At the risk of pushing this whole business into a straight-up celebration of mediocrity, I have a statemnt to make. I love grocery shops. I probably spent more time than most in grocery shops as a child, playing, as I did, with willful abandon amongst the dead animal carcasses and massive knives of my grandfather’s butcher shop during the holidays. Similarly, my grandmother, who I hung out with a lot in my formative years,often took me on her trips around the ‘hood, to fruit and veg shops, butchers, fish shop on a Friday. Why, we even had a corner shop run by a kindly old man who may or may not have done magic tricks.
And here we have me today, as thrilled to go and buy vegetables (Evergreen on Camden St, a lovely shop where one might get cooking tips or get told where to go for the best value seasame oil. And while you’re in the area, head across the road to Morrissey’s for the couple special, two bags full of meat for only 22 quid, what more could one possibly need?) as most people are to buy things like clothes, holidays, or starter homes. And here’s another dirty little secret. I love supermarkets too. Fruit ‘n’ veg, meat ‘n’ fish, €1.50 naan breads, I will buy in their respective shops, and relish doing so. But for general supplies, nothing pleases me more than wide aisles full of endless jars and bottles and sachets. Superquinns are a favourite, but I have no shame in wandering arund a decent size Tesco (I do like how country people, or perhaps it’s all Irish people, call Tesco Tesco’s, like there is a Mr and Mrs Tesco sitting by a beach somewhere in the Algarve) or Dunnes, wide-eyed, for about twenty minutes before I actually start doing any shopping, which, taking into account my usual budget, is usually three packets of Knorr Chicken & Noodle soup and a six pack of Coca-Cola.
Now the French, the French are good at supermarkets. They may have quaint little specialized shops for newspapers, cigarettes and horse meat, but when they lump them altogether it is glorious. Miles of cheese! Cold meats as far as the eye can see! Fizzy pink wine for €3! Multi-packs of Kinder chocolate, including those tiny bars with toasted rice in them! I have also been enjoying observing the French in an environment where I don’t have to worry about trying to communicate with them and thus upsetting myself. Women actually wearing gladiator sandals, which until now, I thought were a mere fabrication, invented by the fashion editors at Grazia when they are stuck for No. 10 in ‘The Top 10 Hot New Looks For Summer’ every year. Toddlers, and all French toddlers to seem to do this, pushing around little mini-buggies with heart-rending expressions of stress on their faces. However, there are times, most recently when I spent over half an hour in our local Monoprix looking for where these insane people were hiding the chillies (In the preserves aisle. In jars.), when I do sometimes wish that I used some of the hours I spent merrily trekking around the Dublin 2 area looking for lemon sole or rice vinegar, or good value seasame oil, on actually learning some useful French, something along the lines of “Where are the damn chillies in this tremendous place?”
Filed under: Humour
Just in case you’re allergic to paper, or have a phobia of bookshops and the like, I thought this was pretty damn funny as well.
This grand tour of mine is not being frittered away on dramas concerning body hair and chips, no no. As I mentioned in my previous post, I like to read on holidays. So far, I have been doing so with some success.
Among the literary line up was Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, which I got really very excited about. It reminded me of how rarely one gets the chance to read a clever and funny – laugh out loud funny – book. Once you start studying books in college, the hilarity content of one’s reading tends to dip sharply. All you can usually manage are gasps and snorts of incredulity – “He gets his sight back after holding a baby!” “He gets pushed down a well, crawls out of it, lets everyone believe he’s dead, flees to Australia, only to return some years later to discover his wife is a bigamist!” “Oh Don Juan, what are you doing in that harem!” – along with the occasional wry chuckle at Austen, or Rushdie, before the hero turns into a mute and starts wandering around the jungle having dreams.
Lucky Jim though, well Lucky Jim is laugh-like-you’re-a-bit-special funny. This chap agrees with me, and he gives examples. As for myself, well, I just wish Bill Atkinson was my best friend – when you read it, you’ll understand.
Like any good world traveller, I have been learning many life lessons on my summer holidays. As I am no longer in primary school, and have thus been cheated out of the chance to write a comprehensive essay on said life experiences and lessons this September, I will transcribe two of the most important of these lessons here.
Lesson Number 1: Do not ever take library books on holiday.
If one was to follow a trail throughout the charming villas of the picturesque and rustic regions of Italy and France, one would undoubtably find oneself shadowed by a series of half read books for children and young adults belonging to Roscommon County Library. Back then, my forgetfulness was punished simply by parental disapproval and literary disappointment that I would never find out the ending of The Mermaid Factory . However. Having missed the warning e-mails from Trinity College Library (which come under the somewhat unsettling title of ‘A Gentle Reminder From The Library’), I just had to pay twenty flipping euro to post Kate O Brien’s The Land Of Spices back to a friend of mine, with another flipping twenty euro tucked neatly in its pages to pay the overdue fine. If paying forty euro for a five year old paperback edition of The Land Of Spices doesn’t teach me a sound lesson about bringing the property of libraries abroad, I don’t know what will. Also, I had been really looking forward to reading it.
Lesson Number 2: When In Doubt, Always Order The Steak.
When in Paris yesterday, my young man and I, loathe to spend unnecessary money on public transport, walked halfway across the city to go to Chartiers, a restaraunt recommended by a cousin of mine. We got lost. I got cranky. We asked some confused elderly French people, a move which eventually bore fruit. We finally arrived at three o’ clock, which is not a sensible time to be rolling up for dinner at in this country. The place seemed a shade too ‘authentically Parisian’, overdoing it somewhat on the belle èpoque funishings. There were pigeons walking and flapping about the place, which I didn’t mind, but perturbed the young man deeply. Within this cavernous eatery there were about fifteen people still dining, none of whom were authentically Parisian, and most of whom had fanny packs. Sweaty and sulky, we turn our attention to the menus.
I had been having dreams about steak and chips since my cousin had told me about this place. I can’t remember if he said whether they were particularly good, but he mentioned them, which is enough, really, to get me quite worked up. However, my outward crankiness must have turned in against myself because I allowed my eye to be caught by the Poissons. Those damn fish get me self doubting every time. I certainly didn’t want to be fat as well as hairy in Paris, so if I only got one of the components of steak frites, and then a lovely piece of lemon sole, well, I’ve practically burned calories. So lemon sole with chips it is then. Only it’s not. Somehow, my French is so poor that when I say “pommes frites” it sounds exactly like “haricots verts”. When my terrified looking fish (I could tell, he still had his head on) arrived, he was accompanied by half a plate of sad looking green beans. Which I thought just came with it, until halfway through the meal I was still chip-less and too hungry and tired to do anything about it.
It didn’t help that the food tasted suspiciously reheated, but so disappointed were we (The young man recieved a chicken fermier that I think I may have seen before being served in Mother Hubbard’s on the way back from a school tour circa 1996) that we had to return back to our quarters for some chocolate flavoured Petit Filous. Which would not have happened if I had gotten the steak.
A few years ago, after studying French in college for a year, I realised that my once firm grasp on the language was slowly crumbling before my eyes. I decided that a French exchange would be my best course of action to return to my previously glittering standard in la belle langue. Because it had totally worked for one of my mates.
But oh, the luck of the draw. Whereas my chum spent three weeks in a villa near Lyon with a charming young woman who drank, smoked and flirted brazenly with Gallic charm and ease, my own canditate, a college friend of same, was a highly strung cat lover who lived in a one bedroomed apartment in St Etienne. The list of things which she found dègeulasse was inexhaustable, but very definite entries were: girls drinking pints, paying more than €3 for a meal, Hollyoaks, alcohol, and hugging. This tyrant in Diesel jeans displayed, with an almost nationalistic fervour, all of the worst clichès which one can associate with French women: arrogance, a penchant for Spanish guitar pop, hypochondria, disquieting racism towards Arabs and an impressive line in complaining without stopping. At all. Not that she wasn’t entertaining. In particular, the argument with her anorexic mother, which ended in the two of us fleeing down the stairwell, with the mother’s screams of “stupid fucking bitch” (approximate English translation) ringing in our ears, really was one for the memoirs. It was a tiring and bizarre six weeks that I spent in her company. I feel so bad about the three of them that she was inflicted upon my friends and family, that I speak of them rarely.
However, today I find myself back in France, Paris this time, house-sitting for the next three weeks. Having been here for under a week now, I have realised something concerning that shrill exchange student. Not only did the six weeks we spent together have no effect whatsoever on rebuilding my, by now decimated, French, but she has also instilled in me a tremendous fear of Frenchwomen. Given that I haven’t been able to get my legs waxed since leaving Dublin over three weeks ago, I feel looks of disapproval and reproach whenever I leave the house. Even when there’s no one on the street. They know something dègeulasse is going on. They know that below the dresses and tights and leggings, I really look like this –
And that I probably drink pints of beer.
I was going to love Berlin. That is what everyone promised me. Berlin is amazing. Berlin is unreal. Berlin might just change my life.
It did not. Berlin was not the Dead Edgy hotbed of vice and depravity I had been anticipating. Of course, both my expectations and my, franky, Not Dead Edgy self were certainly to blame . That I was nearly reduced to tears before I even left the airport by the German train ticket machines probably set me off on a bad foot. Or, that I spent my first night out in Tascheles – which is Europe’s most uber-squat, apparently, and therefore the very definition of Dead Edgy – buzzing off a bottle of the Rhein’s finest non-alchoholic wine. The fact about the wine was not discovered until the next day, but it explains why I spent the night sulking on a picnic bench. Similarly, on our first day there, instead of wandering the streets, catching some impromtu performance art, we spent our time in department stores, looking for cheap tents to house us, The World’s Least Prepared Festival Goers, at Melt!, The World’s Most Poorly Organised Festival. So thorough was our search for camping equipment, that by the time I was brought to a charming second hand shop, it was all I could do to prop myself up against a rail.
So perhaps I didn’t give myself the best run at Berlin, the rave capital of Europe. But yet, I cannot shake the feeling that I have missed the rave-boat, somehow. I have been listening to these enthusiastic accounts of Berlin for the last two years, if not more. I think that now, people have moved on from wide eyed wonderment at flea markets selling stuffed badgers and gold lamè accessories and warehouse clubs, to a kind of competitive alterna-tourism – “Haven’t you been to that place where they sell entire stuffed scenes from Watership Down?” “And then we stayed up until dawn in this underground place where they only play speed metal and Motown.” So it’s hard not to feel cheated when you have spent your day in the Galleria Kaufhof instead of Arkonaplatz (I hope that place is cool, I had to look it up, having been in the Kaufhof when I was meant to be there)
Still, I haven’t given up hope entirely. My day out sightseeing with friends was a gem. Also, on our last night, we went to Cookies, which had red velvet cutains and what appeared to be accountants and City boys on their night out, but also had a disco funk annex, and poeple were smoking inside. And a rat ran over my foot, although I missed it. And the food (always the most important factor in a holiday ever since I was six and my Dad made us wander around Dingle for what felt like hours in search of the most superior pub grub) was einfach klasse. So you see, the ship may have passed me by, but they may just throw out a life raft yet.
I am not one of those countrywomen who feel the need to return to the Old Country on an almost constant basis. Quite simply, it is not a very interesting place. However, I am not immune to bouts of nostalgia. I have discovered that even the unremarkable and mild hills of the Midlands can pull on the heartstrings. Heuston Station on a Saturday is a far more benign place than its Friday incarnation. Fewer shivering, endless queues. My journey into the heart of dullness was pleasant, in that not only did I get a seat, I got the seat in front as well; so I could prop up my feet. Also, no one decided to watch ‘Too Fast, Too Furious: Tokyo Drift’ on their laptop at full volume. CIE-luxe.
Oh, what a sense of security I had been lulled into.
I had forgotten that CIE is an evil company run by bad people, and the weekend Westport-Dublin train service is its sadistic triumph. The idea of a seat is somewhat ridiculous once the locomotive leaves Claremorris, and once it reached me, the carriages are weighed down with the mentally unsound – public transport’s most loyal patrons – and Commerce students from Ballina. As I stood in the aisle for the remaining two hours of the journey, I had the good fortune to have most of these fine citizens grind against me as they fought their way to the shop. Seriously, Eileen, the carriages are full of people; the piss-stinking spaces between the carriages are full of people, do you really need a packet of cheese and onion Tayto that much?
€37 to stand for two hours in deeply uncomfortable heat, with culchies pushing past me looking for crap tea. Iarnród Éireann – what a pack of cunts.