In California I make my breakfast: crack a few eggs, shake pre-grated low fat cheese out into a bowl, rip open a bag of frozen spinach, de-skin some shallots, shake a few red pepper flakes into the pan, steam a pot of quinoa, and slice a few turkey sausages into tiny cubes. A little sauté and bake action, and I have healthy quinoa balls for Clare and I for a week or two which we pull from the freezer at whim. What I also have left over is a ton of plastic wrappers, assorted egg shells and onion skins, and a bunch of dirty pans. The plastics go into the trash, the food waste in the green trash bins, and the pans into the dishwasher.
Here however, we don’t have trash pickup because it is exorbitantly expensive ($100) for three months and then they weigh the waste per kilogram and charge for that, too. Also, because we live in the back of beyond, they don’t pick up from our house, so we would have to follow John Helen’s lead and strap the wheelie bins to our car and drag them down the bumpy berm road to the main thoroughfare and reverse the process after they’d been dumped. We pay $100 per month for trash and water in Cali, but you all know how much water rates are, so trash is nominal. We are really paying for the luxury of running water piped in from hundreds of miles away.
Next summer we will indulge in Irish pickup now that we know the process, but this summer we have resorted to disposing our food waste via a process that isn’t exactly country-code-kosher but is sanitary (our code word for it is BRUSCAR, which is Irish for rubbish) and then paying to enter the Clonakilty recycling center once per week to sort and then pay nominally for our unrecyclable rubbish. It’s 3EU to get in and then by weight per bag, so not terribly expensive, but if you had to drag your trash around in the back of your car each week and then reach into the gross bags to sort, you’d get tired of it, too. For a country that is so far ahead in waste reduction, the supermarkets sure haven’t caught on. Just like the rest of the industrialized world, everything is cocooned in a plastic tub, from berries to lamb chops, and sealed with plastic on top. Of course, there are two different kinds of plastic and must be recycled separately, along with disposing of the paper moisture barrier in the bottom in food waste! Argh!
But here’s the rub…. When you are wheeling your cart around an Irish supermarket and you look up at the people milling around with you, you will begin to notice something rather refreshing. While the food may still be unnecessarily swaddled in plastic, the people are really beautiful. Like creamy-complexion-I-haven’t-baked-in-the-sun beautiful. Alabaster skin and dark hair abounds. And in the immigrant population, dark skin unfettered with excess makeup and adornment is normal. Most people, women in particular, don’t overdo it. Their hair is loose and has movement, not barrel-rolled and highlighted into the style that makes everybody in southern California look exactly the same. Their clothes are neat and clean, but not trendy to the point where they look ripped from an Instagram page on How to Be Hip. The younger population sometimes sport discrete tattoos that are (in general) well-placed to be hidden or in a culturally expressive design that flows around their wrist or bicep. They wear sensible shoes unless going to a wedding or party, and they don’t comment on your brands or your car.
Contrast this to what I experience every time I enter my Pilates class in Newport Beach. Silicone breasts, Lululemon outfits (new for each day), the status Tesla 3 parked crookedly in two spots outside. Chatter ranges from what colleges or private high schools the children are attending, to what far-flung vacations people have just returned from, the macrobiotic diet someone is trying that week. The upper lips are all collagen filled and the laugh lines not only erased but sanded down and utterly immobile. If I happen to pop into the grocery store next door afterward, the scene is repeated. The veneer is very very important. The plastic surface is slick, and often untouchable. There must be not cracks in the façade, not an extra ounce on the frame, no visible roots or blemishes to reveal the human beneath.
Many American people I know are starting their children on medicines at a very young age to preempt blemishes, riding their daughters about their weight at a time when it is critical to simply find out who you ARE not just what you weigh, and focusing on what classes are the strategic moves in the chess of adolescence to propel their child to the status college for networking and career advancement. Sometimes I question my own reticence to push Clare into a sport or club, and then I see these other kids, miserable and afraid to fail their parents’ version of who they should be, and I think… it’ll be ok.
When people ask me what Clare is interested in or what she is going to do, I almost laugh. She. Is. THIRTEEN. I give zero shits if she knows what she is going to do yet. I hope she’s busy drawing fantasy animals and obsessing over her favorite K-pop band. I hope she is too shy to post something provocative on Instagram or Snapchat (not that she has Snap, because I think it’s not healthy.) When people ask where she might go to college I always say: Well, we bought a house in Ireland so she might go to University Cork.This always shuts them up because I have effectively removed her from the status-clawing that underscores this question. I want her to be a dynamic character in this plastic world, and I will give her every opportunity to duck out from under their expectations.
I already live with the crush of the cultural gaze. With the medical problems plaguing me for the past two years, the weight I have gained is verboten where I live. To be not size 4 is considered a moral depravity, tantamount to sloth. My little sister had the best advice when I was lamenting over this: Show yourself some grace.Perhaps that’s what I find intriguing about the Irish women here in West Cork. They have a powerful grace. Some of the nicest and most soul-centered people I have met here are in cut off shorts and tank tops. Some have grey roots and shocking black tips. Teva sandals and sensible shoes abound. Most never had the orthodontic care that our privileged teenagers enjoy.
The current fashion trend over here is a fluid, flowy linen shift in earthy tones. In the winter, bulky sweaters and warm jeans (not “7 for all Mankind” or whatever’s the hip skinny) dominate the closet. As always, makeup is at a minimum, perhaps because the light softens the harsh lines. Their only indulgence usually plays out in under 40 women when they dip a little too heavily into the self-tanner. In contrast, you can spot an American tourist from a kilometer way in their designer jeans and branded everything. They are often topics of conversation in the local pubs. The general consensus is: Who do they think they are, with their airs? At the end of the day, 80 percent of Irish women will trek out into the wet earth and get their sensible shoes and sensible cars very dirty as they drive home. The only plastic veneers they will deal with are the overwrapped foodstuffs in their tiny fridge/freezers. And they will go to bed able to wrinkle the edges of their eyes in delight at a joke softly-told by the person warming their bed. Of all the things I hope to hold onto in my months back in California is the lesson that plastic, be it people or package, belongs in the recycling bin.