Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas movies

Christmas is a great time to cuddle up on the sofa and watch lots of TV. I’m not a big TV fan – I often feel like I’m wasting my time watching programs about people buying houses in exotic places, cooking dishes that I could never dream of making myself, or sitting around a house and bitching about each other. Yes, I do watch all of those, though giving out about them at the same time alleviates the sin, doesn’t it?

But at Christmas, I feel no guilt, and I enjoy watching movies old and new. The weather is too dull for walks, so what else is there to do on a wet afternoon?

This year has been no different. My Christmas menu this year included: Casino Royale (with the virile Daniel Craig), Strictly Ballroom, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (with a very young Leonardo di Caprio), Inside I’m Dancing, Serenity, and House of Flying Daggers.

Three of these I had seen before, and probably will watch again and again over the years.

It was my first time watching Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. I did struggle with the language a bit, but this movie was a visual feast – beautiful colours throughout – the party at Juliet’s house, where guests are wearing the strangest costumes, the morning light in Juliet’s bedroom, the dark skies over the beach when Mercutio curses the houses of Capulet and Montague, the chapel where Juliet is lying, with blue neon crosses and hundreds of candles all around her, and, of course, the eerie golden light of Los Angeles.

Casino Royale reveals the story behind James Bond’s disregard for sentimental attachment, and also shows the darker, more brutal, side of him. And Daniel Craig's body is worth a look!

Strictly Ballroom is lovely of course – I love a story where the ugly duckling gets the prince!

Brendan gave me a few DVDs of modern Chinese movies for Christmas. House of Flying Daggers was the first of the series – I had seen it in the cinema before, but it is one of these movies that I will be happy to watch over and over again, just for the gorgeous dresses, choreographed fight scenes and surreal colours. Never did blood on snow look so beautiful!

Inside, I’m Dancing is an Irish movie about 2 disabled young men who decide to live their lives independently and to the full. It’s very sad, but also full of hope.

And Serenity is one of the best Science Fiction movies, as far as I’m concerned. It’s got 3 love stories running through it, great fight scenes, and just a very good story about the world and what happens when you try to interfere with nature.

That’s it now – I won’t watch the telly for another year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

On our anniversary, we treated ourselves to an exhibition in the Chester Beatty Library - One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, an exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints by Yoshitoshi, one of the last masters of the art.


I had heard about this exhibition on The View, which I don't watch on television, but on the web. Very handy, as I can skip the bits I'm not interested in.


I had never been to the Chester Beatty Library before. It used to be on Schrewsbury Road (same as the Belgian embassy), which was awkward to get to if you don't have a car, so it probably didn't get that many tourists. It is now situated in the grounds of Dublin Castle, right in the city centre. Yet, it was fairly quiet on our visit. Dublin Castle has plenty more to offer (as you can see from the link, there is even a Norman tower from 1226!), but we headed straight to the Chester Beatty, as we didn't have that much time. There is a lovely garden and mini garden maze at the back, which we'll explore in the summer - one of these lovely oases (is that the right plural for oasis?) in Dublin, like Trinity College or the Iveagh Gardens, just behind the National Concert Hall.


This temporary exhibition is situated in a little room upstairs. When the door closes, you feel like you've just stepped into a dark temporal rift - it's very quiet and the dark orange light gives the room an eerie feeling. But the prints - oh the prints, they are so gorgeous, they make my heart sing - they stand out in this light and you can admire them in their colorful and fresh glory. A lot of this series of prints are quite modern - very striking shapes and colours, like this one, of the Edo firebrigade! I found this picture on the site of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Have a look at their online gallery for plenty more views of Yoshitoshi's beautiful work. I'd also recommend you click on the Series link, which includes a series called "New Forms of the Thirty-six Ghosts"!


All 100 prints are shown in this exhibition (I think), and it's hard to take them all in. I bought the book in the library's shop. It is good , as a reminder of each print, but the colours don't sing with the same intensity as the real thing. I'll leave you with another picture, called Moon at Yamaki Mansion, which I love for its strong zigzag composition.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ikea

Ikea have opened their first store on this island on 13 December, just outside Belfast, near the George Best (Belfast City) airport. I was thrilled with the news. I had a look online and there were plenty of goodies I wanted to look at. We tried to get there today, but we turned back, as the traffic was crazy. From the point where we turned, not far from Hollywood Exchange, I reckon there would have been another 90 minutes in the car (you couldn't even call it driving) before we would have got in. At that stage, we were both tired and we wouldn't have enjoyed the experience. God knows what the queues at the checkout would have been. I probably would have abandoned my loot anyway, and would have been very upset at that stage, so it was for the best!

We're both pretty tired now, and it will be a long time before we contemplate going back there! My sink tidy and sofa light will have to wait!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I'm not There

On Friday, Brendan and I went to the pictures to I'm not There, a movie about the enigma that is Bob Dylan. I'm not a Bob Dylan fan (I can't understand a word he sings, so there's not much point!), but Brendan is, so it was a special treat for him.


We both are glad we went to this movie - though I have to admit that for the first 10 minutes, I could not understand a single word that was being said by the actors, and I was thinking that it would be painful to watch a 2-hour movie like that! But it got better, and I actually enjoyed it, particularly the scenes with Charlotte Gainsbourg in the role of his estranged wife, and the scenes with Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan himself. Have a look at the clips if you're not convinced! Christian Bale was excellent too. Richard Gere was not quite as convincing - he's such a well-known face it's hard to forget he is Richard Gere.


A lot of this movie was lost on me, as I know nothing about Bob Dylan's life, except for the bits I read about when we went to an exhibition in the Morgan Library in New York. Thankfully, Brendan is a fan, and he enlightened me afterwards, and it made a lot more sense then. If you want more information about it, have a look at the Wikipedia entry (for which you'll have to do a search yourself - the link contains an apostrophe and blogger keeps on bringing me to an entry on hieroglyphs instead). Not a movie to watch with a fuzzy head, I'd say - you need your brains fully functional to get the most of this one!

Belge Side Story

Here is a link I got from Véronique: one of the funniest things I've seen on the web in a long time! I guess you need to be Belgian to enjoy it! Who said we don't have a sense of humour!?

Belge Side Story

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dead Man Walking - a clip

Now that I've discovered The View on the RTE website, I'm finding all sorts of interesting things to watch, read, and listen to!

I haven't had much time to trawl through it, but what I've found is already pretty good - Have a look at the review of Dead Man Walking - the opera, which I talked about a few weeks back (see here). The only disappointing thing about the review is that the clip they chose to show is not the best part of the opera (which all reviewers agree is the ensemble piece with 6 of the characters singing at the same time).

And I got my RTE Guide for Christmas, in which I've found that Dead Man Walking (the movie) will be showing on TV over Christmas. Not exactly Christmas viewing, but I'm looking forward to it. I think Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her performance as Sister Préjean.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Turandot - the teeth

Remember in one of my recent posts, I mentioned that the Italian singer who played the part of Turandot herself in the Opera Ireland production had a peculiar way of singing, opening her mouth high and wide, and showing her teeth - not very attractive.

Well, I have actual footage of this, in case you didn't believe me.

I found this clip on the RTE website. An arts program presented by John Kelly (of JK Ensemble fame, on Lyric FM), called The View, had the artist in the studio, and she sang one of the key pieces from the opera. This link will bring you to the website, where you just need to scroll down to the last section of the program, called The Performance, then click on Watch the clip to see what I'm talking about. You will need Real Player installed on your computer to see it I think.
I'm not sure how long RTE are keeping these archives on the website, but the earliest one is from 2001, so this link should stay live for a good while yet.

Not for the faint-hearted ...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mary



Wishing you all the best on your birthday! Here is a view of the Castleblayney golf course, taken the last time we were there.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Holidays are coming, holidays are coming...

I'm taking a well-earned break from a busy busy weekend.

After a PC Medic pick-up in the morning and a quick trip to the post office to buy stamps and - finally - post our Christmas cards (I hope the cards don't get too wet, or the watercolour will run!), I got my parents' present in town yesterday afternoon, despite the storm. It was the most miserable day to be in town, cold, wet, windy, and yet, town was as busy as usual.

I quickly retreated to Café en Seine, with an Irish Times and a hot chocolate, and was joined by Lisa around 2, for a nice chat, and another hot chocolate.

I called around to Susanne after that, and we chatted for a couple of hours, and I sampled some of the Jewish Bakery's lovely croissants, and a couple of very Christmasey gingerbread and chocolate biscuits sent over by her mum. Yummy!

This morning, after a bit of work on a customer's website, I had to go to PC World to buy ink for a customer's printer (Bizmart was closed yesterday - it was a bit of a bummer). Since I was in Carrickmines, I had a quick look in 53 Degrees North, where I purchased a nice pair of good, light, waterproof walking shoes for myself. And then, I went to Smyth Toy Shop, which wasn't as hectic as I thought it would be. I didn't really find anything there, though, as none of the girls are into Barbies any more. I asked about the Nintendo DS - they were sold out, but were hoping to get some more on Monday or Tuesday. The helpful shop assistant cautioned my optimism by saying that last week, they had received a shipment of 400 (FOUR HUNDRED!) of these, which were sold out in 3 hours - people were queuing for them! (Sorry, Brendan, I love you dearly, but I won't be queueing for 3 hours!)

So, this afternoon, as the weather was still dry (a glorious day compared to yesterday, despite the cold), I hopped on the Luas, and went into town, where my next target was The Toy Store, where I found all the toys I needed for the nieces and nephews and godchildren who are still young enough to enjoy toys! That shop is an Aladdin's cave if you're looking for slightly unusual toys or craft kits. I still have to shop for the older girls, who are at the stage where they are more interested in clothes than toys, and for our oldest godson, who is 15 (money is probably all he wants!). Supplemented by Véronique's parcel from Japan, which contains tons of goodies, I'll have plenty to keep everybody happy!

I have a bit of catching up to do on my paperwork this evening, so I won't get a chance to draw or paint (I messed about with some ink drawings earlier today, but not very successfully - I need to think it through before I set paint to paper - I'm going through a bit of an artistic dry patch at the moment - we've just been so busy, I haven't really got into my next project)

And tomorrow will be hectic too, as Brendan's ferry back from Cherbourg has been delayed because of the storms - so I'll be holding the fort all by myself tomorrow! By the way, we heard this mad expression on the telly last week - we were watching a fly-on-the-wall RTE program about 3 girls' debs, the shopping, the date, etc. etc. - one of the girls (the posh one from Dublin 4, who was going to spend €2,000 on her outfit!) said "I'll be on my tobler". I had never heard that expression before (I'm not cool, obviously!). Our guess is that it means "I'll be on my own", as in "toblerone". Isn't language mad? I love it!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Holidays are coming, Holidays are coming...

There is a real Christmas feel about. Our neighbours have their Christmas tree up since last Sunday already, the Christmas lights were lit on Grafton Street 2 weeks ago I think, and Airfield have opened their live crib - with 2 ponies, 2 sheep and 2 gorgeous calves who stare up at you with big black eyes. All the ladies (including myself) at Tuesday's yoga class were oohing and aahing. The design of it is very nice, I have to say

I must take a stroll down there on Sunday to have a better look.

PS: despite appearances, it hasn't snowed yet - it's very rare for Dublin to get any snow before Christmas. This picture was taken from Airfield's website - I'm not sure when's the last time we had that much snow. I don't remember much snow since I've left IBM, actually. The last big snow I remember, I was still working there, and most staff couldn't make it to work. Many managed to work from home, and one of the engineers in my team, Tom, skidded on ice and had a small car crash - no broken bones, thankfully. It was one of these days when Dublin grinds to a halt, but thanks to modern communication technology, our work schedule wasn't too severely affected. As we were working on a project with a mad aggressive schedule (as they all were), any delay in getting staff online would have been a major headache! Those were the days of madness when my life was dictated by ridiculous project schedules (which probably had more to do with Executives' bonuses than market requirements!). I'm glad I'm not there any more!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Birthdays this month - OMG, it's December again

It never ceases to surprise me, how quickly the year goes by, particularly the last 2-3 months!

For the birthdays this month, here is a detail of an old picture - it was an impression of a clam in the ocean in Baros, which I had reworked in Adobe Photoshop Elements on my Mac.

As I can't find my CD for Photoshop for the Mac, I can't re-install it on my Mac Mini. I've looked everywhere, but it's nowhere to be found. I will probably have to buy it again - That's the lesson for today: make sure you keep you essential CDs all in the one place!

Birthdays we will be celebrating this month:
  • Mary: 12th
  • Christine: 15th
  • Erika: 30th

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Tenth Circle

Another book that will appeal to all mothers, but also to fathers (as it looks at the story from the point of view of a stay-at-home dad), or to people like me who just like a good story with a heart - Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle was as good a read as the previous books by her I've read.

This one deals with the scary world of teenagers - alcohol, drugs, and sex - God, I'm glad I don't have children when I read all of that - what a minefield, or as the title implies, what a Circle of Hell (plenty of references to Dante, for those of you who may be interested - I probably missed most of them, as I've never read The Divine Comedy!)

What I liked most about this book was that it included other media, cleverly incorporating a comic strip in the book (the father in the story is a comic strip artist). As any Belgian from my generation, I was raised with cartoon strips - we used to get the weekly Spirou magazine (which I see now has a web version!), and my brother was an avid reader of "bande dessinée" books. My favourites were Yoko Tsuno and Valérian & Laureline, but I read pretty much everything that came through the house.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Kay

Happy Birthday, Kay!

Here is the picture I'm going to work on for my next project, now that all my Christmas cards are finally ready - all I need to to now is write them up and put the address labels on!

I started working on this picture a little bit, but I've run out of time. Hopefully I'll get working on it in the next few weeks, though it's getting hard to find time - busy busy with PC Medic and I seem to have much more of a social life than I used to!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dead Man Walking

When we went to the opera last week, my Mum and I not only went to the ever-popular Turandot, but also to the modern opera Dead Man Walking, by Jake Heggie. The story is the same as the one in the movie with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn (I think it's Sean Penn - I never saw the movie), i.e. the story of Sister Prejean, how she started writing to a prisoner on Death Row, met him and became his spiritual advisor, right to the end, when he finally admitted his guilt and asked for forgiveness, and was executed by lethal injection. It is a story that makes you think about capital punishment and question what it really achieves.

Not exactly uplifting, says you! But it actually had some humour in it, and I did shed a few tears at the end, such was the power of the whole opera. The music itself was good, but not as striking as I was expecting - it had been compared to Porgy and Bess, but it was nothing like it. I felt a lot of the singing was kind of talking to music, rather than singing songs, if you know what I mean (actually one of the reviews on the Amazon website describes this much better than me, so have a look at it!) That said, one of the songs still sticks in my head, more than a week later - one of the main ensemble pieces, where the parents of the 2 murdered teenagers are singing "you don't know what it's like to lose a child" - haunting...I should look for the CD, just for that song, really.

Like Turandot, the stage production was excellent, making good use of all modern devices - good lighting, simple sets with strong design elements, and screen projections on the backdrop.

The singing was gorgeous - the Swedish mezzo-soprano who plays sister Prejean was top-class - a strong voice that carried her through the whole performance - there was hardly any moment where she wasn't on stage and singing. And the baritone who plays Joe de Rocher was amazing too - he actually sings one of his main songs while doing push-ups, and, wait for it, even push-ups where he claps his hands every time his body lifts!

If you want to listen to samples, have a look at the amazon.com website.




Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nonna Valentina

We went out for a meal with Mick and Blath last night. We had picked Nonna Valentina on Portobello Road on my recommendation. It was a big responsibility, given that I'm not a foody and everybody else at the table was. But after yellow-fin tuna carpaccio, lobster risotto, squid ink pasta with mussels and clams, pannacotta, tiramisu and other delights, everybody declared the evening a success.

The restaurant was packed when we arrived, a little late, for our 7pm-sitting. We had been told we had to be out by 9, and I was a bit worried we would be rushed through our meal, but it wasn't the case. Service was efficient, we were quick in deciding what we were going to have, and we had plenty of time to enjoy our 3 courses. We had a lovely table overlooking the canal (actually, if I'm not mistaken, it is the table you can see on the picture), which is in the quieter corner of the dining room upstairs. The place looked lovely, all lit up with chandeliers and little candles, and there was a good buzz.

We stopped at Mick and Blath's on the way, chatted for an hour or so, and played with Stan the dog (the game consisted of pulling his new teddy bear, which had already lost an ear and was rapidly getting soggy. By the end of the evening, there was white fluffy dacron filling all over the floor) and petted Hoppy the cat (who, at 16 years of age, is still well able to hiss and lash out at Stan. No doubt as to who is the top dog in that relationship!)

Mick and Blath's house is lovely, with white walls, big rectangular windows, nice glass doors and plenty of gorgeous paintings that Mick has purchased over time, and lots of Ikea furniture and lamps. We'll have to check out the Belfast Ikea store when it opens (on the 13th of December, according to the website - I can't wait!!)

By the way, while looking online to find out how to spell Blath's name, I found this Catholic Online website! Worth a look if you're into this kind of thing, and even if you're not! But did you know the following about St Blath:
"Feastday: January 29
The cook in St. Brigid's convent, in Kildare, Ireland, also called Flora. She was renowned for her holiness and for her steadfast loyalty to St. Brigid in good times and in bad."

And I also found on the Baby Names of Ireland website that Blath means Flower or Blossom!

You learn something new every day!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Turandot

My Mum and I went to the opera last Saturday - Turandot was showing at the Gaiety. The weather was miserable, but we managed to avoid the worst of the rain, as Brendan dropped us to the Luas terminus and we got a tram straight away. After a light dinner in a very noisy Wagamama's, we headed across the road to the Gaiety.

Turandot is a big classic - big show, big chorus, big orchestration, big singing - we all know Nessun Dorma from Pavarotti's rendition during the Italy World Cup, of course -, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The production we saw was very contemporary, making good use of the small stage at the Gaiety, with metal steps on which most of the action took place. The costumes were a mix of Mao's Revolutionary Guards and 1950's Shanghai lady. The lighting was perfect - I love the blue/turquoise light they use for night fall. Ping, Pang and Pong were great fun, with their main song sung on bicycles - they got a big cheer! Calaf was sung by a Chinese Tenor - he was excellent - good, strong voice despite having to stand on his tip-toes when hitting the hight notes (which I find a lot of the weaker tenors tend to do - this guy was not weak - he had a lovely rich voice). Turandot was played by an Italian soprano - she was the weakest link in the whole show - her singing was OK, if a bit metalic, but the way she opened her mouth was just too scary - all you could see was this big square mouth with big square teeth, and her acting was very stiff, I thought. The best in the whole show was the Japanese singer who played Liu, the slave girl who loves and saves Calaf. Her name is Mari Moriya - she had a gorgeous voice, and she put a lot of feeling in her performance - particularly her last scene, in which she grabs the red satin curtain which covers the whole back of the stage, she runs down the stairs and rolls herself into the curtain. One of the best opera moments I've seen!

Happy Birthday, Mark


Your birthday was on the 22nd, so we're a bit late, but I hope you like the present that Brendan dropped over on Thursday!

Happy Birthday!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The patient is doing well

My Mac Mini is doing well, after a quick resuscitation, i.e. a wipe-out of the hard disk and re-install of the Mac OS/X.

I've now re-installed my Palm Desktop and transferred my Palm records back, I've installed Firefox, and I'm now in the process of transferring the data over from my external hard drive (mostly pictures).

I forgot to back up my iTunes music, so I'll have to rip my CDs again, but that's not the end of the world. I don't buy much music online, so, all in all, I've probably lost about 10 songs.
I'm sure there'll be plenty more glitches. I still need to re-install a few applications (OpenOffice, Photoshop Elements are really the only 2 things I want), I'll have to install the printer (which I access wirelessly) and I remember that was a bit of a pain the last time. And I'm getting a securityToken error in Blogger, which hopefully won't stop me from posting this little update!

Sick Mac Mini

We were busy at the weekend, with a girlie night out for me on Friday with neighbours from the estate, and a boys' night out for Brendan on Saturday with Niall and Mick. I went to the Sichuan in Stillorgan and Brendan went to the Monsoon, also in Stillorgan. Both restaurants very handy for us.

And yes, the China Sichuan is still at its old location - there is no talk of the move to Sandyford any more, and I didn't want to ask. (Based on the map they had on their 2007 calendar, I think the new location is still under construction). I had a great night out, conversation flowed easily and the food was as good as ever. Brendan and Pat gave us lifts home, so we could drink as much as we wanted, but, between the six of us, we barely managed to finish one bottle of red wine - I didn't touch any, neither did Lucinda.

I wore my new top from the Avoca shop, which I had purchased in Powerscourt a few weeks ago. Very happy with it - I got lots of compliments from the girls! I must get Brendan to take a picture next time I'm wearing it so I can show it off here. It's a long lace tunic, with an underdress and cardigan to match. The tunic is a smoky grey tone and the other 2 items are raspberry red. And I got a nice aubergine necklace from Costelloe+Costelloe to match. Big chunky rounded beads to cover the cleavage!

Brendan had a good night too - they drank more wine than we did - that's for sure!

On another note, and the title of this post, my Mac Mini is not well. It crashed on Saturday night. I had to hard-reboot it after iTunes froze completely. I couldn't even use the Activity Monitor to force quit the applications. It's been extremely slow since. So, I'm in the process of backing everything up so I can do a re-install of the Operating System. Initially, it looked like I had extremely little available memory, but emptying the trash seemed to resolve that. But even after that, it's still going extremely slow, so I think it's time for a fresh start, wipe everything and reinstall. I've got most of my data backed up already (I'm very organised that way!!), but I need to back up the most recent stuff onto an external hard drive. If you have a lot of data on your computer and you want to have a backup, I recommend you go and buy an external hard drive (I like the Seagate drives, but there are lots of different brands out there) and copy your data over once a month!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Britz















If you want to watch some thought-provoking British drama, you can't beat the 2-parter Britz which recently showed on Channel 4. If you've missed it, you can watch it for the next 30 days (I think) on 4oD, but only if you live in the UK or Ireland and are using a PC, not a Mac!

Britz is a look at the young British Muslims of today, born and bred in Britain, educated, who've never lived in Pakistan, and how their lives have changed in the post 9/11 (or 7/7) world. And what they do about it!

If you get a chance to see it, don't miss it. Thought-provoking drama at its very best!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Birthdays this month

Birthdays this month are:
  • Hilary on the 17th
  • Mark on the 22nd
  • Kay on the 28th
For your birthdays, I'm giving you a picture of Lake Muckno in Castleblayney. This view is taken from the top of one of the hills at the Concra Wood golf course, due to open in 2008. I'm not a golfer, but there are lovely views from this golf course, with the lake and plenty of hills all around!

Garage

Last Wednesday, we decided to escape the Trick-or-Treaters by going to the pictures. I would have liked to go and see the new George Clooney movie (Michael Clayton), but it wasn't showing until 9:15 pm, way too late for me, and for the Trick-or-Treaters, whose average age on our estate is probably 6!

So we went to see Garage instead. Garage is an Irish movie, by the makers of Adam & Paul. One review comment I've seen on the website pretty much summarises my impression of it: "Funny, heart-warming and tragic". It's the story of Josie, who is looking after a small garage on the edge of a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Ireland. He is a marginal character, not quite retarded, but not quite 100% there either. People in the town like him, but don't take him seriously. He seems to be a happy kind of guy, but the movie follows him as he tries to connect with other people, and ultimately fails. Quite depressing ultimately. The film captured extremely well the feeling of oppression and desperation that hovers over the town. I'm not sure if there are still towns like that in Ireland - Dublin is certainly not like that nowadays - but if there are, I guess that their suicide statistics are way above the national average!

A good movie, but don't go if you're feeling down in any way!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Which one will you get for Christmas?

I have a project in progress, but right now, it's been put on hold, as I've been busy working on the Christmas cards! Rather than go for the traditional Christmas look, I've decided to stick to what I'm good at. So, you'll all be getting an Aboriginal Snail this year. And remember that the snail is my home town's mascot (Namur - check it out, it's true). So it may not be relevant to Christmas, but it's very relevant to who I am and where I'm coming from!

So, here is the work in progress (if you have a favourite and you would like to get it for Christmas, let me know!):

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chair O Plane

We went into town today, cheered for the last few runners and walkers of the Dublin Marathon, arriving at the finish line on Merrion Square, and then went into the National Gallery. Our initial interest was an exhibition of Polish symbolist and modern art painters - there were a few interesting pieces, but what really caught my eye today was an exhibition of Jack Butler Yeats paintings, called Masquerade and Spectacle: The Circus and the Travelling Fair in the work of Jack B. Yeats.

I love Jack B. Yeats' bold bright vibrant paintings, and this exhibition, gathered from a number of private collections I think, was a delight. Pictures of clowns and crowds and "horses" on roller skates, and my favourite "Chair O Planes". Well, I didn't know what a chair-o-plane was before today, but Jack B. Yeats perfectly captured the movement, elation and feeling of dizziness. Unfortunately, I can't find any of the paintings from this exhibition on the web, and there is very little of Jack B. Yeats' other paintings on the web either. I found a reproduction of Men of Destiny, but it's very small and doesn't show the beautiful detail of it. I'm not sure if I've ever seen the original painting but if I didn't, then the reproduction I saw before must have been pretty good, as I've got a good picture of it in my mind. Now that I think of it, I must go back into town and buy the exhibition catalogue (the exhibition closes on Nov 11), as these paintings are just too gorgeous to forget.

It smells like Christmas

It's not even Halloween, and all the shops already have their Christmas decorations up, and Dunnes Stores has been selling Christmas wrapping paper for the last 2-3 weeks.

But that's not why it smells like Christmas! Brendan is cooking a ham for our dinner tonight and the house is filled with this strong sweet smell of Christmas. I can't wait - for my dinner that is!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Powerscourt

Today was another nice sunny day, quite unexpected. I thought that we were going to get a lot of rain this weekend, but, after a dull start, yesterday turned out sunny and warm (up to 20º), and when we woke up this morning, the sun was shining again. Last night was wet and windy, and I really was not expecting today to be sunny.

So, carpe diem and all the rest, we decided to make the most of the clocks falling back an hour, and we set out to Enniskerry, bright and early.

We parked the car in the village and walked up to Powerscourt. We didn't really want to walk through the gardens - we wanted to just walk the tree-lined avenue that leads to the house and offers glorious views of the Sugar Loaf. The trees were at their glorious golden best and we took plenty of pictures.

And of course, we had to have a peep at the new Ritz-Carlton, which is situated just to the side of the main property, in a little valley overlooking the Sugar Loaf. There was a lot of media attention recently, when the new Gordon Ramsay restaurant opened its doors. Brendan heard an interview with Gordon Ramsey himself on Newstalk Radio last week - apparently, the restaurant received 11,000 phone enquiries in its first week, and weekend tables are fully booked until the new year. We saw 2 maseratis (1 red, 1 yellow) and 2 bentleys on our way there. Plenty of money in this country - no doubt about it!

The hotel is big - the main access to it is a bit Las Vegas, with a big sweeping drive and car parking to the side, but the building itself is quite nice (better than the big square block of the Dublin Four Seasons, at least, which is not much of a comparison), from the outside at least. We were a bit too casually dressed to go in, I have to admit. But the 2-course lunch menu is a relatively affordable €30, so we might go there some time! I must check my lotto tickets - you never know!

And then, we had a leasurely scone and coffee/hot chocolate at the terrace of the main house, and enjoyed the sunshine. The hot chocolate was excellent, with a pink and a white marshmallow and a Cadbury's Flake.

And to complete the experience, we had a look at the Avoca shop, where I got myself a lovely outfit - a long lace tunic with an underdress and a little wrap cardigan. All I need to do now is go to Costelloe+Costelloe and get myself a little necklace to go with it, and I'll be the bee's knees. I really like that expression, and also the fact that its origin is a bit of a mystery - have a look at this article.

After a drive through the mountains, with a quick stop at the German cemetery at Glencree, we came home, tired but happy! (If you are wondering why there is a German cemetery in Ireland, a neutral country in WW II, read this interesting article I have found)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

L'Officina

After a hard week's work, Brendan treated me to a meal in L'Officina in Dundrum Town Centre. We both needed to get out of the house to put work aside for a little while, and we wanted to try this restaurant, which is wedged between Mao and Milano, by the fountains. We had gone by it a few times, but it's easy to miss it. We had read a few good reviews, so we decided to try it out.

When we went in, we were told that we would have to come back in half an hour and they took our mobile number. We were barely gone 10 minutes and the phone rang. It was a nice surprise to get in earlier than expected.

We got a little table by the window, a little bit tight to get in, but once we were seated, it was comfortable and there was no through traffic, and we didn't feel like we were sitting on top of the people at the next table. There was a great buzz about the place, so you couldn't hear anybody else's conversation.

The food was delicious, really authentic Italian - I had a starter of parma ham, rocket salad, tomato and buffalo mozarella. Brendan had the mixed plate, with aubergine, courgette, salami, cheese, tomato and more. Both starters came with nice bread - a good start. For main course, I had linguine with squid, baby octopus and mussels. Brendan had ravioli. Mine was the better of the 2. We'll have to go back to try out the risotto, which Brendan had intended to get (long story...). And for dessert, Brendan had an apple tart (they had run out of the Apple Sponge Cake) and I had panacotta, which was to die for (but then again, I always think that panacotta is to die for, don't I?). I think it had a hint of cinnamon, which made it a real comfort food.

And the service was good, very friendly and efficient, without feeling rushed.

We'll definitely go back. It's very different from all the big chains typical of Dundrum Town Centre. So it was no surprise to find out that it is part of the same group of restaurants as Nonna Valentina near South Circular Road.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Belated birthday wishes

Le temps passe vite quand on n'a plus vingt ans (c'est de moi que je parle, bien sûr)! L'anniversaire de Marie-Gabrielle était le 18 octobre. Bon anniversaire! Je n'ai pas envoyé de carte!

Sandymount

We went for a walk on Sandymount strand yesterday afternoon. It was colder and darker than we had expected, but it was still nice to get a bit of fresh air. Despite the traffic - It seems that no matter where you're going these days, there are traffic jams awaiting you at every corner. Apparently an Irish minister on a recent trip to Moscow equated traffic jams with economic success and likened Moscow with Dublin on that count. Needless to say, the media are giving him a hard time over that comment!

The tide was out and the clouds made for a dramatic sky. The sun was shining over Howth on the other side of the bay.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Eagle has Landed

... Actually, it's The Hen! She's finally done! I have pumped up the colours a good bit, by adding several washes of the same colours over the hen, then I sprinkled plenty more paint over the background, to increase the contrast.

And here she is - what will we call her? I think Gertrude sounds nice - maybe I'll call her Gertie! What do you think?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mad Cat

Well, the cat isn't mad, actually. He's actually quite docile when we hold him like that - he doesn't seem to mind at all. Not that he has much choice. Because he's so heavy (9 Kg!), he probably doesn't have the strength to kick his back legs when we hold him like this (which is not very often, let me reassure you!)

New Hair Cut

I got a new hair cut a few weeks back. Went to a local lady, and I'm very happy with the result. I also like the colour (my trade secret is Garnier Nutrisse 6.66 Intense Red - don't tell anyone).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The King and I

well, not quite... but I did shake hands with King Albert II, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Queen Paola. Didn't quite manage to shake her hand, though. I'm not pushy enough! There was quite a crowd there, at the Belgian Ambassador's residence, as all these Belgians came out of the woodwork to meet the King and Queen, who had expressed the wish to meet their citizens while on their State visit to Ireland.

Brendan kindly agreed to go with me, and we stood there in the Ambassador's back garden for about an hour and a half, with about 200 other Belgians. There was plenty of champagne going around (we stuck to orange juice and coca cola!) and sad little appetizers. But we did get a mini-box of Leonidas on our way out, so it was all worth it.

Brendan took all the pictures, with the result that I don't have a single picture of him there! Hopefully he'll make it to the screen (there were 3 or 4 TV crews, so watch out for us - I'm the one with the green top and the big grin on her face!!)

Me and the King. That's my back you see, as I shook hands with him and told him how delighted I was to meet him, and was his leg better!!! I couldn't think of anything else to say! My parents had told me he had fallen down the stairs at the palace a while back and was still limping.

Me and the Queen. I would say that I was driving the body guards mad, as I kept creeping forward in my feeble attempts to shake hands and say Hello. We should definitely have hired a child for the day - those with children definitely got the attention!

And, No, not a Ferrero Rocher in sight! Sorry to disappoint you!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Bullock Harbour

We went over to Bullock Harbour yesterday. It was a lot duller than on Saturday, and a lot cooler too. All the boats were in, and the seals kept a low profile - "no fish, no seals" I heard somebody say, which is quite true. We took a few pictures, but the light was fading, although it was not even 4. This is the best picture I got.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

And now, without the knee

I had iMovie HD on the Mac all along...but saving it in Quicktime format makes the file a lot larger than AVI. Unfortunately, I can't see an option to save the clip as AVI in iMovie HD.
video

Video of Willow (and my knee)

I just had to try this thing in Blogger where you can insert a video, just like when you insert a picture (dead easy, except I don't have any video-editing software on my Mac (not that I know of anyway), so I couldn't cut the bit at the end where the camera pans over my knee.

The music in the background is whatever was playing on the JK Ensemble playback on RTE.

video

Keeping Faith

Mary and Padraig had given me 2 books by Jodi Picoult for my birthday. Well, I'm not sure what part Padraig had in the purchase, really... On our weekly walk a few days before my birthday, I had told Mary I had just finished reading a book by Jodi Picoult, called My Sister's Keeper, and I had enjoyed it so much that I felt I would be reading a lot more books by the same author. Little did I know that she was fishing for ideas as to what present to get me. It was such a thoughtful present, I was really touched.

I had a lot of books to read through the summer (most of them on loan from Mary), so I've only just finished the first of the birthday presents, Keeping Faith. I devoured it - it was a great read. The themes are motherhood and, well, faith. You wouldn't think that either of these would appeal to me, but I found the story very engaging and I couldn't put it down. I've now started the next one, The Tenth Circle, and I'm already completely absorbed by it. Great to know that Jodi Picoult is a very prolific author - plenty more ideas for Birthday & Christmas presents!!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Greystones

We had a job down in Greystones this morning, and the sun was shining, so we decided to make a day of it and had a nice little walk around the sea front. The main beach near the harbour is a big beach with big pebbles - not a good beach for walking, particularly with sandals. So, we headed towards the town on the sea front and discovered a big flat sandy beach. I had never been down that side of town (just at the back of the Dart station), and it was a surprise to find such a nice spot. Greystones is quite scenic, with Bray head on one side and the Wicklow mountains at the back, clear seas, and a quaint, old charm. It hasn't been developed much, and still looks like a traditional fishing village, quite a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of towns in Ireland. On a warm sunny day like today, the whole world looked beautiful. And to top it all, we had good old fish and chips, sitting on some rocks on the beach.

A pity we had not brought our camera with us (the picture above is from the Wikipedia entry). And if the information I have just read (see this website) is correct, the lovely views will soon be gone, as a major marina development has been approved, with the building of hundreds of apartments. What is wrong with this country? How can developers get away with this? Don't tell me that no money has changed hands to get something on such a large scale approved for a small sleepy town like Greystones?? If the pictures are anything to go by, the development doesn't look too bad (go to Clifden and you'll find 10 times worse!), but it's completely out of character - Greystones is nice because it is old-fashioned and quaint. Why make it into a posh, snazzy marina?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Birthdays this month

October will see Marie-Gabrielle's birthday, on the 18th.

I've been too busy to do much work on The Hen, but it's amazing what an hour or two of work over the weekend can do. I'm very happy with the head, but I still have a lot of work to get the colours right on the body.

Friday, September 28, 2007

2 days in Paris

After a lovely oriental noodle dish prepared by Maura (recipe from Nigella Lawson's book "How to Eat"), and a quick Hello to Bella and Biddie, Lisa and myself went off to the pictures last night.

Out of the 2 movies picked out by Lisa, we agreed on "2 days in Paris". I had only read just one review, and it sounded nice. But it turned out to be hillarious. French woman is going out with American man. They live in New York, and are staying in her flat in Paris for 2 days at the end of a holiday, and he gets to meet her parents, her serious sister, her former lovers, and plenty of mad Parisian taxi drivers! No wonder he's freaked out!! It's half in English, half in French, so if you speak both languages, it's even funnier. I must get Brendan to watch it when it comes out in DVD - I'm sure he'll identify with poor Jack, who is left to mingle with Marion's friends (& ex-lovers) at a party, although he doesn't speak any French. I laughed out loud throughout.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Finbarr

Not a big birthday for a good few years!

Happy Birthday from both of us

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Hen

I didn't get a chance to work on The Hen at all this week, but between last weekend and this weekend, I've made a bit of progress.

Last weekend:
  • After masking the hen and the log with low-tack masking paper, I sprinkled paint on the page with a flat sieve and a toothbrush.
  • Then I painted the log wet-in-wet, to keep it fuzzy and out of focus.
  • After removing the masking paper, I started painting the detail, with the darkest colour to begin with.


This weekend:
  • I've adjusted the sprinkling of background paint, as my hen shape was slightly too big, leaving a bit of a white gap between the background and the hen itself. I had applied masking fluid over the edge of the masking paper, and it had settled a bit more than I anticipated (I should know this by now!)
  • I've applied small lines of masking fluid to the bits that I want to keep light, and I've started painting the rusty-coloured feathers.
  • The patterns of colours are not as strong as they should be, so I want to figure out how to make those lovely feather shapes before I do anything more. Some of these shapes are like little shells, others like arrows, and then there are the dotted lines. It's all very natural looking, and yet, there are very strong patterns in each area - in the wing, in the thigh, on the neck, ... I think now is a good time to stand back and think about it some more.

Autumn colours

More autumn colours from Airfield

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Autumn colours

We're enjoying glorious sunshine these last few weeks (well, apart from yesterday morning, that is, when it looked like the rain would never stop and the heavy cloud would stay stuck to the mountain forever and ever). Today was like a summer's day, so we sat out the back and read our books.
Last week, we went to Airfield and took plenty of pictures, as the light was lovely and clear. Here is one that I really like:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Indian Summer (again!)

Mary had reminded us about the Indian Summer Food Festival, so we had booked a table for Wednesday. The Indian Summer are running this Food Festival every Wednesday night until the 17th of October. Along with the delights of a sampling menu for the various culinary regions of the Indian subcontinent, you can enjoy live Indian folk dance and music.

On Wednesday, it was the North Zone, and we enjoyed every bit of it (well, except the dessert - a milk-based pudding that tasted like sweet cottage cheese). I particularly enjoyed the fish starter, the prawn & squid main course - quite spicy - and the vegetable dish - potatoes and nice crunchy green beans. All of that with plenty of good rice, and an assortment of naan breads. Excellent value and delicious food.

The music was too loud. It was good - a guitar player and a male singer - very nice, but way way too loud. We had to move table to get away from it, and it was still too loud! And then the dancing... 4 men dressed up in what I assume is traditional costume. They were the Indian Riverdance, moving in perfect synch, and at quite a fast pace, to what I would describe as "Indian techno beat". Again, too loud, but the dancing was impressive.

We might go again in a couple of weeks' time, to sample the food of the South Zone on the 10th of October, or the Central Zone on the 17th of October, maybe! I just hope they turn down the volume a bit!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Lucinda

We have a new birthday in September - Lucinda is celebrating a big birthday today!

Happy Birthday, Lucinda - I thought you would enjoy a picture of this new bird discovered in Colombia (check out www.wildbirds.com for more information)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New pig at Airfield

Airfield got a new piglet. She's a black pig and she is really cute. I don't know what she's called. Airfield used to be pretty good at making a fuss about new animals, but they don't seem to bother any more.
And there are signs everywhere that you should not feed the animals. The 2 goats are pretty upset about that - they used to enjoy their treats of apples and carrots. The 2 big pigs at the bottom probably still get the odd treat - they are so big that an extra apple or two can't do them any harm, surely! Don't tell anyone!

Anyway, back to the new piglet. She is in the little barn near the entrance, and she'll come to you if it's around her feeding time. She nearly bit my fingers the last time. Otherwise, she'll happily go around her little area, ignore you, and eat whatever is on the ground or in her bowl. And she buries herself in the hay before she goes to sleep. All you'll see is her big nuzzle sticking out. Major cute factor!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Monsoon

Another hectic week in PC Medic. There are a lot of broken computers out there, in need of repair (or scrapping in some cases), a lot of printers to be set up, a lot of wireless connections to be re-established! The days have been flying by, and, needless to say, the hen is not getting painted at all.

Last Saturday, we decided we needed a break, and we went to the Monsoon restaurant in Stillorgan for our evening meal. The Monsoon doesn't look like much from the outside. Actually, I had always thought it was just an Indian take-away. But Padraig and Mary informed us that it was actually a sister restaurant to the Indian Summer, and that it offered excellent food. The menu is not as extensive, and the restaurant itself is not as glamorous. But we were very pleasantly surprised. The starter platter was different enough from the Indian Summer one, and my Goan prawn curry was delicious.

- I would not make a very good food writer for the papers: I don't have the vocabulary to describe food and flavours (just like most of our customers don't have the vocabulary to describe what's wrong with their computer). And you know the way the reviewers in the newspapers always describe every dish that their partner had, with a pertinent comment about how it tasted? Not me. I can't do that. I have no idea what Brendan had, let alone what it tasted like. I vaguely remember that it wasn't as hot as he would have liked it to be, but it was very tasty all the same. There you go, that's all I can say! -

Anyways, all that to say we had a lovely evening, and it was a good excuse for me to dress up a bit. Actually, now that I think of it, I must organise a few more PC Medic tee-shirts. The ironed-on print on my white tee-shirts is looking a bit faded, and my black embroidered ones are not as black as they used to be. But where will I find the time?

PS: don't forget that the Indian Summer food festival is on, with a special evening on Wednesday nights in September and October. (I should get a commission from them, shouldn't I?!!)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Quick Hello

Hectic week, so not much free time for painting hens or writing blogs about the process!

We went to the pictures last Sunday - we went to see The Bourne Ultimatum, which we both enjoyed. An action-packed movie, going at a mad pace, from one location to the next - Tangiers, Madrid, New York, ... all in search of the truth about Jason Bourne! I've enjoyed the first 2 movies in the series and I enjoyed this one too. It's a very good story, the main character has a soul and a conscience, despite the violence, and it doesn't go down the path of any of the obvious possible romantic sub-plots. Not the kind of movie that gets you to think deeply about life, but still a good way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Happy Birthday, Amy

Sorry to be a couple of days late for this posting. But I did manage to talk to you on the day of your birthday, and it sounds like you had a great time. We really enjoyed having you over with us last week!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Hen

Here is where we are with our nice big plump hen: With the Wacom tablet and Corel Painter Essentials 2, I have been painting "over" the photograph. Very simple and gives great results! Using the colour picker, I copied the colours from the original photograph, then I applied the "digital paint" over a separate layer, using the palette knife tool.
I then copied this new layer and pasted it into an empty document. (I tried to remove the original layer, i.e. the photograph, but it was locked, and I didn't know how to unlock it in Corel Painter Essentials).

I know this is all cheating - no real creativity -, but I find it useful to use the tablet to get "into" a new project. + it makes me feel good!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Next project - a hen

I have no idea how I'm going to tackle this one. The more I look at the picture, the more I get lost in the detail! I've been thinking of painting a hen for quite a while, inspired by Elizabeth Kincaid, in Paint Watercolours that Dance with Light. She has a few paintings of hens in that book that look so plump and gorgeous that I wanted to give it a try. Now I'm not so sure - How will I paint the dark and light feather pattern? How will I render the plumpness of this happy hen? (who was captured at Dublin Zoo last Easter - well, I don't know if the hen was captured, or if she was born in the zoo. All I meant to say is that we captured this picture of the hen at Dublin Zoo!!).

I've done a few squiggly drawings of it already, but I think I will need to do a more precise drawing before I go any further! The squiggly drawing technique is something I learned from The Natural Way to Draw, by Nicolaides. Brendan gave me that book for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I've only done the first couple of lessons. It's a tough book to follow, but I find that doing the squiggly drawings helps me look at my subject in a global way, without worrying about the details. So, it's a good starting point to get going, without worrying too much about getting it 100% right! There is a good review of it on the Amazon website (see the link above). Will it help me paint this hen? Maybe not, as I'll probably end up tracing the picture for the final painting, but I find that I need to try out different drawings before I can start painting. It helps me get immersed in the project. I guess it helps me see the subject properly.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Indian Summer

Talking about restaurants, we went to Indian Summer in Stillorgan with Padraig and Mary on Saturday night, and I have to say that the more I go there, the more I like it. There was a great buzz - it's nice to see the place doing well, despite its poor location (it's upstairs, entrance from the alley at the back of the Mill House pub). The tables are nicely spaced, so you don't feel on top of the table next to you.

They offered us a complementary drink of vodka and watermelon juice, which was excellent - as I was the designated driver, I only had a few sips. I would have liked to drink more of it!

Being a creature of habits, I had a mixed starter platter, then a red snapper meen moilee. The fish was fresh and succulent, and the sauce was spicy but not hot. And the icecream was yummy - I had walnut and chocolate icecream that was to die for!

A definite Douze Points for Indian Summer! Their number is: 2108440

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Yo Sushi

Yo Sushi have opened a Sushi bar in Dundrum Town Centre, so we had to try it. While it gets good marks for the food, I give it a big Nul Points for the prices.

Brendan and I went there for lunch on Friday, its first day of opening. There was a good choice of rolls on the conveyor belt, and a nice shrimp and glass noodle salad, but no sashimi on offer while we were there. I would have liked to try a dish of tuna - that's how you know a good sushi bar. Rice rolls are nice, but you can hardly see the fish! On top of that, we did not approve of having to pay € 1 for a glass of filtered water! It's only tap water after all, even if you can get a choice of still or sparkling and you can drink as many glasses as you want! Even with a free green tea, our bill came to € 31, and we could have eaten twice as much! Will I go again? Probably not until prices drop!

Compare this to the prices in Todai on 32nd Street in New York - $17.95 per person for all you can eat sushi - delicious and fresh and plenty of choice for less than the cost of a few tiny plates in Yo Sushi!

Bon anniversaire, Véronique

Je n'ai pas encore décidé quelle carte t'envoyer! Voici donc une petite sélection!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Máire

And for your birthday, here is the final version of my current project. I hope you like it!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My day at the seaside

We went to Bullock Harbour last Monday, this time armed with our camera. There was plenty of activity, lots of people renting boats, to go out fishing in Dublin Bay for an hour - mostly groups of foreign men - Eastern European, Chinese, Philippino, and a few families, a few dogs enjoying the view, a couple of seals looking for a few easy morcels, and even a cat, supervising everything that was going on!