Dear America, You Disappoint Me

Two recent headlines this week have made me hopeful that the future of the world is not full of spite and hatred. The University of New South Wales decided to change the terminology of their history books to recognize British colonialism as an invasion, rather than a discovery. This small change displays a brave ability to revisit a dark past. It is also a reminder of the power of language.  On the other side of the planet, Francois Holland scrapped plans that would have stripped convicted terrorists of their French citizenship. For a country rocked by two horrific attacks in the same year, this is a strong move in a forgiving direction.

What do I see when I look at my own country? I see guns. I see segregation. I see paranoia. I see the two top contenders for the Republican nomination smearing one another with how slutty or ugly their wives are. And then accusing the other one of “starting it.” I see states trying to pass “religious freedom” laws so some of its citizens don’t ever have to rub shoulders with gay people.

Statistician Nate Silver has been compiling years of census data on every major American city. His graphs show clear cut divides across cities, north and south, east and west. Black and white. Some of these lines were the same ones drawn in the Civil War. It seems one of the biggest melting pots, doesn’t really melt at all.

You groomed me from a young age to believe in your greatness. You were #1.

I put my hand to my heart every morning before school for 12 years and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I got goosebumps when I heard the National Anthem.

My classmates and I used to shout, “It’s a free country” as a win-all end-all arguments tactic. It seems now that the only thing we are free to do is shoot each other.

I believed without a doubt that everything we did was for the betterment of mankind. My 5th grade history teacher told me we were the policemen of the world. We had to go in there with our guns, and our democracy, and help them be like us-Free.

With this superior attitude came a huge amount of paranoia. The world hates us because we’re great. They’re jealous. Life is a teen horror movie, and we’re the popular girl.

My journey to adulthood came with an overwhelming amount of disillusionment. Why had no one told me about all the mistakes we made, all the wars we caused, all the lives we took?

You have likely heard the statistic that only a third of Americans have a passport. What about that 73% had no idea when the Cold War was fought? When I was home last, two different people didn’t know where Ireland was. This is more than about traveling, it is about the ability to live in a bubble that begins and ends at the four corners of the country. When you’re inside it, the vastness of the US dwarfs the rest of the world.

And so I look at the examples in Australia and France and I wonder when America will start making some mature decisions. Give the 5th graders of today a chance to see our flaws. They will respect our nation more for it when they get to be my age because, guess what…no one cares who was popular in high school anymore. 

Advertisements

Detecting a Heartbeat

How the migrant crisis has made Ireland’s hauler industry a war zone

Calais trucks

 

As the claustrophobic walls of the tunnel closed in, the freight truck driver thought he heard creaking coming from the undercarriage. He was long past any point of return, and stopping to get out would cause a barrage of honking from behind him. Perhaps, he thought, if there was somebody hiding under his truck they would leave as soon as the fresh English air blew in. Or perhaps, he had just imagined the noise.

Truck drivers found entering the UK with stowaway migrants on board can be fined £2000 per person discovered. In Ireland, 90% of goods circulated involve road travel, and 70% of our market is dependent on export by road. When the trucks can’t safely make it out of France, the rest of their journey experiences a domino effect. The recent announcement from Calais president, Xavier Bertrand, that the French would cease all border patrols following a Brexit has brought the crisis to a boiling point. This is a more than a matter of money or inconvenience; being contained in a small area with little oxygen for days is life threatening for the migrants. The President of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), Verona Murphy, has just returned from Brussels after pleading to the EU Transport Commissioner for stronger protective measures for haulers and migrants.

The issue became relevant in Ireland last weekend with the discovery of nine migrants in a trailer near Rosslare port. They were sent to Waterford regional hospital for evaluation, and their condition was said to be stable. For Murphy, this highlights how close to home the crisis is coming, and she fears that the IRHA will soon have deaths on their hands. “It affects absolutely every industry in Ireland. We had a case where a shipment of cars was examined and migrants were found to be hiding inside the cars. Migrants don’t want housing, they don’t want to be relocated, they want to be in England.” Simply reaching England does not ensure that they will be permitted to stay, let alone that asylum status will be granted.

French customs authorities enforce a series of checks to ensure that there are no stowaways on board the trucks. One test, known as the ‘heartbeat test,’ scans a vehicle with micro-waves to detect if there is any living thing on board. Other tests include sniffer dogs, and carbon dioxide detectors. Some drivers have been caught with stowaways despite receiving the all clear from French customs. Murphy believes that the French authorities are not doing their job correctly, although she acknowledges that the steady uprooting of the Calais ‘Jungle’ is unmanageable.

The most recent incident involved an English driver who was found to have five stowaways on board in the UK, despite receiving the all-clear in Calais. His fine of £10,000 is currently being disputed. Last November four Irish drivers were discovered with stowaways and faced fines totalling €54,000. Some of the migrants discovered were armed with knives. The IRHA, which represents many haulers, claims that a genuine fear for their lives is one reason many drivers do not confront migrants.

Drivers are no longer taking traditional routes through Europe in an effort to avoid migrant camps. This has caused a sharp rise in the price of deliveries, most notably produce, which is in turn affecting the restaurant industry. According to Neal Costelloe, sous chef at SuperMissSue Restaurant in Dublin’s city center, finding alternative sources of produce is difficult and costly. “At first we just thought our delivery drivers had made mistakes in giving us these jumbo prawns, but then they told us that was all we could get. Higher quality suppliers and their drivers are the only ones who can afford the risks.” When a food delivery truck is found to be carrying a stowaway on board, the entire contents of the truck are destroyed.

And what about the migrants? They risk their lives to climb on board and if they make it, they can apply for asylum in the country they reach. At first glance, the ends appear to justify the means. Many migrants have unfortunately been misinformed about the benefits available to them in the UK. A comparative study done by the BBC last year found that cost-of-living benefits were actually higher in France, although they didn’t provide any money for children. The difference between the amount of applications granted in France and England is minimal (around 4,000), and France approved a higher proportion of their applications in 2014.

The distance between Calais and Dover is only 31 miles, yet it is a high stakes journey for both drivers and migrants. The struggles can begin long before the Tunnel screenings. Last week, Eoin Gavin from County Clare was driving a truck full of steel from Germany to Kerry when he stopped for petrol in Northern France. “I watched as nine guys climbed into the back of the truck. They refused to get out when I asked so I had to wait for the French police to arrive, and they [the police] gassed them all. It wasn’t very nice to watch.” Gavin has been driving for 20 years, and although he has had to deal with migrant stowaways since 1999, the problem has gotten out of control. “I can’t afford the fines. If the French police hadn’t helped me, I could have been stuck with €18,000 bill. If you don’t pay they [UK border patrol] take your truck away.” For him, the only answer is English police permanently stationed at the French ports.

Each country is claiming that their resources and manpower are quickly dwindling. A last resort would be to involve the military, but the English are reluctant to engage in a visibly physical confrontation. Increasing fear with violence does not usually bode well in easing an atmosphere of suspicion toward the other.

Charcuterie and Psycho Killers

 

An Interview with Declan Maxwell, Maitre D Extraordinaire

IMG_6922

 

The huddle that had formed in the corner of the perfectly set restaurant erupted into laughter as it dissolved. The man they had been listening to emerged and walked toward me. The pre-service briefing was complete, and the night was about to begin. But first, he would sit down at one of the soft black booths and chat with me about his recent nomination as Best Manager by the Restaurants Association of Ireland.

Declan Maxwell is neither a newcomer to the restaurant industry nor the awards ceremony. Yet, his affable and modest personality would have you doubting whether he’s actually spent half a lifetime working in fine dining establishments. Declan won the award in 2013, after complaining that there wasn’t a category for managers. “So they made it for you?” I ask. “Yeah, basically,” he chuckles, with his trademark I’m only half joking face. In hospitality, the maxim ‘you don’t get if you don’t ask’ is almost an across the board rule. And recognition is one of those things you rarely get.

When he won the award last he was working in Chapter One, a Michelin starred restaurant since 2007. This time around he’s in Luna, a modern Italian experience on Drury Street that sports a charcuterie station and a dessert trolley. Many in the industry were surprised by his exit from Chapter One, but Declan wanted a new challenge. When asked if being nominated this year feels like less of a big deal because the reputation factor isn’t on the line, he shook his head. “It actually means a lot more.16 years in Chapter One, which is an institution, you get nominated for things with that and you wonder of course, is this because of me or because of Chapter One? With Luna, its like my own personality is coming out.”

The atmosphere in Luna is, in a word: sexy. Dark wooden tables, black leather seats, and staff decked out in burgundy suits are just some of the things to expect. The music is louder than you would anticipate in a fine dining establishment, but Declan believes this caters to a new strata of Irish diners. “I think what people are looking for in the dining scene is where they can have fun. The market for extreme fine dining will always exist, but overall I think more people want to have a good time when they go out.

When asked about Catherine Cleary’s prediction last year that the dining boom is back, Declan is hesitant to agree. He worked through that boom and he saw the out of control spending. The menu in Luna indeed boasts some items that would break the bank for many diners, but Declan insists it is possible to eat there on a budget. “People are definitely going out more than they did, say five years ago, but they also want value. They are not spending 200 a head, they might spend 60 or 70 but they also expect greatness, which is fantastic.” Savvier customers raise the bar for restaurants to compete on a whole new level. It is not enough to cook a good steak.

The benefits of pushing for more front of house recognition has changed the way many Irish people look at the restaurant industry. The Head Chef used to be the mast head for the establishment, but now that person may be nowhere to be found for diners on a Friday night. The staff member you make a connection with is the person you leave remembering, and over the years Declan has made his fair share of connections. “I have some customers where I’ve seen them a few times a year for over a decade,” he says with a face of amazement. “You learn about them, their families, and in turn, they learn about you. These are the people who happily come back to celebrate special occasions. Or they invite me to their wedding, which is a plus.”

The other side of the managerial coin is dealing with customers who are not so happy, and Declan has his own set of rules for those encounters. His first is the not-so-secret, kill them with kindness. Instead of arguing, or letting the conversation run around in circles, Declan always suggests a next day phone call. Reason being, he says, is alcohol. “It is one of those things specific to our industry. Somebody might be the loveliest person Monday-Friday, but after 3 glasses of wine, they become a psycho-killer.” A good manager knows when to say no, but a great manager knows how.

He is gestured over to the door by a beautiful dark haired woman in a black dress. With a cheeky grin, he bounces up and grabs the reservation book. The Saturday night crowd is about to descend upon them, and Declan is already having all the fun.

The RAI awards ceremony will be held on May 16th at the DoubleTree by Hilton.