Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ireland #4:Crazy Lady Night

I'm not sure what night it's been on the past few trips, but on this one, it was night three. Monday night. Though we've been out of the house all day and for much of the night, we still get a bit stir crazy. This is just what happens here. There is always the initial Crazy Lady Nights, especially when my sister and I are there together.

At about 11:30 pm, after all the visitors have come and gone and I've drank as many cups of tea as my bladder can handle, we start to settle down - we put up our feet and turn on the television. Lo and behold - Working Girl is on. A million props to Working Girl, because on this night, it is officially the best movie ever made.

I cannot explain television in Ireland. One night you'll find yourself trying to get tired, so you turn on the TV and miraculously catch an episode of True Blood at 10 pm, followed by an episode of Blind Date, followed by America's Next Top Model. Brilliant. The next night, you'll come downstairs fighting insomnia and jet lag with the small glimmer of excitement; based on what you watched last night, at least you'll see some awesome entertainment. But no - it's an episode of Becker, followed by a documentary about sailboats, followed by a Bosnian singing competition. It's so random. And this is why catching a movie like Working Girl, from the beginning of the whole movie, is a special treat. One more point about the strangeness of Irish television - they were showing the same movie on a different channel, but it had started fifteen minutes later. There ya go.

Back to Working Girl. Sara and I had a ball. We cackled at Joan Cusack's hair and makeup and Melanie Griffith's lingerie. And Sigourney Weaver - what a nasty bitch! And of course, any and every version of "Let the River Run" is played throughout the whole glorious movie, putting it in our heads for at least the next 48 hours.

After the movie is over, we creep upstairs and settle into our beds, gushing over what a great film it was. Right when I feel like my eyes might be getting tired and sleep could be near, which is a rare and beautiful thing during the first few nights in Ireland, Sara decides she wants to try and sing me her favorite lyric from the theme song. I say "try" because she's never actually able to sing the complete line. Why, you ask? Well, because as she attempts to sing, she's doubled over with laughter. Mostly because this is the lyric:

Come run with me now,
The sky is the color of blue
You've never even seen
In the eyes of your lover.

You see, in this moment, this is the funniest thing to ever happen, ever in life. And maybe nobody will understand that, and maybe it's not even that funny in retrospect, but in that moment, in this tiny room on the 3rd floor of a crazy, skinny house with my parents sleeping a floor beneath us, it is insanely hilarious. And we're both in our 30s and on a family vacation with our parents and sleeping in single twin beds barely a foot apart from each other and have hardly eaten any vegetables for days and we're now completely hysterical. Over nothing. We can barely breathe, tears are streaming down our faces, and we are trying to stay quiet so as to not wake our folks, so what comes out of our mouths sounds like a wheezing, heaving, messy, snorty, guffaw.

This is Crazy Lady night. The night where the most assinine things are the funniest, where our stomachs ache not just from the lack of vegetables, but from the giggling as well, where nobody but us would understand. And I love it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ireland #3: Me Mudder, Da Tour Guide

"I can't remember what I did yesterday, but I remember these little things from over 40 years ago..." - Me Mudder

She is a wealth of local knowledge and history. She'll show you flowers and grottos and creeks and beautiful views no tour guide, book, or map could ever provide. She drives fast and fearlessly down tiny, winding, country roads, making guesses as to turns and directions, and always ends up in the right place.

We pass a monument and gravestone for a famous greyhound named Master McGrath. Yes, for real. I never would have noticed the small landmark had she not pointed it out. She remembers that her father used to stop the car and make the whole family get out to pay their respects to the famous dead dog.

She knows every beautiful little beach on the southern coast of County Waterford and County Tipperary. She knows exactly which turnoffs are worth stopping at, which will provide the best pictures.

It rains nearly every day in Ireland. Today it was pouring as she drove us down the curving roads of the coast. She eyes the blue sky in front of us, past the rain and black clouds. "That's where we're headed; it'll be sunny there," she proclaims. And sure enough, as we pull up to our destination, the sun breaks out and the rain lets up. And we see the most beautiful double rainbow I've ever witnessed.

"Never let the weather keep you from your plans - the rain always stops eventually."

She knows the exact mountain to visit to see the rhodedendrums that are only out for a few weeks of the year. We drive up The Vee (mountain area not far from Fethard) and are suddenly surrounded by the blossoming pink flowers. They're everywhere, above and below and on either side of us.

She tells stories that sound like urban legends; one about a man who was buried standing up on top of a mountain so he'd always enjoy the view. Another about a bottomless lake nestled between two hills. The thing is, these are not just stories. Everybody in Fethard swears that they're true. These stories are passed through the local residents - no tour or book tells you this stuff.

I know I could come to Ireland any time and my family there is constantly telling me to bring friends to visit, but honestly, I'd really miss having my mother as a tour guide. Without the stories, it just wouldn't be the same. They add so much history, interest, and hilarity to the whole experience of being here.

So, in conclusion, if you ever travel to Ireland, you should probably hire my mother to guide you. I promise, it's worth it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ireland #2: Two is For Joy

There is a saying about magpies - the black and white, scrappy-looking scavenger bird that crosses your path randomly in Ireland. Nanny used to say it and my mother repeated it and I had it completely memorized as a teenager. It runs through my head - in my mother's voice - every time I spot one flying in front of the car or swooping from one tree to the next:

One is for sorrow, Two is for joy
Three for a girl, And four for a boy,
Five is for silver, Six is for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.

As my family sits in the living room, drinking tea and catching up, I feel myself zoning out, my mind wandering to the usual places its been going lately - to loss, sadness, so many other things. I cannot focus. Instead of appearing preoccupied, I drift off to the kitchen to do some dishes. To make myself useful. I look out the window. From a tree flies one magpie. One is for sorrow. My mind wanders further. For sorrow. So much sorrow. A word that cannot even describe, yet is so gentle and kind, and in a strange way, a bit perfect.

I feel the tears in my eyes; despite the perfect word, I am just too consumed by what it means. There has been too much sorrow lately, and sometimes I find it difficult to come back up out of it once I start drifting. I'm trying consciously to hold it together and calm down, so I lift my face to the sun that is struggling to push through the clouds and magically, as a beautiful reminder, a second black and white bird appears. A magpie. And I remember: Two is for joy.

For joy.

Ireland #1: We Are Home

I wrote a ton in Ireland and Italy, and although I wasn't able to publish any blogs because of the lack of technology, I saved 'em all up in a notebook and will publish them over the next couple of weeks.

Perfect timing is rolling up to Burke St. (after a 7 hour flight followed by a 2 hour layover followed by a 2 hour flight followed by a 2 1/2 hour drive) and within seconds of stepping out of the car, hearing a familiar voice screaming "Lou!" (my mom's name in Ireland, pronounced like LEW). "Cuz! Hey cuz!" It's Ian, wonderful cousin Ian, who is getting married in five days. He is accompanied by two men who are each carrying a bag of freshly fried chips and cradling them to their chests as if they were holding babies. The three are trashed, smiling and laughing, and a beautiful sight for my bleary, dry, and yes, sore eyes. So happy these guys were here to meet us.

Ian embraces me and lifts me off the ground as he launches into his lightning-fast and often hard to understand exclamations about how he's nearly shitting himself about the upcoming wedding. He offers to help with our bags, and he and his friends go ahead and carry our suitcases up the narrow staircase of my great-grandmothers house; 13 steps to the second floor, 13 more to the third, on a staircase no wider than 2 1/2 feet. I hear MJ (who I will soon learn is "the funny one") shouting "how many fecking floors does this fecking house have?!" He nicknames it Fawlty Towers.

At this point, it's about 12:15 am and we hear a knock on the window of the first floor living room. It's Ian's father, my uncle Michael, who "heard something" (i.e. his son screaming in the street) from his house three doors up the road. Everybody is chatting, laughing, hugging, offering tea. MJ asks if we need a trip to the pub. I look around at the bright faces and smiles and I feel my heart surge - I know we are home.

This is Ian. Love you, Cuz!

Aaaaannnd this is MJ and Christie, the bag-carriers:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Appreciations #1: Jeremi Blowfish

So I started writing this in early February, before Alex died, before my grandfather died...of course. Brains might be psychic sometimes, I don't know. Anyhow, I thought this would be a good one to finish, and hopefully continue the plan in the future.

It may be because I can't sleep and my brain is being a crazy person right now and not leaving me alone to lay down and breathe and sleep. Or it may be because I've been thinking about doing this for a couple of months now. Either way, I think it's time to throw around a little recognition. So...a bit morbid, yes, but maybe we need to be writing eulogies (or do I need a different word?) for people we love and care about while they're still alive. Hear me out. I'm trying, really trying, to be vocally loving and thankful to people in my life for what they've done, how they've affected me (or others or anything or the world), the beautiful little things they bring to life. I wish we did this all the time. I wish it was a part of every day life. Maybe even some sort of rule. Maybe one to live by. We need to appreciate more out loud, recognize the amazing people in our lives, and tell them. And tell everybody. So, my new project is to tell you all about some of the remarkable people I've had in my life, to share some appreciation for those people, and to tell stories about them so even more people know.

But at first I wasn't quite sure where to start; it all felt a little random and overwhelming. So, since I haven't talked this person in a really long time (but, of course, have connected on facebook recently) and I really do appreciate him, AND I've been hearing a lot of Rammstein lately, I thought I'd start here. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Jeremi Blowfish!

When she was in high school, my sister had a job at a camera store in Glenview, IL, where we grew up. She worked with mostly creepy older men, but there was one person there close to her age. This was Jeremi. He looked like a cuter version of Silent Bob. He always wore all black, often band t-shirts, and he listened to a lot of industrial music. He worked in the lab at the camera store, developing pictures. He is the most talented photographer I've ever come across in my entire life (have a look around his website here). He started hanging out with Sara, and then with Sara and I, in our parents' basement, as that was pretty much all we were doing in the early-to-mid 90s.
Landscape photo by Jeremi Bialowas

One summer afternoon, Jeremi called into a radio station to request a song (perhaps some Rammstein, Jeremi?) and he told them his full name: Jeremi Bialowas. The DJ, naturally being sort of an ass, was all "Who? Jeremi Blowfish?! What's this?" And thusly, Jeremi Blowfish was born.

Jeremi came to the Spice Girls concert with my cousins, Layla and Lameis, and I. The four of us sat surrounded by a giant field of little girls and their mothers. I think it's safe to assume that Jeremi was one of the only men there, and definitely the only one who hadn't been dragged there by a 7-year-old - yep, he went voluntarily. Behind us was a group of four girls and three moms. Each mom had a girl up on her shoulders in order to see better. One girl was standing on the ground, up on her tiptoes, straining to see. Jeremi, in his heavy accent, said to the mother, "Would you like me to peek up your leetle girl so that she can see thee Spice Girls?" The mom gave Jeremi, the tall, bearded, long-haired man dressed all in black (let's say he was wearing a KMFDM shirt), the once over before deciding, "Sure, why not?" Jeremi held the little girl on his shoulders for the rest of the show. He bobbed up and down and back and forth, holding on to her legs for her safety, while she raised her hands in the air and cheered for the band. Later he said that he didn't mind it at all because it gave him something to do with his hands. He didn't want to stand around with his arms crossed like at all those other shows, you see?

My father's office is full of Jeremi's photographs. I think they're from the Grand Canyon. The pictures are giant and framed and have been hanging on the walls of the office since probably 1996. They set a peaceful scene in the office of the urologist. They provide a calm that might not be present otherwise. Time in the urologist's office can be anxious. I love that those pictures are still there.

When Jeremi was working on a project for one of his photography classes at school, he had an assignment to use a special kind of camera. Please forgive me, Jeremi; I have no idea what it was or what it did. But he asked me to pose at the piano. For several Saturdays in a row, we'd hang out around the piano for about 4-5 hours each time, me sitting, sometimes playing, and Jeremi turning knobs and flipping switches and changing little silver things I had no idea about. He'd say "just play and I'll take pictures when I need to," and I was probably very difficult, being the extremely self-conscious teenager I was at the time, but Jeremi managed to get his shots. When we were done, we'd get these microwave cheeseburgers out of the freezer and eat in front of the television in the family room. We literally spent hours and hours together, and I never got sick of him. He gave my parents one of the prints of me at the piano and they still have it in their house, hanging on the wall right outside their bedroom.

For my high school graduation, Jeremi gave me a picture he took in a cemetery in a north suburb of Chicago. It is a close up picture of the face of a statue, gray and speckled, with a pink flower next to it. He said that when he returned to this place just a couple of days after this picture was taken, the statue had been demolished and it looked like it had never been there. Sort of magical, if you ask me. Well, that's Jeremi Blowfish for you. Sort of magical. Also? He gave me a limited edition Barbie (Prom or Princess or something) for that graduation. Yep. Magical.

And so, let us recognize, and let us appreciate Jeremi Blowfish. I'm extremely appreciative for his strong musical influence in my life, as well as his artistic influence which majorly helped feed my love for photography, and the fact that he'd totally take me to Denny's any time. Do you even know how cool I felt, Jeremi, driving late at night, windows open, hanging out with the cool older kids? Do you even know?? Damn. Jeremi now works in the Chicagoland area as a photographer and teacher, so maybe you should call him up for your next photography-related need, eh? He'll do great photography and make you feel cool. What a combination!

Thanks for reading, readers! Let's continue to appreciate often and loudly. If anybody else wants to jump in on this, I'd love a guest writer or two! Let me know. xo

Thursday, May 19, 2011


You know what? Sometimes I really hate the internet. When I've had my fill of Wisconsin politics and have already put a limit on how many articles I'm allowed to read, it sucks me back in and makes me read a zillion more. It's just too easy - a few words and an easy link, and they're right there! Stupid internet.

And god, reading people's reactions to Bin Laden's death that night - it made me feel sick. Anybody can say anything they want on the internet. Faceless, shameless people, being awful, and it's all allowed. Peace, gentleness, being a human; it all disappears on the internet. Gross.

And of course. I just lost one of my best and oldest friends, and it's all over the internet. He's sorta famous, see, and if I wanted to, I could read countless articles and posts and tributes and lies about him. It's exhausting, just trying not to read these things, let alone just knowing they're out there, existing, for the whole world to read.

But of course, it's not all bad. Because then there's a beautiful little moment. Like when you're so sad that you'll never hear his voice again, never hear his amazing laugh again...but then you find out this little gem exists:

Much thanks to Miss Amie for telling me about this video. Ridiculous and smiling and tears. I mean come on - that laugh! I love that laugh, and I love that other people get to hear it now. Well then, thank you, internet. You've redeemed yourself a teensy bit.