Day 2: Vikings and Catacombs

On Day 2, Monday, Beth was due to arrive in the morning. Cathy and I took a walk around Merrion Park, which was lovely, then awaited her in the drawing room in front of the fire. We went off to the Yeats exhibit at the National Library, which Beth had seen last year, while she supplemented her meagre plane sleep with a nap.

The Yeats exhibit is pretty great. They have audio of him intoning “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in singsong tones, which will ring in my ears for a while, and they do a pretty good job of untangling his love life — no mean feat. I hadn’t read Yeats in an organized way in a long time and I felt a little swoony reading/hearing his spare and beautiful language again:

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?
Then we went back to the Merrion and picked up Beth and went to lunch at Hatch, which was as wonderful as ever.
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We decided to go to the catacombs at Christ Church Cathedral so we set out in a meander-y way, seeing and losing and seeing and losing the spire as we navigated the twisty streets. When we arrived we noticed Dublinia Museum across the way and decided to check it out. This turned out to be an excellent idea because it’s a really fun museum, interactive and kid-friendly, that does a great job of describing Dublin’s early history. For instance, I didn’t know that most Vikings were farmers who only marauded in the offseason, or that their empire of looting gradually transformed into an empire of trading as their networks became more sophisticated. Most important, we got to dress up as Vikings.

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The catacombs were a little disappointing, to be honest. They were very clean, well-let and well-organized, and even boasted their own gift shop. Instead of bones and skulls they mostly displayed the opulent swag the church collected at the expense of the people. The only thing that saved them, and it took a long time to find it, was the display case featuring the mummified bodies of a cat and rat — known locally, of course, as Tom and Jerry.

TomJerry


We wanted to get up early so we grabbed a light dinner at McGrattan’s pub and went to bed.

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Ireland, Day 1: The Merrion

I’ve never given a damn about hotels. In fact, I’ve stayed in some places in Southeast Asia that were downright hair-raising — ones that seemed more appropriate for, say, murdering someone and stowing them in small pieces under the bed, than having a nice sleep and a shower. It’s always been a matter of indifference to me where I stayed. Until I met the Merrion.

My sisters and I stayed at the Merrion last year on our first time in Ireland. We had such a great trip we decided to come back for another week this year. There was no question we would stay in the Merrion while we were in Dublin.

I don’t know if it’s the thick carpets, which suffuse the place with a delicious quiet, or if it’s the fact that it always smells really good inside, or that the shampoos and soaps also smell really good — bearing in mind that I generally hate perfumes and scents of any kind — but there’s something special about the place.

They have artwork all over that is genuinely interesting and varied in style. They have elaborate gardens including a little memorial to James Joyce. They make excellent porridge. I don’t know. Maybe it’s pheromones, but I love the place, and so do Beth and Cathy. It is, of course, somewhat pricy, but when you split it three ways it’s not so bad.

Cathy and I arrived first to Dublin this year since Beth had to work Saturday night. We got on the plane at 7 pm at JFK and arrived at 7 am local time the next morning, with no meaningful sleep behind us and a long day ahead. We took the bus into town, hoping against hope that the Merrion would have a room available early. Alas, they did not, so we sat by the fire and drank a latte (me) and tea (Cathy) until the city began to awaken.

Our first destination was the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a ship that carried some 2,500 Irish emigres to the US and Canada during the famine. While many of these vessels had such high death rates from cholera and typhus that they were called “coffin ships,” the Jeanie Johnston had a reputable doctor on board and enough food and water to keep people healthy. She had a remarkable record of zero deaths on her many voyages. Down belowdecks the exhibit featured creepy fake people enacting common scenes: feeding a baby, sleeping in tiny berths, playing a fiddle.

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After the Jeanie Johnston we walked back to the Merrion, stopping by Sweney’s Pharmacy to see when their next James Joyce reading would be. The man behind the counter sang us a song in Gaelic. That’s when my still-muddled brain and body really began to comprehend that we were in Ireland.

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In the afternoon Cathy led us on something of a wild goose chase to the Martello tower in Howth where Ulysses starts. We got on the train at Pearse station and rode up to the shore. By the time we got off we were hungry so we got enormous boxes of fish and chips at Leo Burdock’s. Mine was smoked cod, and it was delicious.

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Afterward we walked to the tower. My phone died so I didn’t get any photos. There wasn’t anything on the outside about Joyce so Cathy went in to ask. Apparently when she said “Is this the tower from Ulysses?” the woman behind the counter answered “Oh no! Oh dear!” It turned out to be the wrong Martello tower in the wrong seaside town in the wrong direction from Dublin — we should have gone to Sandycove. (The next day, however, we would learn that Yeats went to Howth with Maud Gonne the day after his first of approximately a million unsuccessful marriage proposals to her — so it was still a literary pilgrimage, just not about the right person.)

We caught the next train back and arrived in time to go to the National Museum of Archeology, which has joined my list of Favorite Museums Ever, along with the Hirshhorn and the Van Gogh Museum. I’m usually not a huge fan of artefacts but the National Museum has really amazing stuff, including this stone head. I have thought about the stone head a lot since I met it last year, and I was looking forward to spending some time with it again.

Carved stone head

We were beginning to get a bit loopy with lack of sleep but we wanted to stay awake, so we decided to walk past the Little Museum and make sure our favorite restaurant, Hatch, was still there. We walked to St. Stephen’s Green and to our shock and horror the farmhouse table and chalkboard had been replaced with shiny white surfaces and bright overhead lighting and a menu of expensive seafood. We stood and wailed for about a minute until I looked up and said “Hold on — this isn’t the Little Museum.” We went a few doors down and there was Hatch, not open at the moment but very much alive and well.

We weren’t very hungry after our mountain of fish and chips so that night we continued the Joyce theme and went to Davy Byrnes’ where we got soup and, of course, a gorgonzola sandwich. We stopped by O’Donoghue’s on the way back, thinking it would be quiet on a Sunday night, but finding it instead crammed with musicians. We hung out for an hour until a sweaty seisun player put his arm around me and said “Aren’t you pretty.” That was definitely our cue to go back to the Merrion and crash out in sweet-smelling splendor.

Celebrity-in-Chief

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America–WTF?

Trumpocalypse, Day 3: I still feel like my whole body is bruised from the inside out; like my soul swallowed glass. I have however, been able to start reading a bit about the election, and I have some initial thoughts.

One thing I feel is missing from the post-election analysis – something I think we all missed – is the power of Donald Trump’s celebrity. For years he was in millions of living rooms on a weekly basis, filling the role of commander-in-chief in his own little universe. He was what most Americans aspire to be: a rich, powerful businessperson making decisions and imposing his will, with his attractive spouse at his side. That’s the kind of image-making even the best political ad can’t achieve.

Look at the primaries. Four years ago, with a similar clown-car lineup of Republicans, everyone got their moment in the sun. Newt Gingrich was the leader for a nanosecond. Rick Santorum ascended to the top spot for an eye-blink. But this time, Trump simply sprinted to first place and stayed. Nobody could touch him. He has always been a special candidate in more ways than one, and it’s clear to me that I underestimated him from the start. I think he excited people who don’t usually turn out to vote, and that’s one reason the pollsters didn’t see this coming.

The second thing that killed Hillary Clinton’s chances was the most prolonged and effective propaganda campaign in modern American history. The right wing has been invested heavily in myth-making against Hillary since Bill Clinton first won office. Whitewater, Vince Foster, Benghazi: time after time, official probes have cleared her, but her enemies understood that the mere fact of allegations and investigations was enough. Yes, Hillary has made mistakes, and on occasion she has lied. Every politician does. But the air of untrustworthiness that hangs around her is largely the result of this incredibly dogged and effective smear campaign.

Thirdly: I believe racism is a disqualifying attribute. I do not feel it is morally correct to support a racist, even if you agree with their political positions. I have voted for Republicans over Democratic racists, and I will continue to do so.

I think the Clinton campaign relied too much on the assumption that most Americans feel the same way. They hammered Trump – very effectively – with ads showing just how toxic his prejudices were. But they guessed wrong. Many, many of my fellow white Americans were willing to look at his racism and misogyny, shrug, and pull the lever.

The Clinton camp made the wrong political gamble. But they believed Americans would do the right thing, and I have to love them a little for that. The Trump campaign believed all the worst things about our country, and they were right. That’s part of the soul-shredding agony of this election.

Now there is a general movement to forgive the voters who winked at bigotry – or embraced it outright. As Jamelle Bouie tweeted:

We should resist that narrative. Forgiveness is always possible; however, we must understand and acknowledge the transgression first. It is a transgression that may literally kill the planet, since the Trump administration is shaping up to wreak devastation on the climate. It is a transgression that’s already making life more difficult and dangerous for women, people of color, LGBTQ Americans, and others who don’t fit into Trump’s vision of a “Great” America.

Trump’s stardom and the anti-Clinton propaganda campaign helped make a President Trump possible. But our readiness – even eagerness – to put a bigot in the Oval Office sealed the deal. From the very founding of our nation, racism has been our central tragedy. As Trump’s election confirms, it still is today.

Turtletinis

limes

Chad and I belong to a boathouse in the neighborhood — the Inwood Canoe Club — which has had a big impact on the way we experience New York. First of all, it’s given us the opportunity to get outdoors whenever we want, since we can walk down the street, grab a kayak and get on the water. Secondly, it’s introduced us to a lot of great people. Since we roamed around so much before coming to New York, it makes me inordinately happy to run into somebody I know on the street; it makes me feel like I have roots in the community. This happens fairly often because of paddling, and that means a lot to me.

A couple of summers ago the club had a cocktail contest. I had never invented a cocktail before but I thought it would be interesting to try to come up with something plant-y and outdoorsy, something that reflected the experience of being on the Hudson River. For a couple of weeks I brought home all kinds of strange ingredients and we came up with numerous disgusting concoctions. I remember a bargain-basement elderflower liqueur that was especially repugnant, with a strong bubblegum flavor. Also, my attempts to use coconut water as a mixer — I thought it would be fun to have a cocktail that actually rehydrates you — were a total fail.

Then, somehow, we landed on a sparkling vodka limeade with fresh basil. We tried adding a little Jaegermeister, the German digestif, to bring out the herb-y side. And it was pretty good! We’d actually created something we could imagine making and drinking at home. As a bonus, the greeny-brown color reminded me of our beloved brackish Hudson.

We won the contest and the drink was dubbed the Turtletini, after the club mascot. Over the course of another two summers, I’ve nailed down the ratios so that I can consistently produce batches of the cocktail for up to 100 people without major variations in quality. Here is the recipe.

Turtletinis for a Crowd
Makes 26 5-ounce drinks

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice, about 8 limes total (for large batches I will also use some Nellie and Joe’s bottled Key Lime juice)
1 cup vodka
1/12 cup Jaegermeister (1.5 TB/1.5 jiggers)
A bunch of fresh basil
Seltzer or club soda
lime wedges (optional)

1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water and heating until the sugar has thoroughly dissolved. Allow it to cool for a few minutes

2. Combine the simple syrup, lime juice, vodka and Jaegermeister.

3. Muddle (gently crush and tear) the basil leaves to release the flavor.

4. Combine one part lime juice mixture with four parts seltzer. A cup measure marked with ounces is good for this, or you can eyeball it.

5. Fill a cup with ice. Add some basil. Pour the drink over it. Add a lime slice if you’d like. Enjoy!

For smaller batches, the basic idea is to mix 1 part lime juice, 1 part vodka, simple syrup to taste, and a splash of jaeger. Then add about four times as much seltzer as mix, and drop in some basil.

Lastly, if you need a lime squeezer, I recommend the Chef’n Lime Juicer. It has a gear mechanism that really helps you get the juice out with less effort, and it’s a joy to use.

 

 

 

 

Orlando Vigil, Stonewall Inn

20160613_202206.pngThe West Village streets are packed. After several minutes of squeezing my way through non-existent spaces in the throng, I pop out at the far end of the vigil, on Seventh Ave. across from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.

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You can’t see the stage. The speeches on the PA system sound like the squawk of distant seagulls wheeling over an unruly ocean.

The crowd is prickly. They don’t like the speakers, who are too white, too straight, too cisgender. (I know this by following the vigil on Twitter even while I’m at the vigil. And seriously, who thought it was a good idea to give Police Commissioner Bill Bratton a microphone?)

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A chant of “Say their names!” goes up and gets louder, drowning out the speeches. This happens a few times. Then the politicians onstage begin, in fact, reading the names and ages of the dead.

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25. Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25. Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19.

Most people quiet down but the loudest Say Their Names proponents start arguing amongst themselves about race and gender. They get shushed in their turn by the crowd. The names go on and on.

Luis S. Vielma, 22. Kimberly Morris, 37. Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30.

It is a fractious, uncomfortable, even angry scene. Perhaps I have been secretly hoping for closure. There is no closure here. And that’s okay. Because, really, nothing about any of this is okay.

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Jury Duty Food, Part 2: Thai Son, Pasteur, Pho Bang

A block east of the courthouse there’s a street where half the storefronts are bail bond shops, and the other half are Vietnamese joints. That’s the kind of street I love, so it’s where I started my pho explorations.

ThaiSon

I’m lumping all of these places together because they ended up being fairly similar. I ordered pho tai at all three, which is pho with rare-cooked sliced beef. Thai Son, the first place I tried, had the most thinly-sliced beef; it arrived raw and got cooked in the broth. It came with bean sprouts, good-quality fresh basil, noodles, and various sauces. The meat and accompaniments were all excellent but the broth seemed lacking. It was pale, salty and chicken-y, not the nuanced, flavorful stuff I remembered.

The next day I checked out a neighboring joint called Pasteur. This was a sentimental favorite because it reminded me of the venerable Pho Pasteur in Boston, where my love affair with Vietnamese food – and in particular with green bean shake – began many years ago. The beef at Pasteur was thicker, but otherwise this pho closely resembled the first one: good-quality ingredients, but a broth that seemed like a too-close cousin of College Inn chicken stock.

PhoTai
Pho Tai at Pho Bang. In the background is the hot-water thermos for my Vietnamese-style coffee, a half-cup of which made me deliriously jittery for the rest of the day.

On day 3 I turned to the internet to search for a highly-regarded pho joint. I ended up at Pho Bang, a few blocks north. Once again, the solid components were great but the liquid was disappointing.

I began to wonder if my memory was faulty, so I googled “pho broth.” Yep: America’s Test Kitchen describes a stock with “flavor and complexity,” including ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and pepper. That’s what I was missing.

My hunt for a great pho in Manhattan continues (Queens is a totally different story, but Queens is also a long slog on the train from Inwood). Oddly enough, there’s a well-respected place called Saiguette on the Upper West Side, not far from my office. Hope springs eternal! I’ll hit it and report back soon.

 

Jury Duty Food, Part 1: Sau Voi

I had jury duty for half of last week and half of this week. I went in on a Wednesday, sat down in the waiting room, got called in to a case within an hour, and got put on a jury. I’ll have more thoughts on that later – but first, the food.

The great thing about jury duty is it happens at the courthouse on Centre Street, right in the most Vietnamese-y part of Chinatown. I seized the opportunity to start exploring all those pho and banh mi joints in a systematic way. 

I started on Day 1 with lunch at Sau Voi, a sandwich shop I’d been to once before. I had been impressed by the freshness of the bread and the authenticity of the ingredients, so I figured I would go see if that was all a fluke.

SauVoi
Sau Voi’s appeal definitely doesn’t involve a flashy exterior.

Happily, it wasn’t. I got a banh mi with pork pate and ham, and it was like a party in Vietnam in my mouth. The ham was weirdly pink and didn’t look American at all. Actually, it didn’t even look like it should be legal to sell in the U.S. It transported me magically back to the many banh mi I devoured in Ho Chi Minh City and all up the coast of southern Vietnam. The pate, too, just tasted right, and the French bread was perfect. The sandwich also had the classic carrot-daikon slaw, lightly dressed, and some fresh cilantro and chopped jalapenos.

One of the mystery meats involved Szechuan peppercorns – those devilish little guys that make your tongue simultaneously numb and tingly. Szechuan peppercorns in banh mi! I don’t know if that’s authentic, but I don’t care, because it makes me happy.

Unfortunately, the ham turned out to be fatty and parts of it were kind of chewy and gross. I ended up throwing some of it out and settling for the pate, so I resolved to try something not involving ham the next time. More in a future post!