Kiss me, I’m Irish!

I don’t know what the saying “Kiss me, I’m Irish” is actually supposed to mean. A google search reveals that it’s something to do with the Blarney Stone. I remember it being on St. Patrick’s Day decorations and T-shirts when I was a kid. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an actual Irish person say it. But, the saying is oddly apt (“for the day that’s in it” – an actual Irish phrase I’ve heard people say) because…

I AM IRISH!

On Monday, 20th June in Killarney, County Kerry, I took the oath of citizenship along with approximately 450 other people. It was very special, made perhaps even more special because this was the first in-person citizenship ceremony in two years, since covid put a stop to so many things. I had to cut a work trip short and make my way to County Kerry on Sunday so I was there for the ceremony on Monday morning. At first I found this rather annoying. Other friends, during covid restrictions, were able to get their naturalization certificate via post  – why couldn’t I do that?! It would certainly have been easier and more convenient.

But when I arrived at the Killarney convention centre and sat amongst all the other citizenship candidates, the excitement and joy was palpable. There were young people and elderly people. People of every color of the rainbow. I heard so many different accents and different languages being spoken. All of us had our own story that brought us to this place and this moment. And we were all about to become Irish, together.

I may or may not have gotten a bit teary as we recited the Declaration of Fidelity. This is my third citizenship but the first one in which I’ve had to make such an oath. I was born in the US, so got that citizenship automatically. I had to work hard to get my Italian citizenship but that was to get my citizenship recognized, not granted – I’d always been an Italian citizen. With my Irish citizenship it’s different – it’s a privilege, not a right. It’s something I wanted and chose to pursue, rather than something I just always had. It was a conscious choice, and a choice I’m so glad I made.

In the packet of materials we got on the day of the ceremony, along with our Naturalization Certificate, a copy of the Irish Constitution and an Irish flag pin, there was a letter from the Minister for Justice. The last two paragraphs pretty much sum up why this day was so special and why it is my absolute privilege and joy to now be Irish:

It’s important to know that becoming an Irish citizen does not mean giving up your identity from your homeland. It is an integral part of who you are and how you have come to be here today. We want you to share your culture, traditions and stories with us. Over time they will become part of the fabric of our soceity and we will be richer for it. 

Today marks the start of a new chapter in your life, one that you have chosen to share with us, your fellow Irish citizens. We will celebrate your achievements, support you in difficult times and ensure that you always have a place to call home. 

So yeah – kiss me, I’m Irish!

A Matter of Choice…

It’s been quite the week in the States with the leaking of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would repeal Roe Vs. Wade. Once this happens, abortion would immediately become illegal in more than a dozen states, legislating what a woman can and cannot do with her own body and, as far as I’m concerned, catapulting the US back about 50 years. This was big news world wide – it was the lead story here in Ireland when the leak happened. The ramifications of the repeal of Roe Vs. Wade are far reaching and in some cases, still unknown. But none of it is good. And I am so angry.

When I moved to Dublin nearly ten years ago abortion was illegal. Irish women had to go to the UK if they wanted to end a pregnancy. Excited as I was to move to Dublin and begin my life as an expat, it troubled me that the church seemed to hold so much power over the government and the lives of its citizens. Divorce wasn’t legalized in Ireland until 1995. You read that right – 1995!!! Is it any wonder that women didn’t have the right to chose what happened with their own body?

But during my decade in Ireland things have started to change – for the better. Ireland is by no means perfect. It still has issues – lots of issues. The church still has a hold here but that hold is loosening – at the same time the religious right in the US seem to be tightening its grip. Primary schools here can no longer require that a child be baptized in order to attend school. Yeah, that was a thing here until the Education (Admission to Schools) Act of 2018. Is it still a problem that the majority of tax-funded primary schools in Ireland are Catholic? For sure, yes. Big problem. But still, progress in the correct direction.

And Ireland is making forward progress in other important areas as well. In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. Take that, church! And then, in 2018 the Irish public voted to repeal the 8th amendment of the Constitution and make abortion legal. Women in Ireland now have access to legal, safe abortions. It was a long time coming, but Ireland finally made the choice to let women have autonomy over their own bodies.

Ireland is actually a pretty socially progressive country. In the 2021 Social Progress Index, calculated every year by the Social Progress Imperative, Ireland lands in Tier 1 at lucky number 13 – higher than the Tier 2 countries of the UK, France and the US. Are we up there with the Scandinavian countries? Haha! No, not by a long shot. But where we are is not a bad place to be. Like I said, Ireland is far from perfect but at least it feels to be headed in the right direction.

Rights are being taken away in the United States and it has me feeling pretty hopeless. But Ireland’s trajectory gives me hope. Not only for Ireland but for the US as well. And I, for one, am quite happy I made the choice to live here and have been able to witness this change.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh…

St. Patrick’s Day was this past Thursday and Ireland is currently finishing up a four-day holiday weekend in celebration of it. This Paddy’s Day was extra special because it was the first “real” one Ireland’s had in two years. In 2020, if there was any doubt about the seriousness of covid-19 that evaporated when Ireland cancelled St. Patrick’s Day that year. Everything was closed down, including the pubs. It was all so surreal, and so scary. 

Last year, things were still not back to normal but they were a bit better:

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This year though, St Patrick’s Day was back. The pubs were open, the parade was back on and, perhaps most shockingly of all, the weather cooperated. Now, I didn’t go anywhere near a pub or the parade, but even pre-pandemic, I would tend to stay away from pubs and parades on Paddy’s Day because I have always hated crowds. As I walked around in my neighborhood though, there was a happiness and lightness to everyone. No, the pandemic isn’t over and the war in Ukraine hangs over everything, but on that day, I could feel the joy – and it felt lovely.

St. Patrick’s Day is an interesting holiday in that I can’t think of another one that is so specifically tied to one country and yet celebrated so enthusiastically around the world. Last year, 690 landmarks in sixty-six different countries were lit up green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a day where everyone embraces Ireland. A day where everyone is a little bit Irish. A day where this little island I call home gets to shine in the world spotlight. And it’s nice. Even with the shitstorm status of things these days, it’s nice.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh!

Spring is… here?

This past Monday was Saint Brigid’s day here in Ireland, also called Imbolc when referring to the traditional Gaelic festival. I don’t recall being super aware of Saint Brigid’s Day in previous years and I’m not entirely sure why. I think maybe there is a bit more focus on it this year because it has been decided that, starting next year, Saint Brigid’s Day will be a bank holiday – a very welcome change since right now we have to wait from New Year’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day for a bank holiday in Ireland. Or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention in previous years. Yeah, it’s probably that.

February 1 or Saint Brigid’s Day occurs about halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox and marks the beginning of spring here in Ireland. Spring?! On the first of February?! I’m sorry, what?! But it’s true – according to the traditional Gaelic calendar, spring started a week ago. This is something that, much like using celsius for temperatures and driving on the left side of the road, that nearly ten years in, I still struggle with. And for someone who grew up in Buffalo, New York where February can literally bring meters of snow (my niece had a snow day from school just this week), it’s vey hard to comprehend that this month could be considered the start of spring.

In the US, we mark the change of seasons with the astronomical calendar’s summer and winter solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes. So this year, according to that calendar, spring begins on March 20. And then there is the meteorological calendar which bases the start of the seasons on the annual temperature cycle and marks the start of spring as the first of March.

So we have the Gaelic, astronomical and meteorological calendars to choose from. Which was is right? All of them? None of them?

Yes. Exactly. I don’t know either.

For my friends here in Ireland for whom last week marked spring’s start – happy spring! For my US friends who are still snowed under and for whom spring seems like a distant dream – hang in there, spring will come!

Regardless of when you mark its beginning, the coming of spring is something we can all look forward to. I know I am – just not yet.

Home Sweet Home…

I finally made it back to Dublin in the wee hours of last Sunday morning, and I was a bit apprehensive about returning. This trip ended up being the longest I’ve ever been away from Dublin, a total of 8 weeks when all was said and done and I was worried that I’d forgotten how to Dublin. 

The minute I walked into my apartment last Sunday morning though, all apprehension evaporated when I saw a lovely Welcome Home surprise on my dining table. My dear friend, writing partner and apartment sitter had left me all sorts of treats – flowers, chocolates, a bottle of cava and… covid tests! It was so lovely to get such a thoughtful gift and so nice to know that I was missed while I was away. 

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My lovely Welcome Home surprise.

Those covid tests came in very handy as I wanted to test myself everyday for several days before I let myself be with people again – just to be ultra safe. I feel very lucky to have not gotten covid while it was making its way through my close circle in the weeks after Christmas. Anecdotally, in my immediate family the only people who got covid in this round were those hadn’t been able to get a booster jab yet. I decided to get my booster while I was in the States rather than wait until I got back to Dublin and I’m so glad I did – I firmly believe that if not for that booster, I would’ve got covid. So, if you haven’t – get your booster!!!

After six negative antigen tests, I finally allowed myself to be around people on Friday afternoon. The same friend who gave it to me came over to my place and, after working for a couple hours, we got more than a little drunk on that bottle of cava. Yesterday, I met up with two more friends that I’d not seen in forever and we had a lovely catch-up. It felt so good to spend some time with some of my people – and I really hope 2022 allows me to spend more time with more of my peeps.

I extended my trip back home by about a week in an effort to ride out the omicron wave since it was seeming to peak and then drop rather quickly. And turns out, my timing was nearly perfect. Here in Ireland, omicron has peaked and as of yesterday, most restrictions have been lifted. I’m still wearing masks everywhere and I’m not itching to be in a super crowded pub or attend a concert anytime soon. But still, it was so nice to get some positive news about things.

This year I will mark my 10 year anniversary of arriving in Dublin. I should be hearing about my Irish citizenship application very very soon. Dublin is home – and it does indeed feel very sweet to be back.

2022, Here’s to you?

Here we are, on the cusp of ringing in another new year. People were, quite understandably, very happy to see the backside of 2020 a year ago and I certainly can’t see many being all that nostalgic for 2021. Now it’s 2022’s turn.

In my New Year’s Eve post from last year I focused a lot on hope. And in fairness to 2021, a lot of the hopes I mentioned came to fruition: I got vaccinated, I got back to see my family and friends in the States, I got back to the pub, and I got back to Paris. After 2020, checking those items off my 2021 list could not be taken for granted. But I think it’s safe to say that, while better in many ways, 2021 wasn’t exactly everything we (or at least I) hoped it would be.

I have had a great Christmas break at home in Buffalo, New York. Maybe it was because I had to stay in Dublin last year, but I had such an especially lovely time on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Now though, fecking Omicron has taken hold and things have gotten extremely Covidy – that’s the highly technical term my sister (the doctor) used to describe it when she cancelled New Year’s Eve dinner at her house. Here in the US, in Ireland, in France, pretty much everywhere, Omicron is rolling along like a tidal wave. Even though it appears to be a milder stain, with far fewer hospitalizations and deaths, it’s hard not to worry about Omicron.

I am currently writing this post from my sister’s basement, where I am spending the next few days. One of my nephews tested positive for covid this past Wednesday. On Tuesday evening, I’d sat across from him at dinner. So, out of an abundance of caution I left my parents’ home and took up residence here. It’s actually not that bad – sure, there are no windows and the walls are painted chroma-key green, but I’ve got the telly, wi-fi, my own private bathroom and a comfy bed. There are also frequent visits from my niece, Saige and her dog, Kalli. I’ve got a steady supply of Cote du Rhône and snacks. Is it what I envisioned for the last leg of my holiday visit? No, of course not. But things could be worse – a lot worse. I have several friends who are grieving recent losses and I found myself thinking of them often during this holiday season, knowing how hard it must have been for them and wishing I could ease their grief a bit. Knowing what those friends are dealing with, I think I can certainly deal with New Year’s Eve in a green basement.

So, 2022. I’m not sure what to expect of you. I’m not sure how I feel about you. I’m not sure what, if anything, to ask of you. You do you, I’ll do me and, I guess we’ll see. I always like to include a quote of some sort in these New Year’s posts. This year’s isn’t from a poet or an historical figure – it’s from some random someone on twitter or facebook or whatever. I honestly don’t remember where I saw it, but it perfectly sums up how I think a lot of us may be feeling as we head into another New Year in these covidy times:

‘Nobody claim 2022 as ‘your year’. We’re all going to walk in real slow. Be good. Be quiet. Be cautious and respectful. Don’t touch anything.’

                                                                            

The Grand Auld Stretch…

When I moved to Dublin a little over nine years ago, I arrived on the first full day of winter time (in Europe we refer to it summer time and winter time, rather than daylight saving time). I was already feeling quite fragile on this first day of my new life in Dublin and the profound lack of daylight really threw me. It continued to throw me for the next several weeks where, as I set up my new life, I felt like I was chasing daylight from the moment I woke up in the morning.

Nine years later, I still dread the darkness of winter in Ireland. What we get in return though is something called the Grand Auld Stretch, which refers to the long day-lit evenings of summer. In the height of the summer the sun doesn’t set until around 10pm and the light lingers for well after that. It’s glorious. Even if we must pay for it in the dead of winter.

In 2018, the EU unveiled plans to abolish the seasonal time change in all its member states. The last time the clocks had to change was supposed to be March 2021. But as with many things, Covid threw those plans off. It’s unsure when the time change will stop or if it even will now. And there’s debate amongst the countries about whether winter or summer time would become permanent. I, personally, would love it if summer time became permanent. That extra hour in the winter evenings would make such a difference. And if Ireland’s Grand Auld Stretch were to become a thing of the past, I would be very sad indeed. I think lots of Irish would be – it’s something we really, really look forward to in Ireland.

The reason that I decided to write about this today is because I follow this twitter account that tracks the Grand Auld Stretch and was very excited to see that tomorrow, the sun sets a whopping two seconds later than it will today – the Grand Auld Stretch is beginning! Sure, it’s only two seconds, but two seconds will become four, and soon after a whole minute and before we know it we’ll be picnicking in the parks at 10pm again!

Okay, that last bit may be a ways away but still, that two seconds means the Stretch has started and after nearly two years of Covid’s not-so-grand auld stretch, I’ll take it. 

 

Happy Anniversary to me!

Guess what?! For the first time in well over a year, I am not going to write about some aspect of Covid. Not that there isn’t anything for me to write about – getting my EU Digital Covid Certificate, the rise of the delta variant, the on-going indoor dining debate, my upcoming travel – I’m sure I’ll get to all that in future posts, but this week was a celebration for me and I want to, well, celebrate that.

This week was my ten-year anniversary of becoming an Italian citizen. I still remember the exact moment on 13th July 2011. I would usually stop and get my mail from the box on my way up to my apartment after work, but my hands were full that evening so I didn’t. Later that night, I thought I might have a Netflix envelope (DVDs, remember those?!) waiting for me and I was bored and needed something to watch. So, I went down to my mail box and the letter that, quite literally, changed my life was waiting for me.

It had been such a long road to get to get that letter and at so many points along the way I thought it wasn’t going to happen. But I stuck with it because I wanted it so badly. But wow, the process of getting your Italian citizenship is a long haul. I got my citizenship through my maternal great grandfather and the final application was three inches thick. It took more than two years to get together with all sorts of bumps along the way.

The biggest was that my great grandfather’s records were destroyed in the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. I ended up hiring Peter Farina who had a burgeoning business (Italy Mondo) helping people like me put their applications together. He went to the village in Abruzzi where my family is from, met with cousins of mine I never knew existed, who took him to the parish priest (church records are as legit as civil records in Italy). When that proved a dead end, he made a call – to the Vicar of Rome. He then drove to Rome for an appointment with said Vicar and was able to find what we needed in the Vatican records. Incidentally, the charge for Peter’s “worry-free citizenship” service was $1500 and it was worth every penny. Peter’s business has since taken off and the same service now starts at $8000. It would still be worth every penny but I’m glad I got in there early!

Once the application was done, I thought I was home free. Nothing left but the interview, right? Hah! That interview was one of the most stressful days I can remember. I was living in Los Angeles and my interview was at the Italian consulate in April 2011. For those who know LA, my appointment was at 9:30am – I lived in North Hollywood and the consulate was in Westwood. Yeah. And there was a last minute issue with one of my documents and I had to find a place along the way where I could receive a fax from Peter in Italy. (DVDs?! Faxes?! I swear, this really was only ten years ago!)

During the interview there was an issue. A big issue. A dream-derailing issue. One of my documents was a church document from the US because the civil document couldn’t be located. As I said, church documents are as valid as civil documents so we didn’t think this would be an issue. But Raffaella, my interviewer at the consulate, said that she couldn’t process the application unless she had the equivalent document that would have been filed in Rome. My heart sank. Finding that document in Rome was not going to be possible, I just knew it. So, that was it. My dream was dead. It took all of my self-control to not burst into tears right then and there.

But then Raffaella told me to hang on a minute and she left to talk to a colleague. I’m sure she was gone for about five minutes but it was an eternity to me. When she came back she basically said “never mind” and approved my application to move forward to be processed. I was so relieved and happy it again took all of my self-control to not burst into tears. Raffaella told me that the current wait for an application to be processed was 18 months. I knew that and was prepared to wait. But then, for a reason still bewildering to me, Raffaella decided that I shouldn’t have to wait that long and she marked my application to be expedited. In the span of 30 minutes I’d gone from the lowest low to the highest high. And what should have taken a minimum of 18 months, took me only three months. In the time I should have been waiting to hear about my application, I was already planning my move to Ireland.

And speaking of Ireland, I am now waiting to hear about my Irish citizenship application. This application was much simpler and more straightforward but my wait is definitely going to be longer. My application went in in September 2020. I’ve friends who sent in their applications in November 2019 and February 2020 and they haven’t heard anything yet, so I’ve still got some time to go. The average time for an application to be processed is 12 months, but between Brexit and covid, things are obviously taking longer. I’d be thrilled if I heard before the end of this year, but I’m prepared to wait longer, for as long as it takes.

And when it does (hopefully!) happen, it’ll be my Italian citizenship that made my Irish citizenship possible. I look forward to celebrating both in the future!

Ireland, Unlocked…

Things are looking up here in Ireland.

A lot of our restrictions were lifted on June 7th, including pubs finally reopening after 15 months – if they have outside space, that is. No indoor dining allowed until next month. Covid cases remain stubbornly high – we never seem to get consistently below 300 per day. But as of today, hospitalizations are down to 58, with 22 of those in ICU, which are really promising numbers. And the vaccine program continues to chug along, with it looking like Ireland will have one of the highest uptakes of the vaccine in the world.

After some what we call anti-social behavior last weekend, this weekend seems to be more under control, with people just happy to be out and thankful for the lovely summer weather June has brought us. It certainly helps that one can now go to a restaurant with your mates. And Dublin City Council finally waking up to the need for portable loos and places to sit is an improvement for sure. The difference between this weekend and last is quite remarkable – kind of too bad it took last weekend to get some of the needed changes, but I digress. Today, let’s focus on the positive.

As mentioned in my previous post I am now fully vaccinated and I’m therefore feeling reasonably comfortable in resuming certain aspects of my life. Gyms have reopened and I’ve been there five days this week. The lockdown has not been kind to my waistline and home workouts in my small apartment have just not been cutting it. I honestly never thought it would feel so good to sweat amongst strangers, but it does. It feels great. 

In a normal year, I’d have been leaving for a week in Annecy today – the best week of the year, as far as many in the animation industry are concerned. But instead, I’ll be having lunch en terrasse with one of the people I’d be partying with at Annecy. It won’t be the same, not by a long shot, but I’m still looking forward to it with more glee than one would think necessary. 

There may not be travel to Annecy this week but travel is getting started again, and I’ve dived in full force. The luggage I got for Christmas 2019 that has done nothing but collect dust for the last year and a half is finally going to do what it was made to do. First up, I’m going home. I haven’t seen my family since Christmas 2019 which is, frankly, complete bullshit. So, I’m going home for the month of August and working from there. And I’ll have some travel-within-my-travel when we all go to Vermont for a week as well. 

Once I’m back, I’m really planning to hit the ground running with more travel. Days after returning to Dublin, I’m planning to head to my beloved Paris for a week – I’m determined to get there before the two-year anniversary since my last visit in October. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without being in Paris and I’ve missed it more than I can verbalize. There’s a chance I may need to be in Toulouse for week in later September and then in October I’ve a London weekend planned with a friend. In November, I head to Bristol for a friend’s wedding and then immediately back to the States, where I’m planning to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas to make up for missing the holidays in 2020. I’ve a lot of travel to make up and I need to get started!

I’m feeling more hopeful and more normal than I have in a long, long time. We’ve learned the hard way with Covid that things can change on a dime, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy the normal. 

 

Saige and Time…

Everyone is more than aware that we’ve reached the one year mark with covid. For Ireland, March 13th was the day that everything changed. I went to work that morning and that afternoon we sent the entire studio home in taxis with their computers, which is how we’ve been working ever since. The pubs were closed down. St. Patrick’s Day was cancelled. It was a Friday the 13th to rival them all. 

A year on, the pubs are still closed down. St. Patrick’s Day is still cancelled. But vaccines are rolling out (glacially slow in Ireland!) and there is hope that we are at the beginning of the end. The pandemic has been hard for everyone (some more than others of course). And everyone has had different things that helped get them through it. And you know what’s helped me the most? 

Saige. 

Saige is my 7-year-old niece who lives back in the States. Her parents allowed her access to facebook messenger for kids and she just started calling me one day when the lockdown first started. And she’s been calling me nearly every day ever since. I’ve lived in Ireland the entirety of Saige’s life, so my time with her had pretty much been limited to my visits home in the summer and at Christmas. Well, there were no visits home for me this past year, but Saige and I got to know each other better than ever through our virtual visits. 

We did all sorts of things on these calls. She called me yesterday to show me what she got at Target (for those interested – a blue raspberry and cherry slushie, sunglasses, tic tacs and a kinder egg), Saige taught me how to use filters on my phone – though I’m still not a fan of them. We played a “dice” game called Pass the Pigs. I met all of her dolls and stuffed animals, learning everything there is to know about LOL dolls, Shopkins and Beanie Boos in the process. I watched her dance. I listened to her sing. I watched her draw and paint – she was very excited to start working in acrylics. We baked huge oreos out of regular oreos (I don’t know. It was something she saw on youtube). We made paper snowflakes to decorate for Christmas, and we both got matching Baby Yodas – hers from Santa and mine from… her. 

When we first started our online exchanges, Saige would complain that she wasn’t smart and that she couldn’t read very well. But I’ve been able to witness her reading getting stronger and stronger first hand. At Halloween and Thanksgiving, she read me some poems she’d collected in a binder. She has written several stories for school – including “Kalli’s Big Leap”, starring her real-life dog. She now dabbles in both fiction and non-fiction. She also reads to me regularly now. Our current favorite is the Sesame Street classic starring Grover, The Monster at the End of this Book. Recently she even messaged me picture of a poem she wrote about writing a poem. Mind. Blown. 

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t inform you all that she also got a 100+% on her math test last week – the + is because she got the bonus question right. She was nearly jumping out of her skin when she called me to show me that test. I’m not sure who was more proud – her or me. 

I know that eventually, Saige won’t call me anymore. Like with my older nieces and nephews, school will get more intense, there will be sports and clubs and friends and jobs and everything else that goes with being a teen today. And that’s okay. I know that’s how things go. But Saige and I have had something really special over this past year. I’m not sure she’ll ever understand this, but Saige has truly helped me survive this pandemic. My lockdown would have been so much harder, so much lonelier, so much worse, without her. 

As we enter the Covid pandemic’s second year, I truly hope that all of you have managed to find your Saige and that your year has been made even a little bit easier as a result. Everyone should have a Saige to help them get through these difficult, unprecedented times. 

Saige loves filters. I hate them
Saige called me when I was walking back to my apartment. I asked her to give me five minutes and then call me back. I got these texts in the meantime.
Saige’s family got a dog this year. Kalli often joins us for our chats.
A couple weeks ago Saige messaged me this picture of an orange. I still do not know why.