living in Ireland


Clare and Cormac Wedding

It’s hard to believe, but just two-and-a-half years after moving to Ireland as a single girl, I got married in a dream wedding in Tuscany to my Mountaineering Man. For those of you who started reading this blog from the early days, you’ve shared the journey with me and for that I am very grateful. It’s been such a fun, crazy, sometimes scary trip and having you along for the ride has been a wonderful source of support.

And because this is a blog about my transition to life in Ireland, I promise to post more details and photos on all our wedding festivities, which started with a welcome dinner at our rented Tuscan villa and finished with a fantastic honeymoon on the Amalfi coast.

But for now I will leave you with a photo from our special day and a reading that was chosen by MM himself and read at our ceremony by one of his best mates, Kieran. It is part of a longer reading written by the late great David Foster Wallace, and for us sums up the true meaning of marriage and partnership.

This is Water

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how’s the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about [...]

Our own present culture has [...] yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.

The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death [...] It is about simple awareness – awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

Beach 10 Many, many Christmases ago my mother gave me a little picture with a message inside: If you can see it in your mind, you can find it in your life. It was a small stocking stuffer, something she’d found somewhere probably months before Christmas and stashed away in her gift drawer for safe keeping.

This was years before The Secret and all that power of positive thinking stuff became trendy, but the message in that small frame conveyed the same meaning. I took it to heart, and every once in a while I’d look at it and try to picture what I wanted; initially it was superficial things like a new car or wardrobe. I’d picture myself in a fabulous new dress and wish for it – a bit childish, really.

Beach 9 Beach 1

Then a couple of years ago I found myself entirely frustrated with my life and wanting to make some major changes. And though I’d lost that framed message somewhere in my many moves I thought a lot about the meaning behind those words. I was fed up with the way things were: work was unfulfilling, dating was downright sufferable and while I had a few good friends I felt they were all moving forward with love and career and I was stuck in a holding pattern.

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group

My friends Janet, Veronica and Giselle at Bottega Louie – one of our favorite restaurants in LA – sharing a pizza and some starters for dinner.

I’ll always remember the first time I went to a tapas restaurant in Ireland with my new-found Irish friends. It was a little place in Drogheda (which is sadly now out of business) and as soon as I opened the menu and saw favorites like garlic mushrooms, chili prawns and spicy potatoes I knew I was in for a treat.

Or so I thought.

“I’m getting the prawns and the salad,” said one friend. “What are you going to get?”

What do you mean what am I going to get? Tapas is all about sharing, I told her. It’s the Spanish culinary tradition of snacks or little bites served on small plates, and the idea is to get a bunch of dishes to share with friends.

clare plate

“OK, well you can have a bite of my prawns. So what are you going to order?” she deadpanned.

Through further explanation of the beauty of tapas (That way we can all try a lot of dishes on the menu, I reasoned), my friends seemed to grasp the concept and we each chose two dishes on the menu to order. But when the plates were set on the table, each friend quickly grabbed her two orders and tucked right in and offered me a bite of her food before promptly finishing off the rest.

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Irish boys small town Though Drogheda showed some last-minute ingenuity to get me to stay, I am now an official resident of Dublin. Let me explain.

For my last night in The Drog, I booked Mountaineering Man and myself a room at the d Hotel. I’d spent the better part of the week packing, hauling and cleaning and I wanted MM and I to have a relaxing last evening in town. We went to Eastern Seaboard with my Collon friends (Sinead, Aoife, Earnan and Grainne) and retreated to our lovely room at the hotel, delighted at the knowledge that there were only a few more boxes and items left in my perfectly-clean apartment to take the Dublin the next day.

eastern 2

We slept in, MM went for his usual 10k run (this time in the hotel’s gym instead of outdoors) and we had a sumptuous breakfast at the d’s restaurant before heading out to get the last of my things. I found the perfect loading zone space right near the entrance to my apartment and we made a few trips up and down the lift, filling my tiny car to near capacity. It was on our second-to-last trip to the car – I had a few small bags and MM had my big television set – that I realized I’d locked my keys in the apartment. Just when I thought I was out it pulls me back in! After ringing the building manager several times with no answer, we had no other choice but to call a locksmith and pay up (though in fairness the guy was very fast and only charged me 40 Euro, not bad at all). Drama resolved and crisis averted, I said goodbye to Drogheda and we headed off into the sunset. Well, it was the M1 but it actually was sunny…so there.

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012

Remember a while back when I introduced Mountaineering Man on the blog? It’s hard to believe it’s been almost eight months since we started dating but it has, and now we’re taking the next step: cohabitation!

So yes, I’m moving in with MM. Though we were initially going to look for a two-bedroom place we’ve decided to move into his one-bed until that gets sorted. A lot of couples have their starter apartment and this will be ours, complete with a major lack of closet space and one, small bathroom.

Despite the tight quarters, I’m really looking forward to it. While it’ll certainly be more convenient (I’ve been living out of a suitcase half the week for the last several months, commuting between my Drogheda digs and his Dublin apartment), that’s just one small benefit. I’m excited about taking the next step with someone I not only love but really like; I genuinely enjoy spending time with him. Whether we’re lounging around and reading the paper or hiking up in Wicklow, it just feels…easy.

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IMG00188-20100911-1303 For the most part, I really enjoy living in Ireland and I think I make that relatively clear in this blog. But there are days – and today is one of those days – where I really hate certain things about living here. Yes, I used the “h” word.

Since I try to be honest about my experience here I feel I should share the reasons why. This morning Mountaineering Man and I awoke to find a window had been smashed in his apartment building; apparently some jerkface kids in the neighborhood think it’s funny to throw rocks at windows until they shatter into a million pieces all over the sidewalk below. The window wasn’t MM’s, but rather one that looks out from the inside stairwell. There are several apartment blocks in his area that have numerous smashed communal windows, likely by the same culprits.

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glory daze Back in my early college days, my friend Cat and I were recruited to be extras in a movie while having coffee at a neighborhood café in Santa Cruz, California. We were told to be at the beach boardwalk at 5 a.m. the next day and to wear casual attire. We’d be paid $50 for a full day’s work and be fed breakfast and lunch, which we could eat with the cast. To us starving college students, it sounded like a fun way to spend the day.

Being on set with all the cameras and lights and rigs was a thrill and when the actors came out we giggled with excitement. The biggest star of the film was ‘80s child actress Alyssa Milano, who at the time was trying to break her good-girl image. I remember she wore a skimpy outfit and smoked cigarettes and made out with one her male costars in between takes. That male costar was a very wet-behind-the-ears Ben Affleck, sporting a bitchin’ Vanilla Ice hairdo. (It should be noted that many years later, we realized the cast was actually quite impressive: Matt Damon, Matthew McConaughey, Brendan Fraser – all of whom were complete unknowns back then – as well as the late, great Spalding Gray were all in the movie). We soaked in the atmosphere and did everything we could to get an understanding of the storyline, but because we were just extras no one told us anything. We had no idea what the movie was about but we didn’t care. We were just happy to be there.

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garda cookies unedited_edited-1

Dealing with any government agency or office in the United States, at least in my experience, is an absolute nightmare. If you’re calling on the telephone, forget the naïve notion that you’ll actually get a human being on the other end; the truth is you’ll end up going through a series of automated communications designed to never, ever connect you with anything other than a taunting, recorded message. It’s like the digital equivalent of a garden maze, except there is no exit.

And don’t even get me started on the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), where people go to slowly spiral into mental insanity from excruciating waiting periods and the miles of red tape it takes to do simple tasks like getting a driver’s license, renewing your vehicle registration or filing paperwork to sell your car. People who work at the DMV are a whole other species as well. Generally they are intentionally rude, pissed-off types who seem to take great pleasure in toying with their hapless victims customers.* If you have to accomplish anything at the DMV you need to block out the entire day because you’ll be there under those Vitamin D-draining fluorescent lights, listening to an automated voice calling out numbers (none of which will be yours) all…day..long.

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westport027 I know I’m turning Irish because this is yet another blog post about the weather, and everyone knows that the Irish are obsessed with weather. But it’s snowing here. Snowing. Considering I hail from a place where it never snows, I can’t NOT write about it.

Waking up to see a winter wonderland outside your window is something us Angelenos only dream of, so when it happened the other day I was as giddy as a kid at Christmas. As I pulled back the curtains I could see that everything had a good dusting of lovely white snow and as the sun rose the powder sparkled like flecks of sparkly diamonds. I actually gasped at the sight. Of course as I came to find out in the coming day, marveling at the snow from the comfort of my hotel room is totally different than the reality of being in and dealing with the cold wet stuff outside.

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crazygirl boozed1

Really hilarious drunk girl I met while out in Dublin one night; the root of all that is good and evil in Ireland.

The other night I tuned into the magical hour of television programming that is Boozed Up Irish Abroad. As the title quite obviously reveals, the reality show follows a group of young Irish tourists who party their way through the nightclubs of Majorca, the Spanish destination popular with a variety of white-trash European holiday seekers. The program highlights the fighting, vomiting, blathering and sexual exploits of these young Irish as they see who can achieve liver failure and/or get arrested first. It’s a real gem of a show really, and gives even the worst American reality shows (Real Housewives, Tiaras and Toddlers, etc.) a run their money.

With the exception of a small group, it’s not exactly a positive or accurate portrayal of the Irish. The show got me thinking about what my notions of Ireland and Irish people were before I moved here, and if particular media portrayals gave me certain expectations of what I would find in this country. I suppose since my introduction to the Irish happened many years ago when I lived with a group of them (read about them in this post) back in San Francisco, I felt relatively familiar with the culture and attitudes of Ireland before coming here. So I had to go further back than that…did I have any preconceived ideas before I met them?

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