HIYA: I'm back from a few days in Dublin. That place is insane. Imagine an attractive Georgian city with nice parks and appropriate touches of oldness and quirky character, and then imagine it populated by three times the very maximum number of people that could possibly fit there, and its streets (if not torn up and under construction) constantly clogged with cars, buses and trucks roaring and belching exhaust. It was exhausting just listening to the din.

You can't go into a pub or restaurant there and not be sat within earshot of a group of American tourists, so get used to it. Many are obviously of Irish descent, but there's no disguising the Yankee on holiday, especially the retired ones. I do feel sorry for them! Walking, or waddling, down the street they seem so uncomfortable. This walking - an unnatural demand to be placing on their aging frames. You can detect them from the newly purchased travel togs and comfortable walking shoes. And you can certainly always tell from the way the light dims whenever a bunch of them enter a room - in much the same way the sun is blanked out when the girth of the moon passes in between during an eclipse.

We were having a sandwich in a pub on the last night. A party of five people entered - retired Americans in a jolly mood. Four of the five were obese. The fifth, a man, was overweight. Later a party of seven came in - middle-aged Americans this time. Six of the seven were fat or obese. We'll let the last one off with a warning.

The Irish would be casting stones in a glass house if they made too much noise about this. There is wide and general plumpness among the populace and it's getting worse, as it is throughout Europe. How do we explain this? European economies are stagnating, resisting growth and jobs development and generally going nowhere if not south. And the people are getting fatter at an alarming rate. Of course it's the same story in America only worse. There is a war on (that would be the war on terror, not started by us, and flatly denied by most Europeans), and everybody is ballooning. And of course buying sensible cars. Makes sense. (But here's an inspirational story).

The presence and influence of the Catholic church is everywhere. Kids in school uniforms, priests in long frocks, more churches than takeout coffee joints, although not for long, and in every bookshop window and newsagents stand there hung large, gushing posters advertising the beatification of Our Blessed Mother Theresa, She of Calcutta, and some book or other of propaganda and pious nonsense about her life. Let me stop here to insert the link to Christopher Hitchens' recent Mother T article in Slate, kindly provided by Jan Vanek in the comments section below. (I thought that post might generate my first flame or hate mail. But no.)

Late one evening on the way back to the hotel, I passed a young homeless fellow lying in his sleeping bag in the entrance to a fancy department store. He had a takeout cup of coffee and a newspaper opened for reading. An earnest woman stood over him reciting what sounded like a mixture of prayer, sermon and dire threat, full of references to the divine love of our Savior and the to-be-avoided vengeance of our Father. Mary figured in there somewhere. The homeless fellow was propped up on his elbow and was looking around slightly desperately in just the same way anyone would if approached on the street by a raving lunatic: you check the available escape routes.

My visit there coincided (Monday and Tuesday) with the missed opportunity at a general Northern Ireland peace agreement. In the pubs it was all over the screen, but people only paid attention whenever David Trimble was on, and then to jeer him. Mostly they wanted to know what was going on with the football. I jeered with them: Trimble is scary, an obvious madman. He looks like the red-faced junior high teacher you had that was constantly one tick away from a furious outburst, always looking for an excuse for his next blowup. That was the teacher who had a simultaneous aneurism, massive stroke and grade A heart attack a few years after you left. He became a reference case in medical school textbooks.

I must report some very troubling information. The Irish don't use the natural plural "Euros", as in "tat'll be tree Euros sixty cents, tanks very much." They say "three Euro" or "12 Euro fifty cent"! Why I do not know. Here is some background. This is highly, highly irritating and deserves to be ridiculed at every opportunity. I loudly repeated each plural number back to every waiter or shop attendent I met to correct their pronounciation. It seemed to confuse them.

Nothing more to say about Ireland except take earplugs, Guiness may be good for you but it can also make you constipated, the best deal in town is the commuter rail system DART which, for a few Euros, will take you 45 minutes down the south coast to some beautiful scenery, and for God's sake remember to look right first when crossing the street.

Steve | 13:29 |