October 2008

Well technically we were never intentionally on the locavore bandwagon.  But after reading Barbara Kingsolver‘s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was intrigued by the idea of using food that is sourced locally.  I am not nearly as dedicated as Kingsolver – I simply don’t have the time, space or desire to raise chickens, can my own fruits and vegetables, and make my own cheese.  Fortunately though, Ireland is such a small country that it is easy to get many foods locally without even trying.
Several times every week Pat goes to the English Market to buy Irish beef, chicken and pork from a local Cork butcher.  He can get potatoes grown in Ballycotton, butter and cheese made in Bandon, and bread baked fresh daily in Cork City.  We even get strawberry and raspberry jam made locally.
Last month at the English Market Pat stumbled upon an irresistible and rare commodity here in Ireland . . . corn on the cob.  Ireland just doesn’t have enough hot weather to grow corn themselves.  According to the woman in the stall this corn came from France.
While the Irish love sweet corn in sandwiches and on their pizza, corn on the cob just doesn’t seem to be very popular here.  Understandably so given the price Pat had to pay for two ears of corn.  It cost €4.40, or about 7 US dollars for two ears of corn.  We cooked them with great anticipation, but also not holding out much hope for the quality we were used to back home.  We were pleasantly rewarded with crunchy and sweet ears of corn.  Both of us gnawed silently with butter dripping off our chins until every last kernel had been eaten.
Corn on the cob – It wasn’t local, but it was delicious and worth every cent!



Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

Years ago, my mom shared some advice that she had been given before her own travels to Europe: When a bathroom is available, use it, because you never know when you’ll get the chance again. It’s true that there aren’t nearly as many public toilets here in Ireland as in America, and often there is a 20 cent charge to use them. Another missing item is the public drinking fountain. In nine months of living here, we have yet to see a drinking fountain in Ireland. Actually, when we saw one in Vienna, both of us immediately noticed it.

It does take some getting used to the idea that toilets are so scarce that even the main branch of the Cork City public library doesn’t have a public toilet. When I asked about one there, they directed me to the nearby English Market, where there is a single toilet available to the public. When it’s working it costs 20 cents, but it was out of service for a couple of months recently.

Another big difference between Europe and America is with the way the urinals are almost on display here. Occasionally in America a urinal will be situated in such a way that when the door to the restroom opens the back of a man standing at a urinal can be seen. In most cases here, though, the urinal is on a wall that is easily visible from the door or a window. I mean really, really visible.

Still, I think the oddest moment was when I paid a woman 50 cents to watch me pee. In Ireland, if there is a charge to use the toilet, there is usually just a coin slot for your money which unlocks the door, but in other European countries, an attendant often collects the money as you go in. At the train station in Salzburg, the attendants had a little room they sat in between the men’s and women’s restrooms, with doors to each, and the female attendants would move around in either. So, as I and other men stood at the urinals, a woman walked behind us, directing an older man to the stalls. If you have a shy bladder, you may want to stay away from Europe.

We finally uploaded onto Flickr our pix of our last trip. Sorry, no pictures of peeing, just a video.

Although this posting is really more about Amy, I’m writing it because Amy couldn’t without using an expletive every other word, she‘s that mad.  So, what’s up?  Amy was scheduled to take her driving test this Thursday and had been preparing for it diligently, but yesterday she got a call cancelling the appointment.  The excuse was that someone is sick, which is fair enough, but it doesn’t help that she now doesn’t know when she’ll be able to take the test.

You Americans reading this are wondering, “Why didn’t she just reschedule right away?”  Because this is Ireland, and if there’s a sensible way to do things, it’s almost certainly not the way things are done here.  Let me start at the beginning.

When drivers from the European Union (EU) and a handful of countries outside the EU move to Ireland, they can simply trade in their old licenses and get Irish ones.  But Americans aren’t so lucky, and they need to first pass the written portion of the test, then once they have their provisional license, wait six months before they can take the test.  In other words, it doesn’t matter that Amy has been driving for half her life, here she’s treated just like a sixteen-year-old learning to drive for the first time and she still has to wait six months.

More accurately, Americans have to wait at least six months, because the Irish equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles has about the stupidest system of scheduling I’ve ever seen.  If you had to wait six months in America before you could take your test, when you got to about five months, you would just call up the DMV and schedule your appointment for the day after your six months probation was up, right?  But here, when you get close to your six months, you fill out a request and the Road Safety Authority eventually sends you a letter telling you when your driving exam is.  You have no say in when or even where it is (there are several testing sites), you‘re just told a time and place to take the test.  They don’t check their own records, so they may assign you a time that is five months and 28 days after you passed your written test.  If they do, you’re out of luck and you have to go through the requesting procedure again.  On the other hand, your scheduled test may be long after your six months is up, which is what had happened to Amy.  She had met her six month requirement in the middle of August, but of course they assigned her an October 2 date.

She felt a little ridiculous doing so, but Amy had been taking driving lessons, almost the only legal way for an American over here to practice driving before taking the test.  It’s one thing for a teenager to ask a parent or older friend to give them lessons, but when you’re 36, it’s not so easy to find a qualified driver to sit next to you while you practice driving.  This adds another wrinkle to the ridiculous system — Amy will have driven far less in the weeks leading up to her exam than she had done in the weeks and months leading up to her arrival here.

The only way we’ve been able to see other parts of Ireland is for us to rent a car (although we own one) and have me drive (though I haven’t shown that I know the first thing about Ireland’s laws by taking a written test).   Yes, here is where it gets even more absurd.  Amy has a provisional license, and she has insurance to drive our car, but legally she can’t drive without a person sitting next to her who has had a full Irish license for at least two years.  I don’t have an Irish provisional license, so I can drive on my American license, but can’t get insurance on our car because I don‘t have an Irish license.  Therefore neither of us can drive our own car because Amy has the wrong license and I can’t get insurance.

However, when we rent a car, I can get insurance through the rental agency, which means I can drive a rental  on my American license and the rental agency’s insurance, but Amy still can’t drive because she’s gotten her learner’s permit.  Further, if any of you American readers fly over here, rent a car, and drive all over Ireland, it‘s perfectly legal, but since Amy has taken a written test showing she understands the rules of the road here she is legally barred from driving these same roads.  Got it?

So, now Amy waits.  They told her they did put her on a priority list but we really don’t know what that means.  We assume that if someone cancels, they’ll call, so now she may get a call some morning asking her to come in and take the test later that day.  This would mean she will have to cancel work appointments, find a driver to come with her (if she shows up at the test site in her car with no qualified driver with her, they will fail her immediately since she will have driven to the test site illegally), race home to get the car, then off to the test site, whichever one it is.  Or, they may call when we’re on holidays (we head to Spain for two weeks beginning the last week in October).  Actually, we pretty much know that will happen because it would be the most inconvenient and mean even more waiting.