The Importance of Being…Dilated

You may well wonder how an oblique reference to one Mr. Oscar Wilde has to do with the word “dilated.” Well, it’s simple:  I’m sitting in a cafe near West University, Houston, Texas, waiting for my eyes to recover from my annual eye exam (thus the “dilated”) AND I wanted to pass on an interesting reading service that feeds you a bit of a work, day by day via email. I chose Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” as my first read, thus the Wilde connection. And besides, I need an excuse to post these shots of his dandy self from the Dublin trip, so voila:  a cheap blog post pulling three concepts together!

The reading service is called DailyLit. Essentially, it sends you a daily snippit of a work via email on the theory that anyone has five minutes to read something. Thus, over time you can complete a book or play you might not otherwise take the time to digest. Selections are from the public domain, so lower your expectations accordingly. I’ve just received the first email today, so no comment from me yet on whether it works, is worth it, or I stick with it.

As for the eyeballs, I just love putting on those wrap-around sun shields and looking extra dorky for a couple of hours after dilation. On the other hand, one can’t go outside without these, so it’s a win-suffer proposition. I’ll wait it out another hour or so, then I’m off to Cafe Piquet, a favorite Cuban restaurant down the street where I’ll consider The Importance of Ordering Ripe Plaintains and be a happy camper once again (partially creditable to the anticipated Mojito, I’m sure).

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Victorian Sensibilities

The Dead Zoo

What do you get when Victorian-era zoologists and amateur collectors go crazy? Evidently Dublin’s Museum of Natural History, affectionately called the Dead Zoo by locals. Since 1857 this museum has been delighting young and old alike, at least those who enjoy walking among lots of dead, stuffed things. The crowded, three-story Victorian-adorned edifice is a treasure trove of animals, insects, and birds from around the world with a heavy concentration of Irish-specific species. The brochure states there are 10,000 specimens on display, selected from 2,000,000 in their collection. The experience of being there shows they couldn’t fit number 10,001.

Even though photography was forbidden, I managed (bad Gary) a quick snap from the third floor, shown above. Gives you some idea of how crowded the place is and the Victorianesque feeling. Visited twice, the first time arriving too close to closing time (5 o’clock prompt) to see much, but the second time arriving early enough to invest an hour sketching a few residents. The two sketches I managed (below) were drawn from ground floor (moose) and the narrow second-floor balcony (whale).

Bullwinkle's ancestor

whale bones

The Dead Zoo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re the type that enjoys museum dioramas and zoos, then you’re in for a treat. If you visit Dublin, be sure to save time for this unique flashback to an era that encouraged compulsive collecting.

Five

smtownflag.jpgFlags still wave in small town America, five years past a time when our future seemed unclear. Like the moon landing and JFK assasination, 9/11 is a defining American moment remembered with marked clarity:  exactly where, with whom, and what each of us was doing. Five years ago as I was taking my then-companion to downtown Houston, we heard the first fact-thin radio report of a plane impacting a World Trade Tower. We paid little attention initially, only later reacting to those horrid details with an inability to do much of anything. Morbid fascination turned to an uneasiness about the safety of my companion and would I be able to pick her up? Were the kids safe at school? I would rather not remember that horrible “Would we be next?” feeling, but it seemed real at the time. Days following the tragedy were simply blurs of unproductivity. We settled back into routine eventually, and whether from patriotic defiance to “not let them win” or desperate to regain the status quo, back to work we went in search of a lost normalacy.

In the five years since, my life has changed in many ways:  I left one relationship that wasn’t the right path to one I think is; overcame a year in which a physical issue nearly put me in the poorhouse if not for a skilled back surgeon’s hands; and in spite of (or to spite) the terrorists I’ve flown more in the last five years than the 15 years before. We all heal in different ways from tragedy, and while my growth during these five years relates to 9/11 only chronologically, the same spirit of survival reawakened in America pushed me through my own personal miasmas.

The media states we live in a “not if, but when” predictive world. I for one won’t live looking over my shoulder in waiting, prefering to trust that whatever happens we’ll deal with it and persevere. The world is different now than it was five years ago. And even though I don’t agree with our approach to fighting this difficult enemy, I do believe our American spirit will survive whatever comes to pass.

A Day in Ann Arbor

Yesterday I took a mini road trip up to Ann Arbor to check out the Border’s Bookstore and venture into some of the used and antiquarian bookstores this liberal Michigan town has to offer. Fortunately I headed out early, arriving in Ann Arbor around 10:30 a.m. I say fortunate, because yesterday the University of Michigan football team and about 100,000 friends gathered for one of their typical, frenzied football Saturdays. Imagine my surprise to drive up South Slate and see a sea of maize- and blue-clad people marching towards football heaven. Note to self:  next time, check the football schedule before heading out!

Lunch at SevasThe upside of a football weekend in Ann Arbor is, of course, fewer people downtown. Borders was a bit disappointing (I quick-peeked in there last time and thought it was a huge store; turns out to be very wide, but very shallow). But I did enjoy Dawn Treader and found some Medieval gems in Motte and Bailey’s store. So the booking was good, as was my lunch at Seva, a vegetarian restaurant on E. Liberty a few blocks west of Borders. Their North African Cous-Cous with grilled tempeh (above) was delightful, accompanied by a cup of gazpacho and Red Zinger tea.

I did cut my visit short, unfortunately, missing out on planned writing time in one or more of the coffee shops in Ann Arbor. I was lucky driving up early, but I did not want to test my luck twice and risk leaving anywhere near the time those 100,000 friends departed en masse to points unknown. At least it wasn’t the Ohio State-Michigan weekend:  not even a 10:30 arrival would have avoided an impassable sea of maize/blue and scarlet/grey.

Look Both Ways

Train signLook both ways, keep an open mind, try something different. Such are the attitudes de riguer when traveling to a different culture, at least, if one wants to grow by going outside the familiar.

When I ventured to Ireland for a horizon-expanding 10 days, I knew I’d experience things different from what I was used to here in the states. To me, part of the joy of travel comes from venturing outside one’s comfort zone, and with an open mind. Too many of us travel expecting all the comforts and conveniences at home, which if so, begs the question:  why not just stay at home?

We weren't the only tourists...I knew that Ireland was a “wrong side” driving experience, that they eat things like black pudding (tried it), and drink black beer. What I didn’t expect was some difficulty in being understood, or in understanding them. Even though English is the base language (some would argue we Americans speak American, not English), the varied accents made interpretation a challenge. I don’t think we ever understood any of the bus drivers, instead smiling and putting money in the till until the receipt printed out.

The highlight of the language wars had to be a visit to Burdock’s, THE fish ‘n chips place near Christ Church. As we ordered, the cook (owner?) asked if I was American, to which I said “Yes.” He then paused, and pronounced, “Texas?” Eerie. I don’t think I have much of an accent, especially since I’ve spent over a year up here in the Midwest. Yet there was proof of my true culture over the steam table of a Dublin Fish ‘n Chips place. Either that, or we stumbled onto an amateur linguist who actively practiced on unwitting tourists.

Heuston Station, Luas train and local transportation

All the differences and subtle twists on familiar things were a constant source of entertainment. From candy bars to kitchen appliances, signs, magazines, book covers, foliage, and oh yes, bathroom “pottys,” it was fun to see other possibilities. I’ll give Irish/British chocolate bars the nod, loved our host’s electric tea kettle (which I’m now the proud owner of one, Americanized of course, although surprisingly difficult to find), Irish stews, Shepard’s Pies, and do I need to re-mention properly “stored and poured” Guinness? But I’ll keep our driving style and bathrooms, thank you. The first pub we went into presented my first loo-dilemma:  what is the proper way to use the trough? With a fronting ledge too narrow to stand on, but too wide to aim over, I was a bit puzzled. Fortunately, as in most things of this sort, someone comes along to show how it’s done. Be grateful I didn’t have my camera with me, although even loos don’t escape the Irish sense of humor.

Galway traffic