Saturday, September 15, 2007

Postcard from Ireland

I've been here for three days already, so it seems as if a few sweeping generalizations are in order. Based on my acute powers of observation, applied to the experience of two days in Dublin and a day in Cork, I can safely say that:

1. Ireland is more expensive than Spain

Some random pricing observations:

  • Price of a pint: dangerously close to 5€
  • Price of my (delicious, but unremarkable) 3-course dinner at Jury's Hotel in Cork: 32€
  • Typical price range for coffee-and-panini lunch in Dublin: 10-12€
  • Price of a one-way train ticket from Dublin to Cork (about 220 km): 56€
  • Price of "jelly and ice-cream" (jelly = jello, for my American readers), featured on Jury's late-night room service menu: 8.50€
  • Reason why Jury's would feature such an odd item on their room service menu: anyone's guess (did somebody really think this might come in the category of "comfort food"?)
  • Price of a taxi from Dublin airport to the hotel: 22€ (though I am reliably assured that a cheaper express bus service to downtown hotels is available)
  • Price that the taxi-driver's mother's house (an unremarkable 3-bedroom semi-detached in Ranelagh, but with a granny-flat) fetched last year: 680,000€. I know this because she insisted on showing me pictures on her cell-phone, as well as quizzing me about what I paid for my condo in SF. Information that I shared with her, but have no intention of divulging here.

2. Ireland is more prosperous than Spain

Minimum wage is currently set at somewhere around 8.40€ an hour. While this is unlikely to get you that house in Ranelagh any time soon, it certainly places the benchmark considerably higher than that for Spain's typical "mileurista", with a median salary of 1000€ a month. Other indications of prosperity abound, an obvious ongoing construction boom, the high preponderance of specialty stores catering to the affluent in both Dublin and Cork's main shopping districts. Less tangibly, there is an overall sense of increased efficiency - things work now in Ireland in a way that is taken for granted, but that seems quite foreign to someone like myself whose memories of the place are rooted largely in the 1970's. While 56€ to get from Dublin to Cork by train might seem a little steep, I have to acknowledge that the trip was extraordinarily smooth, both stations were pleasant, well-designed spaces. All the conveniences a traveler might wish for, with no residue of the almost penitential aspect that characterized train travel in my day, when you considered yourself lucky to get from point A to point B, and certainly didn't expect the experience to be a comfortable one.

Family members nod sagely in response to my observations about the impression of prosperity and remark darkly that it "comes at a price". I'm sure this is true, but I'm equally sure that this is not something I can hope to make intelligent comment on based on four days here.

3. Ireland is infinitely less homogeneous than when I visited five years ago

Surely a good thing. The accession of Eastern European countries, Poland and the Baltic republics in particular, to the EU has meant greater freedom of movement of workers throughout Europe, and Ireland's relatively strong economy has been a magnet. The number of different languages I've been hearing since arriving here (Polish seems to predominate) is a refreshing change.

4. Politicians seem as rascally as ever.

With the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, about to be called in for a second full day of testimony before the Tribunal investigating (potentially significant) financial irregularities in his past, and stories of wads of cash being accidentally left on his desk by visiting businessmen (this was back in the 90's), there is a definite sense that little has changed. Yet, despite the whiff of scandal, he was comfortably re-elected in this spring's general election. My favorite nugget from the Tribunal hearings so far - the excuse for the prevalence of large wads of cash in Ahern's office at various times was that he "didn't have a bank account". This despite the fact that, at the time, he was Minister for Finance.

I do not delude myself that observation # 4 applies uniquely to Irish politicians.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Final lap

Dateline Cork: Friday afternoon 5.30pm

I'm here, in Cork, on the banks of my own lovely Lee. In Jury's fine international hotel. Where they actually have real broadband service. Unlike the unfortunate "use your TV as a computer" deal in the Dublin hotel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dublin under siege

No, not by me. I'm just here for two nights. However, it is with grief-tinged shock* that I must report the sighting of a little boutique dedicated to peddling the wares of Thomas Kinkade ("The Painter of you know what...") just a stone's throw from Dublin's trendy Grafton Street. In addition to the standard nauseating panoply of radioactively glowing cottages in the purple mist there are - regrettably, very regrettably indeed - Celtic-themed items of dreck. Including a Celtic Santa.

Excuse me. I have to stop now. Waves of revulsion are sweeping over me.

* : or shock-tinged grief, if you prefer. This is an equal-opportunity-cliche blog.

Slan go foill.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Numbers game

Readers are invited to guess the meaning of the following set of numbers (note: the order in which the numbers are presented is not germane to their meaning overall):

94, 61, 80, 89, 84, 88, 82, 81, 89, 68, 47, 88, 85, 59, 87, 84, 92, 97, 80, 95, 75, 85, 93, 79, 81, 58, 76, 85, 79, 89, 88, 80, 72, 92, 88, 80, 90, 66, 89, 85, 56, 87, 76, 50, 52, 63, 90, 91, 65, 91

Obviously, this particular set of numbers does not obey Benford's Law. At least not when expressed in base 10. But perhaps there is some base in which they would more closely approximate the behavior it predicts? (This is just idle speculation on my part)

And you thought my geekitude was confined to matters pertaining to grammar and syntax. Wrong. My geekitude knows no bounds.

Adiós a Madrid

A few final photos

Tio Pepe sign, Sol

Calle Alcalá

ozzie the bear

el gaucho

Rite of passage

La Infanta Leonor, the future queen of Spain, started kindergarten last week. So far, she seems to be taking things in stride.


Warning: of interest only to students of Spanish (major geekdom ahead!)

obedecer: to obey, to stem from
la carencia : lack, deficiency
carecer de: to lack, to be deficient in
vigilar la finca : to mind the ranch
los años de vacas flacas : lean years (literally, "years of the thin cows")
poner cruz y raya a : to wash one's hands of, to have nothing more to do with
el runrún : buzz (also in the figurative sense of rumor, or gossip)
mellar : to blunt, to diminish (e.g. the force of an argument)
la (in)certidumbre : (un)certainty
la muchedumbre : crowd
plasmar : to form
la tregua : treaty
estrepitoso : deafening
la charanga : brass band (figuratively: the charade, sideshow)
anunciador(a) : announcing, prefiguring, threatening
el presupuesto: budget, estimate (from presuponer or, less commonly, presupuestar)
la tamborrada:
uproar, furor (figurative, derived from tambor, a drum)
el parado : unemployed person (literally, "the stopped one", from parar)
el paro : (rate of) unemployment
"El liderazgo, estúpido" : "It's about leadership, stupid!"

Can you tell I've been reading the editorial page? All of the above from a single editorial, alas. So many words, so little time...

¿ Wanna bet ?

Spaniards like to gamble:

A los madrileños les gustan el bingo

It could be bingo.

Casino de Madrid, back entrance

A night out at the casino.

state lottery booth

Taking part in the state lottery, in particular, the huge Christmas draw, in which every family in Spain participates. Tickets for this lottery, the biggest of the year (affectionately known as "el gordo", or "the fat one") are a common Christmas gift. Numbers are chosen by photogenically angelic orphans from the St Ildefonso orphanage in Madrid, in a nationally televised ceremony a few days before Christmas. Then there's also the regular ONCE lottery, run by the organisation for the blind.

salon de juegos

One of the many "Salon de Juegos" in downtown Madrid, home to a seizure-inducing array of one-armed bandits and assorted other slot machines.

I don't have statistics to back this up, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that gambling is one of the more popular Spanish pursuits.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Speaking of sheep

The scene yesterday at the Cibeles Fountain in Madrid. 700 sheep took to the streets in celebration of something called the Fiesta de la Trashumancia. No, I don't understand it either; I just know that sheep representing 32 countries were in attendance.

Could that be Miss Maple in the foreground? The smart-looking one? Your guess is as good as mine.

I wish I could say that I was there in person. But at 9am, when the ovine invasion was in full swing, I was still sound asleep.

¿ A qué huele Kate Moss ?

What does Kate Moss smell of? In this blog we have on occasion poked fun at Chandler Burr, perfume critic for The New York Times. Thus, it was with a certain amusement that I came across the following paragraph in the Sunday magazine of El País. An article about Kate Moss's new perfume, called - simply - "Kate". Here is El País's take:

Se llama Kate y en su aspecto y imagen domina el rosa, aunque surcado por espinas negras. Porque la fragrancia será floral, de acuerdo, pero la modelo británica no renuncia ni por esas al lado rockero y salvaje... Y al final, ¿a qué huele Kate Moss? Pues a nomeolvides aderezado con pimienta rosada y flor de azahar y a una mezcla de azucena, heliotropo, magnolia y rosa contrastada con pachuli, madera de sándalo y almizcle.

It's called Kate, and its essence is dominated by roses, though interspersed with black thorns. Because although the fragrance is floral, the British model has not abandoned her savage, rocker persona ... In the end, what does Kate Moss smell of? Of forget-me-nots embellished with allspice and citron blossom, and a mixture of lilies, heliotrope, magnolias and roses, contrasted with sandalwood, patchouli, and musk.

Somehow, I think Chandler would have had more fun with this.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

La javelina

¿Quién es? I hear you ask. Well, it's a javelina, also known as a peccary. What is he doing on this blog? Well, it's a long story, related in part to George Clooney's now-defunct pot-bellied pig, Max.

But why ask why? It's Sunday aquí en Madrid, time for a little silliness. And a new sniglet.

peccary: a sinful porcine, a scape-pig.

Postcard from Madrid

As my time here in Madrid winds down, here is an extremely subjective "top 10 list", covering everything from cafés to museums:

FNAC (metro Callao) FNAC

Faborit (calle Alcála) Faborit

Museo Sorolla Museo Sorolla
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Thyssen

Hotel Ateneo (calle de la Montera) Hotel Ateneo

Root (calle Virgen de los Peligros) Root
la Finca de Susana La finca de Susana
Cubik (calle de la Aduana) Cubik

public spaces:
Plaza de Oriente Plaza de Oriente
El Retiro Jardines del Retiro

I hope that all of the links work. Take a virtual tour - it may give you an idea of what a great summer I had.