Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Virginia Show

These days I spend a lot of time in Northern Virginia - making me sadly familiar with Dulles Airport, Herndon, Reston, Tyson's Corner, and Arlington.

But, as a 6-year-old, I remember being taken by my grandparents to visit a different Virginia: the agricultural show at Virginia, County Cavan. I found it amazing - so much to see, stalls selling all sorts of things, so much hustle and bustle.

Bernd Biege has a slide show of photos from this year's Virginia Show here. Naturally, it doesn't seem as exciting as it did to me at 6 years old. But what great memories.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The untold problem with "Rip-off Ireland" - people *wanted* to be ripped off

At last, an Irish media article hints at the real reason why prices in Ireland were so high during the boom years. People wanted to pay high prices.

I can remember telling friends back in Ireland that I got my refrigerator cheaply because it had a dent on the side (where nobody would see the dent) and I got looks of disdain. Then a friend explained how their fridge had cost many thousands of Euro, and they had to get it shipped to Ireland. But that was a good thing. Similarly, I remember being told proudly that pairs of jeans had cost over 180 dollars in New York (whereas my Old Navy jeans cost $19 in the annual Old Navy jeans sale). German friends would remark that there were more brand-new German cars on the streets of Dublin than in Germany.

With all the current blame on property developers and politicians in Ireland, maybe the real culprit for the boom-and-bust was a nouveau riche buying culture which made post-Soviet Russia look restrained by comparison. Shopping around, or looking for a bargain, was looked upon in the same way as taking a used piece of bubble gum off a park bench and chewing it. Maybe people wanted to be ripped off. It certainly seemed that way to me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Irish re-immigration to Boston

Hardly a major trend (yet) but Irish people are moving back from Ireland to Boston - people who returned to Ireland during the boom years:

Friday, August 7, 2009

The case of the disappearing Cape Cod beaches

Kate Holmquist of the Irish Times reports on the disappearance of Cape Cod beaches which she remembers from childhood. And Boston gets the blame:

The “conservationists” in Boston – there’s an edge to the way he pronounces this plural noun – started the problem 40 years ago when they built a jetty about 2km to the southeast to protect an endangered bog. Cockle Cove started changing shape as the sea dumped sand to the northwest, enlarging the beach there. One thing led to another, with sand being pumped by the town from here to there, and more breakwaters being built. It wasn’t nature at all that did this, he thinks.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why the absense of great Greek food places in Roslindale?

The question is again asked on Chowhound- Seeking Greek Gyros/Souvlaki in Roslindale area

Roslindale has a huge Greek influence - witness the Panatinaikos flag flying outside the car service place on Washington Street at Kittredge, Comcast's hyper-local billboard ads for Greek language TV channels, Greek Orthodox Churches, and that car with the map of Greece sticker and "CYPRUS" as its number place (I guess there are no Turks living around here).

There is a Greek grocery store, but no Greek restaurant. There are Greek-owned restaurants which serve mainly American fare with some Greek dishes on the menu - the Blue Star, as mentioned on Chowhound - but they are hardly exclusively Greek (the Blue Star does a great Full Irish Breakfast).

The answer I've got to this question is "there is great Greek food in Roslindale, but it's eaten by Greek people at home". Hardly a good answer for those of us who would pay for Greek food at a restaurant or take-out place if it was available...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The "world's biggest burger" school of reporting about America

It is a sad fact that many Europeans like (and expect) to read stories from America about eating competitions, crazily religious people, Hollywood, and hypocrisy. I am a European myself and I know that these are many of the stories of America which I grew up reading in the UK and Irish papers. It gives a very distorted view of what life is really like in the US.

What are the only two US stories on the front of the Irish Independent (an Irish broadsheet newspaper) website today? Maybe (1) Bill Clinton freeing the two reporters in North Korea and (2) Obama's problems with healthcare reform? No. The two stories are:

1) Cheating hubby gets penis glued to stomach in revenge act
2) Michael Jackson 'killed by drugs given by aide as doctor slept'

These are the stories which people want to see about America, because it fits with preconceived ideas about what life is like in America.

Mark Little was the RTE (Irish Public TV) news reporter for the US. He wrote a book called "Turn left at Greenland - In search of the real America" which railed against the "Burger eating competition" view of America. I could see this myself when I was talking in 2007 to journalists covering the democratic primary in Austin, Texas. In Austin, who did they interview about Clinton versus Obama? Maybe some hipsters in an indie coffee shop (God knows there are plenty of them in Austin), or some businesspeople in Starbucks, or some baby boomers in a diner? No. They drove out to a rodeo where they interviewed a guy riding on a bull. Because this was what people expected Texas is like. This was the "average Texan" - a guy sitting on a bull. And he gave strongly anti-Clinton and anti-Obama views. If, as a European reporter, you interview 20 people about an issue and one person comes across as completely ignorant and uninformed, guess which person will turn up on TV? It'll be the clueless guy, as a representative of America. That is what sells on European TV.

So I was disappointed to see the same thing from Justin Webb of the BBC. Here is a snippit:

On the last day we spent in our home in north-east Washington, they were holding a food-eating competition in a burger bar at the end of our street. The sight was nauseating: acne-ridden youths, several already obese, stuffing meat and buns into their mouths while local television reporters, the women in dinky pastel suits, rushed around getting the best shots.

America can be seen as little more than an eating competition, a giant, gaudy, manic effort to stuff grease and gunge into already sated innards.

You could argue that the sub-prime mortgage crisis - the Ground Zero of the world recession - was caused mainly by greed: a lack of proportion, a lack of proper respect for the natural way of things that persuaded companies to stuff mortgages into the mouths of folks whose credit rating was always likely to induce an eventual spray of vomit.

There is an intellectual ugliness as well: a dark age lurking, even when the president has been to Harvard. The darkness epitomised by the recent death in Wisconsin of a little girl who should still be alive.

So there we get (a) the eating competition, and (b) the religious craziness (parents who would not get a doctor for their daughter for religious reasons). In other parts of the article you can read about political hypocrisy.

In my 8 or so years here, and many other trips before that, I have *never* seen an eating competition (I did see one in Dublin though, in my college years).

I often wonder does this type of commentary say more about Europe than it does about the US?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Annual festival of drinking, music, and goat-coronation

Puck Fair takes place in the town of Killorglin in Kerry next week. This annual festival, dating from ancient pre-Christian times, consists of drinking, music, and goat-worship. It is not to be confused with the Puck Fair bar in NoHo in New York City, which only features two of those three attractions.

This year the goat which is crowned the King of Puck Fair is a goat called Billy from the north of Ireland (Ballycastle). So he'll be "King Billy" for a week. And ironically it was Sinn Fein which helped King Billy get down to Kerry.

The Irish Times reports:

Seamus Blaney, a councillor on Moyle District council, and the Ballycastle goat catcher accompanied the goat to Killorglin and will return to collect him on August 13th before his visa date expires, Frank Joy, Killorglin’s chief goat catcher explained.

He and Mr Blaney hatched the idea of bringing the puck 365 miles south last St Patrick’s day at a get together between Ireland’s three oldest fairs, Puck Fair, Lammas Fair and Ballinasloe Fair to mark thirty years of co-operation..

“The King in waiting in peak shape. Teddy Clifford [local vet] has checked him out thoroughly We have him indoors in quarantine. He is a very nice goat, a beautiful goat. I have never seen one like him.”

In fact the goat is so beautiful he is being very closely watched in case he is lured away into the Kerry hills by local she-goats, Mr Joy confessed.

“We are actually keeping a closer eye on this puck than normal,” Mr Joy said. As well as herbs and hay the goat is receiving a special goat mix from the local Kerry Ingredients store in Killorglin.

“I also want to thank the Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris for sorting out his majesty’s visa papers for us,” Mr Joy said.