Shopping for twaróg

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Just like the Irish claim that Guinness doesn't taste the same anywhere outside Ireland (and I've been assured more than once, because, apparently it doesn't travel), Japanese get parcels with miso soup and noodles posted by their mothers (Yamamori or Wagamama do not serve Japanese food), there are a few Lithuanian specialties that I have a longing for. Although as time goes by, I discover that Polish, Belorussians or Latvians claim that those specialties are in fact theirs. After all, in the 14th century Lithuania ruled Belarus (the orange is Lithuania stretching from the Baltic to the Black sea!) and then Polish ruled us and what was ours became theirs and v.v. Eastern Europe became a concoction of local cultures. No wonder Irish or English can't tell the difference between Polish and Lithuanians. Neither can I sometimes - apart from the language.

The other day I was dashing to a local Polish shop called "Samo Dobro" (Only The Best) for some twaróg which in Lithuania we call VARŠKĖ [think varshkay]. It bears some resemblance to cottage cheese (although I haven't seen Irish ever buying it), but is less salty and usually comes in one lump rather than small bits similar to, excuse me, hamster feces. Back to food :)

I entered the shop.

Dzień Dobry, said quite a pleasant guy behind the counter and I stuttered Hello. I do understand some Polish, can utter a few words, but I don't speak Polish.

I headed for twaróg section, took one and went back to the counter.

Jeden pięćdziesiąt pięć or something along those lines came out of his mouth and I could figure out it is less than two Euro. I gave him the money. He gave me the change, said dziekuje. Thanks very much, I replied to that. Do widzenia he said. Good bye, I responded.

It was a all a bit like in Jim Jarmusch's movie Down by Law where Roberto Benigni's character, an Italian tourist with zero English, is is yelling I scream you scream we all scream for ice-cream to a bunch of Americans sharing a prison cell with him in Orleans Parish Prison.

It is possible the guy could have taken me for a Polish refusing to speak Polish. But I only came for some twaróg . A Lithuanian specialty in a Polish shop.


D for Dirty

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As I was striding to my local shop to buy some beans, a lovely six-year-old girl was strolling towards me. Pressed uniform, shiny shoes, curly red hair. She had just bought a chocolate bar and was unwrapping it eagerly. After removing paper she dumped it without a blink on the ground and walked away. Teeny-weeny bitch!

On the other hand, behavior of such kind doesn't come as a surprise, since this week we all got a chance to discover (again) that Dublin had the most litter on its streets when compared with nine other major European cities: Riga, Vienna, Strasbourg, Cologne, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Zurich, Stockholm and Amsterdam.
The lack of litter-fine enforcement is blamed for the high level of litter in Dublin.

Lithuania's neighbor's Latvia's capital Riga was the cleanest city surveyed. In Vienna, which came second in the survey and was also declared "Clean", 30 new Litter Sheriffs have been appointed to enforce litter fines.

Although recently the on-the-spot litter fine in Ireland was increased from €125 to €150, figures indicate that less than half (12,521) of the litter fines issued in the latter half of 2006 were paid, which equates to only 1.5 litter fines issued per local authority per day.

Apparently, official explanation is that many of those caught discarding food wrappers and cigarette butts simply give false names and addresses to litter wardens.

Hire Lithuanians! You should see how our bus conductors bully students and unemployed likewise until they pay the fine.
On the other hand, Dublin desperately needs more bins: in the bus stops, in residential areas and, of course, in the city centre.

Fare play to Riga! I wonder what would have been the outcome if Lithuania's capital Vilnius had been surveyed.


The most terrifying threat the US faces

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George Bush says that the largest threat to the USA is the ghost of terrorism. But in fact it is water and fire that terrorize the USA. Hurricane Caterina and wildfires in California. A country with a military that has a budget of 532.8 billion US dollars is impotent in the face of the nature.


Twin Peaks kaput. Reflections on Polish election

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As I was watching "Jasminum" in the IFI yesterday, millions of Poles in Poland and thousands here, in Ireland, were casting their votes in a life-and-death parliamentary election. A number of them were queuing besides the embassy of Poland in Ballsbridge for more than three hours. Rumor has it that some even borrowed children from the couples who had already cast their vote in order to avoid the queue. Some say the voting in the embassy didn't finish until after midnight.

Yet despite the fact that the voting procedure was not organized thoroughly and although only 21,000 Poles out of 63,000 living in Ireland (that is officially, although few doubt there are at least a couple of hundred thousand) registered to vote (14,000 in Dublin, with over 3,000 in Cork and Limerick each), Poland's liberal opposition defeated the Kaczynski twin tandem. WE WON!!!! :-D 44-31!!!! may go back to my country!!! - texted a Polish friend of mine yesterday, at around 11pm.

It looks like Poles had enough of former child film stars. During two years in power (Lech Kaczynski, the president, does not face an election until 2010), the conservative Kaczynskis have constantly tumbled into quarrels with the EU partners. Gay people started to flee Poland in fear of possible prosecution.

With 99% of votes counted, Donald Tusk's pro-EU party received more than 41% of the votes, while Mr Kaczynski's Law and Justice (PiS) got about 32%. Turnout was the highest recorded in Poland since communism fell in 1989 - 53,79%.

After the first results were announced, Mr Tusk expressed his gratitude to emigrants, because about 70 percent of them voted in favor of pro-western opposition. It looks like the campaigning before the election has paid off. More than 175,000 Poles registered to vote abroad in Sunday's election, well over three times as many as for the last ballot in 2005, official figures showed. In Britain and Ireland alone over 68,000 registered to vote. Some 31,000 registered in the United States.

Tusk's Civic Platform has promised lower taxes and a more business-friendly administration with closer ties to Europe. Poland certainly needs that.

Let's hope that this is the the end of Twin Peaks (as my Polish friend calls it) in Rzeczpospolita Polska. And hopefully Civil Platform will not take over the baton from other promising Eastern/Central European parties who after managing to come out on top in the elections failed to find dialogue within their team and with their political allies. Think Ukraine. Think Lithuania.


Polish might become Ireland's third official language

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Alright, I stop any pretenses in regards to Polish tonight. I've applauded them (the ones who came to Ireland) on many things: their movie festivals in the IFI (by the way, Seksmisja was absolutely hilarious and I'm expecting Jasminum to be good), their ability to fight for their rights, find niches in the job market, etc. But the news about a group of Polish campaigning for the recognition of Polish as a third official language of Ireland, alongside English and Gaelic, was too much for me. I have never heard about a Polish community magazine "Sowa" mentioned in the story before and I don't know how many supporters its publisher Marcin Wrona has.

Signs "Tutaj pracujemy po polsku" (Eng. "We work in Polish here") in the grocery shops, hairdressers, opticians and in many other places have become a common sight in Ireland over the past few years. In fact, perhaps these signs and attempts to make customer service for Polish residents of Ireland understandable are to blame for the fact that multitudes of them still don't speak any or can at most offer you poor English. If they had to make a leap of faith and started communicating in English in the banks, cafes, supermarkets and beauty salons, there probably wouldn't be much need for a third official language in Ireland (and even those signs).

Perhaps immigrants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia should consider the idea in France, Mexicans - in the USA, Turks - in Germany and... Irish in the UK? Yet Ireland is quite smaller than any of these countries (by the way, Poland's population exceeds Ireland's by 10 times). And although Ireland was voted recently as the world's friendliest country in "Lonely Planet" Blue List I beg not to abuse this country's hospitality.

By the way, does anybody know if the magazine "Sowa" is of any significance? Somehow I have a feeling it's not even noteworthy and in that case I sincerely hope that the rant above is not necessary.


Bonus points for Dublin

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What's the most annoying thing about immigrants coming to Dublin? Their unhappiness with the city. Especially Eastern Europeans. Would you agree? I catch myself doing that sometimes, or perhaps even often. But whenever I encounter such bellyachings I try to say (and to myself): come on, but you are not chained to the Spire and the flights are cheap!

On the other hand, I suppose the easiest way to stop complaining is to start looking for bonus points. Among other ones (Irish hospitality, sense of humor, ability to always have a story to tell, sublime nature (if it doesn't rain...), the sea, variety of wine and beer (that's in comparison to Lithuania), "Laser" DVD rental, etc.) I would like to add one more thing, which I discovered today. Dublin Docklands, in particular the right bank (if you stand facing the sea).

© me

To be honest, I've never been on the right bank before, mostly I stayed on the left one. Of course, the area can't compare to Copenhagen yet, where modern architecture is flourishing, but since today the light was extraordinary, glass constructions looked so refreshingly different to traditional Dublin: pubs, shabby pubs and more pubs. In fact architecture is one of those things I miss most when in Ireland and although Docklands are still expanding, the area seems to be promising. Just more terraced cafes needed, some trees, a few exhibition centres, bookshops and ... Imagination has no limits. I just hope construction companies and local government will realize that it would be great not to get stuck with apartments and office buildings only.

There is another reason I am so hyper about Dublin today. A journalist writing for the website I was working for before came to Dublin recently and yesterday she posted some photos from Dublin and captions for them in the editorial blog. I feel an obligation to mention and translate a few, since they are unexpectedly positive! And truth be told, they reminded me some good things about the city I've been living in for the past two years and a half. Here is Dublin as seen by a Lithuanian journalist Egle Digryte:

* Some fountains remind artworks rather than just mere architectural solutions. (she mentioned this one in particular)

* Footprints or handprints on the pavement look very playful.

* Dublin is incredibly colorful. (Here I would like to comment that it is Georgian doors that make that impression, in my opinion Dublin is quite monotonous, just plenty of red brick)

* Houses with climbing ivies on them.

* There are more plants and flowers in Dublin than in any other major city she has been to.

Despite the fact that the journalist came to conclusion she wouldn't like to live in Dublin, these are definitely some of the facts I will try to remember next time before starting another rant about the Irish capitol Dublin.


Two good things you need in life

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Some of you might remember that I was bitching about my old bed. The good news is that the landlord managed to replace it! It's almost new, firm and really high. I call it sexodrome :-)

After replacing the bed my landlord told me there two good things you need in life.

"One is a good bed. What's the other?" he asked me.

"Somebody to sleep with in that bed?" was my pragmatic answer and he started laughing.

"Good shoes", he replied. "Because you if are not in one, you're in the other".

Irish wit, isn't it?


Blog Action Day: Environment and Al Gore

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Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Andrei Sakharov, Martin Luther King, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Al Gore.

It is hard not to start feeling god-like when you make it to the list above. Love him or hate him, as Times Online remarks, you have to give credit to Mr Al Gore, the man who introduces himself "I used to be the next president of the United States". Although, as "Guardian" notes, 2007 is his annus miraculous with Oscar for his film "An Inconvenient Truth", Emmy for his Current TV channel and now the most prestigious prize on Earth in his pocket, everybody remembers his over the top moments, as for instance, when he told to CNN that "during service in the United States Congress [he] took the initiative in creating the Internet."

As today is Blog Action Day with about 15 000 blogs pondering about the environment and over 12 mln readers consuming that information, Al Gore's subject seems to be rather relevant.

It takes a while of googling in order to find out speculations about how much he charges for giving a speech (with somebody in the Letters to the editor section in the "Toronto Star" mentioning 125,000) or the origin of his wealth. There isn't much about the latter in Wikipedia, is there?

Al Gore became a senior adviser to Google back in February 2001, and is a close friend of CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt. Google shares went public in 2004, and the stock has soared from $85 a share to more than $400. Co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are worth an estimated $11 billion each.
Al Gore "owns a ton of Google and he's made enough money that he could wait until a month before and just drop $50 million in to launch a [2008 Presidential] race," a well-placed Democrat told Deborah Orin of the New York Post.
And then there are the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, who like a bunch of other famous artists and musicians during "Live Earth" kept mentioning Al Gore's name over and over again. In fact so often, that I had to fast forward the clips quite a few times.
Al Gore's supporters keep stressing that he started speaking about global warming and it's reasons long long before anybody else did. As if he wasn't doing this just in order to publicize himself.
In "Vanity Fair" green issue this May one of the most important voices among skeptics of global-warming Myron Ebell, the think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute (C.E.I.), mentioned that amount of money floating in anti global-warming campaigns is enormous.
"The major environmental groups in [the USA] have budgets of collectively over $1 billion a year," he said. "[C.E.I.] budget is $3.7 million a year, of which only about a quarter goes to global warming. Add up the other [global-warming denier] groups and maybe you can get to $10 million."

Somehow, despite these monstrous figures, I tend to doubt that Al Gore is after money. When you own Google's shares you hardly need them. In that case he's either driven by share vanity (**** you Mr. George W. Bush, I'm not the president of the USA, but the whole world is listening to me, falling for my statements and drowning me in the sea of awards) or good will.

Of course, there are ongoing speculations of him running for the post of the President of the USA. In that case this whole apparatus - the movie, the TV channel (which I thing is groundbreaking), "Live Earth" and speeches could possibly be the best PR campaign ever. Yet even if it is, it's not that hard to listen to his words and start changing the world around yourself. By turning of your PC, the lights, recycling, ditching your car for a bike (at least once a week), buying organic produce, putting waste in the bins provided, etc. As one gargantuan supermarket chain claims, every little helps. It does. Indeed. Even if you dislike populists.


The praise of Dublin busses

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Everybody admits Irish weather is unpredictable. Number 2 on the list of unpredictable Irish issues would be Dublin busses. I haven't encountered another country yet where the timetable would state the time when the bus leaves the first stop rather than the estimated arrival to the bus stop where you are waiting. Even if you calculate the approximate time of the journey, your calculations will not necessarily take you home, to work or to your date. You could be stuck killing time on the pathway once again.

I've been always curious why can't Dublin Bus calculate those minutes for me. The heaviness of the traffic at certain times, the distances, the time spent collecting the passengers, etc. Obviously there are certain unpredictable situations. For instance, a year ago, while I was rushing to work (late as usual), the bus driver decided to pull into the garage in order to change ad posters on the bus. Perhaps next time he will decide to go for a cuppa or maybe even a pint. It's only a few minutes anyway, isn't it?

Most of the time Dublin busses s u c k. Yet somehow this week was different. As I was sprinting to the bus stop waving with one hand to the driver asking him to stop and clasping my bag with another the bus:

a. stopped (if you are not on the bus stop mostly they don't)
b. the driver was kind enough to let me know that behind him was the bus that takes me to work much quicker (apparently the driver had recognized me!)

And then in the evening as I was dashing to the bus stop trying to pull ahead of the bus, the driver stopped about 20 feet away before the stop and opened the door. Doesn't happen often...

For those who don't know - in Ireland, unless you stop the bus, it will carry on with the journey. My dad learned the lesson upon his arrival to Ireland a few years ago. He kept wondering why over the last hour, despite being quite empty, none of the busses stopped...


Observations from behind the counter. Part II

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This week I've met another Estonian. The third one I came across during my stay in Ireland (I guess this supports my idea that the scale of emigration does reflect the economical (and not just that) situation of a country). Impeccable English and flawless looks. No wonder she has a befitting boyfriend - tall, handsome, rich and sociable. Good choice, my friend. Although my boss has mentioned that the boyfriend works long hours. They never come in perfect packages, do they?..


The other night "Super Bock" guy entered the shop with a drop-dead gorgeous companion. Yet all of my colleagues are convinced that's his sister...


How many cans of "Red Bull" one can consume during an 8-hour shift? My boss usually has 3. And a few cans of "Coke" or "Irn Brew". He doesn't drink coffee or tea. No wonder! I used to know somebody who thought two joints a night and sometimes one in the morning before (or during) an AM shift is OK. I'm starting to suspect my boss of substance abuse. Shouldn't I?

Speaking of which, I asked a friend of mine who works in an advertising agency (in Lithuania), if she knows people around who do drugs. After double-checking if that includes wheat (yes, I said), she admitted that it is very common for somebody to have a joint during a morning get-together in the agency. A generation of freaking junkies! Or should I be classified as an endangered species homo non addictus?


As I was about to move a box of wine from the entrance in order to clear the path for an elderly man leaving the shop, he said "good man" to me.

After I gave him a LOOK, he blushed, apologized and muttered "you're a very nice lady"... What a twat! Short haircut does not indicate gender anymore! Although... my nan also remarked that I have a boyish haircut. What's wrong with old people?!..


Have you got presentation boxes?
Yes, but only cardboard ones.
Oh... I want the wooden one.
Sorry... don't have any left.
I'll look in another shop then.

She comes back in two minutes. Obviously, they don't have any decent wines in the "Spar" (the other shop she was talking about - ha!), so I gift warp the bottles in cellophane.

Why are people so mad about wine in a wooden box? It's what's in the box that matters after all... I'd rather get a good bottle wrapped in tissue paper than "Wolf Blass" in a wooden box. Attention before Christmas: BEWARE OF PREPACKED WOODEN BOXES WITH WINE IN THEM. That's how we've sold all past-it's-best wine last Xmas!.. If they want wood, they get wood. If they want wine, they get wine. All that glitters is not gold - remember that in December.


Possibly kick ass

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It looks like it could be kick ass.

Perhaps you have noticed already yet if not I will tell one thing, which in my opinion is one of the most quintessential features in a post Communist society. We think we are uber alles. Consequently you have over 220 shops that sell Lithuanian food in Ireland (although apart from bread, herring and a larger variety of cereal crop, i.e. buckwheat produce, which you can find in those shops, I think it is possible to live in Ireland quite happily). Consequently Eastern European women are getting their hair done while they are back home on holidays (they say Irish hairdressers are rubbish, although I think two main reasons would be either inability to communicate your expectations or higher costs in Eire). Consequently my Polish friend keeps complaining about Irish healthcare (and this might be one of those issues where I support her critique). Consequently Eastern European men, especially during the first days of arrival to Ireland, keep complaining how flabby and vain Irish girls are (I'd rather ask Polish and Lithuanian boyz to ponder about their ex-cons haircuts). With so much dissatisfaction one can only wonder how can they last in Ireland... And how can Irish put up with us.

I have a confession to make. Before applying for the Photography and Digital Imaging course at the NCAD I had my doubts. My main concern was that the course won't be good enough. I don't mean not as good as in Lithuania, because I have only been enrolled in one and that was more like having a cup of tea with good friends to be (yet it was freaking brilliant). I just thought that I'd seen so much crap in exhibitions, galleries and the media, it is hard to believe I might find something in depth in Ireland.

After tonight I have to say I might have hit the bull's eye. Susan Sontag's On Photography is on the must-read list and I am calm... One of the tutors assured me they won't be teaching us to make pretty pictures. And I am calm. The group is a fusion of graphic designers/architects/wedding photographers/media people. And I am calm. It feels f***ing great to be a student again.


One more

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Previously on various occasions I have mentioned a view quite a vast number of my fellow citizens have expressed in cyber-discussions. I am a Judas. And so are those who have left Lithuania. Although I have to admit that after my and a few other bloggers' outrage against such opinions those voices have hushed. A Polish friend of mine says similar judgments sometimes are manifested in her homeland.

However. I have converted my best friend to my religion of savor-the-world-and-live-life-before-settling-in-anywhere-especially-when-young-and-without-kids.

I know, living in Ireland is not a per se savoring of the world. Majority of young Lithuanians, Polish, Latvians, Italians and Portuguese flow here because of the wages. And the temptation is high to see nothing beyond a weekly pay cheque.

When I popped in to say hello to my previous boss in Lithuania a couple of weeks ago, she nailed me with a straightforward question What keeps you in Ireland? My sister, I answered hasty. Although I should have added AIB. Hopefully by the end of February I will pay off whatever I have to and then... I guess I'll start savoring more of the world. A very good friend of mine whom I've discovered in Ireland and who recently nearly climbed this (bad weather conditions to be blamed) has seduced me with an idea to go hiking to Himalaya next Autumn. I might as well shut myself in a tiny monastery somewhere on the roof of the world. I suppose it is easy to stay away from carnal pleasures with a view through your window like this.

Back to my friend. My emigration propaganda has finally shattered her shell of doubts and she's heading for Ireland in the end of October. This time it was easy - I didn't even have to persuade her to come along. Although I have done that previously, yet without much success. She is working in a sort of Lithuanian FAS as a graphic designer. Her salary is a joke and the women she works with are useless. She doesn't expect to get a graphic designer job here - her English is not good enough. In fact she says she would be perfectly happy making sandwiches. Although I'm sure she'll go further than that after a while. And then she'll come back. Like many other Judases (strange plural...). And we'll all live happily ever after.