Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Detached Retina and Surgery

I've had a weird sensation in my left eye for the last month or so. It's felt heavy and tired and I found it hard to focus with that eye. So I made an appointment with an opthalmist. I decided to skip the optician as I did have an eye check about two months prior to this and nothing was detected then.

When the opthalmist put aside his equipment and gave me the serious look, I knew there was something wrong. The cause of all the weirdness in my eye turns out to be a detached retina, or more accurately, a retinal dialysis with macula off. Now from what I gather, this is a serious enough type of retinal detachment. Great.

As I practice taekwon do, this is the most likely cause of the detachment (nothing like a few kicks into the head), but I don't know this for certain. All I know is that within two hours of diagnosis, I had myself a consultant surgeon and an admission date for surgery at the Royal Victoria hospital in Dublin.

We'll just have to see how it goes (pardon the pun).

Thursday, July 24, 2008


There are very few people in the world who can resist cuteness; think cute puppies or cute babies. E.T. was undeniably cute. But would a cute rubbish-collecting robot work? That's what Pixar attempted with the character of Wall-E in their latest offering.

We meet Wall-E as he zooms around a desolate, rubbish-covered Earth, from which humans have long since departed. Wall-E is designed to compact garbage and stack the resulting blocks into neat piles. As he does this he collects interesting objects, such as a Rubik's cube or a gas lighter, from the piles of rubbish which he carefully stores in his little home. As he trundles around, we realise that he is the last robot of his type left on Earth and is accompanied only by a chirpy cockroach. The sadness of his situation appears overwhelming and he appears to realise it as he watches songs from the musical "Hello Dolly" late at night. He dreams of holding hands with someone.

One day however, a super sleek white robot comes to Earth looking for evidence of plant life, and as she wanders around searching, Wall-E becomes entranced by her. His little binocular eyes manage to convey a whole range of puppy-dog emotions as he watches her with adoration.

Wall-E's adventures throughout the film are vehicles to display his charm and cuteness. The lack of speech between the robots means that their expressions and gestures are vital to conveying emotion. There is a fine balacing act between conveying emotion and hamming it, and sometimes this film crosses over that boundary.

However, the film is also trying to convey an environmental message about the dangers of polluting our planet. Wall-E is unaware of this as he tries to get back the love of his life, but his actions have a huge impact on humanity. Wall-E is not motivated to help humans out of some deep desire to fix the world or for more altruistic reasons, he is doing it simply because he has fallen for EVE.

It's a good film, it's an adorable film, and Wall-E is a beautifully crafted piece of animation that tugs at your heartstrings. Ultimately, it's not a great film as there is some charm missing from Wall-E's soul. When you compare it to other great animated films of recent years such as Finding Nemo or Toy Story, this film comes up short in some way that's hard to define. It's a pity, as the visual images of Wall-E and his adorable actions will stay in your head for quite a while after you leave the cinema.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dig - John Preston

The Dig is a short novel set around the discovery and excavation at Sutton Hoo in 1939. England was facing the prospect of a war, and pressure was being exerted from officials to complete the excavation prior to the outbreak of hostilities. It is against this background that the characters move. We never spend too long with one character, moving quickly from one to another. We occasionally glean anecdotal pieces of information above a previous character as we are treated to the experiences of another.

It's an easy novel to read, and makes a pleasant change to the recent trend to write tomes. However though, you may find the character development unsatisfactory or incomplete due to the short length of the novel. Personally I liked it, as it permitted me the opportunity to imagine the inbetween parts.

It's also a quite touching novel, as we are revealed the fustrations and loves of the characters. The author manages to accomplish this quite well over a short space.

All in all, a refreshing change of pace.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Irish Olympian Style

The official uniform of the 2008 Irish Olympic Squad was recently unveiled by the Irish Olympic Comittee. It's designed by John Rocha in conjunction with Irish team sponsor Penneys, and "marries elements of his Chinese heritage with his desire to present a positive , uplifting image for his adopted home, Ireland."

The uniform combines silk from the Far East, which has been handpainted by an Irish craftswoman with celtic motifs and superfine cool wools and cotton. It all sounds good. There should be an image in your head right now of something elegant and classy, sleek and smooth. Well, here's a picture of the uniforms as modelled by the athletes Fionnula Britton (24) from Wicklow who will represent Ireland in the 3000m Steeplechase and Letterkenny cyclist Philip Deignan (25) who will compete in the Olympic road race. Both are first time Olympians.

In fairness, the men's suit looks very well.But what is up with the women's outfit? It has the amazing effect of making the female athlete look like a 50 year old woman dressed to go to mass. It's stunningly unfeminine and old-fashioned. JOhn Rocha would have done well to remember that most of the women wearing this uniform will be in the peak physical condition of their lives. Why not dress them in something sleeker, fitted and sharper.

It's a pity that a great Irish designer couldn't use this opportunity to promote a more modern image of Irish female fashion.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wanted - Movie Review

Wanted is billed as a fast-paced, crackling thrill ride made for the summer audience. It comes from Timbor Bekmambetov, who is the man behind the Daywatch/Nightwatch series. However, it just didn't click for me, and at one stage I contemplated leaving the cinema.

First the good points. Action films are great. It's good to leave the mind at home and watch something with belief suspended. Wanted fits that criteria pretty damn well with bending bullet, slow time, car chases and train action. Angelina Jolie is hot as always in this film - she does the bad-ass chick to a tee.Wanted does have more gore and head shots than your standard action summer film, and as such, may not be the best choice for younger people.

The not so good points. McAvoy's voiceovers as the main character, Wesley Gibson, are so annoying, coming across as especially at the very end of the film. However, my personal hate in this film was to do with the exploding rats. (Apologies if I've given away part of the storyline here). It just sickened me to think that someone thought that was acceptable to show in mainstream cinema. In all the reviews I've read for Wanted, no one mentions this. Do people think it's OK to depict this because they're rats?

At the end, I felt slighly nauseated, not something that happens easily. Animal cruelty makes me feel that way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The World Without Us - Alan Weisman

What would happen if humanity were to depart in one go from the Earth? How would the world manage without us? What would happen to the environment, our cities or fauna and flora?

One of the early sections in this book visits New York city and the team of men who are responsible for the never-ending pumping out of water from under the city, which constantly threatens to fill subways. The author then goes through the surprisingly rapid decline of the city. If you've ever stood in Manhattan gazing along the straight avenues and streets, and were amazed at the scale of construction, then this section will chill you right through. Later in the book, the author desctribes an abandoned seaside town in Cyrpus and it's decline in decrepitude.

A common thread thoughout the book concerns our effect on the environment and how long it would take for the Earth to correct itself if we were to depart. What about the ozone-damaging chemicals we pump out into the atmosphere, or the heavy metals and radioactive materials we dump and store without regard for future generations. The U.S. has silos of chock-full radioactive materials, surrounded by hundreds of warning signs. Due to the fact that human languages can mutate beyond recognition over just a few hundred years, the warning signs had to be desinged to be comprehensible to anyone who came across them. The author visits oil-refining facilities in Texas to examine what would happen there should humans suddenly stop running these facilities. A trip to Chernobyl is used to illustrate what could happen in the aftermath of a nuclear containment failure.

By examining the rise of humanity from the depths of Africa, the author looks for the most suitable candidate to suceed us once we depart. The sudden departure of megafauna from the Earth is examined and is attributed to the increasing ability of Homo Sapiens to hunt. From a research facility in England, we learn how farmland will handle the fertilisers and chemicals we have left behind, and how eventually, trees will once again cover the land.

The author has gathered together so many areas of science in this book. However, due to skillful mixing of the strands, we never suffer from fatigue. He admits that the sudden departure of humans from the planet is fantasy, but the science and research he has gathered is rock-solid, and often chilling. Weisman portrays the sheer disregard humanity has for its home and its other inhabitants, yet his book also reveals the immense capacity of the Earth to heal itself. This book lingers in the mind long after you have finished reading it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Atomium

Brussels isn't a town I've come to associate with quirkiness. It does have a mean line of ankle-wrenching cobbles, a fantastic old town square and lots of beer, mussels, fries and chocolate.

I can only presume that the Brussels I've just described was also the Brussels of the 1950s. Given that Brussels was hosting Expo 1958, I can only assume that there was a concerted effort to look to the future.
Europe must have been emerging from the aftermath of World War II and the promise of science ushering in a new era of prosperity must have been in the air.

In 1955, a fantastic and stunning new building was commissioned from A. Waterkeyn for the 1958 Expo.
The building was to consist of 9 metallic spheres connected by metal tubes and would represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It is contsructed in a body-centred cubic structure and when viewed from the right angle, several of the atoms line up in a diagonal across the crystal, as is shown below.

The Atomium is stunning. It stands tall, shining in the sunlight and dominates the skyline around it. It is visible from the train between Brussels and Brussels airport, and is amazing when lit up at night. I spent 4 years earning a physics degree and a further 5 years working towards my Ph.D but I never thought though that I would see a body-centred cubic building. Suddenly, all those dry diagrams from textbooks pale in comparison.

Take a trip to the Atomium some sunny day and lie on the low circular wall, looking up into the belly of the structure, watching the clouds run overhead. The Atomium celebrates its 50th birthday this year.


Monday, July 14, 2008

The Echo Maker - Richard Powers

American author Richard Powers explores the ideas of mind, soul and self in this prize-winning novel. Mark Schluter suffers a near-fatal car crash one cold night and awakes unable to recognise his only sister, Karen. In fact, he believes that Karen is a doppelganger of the version he has in his memories. He is diagnosed as suffering from the extremely rare disorder known as Capgras Syndrome. Over the course of the novel his paranoia develops even further.

Karen, who has given up her house and job to come take care of her brother, is deeply hurt by his inability to acknowledge her as his sister, contacts famous popular author and neurologist Gerald Weber.

Weber's character and his battle with his demons add a further strand to this deftly woven novel. After a series of well-received popular science books, he now faces some critical rejection and struggles to deal with it. Each character is suffering through their own mental problems and this allows the book to expand and examine the nature of memory, reality and identity.

Add in the mystery character of Barbara, who fights her own demons, which are revealed at the end of the book, and we have a host of characters struggling with their own mental problems and issues. Over the course of a year, the author invokes some beautiful imagery as he describes the cyclical journey of the threatened crane. Every year the crane return to the Nebraska town where this novel is set, as they move on their migrational path.

Despite the grand scale of this book, and the weighty topics that it tackles (self-identity, memory and love), it somehow fails to ultimately satisfy. It is a demanding read, and we do become more and more involved as Mark struggles to deal with the differences in his memory and to find out what happened to him that cold night. However, there is some spark of emotion missing in the novel that would fully bind you to the characters.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Brown Thomas and Forgotten shoes!

I went into Brown Thomas in Dublin on Saturday to check out what was left of the sale. I dont like the change in BT's focus that has occurred over recent years. They've moved steadily more upmarket away from mid-price items. Now, I realise that Ireland has a lot more cash than ever before, but BT is getting to the stage that even picking up a sale bargain is becoming unaffordable. I remember buying a leather DKNY handbag in there a few years ago for E120 in the sale. You'd be lucky to find anything that affordable there now.

I wonder will things change now that the economy is getting tighter. Today's Sunday Times mentioned that London department stores are seeing an upsurge in the sale of mid-market designer items. The excess seems to be over. Maybe someone should tell BT.

As part of their upmarket move, BT created a shoe salon a few years ago which stocks all the major brands. But I'd love to find who their shoe buyer is and shoot them. They consistently stock the duller items from the designer ranges. Go to Harrods or Selfridges in London and you'll see a much better effort.

This year, all the shoes were out according the size. However, the amount of 3s and 4s on sale was far less than other sizes. Does this mean that there are more smaller-footed people out there, or do BT buy more of the larger sizes. I don't know, but the lack of choice on the 3 and 4 tables makes it harder for me to find my bargains.

I spent a good 30 minutes wondering around, finding nothing at all, until I espied a pair of Miu Miu platforms on the size 5 table. Picking them up, I realised that they were a size 37.5 which is just the tiniest bit too large for me, but I decided to give them a whirl. Thanks to the strap, they fitted just fine, and they are so comfortable despite the tall platform. Best part of it all? They were priced at E150 down from E490.

When I got the shoes home, and looked at my shoe stack, I realised one awful truth. I have other pairs of Miu Miu and Prada shoes that I had forgotten about. Shoes that I had lusted after and had been thrilled to buy. God, I'm a disgrace. I have to pull these forgotten shoes out and start wearing them again. I think that I'll start with these beautiful satin covered pumps...


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some not so great cinema

I spent a lot of my undergraduate, and a fair bit of my postgraduate career, in the cinema. One of the things that I dislike about working is that I can't go to the cinema in the middle of afternoon like I used to. Work gives you money so you can live a better life than as a student, but I miss the freedom of spending my life as I please.

Last weekend, we went to see Hancock and Kung-Fu Panda. It's easy to tell that the lack of summer blockbusters is beginning to affect us. So what did I think of them?

"Hancock" is rescued by Will Smith. It starts well with some nice character development and some fairly funny moments but when the sub-plot involving Charlize Theron starts to unfold, the whole film begins to collapse in on itself. Once again, Will Smith carries a film by himself. The "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar category should be given a whole new meaning. An Oscar for the actor who best carries a film on his or her own. Will Smith would have two nominations then in the last year. One for "Hancock" and the category front-runner "I Am Legend". Overall, the film is a somewhat funny take on image and public perception, but won't knock your socks off.

A fat, clumsy panda dreams of becoming a kung fu hero and as luck would have, is chosen by the wise old master to be the saviour of the valley. What we learn from Kung-Fu Panda is that any fat misguided idiot can become a hero over the course of a few hours. Yeah right, what a load of tripe to feed children. No hard work required. A silly,annoying film compunded by the silly annoying Jack Black. To be honest, I'm sorry I wasted my money with this one. The trams here in Brussels are currently covered in wrap-around advertising for this fim but if I was a parent, I'd be resisting all calls for this one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Addictive Puzzles

I get easily distracted at times, and I've always loved a good puzzle (as my PhD supervisor could probably tell you). My mother and I would sit for ages doing crosswords, quizzes and puzzles when I was little. I never took to wordsearches, and regular sodoku are only alright. Killer sodoku (as in the Times newspaper) rock.

For the last few years, I've been a big fan of Conceptis Puzzles, who regularly make free puzzles available on their website to members. The puzzles can be solved online in a pop-up window and are easy to get the hang of, yet can be frustrating difficult at times. Well done to Conceptis for issuing free puzzles in a stylish and interactive website. If I had one request, it would be that they would make their Hashi puzzle interactive rather than paper-based. Just to make sure that I can kill some more time in Brussels airport while waiting for my Aer Lingus flights.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Irish 1911 Census Online

On one of my recent flights home from Brussels, I fell into conversation with a gentleman from the Office of Public Works. After all, if you've read my previous post, due to the terrible timekeeping of Aer Lingus, there's usually plenty of time for chatting at the airport and on the plane. It turns out that he had been over in Brussels determining the restoration work required on Irish high crosses in Brussels. Who even knew that there were high crosses in Brussels?

We chatted about different things as we flew home. Seeing as how I am Corkwoman, he told me about Michael Collins' grave in Glasnevin, and the graves of the 1916 leaders in Arbour Hill. This man was a mine of information and could answer just about any question I threw at him.

One of our last topic was the digitisation of the Irish 1911 census, courtesy of the National Archives. At the moment only the records for Dublin are available on line. I was disappointed at this, as I had been hoping to search for my family records and see could I match what I knew about my family with what the records held. Other counties are due to be added over the course of the year, if you're as intested as I am.

However, I searched for the tenants of my current address in Dublin, which is in a genteel, somewhat exclusive address. Turns out that a Lieutenant Colonel and his family originally lived in my house, which has long since been turned into apartments. In 1911, our lieutenant, aged 47, was married to a 37 year old woman with what I presume to be three daughters aged 14, 11 and 3. Also listed as residents of the address are two females, aged 21 and 36 who must have been the family servants.

I've spent a part of today imagining this family in the rooms of our flat. What did they wear, how were the rooms decorated, used and so on. Just even knowing the ages, and names of the people who used to live in our house makes it so much more vivid.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dublin Aiport, Aer Lingus and Brussels Airport

A recent article in the Irish Times stated that Dublin Aiport is the second worst in European in terms of punctuality. This is according to published figures from the Association of European Airlines (AEA).

Up to recently, I'd not been a frequent traveller through Dublin Airport, and I hadn't experienced any delays worth mentioning as I travelled through the airport. However, I accepted an assignment in Brussels, which means flying via Aer Lingus through Brussels main airport. And after only 6 weeks of this, I'm already at the end of my tether.

The service and punctuality is frankly appalling, and from talking to other, seasoned travellers, it's been this dire for a long time. Departure time is 9.20 p.m. from Brussels airport on a Friday evening, but it's not unheard of for passengers to arrive at the departures gate only to be informed that the plane hasn't even left Dublin yet.

I am amazed that this terrible service exists between the capitals of Ireland and Europe. Firstly, that a flight is scheduled so late in the evening, as opposed to a sensible 6 or 7 pm. Secondly, that this level of service is allowed continue. (So far, based on my experiences, they have a 100% rate of being late by 35 mins or more). Surely, enough politicos regularly travel on this service to have kicked up a fuss at some stage.

Maybe Aer Lingus were already paving the way for Ireland to leave the E.U. long before we rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Charlotte Olympia - Charlotte Dellal's Range

Last week'Sunday Times supplement featured several up and coming shoes designers. Most of the time, I think "YAWN" when reading such profiles. Very few designers actually create something new and fresh. But one individual stood out with sassy, edgy shoes that just beg to be worn. Step forward Charlotte Dellal, creator of the "Charlotte Olympia" line. The sophomore collection from Charlotte Olympia will be stocked at Browns, Net-A-Porter and Harvey Nichols.

Her shoes are meant to be worn proudly and despite all their glamour, possess a stylish and chic edge, featuring interesting materials. This is one lady who appears to know how shoes should be. Vamp, kitsch and boudoir chic appear to be inspirations for this collection. I can't wait for my next trip to London and to Harvey Nicks and a chance to see these shoes in the flesh. If they are half as good in real life as they appear in the photos, I think I'll be making a purchase. There's always room for another pair of sky-high, funk-me shoes in my wardrobe!


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Free Food for Millionaires - Min Jin Lee

This debut novel from Min Jin Lee tackles the Korean immigrant experience. Our protagonist is Casey Han, a Princeton graduate who has acheived academically, has moved outside her family's social circle and yet cannot seem to break into the established society that she thinks she craved. On the other hand, we meet her immigrant parents, who have worked hard all their lives in a dry-cleaning shop. Although we realise throughout the book that they are not poor, neither are they wealthy and they cling to their Korean background and ways. The portrait of Casey's mother througout the book is especially charming.

Casey struggles through her life, breaking with her father's controlling ways but remains unable to find stability in her life. The whole story appears to be a tale of non-committal on Casey's part. At the start she finds it within herself to break up with her lover, as she cannot picture them together forever. However, throughout most of the novel, we cannot find the same determination within her. She is prepared to work two jobs to earn a wage, earning enough to keep ticking over, yet she never takes a step towards more.

Towards the end of the story, Casey makes a big decision. Having worked hard to secure an internship and gain an offer of employment, she decides to turn it down. She is on the cusp of a breakthrough and this where the author rus out of steam. As a result, this intriguing and captivating tale runs out of steam and becomes a large volume with no real ending.

Casey's friends and family follow their own lives in this book, with their stories running in parallel to Casey's. The trials and tribulations of love, marriage and affairs are explored with beautiful nuances and add an incredible tone to this book.

Despite enjoying this book immeasurably, and racing through the pages, I was ultimately left discontent at the end. Questions about the immigrant experience and the quest to find one's own path in life are raised and treated in this novel, but there's nothing quite like a good ending.
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