A Letter Home & My Thoughts on Friendship

This month has been all about getting things done. With my laptop on the fritz, I focused my attention on organizing, cleaning, and working on my new blog, evinok.net. One of the big projects has been scanning all my art and knitting books so I can load specific patterns or books onto my iPhone as a PDF book. As I worked my way through the pile of instructional books, an air mail envelope surfaced.

A letter I wrote to a dear friend back in the States three months and one week after I moved to Ireland had escaped a trip to the GPO by hiding in a book about watercolor techniques. It is amazing to see how much I’ve settled in since then and knowing there are new expats reading this blog I decided to share the contents of that letter with you so you can enjoy a rare glimpse into my most personal thoughts as a newcomer to this beautiful island I now call home.

Old Post Box in County Kildare

Maybe it will reassure you to know that when I wrote this letter, I had not yet made any friends of my own. A stark contrast to the dear friends I have since earned. Reflecting on my life then and now is a reminder of how friendship is truly a blessing. Sorry to get sappy about that, but it really is. Friendship is all about trusting and respecting one another while bumbling through life with shared interests, enthusiasm, or adventures. Of course, like love’s many representations in relationships, friendship is unique to each person. But, to me, you try to be there to listen, help, and have fun with others whose company you enjoy and when they appreciate it and feel that you are also the company they enjoy – and you thrive together – a friendship develops. Sometimes it is instant and sometimes it builds so gradually you can’t recall the particulars of those early days. With my husband, we were instant friends. With the recipient of this letter, friendship has existed for as long as I can remember and in such cases it feels more like family and can act as your inner compass. If I am ever a rock star, it is these friends who will keep me grounded!

Moving to a new place in a new culture can be challenging and lonely. When I moved here, all the advice was to join a sports team or running group, but being unathletic that was not a realistic option (though it did work when I was in Seattle and joined a kickball league). I was there with just my [fabulous] husband to talk to for over three months before I met someone I got along with who shared my interests. It took a full year before I had my own social calendar that kept me happily busy, but I worked hard to cultivate it. The shift came when I joined a knitting group and a writing group and eventually Toastmasters. All my friends have come from these experiences. So, if you are new to a city, country, or continent like I was, join a community group that aligns with your interest because dollars to donuts you will meet like-minded people there. And if you have landed in a new place already with a new friend or two, count yourself fortunate. I know that happened when my friend M moved across the U.S. and I was so relieved and happy for her to already have that support system in place. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about sharing the letter, it’s coming.

Part of me feels like I am over-sharing with this, but knowing how hard it is to settle into a new city, I hope this is reassuring to you. It’s also funny to read how quickly I started using the word ‘grand’. And in case you haven’t noticed, I am trying to use more of my regular lingo which has been brainwashed out of me by spending time with the lyrical accents of my Irish friends. But one recently commented that he’s surprised my American readers have let me give up my American voice so easily and for that, I am bringing back more of my personal vocabulary. Also, in regards to this particular post, I have added hyperlinks when my letter referenced places or things I later wrote a blog post about or shared a photo of. Obviously, the links were not in the original letter. Some sentences were removed because they were of a more personal nature with too many specifics to share here, names were replaced with *** placeholders.

Dear *****,

It was so good to hear your voice today. Talking with you made me realize how much I want to tell you about life here – even (and mostly) little things.

Since arriving, I have had insomnia – not being able to sleep at all some nights. It’s a long time to mentally be stuck in the Pacific time zone. When I can’t sleep, I try to read books so I won’t become frustrated. I’ve read five books since arriving, one over 900 pages.

Cork as a city is grand and very walkable. Unlike many European cities, it does not seem to have pickpocket crime all over. Maybe because Cork citizens are known to pay attention to everyone else’s business. It comes across as friendly though – thankfully.

Some days, I simply stay in and read or play on my computer. By play, I mean I create graphics or play word games or read interesting articles or white papers. When I do go out, the frequent destinations are markets. My first week here, I found a good butcher. I remember learning from ******* in France that a good butcher takes a lot of prep work out of cooking. This place sells marinated meats so it is a good find. There is a place called The English Market, but I can only go on Saturdays because I somehow get lost trying to find it on my own. It is in the middle of a block and I can never remember which alleyway takes me to it. So, we go on Saturday together. Thank God I married someone with a sense of direction! Marks & Spencer has “convenience foods” which are gourmet meals half-prepared. So you finish making them at home and take all the credit. Some even come in real dishes, like the desserts, so no one suspects a thing. Marks & Spencer reminds me of Sutton Place Gourmet or Dean and Deluca, so the food is quite a pampering experience, like pre-made gourmet apple tartlets or orange juice from Spain. Irish butter is gourmet in the States and here it is all we have. Wine is very expensive. No more weekends in Napa either.

A few days after I arrived (after resting up a bit), I took a trip around towns in East Cork. It was a beautiful day when we set out and rainy the rest of the time. That is when I learned to always have an umbrella handy (I didn’t even have a raincoat that day). Of course, today my umbrella was taken while I was in the market so I will get a new one tomorrow. I learned to not set it at the door when you go in, but carrying a dripping umbrella just seemed messy and hazardous. I also bought a grand raincoat that doesn’t look like one and is a pretty cream hue.

One of my first purchases here was a big purse with a zipper closing all the top. It is an essential here. Just what is needed to carry the basics, including umbrella and grocery totes (stores here charge for plastic grocery bags to encourage use of cotton totes – I have fun ones). We found two solid purses and I started to get to know more about Irish fashion. Here, Kate Spade is not as well known as Orla Kiely and Jasper Conran. Ms. Kiely’s bags are made for rainy climates, hence the popularity.

There is a pub in Cork City with a reputation. It is only one room and one proprietor, but he is not a cheerful man and has a habit of asking people to leave for no real reason I can tell. Evidently, two reasons are using a mobile phone in the pub and coming in as a woman without a man. Stories abound about him barring people. Once he fired his bartender twice in one day then called him the next morning to ask when he’d be at work. I find it amusing and won’t go there alone.

We went to nearby Kinsale in July and walked up to an old fort on the water. The weather was perfect, thankfully. Though it was unplanned, we also lunched at Fishy Fishy with a friend who happened to be walking by the harbor when we arriving in town. Definitely a nice surprise.

I am taking many photos of everything. Next week, we go to Amsterdam for four days. I am looking forward to the museums. We will visit Barcelona in December. The architecture is supposed to be amazing. I hope to have photo albums to share when I visit home next.

On weekends, we tend to take walks. I have enjoyed that and how relaxed it can be. We live just four blocks from a wonderful art supply and book shop, Vibes & Scribes, and less than two blocks from an amazing button store, Cork Button Factory. Back in the day, Cork City was known for its butter exchange and its buttons. Or so I was told.

In August, ***** and ********* visited and we went to West Cork for a very long weekend. They were our first visitors since we moved here. It was beautiful! Muddy, but beautiful. We keep hearing this is the rainiest summer on record, but after the heat in California I am cherishing every raindrop.

For our anniversary, we went to brunch at a place called Hardwood. It was wonderful. The trip to Amsterdam is the real celebration, but with work a trip couldn’t take place at the exact time of our anniversary. After brunch, he took me for a shopping spree at the art store to replace all my paints and brushes I couldn’t bring when we moved.

Last month, I was exploring the city on a weekday and it started raining so I ducked into one of my favorite restaurants, Fenn’s Quay, for lunch and they encouraged me to wait out the rain with a cup of tea and stack of magazines. So welcoming! Their bread is so good I ate two baskets while waiting for the rain to stop, with Irish butter of course.

Every week, usually Sunday, I cook a big dinner (soup, stew,…) and most other nights something smaller. Occasionally, we dine out, but it is very expensive and we have more choice getting ingredients, like at the English Market, to cook our own meals so it is a rarity. I did find a favorite spot though. We’ll go back again (I think I found my local ‘get well’ food, almost as good as my mom’s matzo ball soup). I had a cold and the food felt so good. I don’t like that it’s part of a chain though. Goofy name for it – Wagamama.

When my friend **** visited, we celebrated his birthday by visiting the Beamish brewery and having lunch at Farmgate (in the English Market) then ringing the bells at the local church, St. Anne of Shandon. Quite fun! It has an iconic clock tower. Mostly it was good to see a friendly face. He let me win at Scrabble (I think he felt sad that I had not made any friends in Cork yet).

My visit home will be wonderful and once I know the dates, I will tell you so you know. If you do plan to travel this winter, you can tell me and I’ll be sure to overlap with while you’re home – we must see one another.

I can’t begin to express how happy it made me to talk to you today…

There you have it, loyal readers, a very personal glimpse into my life just after I moved to Cork. Honestly, this may be the most intimate post I’ve ever written, but when I found it and read it, I realized how quickly I settled into life here in some ways and in other ways how new the experience was in those first months. Over two years later, I appreciate having those early thoughts documented to remind me of those days.

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