Things I’ve Seen

Sometimes I see a little thing and try try to remember so I can write about it here.  Then I usually forget to write until I see the next little thing I try to remember so I can write about here.  Now I sit at this keyboard and try to remember all those little things.  So today a list:

  • They call the ocean the sea here.
  • They call the bay the sea.
  • Cindy and I went down to the sea one warm Sunday a few weeks back to put our feet in the water.  DAMN it was cold! Reminded me of attempting to bathe in Horton Creek, a snow-melt powered creek my family camped next to the summer Nixon resigned while my dad ran an archaeological excavation.  Also reminded me of trying to shower at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival where only the first 5 people had warm water and I was number five hundred and five to visit the shower which was also powered by snow-melt creek water.  Washing your hair made your head hurt.
  • We saw a school of eels while we were waiting for our feet to warm up enough for a second attempt at dipping them.  It was the first time I had seen such a thing.  The word murmuration comes to mind.  Not sure if it applies to anything other than Starlings but it in my head it applies to birds, fish, and now eels.
  • Which brings me to words:
    • Would a starlet who has advanced but not quite to star status be a starling?
    • Is there a collective noun for a group of eels?
    • I heard the word “gongoozler” on the TV and knew what it was.
  • We attempted to have milk delivered to the house.  Cindy and I had milk delivery in the States at different times and found it enjoyable in some sense.  So we tried it here.  The company did not provide a box (as we thought they would and as was done in the States), they didn’t even call to let us know the milk delivery was starting (as they said they would).  We were the second group to discover the milk; the crows were the first.  Now we have to put a bucket outside and upside down with a rock on top to keep the crows away.  We’ll see how that works.
  • There was a family of swans in the canal this spring.  Four cygnets, but as the summer has worn on the number of cygnets has reduced until there is now only one.  It makes a forlorn sight when one knows that there were more earlier.
  • One morning, while cycling along the canal on my way to work,  I saw a pied wagtail catch an insect in mid flight and then fly into the safety railing, which rang out like a small gong.  The bird did not drop its catch and continued to fly off.
  • Galway is bidding for the 2020 European Capital of Culture.  I am working on the data manipulation to track the status of the bid on social media.  I hope that we will be providing a lot of open data for the bid and into the future.
  • We have a lot of birds in our front garden (not just crows) and have decided that pigeons do not land so much as crash into the ground.  We can always hear them when they arrive.

Well that is all I can recall for now.  I am certain there are things I have forgotten but which I will remember the moment this is posted.  I guess those things are lost in l’esprit d l’escalier.

— Claude


Politically correct

yes-equalityOn Friday 22 May the people of the Republic of Ireland get to vote on a referendum regarding marriage equality; in other words, the straights get to say whether or not the gays get to marry.  I find it ridiculous that the masses get to choose whether people who love one another are allowed to marry, but that’s the state of our world these days.  Of course, Claude and I don’t get to vote, and that makes me sad.  I’d love to be able to proudly mark a YES on my ballot.  Such is the plight of the ex-pat.  I am frankly surprised how many people are scared to admit that they want to vote yes – and how many are scared to admit they want to vote no.  The No side has a pretty lame argument: some blather about ‘marriage is about having children’, and how scary surrogacy seems to be, and children needing both a mother and a father (while any number of studies easily accessed will refute that argument quite handily).  They don’t take into account the two-gender marriages that won’t or can’t produce children, or relationships that may emulate a single-sex marriage exactly.  If you ask me, I think it’s just another way for the insidious Catholic church to assert itself into the government and into the minds of the people.

Last week we received our first water bill in the post.  Anyone who hasn’t been paying attention – I’m looking at you, USA – wouldn’t know that water charges are a huge bone of contention in Ireland.  The entity administering this boondoggle is called Irish Water, and everyone reviles them.  They’ve already pulled millions of euros out of our pockets and now they’re siphoning even more – Like that analogy?  I thought it apt – without having done anything to improve infrastructure or water quality.  I’ve been told that the government will not start prosecuting people who refuse to pay until they are 4 bills in arrears.  Others have said that they don’t think the government has the intestinal fortitude to prosecute the predicted number of people who plan to refuse to pay.  But we’re afraid of the consequences to our bid for citizenship if we refuse to pay and end up in court.  So as much as we despise the position we’ve been brought to, we’re going to capitulate and pay the bill.  After all, as Americans we’re used to paying for water.  Where we come from, it doesn’t ‘just come from the sky’!

Speaking of the insidious church, I am finding it more and more difficult to listen to people make reference to their god without adding my two cents.  All these exhortations of “God bless you” and “God willing” and “with God’s help” etc. ad nauseum make me want to stomp my feet in frustration and ask all kinds of questions that will most certainly upset the devout.  I see parents going through the expensive and time-consuming routine of offering their daughters up as brides to the christ (aka communion) because they don’t want their children to feel “left out” while they themselves claim not to be religious or even attend church on a regular basis.  Ireland actually has blasphemy laws on the books under which one could theoretically be prosecuted for saying something against someone else’s god!  There’s an atheist group that I think I should join – and I will, as long as they don’t ask for too much of my time.

I like to be politically involved but I find that it’s difficult to be involved more deeply than simply peripherally, as I can’t really effect any change in any meaningful fashion until I am no longer afraid for my immigration status and can be allowed to vote.

It is 20 months until we can apply for citizenship.  Until then we can only sit back and watch the politics fly.

— Cindy

Is é Éire mo bhaile

I recently made a trip home to Las Vegas to see my son and family of origin.  While there my nephew-in-law asked me what I found to be the biggest difference between Ireland and the US.  The question took me aback and got me thinking.  There are a number of reasons I wanted to move to the EU: better privacy protection, a chance to live in a different culture, the chance to get out of a country that was beginning to feel like the world’s biggest bully.  But after living here for three years, what do I see as the major differences?

The US feels plastic, nothing seems to be real.  Everything seems to big: cars, houses, grocery stores, roads, serving sizes.  It’s the consumer mentality gone wild.  On top of that a lack of recycling, maximum packaging, few family owned stores.  Nothing that I want to really support with my hard earned cash.

It was good to see the family, the conversation was great craic, and the weather was nice but I don’t want to be there.  It was good to come home to Ireland.  Ireland really feels like home now.

Is é Éire mo bhaile = Ireland is my home

— Claude

You know you’ve been long enough in Ireland when…

You watch Father Ted and laugh your head off because you get the jokes.

You have a conversation with Paddy down at the Saturday market and understand every word he said to you.

Someone uses a colloquialism you’ve never heard before but you still get it.

Your Irish friends quit giving you a hard time for speaking like a local.

You get used to the funeral notices the bus driver listens to on the radio.

The voices in your head are now speaking with an Irish accent.

Convoluted sentence structure doesn’t confuse you any more.

It no longer bothers you to spend half of your conversations with strangers talking about the weather.

You’re afraid the next time you go back home you’ll be talking like an Irish person and everyone will think you’re being pretentious.

This video makes you laugh (and, for me, cringe at the same time)!

— Cindy

Further random observations

  1. The other day I was riding the bus into town and noticed the bus driver was listening to a radio broadcast with a woman speaking in a calm, soothing voice.  As I approached the front of the bus to get off at my stop, I realized that it was an obituary report!  She was naming the dead person, the time and date of their service, and the charities or families to whom one could send condolences.  Morbid!
  2. I was chatting with my new volunteer mate at the till in the Oxfam shop last week when I asked her what the difference is between cookies and biscuits.  She told me that only chocolate chips in the treat make it a cookie, otherwise it is a biscuit.  I went to the grocery store and confirmed it for myself.  Only the cookies with chocolate chips were labelled as “cookies”!
  3. Somehow I got on the subject of hoarding with my student Maire at the computer class the other day.  We talked about how she finds it very difficult to throw out things that even she has a problem justifying keeping around.  She told me she thinks that hoarding is in the DNA of Irish people.  After all the many decades of poverty and privations, a lot of Irish people find it tough to throw things out.  She said it’s the “7 Year Rule.”  An Irish person must keep something for seven years before it’s okay to let it go.  This leads me to believe that my darling mother-in-law is much more Irish than even she realizes.
  4. Google “uniquely Irish” in the images search and these photos come up in the first 12 choices:
Father Ted

Father Ted


Claddagh ring


Irish stile


That whitewashed thatched cottage that every American thinks is where every Irish person lives

— Cindy

Another layer off the onion

We were at the market a couple of weeks ago during the first real spring-like Saturday of the season when we were chatting with Ron, the fellow who sells us our fruit and veg, about the weather.  He used the title colloquialism when talking about the change of weather.  I found it absolutely quaint and plan to use it in future.

The last few weeks have been busy, filled with all sorts of interesting people and things to do.  I went to a lecture at the city museum with a new friend, about the condition and maintenance of the beaches in Galway.  It was given by a professor in the archaeology department of NUI Galway.  It was quite informative; I had previously never known how beaches and dunes form.  I have met several very engaging American women – which, after over two years here, is a bit of an anomaly for me.  One is a fellow volunteer at the Age Action computer courses.  She’s been here for about 20 years with her Irish husband, who was a fisherman until the industry kind of tanked.  She’s trying to start a unique business that could really take off if she does it right.  Another is a lovely retired woman who had lived in Galway with her partner for a couple of years, then moved to Portland, Oregon with him but couldn’t get Galway out of her system.  She’s here enjoying her retirement while he is earning his PhD back in the States.  We have a lot in common and she’s fun to hang out with.  There’s also a young woman from the Philly area who accompanied her new husband while he studies at NUIG for his PhD in Irish theater.  She came because the rules for visas said she is allowed to accompany her hubby, but she still had to file for the visa with the GNIB (immigration) when she arrived.  She’s been waiting more than 8 months for them to tell her whether she’s allowed to stay or not.  To say the poor girl is stressed is putting it mildly.  One evening I was on my way to the restaurant for dinner date night with my honey but I was a bit early, so I stopped by Galway Bay Tattoo to look around and meet the artists.  Turns out Nancy, one half of the owners of the shop, is from Colorado!  We talked a blue streak and now I have yet another new friend in the city.  It is so nice to have these few new friends with cultural ties to the USA because we speak the same language – literally.

I meet a huge variety of people at the Oxfam charity shop, which keeps me smiling and keeps each shift pleasurable!  Last week I met this amazing woman who had come to Ireland from Chicago just to visit and fell immediately and totally in love with the Emerald Isle.  So much so that she hired a matchmaker to find her a husband so she can stay forever!!  I was so intrigued that I asked her to please come back to the shop if she settles anywhere near Galway.  Because the shop manager is a French woman, we tend to attract a great many French-born volunteers from whom I have learned a great deal about French sensibilities.  I work with a really sweet young Korean woman who came to Galway to study English but who also seems to be enjoying every minute of being in Europe.  She’s been to London, Belfast, Dublin, and next week she’s traveling to Holland – and she’s only been here since December.  She’s a lot of fun since I speak American English and that’s the version Koreans learn so when she hears something she doesn’t understand, she asks me.  I’m trying to get her to read more English-language books but she’s too busy having fun.

Claude’s job has been taking up entirely too much of our lives lately.  He’s been stressed out by the fact that the US office wants everyone in Galway to drop everything and go full speed when they come online.  They have nicknamed that time of day “headless chicken hour” because everyone goes bonkers when the Americans expect them to work like maniacs – as if they haven’t already put in most of a work day already.  He’s been working until past 10 PM some days.  He’s such a trooper though, doing what it takes to keep us in Ireland.

Last week I took a few pictures with my phone camera of things I found worth memorializing.  I’ll share some of them with you here.  I also got some video of a busker playing his didgeridoo on Shop Street.  There are a great number of buskers in Galway because the music culture here is very rich.  Some of these folks are not so good but most of them are incredibly talented.  Galway really is a very culturally diverse area, there’s always a cool festival or fascinating artistic gathering going on.

This little birdie was just tweeting and tweeting outside my front door.  I didn’t get much of his song, but there is some in the background.

The weather has been alternately warm and cool but the rain has been intermittent.  But the sun is more prominent every day, so the layer is most definitely off the onion.

Stephen has a spaceship for sale if you're interested

Stephen has a spaceship for sale if you’re interested


water gnome

Our little water gnome behind the purple hyacinth in our front garden



A beautiful chocolate sharing dessert – it was delicious


Three cornered garlic

This is Three-Cornered Garlic growing wild in the little forested area in front of our house



Austerity is not popular in Ireland. The Irish at the bottom of the sign says “Revolution Now!”

— Cindy

It’s beginning to look a lot like …

Winter!  I awoke the other morning, threw open the curtains and there was snow on the ground.  Actual snow!  A few moments later it began to hail and I wondered if it actually was snow, but Claude assured me later that it really was.

The weather has taken a decidedly wintry turn since then, with howling winds and lashing rains, along with some flooding along the coastal areas.  On our weekly trek into the city to the farmer’s market we saw seaweed strewn across the road.  Quite astonishing.

With Christmas day now nearly upon us – finally, it’s almost over – it’s been interesting to find how many people we have established relationships with over the past two years.  Ron at the fruit & veg stand who always knocks a euro or two off the total because we shop there every week; Layla at the bread stand who we’ve come to know fairly well, who married the baker Jonah last year, and is a pretty, vital young woman who always has a smile on her face; Hugo and Stefania at the cheesemongers stand who always have an interesting new cheese for us to try (Chocolate cheese? You bet I’ll try it!); Vinny & Ally at the Candyland shop, purveyors of American goods – mostly sugary – whose kindness in saving aside our favorite things has lent a little touch of the familiar to our lives.  My new friend Delia whose apartment has the most wondrous view of the bay and the diving board, and whose need for someone with technical savvy gives me the opportunity to visit with her and take in that view, and to enjoy her tea, cakes and biscuits, and hear her amazing stories of a long life well lived.  All my lovely cohorts in the MS exercise class who were slow to accept me but finally treat me as one of their own.  All the wonderful people I work with at my two volunteer jobs, and the friendships I’ve been lucky to forge with a special few.  And the people who have come and gone during our time in Galway who are not forgotten and with whom we connect when they come back to the City of the Tribes.

Just this minute the sun has broken through the clouds and shines brightly, however briefly, on the water of the bay, this morning dull and gray, now a shining bright silver.  The beginning of the lengthening of the days brings hope and happiness to our little corner of Ireland.

Happy holidays to you and yours and a prosperous and healthy 2014 to you!

— Cindy

Winter in the garden

Winter in the garden