Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Pimp my isle

Us Irish have been, and are, called many things but ostentatious can never really be one of them. In comparison to our brethren across the pond (the bigger pond that is), we tend to be quite a reserved bunch; then again who isn’t when viewed in such a light?

The 'flashier' side to a modern Irish Halloween
Halloween -- less substance, more shabby style?
Even at the height of the Celtic Tiger when many people had more (borrowed) money than sense, we never really became too brash or cocky. Sure we may have built to excess but we tended to stick to the ‘less talk, more action’ mantra. Things were ‘grand’; you’d be hard pressed to find anyone use that flamboyant, quintessentially North American word ‘awesome’.

Perhaps much of this was due to the fact that deep down, even if we didn’t outwardly acknowledge it, we knew our newfound (borrowed) wealth wouldn’t last.

So now that the arse has well and truly fallen out of our ‘mighty little’ economic miracle, you would think being showy is the last thing on our minds – considering that is, that we traditionally don’t do it, it just doesn’t sit well with us at all. Rather than things being awesome, they’re just awkward.

Yet, as the dust settles on our ‘gluttonous’ years, one obvious legacy, very much in evidence over the Halloween period, is the desire for young families to ‘pimp up’ their homes for various events and festivities. Okay, one might have expected a scaling up in this regard when the country was awash with (borrowed – get it?) money, but there appears to be no sign of scaling back now that we’ve returned to our ‘normal’ financial state (hard-pressed that is).

Christmas decorating predates the ‘boom’ years and it’s not something we’ve too many misgivings about, although its arrival seems to get earlier and earlier each year with an accompanied increase in the lavishness of these Yuletide manifestations.

It’s the relatively recent uptake of Halloween folderol that has us scratching our heads. We’ve always recognised the day of course – in fact it’s an Irish festival, its roots going back to pagan times on the island. But the odd costume and trick-or-treater aside, we were never too bothered about jazzing up our houses and streets with a host of Halloween paraphernalia – we left that to the Yanks, in much the same way we ‘let’ them outdo us in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

That all seems to have changed now. Decorations are a prerequisite these days – fake spiders’ webs are hung up (while at the same time frantically sweeping away real ones), figures of witches and skeletons put on display and pumpkins are ‘planted’ in every corner of the house.

An 'explosive' Halloween bounty
Decommissioned 
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with such practices – you could argue that they bring some lesser-spotted cheer to surroundings in these hard-pressed, almost gloomy times (the current state-of-play being far spookier than any contrived Halloween scare). However when you’re preaching poverty to strait-laced neighbours who happen to be paying your way, being a bit flashy doesn’t send out the right signals, does it? It’s a bit like the struggling parents, who apparently never have money for anything, hiring a private photographer when it comes to their little Johnny’s or Mary’s Communion Day. Well come on, they couldn’t be expected to share the one laid on for the group or, whisper it, take their own amateur photos on such a momentous day.

Back to Halloween, how about returning to some of our more, erm, traditional, simpler customs? The ‘innocent’ days of kicking some old man’s hard-saved cabbage, launching fireworks and ‘mild’ explosives at ‘legitimate’ targets and subsequently getting chased by An Garda Síochána (the Irish police) appear lost in the past. Solid substance has been replaced by shallow style.

Come on guys, you know this showiness doesn’t suit us. It’s not always best practice to slavishly follow Mr and Mrs Jones.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Any which way but lose...

We've had a lot of time to think over these last couple of months. Too much time you might say. Indeed, as a good friend tells us, that’s generally the start of our problems – when we begin to think that is.

That ‘advice’ aside, our return to the home soil was always shrouded in doubts and questions as to what we would do once the chief reason we came back for was over. A big factor in this was that we were leaving a place, Colombia, where despite the many virtues it had – and has –  for us (see http://bit.ly/1bJI3eg), from a work point of view it hadn't really got us too excited (that’s not to mention the very modest financial returns that accompanied said employment – we’ll say no more on that for a number of reasons).
Picturesque west of Ireland bog lands
Back to basics, back to the bog. Or should that be Bogotá?

However from early on in our ‘sojourn’ home, we pretty much convinced ourselves that we wouldn't be staying for any considerable length of time. We've been feeling we’re just not ready to relocate to Ireland right now. Much of that may be due to the fact of where we are. Back under the parents’ roof for what is now the longest period of time in over five years, extremely grateful as we are not to be paying rent, in a rural Ireland suffering from a pretty dramatic youth-drain whilst having no gainful employment*. These points conspire to ensure our social life doesn't come close to what it has been like over the last number of years.

The bounce we got from coming home and catching up with family and remaining friends has waned considerably. Rather than feeling re-energised, we’re fast becoming drained. Of course there may be an element of a self-fulfilling prophecy in all of this. We expected Ireland not to deliver for us, so we've done little to counteract that. We envisaged ourselves leaving again, so in one sense not doing so would be a comedown. Basically, we've enjoyed not being in Ireland. We've become comfortable being the emigrant, the ‘outsider’.

There’s even a hint of embarrassment for us now when we meet people, “oh, you’re still here.  We thought you’d be gone by now.” So did we, so did we.

Being in a house where RTÉ Radio One (the Irish state broadcaster) is the station of choice doesn't help things either – if you’re feeling a bit too happy in yourself, an hour’s listening to this will see you ‘right’. Perhaps it's just reflecting the general mood of the nation? In any case, with our political, critical and at times cynical nature, we’re just the type of listener Radio One sucks in. We ignore the health warnings and indulge to dangerous levels. Changing that dial, both physically and mentally, is proving to be quite a difficult task.

In a more benign way our attitude towards Ireland could be compared to a mother who wants her little Johnny to be the best he can be and is at times overly critical and demanding of him. Sometimes though, it’s best to leave Johnny to his own devices.

12th of July 'fun' in Belfast
Belfast's 'exotic' side
We've been here before of course. In 2009 when we returned home after a year of travelling, it wasn't too long before we started looking for the exit doors again. As it turned out, a speculative job application came good and we found ourselves Belfast bound. Considering we’d never been to that city before, it did offer freshness and its own ‘exoticness’ (don’t laugh) for a ‘Free-Stater’**. The small bit of the queen’s pound that came our way was well received too. In any case it staved off the wanderlust for a while.

So, you ask, why are we still here? Well trying to get a work visa for Colombia, the default ‘go-to’ right now, has proved to be a convoluted process; although an end does appear to be in sight. Alongside this, an unsolicited, potential job offer has come our way too. Given the employment plight of many Irish people these days, we feel at the very least that whatever may be on the table merits some serious thought.

Here we go again though – back to ‘thinking’. Was that not our problem in the first place? The tried and trusted coin-toss is beginning to look like the best solution to our predicament.

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*For more on that 'youth-drain', see previous post No country for young men at http://bit.ly/1aV6tn4.

**A 'Free-Stater' is a term of, erm, 'endearment' used by Northern Ireland residents in reference to people from the Republic of Ireland, which was previously known as the Irish Free State.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Colombia, te extrañamos (Colombia, we miss you – in some ways)

To coincide with St. Patrick’s Day earlier this year, we came up with a list highlighting the things we missed from Ireland (see http://bit.ly/Xgz0J6). Now that we’re back on home soil and plotting what’s turning out to be a less than straightforward return to Colombia, in weaker moments we have found ourselves thinking about certain things we long for from our previous home. Okay, it’s not a case where we can’t sleep at night because of this but the following still resonate with us all the same.
A view of the town of Zipaquirá, outside Bogotá
Chilled out times in Colombia
Amigos
Obviously this is not to say we’ve a lack of friends here at home (despite a mass exodus of people in their twenties from the west of Ireland), it’s more a point that some fine additions to our ‘buddies list’ were made in Colombia over the last two years or so. Most of these, but not all, were fellow expats and some of them have also bid adieu to the country in the last while. There are though still a few old dogs remaining – perhaps we’ll be rejoining them shortly.

The expats lapping it up at Gringo Tuesdays in Bogotá's La Villa nightclub
Good, old friends in the big city
Big city living
This may directly contradict with one from our ‘Ireland’s calling’ list, but a lively metropolis, which Bogotá can be at times, is generally a good base for young(ish), single people. Plus, as mentioned above, the lack of younger people where we currently are is a drawback on occasions. Which brings us on to...

...las chicas
Okay, we haven’t always written in a positive light about Colombian women.* However this still doesn’t take away from the fact that they are amongst some of the best looking in the world. And before anyone accuses us of being sexist or a male chauvinist, Colombian women know they are beautiful and like to be told it too. We’re thus doing our duty.

Colombian model Andrea Escobar 'hard at it' on the beach
Not bad... (courtesy of revistadonjuan.com)
A different tongue
No, this has nothing to do with the above point, we’re on about the language here. While we’re not masters of Spanish by any stretch of the imagination, we were slowly (very slowly you might say) getting better through enforced daily usage** – as an old teacher used to say, ‘if you throw enough muck at the wall some of it’s bound to stick.’ However with the lack of regular practice over the last couple of months, bits of that muck are beginning to fall away.

Fun times 'Up the hill'...
Ah, cheap beer, cheap fun
Reasonably priced beer (and other things)
One of the main reasons the Irish pub appears to be in terminal decline is down to price (for more on this read http://bit.ly/MmS5bm). A pint in the pub is at least three times more than the price you can get it for at an off-license. In Colombia however beers in the ubiquitous tienda bars (for our favourites see http://bit.ly/17yN8HH) are very often cheaper than in takeaway locations – encouraging a bit of, ahem, healthy socialising. And we like to socialise.
It’s not all about beer of course; an affordable, refreshing coffee and biscuit in the company of good friends also hits the spot. Again, something we’ve mentioned previously in Bogotá's simple pleasures http://bit.ly/Uzc3lk.

'Wrong Way' fighting with the law; wonders never cease...
Keeping the peace
Street food
Coupled with above are the cheap snacks to be found on the streets – not in the rubbish bins, but for sale from vendors. Our personal favourite is the arepa packed with meat while a stuffed empanada is also agreeable from time-to-time. Outside of these evening time ‘meals’, we’re big fans of buying our fruit from street sellers, especially so considering it generally retails at a fraction of the price compared to the supermarkets. One must be prudent with the pesos.

‘Extra’ demand
Now while we did quickly become bored and frustrated working as an extra for various TV programmes – see http://bit.ly/NrbPc3 for the reasons why – we do miss the odd call from agencies requesting our services. Perhaps it’s an ego thing? Well being egotistical is a prerequisite for those who want to make it in the acting world, right? Plus, the extras work gives us the opportunity to be on the right side of the law for a change.

Overlooking Bogotá's vast expanse
High and mighty
Altitude
As oft-detailed here, we’re fans of the high life; that is living a bit closer to the celestial stars as opposed to living it up with the so-called human versions (yes, we question their humanness). So while it’s not the highest perched capital city in the world, at 2,300 metres-above-sea-level, Bogotá is lofty nonetheless. A close-to-perfect big city in which to be naturally high we feel. Or maybe that’s just all this sea-level air messing with our thoughts? A return journey might see us right. Time to get moving so.

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*One place to start in relation to our experiences with Colombian women is The Republic of Jealousy at http://bit.ly/ZrSQaN.

**Our Spanish got so good that we were even asked to do some promotional work for the Venezuelan government http://bit.ly/1a1I1er.