May You Live in Interesting Times!

One looks for the good, I think. So recently some of us have been repeating that old saw, May you live in interesting times.

A Chinese curse, we’re told. Or a blessing. May you live in interesting times.

But … it’s not Chinese. 🙂

I know, I know, I’m a wet blanket about these things—but it’s what I do for a living. I’m an editor. I check things. Fortunately I didn’t have to do the footwork on this one: Garston O’Toole over at Quote Investigator has the straight poop:

The British statesman Joseph Chamberlain was the father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and future diplomat Austen Chamberlain. As noted previously, Austen asserted in a 1936 speech that “living in interesting times” was considered to be a curse in Chinese culture. Curiously, Joseph [also] used the same distinctive phrase during addresses he delivered in 1898 and 1901.

There’s a lot more to read at QI, which traces usage of the phrase from 1898 right up to modern times. You can also read about it at Wikipedia.

Bottom line: You can’t blame the Chinese for this, friends! But may you have an interesting year nonetheless. 🙂

Both Men I Married Were Immigrants*

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 42–43, 45)

Just sayin’, y’all.

* My first husband was born in Nicaragua and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a little boy in the 1950s. When I married him about twenty years later he was still here on a green card. You know about my second husband. I find it fascinating to watch the unfolding of current events through his eyes.

Not for Federal Identification!

Things keep popping up in my news feed about driver’s licenses. A friend who’d moved from Tennessee to Arizona was surprised that her new Arizona-issued license bore the ominous phrase “Not For Federal Identification.” A friend who lived in Kentucky was shocked to be told she could be turned away from boarding a flight.

In case you missed it, the REAL ID Act was passed (in 2005) in the wake of the 9/11 report. It established minimum standards that states must follow when issuing and producing driver’s licenses and ID cards. (A REAL ID credential can either be an ID card or a driver’s license.)

Some states just haven’t gotten around to making these changes to the way they issue driver’s licenses/IDs. And if you’ve been renewing online or through the mail, the license you have may not be compliant with federal regulations.

Here are some links that will help you get a handle on the situation:

Enhanced Drivers Licenses: What Are They?
REAL ID FAQs
Current REAL ID Status of States/Territories

All of this is important because, as you know, you must show your driver’s license or state ID in order to board a plane.

Trust me when I say you don’t need any trouble from the authorities right now. Make sure your driver’s license is good for federal ID as well as for driving. Even if the chart I’ve linked above indicates your state is in compliance, you may still be carrying an “old” license. Take a ride down to your local Department of Motor Vehicles office and find out for sure. Make sure you have alternate forms of identification with you when you go.

The REAL ID Act takes effect on 22 January 2018.

Do do it now and get it out of the way. Don’t wait until you’re about to leave for the Bahamas next Christmas.

Distilled Water—A Precious Commodity in Ireland

A few years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and as a result, I travel with a CPAP machine, which uses distilled water in the humidifier portion of its program. It takes about a cup to fill the reservoir, and that lasts several days. I buy distilled water at the local grocery store; it costs about eighty-nine cents for a gallon.

Remember that. Eighty-nine cents for a gallon.

The first time I traveled to Ireland with my CPAP (2012, I think), I asked Gerry to pick up some distilled water for me. They don’t carry it at the grocers there; you have to go to “the chemist’s” (Americans would call this the pharmacy) to purchase it.

Half a gallon (actually, two liters) of distilled water cost eight euro. Eight euro! That’s sixteen times what it costs in the States! (But wait—there’s more. When I returned in 2013, the cost had more than doubled, to seventeen euro. That’s what it cost in 2015 too.)

WHY? This is the question. Why is it hard to find (you have to order it and wait for it to come in; it’s not kept on hand to sell to the public), and why in the world does it cost so much? My mother, back in the day, kept distilled water on hand to put in the iron, for steaming (this is no longer necessary, by the way). It has never been expensive nor difficult to find in the States.

But it sure is in Ireland. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for answers—which I have mostly found on various message boards. No travel website on either side of the Atlantic has addressed it, as best I can tell. So here’s what I’ve gleaned about the availability of distilled water in Ireland:

  1. Pharmacy: The chemist will be able to get it for you. Be prepared to wait a couple days, and pay through the nose.
  2. Boil and cool: Water in Ireland is very hard, so you don’t want to put it in your CPAP as is. However, you can boil it and cool it. Takes more time, of course, and when you’re traveling it isn’t particularly convenient, but it’s a solution. Most hotel rooms are equipped with electric kettles.
  3. Health food store: I found this chain of health food stores in Galway selling distilled water in one-liter bottles. But a check online of several shops in Dublin yielded no such convenience, though it may just be they don’t get enough call for distilled water to add it to their online product database.
  4. Car-parts store: Because distilled (or deionized) water is used in batteries. I have yet to walk into a car-parts store in Ireland to find out. I’d call ahead.
  5. Babies: I’ve also read to try the baby section of supermarkets (for humidifiers and such, I guess). Again, I have yet to try this, and I’m not going to count on it until I can. But at €17 for a half gallon, who could afford to run a humidifier in baby’s room, eh?

Finally, a reminder that deionized water is not the same as distilled water; check with your CPAP manufacturer before you put it in your machine.

Bottom line—if you’re traveling to Ireland and know you will need distilled water when you get there, do some advance planning. If you’re visiting friends or relatives, they can help. Otherwise, call your hotel’s concierge or your B&B and ask them to track some down for you (and remember to tip the concierge well when you arrive).

Two Timely Poems

I don’t know about you, but I first read these poems in high school. I had a great teacher (and, one should add, a great book—I still have it) and thus was born a lifelong love of the word-thrill only poetry can provide. The rhythm, the rhymes (or not), alliteration, imagery, and much, much more come together in ways that move me, over and over. And yes, I buy books of poetry too.

I’ve been thinking about “The Second Coming” for months. Grim and dark, written in 1919 at the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, William Butler Yeats’s masterpiece speaks directly to events happening now, nearly a century later:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If the imagery in this poem shakes you up, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says, “A torrent of bad news and political upheaval has given new life to a nearly 100-year-old poem written in the aftermath of World War I.”

Flash backward a century to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” published in 1818.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Perspective, yes?

I wish you peace this season, wherever you may find it. Perhaps in poetry.