Archive for July, 2010


In a place like Los Angeles, most Irish bars try especially hard to capture the essence of a real pub in Ireland. There are the dark wood accents, the Guinness on tap and the thick-accented Irish bartenders (or at least struggling actors pretending to be Irish). It’s a bit like the theme restaurants at Disneyland; while they’ve manage to capture the look and feel it lacks the  spirit of a true Irish watering hole.

There’s probably no Irish drinking establishment more authentic as the auld country pub in Ireland, and I’m lucky enough to have found one where I’m becoming a semi-regular [cue the theme song from “Cheers”]. The place is Mathews, which is bewilderingly pronounced “Mat-te-tis” and it’s an old pub in the middle of tiny Collon village, about a 15-minute drive from my place. On any given Friday or Saturday night, I know that my friends Bushman and Richella will be behind the bar, and that at least a few people I know will be wearing holes into the old barstools. On the weekends there will be some choice covers (think Garth Brooks and Air Supply) performed by a well-meaning and painfully earnest musician and by the end of a long night there might be a drunkard or two being thrown out on his ass by James, the barman you just don’t f*ck with.


baby best

When I first meet people in Ireland and they find out I didn’t move over for a job, they ask the inevitable question, “Did ya move here for a fella?” Considering most American women I’ve met here did in fact follow their Irish husbands back to the homeland, I can understand why people would assume such a thing. When I tell them there is no fella and that I moved here to experience a new adventure, they usually ask if I A) want to meet a man and B) if I want to have children.

Of course it would be great to meet a fabulous, intelligent, handsome, funny, adventurous, foodie-type who loves to travel and is well-versed in current events/literature/etc. (or at least someone who possesses a few of these traits!). As for the kids question, my answer typically elicits a double-take of shock and disbelief, as if I was a three-headed alien or a talking dog. I don’t know if I want to have kids and to be honest I’m pretty sure that I probably don’t though I’d never say never. Most Irish people I encounter cannot seem to wrap their brains around the concept that a woman might not want to bear children, and I’m getting used to retorts like, “Oh you’ll change your mind – just you wait!” or “But of course you do, you just haven’t met the father!” Once, an acquaintance introduced me as, “Clare, and she says she probably doesn’t want children – can you believe that?”


cloghershrimp cloghershrimp2

Summer in Ireland means two things. The first is that there will be more rain during this season than nearly any other (but I think I’ve written enough about the weather so we won’t focus on that right now); second is that there are a myriad of outdoor festivals to choose from all season long. Clearly the two don’t mix, but one thing I’ve learned about the Irish is that they don’t let a little rain stop them from enjoying their summer activities. If they did, they’d never leave their homes!

cloghercows clogherview

Since I’ve moved here, we’ve had the Drogheda Arts Festival, the Samba Festival and last weekend the Prawn Festival. The latter used to be an annual event in the neighboring fishing village of Clogherhead, but due to the recession has been on hold for the last several years. Well this year it came back with gusto and three days chock full of events and activities. One of the main attractions was breaking the world record for most people buried up to their necks on the beach, a record previously held by the French with 324 people. The locals all came out with shovels in hand and smashed the world record with an astonishing 524 people! See official photos here. Other event activities included a golf classic, parade and live music.


thur tomato

I’m not going to lie: Sometimes Ireland gets to me, and not in a good way. Lately I’ve been feeling quite cranky, to be rather polite, and it seems every little thing gets on my nerves. Whether it’s a silly thing like the lack of “plain” clothing I can find (what is up with this country’s obsession with bows and floral patterns?) or something more serious like the blatant sexism I witness on a weekly basis, there are times when I feel like Drogheda itself is squeezing every last bit of sanity right out of my soul. The constant hay fever, the zillions of greenfly in the air and lackadaisical approach to customer service drives me nuts. The other day I had to go to three grocery shops just to find the ingredients for a pretty basic meal. As I searched yet another store for fresh basil, I found myself muttering under my breath like a crazy old bag lady, “What is wrong with this place?!”

thur rain

The weather doesn’t help either. While we’ve had a relatively mild summer so far, the last week brought monsoon-type rain showers that made everything more difficult. The other day I was walking to the store when another downpour suddenly occurred and I had to struggle to get inside the shop because customers were all standing in the doorway, waiting for the rain to subside. I wanted to physically push them aside but I value my freedom so I refrained. We had 5 days in a row of lashing rain with no letup in sight and even though I was warned about the Irish summers before I came, it’s nearly pushed me over the edge.


door hook 

Amazing what havoc this little piece of hardware can wreck!

I don’t embarrass easily. When I was 12 years old, I was the unsuspecting victim of a terribly random incident so deeply humiliating that it was just all uphill from there.

It was after recess (that’s the mid-morning break during the school day) and everyone was running back into the classroom, eager to get into their seats before the second bell rang. I, too, was in a hurry – I was lagging behind for whatever reason and realized I was only seconds away from that final bell. I first scampered into the coatroom, which was a walk-in closet inside the classroom, to hang up my jacket. I then turned quickly and sprinted toward my desk, but something suddenly and quite violently yanked me back. What happened was the bolt fixture (see photo above) had fishhooked the little gap between my blouse buttons and due to my rapid speed had literally ripped the shirt completely off my back. My arms actually flung back from the force – imagine Michael Phelps doing the backstroke – and within a split second I was standing there in my training bra in front of the ENTIRE class of students, some of whom were hit in the face by flying buttons. It was rock bottom as far as embarrassing childhood moments go.


fry up table
 Sunday mornings in Ireland

*In Ireland, you can buy a meat pie…in a can.

*That even though I’ve never been a nationalist, I can get defensive when the Irish slag off America/Americans. It’s the same thing with your bratty little brother; you’re allowed to say whatever you want about the little sh*tbird but when someone else does, it’s on.

*You know you’re turning Irish when you start dropping the “t” off words like what (“wha?”) and not (“noh!?”).

*Really depressing novels, especially ones that center on a former abuse victim who rises above adversity and creates a fulfilling life for him/herself, are very popular here. People go mad for titles like “Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes” and “Don’t Tell Mummy.”

*Nudity on network television is no big deal in Ireland. That said, most of the naked people on TV are none you’d ever want to see sans clothing (see popular television show Embarrassing Bodies for many prime examples).


Irish Men

The first Irish guy I really noticed was a barman named Martin. It was 1996, and I had just moved to a grungy apartment above a carpet store on Clement Street in San Francisco’s Richmond district. My local pub became the Front Room, which was conveniently across the street from my front door and where Martin happened to work. His dark eyes, adorable Dublin accent and mischievous grin instantly drew me in. My best friend Cat and I became fixtures on the pub’s weathered barstools every Tuesday and Thursday, Martin’s nights behind the bar. I don’t remember how many times he “lost” our ever-growing bar tab, which was fine considering I was living on student loans and barely able to make ends meet.

It was all very innocent. Although he was an outrageous flirt, he didn’t make a move for a very, very long time. Some would say he acted more like a protective big brother than a romantic suitor but I fell hard nonetheless. Finally one evening he walked out from behind the bar and took the empty stool next to mine. I don’t remember what we were talking about but at one point he reached over, cupped my face with his hands and gave me a long, slow kiss. The room seemed to go quiet and my cheeks turned scarlet. I barely had enough time to savor the moment when Basil, the other bartender on duty, leaned over and whispered, “That’s Martin’s girlfriend sitting on the other side of him!” As if in slow motion my gaze swept over to my left to see Martin, who’d already turned his back to me at this point, holding hands with a blonde woman I’d never seen before. By some small miracle she hadn’t witnessed his betrayal. As my vision grew blurry with tears I slipped out of the bar and vowed never to return. I found out later that his girlfriend had been in Ireland and had recently moved to be with him. Funny, he’d never mentioned her before.



Working from home is a luxury I thoroughly enjoy, though sometimes it has its drawbacks. There are days when I’ll look up from the computer and realize an entire 10 hours has passed, and I’m still in my pajamas, my neck stiff from sitting in the same position all day and my eyes glassy from staring at the screen too long. I’ll go days without interacting with a single person. Sometimes a necessary errand to buy milk is a welcome excuse to exchange pleasantries with another human being. A bit sad, really.

Back when I lived in Los Angeles, I had a choice of several cafes where I could buy a decent cup of coffee and spend a few hours doing work away from home. In Drogheda, there was no such escape…until now. As I walked home from a bar in town recently I noticed a new shop front, and as I peered in the window I saw a bona fide espresso machine and a few tables and chairs. A real coffee shop in the Drog?! EUREKA!


country kids 2 country kids

My friend Earnan enjoys the sun and horseplay with his nieces and nephew at a country barbeque

From reading this blog, you probably get the impression that I am a city girl through and through. After all I’m always going on about the differences between the place from where I came (Los Angeles) and where I landed (Drogheda, Ireland). It’s not always the cultural dissimilarities that shock and confuse; it’s the stark contrast between city life and small town country living that often leaves my head spinning.

So you may be a tad surprised by the confession I am about to make: I haven’t always been an urban city dweller. Sure, I was born in Tokyo and spent my formative years in Los Angeles and went to college in San Francisco. But there was a short period of my life where I lived out in the country, and when I say “country” I’m talkin’ authentic, down-home sticksville. When I was five years old, my family moved from Tokyo, Japan to Cherokee Village, Arkansas. Of course you’ve never heard of the place, and why would you? It’s tiny. It’s country. It’s the sticks.


samba band

The odd time I get my dinner from one of Drogheda’s many Chinese takeaways, I always request it “extra EXTRA spicy” as I find most food here to be too mild. Regardless of my vocal emphasis on the second “extra,” any spiciness is barely detectable. At the risk of offending my beloved new friends here, I will say that a lack of zing, fire, heat – whatever you want to call it – was, in my perception, true of the culture here in Ireland as well.

The Italians have beautiful olive skin and seem to be blessed with a natural swagger; the Spanish are known for their unapologetic bravado and incredible sun-drenched beaches. Ireland, while home to one of the world’s best beers and an undeniable passion for football, isn’t exactly the sexiest country in the world. The constant gray skies, cool temperatures and an obsession with one of nature’s homeliest vegetables (round, dirty, covered with craters) doesn’t add up to the most erotic of equations.