Paris

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My parents at the Jardin des Tuileries. On May 19, they will celebrate their 50th anniversary.

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Scenes from the weekend: St Paddy’s Day in Dublin and Bray

There was a funny email going around Sascha’s office last week about what it means to be Irish:

  • Describing someone with longstanding, persistent and untreated psychosis as “a character.”
  • Saying “There’s definitely no recession here!” every time you see more than 5 people in a pub.
  • Saying “Ah but he’s very good to his mother” about some utter langer
  • Liking TK Red lemonade and white pudding. Not together of course
  • Your ma or da greeting you with the phrase “d’ya know who’s dead”?
  • That mini heart attack you get if you go out and forget to turn off the immersion
  • You’re not drinking??? Are you on antibiotics?
  • Wallpaper on your school books
  • Being Grand!!
  • Boil everything in a huge pot for 3 hours
  • Being absolutely terrified of a wooden spoon.
  • Learning a language for 12 years and not being fluent
  • Going absolutely mental at concerts because famous people rarely come over
  • Knowing that Flat 7UP heals all illnesses
  • Calling Joe Duffy or any radio station instead of the Guards from my HTC/iPhone!

I got a good laugh over most of them.  I also laughed over Frank McCourt’s explanation. He was writing about Limerick in this quote from Angela’s Ashes, but it’s still applicable:

Above all — we were wet.

Out in the Atlantic Ocean great sheets of rain gathered….The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year’s Eve. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned noses into fountains, lungs into bacterial sponges.

This past weekend was perhaps the most recognizable celebration around the world of being Irish–St. Patrick’s Day.  I don’t know why in the U.S. it is St. Patty’s Day, and here it is very definitely St. Paddy’s Day, but it is.  After three sinus infections (something I’ve never had a problem with), and some pharyngitis, laryngitis, and conjunctivitis, I’m pretty sure my respiratory tract looks something like this:

I now understand what "catarrh" is

So I did not attend the parade. Sascha took the boys and braved the crowd of 500,000 revelers to see the parade in Dublin. Some had been there for hours to reserve a spot. Many had brought ladders to stand on; others climbed atop the monuments and statues in the city centre to get a glimpse. The boys could see only when their dad hoisted them onto his shoulders.

On Sunday, we drove south to Bray and visited the The National Sea Life Centre, a small aquarium.

Hi!

Giant octopus! It seemed to respond to our touching the glass.

Touching a starfish. It's not the most impressive aquarium, but the staff was great with kids and there was a playroom with ball pit inside

Bray has the slightly faded, dilapidated feel of seaside resort towns that have seen better days, like spots along the Jersey Shore or Coney Island, which is part of its charm. There was a carnival along the water so we rode the carousel. The boys had great fun digging on the beach and the sea air helped clear my head for a few hours.

Bray Head

Daytripping: Cliffwalk from Greystones

We are very fortunate that one set of G & C’s many aunts and uncles are touring musicians. This means no matter where we live, they come through eventually. We don’t see them for stretches and then we’ll have a few days to pack in family time. It also means G & C can readily identify banjos but not guitars.

When Abby and Bela were here, S took the day off so we could go hiking in the morning while the boys were in crèche. Ireland has stunning hill walks and hiking, but the two very short humans usually with us + plunging cliffs is not a good combination. This was our first hike, south of Dublin along the eastern coast of Ireland.

After driving the wrong way through a roundabout exit (close enough to see the stunned expression on the other driver’s face), we made it to Greystones. There’s probably a bigger metaphor/life lesson about roundabouts (traffic circles for you in the U.S.) and the fact that if you miss the exit, you can always go ‘round again that I’ll leave that for you to unpack. Then again, Abby told us about a time she was driving with a band mate and spent fifteen increasingly nauseating minutes circling in a roundabout until their friend rescued them.

The Cliffwalk at Greystones trail head was a bit difficult to find; the marina is under construction so after parking and checking in with a local pub, we maneuvered along chain link fences until we found it.The first part is flat and wide, and then there’s a gradual incline as you go towards the headlands.

Many people enjoy the two-hour walk from Bray to Greystones (or Greystones to Bray) by starting in one village and then hopping on the DART train to return.

The DART tracks. When I was in college, we took the DART down the coast south from Dublin to Dalkey. It was a very cheap way to have coastal tour.

Not suitable for the boys yet


Though there is a path the entire way, there are some narrow winding steps on parts of it and the loose stone footpath would not suit a stroller.

I believe there's an upper trail as well as the one we walked

I was so excited to spot this rainbow that I nearly knocked Abby off the trail

Family time

Daytripping to Hill of Tara & Newgrange: Part 2

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This gallery contains 16 photos.

After visiting the Hill of Tara, we traveled closer to the River Boyne, which was an important prehistoric trade route and whose valley was (and still is) rich with abundant farmland. Horses grazed on its banks; the Irish honey I … Continue reading

Blue lobster in Ireland

Sascha sent me this photo from his business dinner on Howth the other night:

A rare blue lobster caught in Irish waters off Howth

I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently this is a 1 in two million catch. A genetic mutation causes an overproduction of a certain protein, resulting in the blue color.

Despite it being on a platter, the restaurant told them it was not bound for someone’s dinner plate, but an aquarium instead.

Daytripping to Newgrange & Hill of Tara: Part 1

When my mother was visiting in January, Sascha took the day off one day so he could pick up the boys from crèche and we could head out on one of the daylong tours that depart from Dublin.

We got picked up at a nearby hotel and set out about 45 minutes north, into County Meath to get a glimpse of Ireland’s pre-Christian history and its Viking blood.

I do not recommend the tour for young families, because it cannot accommodate a buggy/stroller. The terrain is extremely hilly and mucky (both mud and sheep excrement) and thus very slippery. Also, our tour guide took herself very seriously. There was an 18 month-old girl (in a pink coat and purple boots, with a rosebud hat) babbling happily in the seat in front of us, until the tour guide turned around and mentioned to the parents that they should take “him” to the back of the bus, where “he” might be more comfortable, because “he” was sitting close to the microphone and it was her show.

An old church is now the visitor center at Tara. Its graveyard looks down at the Boyne Valley

The first stop was the hill of Tara, the ancient capital. That morning there was an incredible fog and a bright coin of sun trying to bore through it. As we wedged into a cut in a stonewall to walk out to the site, everything was shrouded in mist. It truly felt other-worldly, making our way over grassy trenches and mounds, underneath of which were several thousand year-old unexcavated earthworks, included a royal house and passage tombs.

My mom heading up to the site

Misty morning

Exploring a distant world

Looking down at the valley coated in fog. Beyond are the remains of an old monastery

One of the most famous things on the hill is believed to be the Lia Fall or Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone for some 142 kings. Showing how much does not change in politics, it is priapic and attached to a legend: it was said that ancient conquering people of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danaan, brought the pillarstone and it would roar when the true king stood on it. The stone was moved from its original location on the site and ringed with contemporary stonework.

Of kings and men

A more modern mythical object is a “Fairy Tree” – a leafless hawthorn whose black branches were covered with ribbons, bits of fabric, and even a USB cable. People make the pilgrimage for luck and good health.

Fairy tree at the Hill of Tara

Part 2 (in a few days) will feature Newgrange, a 5000 year-old passage tomb and astrological observatory

French parents don’t get stressed?

Why French Parents Are Superior by Pamela Druckerman – WSJ.com

Someone posted this link to Facebook and it’s getting a lot of press right now. It’s an excerpt from a new book by an American mother living abroad and how she feels that the French put stricter boundaries on their children, discipline with more “conviction,” and therefore, their children sit quietly in high chairs in restaurants and leave their parents free to enjoy adult conversation. In other words, yet another indictment of overparenting culture, which Druckerman, in “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” suggests is particularly American.

After Druckerman and her husband decide to take a trip to a coastal town in France with her 18 month-old, she writes:

“We quickly discovered that having two restaurant meals a day with a toddler deserved to be its own circle of hell.

Bean would take a brief interest in the food, but within a few minutes she was spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then she demanded to be sprung from her high chair so she could dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks.

Our strategy was to finish the meal quickly. We ordered while being seated, then begged the server to rush out some bread and bring us our appetizers and main courses at the same time. While my husband took a few bites of fish, I made sure that Bean didn’t get kicked by a waiter or lost at sea. Then we switched. We left enormous, apologetic tips to compensate for the arc of torn napkins and calamari around our table.

After a few more harrowing restaurant visits, I started noticing that the French families around us didn’t look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. Weirdly, they looked like they were on vacation. French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.”

Remember the picture I posted of the debris field around our table that I tried to contain with linen napkins while on holiday? How we felt like we were the only ones, despite being in a family resort? How we spent a small fortune on room service to avoid the exquisite torture of dining in public with them?

Normally it would be easy for me to dismiss her by saying, well, yeah, but she doesn’t have twins. But guess what? Later on she does have twins. Boys, in fact.

So six months into our life abroad, with my Euro-American twin sons and their Continental accent, I read the excerpt with fascination. Clearly, there’s an inherent problem with the sweeping generalization of “us” (i.e., American parents) vs. “them” (French parents) in her argument. But I understand they are trying to sell books piggy-backed off the success of “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” and sound very controversial. (Stay tuned for my forthcoming book, “French Women Don’t Read Self-Help Books.”) Nothing gets Americans more defensive than saying another country is superior, right? I would be curious to know if there is less Ativan or Zanax prescribed (and paid for) by the French National Health Insurance.

Why would it be just the French who are immune to this modern age of anxiety, and not say, Spanish parents, or Italian ones? Here in Dublin, the parents of other children where the boys attend creche are Italian, German, and Danish, in addition to being Irish (this is a reflection of the location–we are near the embassy zone–as well as how diverse the population of Dublin is, with people from all over the EU). I do not notice any pronounced difference, except perhaps, that European toddlers tend to wear scarves.

The biggest demarcation appears to be socioeconomic class. You know, the class that (ahem) has the leisure to write about, blog about, and read about parenting as if it was a hobby or project one was trying to get better at. Which to me is overparenting in and of itself, no? (And I am very, very guilty of this, which also has much to do with having children later in life and stopping work to be with them.) In fact, this book sits upon a very tall stack of parenting how-to books, a cottage industry that thrives off making you afraid you are doing something wrong, thereby engendering anxiety. My mother certainly never sat around and read books like “Positive Discipline” while raising the four of us. Those worrying about foreclosure or dealing with chronically ill children certainly are worried about other issues than the latest trend in parenting. Isn’t that what they say our anxiety is, evolutionary adaptations run amok because in reality, we have very little of actual and pressing danger to worry about?

People have often asked us if there’s a culture shock being here, and we tell them it’s negligible. There was much more of a culture shock when I lived in Japan. The only difference I have ever observed has more to do with parents in cities and parents in small towns. Living here in Dublin is somewhat similar to the transition we would have felt, I think, if we moved back to NYC after leaving small-town America. But again, that’s really about class in certain pockets of cities.

My neighbor, a German mom of two boys, told me that, “Ten years ago, there weren’t the big cars. You didn’t see Range Rovers trying to drive around these narrow streets. With the big sunglasses. And the big bags.  Suddenly, all the mums were carrying coffee and big purses and wearing big sunglasses. And they all went blonde.”

This was her humorous way of explaining the sudden wealth many people living in Dublin found themselves in during the Celtic Tiger years, and the attendant status anxiety. Apparently, it made everyone think they should look like Nicole Richie pushing a pram.

“Bringing up Bebe” seems like it might have been better suited to an anecdotal op-ed instead of a book. And I do wonder how much her being an expat, particularly an American one, carried its own issues that didn’t have anything to do with parenting.

I am curious what fellow parents out there think about this, especially European ones. The book is written from an American point of view. What do, say, Irish parents think about French ones? Or Italian? Or Spanish? Those of you who also parented while abroad, did you notice any cultural differences?

(As a postscript I should mention that I’ve started saying, “That’s not possible,” to my sons’ varied and unending demands in case she’s on to something.)

Coming home

Status

My first morning after coming back, I woke up at 5:30am to a man screaming, “No! No! No!” Obviously he had escaped from the nearby hospital. Really. But I am happy to be back. Really. Also, when G asked me last night, “Who made dat?” pointing to the store-bought vegetable soup I was serving him, I lied and told him I did.