Wide Awake in Wonderland

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

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…

 

My goodness, my Guinness August 19, 2008

I imagine tourists have always been a hazard: Looking up when they should be looking for traffic, stopping suddenly when they spot a souvenir shop, clustering together in large, slow-moving groups. All of this was enough. But give a tourist a phone and the ability to text message their friends back home while walking slowly and ambling into traffic…and they’re practically a deadly weapon. Who knows? Maybe I’d be just as obnoxious if I still had my Blackberry. But I don’t. And I can’t figure out how to work my “fun phone”, so I guess that makes me neither part of the problem, nor part of the solution!

There is a peculiar thing in our society of wanting to go somewhere different, but not really want anything to change: not the food, not the language, not even our habits. I was at a hostel here in Ireland a few days ago where a guy from New Zealand spent all day, every day in the common room working on his laptop. When I stopped in and started looking around for an electrical outlet, he pointed out every single one in the room. Kind of makes you wonder why he bothered to leave New Zealand, where it might have been cheaper, easier, and even more scenic to surf the web all day?

As for me, I don’t need things to stay the same, but it turns out I’m not all that interested in shelling out pound after pound (now euro after euro) to see faux entertainment drummed up for the tourists. Case in point, my visit to the Guinness Storehouse. I don’t have any hard facts on this, but I would guess it’s the number one tourist attraction here in Dublin. I can’t imagine what would beat it. Anyway, I’m not sure why I was gung ho to do this. I know how beer is brewed. In fact, super thick dark beer is the easiest kind to make! I would know, I made some as part of a class (earned chemistry credit for it, in fact) in college. Overly sweet wine is pretty easy, too.

Anyway, now I know how Guinness is made (roasted barley and the water does NOT come from the River Liffey, which is good news because that water looks pretty dubious. The guide had to answer this question TWICE, by the way (?) ), and I got my free pint at the Gravity Bar. Although I suppose it was semi-interesting and the view from the bar was nice in a gray, cloudy, rain-soaked kind of way, I couldn’t help but thinking that for the price of admission, I could have had five pints of Guinness and needed someone to carry me home. Maybe next time?

If nothing else, it was kind of amusing to see all the people coming out with giant shopping bags branded “Guinness.” At any given point, it seemed like a third of the town was carrying one of those bags. One is left wondering if Guinness might make more money off merchandise than they do beer here in Dublin? Sadly, I have not room in my backpack to load up on Guinness t-shirts, magnets, bottle openers, signs, posters, plaques, sweatshirts, and glassware. However, and again I don’t have any hard facts, but I bet they’ve got a web site where I can order up memorabilia to my heart’s content once I get home! Now I have a way to get the matching Guinness leather jacket, pants, and baseball hat combo I was eyeballing!

 

Another day, another downpour August 18, 2008

All these floods are starting to piss me off.

It’s hassle enough as it is. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that all the arrangements and traveling and lugging o’ the stuff and planning and plain old logistics weren’t utterly exhausting. They say getting there is half the fun. If that’s true, then I’m having -33% fun. Add into that the complications of the Irish weather (and the extreme complications of all the flooding – I’m currently writing from a train bound for Dublin. The journey typically takes 2 hours. Today – due to high flood water on the tracks – it’s taking six), and I’m having -75% fun. The other half had better be pretty darn good to compensate for all this!

Regardless, I’ve settled into the backpacking experience a little better, and am starting to develop a groove. There’s a ‘set’ way I pack my bag now, which makes it easier to get everything in quickly, and to find things in near silence and darkness. The hostel experience is made or ruined by your roommates, so I’m hoping to win a nomination – or at least honorable mention – as hostel roommate of the year. Thus, I always try to create zero disruption those times i share a room with early sleepers– which requires getting to critical items without actually being able to see them.

Meanwhile, I bought a ‘pay as you go’ phone, but no one seems to be able to call it. They don’t actually make phones that place calls and but won’t receive them…do they??? If they do, I’ve bought one. Moreover, whenever I turn the thing on (or it turns itself on, which it’s prone to doing), all sorts of bubbles dance around and spell out the words “Fun Club.” I could be wrong, but it makes me think maybe this is a phone geared toward the pre-school set? In that case, you’d think the opposite would be true: It could receive calls, but it wouldn’t be able to place them. Talking to preschoolers can be entertaining, but you wouldn’t want them calling you all day long, telling knock, knock jokes that they can’t remember the punch line to.

Otherwise, I’m in Dublin. It’s wet. I hear Portugal is having a heat wave, and I CANNOT WAIT…

 

Now I know why the ancestors left the old country August 17, 2008

By the Peace Wall (three stories high, and built to keep the Protestants and Catholics separate) in Belfast, Ireland

By the Peace Wall (three stories high, and built to keep the Protestants and Catholics separate) in Belfast, Ireland

Riding through river-deep floodwaters, trying to get to Belfast
Riding through river-deep floodwaters, trying to get to BelfastBy the Peace Wall (three stories high, and built to keep the Protestants and the Catholics away from one another) in Belfast, Ireland.
Where to start? My flight into Belfast was delayed a couple hours, and I kept hearing whispers with the words “torrential” and “flood.” As we’re landing it’s more of the same – rain, clouds, gray, blech.
I get my bag and head out to wait for the city bus. And wait. And wait. And wait. It’s Saturday, so the sign says it comes every half an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes passes…Nada. We hear that the roads are flooded, and perhaps the bus can’t make it? Thus – abandoning all logic that if a fairly tall bus can’t make it, what can? – a few of us band together and hire a taxi. It’s a really nice one, at that, a new black Mercedes. Maybe it has special waterproof powers installed by crafty German engineers?
It didn’t, although we did avert any true tragedy. There are something like five routes into Belfast, and after crossing veritable rivers, but ultimately being turned back each time, we went to attempt the last possible (way out of the way) route. The passengers consisted of me, an Australian, a couple from Belfast, and the driver, also from Belfast. The locals made comments upon seeing lakes (that apparently weren’t lakes the day before) and rushing rivers (ditto) like, “That’s scary.” Although I originally expected to be at the hostel around 5pm, I got there – tired, hungry, cold, and emotionally drained – at 10pm.
Everything was closed, so I had to fix dinner from my emergency rations – powdered lentil soup – and it was every bit as bad as it sounds. I got about 1/4 cup through and could bear no more. Budget travel through Europe could be the hot new diet you’ve been looking for!!!
Speaking of which, I am DYING for a salad. I haven’t seen a healthy looking or desirable vegetable in two weeks. What I wouldn’t do for one of those giant Olive Garden salad bowls (the size intended for the whole table). My kingdom for some iceberg lettuce and Italian dressing…
Anyway, since they owed me one, the Celtic gods smiled and delivered up some glorious sun amidst the rain. I took the Black Taxi political tour, which goes to the Catholic and Protestant sides of town, where you can see the (edited) murals painted by each during The Troubles. Or not. That’s why the ‘edited.’ Apparently what was once a listing of every catholic who died, when, and how old they were, is now an oddball mishmash of pro-Palestinian, pro-Cuba, Picasso’s Guernica, and a whole lot of anti-Bush rhetoric (which is pretty funny.) Regardless, it was a fascinating look into a terrible and somewhat senseless period in Irish history.
Perhaps if you catch me in a different mood, I’ll share my theories on the potential influence of the famous Irish temper. Being the daughter of a full-blooded Irish woman (and  thus, obviously, half-Irish myself), I know of whence I speak! Let’s just say, in the words of Bruce Banner, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”
Tomorrow
 

 
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