Tag Archives: Marriage

The right side of history

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

we are always asked
to understand the other person’s
no matter how
foolish or

one is asked
to view
their total error
their life-waste
especially if they are

but age is the total of
our doing.
they have aged
because they have
out of focus,
they have refused to

not their fault?

whose fault?

I am asked to hide
my viewpoint
from them
for fear of their

age is no crime

but the shame
of a deliberately

among so many


– Charles Bukowski, ‘Be Kind’

A little Hank, for the day that’s in it. When my time comes I’ll hope not to have aged badly.

Now, time to vote.


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You say tomato, I say heuristic cultural device

Shopping a la cart.

Shopping a la cart.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

TURNING on a red light.

Slicing ‘toMAYtos’.

Answering ‘cell’ phones.

Rarely seeing, let alone using, public transport.

All things you do in the US, which you don’t in Ireland. And all of which I encountered on a visit this month to my wife’s hometown of Los Angeles.

These differences are usually small curiosities (unless I forget to look before turning on that red).

Like the way I stare blankly at voluminous LA coffee menus, or in wide-eyed wonder at the Whole Foods’ shopping cart escalator.

They’re just tasters to a deeper difference between American and Irish people, which is far more engrained than the rules of the road or in-store trolley conveyance.

In my experience this difference comes by way of a simple question: is the coffee cup half full or half empty?

Americans are often accused of being glibly optimistic, if not naive, in their world view. Many are, I’m sure, and many are not.

But they are considerably less cynical than the Irish, something that is impossible not to notice when you some spend time each year in both countries.

Cultural differences.

Cultural differences.

My other half is the perfect example. A music journalist, she cut her teeth in the first dot-com boom, before launching a catering business, returning to journalism for a number of major US publications and then, in her mid-30s, deciding to leave it all behind and move to Ireland.

At every turn her question was not (as I would have asked) ‘why?’ but ‘why not?’

Where I would seek out flaws in a plan she would see speed-bumps; where I might see regrets for past decisions she sees experience.

This faith in reinvention is not an exclusively American trait, of course. But I’ve seen more of it in citizens of that country than most others.

It’s been fodder for commentators, artists and academics for years. One New Yorker recently tried to explain it to me using, as he put it, ‘heuristic cultural devices’.

Tonias Wolff. Pic: Mark Coggins

Tobias Wolff.
Pic: Mark Coggins

But I’ve come across a simpler description. It is contained in a collection of Tobias Wolff’s short stories, gifted to me by my LA-based father-in-law on my visit earlier this month.

In one of the stories, A Mature Student, a Czech-born immigrant says of her adopted home: “Americans…such faith in the future, where all shall be reconciled. Such compassion toward the past, where all may be forgiven.”*

How much faith do you need, how much compassion can you have? That’s the $64,000 (or €45,000) question.

That, and ‘tomato’ or ‘tomayto’.


*Tobias Wolff, “A Mature Student”, Our Story Begins (Vintage, 2008), p 315

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Most of all

For those I'm here with.

For those I’m here with.

And do you feel yourself thankful?

I do.

Thankful for being here.

Thankful for those I’m here with, her most of all.

Thankful every morning.

Not thankful enough for most of the day.

But thankful.

For small things.

For the last line of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.

For the first solo on Autumn Leaves.

And the taste of crab linguine.

And more.

I’m thankful that release exists and that I witnessed it.

That pain exists and has an end.

That love exists and has none.

Most of all I’m thankful that I’m here, and not anywhere else.

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The gift of sounds and visions

Scene: A darkened ground floor room in a dusty house at 1133 Shotwell Street in San Francisco on an evening in August 1998. Three young men in their 20s are variously seated and sprawled on sofas and a chair, lit by the light from the adjacent, cluttered kitchen. Bottles rest and lie on the floor, alongside bags of chips and foil burrito wrappers.

Me (sipping from a 40 ouncer): This sounds great. What’s it off?

J: It’s Into The Mystic.

S: It’s from Moondance.

Me: It’s something else. Play it again, will ya?


That was the first time I heard Into The Mystic.

Into the music.

Into the music.

Despite the beer (more than one 40 that night, I’m sure), the passage of time and the thousands of other songs I’ve heard for the first time since, those three minutes on that long-departed evening are still as clear as day, or a Mission summer night, to me.

They bring me back to that room every time.

The song’s one of a few dozen compositions that return me, within four beats, to the time and place that I either listened to or heard them first (I mean, really heard them).

Van Morrison has more of these tunes than most. The opening piano fill on St Dominic’s Preview puts me in Alamo Square Park on a sunny afternoon that same summer.

Beside You brings me to the house I grew up in in the Irish Midlands in the early hours during a late 1990s’ summer; Tupelo Honey to a climb of Carrauntoohil in 2010; Linden Arden Stole The Highlights to the kitchen of W’s home, overlooking the river Shannon, on an evening sometime in the past decade.

In such instances my mind’s-eye vision is such that I can almost step back into the scene, whenever, wherever. The piece of music kicks off a mental movie in my head.

Physiologically this seems to occur because our medial pre-frontal cortexes (the bit of the brain behind our foreheads) respond to both musical chord changes and, separately,  reflective auto-biographical recall. But at times the two functions overlap, it appears.

Why this happens more with Van Morrison (and a small number of other composers) is unknown to me.


‘Together we will float…’

Fast forward 15 years to the last time I heard Into The Mystic, a week ago. There were no 40 ouncers in a dusty room on that occasion. Two good friends of ours, R an P, had chosen it for the first dance at their wedding.

It was a fitting choice – a holistic hymn sung from the deck ahead of a voyage into a wonderful unknown future.

“The song is just about being part of the universe,” Van Morrison once explained.

A universe that stretches through time, space and memory from a long-gone night in San Francisco to an idyllic wedding ceremony on an Irish country estate.

And on, and on, into the music.

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Me and ‘Julia’ down with the za’atar

MY wife can cook.

I, on the other hand, can nervously follow recipes, agonising over the vaguer directions while whimpering supplications to the food gods. In the past we have given each other a wide berth in the kitchen, unsurprisingly. Until now.

I recently gifted Clare a copy of Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook. A casual remark that we should try cooking a couple of dishes led to a night’s worth of research and a day’s shopping.

Jerusalem, Ottolenghi and Tamimi's latest cookbook.

Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook.

Then, before I knew it, I was standing in my pristine apron at the countertop clutching a spatula and feeling like I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

Now, I’m not hopeless in front of a burner. I have pulled off one meal in the recent past and I manage to produce edible combos of protein and carbs for myself most weeknights.

In the absence of consistent proof I like to think that my culinary talents are merely untapped, as opposed to underwhelming. My underlying fear is that they may be both.

Doubts aside, I’d have to pull my weight. My wife, busy with her share of the duties, had no intention of watching over my shoulder as I chopped veg, mashed koftas and tossed some pine nuts into the pan to roast.

Not that she needed to. Halfway through I was beginning to enjoy my new role as sous chef, and reckoning I’d cracked the code of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Chef Ottolenghi can rest easy, however.

Searing koftas.

Searing koftas.

I’m a word fiend, a book hound. As the pine nuts gently roasted I started reading up on the history of za’atar, a spice central to the dish and to Jerusalem itself. The plant (known as hyssop in the West) has been picked in the wild, in the hills surrounding the Old City, for millennia.

Its all-pervasive presence is common to both Palestinian and Israeli cuisine. According to Ottolenghi and his co-author Sami Tamimi, its smell “encapsulates the soul” of Jerusalem. By the time I’d learned this much about za’atar another aroma had infested the kitchen, that of burning pine nuts.

Ignoring repeated verbal warnings that these little seeds can go from golden to incinerated in seconds I’d spoiled the batch.

My wife stood opposite, exercising (with some difficulty) one of her many virtues, patience.

Pureed beetroot with yoghurt and (the all-important) za’atar.

Pureed beetroot with yoghurt and (the all-important) za’atar.

Lesson learned, stick to the recipe, not the history. This may be why Paul Child was rarely spotted lingering around chopping onions while his wife was reinventing American cuisine.

Luckily my Julia was focusing on the food, making the jewel in the night’s crown – a pureed beetroot with yoghurt and the all-important za’atar (the condiment not the herb alone, in this case). We served it up with kofta b’siniyah (a beef/lamb mix, served with tahini and the take-two pine nuts) and a date and almond salad.

What followed was an experience of the aromas and tastes of Jerusalem that no words on a page could conjure.  Much of it was down to the spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, sumac and za’atar.

They combined perfectly, no one overwhelming another. A bit like our first joint venture into the kitchen, I’d like to think.

Just don’t mention the pine nuts, though

Our Jerusalem feast.

Our Jerusalem feast: pureed beetroot with za’atar, kofta b’siniyah and date and almond salad.

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