Sunday, October 19, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere. And All of it is being Taxed.

Then there was the time I took a trip to Killarney. Somehow or other I ended up with  a group of American tourists all intent on enjoying a day's outing. The only problem? It was lashing rain. As we took refuge in a local cafe, the voice of an annoyed woman from New Jersey took aim at our poor tour guide who was intent on keeping everyone happy.

Her: "It's raining. Again."
Tour Guide: "It does that in Ireland."
Her: "But it's like a hurricane outside."
Tour Guide: "It does that in Ireland too."
Her: "But we'll get wet!"
Tour Guide (now more than a little exasperated): "Do ya see the green of the fields? Do ya like it that way? Well God does too and that's why it's gonna keep raining."

It rains in Ireland. A lot. It drizzles, pelts, and lashes. It's so ubiquitous, this liquid wonder that pours onto the country, that most of us take it for granted. The Irish may be short of many things, but water? We've that in spades. And for years and years we got it for free - sort of. Turn on the tap and out the water poured and no one thought anything of it.

Until recently. This past month, thousands and thousands of households throughout the country received a wee letter in the post making it official: we'll all be paying for water from now on. Come next January, we'll all get a bill in the mail for the amount of water we use.

But the Irish aren't taking this lightly. Thousands of 'em are protesting in the streets leveling accusing fingers at our politicians.

But what's the big deal? The citizens of many other countries pay for water. Why should the Irish be any different? Someone has to pay for it, don't they?

To understand Ireland's attitude to water charges, you have to realize that most people here have just about had it with so-called Austerity measures. Prior to the Great Recession of 2008, Irish citizens had already been taxed to death. But new taxes on income, property, and consumer goods  have come close to pushing many households over the financial edge.  Many are having trouble paying for simple things: like heat in the winter. And petrol for cars. And school uniforms for children. Most are already saving for the new property tax which they will be forced to pay after Christmas. And now the government wants all of us to pay again. In January of course. Right after Christmas. When everyone is broke.

The Irish are usually an uncomplaining lot. In fact, that aspect of their character can often drive me crazy. But this time, for many, paying water charges isn't a matter of inconvenience. Rather, it's a choice: do they put bread on the table or pay the new water bill?

If you're visiting Ireland over the next few years and see entire populations make their way toward the local town water pump, bucket in hand, you'll know that they've opted to eat.

The new tax on water is simply a tax too far and one that many simply cannot afford.

A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2014 Kindle Edition Available Now
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fred Schimmelman, a Wonderful Man of Song

Forgive me but I'm learning: as one gets older, so too does everyone else. And when that happens, we all eventually reach the end of our mortal coils. Recently, a friend - a teacher - passed away. For a moment, I'd like to remember him.

To Fred Schimmelman, Teacher and Friend:
He's gone. Those sensitive fingers that directed our song. Those smoky eyes that could glisten with amusement or fire into annoyance in the brief space of a quarter note. He's gone. His passion that fueled our own, the young kids that we were at Rolling Meadows High School. Teaching us to harmonize as we could. Presenting us with curiosities. "What's a Jabberwocky?" we asked and then found out in four / four time. "Twas Brillig" for sure.

He's gone. The director, the musician, the teacher, the man. His music dispersed into so many young hearts.... but then perhaps?...
...Gone he is not. For his love of music remains within many of us. Like the last I heard from him, only a few weeks ago. The 'old man' still young at heart, writing: "... glad you're still singing. It's a boon to living." And so it is.
Gone therefore he really isn't. The memories that he made, the kids that he taught, the inspiration and confidence that he gave to us all. He was a gift, and gifts don't die. They Live! Nor do the notes of his song that float even now Heavenward.
Godspeed, Fred Schimmelman. And thank you for the gifts that you gave so freely of yourself.
In honor of Fred, a song that he taught us all in 1973. Sung, of course, not by us. But it's the memory, the memory...
The Lord to Me a Shepherd Is sung by Vox Harmonia
(Photo: Fred in full flight, circa 1973, Choir Room, Rolling Meadows High School.)