The Rainy Road To Dublin

It’s been a week since I arrived home from two weeks abroad, and I’ve yet to write about the last leg of the journey:  Dublin.  Mea culpa. Being thrown back into normal life seems to have thrown me off-kilter slightly, but hopefully a week later I can still properly convey all those wonderful experiences packed into my last days in Ireland.

We only took one full day in Dublin, since we felt the hustle and bustle of a city under construction and 1916-centric tourism might be a bit too far from the relaxing finish we wanted to our two-week holiday (especially after Donegal and Galway).  Arriving on Monday afternoon from Galway after a rainy ride on the bus (and, indeed, a rainy week thus far in Ireland, which in September should be expected by anyone vaguely familiar with the Emerald Isle), Camille and I checked into our last Airbnb in Drumcondra, north of Dublin centre, before heading out on foot to Saint Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street.

Following four days of hearty full Irish breakfasts and pub grub on the West Coast, I dove with gusto into the Chinese vegetable stir-fry with tofu and shrimps alongside veggie noodles on our first night in Dublin.  Next morning, we parted ways in the city centre after breakfast at Murray’s on O’Connell Street, and I trotted off to the hallowed wooden doors of Trinity College to meet up with another old, dear friend and his wife.

Gary and Jenn welcomed me with open arms to Dublin, and we went on a grand adventure that lasted the entire day.  Starting with a visit to the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity so I could pay homage to the biggest research project of my undergraduate degree, we spent the day talking, laughing, and enjoying fantastic company, food, and beer.

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The barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, flanked with countless shelves groaning under the hallowed weight of old books of all shapes and sizes.

 

Though we did stop in at the fabled Foggy Dew, I didn’t actually touch a single drop of Guinness (*gasp*) whilst in Ireland — and that’s because I kept up in Ireland the trend I’d started in Sweden of drinking beers that aren’t readily available in Canada.  I did stick to darker beers though, from amber and brown ales to stouts and porters, and I don’t feel like I really missed out on a “proper” Guinness.  Guinness is everywhere in Montreal and my favourite pub serves the best pint of it in the city, so why try comparing when there are so many good ones to try that I won’t get at home?

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Kepler the stuffed German Shepherd poses with a pint of Buried At Sea, a complex and chocolaty stout from Galway Brewery. (@kep.the.shep on Instagram)

 

The final pint on this whirlwind tour of Irish beers was taken at The Black Sheep (61 Capel Street, Dublin Northside), rather late in the evening after a leisurely stroll up and down the Liffey. By the time we hugged goodnight and bid each other farewell at my Airbnb, I’d had a tour of Dublin City that most tourists don’t get.  It’s the kind where old friends who are practically family take you off the beaten paths of shopping districts and group tours visiting every historical site so that you can see their city.  Sure, you discover and experience new things together (excellent coffee in a boutique café or Mongolian food in the middle of the Temple Bar district, for example, or even a national treasure in Trinity College they haven’t gotten around to seeing yet) but for the most part you’ll circumvent the tourist traps and see a version of the city you won’t get on a bus tour.

But the best part of any trip that involves meeting up with lifelong friends is that not only do you arrive with a strong bond already there, you also leave with that bond reinforced to the point of it being a true bridge — a bridge that can be crossed in both directions, and a bridge that leads to a home on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  I left such a bridge between Montreal and Sweden, and now one between Montreal and Ireland joins it.

How truly wonderful it is to know that for me there’ll always be a road to Dublin that brings me over the Atlantic and the Liffey, right back to Gary and Jenn’s door.

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The Liffey at sunset, viewed from the Ha’penny Bridge…a beautiful end to a fantastic and full, rich day in the company of wonderful friends. 

‘Round the Salthill Prom

Once again, the only time I’ve found to write real posts is in transit — there’s not much else to do after a while when you’re only an hour in on a three-hour journey between one Irish city and the next.  We’re on our way to Dublin now, the last of five stops on our two-week journey through Sweden and Ireland.  I can’t believe how wonderful everything has been so far, and am excited to finally be in Dublin at the end of this adventure.

We’re leaving Galway today, and it was our longest stop in Ireland:  arriving on Friday afternoon, we then spent two full days in the small coastal city before boarding a bus this Monday morning at 10:30 to head onwards to the Republic’s capital. And what a lovely weekend it was, indeed.  Though we left Donegal in utterly miserable weather, it did clear up quite nicely by the time we got into Galway City on Friday afternoon and it lasted well into Saturday before the wind blew the clouds back in.  Sunday was full of blustery winds and clouds, although the rain didn’t come back until late last night.  So, weather-wise for the West Coast of Ireland, Galway was rather kind to us.

 

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Low tide below the Spanish Arches looking out onto Galway Bay.

If the Salthill looked anything like it did a couple of days ago when the girl from the song met the boy, I don’t blame him for falling madly in love with her right then and there.  I mean, look at it on a beautiful sunny morning:

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I do love Galway and am glad we took two full days in this small city.  Our B&B this time around did, naturally, include an Irish fry-up with black and white pudding — both of which proved that when done right, a breakfast pud can be quite tasty and highly enjoyable to eat. At any rate, we were always well-fed first thing in the morning and made ready for long hours of exploring.  And, for a city so small, there’s still lots to see and do.

This region is home to the world-famous Claddagh Ring — the heart, crown, and hands symbolizing love, loyalty, and friendship — and, as such, Galway City is full of souvenir shops selling this particular ware as well as numerous family-owned jewellery shops where the rings are still hand-crafted in small batches of each family’s distinct designs.  My travel partner got hers up at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold  and I found mine down at Claddagh & Celtic.  Wherever you do decide to get yours, one of these is probably your best bet for a fair price for hand-crafted silver and gold; other stores ranging from tourist shops to high-end jewellers didn’t seem to have quite the same caliber of quality for the prices listed, and either shop we went to you’ll be treated to the more intimate experience of meeting the crafters who make it their business, literally, to keep a strong Galway tradition alive and authentic.

If bookshops of the world are your thing, Charlie Byrne’s is your best bet.  With stock ranging from antique (World Book 1865, full set) to hot bestsellers from last week’s New York Times, and covering every topic, genre, and area of interest you can imagine, Charlie Byrne’s offers bookworms from all over a haven from tourist traps and large crowds.  Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves groan with knowledge and wonder and endless hours of potential.  This is where I found a beautiful green leather-bound edition of the works of Tennyson for the princely sum of €4.  Given more time, money, and room in my luggage I would have bought more. Way more.

As with any tourist stop in Ireland, Galway is full of pubs and restaurants. We took two dinners at The Daíl Bar for our Ireland pub-grub-and-pint fix, and one dinner at Eastern Tandoori to break up Isles meat-and-stodge with the aromatic spices and tender meats of Indian cuisine.  Both are equally enjoyable (the seafood chowder at the Daíl is amazing and chock-full of sea-fresh fare, while classic dishes like balti and patala at Eastern Tandoori are flavourful masterpieces that serve as a lovely departure from pub f00d).  On a longer trip with a deeper pocketbook, there are many other places dubbed “foodie stops” for you to try, and so if you do go to Galway City I’d highly encourage you to look up the restaurants online and try a few new ones for yourself as well.

On Sunday after Mass at the Galway Cathedral I had “alone time” in the city, and I had vague romantic notions of going down to the Salthill and finding a large rock on the beach upon which to perch and write some postcards and more entries in my travel journal.  However, the wind literally blew all those fancies out of my head as soon as I hit the Salthill, and I made a valiant effort indeed in walking as far as I did on the beach before making a hasty retreat back into town towards hot tea — and, because bracing oneself against gales off the sea actually does use up a lot of energy, a nice lunch.

My travel companion has been to Galway before and already knew some of its delicious secrets — in the case of Cupán Tae, quite literally – and I’m happy that she was eager to share them with me. In the case of this cosy, shabby-chic tea house facing the bay, I was so enamoured after one round of hot tea and fruit scones that after coming back form the Salthill on Sunday afternoon I beelined straight for the shop to enjoy another full pot of tea, a scone sandwich, and a slice of carrot cake during a long, leisurely lunch. Heaven on Earth does exist if you look hard enough, and I’m rather convinced that a corner of it is to be found at Cupán Tae.

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A pot of Emerald Isle brew (black tea with notes of whiskey and cocoa, followed by a creamy vanilla finish) and fruit scones for round one at Cupán Tae.

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Ham-and-cheese sandwich served with greens, red onion, and tomato on a savoury rosemary scone — perfect for lunch with a pot of Dreamy Creamy Galway bend (black tea with roasted coffee beans and jasmine flowers, with a creamy-smooth and aromatic finish).

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What else do you do when you’ve finished your lunch but still have half a pot of tea left?  Indulging in a slice of homemade carrot cake was a perfect way to finish my solo experience at Cupán Tae.  It came highly recommended by one of the serves who hailed it as her favourite slice in the whole shop, and I’m inclined to agree with her.  www.cupantae.eu for more info and to order online, if you can’t wait to get there in person, and @cupantaegalway for social media.

All in all, Galway was good to us — so good, in fact, that it will definitely be a permanent stop on all future tours of the Emerald Isle I’ll be taking in the future.  As we head into Dublin for the final stretch of our journey, I’m leaving Galway with many fond memories and the added bonus of seeing this small city in the September sunshine.

 

Discovering Donegal

And so, we are in Ireland.  Precisely, at the time I’m writing this we’re somewhere in the countryside between Donegal and Galway. Having bussed our way through the North from Dublin to Donegal on Wednesday afternoon, I’m taking a break from watching green fields dotted with cattle and sheep and the occasional pony in order to catch up on blogging and photo editing.  When I need time to collect my thoughts into some coherent expression, the rolling grey clouds above patchwork greens provides a calming focal point for my wild, excited mind.

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We stayed in Donegal two nights and one full day, arriving in the early evening of Wednesday and leaving late this Friday morning.  True to stereotype, it’s been rainy the whole time; on-and-off at the very best during the daytime and rather steadily once evening sets in.

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Abbey ruins provide a unique site for a cemetery, and this one actually also looks over the water.

Nonetheless, we’ve made quite a solid go of Ireland so far. I’ve even managed to find a little piece of Ireland for everyone back home on my souvenirs list, including a small token for my boyfriend’s parents so that I won’t arrive empty-handed when I finally get to meet them in October. As for my own self, a pop into a shop just off the main square (called The Diamond) called Wool’n’Things yielded two skeins of fine, locally grown-and-spun Donegal tweed in heather purple and forest green, and a pair of crimson wristlets of the same woollen tweed to wear over Pharmaprix HotPaws gloves back home in Montreal this winter.  I much preferred Wool’n’Things to the other larger souvenir shops on The Diamond proper, mostly because the old proprietor of Wool’n’Things indulged my curiosity to learn more about Donegal wool and brought me back into the storeroom to help me find end-of-batch skeins to buy and knit up myself once I’m home.

Staying in a proper Irish bed-and-breakfast is also something I highly recommend when you get it into your head to visit a small town over here and really want a “local” experience.  Forego the larger hotels in the town centres and find yourself a place like Haywood’s B&B that’ll serve you a full Irish breakfast and provide you with insider opinions on where to go and what to buy in town.  At Haywood’s in particular, an en-suite room provided us a lovely balance of privacy when we needed downtime when paired with chatting in the common dining room with other guests and the proprietors during the course of breakfast.

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Visit the Olde Castle Bar for hearty fare (like wild venison pie or the pub staple of fish-and-chips) and a pint of Donegal Brewing Co’s Red Hugh Pale Ale, or pop into Dom’s Pier One for live Irish music every night of the summer season, a bowl of seafood chowder caught off the coast just a few miles down, and a pint of more Donegal Brewing Co’s craft beer (the Atlantic Amber Ale comes highly recommended).

But most importantly, while you’re in Donegal make sure to take a stroll along the Blue Stack Way, and best be sure to take it at a leisurely pace.  Rugged wild Ireland is, after all, a place of mysteries and old ways; you never know when you might bump into them.

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“…for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

Leonardo, writing in Italy on the subject of man taking flight, was still right:  once you’ve been somewhere and found more of yourself and your heart outside of wherever you call “home,” you’ll always want to go back.

And so it is with Sweden.  A few days now into Ireland and I’m still catching up with photo editing and journalling, and therefore still stuck on Sweden particularly in terms of my writing.  My heart is happy to be on the Emerald Isle at long last, but it’s also already yearning to beat once again in time with Swedens’s old, wise heart.  Luckily for me, my other half is looking forward to coming along next time, and I’ll only be too happy to oblige and indulge his own curiosities by bringing him back to places in Stockholm and Falun that I found and fell in love with on my own.

After returning to Stockholm from our weekend “at home” in Falun, we spent much of our time once again in Gamla Stan as well as Djugården Island, the former to revisit some of the more interesting and peculiar shops we’d discovered on our first outing as well as to visit the Kungligastottet (the Royal Palace) and the latter to see the Vasa Museum. We were blessed once more with beautiful weather and countless more discoveries and little marvels along the way.

As we drive now through a rainy Irish countryside to make more memories and gain new experiences of the world, images of “my” Stockholm keep a firm hold on the pieces of my heart that I found there.  I say “my” Stockholm for the way it was when I first walked upon its venerable stones will never be that way again; I will return to this northern city more knowledgeable of its ways and privy to some of its secrets, and I’m sure I will always find something new to love there — but it will be like coming back to a familiar friend who has also grown and changed in the interim, and therefore Stockholm as she showed herself to me when I first met her will always be uniquely mine.

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View of Strandvägen from Djurgårdsbron, the bridge that takes you from Stockholm proper into Djurgården.

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Stockholm, you are beautiful! 

 

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One of the quirkier shops in Gamla Stan. We don’t know its name or how anyone manages to find something to buy in here or how it’s still open. It’s as if everyone in Sweden came with a box from the attic and dumped it out in this shop.

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One of my favourite window displays ever, in any city I’ve ever been in!  A candy shop called Polkagris Kokeri in Gamlastsan (Lilla Nygatan 10) combines old books, vintage luggage, and greenery with their home-made candies and confections to create an eye-catching, whimsical, and utterly beautiful display.  @gamlastanpolkagriskokeri on Instagram for photos, and http://www.gamlastanpolkagriskokeri.se for more info.

A weekend at “home”

Early on Saturday morning, my travelling companion and I boarded a train at Stockholm Central that was heading for the town of Falun.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who fly Stockholm, especially for the first time, don’t necessarily plan on taking two days out of their trip to Sweden’s capital to go see a town two hours out into the countryside, but we did — because a very old, very dear, and very special friend of mine lives there.

I’ve known him for more than half my life, yet this weekend was the first time we ever actually met face-to-face. But from the first hello and long-expected hug to the last good-bye and one last hug to last us until next time, I felt like I had gone home for the weekend.

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Not actually outside his place, but rather by the entrance of an adorable little bed-and-breakfast in the former miners’ district near the Falun Mine. Half of them were torn down in the 1960s or thereabouts, and the half that survived are now cosy, but rather pricey, homes for Falun families.  The horse figure here is actually known as the Dala Häst, or Dalarna Horse, and is a prevalent souvenir option for sale in Swedish gift shops.

Not only is there a lovely old soul in this town, but the town itself is also a lovely old soul.  We three spent most of our waking hours talking and walking through Falun on impromptu tours from his apartment to the Falu Gruva (the Falun Mine) or through church graveyards (the “Old Church” couldn’t contain the town’s population at one point, so sometime in the early half of the 1600s construction began on the “New Church”).  All along the way, we were walking in the middle of the town’s streets flanked on either side by quiet houses, many of which were painted in failuröd – a distinct reddish-brown shade of paint made from the run-off of the Mines that’s composed of iron ochre, flour, and oil.

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“We haven’t really seen many people…so…what are all the Swedish people doing on a Sunday?” — “Mostly…minding their own business.”

After the hectic day-and-a-half journey from Montreal to Stockholm and a long amble through Gamla Stan, our weekend in Falun really was a lovely escape that brought us right into the tranquil, beautiful heart of Sweden and her people.  But the best part of all was finally having the chance to spend time with two of the best, most wonderful friends anyone could ever ask for, including one whose heart of gold was the reason why I insisted we trek out to this small town whose heart beats thanks to copper.

It’s strange how a place so far from where you live can feel familiar even though it’s entirely new to you.  Part of the reason was that as we were walking through Falun he was telling us the town’s story, and how intimately he knows and how deeply he loves his home came through in the narrative he gave of its old, long life.  There’s something truly transformative and magical about having a tour guide with personal connections to you as well as to the town, instead of one who’s just paid to do it as a job.  The other part of it was that, having known and talked to him for more than half my life, any conversation to be had over the weekend was merely a face-t0-face continuation of a stream of chatter that’s continuously flowed since some time in 2002.

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Maybe not everyone is as lucky as I am to be able to “go home for the weekend” while on vacation abroad, but certainly if you’ve got a long haul in Sweden it’s worth it to take a train into Falun and take in the many little marvels (as well as the one grand marvel that is the Falu Gruva) it has to show you.  I’m highly aware of how fortunate I am to have many reasons to go back to Falun on my next journey into Sweden, and how one of them can give me a hug when I set foot back in this beautiful town again.  I’ve found a big piece of myself on its quiet streets and in its unbroken, dramatic sky, and I’m sure there’s more to find down the road.

A full, rich day

We slept in on Friday morning — a well-earned lie-in, because ever since Wednesday evening we’d been on the move from YUL through CDG to ARL, not to mention getting into Danderyd via Stockholm (roundabout, to say the least).  Our first Airbnb booking for Sweden turned out to be a studio apartment renovated from a basement mudroom off the garage of a quaint yellow family home.  Danderyd, being a rather affluent Swedish suburb, offered us quite a scenic walk from our rental to the Tunnelbana in Mörby Centrum.   Getting between Central Stockholm and Danderyd was much easier on Friday compared to navigating the system on Thursday, and on Friday once we hit Central Stockholm we walked down from the station into Gamla Stan.

Oh, Gamla Stan!  I love the “old town” of cities, and make it a point not only to visit my own in MTL often but to also explore those of the few other places I’ve been to during my shorter travels.  There’s something exhilarating about being in such an old place: older than any city I’ve ever walked in, as its earliest strata is somewhere in the 13th Century while most of what’s visible now dates from the 16th and 17th.  As Elizabeth Kostova wrote in The Historian,  For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”  

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These #leadinglines in #Stockholm, #Sweden that I found in #GamlaStan along #Skeppsbrokajen show my first steps on roads older than anything I’ve ever known back home in Canada, maybe even including Canada itself… A loving reminder from this #venerable #city to a #young #traveler:  to trust the journey, to bloom where she is planted, to always remember that the #curiosity of a hungry mind and a wild heart can only be satisfied by actually going out there and doing something to gain #knowledge.  

 

As this was our first full day in the environs of Stockholm before heading into central Sweden for the weekend, we were quite pleased that the weather blessed us with lots of sunshine and a bit of a breeze for our hours-long stroll through Gamla Stan.  After numerous times reminding each other that “we have time – we’re on vacation” my companion and I finally let go of any vague notions of an actual itinerary and just wandered through narrow cobbled streets, popping in and out of stores as we pleased and even picking up a few things on the way.

After walking down and seeing about six or seven “cafés” we clued in that around here, it seems that the word is used to describe a place that serves coffee as well as real bistro menus, we finally settled on stopping at an actual “just coffee” shop.  We had our first official Swedish fika at a café at Stora Nygatan 6 — Naturbageriet Sattva — where you can find organic pastries (including gluten-free, sugar-free, and even a few vegan options), pretty good coffee and tea, and a cosy table for two inside or out.  We opted for outside, enjoying coffees and a cinnamon roll as we chatted and people-watched during a long, long fika.  I myself had nearly forgotten the pleasures afforded by long coffees with old friends, and by the time we were ready to hit the stones once more I felt refreshed and bright.

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A little ways down the road, we stumbled upon a boutique selling household linen products that proudly bore the phrase, “Made in Sweden.”  Knowing my BigSis is back home planning her future nest with her fiancé, I had to stop in and take a closer look at what was afforded at HAPPYsthlm, Stora Nygatan 36. I ended up buying her two tea towels, both made from a lightweight pure cotton, one of which in a navy-blue and bright tomato-red print of birds and florals that seems to be one of the shop’s signature designs.  Not only was it on household linens of all sizes, but also on other products inside including various forms of stationery and ready-to-frame prints.

 

After lunching on a park bench across from the Riddarhuset, we took a roundabout route back down Stora Nygatan to Skeppsbrokajen, circling up around the eastern side of Gamla Stan past the Royal Palace.  Crossing over Strömbron, we strolled through the Kungsträdgården where my knowledge of Swedish kings (gained from the odd mixture of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex and my own mother’s hobby of studying world royalties) came in rather handy.

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Karl XII / Charles XII of Sweden — also known as Carolus Rex.  He ruled from 1697 to 1718, from the age of 15 until death by bullet to the head.  To this day it’s unclear whether enemy or friendly fire ended his reign, during which he was known for his moral austerity and brilliant campaigning on the battlefield.  A staunch believer in the Divine Right, his death marked the end of autocratic rule in Sweden and was followed swiftly by the Age of Liberty. 

Nearly 20 000 steps later, we made it back to Danderyd where we passed the evening editing photos, discussing further all the sights we had seen, and planning out our next day’s worth of travelling.  In fact, I’m tucked safely into my seat on the train towards Falun, where we’ll arrive soon to spend the weekend with an old, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for literally half my life but have never yet met.  I’m excited beyond words to finally make a face-to-face connection with him, as over the years he’s been a loyal and kind soul through my most difficult experiences.

So far this vacation has been so much more than just “time away” from both of my jobs.  It’s been about discovering more of my truest and best self, about finally turning dreams into reality, and about bringing the best of what I’ve already experienced in life with me to get the most out of what’s new.  It might be rather rainy and  chilly right now outside the train window, but my heart is warm and cosy.  This trip has been everything I wanted it to be, and more besides, and that bodes well for the remainder.

Good thing, too, as I’m flying home from Dublin on the 14th!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

The Food of Love

Most of my defining moments happened around the family dinner table, mainly because my parents raised my siblings and me on a steady diet of hearty home-cooked meals eaten as a single family unit every night of the week.  The family dinner table was where I learned life skills like the art of conversation, proper mealtime etiquette, and how to appreciate every morsel of food put in front of me — especially when I did not like it.  It was also where I learned how to value the time and effort of others, and how to give back to them in kind.

The dinner table of my childhood still stands in my mother’s home today and is a stately piece carved from narra wood, the national tree of the Philippines, that my parents shipped over from the Philippines to Canada when we emigrated in 1992.  I find it rather poignant and highly suitable that a Filipino family gathered daily around a table made from our homeland’s national tree, especially considering that everyone who’s taken a seat around it has helped build and strengthen the bridge between the old world and the new.

No matter where they started, family discussions always ended around the dinner table.  Get-togethers with friends and extended family also inevitably ended there, particularly during the summer months when the conversations of day-long barbecues outlasted the last encore of crickets.  Holidays never really saw us leaving it, except of course to clear away empty serving dishes and dirty plates only to return with more food and clean flatware. We ate around it as a family in both immediate and extended forms, adding not one but two leaves on countless occasions to accommodate more guests.  As a baby my nephew crawled on it in between mealtimes, we older folks standing on all sides to keep him from zooming off its polished top; as a toddler, he crawled and then ran under it before whacking his head one day on the edge.  Our dogs sat beneath it as we ate, often indulging in morsels that fell (or were surreptitiously held) under it.  We presented new friends and partners to one another around it, the “others” sizing “us” up against the yardsticks which we ourselves had measured our own progress as sociable human beings.  ((And, when not in use for its original function, my mother used it to sew clothes and curtains and sheets while we put together school projects.))

Nowadays, eating out is a slightly more frequent occurrence than it used to be during my youth and I don’t get many chances to join my mother and BigSis (and now, her boyfriend) around any table, but the family dinner is still integral to our relationship.  More recently than my BigSis, I too have started bringing my own new boyfriend along to dinner, and seeing his face around our table along with the faces of those who know me and love me best warms my heart immensely.

Last week we all went out to Junior, a Filipino restaurant on Rue Notre-Dame .  It was a grand occasion, mostly because MiddleSis and Nephew are in town as well.  As a kid I grew up desperately wanting to eat the North American fare that my classmates and neighbour-kids always tucked into instead of the dishes of islands I couldn’t even remember, but these days my more matured palate can’t get enough of the flavours and textures packed into Filipino food. I love the crisp saltiness of lechon kawali mixing with the tangy sweetness of Mang Tomas sauce; the heat and crunch of a sizzling sisig tempered only slightly by mayo and white rice; the limey zing of a fried bangus served whole, minus the needle-sharp bones of course.  Even the alarmingly sweetness and chewiness of sticky suman dipped into matamis na bao or the cold crunch of shaved ice mixed with ice cream, evaporated milk, sweet beans, young coconut flesh, fruit jellies, and jackfruit – in other words, halo-halo – seem to hit the spot on my cravings so much more accurately than North American desserts these days.

What  I loved most about this latest outing to Junior was that my new boyfriend – an Xth generation Quebecois from Sherbrooke whose Irish, French, and German roots stretch back a few centuries – is a good eater who thoroughly enjoyed the best of my homeland’s cuisine.  Of course it helps immensely that Junior is hands-down the best Filipino food you can get in the city, but even the greatest  and tastiest dishes can be lost on an unappreciative palate. I’ve witnessed it before with past boyfriends:  the polite smile with a barely-discernible trace of apprehension or even dismay at what’s on the Filipino table; the thinly-veiled suspicion of any meat that isn’t instantly recognizable as beef, pork, chicken, or fish; the staunch refusal to even try one mouthful of something new.  That is definitely not the case with this one, which in my book makes him a true keeper.

My family is somewhat leery of picky eaters, and not without good reason. Clearly, since I’ve just spent a few hundred words on the subject, our family dinner is a sacred and precious ritual, and those we invite to partake in food, drink, and company are not only invited to witness them but are indeed being welcomed into our family’s most intimate and telling moments.

But for me, having grown up with one foot in Canada and one occasionally still on the boat back to the Philippines, it means the world to have a non-Filipino partner with whom I can share my cultural roots on every level – especially when it comes to the weird food I have grown to love and re-adopt as “my own.”

The story of my family was written around that narra table; the story of the Philippines, by Spain’s use of the islands as a gateway to the New World.  In both cases food played a huge role in the shaping of such narratives, the exploration and development of which appeal to me as both an amateur writer and as an enthusiastic food-lover.  I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky and rather blessed to have grown up at a table that always had homemade meals upon it, especially from a cuisine that like the table itself was brought over from the home islands to the True North, Strong and Free more than twenty years ago.  And I certainly can’t help but feel extremely proud to share that table now, in all its laden groaning glory, with a person who will add his own words – his own chapter of the story – to that warm and loving narrative.

Shakespeare called music the food of love, but in this family the food of love is the food itself as well as the company we keep when we partake of it around our narra table.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #1: Fitness, Aunties, and Podcasts

One of my current favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, finishes with a segment called “What’s making us happy this week.” The presenters go around the table to share the little things in today’s culture and society that, as the segment title suggests, make them happy.

Inspired yet again by NPR and in another attempt to keep my writing somewhat on track, I’m getting a bit of a jumpstart on my blog resolutions (‘tis the season!) by adding a new ongoing series: In Pursuit of Happiness. I’m aiming to have it be a Monday post, just to add a little bit of love and cheer to the day of the week that inarguably has the worst rep ever.

So, here’s what’s making me happy this week:

Early-morning workouts:  Every Monday morning since September, I’ve been getting up at 5:00AM to make it to the gym in time for a one-hour circuit training course that starts at 6:15. It’s a combination of strength and cardio training, usually done in two half-hour segments of a Tabata-style warmup followed by a CrossFit-style workout. I actually do this twice a week, the second round being on Wednesdays, but there are a few reasons why I’ve learned to love my (brutal and ridiculously) early morning workout.

Those of you who know me are well-aware that I’m so not a morning person, but my crazy work schedule means that 6:15AM at the very beginning of the work week is the only time I’m going to get in an hour of gym time on Mondays. However, nobody else seems to be driven by this particular circumstance, so I’m the only one who shows up. I essentially get an extra hour per week with my personal trainer, which means the Monday session is usually tailored to complement my regular training program (and she even works out with me sometimes to help keep my motivation up).  This blast of intense physical activity right at the beginning of my work week energizes me and gets me into the right mindset to keep up my fitness journey through the rest of the week.

And, oh my goodness, all the “body gains” that I’m starting to see from this are all so freakin’ worth it. I’ll be making a separate post about this entirely, but for now all I’ll say is that until last week I had never in my entire life experienced the utter joy of trying on a fitted dress and having it zip all the way up the back.

My “aunties” in Montreal:  It’s easier to refer to my brother-in-law’s mother, my brother-in-law’s aunt, and the neighbor lady in my mom’s building as my “aunties.” They’re all women of respectable age who have lived fascinating lives, and I’ve found that one of the simplest but most fulfilling little pleasures of my life is spending some time with them. Two Sundays ago, Auntie S (my mother’s neighbor) and I spent an afternoon looking around the arts centre where I do pottery, followed by exploring a new gourmet grocery in Griffintown called Le Richmond and then a quick coffee-and-croissant at Mamie Clafoutis on Notre-Dame. This weekend, my oldest sister and I had lunch with Auntie N and Auntie K at our family’s favourite Greek restaurant, Nostos (where they serve best fried calamari ever).

Most Millennials I know find it weird that I would willingly spend some of my few precious free hours with “old people,” but if you spent even just an hour with any one of these three women I think you’d see why I do it. Their lives are rich and full to bursting with stories – stories of another time and another world, and of women born between the World Wars who defied convention to establish successful careers, live independently, and see the world.  Having lived and grown in the midst of social upheavals and cultural revolutions, and in spite of gender-based barriers, these women are living examples of the advice found in one of my favourite TED quotes:

“Forge meaning, build identity, and then invite the world to share your joy.”
– Andrew Solomon

Welcome to Night ValeIt’s a known fact by now that I don’t listen to music at my desk job – audiobooks and podcasts are my aural entertainment of choice when I’m working for The Man. I thoroughly enjoy soaking up knowledge and culture through NPR’s many projects (TED Radio Hour, TED Talks, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Ask Me Another) and I always discover something new when I listen to any given episode of any given podcast. In fact, Ask Me Another led me to Welcome to Night Vale a couple of weeks ago, and I simply cannot get enough of it.

It’s difficult to explain Welcome to Night Vale in so many words. The premise of the show is that it’s the community news bulletin for a desert-bound town – but it’s a town where the outrageous, paranormal, and unconventional are, in fact, completely normal. When something out of Night Vale’s version of ordinary happens, however, listeners will discover that the weird, odd, and quirky people of Night Vale are strangely just like us in many ways. They live, laugh, love, and learn; they come together as a community in the face of threats and adversity; they adopt cats and go on dates and deal with family dramas and live in barely-masked fear and wariness of all levels of governmental authority.

You kind of have to experience it for yourself to understand the extent of its awesomeness.

As a plus, the “Weather” segment of each podcast episode is a song from an indie or underground musician, and I’ve discovered some pretty cool tunes as a result. And, as an even bigger plus, there’s also a Welcome to Night Vale novel out now.

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So, there you have it – the things making me happy this week! I hope you all have a lovely one ahead, and I’ll see you back here next Monday to share more small steps taken in the pursuit of happiness.

Love over everything else

The United States legalized gay marriage nationwide today, and I’m not afraid to say that I’ve hit “Like” on more than one friend’s status update and on more than one news service’s headline about this social milestone.

I’m also not above sharing the fact that a person I’ve known and called a friend for some time now sent me a text message asking me why on earth would I give this breaking news a thumbs-up, remarking by way of justification that,

“…it’s wrong and goes against what we believe in, and as a woman who someday wants a family you ought to think hard about how this threatens your future position as a mother in a society that accepts this sort of thing.  Your hypocrisy is disappointing, to say the least. ”

Anyone who follows this blog knows I wear my faith and my views on my sleeve, and I do tend to get a lot of mixed feedback about doing so.  That’s only to be expected, though, since the Internet is public — but that’s besides the point.  Of all the negative messages I’ve received about my more worldly views, this is probably the one that angers and hurts me the most.

It’s not just because I have a lot good friends who are homosexual and a few who are bisexual.  It’s not just because  a good friend of mine is a heterosexual whose divorced parents are both now with same-sex partners.  It’s not just because one of my closest friends came out to me before they came out to anyone else, including their own parents.  It’s not just because a dear friend of mine is searching for a way to make their homosexuality coincide with their faith, determined not to give up or abandon either one because they believe both are equally important to who they are as an individual.

It’s also because I have never, ever believed in using my sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or gender to say that I am in any way “better” or “holier” or “more deserving” than anyone else – and it pains me to know that members of my faith community (both immediate and extended) so easily forget what the Lord says about love.

And He has quite a lot to say on the subject, but perhaps the most familiar points to just about anyone  are, “Let those without sin cast the first stone,” as well as, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”  He also asked us to, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Oh, and while we’re considering those points, it would serve us all in good stead to remember that “Christian” means “follower of Christ,” and “Catholic” means “universal.”

Thus…

Is it truly Christian or Catholic for any person or group of people to say that those who are “different” aren’t worthy of the same rights, privileges, and advantages which “the norm” may claim unopposed?  Do we truly love others as we have been loved by an infinitely wise and loving Creator when we use that same Creator’s words against people who are in some way, shape, or form not exactly like us?  Can we really say we believe love is the greatest virtue when we allow our faith and beliefs and ideologies to get in the way of everyone being able to share their lives with other people in freedom and security?

If being a follower of Christ means following His example in daily life and if being made in God’s image means reflecting some measure His infinite love, then the hypocrisy lies not in being supportive of friends and/or family members whose lives are remarkably different than our own.  The hypocrisy lies in viewing anyone who isn’t heterosexual – and therefore supposedly “normal” – as being unworthy of acceptance, friendship, support, and yes, love. 

And that’s because the bottom line about humanity in this faith, the very heart of this belief system, is that our God became human so that He could die for all of humanity.  The Incarnation and the Crucifixion did not occur to save a select handful of souls, but rather every soul.  That is the extent of Divine Love, and nothing of human design or conception – not even the most deeply entrenched prejudices or misconceptions concerning the diverse complexity of any aspect of humanity – can change that.

Translating the Untranslatable: What Filipinos are Really Saying (Part One)

The Finnish have a word for people like me:  pilkkunusija.  In English, we’d say “Grammar Nazi” and – believe it or not – that’s actually the polite term.  But there’s so much more to the Finnish term than any English idiom can encompass.

Now, because my mother and other people’s mothers read my blog from time to time, I feel somewhat awkward in telling all of you the streetwise translation – so if you’re curious, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the new page.  For those of you still here, the mother-friendly translation for a pilkunnusija is —

“A person who believes it is their destiny to stamp out all spelling and punctuation mistakes at the cost of popularity, self-esteem, and mental well-being.”

For a logophilic pilkunnusija such as myself, knowing that one can so succinctly wrap all of that into a single word is simply mind-blowing…and it makes me wonder if there’s a word to describe people like my friend from Lyon, France, who loves pointing out almost every time we talk that “English is so imprecise” (complete with a sigh and a roll of the eyes on the italics).  As frustrating as he is in such moments, in true French form he is quite level-headed and rational…and I have to admit that I do think he has a point.  English falls terribly short of the mark when it comes to having single words that encompass so much more than one aspect of life.

To my nerdy chagrin, I must admit that discovering new weird words in foreign languages is probably one of my life’s little guilty pleasures.  The more I think about it, though, the more it makes sense and the more I embrace that part of myself.  You see, I’m a naturalised Canadian. Sure, I’ve assimilated pretty well (and that’s to expected, since we landed in Canada when I was only two years old).  I will bleed maple syrup if you cut me open – but that’s because I’ve had transfusions.  If you put it under a microscope, you’ll see that my blood is actually also part patis (a brown, salty, and smelly sauce made from fish that is a staple condiment of Filipino cuisine).  Ethnic food aside, though, in any cross-cultural child’s life there is an issue of language.  There are several posts out there in the blogiverse that compile untranslatable Filipino words, so it probably seems trite of me to be writing one of my own.  However, while I grew up hearing the adults of my family speak Tagalog, I never actually learned to speak it myself.

What I know and understand of Tagalog has been stewing in my brain for the last twenty-three-and-a-half years, and most of it was learned through constant immersion without any English aid.  Basically, growing up was sometimes like watching a foreign film without any subtitles:  whenever Tagalog was used around me, I pretty much had to take into consideration body language, tone and volume of voice, and environmental indicators to understand what was going on.  For example, when sternly asked one time by my mother if I knew the meaning of tigas ng ulo, my four-year-old self promptly replied, “Messy and bad!”

Well, actually, it means “hard-headed,” but it always came up in discourse concerning the disaster I called my bedroom.  As you can see, my whitewashed brain has built some pretty interesting linguistic bridges between English and Tagalog – simply because I’ve had to spend most of my life explaining to my non-Filipino friends what these words mean without actually knowing Tagalog.  While most of my puti friends have come to accept and love the quirky side of me that sometimes throws random Tagalog words into conversations, there’s a New Person in my life for whom a deeper understanding of these words is vital to their survival.  And if I’m going to go through the effort of translating key words and phrases for them, I might as well share the love with all of you.

(By the way, puti literally means “white.”  It can be used to describe anything animal, vegetable, or mineral that actually is white, but is also used in reference to people who are not from the Mother Island or any sort of physically identifiable ethnicity.)

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LESSON ONE:  THE FAMILY

Because Tagalog is often described as untranslatable in its entirety and because I don’t speak it fluently, I’ll have to break this crash course into smaller modules of related vocabulary.

So, let’s start with family-centric terminology.  The Filipino culture is based on an obsession with hierarchies, so it’s only natural that the nuclear family has a rigid hierarchy of its own.  Multi-children families in all cultures have a distinct “pecking order” but we Filipinos actually take it to a whole new level.

I am the youngest of five, which makes me the bunso.  In English, this would be “baby of the family,” but there’s so much more to the Tagalog term than mere birth order.  To be the bunso is to be forever free and easy, always coasting through life on the charms and wiles that youngest children have engrained in their psyche.  To be the bunso means you’re never taken seriously because you’ll always be super kulit and nakatiwangwang (more on these two later).  The bunso is chattel for much longer than the others, even if they get delusions of grandeur into their head and move out when they’re clearly not ready to.  And, being a bunso, I will always resent this while simultaneously loving it.  When somebody uses, “Oh, they’re the bunso” as an explanation for behavioural ticks or outbursts, all of what you’ve just read is immediately implied by the one offering the explanation and acknowledged by the one receiving it.

Alright, let’s take a breather.

All good?  Okay.  On to the siblings who rank higher than the bunso:  the kuya and the ate.  If you’re lucky enough to be born in a position that gives you this ranking (basically, if you’re not dead last and thus a bunso), you’ve got it made.

A kuya, or oldest brother, is not just the firstborn son.  If a son is the kuya everyone knows exactly what that means as soon as the word is mentioned.  The kuya has paternal authority over the younger kids when Papa’s not around, and I’ve briefly touched upon that before.  The kuya is a protector and a mentor, and even if he seems to throw you under the bus during public shaming, in private he usually ends up taking all the hits for you because he’s supposed to the one keeping you out of trouble.

However, the ate (oldest sister) has supreme power over the brood, especially if she happens actually be the oldest child.  She’s not just the firstborn daughter:  she, like the kuya, has a title that embodies everything that she is.  To simply translate ate as “oldest sister” is an insult to them all.  The ate is the right hand of the gods known as Papa and Mama. The ate will get into the most crap for her younger siblings’ transgressions because she is responsible for all of them.  But a younger child would never dare put the ate in such a position knowingly, because she’s a demi-goddess. She has the power to be judge and jury of her own volition whether or not Papa and Mama are around to do it themselves.  That’s right – in a Filipino family, your oldest sister has the power to ground you.

Now, the bunso can usually get away with it if they don’t tack the title onto the kuya’s name, but Heaven can’t help them if they forget to address the ate as such.  And this doesn’t apply exclusively to biological siblings, either.  A good bunso will inform their Significant Other of this; in turn, the Significant Other will obligingly add the word ate to their everyday vocabulary.  Plus, it’s not just the bunso with a butt on the line here:  it’s everyone who’s not the ate. 

I’ve mentioned three expressions already that Filipino parents apply to their children:  tigas ng ulo, kulit, and nakatiwangwang, and you already know what the first of this trifecta means.  Now, kulit can be simply translated as “pesky” or “annoying” – but of course, it’s inadequate.  It’s word that covers a wide range of actions:  where my puti crew has to be specific with their younger siblings (“Get out of my room!”  “Stop following me around!” etc.), my older siblings only need one phrase to cover every scenario:  “Stop making me kulit!”  Therefore, to make somebody kulit is to follow them around, to hover incessantly, to ask so many unnecessary questions, and to do everything else that makes an annoying person so annoying.

Filipino parents use nakatiwangwang to describe either one of two things:  the first being a physical state of something or someone; the second, the manner in which one conducts oneself.  In either case, nakatiwangwang can be described in English as “having everything bursting out of something,” or “the way a place looks when somebody’s broken in and ransacked everything.”  This can describe a child’s bedroom or the living room (sala) when everyone’s playing in it, but it can also be used when somebody is taking up the entire couch or spilling their guts to everyone who enters the room.

Of course, every family has its share of disagreements and squabbles.  Filipino families have a certain propensity towards fierce arguments, and we prefer to use raised voices rather than physical altercations to settle them.  And there’s always that one member of the family who totally loses it in the heat of the moment.  We call this state nagjujuramentado.  Now, in English you’d probably describe this as acting like “a chicken with its head cut off” or “going on and on and on” or “running around in circles” but – you guessed it – it’s actually a lot more than that.  It includes all of those things and more besides, because nagjujuramentado is a way to describe somebody who is uncontrollably emotional, who is experiencing a Chernobyl-esque meltdown over nothing, who is in a terrifying berserker rage, who cannot be reasoned with and will only stop once they’re dead (and you might have to kill them for this to happen).

*          *          *

Now, go have some merienda (a snack between meals – that is a meal unto itself – often taken in the afternoon when one gets home from school).  You’ve earned it after all of this – and make sure you get back into time for Lesson Two!