Dublin Conundrum

So now I’m in Dublin, slowly heading home. Here’s my newcomer’s observations: Dublin is a city of contradictions. I’ve seen a nun in Birkenstocks, a man driving a horse and buggy while talking on a cell phone, a lady who had to move to England to divorce her pub-loving husband but many pairs of men holding hands, a bedraggled 1940’s boy scout canteen from North Bend Washington being sold for twenty euro in a flea market, the word “authentic” on everything that isn’t. 

Dublin looks as if its fashion-consultants were all alternative high schoolers in Seattle in the ’90’s. Lots of black lipstick, hair dyed the color of cherry lollypops, short dresses and frumpy sweaters, everything a little loud and a little awkward, like it’s a statement as much as an expression of natural grace.

I went to hear some traditional music in a pub outside the tourist district a couple of nights ago, and while the bar was a dead ringer for Conor Byrnes, this was no Seattle Old Time Jam. This was a bar full of people (lots of guys — lots of dudes) who were belting out the choruses of everything from “Wild Mountain Thyme” to “I’m Just a Teenage Dirtbag, Baby.” Not sure how that one made the trad cut. I drank my obligatory Guinness; the Irish drank Bulmer’s Cider. A girl with cherry pop hair and cherry pop lipstick drank a cherry pop colored drink. A guy spilled his beer in my hair and then headlocked me and kissed the top of my head to say sorry. I met a bunch of very sweet guys from Donnybrook. One of them insisted on walking me home, though he was smaller, younger, and drunker than I was. I hope he got home alright — he had much farther to go. When I showered in the morning, my hair gave of the artichoke smell of beer.

So that’s Dublin, or a flash of it. No pictures, because I’m in a hurry. 

The Bad British Biscuit Project

I’ve been doing a serious cultural investigation into the biscuit aisle of the grocery stores. I want to try as many kinds of bad British biscuits as I can. I think it’s because they a) are kind of wonderful in their badness, and b) they just aren’t as gross as cheap American cookies. They have real food ingredients (well, like white flour, sugar and safflower oil) instead of being solid GMO soy oil, cottonseed oil, corn syrup, sugar beets.

I’ve tried Hobnobs, Jaffa Cakes, Cafe Noirs, and lots of different digestives with and without chocolate. Luckily, the wonderful women I’ve been staying with have been very graciously assisting me eat all the bad biscuits. Also, I’ve been walking a lot, and as the Jaffa Cake wrapper reminds us, snacks are ok as part of a balanced life that includes vegetable eating and exercise. They even put a soccer ball on the box.

As I’ve been walking, I’ve been doing another serious cultural project: constructing the following photo essay about the Country Gates of Devon. I think this is probably The Friendly Moth’s post that is most likely to go viral. Enjoy!














Yesterday I was reading an article about hedgelaying, which is the craft of maintaining hedges. Some hedges have been around for a thousand years, and they aren’t just a row of bushes — they are periodically cut and woven together into a living fence that then grows up providing berries and shelter for birds and voles and weasels. Anyhow, the whole subject was pretty fascinating.DSCN3474

Afterwards, I walked to this little biodynamic farm called Velwell Orchard, and who should I meet but a hedgelayer! Turns out they guy who runs the farm, Jeremy, makes his living building walls and laying hedges. The farm itself isn’t a moneymaking venture. Instead, it’s worked by volunteers (some of whom also donate money) who then get the produce. Jeremy says he ran it for three years as a commercial farm and lost 8000 quid, and has run it as a community venture for two years and hasn’t lost anything. Instead of being a model where everyone is trying to get the best deal, his is a model that is based on generosity. He gives people veggies, and they give their time. 

In my case, I helped him turn a big compost pile. Then we had tea. I went home with a wealth of raspberries, tomatoes, beans and zucchini (er, excuse me — they’re courgettes here). It was interesting — I felt shy taking it all, and wished I could have worked more, given more. Whereas if I’d spent two hours worth of money buying those veggies, I’m not sure if I would have felt like I’d gotten a good deal. And back home, the generosity continued, as I felt no hesitations sharing the raspberries with my housemate here.

Jeremy and I had an interesting conversation about invasive species. I’ve always felt like people’s intense hatred of them is a projection of our own guilt, as Western culture is the most invasive presence of all. Of course, it’s not quite the same in England, where there are thousand year old hedges. In the US it’s hard to find a way of living that really feels right — some kind of middle ground between concrete strip malls and primeval forest. It’s so easy for things to feel like a pose or a starry-eyed experiment. Here, though, there’s another story. Take the hedges. A person could trim them with a machine, which makes them so patchy they have to be lined with a wire fence, and trims off the fruiting wood. That’s the modern way. Or a person could let the hedge turn into a row of trees, and then a swath of trees, and then a whole wild woodland. Or there’s that old middle way, hedgelaying, which makes wildlife habitat and farmland, and can also pay a generous young farmer’s bills.

America, Land of Robot Willies

Last night the neighbors invited me to a campfire in the garden.

“America is awesome!” the ten-year-old neighbor boy told me. And why was that? “Because there’s guns and money.” 

No Guns? No Money? Must not be America. (It's actually the back garden here in Devon.)

No Guns? No Money? Must not be America. (It’s actually the back garden here in Devon.)

Did everyone just walk around with a big gun cha-ching? Did all the grannies have tasers in their handbags? He and his friends wanted to know. I attempted to expand the boys’ knowledge of America by showing them how to make s’mores, using British marshmallows (no corn syrup! real gelatin! half-sized!), Cadbury’s chocolate, and digestive biscuits. 

“But why are guns so awesome?” pressed an adult.

“Guns and money — that’s everything you need.”

“What about love and food?” I asked.

“It’s kind of the same thing,” said one of the adults, and a lightbulb clicked on for those boys. 

“Guns are like robot willies!” 

Then they wanted to stick a sparkler into a can of petrol.

“Do you believe in God?” one of them asked me, before they ran off to watch Planet of the Apes.

Cat Flaps

Have you wondered why I haven’t shown up on your doorstep lately? Well it’s because I showed up on the lovely Helen A.’s doorstep and she lives in England, which is pretty far away from all of you. So yeah, I’m in England. I’m in Southwestern England in fact, staying in a cottage on a 13th century estate. There are gardens and cows and wheat fields and ancient oaks and lanes of blackberries and a steam train that whistles and a river that moves so slowly it appears to change direction and lots of men with chin-length hair like they wore in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and pubs and rain and doves that sound like the quail of California. 

Also — you will laugh, but it’s been kind of crazy — EVERYONE HAS BRITISH ACCENTS. The old men, the jogging ladies with the little dogs, the hippies, the guy playing a stone marimba on the street — even the kids have British accents. So the bratty little boy in the cafe doesn’t say “Nu unh, I don’t wanna hold Dad’s hand,” he says (please read in your best terrible attempt at a British accent) “No! I’m not holding Daddy’s hand. I’m holding your hand, you!” I tell you, it’s kind of a perpetual shock.

The best Britishism I’ve learned so far? The word “cat flap.” It sounds like it could mean all kinds of interesting things, but it’s actually just a cat door. Don’t worry, by the time I’m home, I’m sure I’ll have learned loads more.

Here are some views through the windows of the house where I am:DSCN3457
DSCN3460 DSCN3461


My brother is disappointed because I’m not being a very friendly moth. “Write something!” he said. “Write something I want to read!”

“Like what?” But he didn’t have very good answers. Luckily, I figured it out: I can write about refrigerators.

Publicity photo for Stars Over Broadway with Jane Froman, James Melton (left), and Pat O’Brien, 1935

We had one. Then on Tuesday, its freezer stopped working. Our homegrown self-slaughtered chickens thawed. The fifteen pounds of berries I’d picked leaked out with the ice into a bloody puddle on the floor. My chocolate pudding ice cream turned into plain old chocolate pudding. Sometimes its easy to forget the fragile balance of life with machines. Sometimes life reminds you.

There we were at midnight, self-diagnosing our refrigerator on Nate’s telephone internet, hauling the fridge out to look at its backside with Nate’s internet telephone turned flashlight. Our diagnosis: call a pro.

Then came a period of what my mom calls “the life of a housewife.” I was personally involved in 23 phone calls and 13 texts on the subject of refrigerators, and that doesn’t include Nate’s calls to the landlord, the landlord’s calls to the repair guys, the repair guys calls to each other, Nate’s calls to appliance stores, or his call to our friend with a truck after the compressor was declared defunct and Nate took it upon himself to get a new fridge that night at Lowes. “Nate’s a doer,” said our landlord, during nearly the last phone call. “He’s a shaker and a – a – I can’t even think of the word.” Which is about right.

Now we have a new fridge! The chickens survived by being little chicken refugees in our neighbor’s freezer. The berry juice mostly came off the floor. I ate my ice cream. My brother has something to read. Something thrilling, right Buddy?

And if you would like to send us a photo of yourself, we’d put it, like my Aunt Buck would say, on our Frigidaire.

Hank, Your Brother Made Me Cry

We braved the middle school girls yesterday and saw The Fault In Our Stars, which if you don’t know is an adaptation of the novel by John Green, who if you don’t know is the brother of my friend Hank, who if you don’t know is awesome.

The movie was awesome too (as are the novel and John and probably the middle school girls when you get to know them). There was love and there was cancer and death and Big Questions and a blind kid egging a fancy car. Hollywood didn’t take all the smart out of it. I cried and the middle school girls laughed inappropriately so they wouldn’t cry and then cried anyways.

The strangest thing was that Gus, the boyfriend in the movie, had John and Hank’s mannerisms. He had the eyebrow lift, the hand thing, the quick delivery of the witty line. Either he watched a million of their videos or they mimic the mannerisms of today’s awesome eighteen-year-olds. Either way, it’s weird to see a movie star doing someone you know’s mannerisms. Even if that person also happens to be a teen heartthrob of the internet age.

Anyways, go see the movie. Read the book. Buy stock in Kleenex. Be good to the people you love before the inevitable oblivion.