Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Three impossible things before bedtime August 30, 2008

On the beach in Sitges, Spain with 800 of my closest friends

On the beach in Sitges, Spain with 800 of my closest friends

Okay, so I owe a better update than this, but it’s super late, and I’ve decided to take the early train route to Lourdes, and I’ll have about a kajillion hours tomorrow to compose some lengthy thoughts for you.

That stated, let me share three key points:

1. Looking at the Sagrada Familia today, I cannot believe no one has built a casino based on this – yet – in Vegas. Better yet, Barcelona, The Casino. It would SO TOTALLY work. Gaudi’s works alone would springboard the Strip to the next level. Screw all these homages to Italy, where’s the phantasmagoria???

2. In researching Lourdes, I happened to discover that the Catholic Church is in the process of declaring the same Gaudi a saint. From this very interesting (and timely) article that popped up in the sidebar of a priest’s or nun’s or pilgrim’s Lourdes journal, “

A statue of Antonio Gaudi y Cornet in front of his Sagrada Familia Cathedral.When in 1926 God’s architect was run over by a No. 30 tram on his way to evening prayer, he was mistaken for a beggar and taken to Barcelona’s pauper hospital. His friends found him there the next day. But Antoni Gaudí refused to leave. “Here is where I belong”, he told them. He had always wanted to leave this world poor and did, two days later, aged 74, honoured by a city which universally acknowledged him to be both an artistic genius and a saint.

If it went through, he’d be the first professional anything to be made a saint. Also, note to self: Be very careful around the Barcelona trams.

3. I had this totally crazy dream last night that I was hanging out with Barack Obama and George Bush. I was egging them on to arm wrestle, and I guess Bush liked the abuse, because he came up to me afterward and was hitting on me something fierce. It was so out of line and in your face, but it was also so ridiculous and so ludicrous that I was trying to memorize every word, as I could not WAIT to tell my friends.

 

Now I know how it feels to be the village idiot August 29, 2008

Beautiful Barcelona

Beautiful Barcelona

Spain has it in for me. There is some weird trend starting up here wherein every time I check out at a grocery store, something explodes. Today is was a bottle of sparkling water (oh, how I love my agua con gaseo). I don’t know how or why, but as the woman reached for it to run it over the scanner, it busted a leak like Old Faithful and shot a powerful stream all over me. I do prefer the wet t-shirt contests where I’m the only contestant. Ups the odds that I might win (which are usually pretty slim).

Yesterday, it was my little four-pack of ‘Danone’ yogurt in “Macedonia” flavor (no idea what that means). As the woman (different city, different cashier at least) sat it down for me to bag, a giant glob of it launched all over my shirt and shorts.

These things are really no big deal and even kind of funny (especially because I cannot recall a single instance in my whole life where this has happened, and now it’s happened twice in a row). The issue is that it causes a major stream of dialog that I can’t comprehend a word of. So basically I try to fake like I understand what they’re saying with lots of nodding and smiling and “Dios Mio!” (kidding on the “Dios mio.’ I’m not sure anyone says that. Kind of like ‘my stars!” or “good golly, Miss Molly!”). Anyway, usually I figure if I were in their shoes, I’d be saying something like, “Holy crap! I’m so sorry! Go grab a new one.” So I leave to get a new one. The problem usually kicks in when I come back with the new one and they ask me something.

It’s at that point that I have to formulate and speak a grammatically tragic sentence in Spanish that likely translates to, “Here is new one. Me go now.” It’s like Arnold Schwarzanegger (sp?) before he was the Terminator or governor. Those monotone adverb and article-less sentences aren’t so cute when you’re just a ‘roided-out, orgy-loving Austrian weight lifter. Does that sentence mean I can never live in California again?

Anyway, back to my story of one-woman food fights, it’s at this point that everyone invariably gives me the sad, sorry look that you would to a parent with an obviously very, very slow (eight sandwiches and a red checkered blanket short of a picnic) child. A look that says, “Oh. You’re deficient. I didn’t realize. I pity you.”

In the same vein, I realized this morning that there is no way to look sophisticated while running down the street with a giant backpack bouncing behind you. I don’t care if you’re Jackie O. It cannot be done. Even Jackie O. would look like a lumbering jackass in the situation. Even with the big round sunglasses and the head scarf. Even with John John in tow. She would. Trust me.

I had this realization, naturally, while running down Calle Atocha in Madrid. I hate it when stupid events (like the lazy woman never waking up to allow me to check out at 9am) conspire against me, and I realize I’ve got to run – and about 40 pounds heavier than usual – if I’m going to make my plane/train/bus/starship. At this point I’m pretty well acclimated to the physical element of lugging the bag, it’s the fact that it renders me bulky and gigantic that I can’t seem to get through my head. I’m like a cat with clipped whiskers. I head into a space and get in so far…and realize I’m stuck. This is a clever and allegorical way of saying that this morning I was late, so I had to run down a busy metropolitan street during rush hour with a giant backpack strapped onto me, and I more or less bonked, bumped, jostled and plain old knocked over a dozen or so people en route. Sorry about that, slow moving people of Madrid.

In other news, it could just be a coincidence, but i saw no less than 5 shops selling kittens yesterday. It did occur to me that traveling with a trained cat (maybe i could get it to sit on my shoulder like a parrot?) would liven things up. I could name it Wanderlust and together we could cross the continent, sharing cans of tuna and performing stupid cat tricks. A lesser version of that seemed to be the thing to do in Portugal: Get a huge dog (Mastiffs were usually employed for the purpose) and then go from table to table at the outdoor dining spots in all the alleys, begging for money to feed the giant dog. Invariably these were healthy-looking men in their 20s and 30s, and all I could think was, “Why did you have to drag some poor dog into your mess?” The dogs were always laying on their sides looking exhausted from all the heat and panhandling. Or maybe they were just embarrassed to be associated with that guy? The guy ruining everyone’s lunch. I’m sure dogs know if their owner is a loser just as much as kids know when their parents aren’t cool.

Meanwhile, I’m out of that awful little room in Barcelona. Barcelona rocks and makes me realize how much I didn’t really like Madrid. It kind of reminded me of Boston. Not to pick on Boston (too much), and not in terms of specific looks, but in vibe. Both are large cities with a lot of history, and both have some cool old stuff and crazy roads that lead to seriously confusing floor plans. But in both I find the people kind of standoffish and the town inaccessible. I walked a solid seven or eight miles of Madrid, and could never find it’s ‘pulse.” I guess it’s safe to say that I just didn’t really vibe with Madrid.

Barcelona, however, is fantastico. It’s lively, it’s got history, it’s funky, it’s tropical, it’s gorgeous, and it has a nice rack. There are beaches and palm trees and little shops where you can get the biggest falafel pita on earth (and possibly the best) for 4.20 Euro. The metro system is delightful, and I am no longer sleeping in a prison cell. Who could ask for anything more???

Viva Barcelona!!!

 

I’m beginning to see the light August 27, 2008

In front of some graffiti in Lisbon, Portugal

In front of some graffiti in Lisbon, Portugal

I’ve been feeling a little bit shagged, having spent last night on the night train from Lisbon to Madrid. After a brief snooze on the early morning flight from Dublin, I realized that saving a few euro was NOT worth the lost sleep and neck pain, so I went ahead and booked a couchette (one small step above a regular seat, but at least you get to lay down). Sadly, I was in the top bunk. (Seriously, how do I put an end to that!?!?)

Even more sadly, I did not get to pick my roommates. It was me and three girls who texted and made phone calls at full ‘middle of the day’ volume (I would have paid good money to learn the Portuguese word for whisper) – and received them in turn – all night long. What a tragedy that Portugal can’t produce a phone with a ‘vibrate’ or ‘silent’ mode. Or that its youth is too rude to use them or know how to SHUT THE F**K UP AT 3AM.

Either way, combine that with the rocking and rolling circa 1960 train (with the fluorescent light that would flicker half on with the worst of the turns and bumps like some kind of deranged northern light), and I had one of those sleeps where you would look at your watch and it would be 1am, and 2:30a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and you’re amazed that it’s that late and perhaps you’ve slept at all.

So it followed that around 2am, something (so many options to choose from) woke me, and I realized I had to pee like a race horse. I lay there and shifted in my tiny horrible bed and tried to find a position where I could forget about it or fall back asleep…but it just wasn’t happening. So I had to give up and leave the room and use the horrific train toilet. Is that just dumping out onto the track or ???

Anyway, the whole thing – and so much of my travel – is completely size discriminatory. Normally, I am something of a small person. However, on this trip – because of the backpack – I am not. And it makes me super aware of how the world is not very friendly in that regard. Today I could barely fit into the lift with my backpack on, let alone through the Madrid subway turnstiles. In the same vein, as I was wandering back to the couchette in a completely bleary-eyed stupor, a very large man was heading down the hallway toward me. I already know that

  1. The odds that he speaks English are next to nothing

  2. There is no freaking way we are both fitting down this hall

  3. I don’t even know that he can fit down this hall

At the sight of his approach, I started backing up. He kept coming toward me and sending me way out of the way, and eventually I had to try to pantomime that my room was just up the hall. He seemed to understand and backed up so that I could get to it (this is a lot like the dance in the aisle on the airplane if you ever get in the way of the beverage cart). So I get there, gone just a minute or two, and with the intent to quietly climb back up into my top bunk like the Spider Monkey I have become and no one the wiser, when…what do you know but…MY ROOMMATES HAVE LOCKED ME OUT.

I keep twisting and turning the knob and looking up at the number two on the door. “Are you f-ing KIDDING me!?” I think to myself, as I size up the situation. Just then, not wanting to miss an opportunity, my rotund hallmate charges down the hall, plasters himself up against me (now banging on the door), and starts trying to grope me. I heard the bolt click just as he was moving into areas that would get him knocked out cold. Douchebag.

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little tired and pissed off today.

On a totally unrelated topic, I‘ve been running into a lot of quotes lately that strike me, and I usually stop where I am – even if that involves an awkward moment to relocate the oversized bag on my back and dig out some paper and a pen – and write them down. The other day I was reading something in an old collection of articles that referenced Episcopal Priest Barbara Brown Taylor. She wrote: “To paraphrase a parable of Brother Kierkegaard’s, if you put a bunch of people in a lobby and give them two doors to choose between – one that says ‘transformation’ and another that says ‘lecture on transformation’, most of them are going to line up for the lecture.”

A year ago, I might have done the same. However, here I am, most definitely through the door of transformation. At least I hope so.

You see, when this idea occurred to me – to recreate the trip I took when I was 19 years old – it felt urgent, even involuntary. It seemed like something I had to do, that there were lessons I needed to learn and things I needed to give up and struggles I needed to have in order to push myself past my boundaries and grow into who I am meant to be. But in the back of my mind I remembered how hard this was the first time and knew it wouldn’t be easy.

So not to bitch and moan – because I know this is something I elected to do, and although it’s a trip conducted very much on the cheap and at times it feels a little torturous, it’s still a luxury.- but some days this sh!t is just plain old hard, and it about makes you want to cry.

It is incredibly humbling to haul your every possession on your back and be alone and adrift – an alien unable to communicate with anyone around you. Portions of the Madrid metro are closed right now, which rendered my trip to the opposite side of town (where my squalid concrete block room is located) grueling. It was as hard as I’ve been pushed thus far.

I am starting to think some of what I need to learn is about humility and patience. And being real. And being kind to myself in the moment, even when the moment totally sucks. These are hard lessons in their own stupid way. It’s much, much easier to check out or blame other people or attend the lecture instead of the full-immersion course.

However, despite it all, I can see the little blessings. Like how people are kind and they try to help. As I was wandering aimlessly trying to find the Madrid Metro station earlier today, I stopped a man for help. Once we confirmed that he didn’t speak a word of English (no one here seems to, oddly), and I didn’t know much Spanish, he began an intricate pantomime to explain to me how to get to the Metro. It involved Putting his thumb to his lips and waving the remaining fingers in front of his face while dancing around and making a strange sound. I don’t know how, but eventually I realized this was to symbolize the train station. Then, he went into a violent shoving motion to his left, and it became clear that I must go through the train station and to the left. Voila, a half a kilometer later and there it was. I had to laugh.

A friend asked me what the best part has been, and the best parts are – for me, anyway – the simple little moments where the world seems so small and so beautiful: Running along a lonely road in England or watching birds dive into the ocean in Iceland. Yesterday, for example, I was walking to the train station in Portugal, and the last street vendors were packing up for the night. It was dark out and everyone was long gone from the avenues. The street lights provided the only life. A s a man was packing up his paintings he noticed me trudging past. “Come or go?” he asked, as I had my bag on my back. “Go,” I said to him, “Boa noite.”

“Bye bye, Girl!” he called after me with a wave, “Have a nice day!”

Across the plaza another man was playing a radio, and an old American song from the 1940s – “I’m beginning to see the light” – was drifting across the uneven cobblestone, and everything seemed strangely warm and embracing and perfect for a split second. And that’s what’s keeps me going.

 

Slipping into the Twilight Zone August 26, 2008

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal

It’s been a long couple days, but in a good way. I went to the beach (Cascais), and got back later than anticipated. Then I took a shower and got roped into a lengthy conversation while drying my hair (it is such a weird experience to be doing things like that – blow drying your hair – in public). As it was my last night in Lisbon, I was begged, pleaded with, and cajoled until I gave in and went out with some of the fellow hostelers. Going out seems to entail not even leaving until about 11pm.

The cutest guy on the beach in Cascais

The cutest guy on the beach in Cascais

Regardless, two particularly friendly North African guys (just finishing up architecture master’s degrees in France) were staying in the same room, and after hearing ‘last night in Lisbon’ forty-five times, I finally gave in. In my opinion, every other night is my last night somewhere, but there’s something to be said for going with the flow.

That stated, I can accurately report to you that bars in Lisbon Portugal are every bit as boring as the ones in the United States – particularly if you have a headache from all the cigarette smoke and no desire to get drunk in a complicated city full of unfriendly and steep cobblestone streets. Despite being a wildly international group (1 Australian, 1 Algerian, 1 Moroccan, 2 Swedes, 1 Korean, 1 Tunisian, 1 Romanian, and me, the American), conversations seem to center around tales of previous episodes of extreme drinking, including a harrowing story from a Swedish guy about some kind of 99% alcohol intended for medical use. He seemed to find it a funny memory, but it struck me as more of a brush with death warning that should be used in a ‘Scared Straight’ film. Not that I’m any abolitionist, but It is a little alarming to me how much alcohol seems to be a focus of everyone’s life, and this seems to extend across all borders. Almost every person I’ve met in a hostel has mentioned that their travel budget is roughly 50% for alcohol. Good thing I didn’t have to factor that in, or I’d be headed home in the next couple weeks.

Me with all of Lisbon at my feet

Me with all of Lisbon at my feet

Meanwhile, to any of you out there with young children, in addition to keeping an eye out for any growing fascination with booze, please consider raising them bi-lingual, even if it’s a Neanderthal language of grunts and groans that you make up yourself. In fact, all the better. If you and your family are fluent in Cavemanch, then you, too, can go out in public and talk about people who are standing right there because they won’t understand you. That’s right all you fluent Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Russian, etc. etc. speakers. The Aussies and I are onto you. When you look at us and talk at a feverish low tone and then erupt into laughter, we know something is going on and we may be the punchline.

Moreover, it truly is kind of embarrassing to only speak English fluently. Last night someone said something to the effect of English being ‘the international language’ and so ‘everyone has to learn it.’ All I could think was, “THANK GOD,” because it’s hard enough having to start every single solitary conversation with “English?” or “Do you speak English?” Particularly being in a country where the only word you know is ‘thank you’. By the way, it’s obrogado/a, and I say it with flourish every chance I get!

In the same vein, last night I got roped into conjuring up my high school French. Needless to say, I provided quite a few guffaws at my own expense. Especially because all I could remember were weird textbook sentences like “the pencil is on the table” and “they are friends.” Also, because high school was a really long time ago. Really long. But no one believes me on that one.

I suspect it’s due to the hard partying life most of the youth of the world seem to be living and that I somehow never partook in along the way. If all you do from the time you’re 15 or 16 is smoke, drink and stay up all night, I’m thinking the key to my eternal youth lies in my general abstinence (minus the alcohol under different circumstances. Here – partially because of budget, but mostly because I’m on my own – I’m crazy conservative) from all three.

Other people may have their multilingual flag to wave. They may be able to carry on conversations in four or five languages on as many continents…but I look damn young. I can infiltrate your youthful scene and you are none the wiser. In fact, you start looking out for me in my apparent youth. This is my super power. Forget out running locomotives and leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Who needs all that, when you could re-enroll in high school?

Seriously though, it’s absolutely bizarre to me. Last night someone suggested that I was 25 and another man said, “No! I would have thought…”

I readied myself, “Here it comes…busted!”

Until he followed it up with, “I would have thought younger than that. More like 21.” Wha…????

On the other hand, the few times I have stated my true age, no one believes me. I honestly think I’d have an easier time telling people I’m a vampire, I never age, and I’m 412 years old. It would not surprise me if that were accepted as fact more readily than the truth of my advancing years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered for sure – just a little baffled.

The red tile roofs of Lisbon

The red tile roofs of Lisbon

Meanwhile, Lisbon is a really interesting city of contrasts. It’s got a lot of old architecture and charm, and then two blocks away looks like a bomb just went off. The weather has been superb, and it’s a mere 25 minute train ride from the beach…and the world’s coldest ocean. Seriously, it was FREEZING. It wasn’t the coldest ever, I think the ocean off Washington state in the spring is about the same, but considering how warm it is, and it’s August, I was totally shocked. Anyway, minus having very little (no) grasp on the language, I like it here just fine. In fact, in a mere two days I’ve become an expert at getting around on the subways and throughout the Alfama (as long as you’re not in a rush, it’s easy to get out of there, just head downhill). The Alfama is the old “Moorish district” which has these insane and super-steep switchback streets. Apparently they were built that way in case anyone attacked the city: The soldiers would get lost in the street and were easy to fight back from the castle at the top.

In the Alfama district

In the Alfama district

At the moment, I’m sitting here in the hostel kitchen, and someone just handed me a shrimp with the head and arms and legs and wings and horns and beak still attached. Ick. I love shrimp, but if I had to look at them like this all the time, I’m pretty sure I’d eat them a lot less frequently! I ended up munching down a pretty good portion of shell, but I’m pretty sure it added to the flavor (it really was damn flavorful) and I probably got some extra calcium out of it or something.

Lastly, I’m going to make a real effort to get a bunch of pictures up on Flickr in the next few days. Space is allotted by month, so i intend to use everything I’ve got before August ends. Meanwhile, I can’t seem to figure out how to get the link to work from WordPress. They say to paste in the RSS feed from Flickr…but (obviously, if you look to the lower left) it isn’t working. My Flickr account shares the same name as this blog, and if anyone can figure out the exact url I should plug in to get the link going please send me an e-mail or post a comment. Otherwise, boa noite, and tomorrow it will be be buenos dias from Madrid!

 

Forget Coke. I’d like to buy the world some Right Guard. August 24, 2008

Dear World,

Pee-U. You look like a monkey, and you smell like one too. Actually, you smell like a whole cage full of them. In a cage that hasn’t been cleaned in a week. Or a month. Or ever. And has doubled as your bathroom.

Meanwhile fair readers, I have made it to Lisbon! Yay Lisbon! It’s warm, it’s sunny, it’s old world-ish, and if such things are of interest to you, the wine flows cheaply. So cheaply, in fact, you wonder if maybe it’s got some antifreeze in it or something. On par, a bottle of the local vintage averages .75 to 1.99 euro ($1.25 to $.3.00 USD since our dollar is doing so badly. Which, by the way, all the jerk Canadians keep feeling the need to point out. All the time. As if I don’t know. But seriously, if this isn’t enough to turn your blood cold, the two dollars are trading almost equally. They must be pissed about the fact that all their books and magazines are marked up a good 35% over ours.)

Adding to the universal stink with a giant thing of Irish onion rings

Adding to the universal stink with a giant thing of Irish onion rings

Also, it’s not that I’m saying all Canadians are jerks. Just those that feel the need to remind me that our economy is in the dumpster and taking my hard earned dollars down with it. Speaking of Canadians, I have a young French Canadian somewhat stalking me. I think he means well. Or he’s just lonely. Or both. But he’s wearing me out. There is nowhere I can hide where the young fellow doesn’t appear.

So I’m off to duck into my upper bunk (QUICK SEGUE: Doesn’t the law of averages indicate that, on average, I would be in the upper bunk half the time and the lower bunk the other half? How the hell is it that I have had the upper bunk EVERY SINGLE GODDAMNED time??? Like seven or eight or even more times now. I’ve lost count. Seriously, what are the odds on this? Could I somehow lock in the same mojo for some kind of gambling venture? At least make this unbroken streak work in my favor financially? Anyone out there care to take odds?)

All that aside, it’s good to be back in some summer weather. And get away from that Irish temper (I’m kidding a little – although there were some fists flying on the Luas [Dublin's light rail] yesterday. I was wearing my full backpack ensemble and pointed it toward the fracas like a tortoise might his shell).

In closing, tomorrow I am off to the beaches about a half-hour from Lisbon by train. I’m going by myself, even if it means I have to go out a window. If I can stay off the practically free wine long enough to write up a semi-sober update, I will do so. And maybe even post some pictures. (Just kidding on the solo binge drinking. Users are losers, kids. And drinking by yourself is not only a troubling sign of a problem, it’s not that fun.)

 

Teenage rebellion is not what it used to be August 23, 2008

Ok, so what the hell is this all about? I’m on the 8:05 a.m. bus from Schull to Cork. We’ve been on it about five minutes, and across the aisle from me is an Irish couple in their late teens who are BLARING the music player on their cell phone as loud as they can while making out. It’s obnoxious and I can hear people around me complaining. When they came up for air, I asked if they could turn it down a little, and he acted like he might pull a knife on me. He want on some incomprehensible rant that I’m pretty sure contained some bad words.

But here’s the kicker: The music is complete and total CRAP. How can you call yourself an Irish bad ass when you’re willing to kill someone to defend your right to annoy the whole bus with Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” I might not mind if they were playing some Snoop Dogg or Wu Tang Clan or something more conducive to disturbing the peace., but the Farm Aid song!? (I haven’t heard it in so long, I’m not sure that’s the song. The thing about ‘make the world a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race”and you can clearly hear Michael Jackson in the mix???) WTF!?

Later on this bus ride (it took a little over two hours total), several other people tried to silence those two. I thought one guy might come to blows over it. The male of the couple was an absolute punk and would literally threaten people with their lives when they asked him to turn it down. What was so bizarre, and yet strangely funny, was how AWFUL the music was. I put on my headphones and tried to drown it out (I think every one of us so equipped did), but I still managed to hear (and I am not making this up):

  1. Whitney Houston – I will always love you (but of course)
  2. Air Supply – Making Love out of nothing at all (or whatever it’s called. Pretty much the shittiest song EVER)
  3. That song about “Turn around bright eyes”

It was like somebody’s prom, circa 1987, only these two were probably late teens, 20 years old at most!?!?

On the other hand, considering the news a few weeks back about someone beheading another person on a Greyhound bus in Canada, I guess we should be glad that only our eardrums were terrorized. No one was killed, only tortured.

Meanwhile, I’m back in Dublin in a cell block of a room at Dublin City University. Actually, cell block isn’t fair. Prison cells are nicer. The DSL internet connection doesn’t work (and it’s clear there were once instructions that the girls at the front desk either lost or gave away), and I think prisoners get a TV. But it has the same cinder block walls and horrible bed, so that’s comforting.

On the upside, it’s back to pouring down rain and 55 degrees…and I am outta here and Lisbon-bound at 5:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m. flight). So one short night in the jail house is no big deal.

Adeus!

 

Live nude girls! August 22, 2008

A little reality check on Cape Clear Island, Ireland

A little reality check on Cape Clear Island, Ireland

That title is both accurate (if you keep reading), and may just earn this lowly little blog a day of big hits! By sleazebags. But sleazebags who read!

Watching a little BBC Four and writing yet another blog post. Note the slight sunburn! In Ireland! That's one step from seeing a leprechaun!!

Watching a little BBC Four and writing yet another blog post. Note the slight sunburn! In Ireland! That's practically like seeing a leprechaun, right???

Anyway, in order to be properly hungry for my full Irish breakfast, I woke up early and went for a long (5 ½ mile?) run today. Schull really is a gorgeous place, and you can run on the rural roads with a full view of the ocean the whole time. Anyway, I got back and took a shower and started drying my hair…and that’s when my time in Glasgow came back to haunt me.

One of the few indulgences I brought on this trip is a travel hairdryer. I had a delusional fantasy of drying my hair straight and having it stay that way. Not so much. Within five minutes of a nice blow dry, my naturally curly hair senses it’s in its mother country and starts to go crazy. Anyway, I’ve used it before without calamity, but within about 18.3 seconds of flipping it on, the fire alarms start going off, I realize it is putting out kind of an odor, and I go into a total panic.

I then notice the smoke detector on the ceiling of my room and flash back to the listing of innocent activities that can trigger a five-alarm event at the University of Glasgow (hair dryers being one of them). I’m certain that I’ve caused this with my super powered ionic ceramic whatevermajig American blow dryer. Worse, I have caused a ruckus, and I am totally nude. So I’m trying to determine the correct course of action, quickly:

  1. Do I get on the bed naked and attempt to reach the alarm and hit the correct button that shuts off the alarm?

  2. Do I ignore the incessant blaring in order to get clothes on in case someone bursts in in order to silence the alarm?

I went with option one, and as I was straining to reach the alarm on the super high ceiling, I realize that the window of my room opens to the back deck. And people are eating breakfast there. I also realize that I don’t know which button to push. It’s like diffusing a bomb: One false move and the alarms might never go off.

So I’m there straining toward the thing, but still a good three inches from actually touching it, and it goes silent. I managed to crawl back down without (as far as I could tell) anyone noticing my peep show. Moreover, as I went around and apologized to all the breakfasters for causing the alarm, the proprietor comes in and informs me that it was caused by a smoke detector on the second floor! I had nothing to do with it! Her husband flipped the breaker to silence it. (Thank god I didn’t manage to reach and press one of the buttons!)

So starts another day…

After that, I pounded down a full Irish breakfast (nearly identical to the full Scottish breakfast. But with tomatoes. And the black pudding was better here), and then went and caught the ferry to Cape Clear Island. Super quick history lesson: Former post of the notorious O’Driscoll clan (unpopular Irish pirates in the 17th century), three miles long, 110 residents, has an abalone farm that provides Japanese restaurants in London and Paris, and the official language is Gaelic. It takes about 45 minutes to reach by ferry and two and a half hours to become completely and totally boring. Trust me, I tried. I walked the thing end to end. And it is one steep mother.

I did take some gorgeous pictures, but after a while, you become accustomed to the heather fields the bucolic cattle, and the sweeping panoramas. Then you go down by the dock and hang out and wait with everyone else for the 45 minute ride back. At that point, you realize that it’s not warm, but it is pretty sunny..and you’re only wearing SPF 15. Thus, I managed to obtain the rare Irish sunburn. I have come full circle!

I am only in Ireland another 36 hours…which in a way is a good thing. i have got to get away from the land of all you can drink black tea, milk, and sugar. i am a maniac with the stuff. I’m putting it down like I’m trying to win a contest. As someone who pretty much never drinks caffeine, this cannot be good for me. my cheeks are flushed, my mind is racing, and i can’t stop pouring. If it’s not enough that the kind owner of the B&B has brought me a giant pot at both breakfast and again in the early evening, I have a kettle and no less than six or seven additional tea bags in my room. I may not sleep until next Tuesday.

On the other hand, if there were a tea drinking contest, where do I sign up? I could use the prize money (there’s prize money, right? Not just more tea?) I would be a worthy contestant, and probably the dark horse. Odds might be against the Yank, but I’m pretty sure I’d stun them all.

I remember the last time i made this trip, I met some guys in London and followed them home to Liverpool. Like a stray dog. Anyway, while there, I overheard my host’s mother on the phone, telling one of her friends that they’d ‘found a little American girl, and you would not believe how much tea she drinks!” I am a one-woman Boston tea party.

Remember that ridiculous song that Austin Powers sings in the second movie? The lyrics were like, “Missus, bring me tea. Make love to me.” and then at the end he lists off “BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three…” That’s pretty much my Friday night here in Schull. Only without the making love, and with FIVE whole BBCs and an additional channel in Gaelic to choose from. It could be a lot worse (and it probably will be some night in the near future!)…

 

Bill Murray as Irish colloquialism August 21, 2008

That’s right. I’ve busted out an SAT word on your there. I strive to educate as well as to entertain. If you’re wondering, it basically means ‘slang.’ Anyway, the Irish show jumping horse was disqualified from the Olympics today as he tested positive for capsaicin (sp? derivative of cayenne pepper). The “teaser” line on the Irish CNN channel was, “Groundhogs day for Ireland at the Olympics!” as apparently the same thing happened in Athens four years ago.

Hi-larious. I’ve never heard anyone reference that movie (Groundhogs Day) with respect to the same thing happening twice, but it’s genius.

Meanwhile they were really beating up on the hapless coach (I assume coach, they kept calling him ‘Chef de Keep’ and then ‘boss.’). The poor guy needs a PR rep tout de suite. He got positively hostile with the news reporter. He just needed a little guidance about how to gracefully answer the awkward, but predictable, questions about, “Are you surprised?” or “How do you think the people of Ireland will feel?”

In response to these, he said, “I’m not going to answer your questions! I came here to make a statement, and I made it: The horse will not be running tonight. That should be enough. I’m in Hong Kong. Beijing is four hours away.” His phone started ringing (a little Irish ditty) and he barked at the reporter, “My phone is ringing for the thousandth time today. I’ve gots to answer me phone!”

You couldn’t help but feel for the poor dude. Where are the Irish PR firms when you need one!? This flustered guy just needed a little speech writing about “disappointment” and “confusion” and “misunderstanding” and “getting to the bottom of this.” Something to smooth rumpled feathers and ill feelings. Apparently they are flowing. The news anchors were inconsolably angry that ‘the integrity of the Irish has been besmirched.” I’m going to start saying besmirched a whole lot more. Or at all.

Tonight I am in top notch digs: a B&B in Schull (but don’t say ‘Shool’ like I’ve been doing for three days. Everyone will stare at you like you’re not speaking the same language as them, which happens way more than you would think. Anyway, it’s pronounced “Skull.” Oh, and by the way, we’re saying Celtic all wrong too. It’s not Seltic. It’s Keltic. Boston Celtics, we need to think about some rebranding…). Anyway, the place is like heaven and Christmas rolled into one. And it’s so CLEAN. I want to roll around on the floors it’s so clean. And I haven’t even partaken in either of the ‘B’s yet. I have so much to look forward to…

Meanwhile, there is a TV show on wherein a (British it sounds like?) guy is tracking his genealogy. They hook him up with experts in the varying German towns his ancestors called home, and at the moment he’s stuck as his great-great-great-grandmother was (apparently) a bastard who lied about her name. He’s in the town where she came from following some flimsy clues.

I like it! if someone decides to make this show in the US, I’ll volunteer. On my dad’s side, we’re Romanovs for all we know. A Greek cab driver on the Vegas strip did once declare that I had a look of aristocracy. Obviously it’s true. Or maybe he was just hoping for a big tip?

Anyway, My great-grandmother (Stephanie – no clue if that was her given name. Kind of doubt it.) was apparently ‘from money” over in Russia. Her husband, my Lithuanian great-grandfather, can be tracked to Ellis Island, but prior to that, the trail turns cold. I’ll be in Lithuania in about three weeks, but I won’t be conducting much of a genealogy study as I don’t really know where to start and the BBC probably won’t be around to hook me up with an expert.

As for the guy on the show, it turns out his great-great-great grandmother was the illegitimate daughter of a prince, and ultimately he’s eight generations down from Henry II. Maybe that’s why they’re even airing this? If it turned out her dad was an impoverished wheat farmer with three other wives and twenty-seven other children, it may not have been that interesting to the masses. We all like a happy ending.

Speaking of which, I had a moment of peaceful hostel camaraderie last night which reminded me why in some respects I like to stay in them. Seven of us gathered around the TV in the common room to watch the movie The Descent: an Italian guy, an Irish woman, two American brothers, a Spanish father and his teen daughter, and me. The movie was total crap, but it was strangely fun to sit in the dark with people you just met and make wisecracks as we watched it. The other day I watched Old School with a bunch of young French guys and was totally amazed that they got every joke. One point in favor of hostel living: meeting and hanging out with cool people.

On the other hand, come this morning, I woke and noticed that our room (there were only three of us) had a distinct funk. I will decline to identify his nationality on the grounds of prejudice or stereotype, but sufficed to say upon physical inspection it was clear that our male roommate needed a shower and a shampoo REAL BAD. DESPERATELY. So much so that, if I’d had to stay there another night and share the same room, I might have done it for him myself. And I am NOT into shampooing strangers. Only in an emergency super stench situation would the idea even come up…

Which brings me to my final thought for the day: You get enough unclean people (or even one unwashed dude) in a small room, and it’s like a freaky people barn. It ain’t right.

If you haven’t smelled this and for some sick and twisted reason you would like to, buy a ticket to Cork, Ireland, go to the Aaron House hostel, and ask to be put in the three-bed room with the (nationality omitted) guy who’s living there. That, or stick your head in a gym bag with clothes and shoes that have been left to ferment for a few weeks. That’s what I’m talking about. One big strike AGAINST hostel living…

 

Old churches, new clothes August 20, 2008

I’m having a semi-surreal moment, sitting in a nice little living room in Cork, listening to some Germans try to puzzle through the instructions for Monopoly and watching Mariah Carey vamp around in a microscopic silver dress and tube socks on TV. Mariah Carey is an interesting study in rebounding. Certainly no stranger to bottoming out, she seems to be back in fine form. I’ve never necessarily been a fan of her style of music, but anyone who can shatter glass with their voice is fine by me. Anyway, she reminds me of a good quote I read recently, attributed to Mary Pickford of silent film fame, “Failure is not the falling down. Failure is the staying down.”

Anyway, realizing my own propensity to pass judgment way too quickly, allow me to note that European life – much like American – sure does seem to revolve around retail. Old churches and retail. If pressed, that is how I would summarize the last few weeks of my life: She traveled at length, encountering numerous old churches and endless opportunities to buy stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, the old me would’ve been thrilled: Buying clothes that I had nowhere to put and no time to wear and driving up the weight of my luggage into the three digit range. However along with some other reality checks, I’ve recognized that as just one further symptom of the malady of not living my life. Not that I can or would speak for anyone else, but in my case, clothes came to personify me more than i actually did. Somehow my identity got strangely wrapped up in my own exterior and what i was projecting. Beyond the paycheck, the only other thing I loved about my old job was the excuse to buy great clothes.

Not to minimize my sincere feelings for my clothes: I do love them – passionately. It’s just that when you get to the point that you could personally clothe a small nation, you maybe need to stop and reevaluate?

Anyway, without all my cute stuff, I feel a bit like a slob, and not quite like “me.” I did pick up a blazer on clearance at H&M (for warmth as much as anything, but the fact that its tailored and looks polished didn’t hurt). Walking around the last few weeks, I’m struck by how people treat you when you’re in jeans and a t-shirt and carrying a giant backpack. They treat you, quite frankly, like you’re beneath them.

It’s odd, because just a month ago I was the same person, only in a suit, and that apparently made all the difference. I remember noting the same difference at the grocery store – the difference whether i went in dressed for work or on a Saturday morning in my running clothes. We are a superficial people. Case in point, the “band” now on TV – the Pussycat Dolls. Maybe I’m not giving them enough credit? The lyrics are so bad (“When I grow up, I wanna have boobies.”) maybe they actually wrote them themselves?

Meanwhile, I’m in a super small hostel here in Cork. I’m sharing a room with a guy who is apparently living here (according to the girl that checked me in). I haven’t met him, but judging from his pile of stuff on the floor, he’s a smoker – but a smoker without loyalty. He had packs from at least eight different brands lying around. Maybe he’s doing some taste testing or market research or something? Maybe he has multiple personalities? Hopefully none of them is a serial killer…

Anyway, and more importantly, there is no Internet of any kind at this place. although I believe there’s a cafe in Cork where I can upload this. Moreover, tomorrow I’m off to Schull (at the very southern tip of Ireland), a town with a population of 700. That stated, if I fall out of contact for a couple days, rest assured that I’m writing the blog, I just can’t get online to post it. In that case, Saturday will be a bonanza of more exciting news and babbling. Yippy skippy.

p.s.

If you happen to talk to him, wish Tim a happy birthday!

 

 
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