A Tale of Two Cities…

I’ve been living in Paris for nearly six months now and had my first trip back to Dublin a couple weeks ago. It was… weird. During my time living in Dublin I’d done several extended stays in Paris so in many ways it felt like I was returning home after one of those, except that I didn’t have a home to return to.

But that sense of familiarity was there from the moment I stepped off the plane. And the sense of familiarity soon gave way to a renewed sense of belonging. It was great to return to my beloved Ranelagh neighborhood – I even walked by my old house (gee, I wonder if the new tenants have running water?). I returned to my local and they greeted me with open arms. I ran errands on Grafton Street, daydreamed as I walked along the canal, visited one of the studios where I used to work. It was truly like I never left.

And of course, there were my people. Some I’d seen a few times on various work and play trips since my move, some I hadn’t seen since my leaving drinks last January, but it sure was lovely to see them all again here in Dublin. On my last evening in town, a small group of most of my closest Dublin friends met up at my local for one last pint. They are the people who ground me in my Dublin-ness and we’ve remained close even though I am now in Paris. Those peeps, my peeps, reminded me of how much I still have in Dublin.

Of course, this visit was certainly more than a bit rose-tinged. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I was pretty much forced out of Dublin because of the current housing situation. They will recall that this past winter I had no heat and intermittent-at-best running water. I would also go weeks without seeing any of my aforementioned people. That’s not on them, that’s on me – I have hermity tendencies and my self-esteem is low enough so that I think that no one will want to do anything social with me so why bother asking. Couple these issues of mine with the fact that everyone is busy with work and life, and my last few months in Dublin were actually rather lonely.

And then there’s Paris. I have people in Paris too. Awesome people. But now that I’ve been here for a few months, my hermity ways are getting the better of me again and that, combined with a lot of travel, means I haven’t really seen anyone in quite some time. Sure, everyone’s busy but, as with Dublin, I’ve no one to blame but myself.

That sense of familiarity and belonging is here too. I know Paris better than I know any city in the world. I’ve always felt that I belong in Paris and the day I moved here in February, everything was instantly so familiar.

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from these ruminations. Except that I know these two cities are both a part of me. And I feel like I belong in, and need, both of them.

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Fa-la-la-la-la…

This is my second December here in Dublin, however, last year I was new to the city, new to my job and a bit of a basket case so I don’t think I really “noticed” the Christmas season here in Ireland.  But this year, I really got to enjoy it.

And this year, I’ve become more aware that there are some differences between the way Dubliners do Christmas and the way we do it in America:

Christmas Eve vs. Christmas Day – This doesn’t necessarily hold true for all Americans but it does for my family and most that I know: Christmas Eve is bigger than Christmas Day.  Christmas Eve is when we have the big to-do with the entire extended family and when everyone opens their presents.  We still celebrate on Christmas Day but it’s quieter. For me and many members of my family, Christmas Eve is our favorite night of the year. My Irish friends seem to place more importance on Christmas Day, having their big celebration then and going more low-key on Christmas Eve.

** Side note** A more recent Christmas Eve tradition here in Dublin has Bono (yes, Bono) appearing somewhere on Grafton Street during the evening and busking for charity.  Last year, Glen Hansard and Sinead O’Connor joined him. I kid you not.  This has happened for the past four years and I’d be willing to NOT go home for Christmas one year in order to experience it.

Kris Kringle or Kindle? – The traditional workplace gift exchange over here is known as a Kris Kindle.  I’m not sure why.  Personally Kris Kringle or Secret Santa makes much more sense to me.  With the Kris Kindle, you pick a name, and buy that person a gift.  And that’s it.  Everyone opens their gifts at once and you’re not even supposed to reveal who the Kris Kindle was. It’s fun but I am used to going a little more all-out with this thing.  I’ve done Kris Kringles in many forms, but lately what I’ve done with co-workers and friends is that everyone buys a gift of a certain dollar amount for no particular person.  And then we have this wonderful game where people steal gifts from each other.  Sounds mean but it’s actually loads of fun.  I may need to introduce Dublin to this tradition next year.

No Heat Miser! – When I was a kid, the animated television specials really signified that Christmas was coming.  Unlike today, they were on ONCE a year and it was an event complete with popcorn and hot chocolate.  There were the traditionally animated Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which I loved.  But for me, it was the Rankin Bass stop motion animated specials that really rocked my world.  There was Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and my absolute favorite, The Year Without a Santa Claus.  That’s the one with Heat and Cold Miser!!!  I’d sing the song for you right now if you could actually hear me!  But sadly, my Irish friends have not seen these specials.  I work in ANIMATION and most have never even heard of them.  Apparently Irish kids have something called the Late, Late, Toy Show that is a yearly televised event with a talk show host, a bunch of singing kids and lot and lots of toys.  Irish kids get to stay up late to watch it, and most hold off on their letter to Santa until after the show, in case they need to add any toys. Sounds nice, but still, no Heat Miser?!!!  I’m making it my personal mission to introduce my Irish friends to these little gems by next Christmas.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out! – I said that the other day in the office and no one had a clue what I was talking about.  A Christmas Story, a movie that has become such a tradition in America that one network shows it for 24 straight hours, never really hit it big over here. The big Christmas movie over here is, wait for it… Die Hard!

Happy, happy – People tend to say “Happy Christmas” over here rather than “Merry Christmas”.  Oh, and they are actually allowed to say “Christmas”.  When I asked if it was okay to call our office party a Christmas party rather than a Holiday party on the invitation, I just got strange looks.  It’s completely fine to say Christmas anytime, anywhere.  In fact, I’m told that some people get quite offended if you say “Happy Holidays.”  I’m not sure how I feel about assuming that EVERYONE celebrates Christmas but I must admit, I’ve enjoyed saying “Merry Christmas” and not worrying that I was going to be chastised for being insensitive.

Now, these are just casual observations on my part.  No one is right or wrong – we’ve just grown up with different traditions.  And they are what makes Christmas Christmas for us.

So, whether it’s Kringle or Kindle, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” or “Yippee-ki-yay mother-f***r”, “happy” or “merry”, I wish everyone who has taken time to read this blog the very best “insert holiday you celebrate here”.

Grafton Street, The Musical

Those of you that know me know that I absolutely hate crowds and shopping.  Places like Times Square or the Champs-Elysees make me break out in hives.  So, imagine my surprise as I find myself falling in love with Dublin’s main shopping and tourist thoroughfare, Grafton Street.

I walk through Grafton Street every night on my commute home and instead of stressing me out, it calms me.  I love that it is pedestrian only.  I don’t have to worry about any wayward cars or buses, and I don’t have to make sure that I am looking the correct way when I cross the street.  I love that it is home to Irish institutions like Bewley’s, but that there is also a McDonald’s (not that I am eating there!) and a Tim Horton’s – these little reminders of home put a smile on my face.

But most of all I love the music.  As one walks the length of Grafton Street you get the privilege of listening to a stunning variety of music as various buskers try to earn a few euros.  The line-up changes everyday.  One recent commute started with an aboriginal throat singer, segued to a trumpeter doing some selections from the American Songbook, then a few steps further on a couple truly fantastic guys singing with an acoustic guitar, then a bassoonist (yes, a bassoonist) and finally, under the beautifully lit up Christmas Tree, some carolers.

How can someone who strives to lead a creative life do anything but smile when hearing and seeing these artists?  Yes, some are better than others – the throat singer was a little freaky while the guys with the guitar seriously need a record deal.  But they are all out there and, at least in my head, they are doing it because they love it.  They are doing it because they are artists and they have to.   And I’m down with that.  And Grafton Street, I love you for it.

Grafton Street, all gussied up for the holidays.

Grafton Street, all gussied up for the holidays.