Impressions of Dublin

Sitting at the Dublin airport, waiting to fly home. Deaf ear is ringing like a bastard after a week of continuous noise . I loved Dublin, but I’m so ready to be back home again! I miss my kids, my dogs, my husband. I miss my own bed, I miss the quiet. I don’t miss the rain  and the cold – the weather here was not too much warmer, but it was pleasant this week.

Between the conference and two evening parties, my week was pretty busy. Still, I did manage to do a little bit of shopping too, and saw a nice slice of the city by walking almost everywhere. I saw Dublin in the dawn, I saw Dublin in dusk, in daytime and even late at night – inside a 3km radiuis from my hotel next to the Christ Church, that is. It seems that I picked my hotel from an excellent location, though, right there at the edge of Temple Bar, with the conference center, Jameson Bow St, Guinness Storehouse and both north and south Dublin shopping areas within that radius. Patted myself on my back for that!

My first morning in Dublin I woke up early. I’m not an early riser as it is, but still I somehow managed to wake up by 6am, which is 8am at home; that is of course already half an hour later than my usual wake-up time on weekdays. I tried to idle in bed for some time, but gave up by 7:40, took a shower and was out of the hotel by 7:20, and in search of a nice little coffee shoppe t0 have breakfast in.

There’s no shortage of coffee shops in Dublin, I noticed. However, not all of them are open that early. I had my cappucino and some bacon and eggs in a cozy little coffee shop and continued my walk towards the conference center as the sun was slowly rising behind some cranes at a “skyscraper” (maybe 20 stories high, which is tall for a low city like Dublin, or Helsinki for that matter) construction site.

The first thing I noted about Dublin was the colors. The city is in many ways very similar to Helsinki, very homey in that way for me, but there are some significant differences, the biggest one being the colorful storefronts. I absolutely loved those painted wood fronts that were further decorated with flowers, flags, decorative paintings and the elegantly crafted or painted business names. Temple Bar pub is obviously the most iconic one of them all, but really, the same theme goes all around!

That first day we had drinks at the conference center and after that there were some sponsor parties to choose from. I went to this one at Jameson Bow St, where we got to do the distillery tour. Not exactly in the distillery, but a tour of the distilling process in the old distillery. After that and the Leprechaun museum experience, I was just amazed by the Irish’ ability to tell a story craft a tour. Pretty amazing tours! Guinness Storehouse tour was no exception either, without the narration, though (since I did not take the headphones).

Last night was my last one in Dublin. After the conference ended, I took yet a different route back to my hotel, walking through the main shopping street on the northern side of the river, as I still wanted to visit the Arnotts once more. I also popped into the H&M in Ilac center (cringe, but it was my best bet for a hoodie for my youngest teen) and returned to my hotel for a little rest while plotting my dinner plans.

Decided on Hard Rock Cafe which was not too far from the hotel, but far enough for me to imagine that I might find an ATM on the way. Turns out ATM’s aren’t really any easier to find in Dublin than they are in Helsinki (or most other places for that matter), even though you need cash for such things as taxis and bus fares. I ran into some Anmesty facers, told them I’m already a donator (which I am), highfived them and asked about an ATM. They pointed me to the closest one, which just happened to be one block away from the Hard Rock Cafe.

I had a local specialty – Guinness Bacon Burger – and a strawberry mojito and bullshitted a bit with a young Samuel L. Jackson lookalike waiter. One of the best damned burgers I’ve ever had! Slight bit on the sweet side with the Jameson marmelade and dark Guinness sauce, but absolutely wonderful tasting burger! I left the restaurant totally satisfied and stuffed and started my walk back through the rather crowded Temple Bar. I mean, there is no such time or place in Helsinki. Not ever, not anywhere!

Walking past the actual Temple Bar pub I decided that stepping in for a drink was an absolute must – as it happens, it was the only pub I visited. At that moment, just like at the Guinness Storehouse, I really wished that I could drink beer. Since that is not an option for me, I just got a Bacardi cola and stood in the crowd for the time it took me to sip my drink, listening to the live band play that gay Irish folk music. Listening to that music, I really don’t even wonder why leprechauns can’t resist dancing. I think I’m part leprechaun.

The first thing i noticed about Ireland, as the aircraft was circling towards the runway, was the patchwork of fields, with rows of identical houses lined up neatly in between. Each row was unique, but none of the houses were unique on the outside. Even the mansions on their bigger lots were placed one next to the other, identical with each other, facing the same way. Quite different than the city itself.

One of the Irish curiosities that caught my eye while walking around the city was this interesting fashion of shorts paired with a winter jacket. Another one was the exterminator. I mean, I have never ever in my life seen an actual exterminator, in full suite and with the tank proppen on his back and all that. Only in the movies. And in Dublin.

There’s a whole lot of bicyclists in Dublin. Perhaps because in a city like Dublin it seems to be way faster to ride your bike around than drive your own car or take the bus. Bicycling culture in Helsinki is quite aggressive, with bicyclists rarely taking heed of red lights and whizzing by pedestrians, slower bikes and dogs with warping speed. I’ve been grazed by bikes, leapt to safety from out of their way, frantically pulled my dogs to safety before. Here, the bicyclists are no better. Actually, I think they’re worse if possible. Yep, nope. There’s no love on my side towards bicycling Dubliners, either.

Apart from the bicyclists, I absolutely loved Dublin. The very best thing about the city? Te bookstores! There’s so many of them! Some big, some small, some new books only, some used books only, some both. I visited at least five or six different bookstores during the week and at the end of my stay, I packed several kilos of books in my suitcase. Eight books in total. Also a couple cd’s and a BlueRay, from the big Tower Records on Dawson Street, on the other side of the street form the wonderful Hodges Figgis multiple story bookstore.

This morning I woke up too early, again. Not finding the opening time for the hotel breakfast bistro, I walked in through the open door of the room at 7:2o. A waitress there informed me that the kitchen won’t open until 7:30, but offered to bring me coffee. Before the kitchen opened, two other ladies walked in too, and to my utter surprise, they too were Finns. So there we were, three Finnish women, waiting for the kitchen to open.

I got my breakfast eggs and toast (and such), ate in peace and returned to my room to gather my stuff. I hauled my heavy luggage out, paid and took the bus to the airport. Aerofort. I’d love to learn Irish (Gaelic)! It’s somehow a totally cool language. It’s kinda useless, like Finnish is useless on a global level, but it seems like a total hoot.

[More photos of Dublin in Flicr]

Married

Our kitchen is finally fully functional, albeit it’s still missing tiles and some sanding of the counter tops and the cooker hood. Our home is finally free of tools and (other such) stuff, vaccuumed properly for the first time and tidy. Actually, it WAS tidy yesterday, but then we had a party.

On Tuesday we finally tied the knot and said I do and [insert cliché here] as we got married at the local registry office with our family only present (our teens, my sister, and my dad and his wife) No big parties then; our ”reception” was coffee and cheesecake in our still then messy home, for those present at the ceremony only.

Yesterday we had a kick-ass wedding kick-off party with grilled cheeseburgers and hot dogs, home made cole slaw, baked beans, and some cheesecakes, awesome friends, and good music. Some Prosecco, beer, long drinks, sodas and a vodka watermelon. Last guests left at three am.

Today we’re not doing any kitchen work, hardly even picking up the mess, more like just nursing hangovers with left over food and drinks ;)

The Book Thief

bookthiefIn the ever growing list of books that have left an impression on me, The Book Thief went straight to the top when I read it. The book that is a touching story about a girl in early WWII Germany, a girl who picks up a book, learns to read and learns to love books. The story would be touching even without the books. Without the narrator, who just happens to be Death. It would be touching just as the story of a girl who loses her dad to Nazis and her brother on the way to be given away to foster care, because her mom had to hide; her parents were communists. What makes it a spectacular read, is Death as the narrator, and the books, that are like salt in food. Not necessary, but brings out the true flavor.

The common thread begins when the girl’s – Liesel Meminger is her name – brother is buried by the railroad after dying in the train and one of the gravediggers lose their handbook in the snow. Liesel picks up the book, holding on to it like it could bring her brother back. At the time, she doesn’t even know how to read, but she keeps the book as a relic under her mattress until one night her step-father finds it and using the book, he teaches her to read.

That one book, as grave as it is, is the one possession she holds most dear. She reads it over and over again, until she gets her second book: she retrieves a smoldering book from a nazi bonfire, after everyone has already gone. She is overseen by te mayor’s wife, but she stays silent for her own reasons. The true paradise for Liesel opens up as the mayor’s wife invites Liesel to her library, telling her she can come over any time to read. She understand’s Liesel’s love for books and stories and she nurtures it. Liesel is in awe and for a while she can barely breathe.

Liesel and her foster parents are a humane kind of family. People who value people and refuse to hate jews while trying to maintain a balance where they wouldn’t be in danger themselves. The father with his accordion, the mother with her big heart and foul mouth, Liesel with her love of stories. The best friend who takes a swim in the icy river to salvage Liesel’s book. The jewish refugee, who writes his own story on the leaves of Mein Kampf (after painting them white) for Liesel to find and read when she is older.

The book grasps the horrors and fears of little town in Nazi Germany like none I have read before. And I have read quite a few of them, books about that age and time. Anne Frank was almost an obsession to me and visiting her hideout in Amsterdam an almost religious experienvce. Leon Uris with Mila 18, excellent book as well. Corrie ten Boom. And who knows how many others. Most of them haven’t stuck; I can’t remember half of what I’ve read. Only the most powerful reading experiences leave a permanent mark in my mind.

This book about the little book has all the makings of a classic. The extremely compelling storyline, the rich character of Liesel, the human tragedy that comes with the nazi/jew territory, the love of books, for all things. Not jewelry, not coins, not toys. A passion for books and reading and how it all starts and evolves. In the midst of the hardships of Hitler’s reign, of poverty, of missing family members, of the terrors of war. It is Liesel reading to the people in the bomb shelter that calms them all down. It is Liesel reading to the old lady missing his sons, that gives her a wee bit of joy each day. It is the stories that weave the stories. And the biggest stories of all, are our lives.

Quite often I like to watch movies made of books I have likes. Almost as often I am heavily disappointed. Like with the Veronica Roth’s Divergent. It was an ok movie, but the differences just were too much. And the second book-to-movie, Insurgent? The trailer was already so absurd compared to the book, that I completely dismissed the movie. Or like the Shadowhunters. Cassandra Claire’s books weave an awesome captivating world that you just want to dwell in. But the movies and series based on her books? Meh. I watch them simply because they give a tiny Shadowhunter-fix despite the differences.

With this in mind, The Book Thief movie was a really pleasant surprise. Of course you need to simplify things and cut some corners when making a two hour movie from a novel, but this movie made it in a totally classy way. The movie was every bit as powerful of an experience as the book. It captured the atmosphere, the feeling of the story excellently. So for once I can truly honestly say: if you’re not really a reading person, at least watch the movie. It’s a story every person in this western world in the era of Trump et al. should read or watch. Just to *remember*.

3-year AN-niversary

Three years ago today it was Wednesday. At 6:45 I was sitting in the lobby of Töölö hospital right here in Helsinki, waiting for the lab to open so I could have my final labs taken before the surgery. At this time, 10:45 I was already way under, my head open, maybe two hours into the surgery. After everything went dark due to the anesthesia around eight, nearly ten hours passed before I opened my eyes again. I was already two hours out of the surgery, lying in the ICU, when I woke up to the urgent thought that I need to make dinner for the kids. I opened my eyes to a bright fluorescent lamp practically blinding me, thought “oh, nevermind then” and went back to sleep.

The next two, three days were a blur. I mostly slept, waking up enough to eat and talk with visitors for maybe five minutes at a time. Eventually I was forced up, to the toilet and to the shower and walking more and more each day. I was terrified at first, since simply sitting up gave me vertigo, but with each try, everything gradually got better. After five days in the hospital it was time to return home, to our house of three floors, where I could not avoid walking stairs if I wanted to. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing, recuperating my balance faster.

The first weeks were tough, the first of everything making me dizzy, but slowly but surely it all got better as my head got used to everything again. In no time I was taking our dog for walks again, I was driving again, I was going to the store again, I was able to shower properly again. Truly it felt to me like I was learning everything in life again. No part of normal life was a given anymore, and sometimes it felt like I’d never be the same again. I was reading about the new normal and tried to adjust.

Now, three years out of surgery, I am almost completely recuperated. My new normal is almost the same as my old normal. My balance in everyday life is as good as needed – sure, I gave up dancing from frustration due to balance issues – and the biggest nuisance is the SSD, the single-sided-deafness, but even that doesn’t bother me too much generally. I notice things like if I have been doing physical work (home renovations, yard work etc.) for a full day, I get so tired physically that I start to stumble and trip. Then again, I have always had the skill to trip on flat surfaces and bump into doors and whatnot. My mom used to call me “konkkelokoipi” when I was growing up. Basically it means clumsy in a bambi-like manner. I guess my AN just enhanced the skill ;)

it-takes-real-skill

As for the SSD, I remember the early weeks like yesterday. After the surgery my head had a constant hum inside, like there was a huge truck on idle inside. I thought I might just go crazy if it persisted, but it didn’t. Now the truck only visits my head after a particularily noisy or exhausting day. Sure, there is tinnitus all the time. but mostly I tend to forget all about it, ignoring it fully.

The first time I tried to watch a movie after the surgery, in our nice tv room with full surround 5-speaker home theater system, I burst out crying when I realised I could not make out a single word of the movie dialogue due to the separate speakers all around the room. I needed flat sound and even then, subtitles for support. Now, I have gotten used to watching everything with subtitles (English for hearing impaired or Finnish if the English is not available) and I don’t really think twice about it. I leave the volume adjustment to the fully hearing family members and that’s ok. Surprisingly enough, movie theaters are a pleasant experience and mostly I can actually follow the dialogue without reading the subtitles there.

I have also gotten used to asking people to switch places with me at lunch so that I can be at the correct corner to maximize my hearing abilities. With friends from work, I usually don’t even need to remind them of the reason, and even if I do, it’s enough to touch my deaf ear. Many of them remember anyway, sometimes even better than I do myself! I am not bothered by needing to tell strangers about my SSD either; I do it rather matter-of-fact and people are ok with that. And, when it gets real noisy and I simply cannot hear, I let the others know that now it’s impossible for me to hear. What happens then depends on the situation and how important it is for me to hear what they’re saying.

Maybe the most annoying thing about SSD in my opinion and experience is the inability to understand where a sound comes from. Like when I lose my phone (which happens frequently for I am aloof and just set it down *somewhere*) and I need other people to help me locate it even when I hear it ringing. Once this happened in a store… Or when I sit at a doctors’ office in the waiting room and then the doctor calls my name, from behind a corner (very bad practice in my opinion, by the way – note this if you happen to be a doctor!) and I have to ask the other patients where the call came from. Or when I call some family member at home and even they don’t bother to elaborate on their location. Highly frustrating!

ssd

Yet, all in all, like I already noted, I mostly feel completely recovered. I can walk, I can work, I can climb (walls and trees), I can dance (if not really able to advance like before), I lead a completely normal life. My stamina is not what it used to be – I tire very easily – but hey! at least I sleep way better than ever before, thanks to the bright side of the SSD: when my good ear is against the pillow, I don’t hear all those disturbing noises that used to wake me up before, as I am a very light sleeper by default.