Thursday, September 22, 2005

I'd just like to take the time to point out that Dublin's public transportation system sucks ass.

If we were to compare a city of a similar size -- oh, let's just say Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic -- I reckon I live about as far from the city center as Zelivskeho metro stop, which is to say that walking at a good clip, you could make it there in about 45-50 minutes.

During the day, it's often as long as 45 minutes between pick-ups. This means that at any given moment, if you wanted to drop everything and meet somebody downtown, it could easily be over an hour before you're there. (In Prague, you could leave your apartment at Zelivskeho and almost always be in the center within 30 minutes, if not less.) And the bus schedules here are more like loose guidelines, rather than schedules as such (though to be fair, it's not quite southern Italy).

So anyway, the way I see it, forty years of central planning had to be good for something. But moving on, I had a Prague moment the other day...


In recent months I've spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out the process for applying for acceditation and residency as a foreign freelance correspondent working in the Republic of Ireland.

First I tried my friend who works at the Irish embassy in the Czech Republic, back when I was living there. The consular officer there informed me that I should contact the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

I wrote this Department asking about the process. They told me I should in fact enquire at the Department of Justice. I wrote to the Department of Justice and received no reply. I wrote to them again. No reply.

Meanwhile, I contacted the Dublin office of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The head of the organization tried to help, but gave up after spending half an hour on the phone with the Department of Justice getting nowhere. He got so frustrated, he said he was even thinking of having one of the union members write a story about it.

So I wrote back to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, politely informing the woman who'd answered my original e-mail that I was unable to find anybody who could give me an answer at the Department of Justice. I even told her the anecdote about the guy at the NUJ. The woman replied (again, very kindly), telling me I should contact the embassy in the country I'm living in.

I answered politely that in fact, that's how this whole thing started: It was the consular officer at the Irish embassy in the Czech Republic that told me to contact her department, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I explained, again, that all I was looking for was a simple explanation of whether and how it was possible to get residency based on being a freelance journalist writing for publications outside the country.

The woman replied (again, very kindly) telling me to write a letter, on paper this time, to the Department of Justice, send it to their address on St. Stephen's Green in Dublin, requesting that they reply urgently within two weeks (since I was soon leaving the Czech Republic), and asking for the name of a person there who would be able to help me.

Miraculously, six weeks later (that is, just a few days ago) a letter arrived at the return address I'd given in Prague, informing me that my application had been received and that it would take a minimum of six months to process.

The remarkable thing is, I never sent an application. I don't even think I sent a CV.

Anyway, I was telling this story -- save the last bit, which hadn't happened yet -- to a fellow journalist I'd met here in Dublin. He's a foreigner, too, and a long-time resident of Ireland, though he has residency through other means.

We were having lunch at a place called Buswell's on Kildare St., across from Leinster House, the seat of Dail Eireann, the Irish Parliament. I won't name the journalist because he was pretty embarassed about this little episode.

"It's impossible," he said "There is no process. In fact, the only way to get official permission to stay here as a journalist -- the only way -- is if the Prime Minister or the Minister of Justice personally intervenes and arranges it for you. I'm serious. That's just the way things work here."

It's a paraphrase, of course, but that essentially carries the gist and tone of what he told me. And he didn't exactly say it quietly.

He then got up to use the toilets or make a phone call, I don't remember. About a minute later he came back, sat down, leaned forward and said to me, sotto voce, "That man sitting against the wall over my right shoulder, 11 o'clock to you, facing the door... is the Justice Minister."

My lunch mate said he's been published enough in the local press that Michael McDowell would recognize him by face. And it's a pretty quiet little bar. He was very close to mortally embarassed.

I, of course, was just about ready to get up and introduce myself and ask Mr. McDowell how I could get residency in Ireland as a foreign correspondent. That would have made a much better story, I know.... Alas, I didn't.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Glen Emery, speaking about the basement of the legendary and recently defunct Prague bar Marquis de Sade, and its owner (Emery's ex-partner) John-Bruce Shoemaker:

"Support columns had been ripped out. The Marquis de Sade was just hanging over a pit. If you got a bunch of stag party guys in there jumping up and down it could have collapsed. It would have been a fitting end to John-Bruce, having him collapse into a pit full of rats."

It's a good story.


Also from the Prague Post: If you click on the comments below (look for the number 2), you'll see a link to another Post article, this time about me (yes, me!) and the fact that I finally moved from Prague. I didn't link to it here on the blog initially, partly due to false modesty but also because I was a bit embarrassed (for the paper, that is) that the Post had actually deemed my departure from Prague worthy of comment.

There were also a few awkward phases in there about which some people I know claim to have spoken to many people who suggest they could be interpreted as slight jabs by the author, Will Tizard. Now that it's made the comments, I guess I should respond: Hey, they spelled my name right!

It's important to note that Will's an old friend -- I met him the afternoon of the first day I moved to Prague in September 1996 -- and some of these quasi-jabs almost reach the status of inside jokes between me and him, like the thing about the tofu burger. Never mind that. Oh, alright, but it's not that interesting: Will never liked the Tulip Cafe tofu burger and suggests its lack of popularity is one reason I sold the restaurant. Actually -- ahem -- the Tulip tofu burger was consistently one of the three most popular items on the menu. Isn't that enlightening.

Now another old friend, Richard Hunt, has chimed in (see the comments) with a robust, rousing defence in a situation where I'm not sure there's much robustitude to be roused. Thank you, anyway, Richard; you the man, and I love it when you use phrases like "got the real hump," which I can only I assume to be a quaint Anglicism.

Richard makes much hay (does one say that outside the U.S. Midwest?) over my old column for Prague Business Journal. "Ad Nauseam," as it was called, covered the Czech advertising and marketing beats. To say I'll be missed by the advertising scene is a bit misleading, since I haven't written about those guys in years, but I will say that of all the silly things I ever did in Prague, this is probably the one of which I'm proudest. Granted, the subject matter was super-specialized (perhaps even more so than what I'm doing now, covering the Polish and Slovak energy and telecom sectors) and I'd say the column was read on a regular basis by, oh, maybe 20 people. But the thing is, these 20 people read it all the time, and they talked about it afterwards and remembered it, and somehow it actually felt like I was making a microscopic difference in the world around me at the time. I liked that and I miss it.


Nobody in Dublin gave a shit about the riots up in Belfast last weekend. It was only my friends back in Prague who suggested I write something about it. On the basis of their prodding, I pitched an article to Slate, and surprisingly, they took it. Thanks, guys.

"What's Good For The IRA ..." (my editor admitted it "wouldn't win any headline-writing contests") is the third part of what future historians will surely refer to as my Belfast Trilogy, the first two installments being "Gerry's Kid" and "The Adams Family."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Parse this story:

"The Strasbourg police have disposed a harmless parcel with an anti-stress device from the Czech Republic sent to the European ombudsman, seated in the EP headquarters, in fears it could contain a bomb.

Afterwards, police found out that it really contained a prototype of a vibrating anti-stress belt. "

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Two nice tidbits via Dr. Frank:

1. Michael Beirut of Design Observer writes about The Book (Cover) That Changed My Life: The mystically enigmatic mustard-on-maroon cover of The Catcher in the Rye, a book cover that goes some way (though not all the way) toward explaining how and why the book assumed Biblical importance in the minds of adolescent readers.

2. Why Van Halen had a clause in their contract demanding that M&Ms be provided backstage - with the brown ones removed. I am dead certain this information will come in useful some day. (And who knew that David Lee Roth knew the meaning of the word "tertiary"?)


In other news, I noticed the house I'm living in has a fire extinguisher upstairs that was manufactured in 1964. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it hasn't been used, refilled or moved substantially from its present location since then.