Saturday, June 28, 2014

Things I've Liked on the Internet Lately

You say Grenayda, I say Granahda: or, always triple-check your tickets.
Roast chickens in costumes. I love this mostly because it reminds me of Amelia Bedelia.
An approach to global food supply challenges that is ancient and innovative at the same time: domesticating new crops
The cost of every wedding in Game of Thrones. Fun fact: all of them together cost less than Will and Kate's.
Vermeer painted like a photograph: how it might have been done.
Making lemonade from lemons, or amazing photos from a wildfire on your wedding day.
Harvard has a book bound in human skin.
Business; friendship; betrayal; typography.

Tons of great videos this month, so I'll just give you a list:

OK Go has a fun new one-take video packed with optical illusions.
Hugh Jackman, LL Cool J, and TI rap the opening song from The Music Man.
Weezer's drummer catches a frisbee mid-song. That's talent.
"Dear Kitten." This is a Friskies ad, but I still really like it.
Figuring out the whole "second cousins once removed" thing. Or you can just not care about anyone beyond your more immediate family, which has always worked well for me.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vicarious Tourism: Aran Islands

I may have given my Irish exploration exploits short shrift this year. My international vacations all got posts - with fancy slideshows, no less - but I haven't even mentioned my visits to the Hill of Tara, to Waterford, to Clonmacnoise, and so forth. I have actually been making decent progress in my quest to see Ireland recently, with more exciting weekend trips in the works over the summer.

This last weekend, for example, I went to the Aran Islands, some rugged but beautiful islands out in Galway Bay. I had tried to make a day trip  to Inishmor, the largest island, last fall on my Galway visit, but the howling gale shut down the ferries and I was forced to go to Connemara instead. How tragic. This time the weather was lovely, perfect for cycling around and looking at things.

What is there to see? Lots of cows for starters, beautiful coastal views and some dramatic cliffs on the western side. And then there's Dun Aengus, an Iron Age ring fort backed up to the highest cliff on the island. Archaeologists think it's around 3100 years old, built by some mysterious ancient tribe no one really knows much about. The great thing about spending a night or two on the island is that you more or less have the run of the place once the day trippers leave around 5:00, so I got to have a the whole site entirely to myself for a good half hour or so. Try that at Stonehenge.

But my favorite thing may have been the Worm Hole, a natural rectangular pool carved into the rock and filled with seawater from below. Getting there requires a pretty long walk with precarious footing guided only by the occasional spraypainted mark on the rocks, but the walk itself is well worth it for the incredible scenery, dark grey rock punctuated by the bright lime green of some kind of seaweed-like plant that ekes out a fragile existence between seawater splashed up in storms and rainwater trickling down from the cliffs above. My photos are all washed out and don't even come close to the vividness of the colors in reality, but I tinkered with the saturation on some so you can kind of get the idea.

After two days on a bicycle I was happy enough to get back to my comfy office chair, but it was a great trip. Ireland never ceases to amaze. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bloomsday

I have a confession. It is a shocking confession to make. I know I may well be PNGed for this, but I can live in silence no longer. For the sake of my own sanity, I have to get this off my chest:

I cannot stand James Joyce.

Dubliners bored me, but at least I finished it. I struggled my way through the first half of Ulysses and gave up when I could take no more. Finnegan's Wake is utterly ridiculous; I decided to read in it college so I could be "sophisticated" and didn't even make it through the first PAGE. I mean, really. After all that I haven't even looked at Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I don't expect it would change my mind.

Dublin as a city is very much attached to Joyce. There's a bust of him in St. Stephen's Green and a statue just off O'Connell Street, fondly known to locals as the Prick with the Stick*. He has not one but two museums devoted to him - one in North Dublin and one in Sandycove - while all the other Irish writers (and there are many) have to share one between them. There are endless tours of Dublin featuring places from his life and writings, some of which have been converted into shops selling Joyce-related paraphenalia.

Best Dressed
Joyce even has his own special day: June 16th is Bloomsday, the day in the life of Leopold Bloom as chronicled in Ulysses. On Bloomsday (and the whole weekend before) fans of Ulysses hold marathon readings, stage performances of events from the book, eat Irish breakfasts with kidneys just like Bloom, and retrace Bloom's path through Dublin dressed in Edwardian clothes. Like you do.

As much as I dislike Joyce's work, I love Bloomsday. A whole city-wide literary celebration! And it's not all stiff reverence: the highlight of the event (for me at least) was Romping Though Ulysses, a Rocky Horror-style showing of the 1967 Ulysses film complete with props and heckles and a costume contest. I have no desire to ever see that deadly dull movie without a crowd of people making animal noises and throwing paper planes, but with those things it was excellent! Now I just need to find a city with a fun multi-day festival for a book I actually like, and move there. I'm not holding my breath.


*Dubliners love to give their statuary irreverant rhyming nicknames. In addition to the Prick with the Stick there's also the Hags with the Bags near the river, and a statue of Molly Malone has a variety of racy titles inlcuding the Tart with the Cart and the Trollop with the Scallops. (It rhymes if you say it Irishly enough.) More on this phenomenon here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Telling It Like It Is

A few weeks ago I joined one of our public affairs officers to talk to a grad school group about the Foreign Service. I don't usually do many of these things, but they specifically wanted to hear about American Citizen Services, so off I went. I was coming from some particularly trying days at the office. We had a number of tricky cases and difficult customers all coming in at once, and I was feeling a bit frazzled. This might have showed a little bit in my presentation. I didn't have a meltdown or anything, but the words "tedious" and "frustrating" may have escaped my lips. These are not words one generally uses in a sales pitch.

But as I was skulking off back to work afterwards, feeling a little embarrassed about my extemporaneous venting, one of the students from the presentation saw me. She came up, shook my hand and said, "thank you for telling it like it is." I guess they had heard the sales pitch before.

Oh, there are tons of things I love about my job and about the Foreign Service life. Seeing the world, the sense of purpose, meeting interesting people, job security, etc. It's a pretty long list, and one I find persuasive enough that I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing with my life. But yeah, just like everybody else, I have moments when I hate my job.

Sometimes it's just really boring, doing the same thing over and over. Sometimes things don't work like they're supposed to, which is incredibly frustrating when you need to get something done in a hurry. Sometimes I really want to do something and am thwarted by one arcane rule or another, which makes me feel like a failure. And my current position is a customer service job, which brings its own challenges. Most of our clients are lovely, but I do get literally screamed at from time to time. And I just have to stand there and take it because screaming back is unprofessional and counterproductive.

A long time ago a friend linked to an article - I can't find it again, but wish I could - which suggested thinking about your perfect job not in terms of what rewards you hope to get out of it, but what kinds of suffering you are willing to endure in the process. Everyone more or less wants the same things from a job: a solid and steady income, an opportunity to make a positive difference, recognition for a job well done, and so forth. But the hardships people are willing to suffer can be radically different.

For example, I am unwilling to put up with handling bodily fluids or being locked in a room with 30 hormonal teenagers for 8 hours a day. In this way I am different from my friends who are nurses or teachers. Those friends probably think I'm nuts for being willing to move halfway across the planet every couple of years, but that I will do. I will also suffer through the occasional tedium, frustration, and tantrums of bureaucratic life (oh, and suits, I hate wearing suits) because in the end those things are not that big a deal to me, and the rewards are much, much greater. But that doesn't mean the bad stuff doesn't exist.