are making a good, long list of great places to share with our visitors. Come on over!

Posted by gretchen at 04:56 PM | Comments (8)

Mail Call

At various points in my life, mail has been central to my day – boarding school comes to mind. Hurry down at recess, nudge my way through the crowded mail room. Will I open my box and find it empty? The worst… Will I find a letter from my mom? Yes, reliably, each week… Will there be a letter from that cute boy I met skiing over Christmas? A letter from a new love interest could last me a good week.

Once again, here in Ireland, mail is key in our day...

We await the details on our phone service. We need the car registration to arrive so that we can insure our car so that we can drive so we can get groceries. Each day, Monday to Friday, we have high hopes. (No mail service Saturdays or Sundays, no surprise…) We often get junk mail – offers to sell our apartment, a new take-out for Indian food. It was almost two weeks before we received our car registration. And, true to form, Mom has been the one to deliver, regularly. Our first piece of mail was even from Mom, replete with an assortment of newspaper clippings offering words of wisdom to Kerry. Receiving the letter itself was all the more poignant since Mom can’t really see anymore, and we understand that her written words are a true labor of love.

One of our long-awaited pieces of mail is our replacement MasterCard. Mark, unfortunately, lost his (details, details…) the week before we left for Ireland. Fleet indicated to Mark that a new one was in the mail, immediately. We knew that could mean ten days, anyhow. But those ten days are long gone, and it was time last night to call them, for the third time, to tell them we had not yet received the new cards.

I have developed a straightforward, calm, no-nonsense approach to these conversations. (Really, Kate, you would not be embarrassed by my tone.) After proving to two different authorities that I am who I am. (They could care less that I am a registered alien though I am thrilled to be one, at last.) They want to know the last four digits of Mark’s social security number, of my social security number, our mailing address (Which one?), Mark’s mother’s maiden name… Then I am shuttled to a second phone person who promises the new cards are in the mail. “And how are they being mailed?” “Well, air mail.” “How long will that take?” “7 to 10 business days.” “That must be for within the United States. Theoretically, that’s how they were mailed last time, and they have yet to arrive. Can’t you FedEx them?” “Oh, no, that is only for international addresses.” Ah, ha! Herein lies the problem. Haven’t we all heard about the sad state of geography in the general populace? “Well, Ireland is an international address,” I remind her. Perhaps I’m being too harsh — there is a Dublin in the States, in Ohio, after all. Possibly she hadn’t noticed the place name, Ireland, which followed the place name, Dublin. “Oh!,” she exclaims, “Let me see if I can recall that order! You know, I can only ask for one new card for you in each work day.” A few minutes pass, and I am happy to hear that she has successfully intercepted and changed our order, and our new cards are being sent, hippity-hop, overseas by the fastest means possible.

We were promised overnight service. Need I say that the mailbox was empty today? Except for yet another offer to help sell our flat… In the meantime, I am looking for the geography lobby in Washington D.C. and planning on pledging thousands.

P.S. The replacement credit card arrived a week later, registered mail. We received two cards, actually, both in Mark’s name. Don’t they know who the professional shopper is and who actually uses the card? Mark telephoned, to activate the new card and to request one with my name on it. That one arrived registered mail, today – another two weeks later. Time flies.

Posted by gretchen at 04:14 PM | Comments (2)