An Irishgirl abroad — New York life through a European lens

Love in Dublin

Posted in Culture, Dublin, Relationships by Frieda on August 24, 2010

Romantic Ireland?*

DUBLIN —  Ireland has a flourishing drinking scene, or ‘pub culture’ as it’s fondly known, but the concept of dating is as elusive here as a mystical dream.

Yet single people do exist, and the notion that this odd American practice could be a good thing is gradually infiltrating our national psyche. Last weekend’s Sunday Independent featured ‘Confessions of a Modern Irish Bachelor‘ by one Hugh Farrelly, a pallid, unsmiling journalist, who admitted he was ‘single, straight and 38’. The female perspective has been gaining ground as well. Irish TV today interviewed an intrepid New York woman who’s currently making her way through Dublin’s urban jungle. (Her website, interestingly, doesn’t mention any actual dates here). As background research, the reporters spoke to a few Irish women, all of whom agreed that dating in Dublin is awful and ‘very hard’.

Romance involves a trip to a pub, the consumption of a number of pints or whiskey or vodka, and a further journey to a nightclub or late bar, at which point the individual may approach and engage with a member of the opposite sex. As the night wanes and more drink is taken, primitive nuptials of a kind may occur.

The real romance is with the pub itself. Here we are eminently faithful, returning again and again to the same bars we frequented in our teenage years. Back then there was a frisson because we were underage and it was illegal, but after you hit 18 — and more than a decade on — the intrigue wears off. That rarely stops us, however.

Meanwhile women complain that men don’t initiate conversation; men say women are unresponsive and scary.

Last week I was at O’Donoghue’s on Baggot Street, a packed, roaringly noisy place, chatting to a beautiful woman in her early thirties, who told me how lonely and isolating Dublin is, and how hard it is to meet people. Her huge eyes fixed on me as she explained her plan to move home to the country to be closer to her family. She wanted to meet a nice man but told me she never met any in Dublin. Meanwhile we ignored a table of guys beside us, who looked over pointedly from time to time but said nothing.

After a while, I decided to conduct an experiment. I turned to the guy beside us and asked him if men and women ever spoke to each other in pubs in Dublin. I forget what his reply was, to be honest — this was after a third glass of the pub’s house white wine — but we got into a conversation. I looked around to introduce my friend, only to discover that she had departed for the toilet. Within five minutes another friend grabbed me. Everyone was leaving.

[*Image source: here]

Tagged with: , , , ,

Making the case for Mr. Alright

Posted in Relationships by Frieda on February 3, 2010
Image from the 2008 Atlantic Monthly article

Image from the 2008 Atlantic Monthly article

I’ve recently become entranced by a woman who is single-handedly redefining what women want — if we’re to believe reports. Lori Gottlieb’s neatly-timed pre-Valentine’s book “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough” is based on an article she wrote for the Atlantic two years ago. And yes, I was surprised, too, that such a highbrow publication runs pieces on dating. I will certainly now be reading it more often.

Gottlieb’s argument is cut-throat and practical. Women on the dating market have a particular value, relating to their appearance and their youth. Many think, in their late twenties and early thirties, that they will meet the man of their dreams, but they’re WRONG! They won’t, she says, because “perfect” men won’t ever like ordinary women, who are doomed to hit their mid-thirties and find that they’re alone. As a London Times article put it earlier this week, “Woe betide the naive singleton who assumes her choice of men will widen, rather than narrow, with time.” Woe indeed.

In the Times interview, Gottlieb says, “I’m all for the feminist movement but I think what happened is we took certain feminist ideals — for instance, the idea of ‘you can have it all’, or ‘you deserve the best’, or girl power in general — and we applied that to dating.”

I avidly sought out all available accounts of Gottlieb’s stance, and traced it back to an article from five years ago, also in the Atlantic, called the XY files. There Gottlieb detailed how she broke up with her boyfriend because she didn’t love him, and became pregnant via artificial insemination because she wanted a child. She dreamed of the advice she might give her daughter when the daughter grew up (incidentally, she went on to give birth to a son):

“Perhaps by then I’ll be married to a man who was worth waiting for. But it’s equally possible that I’ll have revised my ‘somebody isn’t always better than nobody’ theory and will tell her that some partner might be better than no partner.”

She had one thing right.

As a girl/woman in her early 30s, I must accept that Gottlieb’s frantic warnings are aimed straight at me. I am one of the poor innocents of whom she speaks, blithely imagining I’m doing the right thing with my life, and little suspecting the disappointment that’s around the corner when my stock plummets.

I’ve considered her reasoning closely, and I partly agree. Let me explain. “Some guys aren’t worldly, but they’d make great dads,” Gottlieb asserts. “Or you walk into a room and start talking to this person who is 5’4″ and has an unfortunate nose, but he ‘gets’ you.” Er, yeah. It’s a sensible point — nobody’s perfect, and therefore the guy you could love might well not be.

But the thing with Gottlieb is that like many polemical writers, she makes her case by extremes. It’s not a question of meeting someone nice who happens not to be tall or rich — both of which are superficial traits —  and “settling” (as she puts it) because you get along with him, or her. For Gottlieb, it’s an issue of total passion v. total tedium. In her dystopian marital vision she even proposes the relationship of Will and Grace as an ideal (Will’s gay).

For example: “So if you rarely see your husband—but he’s a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own—how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?”

Mr. Good Enough is a bland creature, falling somewhere between a provider of cash and a babysitter. Despite her recommendations Gottlieb’s distaste for him is palpable. This puts her in a difficult position, because if she so dislikes Mr. Alright, it will be tough for her to settle for him. She is still single.

In the past her criteria in locating The One have apparently been rigid. She always believed marriage should have a “divine spark.” “Many of the guys I dated possessed these qualities, but if one of them lacked a certain degree of kindness, another didn’t seem emotionally stable enough, and another’s values clashed with mine. Others were sweet but so boring that I preferred reading during dinner to sitting through another tedious conversation. I also dated someone who appeared to be highly compatible with me—we had much in common, and strong physical chemistry—but while our sensibilities were similar, they proved to be a half-note off, so we never quite felt in harmony, or never viewed the world through quite the same lens.”

I’m sorry, but I just don’t know what half-note-off sensibilities are. And I thought reading at the table was rather rude. What would we say if a man did that? Gottlieb’s article is not that long, yet the word “tedious” features twice, and “boring” twice also.

The “tedious” Mr. Good Enough is not a creature of the real world, as Gottlieb’s trying to persuade us young women; he is a construction of her own neurotic mind. And although she says she’s already in therapy, the supposed existence of this man is, I suggest, nothing more than proof that she needs to keep going.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Nora Ephron in conversation

Posted in Culture, New York by Frieda on November 11, 2009
The pic is from the

Nora Ephron spoke about her days as a journalist

Since coming to New York last August, I’ve been taking courses at NYU. This means not only that I get to learn useful stuff, but also that I’ve access to wonderful resources, and to events. Today Nora Ephron was speaking with Pete Hamill at the so-called Arthur Carter Institute of Journalism at NYU, as part of a series called Primary Sources.

I’ve had a crush on Hamill since I first spoke to him a few weeks ago. I know he’s fairly famous and all that (he’s been editor-in-chief of the New York Post and the Daily News, has written numerous novels and covered wars in Lebanon, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, etc.), but he’s also simply nice (if that’s a word people still use as a compliment), friendly, and has a wonderfully benign air about him.

It also so happens that I recently read Ephron’s book Heartburn, about the demise of her marriage, when I visited a friend in London in September. I liked it. As Anna Shapiro put it in the New York Observer a few years ago, her wit is “sublime.”

Hamill and Ephron worked together at the New York Post, and the conversation was relaxed, as they reminisced and chewed over anecdotes. Ephron is 68. She looked effortlessly elegant, in black trousers, a black polo neck, and black boots, with dangly earrings. She gestured widely when speaking but otherwise sat utterly still, looking straight at whoever she was talking to, and sometimes blinking at an alarming rate. Hamill is 74 (or at least, he was born in 1935), and I don’t know why, but he reminds me of an old lion, it may be his beard.

The pair sat on red leather chairs chatting and bantering while the NYU profs fussed about getting the video ready (I’ll post it when it’s up but it’s not out yet).

Here are some excerpts from their conversation. My paraphrases and comments are in italics.

Update (Dec 24): After writing this post I realized that I found Ephron’s focus on the past somewhat grating. I’ve recently heard several journalists talk about how great it was to be a reporter in the good old days. Implicitly, and in some cases, explicitly, the suggestion is that young journalists now are a) not as good as they were and b) don’t have as much fun as they had. It’s annoying to hear that, especially when they’re presumably (?) getting paid to speak to college grads studying journalism. Surely they could offer something more positive? If they can’t, harping on about times of yore hardly helps. Having got that off my chest: the conversation is below.

NE: When I started out at the Post [in 1963] I was a mail girl, then a clipper, then a researcher. It was so sexist and yet nobody really thought about it. Men were writers, women were researchers — which really meant fact-checkers.

Hamill joined the Post in June 1960. He had been working as a cartoonist or, as he put it, “graphic artist.” When he got a job at the Post he worked as a journalist by night and did other work by day, so sleep was not high on his agenda.

NE: Times were different then. There wasn’t this thing that you had to go to journalism school.

PH: They [The Post] had a custom of summer tryouts, they were depleted over the summer when people took holidays. There was that sense of editors rolling the dice and taking a chance on people who didn’t have resumes but might have talent. It’s different now.

The Post also took a chance with women reporters.

NE: Yes. And why?

PH: The publisher was a woman.

NE: The paper had a tradition of a certain kind of sob-sister writing. There were seven editions in the course of the day and your job was to make the news into a feature story. This was the readers’ second paper [after the Times, which told them the news] so you gave them a point of view.

Another reason they had women was that they were cheaper.

PH: But my first pay stub was $108 per week!

NE: That was my second wage, after I got a raise. I started at $98. Ephron starts talking about the city room, the newsroom at the Post where she used to work. One door had a glass window. It was so dirty that someone had written “Philthy” on it with their finger, in the dust. It was romantic in its own way. You didn’t even have your own desk.

PH: They were always two chairs short.

NE: It was really fun being a reporter at the Post, that was why we all loved it. The front page stories of the Post in those days were very short — five or six hundred words. Fred McMurrough [I’m not sure about this spelling] said, “never start a story with a quote. We always want to know who’s saying it!”

Ephron’s recounts how she found her first front page story incredibly hard to write, even though she had great material. Another staff member helped her write it.

It takes a while to learn to do things, even  things that look very simple. Always be careful that you overreach.

[My note: although her experience also proves the opposite. That front page story must have helped her career; and she later said she loves doing new things that she knows little about! See her comments on screenwriting below]

PH: We had terrific editors. One thing an editor said to me that was good advice for life — “if you want it to be true it usually isn’t.” It’s good advice — you wanna believe the woman or guy you’re madly in love with is perfect but they’re not. You roll the dice a few times in life before you hit seven. The editors were educating us as young reporters. It was all about craft.

NE: I didn’t know how to write a long piece or a profile or a column when I started, yet four years later I was writing a column for Esquire. You need to put yourself in a position where you can write and write and write, and finally you can write!

There’s no question in my mind, I have to say in all honesty that I not only wanted to be a journalist, I definitely wanted to date a journalist. And I did. I wanted it to be romantic in every sense. It was romantic and exciting but it was also fun after work. Journalists are so smart, and they’re unspecialized, you don’t have to worry about marrying a heart surgeon and having to talk about heart surgery for the rest of your life.

PH: They happen to be the worst husbands as well. The Hotel Earl, not too far from here, was full of musicians and newspaper men whom their wives had thrown out. But there was sense of the craft. That came first because nobody was going to get rich.

NE: We weren’t poor either.

PH: It was a lot more bohemian. Later, in the seventies, when people started getting paid what they should have been paid, the editors started to move to the suburbs.

NE: Everybody was a drinker. Well, not me, but all the guys. It was wild. People were just falling down drunk. Then they would sit down at their typewriters; and they were drunk.

PH: When did you start moving into other forms? Was that an accident?

NE: In my last year at the Post, I started doing freelance stuff at magazines. I was thinking, now what? Magazine work was harder and interesting. Then I became a freelance magazine writer. But I never gave up the first thing before the next thing came along. Looking back on it I pretty much changed my career every ten years. There’s no question, with screenwriting I really didn’t know what I was doing. And that was exciting.

PH: Says he taught himself to write by typing out the books of authors that he loved, like Raymond Chandler (not the whole book)

I think every writer is self-taught. I kept a journal. And for example, I took a Joseph Conrad paragraph — “storm at sea” — and would transform it to “snowstorm on land.”

NE: When I started screenwriting I knew about beginnings, middles and ends from journalism.

In the Q&A session I ask Ephron whether she thinks things have improved for women in journalism. In a Guardian interview she said that online journalism was a man’s world and I wondered why. She vehemently says there’s less chauvinism in the field, but says the digital world works better for men than women because they have more ADD and like multitasking. “And I believe men work fundamentally differently from women,” she adds.

In response to a question from Ephron herself — what advice would Hamill give to a young journalist starting out today — Hamill offers his thoughts.

PH: Get out and get a couple of years of becoming fearless in front of a keyboard. Don’t work for free. Get the fear out of yourself, the computer doesn’t write the story any more than the piano writes the music. I’m optimistic. I do think journalism is going to survive.

*The pic at the top is from the New York Observer (