Friday, July 21, 2006

Omnipresent Summer Theme

My summer has been dogged by a particular song, one that has been playing incessantly in four different countries during the past three months.

Although I had no idea what the song was called, I recognized it by the first line of the chorus (something like "Oh, I'm on tonight") and a small but soaring trumpet line over an insistently catchy tune. (Not to mention the occasional cries of "Shakira!" in the background.)

Then today, I finally managed to decipher the second line of the chorus -- as everyone else on the planet will already have realized, the song is "Hips Don't Lie" by (who else?) Shakira.

So, what can I say other than: Congratulations, Shakira. If you are getting even a tenth of the royalties to which you are entitled, you should be able to retire on this one. Best wishes for wisdom and grace.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rock of Cashel

N.B. This is the final post (twelfth of twelve) from my trip to Ireland.
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Today I ventured farther afield, taking the Irish equivalent of Greyhound out halfway to Cork, to a small town called Cashel. (Pronounced "CASH-ull" rather than "ca-SHELL".) The town is cute enough, although some sights that were supposed to be open were closed, and the construction work on the roads detracted a bit from the appeal of some of the outdoor seating at cafes on Main Street.

But you do not really go to Cashel for the town. The big draw is "The Rock" which (unlike Alcatraz) was never a prison. It is a castle/cathedral amalgam -- very heavily fortified ecclesiastical ruins dramatically perched on top of a hill.

It is beautifully set in a pastoral landscape near a ruined abbey.

The oldest part is a lovely round tower, which is apparently all original except for the mortar they stuck in for preservation. That is, the tower was originally just a bunch of rocks carefully placed together for a perfect fit, without any glue, concrete, etc. These days, people get nervous about that kind of thing, so they apparently dismantled it and reassembled it with mortar to make sure the tourist attraction remains intact. They do have a point with this particular structure, on top of this particular hill. There is a huge chunk of the main cathedral part of the building lying exactly where it fell in the last big storm, in the mid-1800s, shortly before it was abandoned. And there is a large monument in the cemetery area, which used to be adorned with a celtic cross ... until it was cracked and destroyed by lightning.

The other two buildings in the complex are a mostly roofless cathedral (spectacular), and a romanesque chapel which, I am told, is quite significant architecturally in Ireland.

View of the roofless nave of the cathedral (toward the location of the high altar):

The Rock is a very popular place to be buried ("people are dying to get in"). When the Office of Public Works took over the site, they tried to close the cemetery, but there was such an outcry from townsfolk wanting to be buried with their family and friends, that they created a registry of 100 people who would be grandfathered in. Four of those last hundred are still alive. Once they too are dead and buried, the cemetery will really close.

One last shot - the rocky terrain toward the entrance of the Rock of Cashel.

Nearby ruined abbey, with bovines.
Since I managed to destroy my regular camera at the Dublin Zoo (although luckily a modern hero climbed over the fence and fished it out of the monkey pond for me, thus saving my 300+ pictures), I bought a disposable film-based camera to use for the occasion, which I developed at my favorite store, Boots.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

World Cup

Some very stirring pictures (although perhaps not such stellar play) from the World Cup final. The players' emotions are right on the line, like small children. But if they "knew" it was only a game, they wouldn't be there in the big time.

Given that the Irish did not have a dog in this fight (so to speak), Dublin was surprisingly full of Italians celebrating their victory. I note, however, that these Italians shouted "Italia!" with quite a variety of accents, some more convincing than others.

One other item worth noting: I accepted a new job today, about a month before I was thinking of starting the job search in earnest. Oh well. My life of leisure had to come to an end sooner or later, I suppose. Or did it? The new job should be fun and challenging. Plus there will be better hours and a shorter commute. Yippeee!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dublin Zoo

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The Dublin Zoo is strangely unheralded in Phoenix Park. It would be easy to miss the rather subdued signs out in front (as I did the first time I walked by it), but it's worth the trip.

I spent the entire morning watching and taking pictures/videos of the monkeys -- all of them were active that day, even the orangutans, which are known for their ability to rest, relax, and take it easy.

Spider Monkeys!

The spider monkeys were the stars of the show. They use their tails as a third (or fifth?) arm/leg, which makes it look like they are doing cartwheels while they are scampering along. They were particularly lively, and often seemed to be performing as a family for our benefit.

(If you have trouble with the above-embedded video, try this link.)

Here's one of a single spider monkey's interactions with a rope -- I love the big leap at the beginning.

Spider monkey, mid-stride.

Are the spider monkeys trying to spell something out to us? Looks like letters to me.


The gorilla dad & older kid were chasing each other and wrestling, while the gorilla mom carried her baby secretly, hidden in straw.

(If you have trouble with the above-embedded video, try this link.)

Here, dad and the older kid appear to be shaking hands - is dad teaching good sportsmanship?

Mama Lena with the baby (born April 8) wrapped in straw.


I was fascinated with the orangutans. They were bent on destroying or dismantling the climbing aparatus they'd been given. I didn't get good pictures of the dismantling process -- which involved hammering the metal hooks screwed into the wood posts to dislodge them -- but here are some pictures of the aftermath. This orangutan, after successfully extricating the metal hook and part of the rope, went off to celebrate (and taste the hook).

After some more destruction, the other orangutan tries to tie the knot:

Slowly, ponderously, the orangutan attempts a death-defying feat, literally inches above the ground. Will he survive? Click to find out!

Everything else...

The chimps, macaques, and lemurs ran around a bit too, although I took fewer pictures and videos of them.

Here's a lemur with its lunch.

A jaguar (distinguished from the leopard because of the light colored spots inside the dark spots on its coat ... and the fact that they are found on different continents in the wild).

I was surprised to see flamingos in Ireland. Outdoors, no less.

In the afternoon, after a light rainstorm, I rejoined some of my fellow-cyclists from the Backroads tour for a visit to the Guiness storehouse. It was nice to see everyone and dine together again... but I still don't like beer.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last Night in Kinsale

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Ireland -- July 6 (Charles Fort & Kinsale)

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On the second-to-last day of the bike tour I went up for a walk with some of my fellow cyclists (now pedestrians) to Charles Fort, just outside Kinsale.

Sailing is very popular here -- there were lots of boats out sailing on the water, including a sailing school, and many more parked in the harbor, and also one painted on the wall of this establishment on the way to Charles Fort.
As usual, the fort is built on a hill so it commands excellent views of the sailboats, harbor, and a small ruined fort right across the way, Fort James. It also makes for a nice climb on a pleasant day.

Charles Fort has all of the usual ramparts, although they discourage people from walking on them to some extent.
The fort is pretty cool, with half-ruined walls creating a vaguely maze-like layout.

The ruins include doors to nowhere, which I love.

When I was finding my way out of Charles Fort, I passed a wedding party. Interesting idea for a reception, going to a place where any member of the public can join you for roughly $5. They arrived late in the day, which may reduce the number of tourists, and didn't bother to rent the whole place themselves, which certainly saves money. The couple was posing in among the ruins (I think the groom may have been lifing the bride over one of the ruined doors or windows, but that could just be my fanciful recollection). I respected their "privacy" (?) by not taking pictures of them. But I did take a picture of their wedding vehicle outside in the parking lot....

Returning from Charles Fort to Kinsale.
A convenient place to mail your letters on the way back to town.
I liked the look of this restaurant/bar, although I didn't go in. We already had plans for dinner.

Here's a poster from the place where we had lunch. What looks like Marilyn's face is actually made up of many other things, e.g., palm trees. There does not appear to be a coherent alternate scene, but it's still fun to find all the different components.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Baltimore -- Cows on the Cliffs

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After biking to Baltimore, some of us headed out for a leisurely hike through town to the Beacon, which is up on a cliff.
The usual spectacular views ensued -- river, lush green countryside, jagged rocks, lovely water with sailboats, etc., etc.

But there was something different about one of the cliffs.
It was quite mooving in a way, so I watched, photographed and took videos for quite a while. This picture may make it a bit more clear.

Yes, there were cows on the cliff! A whole herd of them, and no farmer in sight! I thought cows were very valuable, so that farmers might want to make sure their investment didn't fall off the edge of a cliff into the sea or get dashed on the rocks below. But I suppose these are free-range cows. Or something.

You can also see them in this video panorama, particularly when the panning slows down around the end.

And oh yes, there was a Beacon as well. But it does't have its own lights. It's just bright white so it's easy to see.

The town of Baltimore has some nicely painted townhouses. Some of the chimneys are color-coordinated with the doorways (toward the right of the picture).

Down the road from our hotel in Baltimore was a ruined church. It is known as a "Famine Church" - one of the distinctive features, apparently, is the missing roof.

It has a nice graveyard overlooking the water.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Biking Around Kenmare

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Courtesy of Suze and Jere, the Backroads trip leaders, who not only prepared a nice slideshow but also very graciously provided us with copies on disk at the end of the trip, here are two pictures from our first full day of biking in the Irish countryside around Kenmare, a 1400-person town on/near the Beara Peninsula.

The guides' picture gives just a hint of the spectacular views on the Beara Peninsula:

We had lunch at Derreen Gardens, which was nice. Those of us who chose to forego the steep ascent to Healy Pass also missed the unwelcome 12-mile detour that some of the group found (they were lost). And here Jere caught us photographing each other at a well-deserved respite at a pub on the way back to town.

In the afternoon, I followed the signs in Kenmare town center to the "Stone Circle". Michelin describes it as "a prehistoric stone circle consisting of one central stone surrounded by 15 upright stones." It was, er, a bit smaller than Stonehenge. The good news is that it is not roped off, so you can walk right up to the small stones, should you be seized by such a desire. Here's a panorama:

But all was not lost -- the town also features gardens with whirlygigs.

I suppose this is where you go if you don't have time or space for your own garden:

Useful for local physicians who make house calls, cheaper than a full-fledged ambulance?

That evening, in my ignorance, I followed other signs in Kenmare town center pointing to the "Ring of Kerry". I thought that might be a bit more spectacular than the "Stone Circle". So I followed the signs out of town and up the hill after dinner as the daylight faded. I went up and up and up. As it got ever darker on the deserted road, I kept hoping for another sign for encouragement -- e.g., "Another x miles to Ring of Kerry" or even "You are here!" As I later learned, this is because the Ring of Kerry is actually a 126-mile road [N70] which is considered "one of the world's great scenic drives" ... rather than a specific destination that one can walk to after dinner. I didn't realize that at the time, but when I finally reached the first big summit/plateau at 10:30 p.m., I just took a few photos and a short video panorama and then turned around and went back to the hotel.

Twilight on the Ring of Kerry, up the road from Kenmare.

The Backroads group was a friendly, fun-loving crowd. And Jere introduced me to the Scissor Sisters. However, I made the mistake of buying their album in Bath for 8 pounds (around $15); as of July 28, it was on sale at Virgin Records in Union Square for $10. Oh well.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Rice Statistics

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One interesting exhibit I saw in Cork used grains of rice to demonstrate population statistics (1 grain = 1 person). The fascination lay in the choice of comparisons (e.g., the pile of rice illustrating the number of prisoners in the world looked about the same size as the pile illustrating the number of millionaires in the world). Some were chosen, clearly, to make various political statements and provoke various thoughts.

By way of example, the large pile of rice in this picture illustrates the number of people who own The Da Vinci Code. The much smaller pile in the front-middle piece of paper shows the number of people in Opus Dei. The paper front-left, which looks empty, actually contains one grain of rice, representing Dan Brown. (Cute, eh?) (The paper front-right, which is even smaller than the number of Opus Dei members, is labeled "people who own a copy of 'Us' published by Today FM 2005". Apparently, Us "is a pictorial record of a day in the life of [Ireland]," for which the radio station solicited photographs from the people of Ireland. So it does not have a direct connection with Opus Dei, Dan Brown or The Da Vinci Code, but was instead included as a subtle dig.)
These piles compare the negligible number of "people working full time in the Irish apple growing industry" (around 50, by the looks of it) with the number of "employees of Apple Computer in Ireland". Ha, ha. Very funny.

In a similar vein, we see here that the employees of Nokia could not be replaced by the population of Nokia, Finland.They also showed historical progressions of population for various cities and nations, but I didn't take a picture of everything. I also didn't write down the title of the exhibit or who was behind it, and haven't found it on google. But it was in Cork, Ireland on July 1, 2006, if anyone can provide more info.

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