Cinderella Liberty

The Chief Engineer from my trip to China on the Hanjin Baltimore was in town Sunday night. I met him up at Pier 46, accompanied by Rene, a machinist. Both are from Germany.Seattle July 2011 057

Sunday was the last day of Seattle’s annual Hempfest in Myrtle Edwards Park. We didn’t go but Belltown and lower Queen Anne were full of very stoned people, walking around on the hems of their blue jeans. We found a cigar shop on Pike and looked for German-language newspapers at the Pike Place Market news stand. The two Germans had no interest in a fish dinner so I ruled out Ray’s and took them instead to the 5 Spot. Annoyingly, the current theme of the restaurant is “Portland.” Portland is the Doobie Brothers of American cities.

Beer is important in Germany and I began to feel the pressure as several of Seattle’s220px-Lenin-statue-in-Fremont artisanal brews were found wanting. I couldn’t disagree; the beers on offer at the 5 Spot tasted over-hopped. It was entertaining to listen to the German pronunciation of “Deschutes.” We moved to Fremont and a pitcher of Mac & Jack’s at the Red Door. This was cloudy and declared unfinished, with the suggestion that it was hurried out the door of the brewery for quick sale. We visited the Lenin statue. Rene appreciated the irony of the thing but, having grown up in East Germany, didn’t find it humorous.

We found offerings more to their liking at the George & Dragon Pub, which has Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic on tap. While seated at the bar a man sat down across from us, dressed in a white shirt with four-striped shoulder boards and a nautical officer’s cap. He had mutton-chop sideburns and his appearance caused murmuring in German as my guests tried to figure out if he was truly a master or dressed in drag. The universal antipathy of engine room hands toward deck crews was again on display. After the man left the English bartender told us that he drove for the Ducks, the amphibious landing craft that tour Seattle.  tourist n drunks

We ended the evening at the 5 Point Cafe, in the shadow of the Space Needle. The Chief recalled the neon sign – “We Cheat Tourists -N- Drunks Since 1929” – from a previous visit. The place was jumping for a Sunday night, and it appeared that the organizers of Hempfest had retired there after that event ended. Rene was pleased with the eclectic Seattle-centric jukebox and found a “Les Canards” sticker over the restroom entrance. “Look! Prostitutes!” he blurted on the trip back to the Pier. I got them back to the ship before midnight.

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Shanghai to Hoi An

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The Concorde Métro Stop

In sorting my photographs from the trip I came across this one, taken at the exit of the Concorde station on the Paris Métro, at the Place de la Concorde. P1000814I’d spent the previous night in Arcueil, an unremarkable suburb, and this was my first view of Paris. It’s difficult to imagine a grander entrance to that great city.

The Concorde Métro stop was built in 1903, on the 1, 8 and 12 lines. It was about 3 blocks from my hotel in central Paris. I hadn’t known that one of Ezra Pound’s most memorable poems was written after a 1912 visit to that particular underground station.

In a Station of The Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

According to Wikipedia, Pound described the inspiration for his Imagist poem this way: “I got out of a train at, I think, La Concorde, and in the jostle I saw a beautiful face, and then, turning suddenly, another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful face. All that day I tried to find words for what this made me feel.”

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All The Pretty Pictures

I have 22 Gigs worth of pictures and videos from my trip; they gotta go somewhere …

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Ireland–New York–Seattle

US Immigration and Naturalization stations officials at Shannon who check passengers through US customs before leaving Ireland. One of them, after thumbing through my passport, welcomes me home, which feels good.

 

Aer Lingus took me from Shannon Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, and I took the Long Island Rail Road to Pennsylvania Station, beneath Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. I had never been to New York and would have liked to spend the night but my plane was scheduled to leave Newark at 7:25 am. I had time for a quick walk and a hotdog before catching the train to Penn Station in Newark, where my hotel is located. I flew home to Seattle yesterday on Alaska Airlines for free, using my mileage plan.

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Cliffs of Moher and Limerick

Before leaving Galway, I booked a flight on Aer Lingus to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, from Shannon Airport near Limerick. I gave myself one night in Limerick and travelled there by bus. The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

I wanted a stopover at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and got one, but only for 40 minutes. On the way the bus passed through small towns and villages including Doolin which had been recommended to me and which looks interesting, but will have to wait for the next trip.

At the Cliffs I was able to check my bag at the tourist shop. The weather was terrific and I enjoyed my hurried visit but would have preferred to spend more time.

Travelling to the Cliffs by bus is a bit harrowing, as the roads are narrow and twisty. TheThe Cliffs of Moher, Ireland driver is used to it and seems unfazed. After my 40 minute stopover I have a new driver named John for the rest of the way to Limerick. John lives in County Clare and I accidently wind him up by asking about a group of holiday homes in the area. This leads to a profane diatribe about the ridiculous prices paid for the houses in recent years, and resultant defaults, bank failures and  bailouts. John believes that Irish bankers are getting a free ride after plunging Ireland into economic crisis. He also thinks that America has been putting bankers in jail, while no Irish bankers are behind bars. I’m not sure he’s right about American bankers going to jail but I didn’t want to interrupt an entertaining rant. How much do you think that cottage is worth? he asks me. I don’t know, maybe 500,000 Euros? It sold for 800,000 Euros! King John's Castle, Limerick, IrelandWell, it is lovely I say, right there on the water. “It’s not that lovely!” John barks.

John’s anger at Irish bankers, politicians and developers is understandable. As Paul Krugman wrote last November:

The Irish story began with a genuine economic miracle. But eventually this gave way to a speculative frenzy driven by runaway banks and real estate developers, all in a cozy relationship with leading politicians. The frenzy was financed with huge borrowing on the part of Irish banks, largely from banks in other European nations.

Then the bubble burst, and those banks faced huge losses. You might have expected those who lent money to the banks to share in the losses. After all, they were consenting adults, and if they failed to understand the risks they were taking that was nobody’s fault but their own. But, no, the Irish government stepped in to guarantee the banks’ debt, turning private lossesThe Broad, Majestic River Shannon, Limerick, Ireland into public obligations.

Before the bank bust, Ireland had little public debt. But with taxpayers suddenly on the hook for gigantic bank losses, even as revenues plunged, the nation’s creditworthiness was put in doubt. So Ireland tried to reassure the markets with a harsh program of spending cuts.

Step back for a minute and think about that. These debts were incurred, not to pay for public programs, but by private wheeler-dealers seeking nothing but their own profit. Yet ordinary Irish citizens are now bearing the burden of those debts.

Remember Ireland is smaller than Denmark in terms of population, yet now bears the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, with external debt per capita a staggering $535,529. Thankfully John is distracted by an acquaintance named Michael he picks up on the road to Limerick, and I am fascinated by the cadence of their conversation, although I can onlyA battered door in Limerick understand a bit of it over the bus noise. They use each other’s first names in nearly every sentence during their back and forth.

On the walk from the bus station to my hotel Limerick looks especially hard hit by Ireland’s economic collapse, with many shops and restaurants shuttered. Despite deep spending cuts Ireland is being pressured to cut further, to reduce social welfare and benefits for the unemployed as a means of “incentivizing” them to return to work. As one commentator pointed out however, it makes no sense to talk about motivating the unemployed when there simply are no jobs.

The town itself is picturesque, and I enjoyed my evening walk along the “broad, majestic” River Shannon.

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