ar son na fun.

Monday, June 6, 2011

TRAVELS part II: Ich bin ein Berliner

Let's be straight about one thing, right off the bat: Berlin is the coolest city on the planet. It just is. I don't doubt that there are places across the globe that are endlessly colorful, vibrant, inspirational, romantic, powerful, and so on and so forth... but it doesn't change the fact that Berlin is the coolest, the hippest, the one who everyone stares at in high school and thinks gosh, I wish I was bold enough to wear red lipstick in gym class. If Paris is the prom queen, Berlin is the kid distributing beat poetry around the cafeteria, voted Most Likely to Commit Public Acts of Insanity and Least Likely to Care Whether You Like It. If you're setting trends and cutting holes in your tank top á la Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, you can guarantee Berlin did the same thing five minutes earlier...with better music playing, and with a cooler haircut.

It's just that awesome.

And Katie and I got to experience it for ourselves--for an entire week!--from the viewpoint of a beautiful apartment on Winsstraße, home to two of the most fantastically bizarre human beings I have ever been lucky enough to meet. We rolled in after a long day of traveling, which commenced in Mainz around 2 p.m. with an epic fail on the part of German carpooling: truth be told, it seemed a little fantastical that we should arrive at the city center and find a car--driven by a good, albeit questionably insane, samaritan--willing to take us to Berlin. We waited and waited, but after about an hour, realized that we had been stood up... and after a "stupid f***ing German people" from Julie's (ironically, German) boyfriend, we bought a train ticket to Berlin. 8 hours later, our pockets significantly lighter of euro, we were in a city that we knew absolutely nothing about...other than the fact that
a) Its residents speak German
b) We do not
c) The name of our street has a letter in it that, as far as I can tell, is not pronounceable by a human mouth.

We arrived at Lisa and Wilfried's in the rain... exhausted, but intrigued by the little blue lights strung outside the street cafés and the incredible energy packed into the wet cobblestones beneath our feet. We walked into the apartment and immediately felt we had wandered into Anthropologie Magazine; only cooler, and with less emaciated models in ballet flats. Instead, it was Lisa--oh, Lisa--who greeted us with the biggest smile on her face, despite the late hour. We told her that we could already tell that Berlin was incredible, and she responded by promptly thwacking us across the the back with one of her signature heavy-limbed displays of affection and bellowing "I TOLD YOU!" It was the first of many wonderful Lisa-isms that week, all of which included a gigantic smile...often accompanied by a slo-mo unveiling of a particularly awesome article of clothing...and always with a pearl of wisdom containing both humor and deep understanding. Lisa is someone who, if you tell her her shop is beautiful, will give you a toothy smile and say "I KNOW!!!!" Ask her for a historical tidbit about the street you're standing on, and I guarantee she'll tell you the most important part: "I PARTIED here!" followed by a WHUMP across the shoulders. Lisa taught us about confidence. Whenever we were at a loss for things to say or laugh about, we'd think of her stories about meeting Wilfried, or her one-liner zingers that managed to be both insightful and exceptionally offensive. "I'm politically incorrect," she'd say. "I'm very indecent." Wilfried would just shake his head, sighing "Oh Lisa."

Theirs is a beautiful story, a beautiful life. I hope that mine one day can contain even a fraction of its color.

So we were welcomed straight off the bat into laughter and beauty, and there we stayed for the entire week to come. It was almost too wonderful to be true; one of those out-of-body experiences where we'd be perched on a sunporch overlooking the River Spree drinking lemonade, or sitting at a table nestled in between trees in the Turkish neighborhood and think... huh? How did we get here? We had time, so much delicious time, and we didn't waste a minute.

If our trip is an anthology of music, then let it be known: every song belongs on the Greatest Hits. There is no way for me to accurately convey every detail that is now stamped, glittering, onto mine or Katie's soul. So. Sit back, press play, and enjoy the following highlights.

THE FOOD. Other than the fact that our arrival in Germany coincided with a mysterious virus, later known to be E.Coli, later clarified to be E.Coli from cucumbers (this clarification naturally occurring after Katie and I had wolfed down cucumber with lunch... oh, you know, EVERY SINGLE DAY) our food experience in Berlin was absolutely unreal. We ate fresh goat cheese on thin slices of German bread; drank strong coffee alongside big bowls of oatmeal loaded with banana, raisins, and crystals of raw sugar; picnicked on fresh apples in Tiergarten Park; and sipped glasses of red wine and limoncello in Café Vergnano, our neighborhood haunt, where the spunky Italian waitress told us that our departure gave her "pain in her heart."

We were beloved, at least by one--or two, if you count the semi-creepy Austrian who stumbled behind Katie as we left Cookies Cream, on the tail end of our über hip Berlin nightclub experience, and called out for her to stay. Actually he asked "Celeste" to stay, that being the alias that Katie had decided to take on for the evening. (Mine was Chlöe. Chlöe, while quite popular among the visiting tourists from Munich, did not make enough of an impression to garner a cult following by the end of the evening. Celeste, on the other hand, had at least one Austrian groupie.) So, Chlöe and Celeste had the time of their lives that evening, and so did we; we were probably the only ones in the vicinity who hadn't been drinking, and enjoyed ourselves all the more for it. The reason we were at Cookies Cream in the first place was because the restaurant component of it was written up in the NY Times: vegetarian, gourmet, artistic. We were sold. After walking around for about half an hour, butchering the street names until they sounded something akin to "PsdkfnusniuSTRASSE" and "NjdfsiunuPLATZ," we managed to find the place... at the end of an industrial alley, with its door shut, and a tiny plaque the only thing demarcating its existence. God, Berlin is cool. It made me immediately wish that my jeans had been from someplace other than Target, and that I had left my I'M AN AMERICAN AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S GOING ON expression at home. But so be it. We dug into parmesan dumplings and kohlrabi pockets with spinach cream, goat cheese mousse with tart cherries, bread smothered in garlicky pesto. When we realized it was 11:30 and that perhaps we should take advantage of our free entrance to the club downstairs, we flagged down the waitress: she added our names to the guest list (ooooooh lalaalalaa) and told us to come back a little later. This was Berlin. There was no way the place would be hoppin' until 1, maybe 2, in the morning. (It ended up being more like 3). This gave us just enough time to go home and ditch our sweatshirts in favor of something black, some little alarm going off in the back of my head that said black was "hip"... more hip than the Little-House-on-the-Prairie-look I'd been rocking all evening, anyhow. (Though be told, the black just made me look like I'd gotten lost on my way to the prairie funeral.) In the end, our night was unforgettable...we got to play through Chlöe and Celeste's kaleidoscope vision for an evening, and didn't come home until the sun was shining. Lisa was proud.

Next: THE ART. Berlin is absolutely coated, top to bottom, in the most incredible street art I've ever seen. If there is a wall, it is covered in graffiti; and if not, it is plastered with stickers and scribbles and posters advertising some underground music/yoga/gallery. Even the more disgusting of alleys has at least one corner that has been used as a canvas for splotches of colorful poetry, or at the very least, the instruction to "wake the F**K up!" We took this piece of advice very seriously. I tried my best to be subtle about pulling out my camera on every single street block, or at least to refrain from doing it when a crowd of leather-clad locals with more piercings than items of clothing gave me a look that read save it for Disneyland, sugar...but really, I felt no shame. The pictures speak for themselves and I'm so glad to have them.

The day we visited the Eastside Gallery, the largest remaining stretch of the Wall, was one of the most unforgettable. I've never seen murals like this in my life; every single one was more impressive than the last, more detailed, more smattered with poignant turn of phrase and imagery. The colors seemed more vivid than any I've seen, somehow; the reds were redder, the blues bluer. It got to the point where I felt I needed to have on special goggles just to dial down the intensity. We walked along the wall as far as we could before running into a crowd of police, who according to one, had found a bomb. SHIZA. That's not something Katie and I are accustomed to hearing--especially not by officers who looked more concerned with finishing their bananas than scouring the wall for explosives--but according to Wilfried, it is normal. About every other week, the Berlin Police come across a bomb dating back to WWII. Not knowing the expiration date on bombs, Katie and I hauled ass out of the vicinity. We had already eaten a cucumber and braved the underground club scene, and considered our week's quota for living dangerously to be complete.

That same day, we went to a Berlin edition of the David Tudor Rainforest IV sound installation...a collection of sound-producing objects wired not only to play sound, but to actually create it as well. Because it was Berlin and the awesome-factor is permanently dialed up a notch, the installation was held in an old water tower; it was creepy, cold, and mysterious. Katie and I were practically ravenous with the wish that we had brought our cameras, but in retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise. The lack of the lenses with which we had been viewing the city thus far left us with nothing but our own perspectives; we stopped on the things that caught our attention, and not the ones that had the most conducive lighting for photography. I loved the installation. I stuck my head in an old kiddie pool and what resembled a metal donut, and crouched down to put my ear up to a watering can that hummed with the crackle of recorded cicadas. Katie and I both looked at each other from time to time with smiles that read Wow. Are we cool enough to be here?

In truth, we probably weren't: but we appreciated every moment that we spent taking in the art in Berlin, from the arrangement of sticky hummouses in the Turkish neighborhood to the breathtaking Berlin Dom, and that is enough. We ducked into a photography exhibit on our last day, knowing nothing except that its poster featured a pair of pointe shoes and it was located near something that sounded like "OrsanuidfnsdunPLAZ," and it ended up being one of the best things we did. Some of the photos were from post-WWII Berlin, and showed us--in solid, black and white evidence--that not too long ago, the places we'd been wandering through looked like someone had ripped their guts out. We saw pictures of a deforested Tiergarten Park, where we had walked only a day earlier; we had marveled at the countless branches and leaves towering over us, never realizing how young those same trees were. The incredible thing about these photos, though, is that they displayed the Berlin that we had come to know and love; one that vibrates with intensity, is charged and ready for action... even in photographs taken in the wake of utter devastation. These featured the city as it was beginning to rediscover its art, and reminded us that we--in discovering it for the first time in our lives--were unearthing something similar in ourselves.

We also saw the Pina Bausch movie on our last night, which completely blew my mind. The theatre we went to was dark and musty, and was entertainment in and of itself; here we were, two Americans who expected to be met by the normal slew of previews and well as a hearty offering of snacks in the shape of cartoon characters. Wrong. In Germany, you can drink beer with your film--but don't expect to be met by the smell of burnt popcorn, or the sound of cellophane being ripped off of a box of Redvines. The only sound in German theatres is the heavy silence of people actually appreciating the images on the screen, because those images are art. And we dug it. (Though we couldn't resist passing a chocolate bar back and forth during the film... but it was intensely dark, and therefore justifiable. When compared to its milky cousin, dark chocolate is clearly the more sophisticated.)

Lastly: THE PEOPLE. What would I have done without Katie on this adventure, to tell me what the hell Jivamukti Yoga is, and to usher me into a variety of poses--and foods, and adventures, and conversations--that I might otherwise have shied away from? What about Lisa and Wilfried, who opened their home to us and allowed us to romp around the city, totally unharnessed and with the sole purpose of finding the best food and art the city had to offer... eating noodles with us, making us laugh 'til we cried?

The people in Berlin were unlike any I've ever met in my life. They are cultured, radical, and oh-so-fashionable. Any one of them could have shaved off half their hair and worn a sign around their neck that read "Mushy Peas 4 Life," and I would have thought it was the epitome of style. It wouldn't matter whether I understood its meaning; if it's in Berlin, I guarantee there is one somewhere... even if it equates to nothing more than anarchic lack-of-meaning. In Berlin, even senselessness bears significance.

But then again, it is the coolest city on earth.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

TRAVELS Part I: Springtime in Paris

16 May, 1:53 p.m.

I’m sitting in Belfast International Airport, about to board my flight to Paris, and there twenty—I wish I was kidding—kids under the age of thirteen surrounding my table, all wearing identical highlighter-yellow hats that scream: PARIS 2011!!!! Yikes. I can’t decide if I want to change my flight, invest in a pair of earplugs and a bottle of Jameson from the Duty Free, or buy one of the hats off its owner. They’re pretty cool, all things considered. I wonder if that kid to my left would give me his hat in exchange for a packet of Maynard’s Wine Gums?

The past few days have been a blur, and surprisingly, a really happy one. I think I owe my life to Gigi, who swooped in as I was leaving Galway and “ripped off the bandaid.” Only someone who has been living in Ireland for a handful of years—and is similarly enamored with it—could possibly understand what I was going through, and prescribe the only suitable remedy: a road trip through the Irish countryside with a vague map, plenty of good food and drink in prehistoric pubs, Sheryl Crow, and a seaweed bath. It would seem the only antidote to dislocation is further dislocation. Mission accomplished! I am dangling like a dislocated shoulder, only far less painful. Ew. Sorry for that image. Anyhow, the past few days with Gigi have been blissful. I got to see a part of Ireland that was still a mystery to me—Wicklow, the county of my ancestors—and to let my mind wander through its inevitable longing for Galway. We hit Glendalough right after a heavy rain, so the entire place was lit up with greens and yellows—sparkling and majestic. Later, we went through Wicklow and ate at the legendary Johnnie Foxe’s pub, a place where two things happened: 1. I discovered I like eating mussels, which both disgusts and awes me; 2. I sat in the same rooms that, most likely, my greatgreatgreat relatives sat and drank in.


That same day, we went up the coast south of Dublin and visited the Forty-Foot Bathing Place, famous for its Joycean reference but also for its status as a nudie-male swimming site. At the James Joyce Tower, I had a sudden overwhelming urge to read Ulysses…which fizzled within a matter of minutes, as soon as I remembered the most intelligent thing I’ve recently read is the DVD sleeve of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Damn it. Still, the view of the sea beside Dublin was beautiful, stark, pinky gold: the perfect setting for reflection and a mildly invasive conversation with an old man sitting on a rock overlooking the water. We chatted him up for a half hour at least, and most likely prevented him from going swimming—which, God knows why, I think he was planning on doing. Jaysus. The next day, the ripping of the bandaid morphed into a full-fledged pamper fest, and Gigi took me to SOAK: a seaweed bath in Newcastle. She swears by the ritual’s healing properties, and before I knew what was happening, I was sitting in a clawfoot bathtub filled with piping-hot salt water and a mass of oily tendrils. Let me tell you, it was one of the most relaxing hours I’ve ever experienced. In typical fashion, I unintentionally made a significant portion of it into a comedy routine—accidentally catching the emergency cord on my foot (AGAIN. I’m noticing a pattern…) and later nudging the bath-stop so approximately 75% of the seaweed (and my dignity) got noisily sucked down the drain—but no matter. While I was in that bath, surrounded by Norah Jones and steamy air and a deliciously briny smell, I felt as though my soul was being cleansed. All my pores opened up and allowed Ireland to soak into my very core. 

Which is perfect, because now I’m sitting eating wasabi peas in the airport and seriously second-guessing my desire to ever, EVER have children. If they end up this annoying and covered in yellow headwear, are they really worth the trouble? It’s going to be a long flight, but one that is more than worth it… I’m going to Paris today. To meet three of my dear friends. As much as I don’t want to leave Ireland behind, the better part of me knows that a new chapter in the adventure is only beginning. Plus, Ireland isn’t leaving me. Along with a substantial portion of seawater…it’s in my blood now.

20 May, 4:06 p.m.

Gay Pareeeee, ooh la la, what a dream. Before I even had a chance to realize I was on French soil, there I was…clackclackclacking my rolly suitcase through Charles de Gaulle in search of the RER B line, along with two older women from Northern Ireland that I met on the plane. They were headed to Paris for a “ladies weekend,” and began drinking white wine spritzers during the first fifteen minutes of the two-hour flight…one of many splurges that weekend, I think. That’s the thing about Paris—it makes you seriously consider details that are typically deemed inappropriate, like eating that third pan au chocolat or drinking coffee and wine instead of water, and re-categorize them as normal. Paris is romance, indulgence, and sitting on the Seine much later than you’d intended to…and the magnificent thing is, it never felt like anything other than exactly what we were supposed to be doing. We woke at noon each day and ate approximately two baguettes for every day that we spent in the city. Each.

The time immediately following my arrival was slightly traumatic, only because I was wandering around the area surrounding the St. Michel fountain—alone, schlepping bags, no clue where the hotel was—and expecting everyone to treat me with an Irish level of friendliness. “Parlaay-voo Ohn-glaays?” Blank stare. Blank stare. Blank stare and snooty hand gesture…possibly translating to “Fuck you, American bonehead, get a map and learn some French?” Jaysus. Toto, we’re not in Galway anymore.

It’s okay, though—one borderline hysterical phone call to my mom later (which only cost, you know, about 15 euro), I reunited with Katie in the lobby of the Hotel St. Pierre, and it was bliss. It’s amazing how months and oceans can separate friends, only to give way to a much more powerful feeling upon seeing each other again…that of oh hey, you, I remember you. It’s like no time has passed between us. I feel different, attached to Ireland and messy in the brain…but we’re both full in our hearts, and that only became stronger once we sat down to our first meal in the city. When we were eating, I got a call from Matt—my friend from Pomona who has been studying in Paris all semester—asking “Hey. Want to get a beer?” Not “Hey, you’re in PARIS and that’s absolutely insane, wanna make some supercomplicated plan to meet up at an obscure tourist location that you can reach by train x at x o’clock?” Just simple, like we were locals ourselves. I loved that feeling; it was a sign of things to come all weekend, and gave Katie and I a taste of Paris that surpassed any expectation we could have garnered from the back of guidebooks, or between the lines of food blogs. When we met up with Matt, we sat at an outdoor café to wait for Julie…and again, when she arrived it was as though no time had passed. I’ve been dreaming of visiting her in her city for so long, and suddenly here I was…it was utterly surreal. Oh hey, you, I remember you.

So we all started out on a high note, and it only got better from there. After Katie and I made our way to Julie’s neighborhood, the 12th Arrondissement, we embarked upon our Parisian goal of eating as much bread and cheese and seeing as many beautiful buildings/people/pigeons as humanly possible. Is it possible that French pigeons are just a little bit more self-assured than the average pigeon? Perhaps. We went to Montmartre, where the streets are lined with art and the paint on the café signs is peeling off in poetic, perfectly spaced strips. We went to Sacre Coeur and felt very, very small…and very, very overwhelmed by the capacity of a place to hold so much human spirit. There were street musicians playing accordion versions of Edith Piaf, and at multiple points, I wondered if I’d wandered into The Aristocats.

That night, we met up with a group of Julie’s friends, as well as Matt and Gaston (another SB veteran!) and sat in Jardin du Tuilieries. We walked around the cement square outside the Louvre and peered into the glass pyramid. We spent the rest of the night hopping from a bar called Crocodile to a dance club with a disturbingly empty dance floor…that, naturally, we changed. You might as well dangle a carrot in front of my face; maybe I’ve been in Ireland too long, but when I see a bunch of well-dressed Parisian hipsters sipping on 10 euro beers and bopping their stylishly coiffed heads to yet another remix of Rihanna’s “What’s My Name,” I see it as a game. Challenge accepted. We danced, danced, danced and then took the bus home, at which point we sat uncomfortably close—literally touching elbows—with the urine-soaked crew that takes public transportation after 4 a.m. In America, these men would be talking to the sock puppets that live on their hands and sleeping under the freeway…but in Paris, they’re just a bunch of twentysomethings heading home after a long night. Gotta love it.

Over the course of the next day, we: saw the Arc du Triomph and ate Macarons on the Champs Elysée, took pictures of the Obelisk (which I kept accidentally calling the “basilisk”…damn you, Harry Potter), ate sandwiches in the park, walked into Chanel and Louis Vuitton and pretended to care about the clothing (most of which could finance my college education using only a zipper), stood outside the Opera House (where I actually choked up, because the six-year-old version of myself—who loved Phantom of the Opera more than life itself—was filled to the brim), ate a delicious dinner at Chez Prosper with Julie’s family, and saw an underground jam session at a club near Notre Dame. The level of musicianship in this place was unreal. Afterward, Matt and his friend Phil took us down to the Seine, where we sat—listening to more acoustic guitar and upright bass, played by a group of kids further down the river—and talked about our pipe dreams, our plans to travel the world, and our desire to keep living colorfully.

During our last full day, Julie’s friend Pierre drove Katie and I to the Eiffel Tower: something that sounds innocent enough, but was actually the closest we—or any of the pedestrians in our direct vicinity—have probably ever come to a Vin Diesel movie. Thank GOD for seatbelts. First of all, there are no lanes in Paris: it’s just a pile of cars trying really hard not to hit each other, and then when they come close to hitting each other, letting out a stream of French cuss words and lighting up another cigarette. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but when we finally got to the Tower, I felt like kissing the ground in relief. All things considered, it was hilarious. And then the Tower! Wow. It was everything I pictured it as, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before: so majestic, powerful, HUGE. Katie and I went to the tippy-top and looked out over the city. After that, we wandered around for the better part of the day and ate buckwheat crepes at a David Leibowitz-recommended spot in the Marais…delicious. We rounded off the evening with a sunset cruise on the Seine, passing fresh pear and crackers back and forth between us, surrounded by approximately 200 Asian tourists and letting out an “ooooooh” as the Eiffel Tower lit up on the hour.

I wish there was a way for me to describe Paris without rushing through it, but nothing I can say would do it justice. I don’t feel like I understand that city the way others do, and for me to attempt to concretize the feelings, smells, and lights into words seems untrue somehow. I don’t feel an attachment to France the way Katie does, someone who speaks the language and understands the people. It’s her Ireland. For me, though, the days we spent there were perfect just because I didn’t understand it—I was a young girl wandering around a city I’ve always dreamt of visiting, and doing just that: visiting. Passing through. I want to go again someday and stay for longer, spend more time in the museums and wading through the rich history…there is so much to be discovered there. Even if the metro smells like warm peanuts soaked in sweat, and even if the locals answer “do you speak English?” with “No, I don’t” in perfect English, Paris is magic. No doubt about it. J’aime troup ça.

The silhouette of Notre Dame as the sun sank into the water? Something I’ll never forget. The vase of purply wine and bucket of Nutella-flavored tiramisu? Possibly the best dessert in the world. We are so lucky to be doing this, to have beautiful connections in beautiful cities.

Sometimes life feels just too good to be true. This is one of those times.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn

Togadh in Meiricea mé, ach rugadh in Eireann mé.

I was raised in America, but I was born in Ireland.

It's Thursday afternoon in Galway, and I'm sitting in Café Luna--back where it all started, in my usual seat with the flowery pillows propped up beneath the small in my back--the same spot where I've spent countless afternoons pretending to write papers, picking at loaves of treacle raisin bread from the Oven Door Bakery, and drunk off the sound of the voices around me. Today, ABBA is playing on the radio and there is a toothless woman talking to herself in the booth directly next to mine. I am sipping tea out of a white mug. The wind is wailing outside, but the skies are clear; in typical Irish fashion, the weather today has already been sunny, rainy, cloudy, damp, and all of the above in simultaneity--and it's only 2 o'clock. I think that one of these days, the Irish will just abandon the idea of climate forecasting altogether; and in its place, will issue a nation-wide instruction to look out the damn window... and if it's not hailing bricks, to walk downtown for a few pints.

I've been struggling with how to write this last post for a while now. It seems to me that it should be perfect, that all the words should line up in flawless tick-tick-tick order and make sense of the wonder that this experience has been to me... but they can't, and it won't. Make sense, that is. There is no way to make sense of a time when your heart ka-BOOMS into something it has never been before; grows and grows until it is gigantically disproportionate to the rest of your body. There is no way for me to possibly explain the weightiness that is only just beginning to come in around the edges...or the fact that it's approximately 3 parts tragedy, and 5 parts soul-splitting happiness. No matter what way I look at it, though, the heartbreak and gratitude currently coexisting in the pit of my stomach have a common theme about them: they're reminding me that I don't want to leave. I'm not ready. I'm not ready. Hold the phone, pause, rewind, STOP--I'm not ready! I don't want to say goodbye.

The funny thing is, I remember saying the exact same thing to my mom the day before I left for Ireland... when that damn travel document hadn't come in the mail and I was fairly certain my first hour in Dublin would be spent babbling immigration officials into believing that I was not, in fact, an illegal refugee. I sat on her lap and cried, and cried, and cried because I was convinced that I wasn't prepared to come here--the truth is, I was scared to death. And now I'm here, I've been here for nearly five months--yet it has taken me this long to realize that I was ready. Every cell in my body was primed for this experience, and now it has happened and I'm left reeling with the massive significance of it all. So maybe it's the same this time too, and I'm ready as I'll ever be to leave Galway. Maybe we're never really ready to leave behind something that touches our souls so dizzyingly, so completely, the way this place has touched me.

With that in mind, seeing as I’m probably never going to be ready to leave, I might as well suck it up and do what I set out to do today. I want to say goodbye. Anyone who has spoken on the phone with me knows that I hate goodbyes—they’re a fact of life that I go to great lengths to avoid, because I can’t stand hearing the finality in that parting tone of voice, or reading into the nuance of vocal inflection and imperfection and how long is too long of a hug. Finality. I hate it. I buy temporary tattoos. I engage in some pretty serious delusion when it comes to dealing with the fact that there are some people who are smaller players in my life; whose chapters will be shorter. HOWEVER, this time around, there is a deeper part of me that knows—no matter how many people catch that brutal 3 a.m. bus to Dublin with their bags in tow—that I’m not saying goodbye to Galway for good, nor the people in it. It’s merely the end of this particular chapter—this unbelievable little chunk of time that has seen so much growth, and love, and change—and all melodrama aside, there is beauty in that. It deserves to be acknowledged.

So where to begin? The group room in the Newark airport, where we all sat munching on stale pretzels and secretly scanning the room to wonder which of these people, if any, would end up being our roommates. We were detached and auditioning each other for the role of new best friend, though we hardly knew it at the time. Dublin, and the first of many times that I would envision losing my fingers to frostbite: a mess of nametags and digestive biscuits, wide-eyed strangers eager to roam the streets and spend our first euro on overpriced Guinness and Jameson. Temple Bar: American music being played by Irish people. Fairy lights. Listening to Kevin play guitar in Erin and Ellie’s hotel room, Erin thinking that Shaun was one of our group leaders, sitting down to free meals that stretched over three hours. I remember. Everything since then has been so sped up; a lifecycle crammed into a matter of months. To say that we became fast friends would be almost comically modest, because it went way beyond that—it seemed like we bypassed the whole getting-to-know each other process and skipped straight to being siblings, filling in the blanks as we went along. The lives that we led before we got here became irrelevant; they were the lenses we brought to dinner table discussions, but less important than the new one we were developing together… the one we had in common, that only we could and can understand.

Okay, I’m realizing there’s absolutely no way to go about this without sounding like a gigantic cheeseball, so I’m just gonna go with it. Bear with me.

I wish I could say something to each and every person here. I wish I could put into words just how important they’ve been to me, every single one of them—even you, perpetually pissed-off Gort security guard—because when I look back on this experience, it’s been about the people. It’s interesting, but for all the time I spent alone here, for all the spiky confusions that I’ve worked through within the walls of my own mind…this has been the most social semester of my life. To the people I’ve met here: I treasure every minute we spent together, the inside jokes that belong only to us. Here goes.

Hannah was the first person I met, and I remember it clear as day because who else—when I’ve been travelling for hours upon hours and am wearing leggings TUCKED IN to my (probably mismatched) socks—would stop what she was doing and say “HI! I’m Hannah. I’ve been here for almost seven hours because my name was on the terrorist watch list, and they had to take me into a back room and look through my stuff. I guess they got me confused with someone else. Where are you from?” And if I thought that things were only going to get less hilarious from then on, I was wrong. Hannah is a gem. She went out of her way to include me, talk to me, and act like my oldest friend in the world…from the minute we were discussing her potential spot on the no-fly list, right up to this afternoon when she invited me to Dunnes. She has a signature knock on our door. She has a signature way of speaking (YES-uh!) and a signature style (God bless the headband). She always struck me as a confident person, taking to Ireland like a fish in water, unashamedly adopting the lingo and lifestyle with bravery that I can only hope to emulate one day—but now she’s independent too, comfortable being alone. In a group dynamic, she’s sassy. She’s full of life and genuine excitement about the world… she’s loyal, unafraid to be herself, and has always been on my side when I’ve needed her. Shify-Eye Pauly. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her.

Erin was one of the people I met next, and I remember for many reasons: one, that HAIR. Two, she had a guitar—always a good sign—and she was carrying an amount of luggage that most families of four bring on a yearlong trip to the Himalayas. And the best part about it was…none of it had wheels. There was something comically brilliant about this girl, dragging her duffels along with the biggest smile on her face, that drew me in from the start. Erin is HILARIOUS. The amount of eccentricities we’ve picked up from her—“that’s not a thing,” cat blanket, “hate that”—means we’ll never forget her. I could never forget her anyhow. Erin has this deep, poetic soul—sensitive, sweet, and funny as hell. She’s somebody who, no matter if she saw you three minutes ago or three weeks ago, will envelop you in a gigantic bear hug and tell you how genuinely happy she is to see you. And she is. She’s someone who I feel like I could call up in the middle of the night, twenty years from now, and she’d open her door and act like no time has passed. Then there’s Ellie—“What’s. A. Fucking. Hypothesis.”—who besides being lovely and sweet, has a wicked sense of humor. I’ll never forget almost blowing off the bridge on the way to church, and wondering if this was God’s way of tsk-tsking us for losing track of time in our girl talk, chocolate cake, and Sunday morning coffee. The last “crazie,” of course, Shannon—the best theatre kid I’ve met in a long time—who I’ll always remember for her genuine heart and ability to crack up an entire group of people with a single comment. This girl is going to take the world by storm, you mark my words. They all will.

As for my roommates…lordy, I don’t even know where to start. Okay. I’ll start with the mushy stuff: there is no one, and I mean no one, that I would rather have lived with. Seriously. From the moment Maggie and I first thought Higgins was breaking in to kill us in our sleep—and he blushed that ridiculous beet red and scuttled off, texting the lads that they were “Living with two dolls. They just called security because they thought I was a burglar. Brilliant”—I knew I was going to love him. DJ Higgins, king of the washing-dishes boogie, whose one-liners manage to crack up an entire room…even without the slightest eye contact on the part of the speaker. Ferry, the other half of Figgins—whose love for the O.C. is acceptable, because he’s “ruggedly handsome”—who opened up his home to us in Gort an Choirce, always went out of his way to ask me how my day was, and who has forever engrained the word “wee” into my vocabulary. I will miss seeing him every day, drinking his (thousandth?) cup of tea and playing Pro-Evo… the best non-roommate roommate a girl could ever hope for. And Grubb. Oh, Grubby. What will I do without the Ginger Bear, sitting on the couch with a bag of crisps, always ready to deliver a wink and a ridiculous comment—usually in need of translation—or a song? “I WISH ALL THE LADIES…” Life will be so much less exciting without the constant wonder whether he will tumble into our room in the wee hours of the morning, and need to be dragged out by the hood of his sweatshirt. If there were medals given for the best belch—or at least an award for the look of pure delight on the belcher’s face post-delivery—than it belongs to Grubb, hands down. Owen, who has the most distinctive laugh—who has a talent for painting and doing his hair with meticulous precision—who has taught me there are few bad moods that an episode of Teen Mom (or when we’re feeling intelligent, True Blood) can’t cure. I’m pretty sure he has insulted me at least a dozen times, and I’m pretty sure I loved every single one of them. I will never again be able to listen to Metallica or Dire Straits without thinking, at least a little, that Owen is better at the guitar solos.

McGinley, someone whose presence I’m pretty certain I’m only going to appreciate—and therefore miss—more and more as time goes on. If it’s possible to be silly, witty, smart, thoughtful, and ridiculous at the same time…well, then, McGinley’s got it. On the one hand, he’s over-the-top hilarious (signature dance moves to “Ridin Solo”: CHECK); but on the other, he’s just a sweetheart. He cares deeply for people, and I consider myself lucky to have been one of them. It’s probably because I rescued his wallet from Tesco. Cliona, who I was always happy to be around; she’s mellow, fun, beautiful… but has a cheeky sense of humor to boot. And Cian, the man with the plan and the voice and the guitar—who gave Maggie and I personal concerts, and hands out compliments like it’s his job. Besides forcibly removing Hannah from the premises on multiple occasions, I’ve never seen him be anything but nice...crazy as a fruitcake, but nice. It's a musician thing. Cian is thoughtful, someone who takes time to process what you’re saying to him and to respond…and it never went unnoticed by me, just as I’m sure it won’t go unappreciated by the thousands of screaming female fans waiting in his musical future. MICKEY, aka Mr. Brightside, aka Firework. He wants to be American, but what he doesn’t realize is that he is already way cooler—funnier, sweeter, more able to quote Mean Girls at the drop of a hat—than any American could ever be. His laughter, especially when it snowballs out of control and the tears run down his face from the sheer joy of it all, has brought so much happiness into my life. If I ever need cheering up, I’ll look no further than the image of Mickey sprinting down Headford Road in the middle of the night, fireworks being set off in the Tesco parking lot as he face plants for the umpteenth time… or the time he and Cliona walked into our room, traffic cones on their heads, for no other reason except that it was Wednesday morning and time to start drinking again.

Shaun. The most American person I’ve ever met, and probably will ever meet. His Beetlejuice-like appearances in our living room—how did he do that, anyhow?—were always the highlight of our day. He “sprawled like small dragon.” He ate some “PHENOMENAL” mac-n-cheese and identified every single one of the jellybeans in our pack (“chocolate. PTEWWW.”) I don’t think anyone has ever made me laugh as hard as Shaun has. Except for maybe… Alyssa. Oh, that girl. How can I even start to describe her? She is Long Island with a capital L, hilarious and spunky and honest, and a true friend. Some of the best sentences I’ve heard in my entire life have come out of this girl’s mouth. She is—self-proclaimed—the most comfortable person to snuggle with, and has the most joyful smile in the world. And the best part is, it’s always there. I haven’t quite accepted the fact that I won’t be around her every day, won’t be able to call her up for a CUP OF CAWFEEE…but I’ll be seeing her again. Probably at camp. And Victoria—my fellow West-Coaster, easygoing and free, who has the best grunge Seattle dance I’ve seen this far away from home. I love that she knows everything about bartending, and that she shares my passion for Mexican food. She’s a strong woman, comfortable in her skin and in her environment, and I’ve learned a lot from her…especially if I ever get a DRAGON tattoo. Sorry, dragonFLY tattoo…on my lower back. Obviously.

Then over in Menlo territory: Nonie, beautiful on the inside and out. She is adorable, and her presence lights up the room—but there is also something else there, an honesty and a bravery, that makes her strong too. I hope one day I will see a Lane family portrait where a gaggle of beautiful blonde mini-Nonies are all smiling straight at the camera, their hands in her signature photo-pose. That would be a sight indeed. And Kerry: smart as a whip, completely unaware of just how gorgeous she is, and a hell of a dancer. There is so much soul to that girl; she just gets it. She’s grounded. She’s way cooler than Emma Watson. And—if she’s ever in Claremont—you can bet your ass we’ll hit the underground salsa scene with all we’ve got. There’s Kevin, who—despite his best effort to convince us otherwise—did find something here, and did get something out of it. He’s honest and committed to what he believes in, and I admire that. His guitar playing, especially when dressed in women’s clothing (Killary ’11: NEVER FORGET), will no doubt sweep the Providence music scene one day. I’ll never again see a white hat without doing a double take. And Jack—the American (or is he Irish?) who has to be one of the nicest people walking the planet…plus, by the scar on his chin, we all know he isn’t afraid to spill a little blood in the name of getting down to a Ke$ha song. I’ve never before referred to someone as being jolly, but if I were to start now… well, Jack is a jolly guy, and having him in the room can make all the difference in whether it is a good place or a great one. 

Chris, the “best platonic guy friend I’ve had in a long time”…who turned out to be not so platonic after all. I guess other people saw it coming. And maybe I did too, but didn’t want to recognize it—or something else less dramatic, less soap-opera sounding than that. I don’t know. I do know, though, that it’s always interesting when two people finally collide in a new color and the only thought present is why haven’t we been doing this the whole time? Who knows. Maybe in an alternate universe—one where we weren’t both emotionally bedraggled and obsessed with caring about nothing but our own agendas—we would have. It’s a dangerous game to play, visualizing the might-have-been. But when it’s said and done, what could have been better than the walks home in the middle of the night, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, pointless squabbles and inside jokes and countless conversations on the stairs? I wouldn’t change a thing. My only regret is not realizing it sooner.

And finally, Maggie. My roommate, my sister, my friend. Maggie. There’s nothing I can say that will make it any easier to say goodbye, or to do justice to how much she has meant to me—how much I have learned from her, and more importantly, seen her learn from Ireland. When we got here, I was awed by her devotion and strength, and the fact that she is one hundred percent herself—but over the course of these months, I’ve seen her blossom into someone who is relaxed as well, bursting at the seams with happiness and confidence. The only changes that I’ve seen this girl make have been positive ones. Thank you, Ireland, for taking such good care of someone that I truly love—for filling her with all your wonder, for healing her heart and for setting it free. She has shown me true friendship, and I’ve learned something from her every single day that we spent in our little room with the ensuite-bathroom, yellow flowers in the window, music (probably B*Witched) playing as we mindlessly chat (probably via Facebook) about the lifesaving powers of chocolate. I will never forget Maggie.

So there you have it. For me, Galway is Renzo afternoons, walks along the Salthill promenade with shamelessly sad music in my head, Elliot Smith and Alexi Murdoch, and not feeling sad at all. It’s the eye mural and the Hole in the Wall (which, bless its soul, will never have toilet paper.) It’s Fred, the unofficial mascot of Gort na Coiribe. It’s the Roisin around midnight, pints of Bavaria because it’s cheapest, and packages of chips from Vinnie’s or Charcoal Grill afterward. It’s the Crane Bar, with an elderly couple dancing at half twelve—the husband leaning against the bar to stay upright—and a hugely pregnant woman walking past, the man next to me shaking his head and telling me “Jaysus, that’s Ireland in a nutshell if I ever saw it.” It’s NUIG and the fact that none of the seats in the lecture halls are spaced exactly right, so you’re either sitting on the edge of your seat or all the way back in it, unable to reach your paper. It’s Smokey’s and Yorkie chocolate bars—we ate them just because they say “not for girls” on the wrapper. It’s the self-checkout at Tesco. It’s the roundabout on the way back to Gort, and the fact that there is no logical place to cross the street. It’s the cotton-ball clouds that roll in around 8 p.m., when it’s still bright, and the field on the walk from college that looks lit from the inside out. It’s the buskers on Shop Street in the middle of a Saturday, and the old men who sit outside Murphy’s with their eyes squinted against the sun: watching, but never saying anything.

Ireland by the Numbers
1: the number of times I loaned someone a copy of my David Sedaris. I gave him my attention, too, but I think he only wanted the book. He returned both slightly worse for wear, but with plenty of notes in the margins.
2: the number of times I have puked after drinking too much.
3: the number of times I desperately wanted to puke after drinking too much.
4: the number of times I went in the freezing Irish water. (Multiply by ten and you have the number of times I seriously questioned my sanity for doing so.)
5: the number of times I went to Writer’s Society meetings, and felt like I’d wandered into an incredibly eloquent (and well-read) dream.
INFINITE: the number of days that I will spend thinking of Galway, missing it, and being grateful for all it has given me. There are things that I miss about California—my family, the hot water, basic hygiene perhaps—but none of them outweigh the fact that is lodged in the pit of my stomach, and will be for a long time to come: I’m not ready to leave. I don’t think I’ll ever be. Everything turns, but not everything ends. This love won’t end.

Who knew that there were this many pieces to a heart? I’ve left a piece of mine in every fiber of this place, and in turn, I feel as though Ireland is in every bit of me. It has soaked into my core, shaken me at my very roots, and taught me how to live. I will never lose you, Ireland. I’ll be back. And when I do… well, I will be coming home.

Oh come ye back, my own true love
And stay a while with me.
If I had a friend
All on this earth

You’ve been a friend to me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Seasonal Allergies. (Adaptwitterpatations)

I'm sitting on my bed, reading Joyce's Dubliners and feeling sore all over like I just ran 10 miles. Clearly, I didn't. And clearly, I can't be taking my venture into The Dead all that seriously if I'm choosing instead to embark upon a pointless, and possibly incomprehensible blog entry--in between looking at Facebook profiles of people I haven't spoken to in at least four years, obviously--and contemplating how much time is TOO much time to go without washing my sheets. Yes, in terms of laundry, I am at ground zero. I almost bought a five pack of granny panties in Dunnes today, just to prolong the emotional trauma of the Gort laundry facility by that much longer.

Am I lazy?

Yes. And I am in denial. The amount of mornings that I have left in Galway, my home, can almost be counted on two hands. I'll be like one of those toddlers who, when asked what birthday they are having, hold up 3 or 4 wonky fingers and give a sheepish grin--only the question will be, how many more days? And I'll hold up a cluster of Mondays and Tuesdays. I'm having trouble doing normal-person things like laundry or grocery shopping, because the stretch of time that needs to be covered by these basic rites of sanity is compressed; I can feel it closing in on me. My brain has already started to adapt to the thought of putting things into suitcases, of the delicious parting one-liners that I will deliver to the people who have rattled my cage--and even the ones who haven't. My sense of self has begun to adapt, just as it did when I was dreaming of coming here, to allow me to accept the fact that I'm leaving. Soon. Ten fingers and three toes.

So what am I focusing on, you might ask? Well, the bigger part of me has launched into seeing-people-mode, appreciating the little things, and soaking up as much of Galway life as I possibly can. It's not all that melancholy, either, because there is still so much standing between now and when I pack up; Tuesday sessions at the Crane, walks along the Salthill prom, afternoons in Renzo drinking tea, late night HBO with my roommates. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the entirety of my life here, right down to the battery-challenged lock on our door and the everpresent stickiness of our kitchen floor. However. There is a smaller part of me, a part that I'm not too proud of, that did her best to be miserable for nearly a week straight... that week being last week. The week my dad was here. Unfortunate timing? Yes. Unavoidable? Probably not. Necessary? I think so.

Abstract: She stick her toes in sanity, just in time to say goodbye to the cold Irish sea.

Chapter One: Angsty Pants 
So here's how it went down. Everything happens for a reason, right? There is some sort of cosmic soup cooking up our emotional setpoints at any given moment, and sometimes these ups-and-downs rear their ugly heads at particularly inopportune times. When my dad arrived in Galway, I had already been flirting with disaster; maybe it was the fact that every single one of my friends was out traveling the globe and/or home for Easter, but I was in a mood. It got worse the second day he was here; I dragged my toes around like a petulant teenager, responding with an "I don't knoooooooww" worthy of Dawson's Creek to every question he asked. By the third day, my bad attitude extended beyond daytime television, and I began a stunning rendition of a girl who has been possessed by the devil. Truly. Everything we did was wrongboringIdon'tcareI'mboredI'mtiredleavemealone. Why? Why why why? 

I don't know. When I look back at it now, I just feel like I had dug myself into a hole of bad attitude--everything became colored by it, and try as I might, I couldn't break out of it. However, as quickly as it came on, it passed. And I truly believe that it did happen for a reason, because having my dad here while I was going through it--being around someone who loves me so unconditionally, no matter how many times I roll my eyes or chew with my mouth open or complain about my hair--allowed me to emerge stronger on the other side. Having him here was the first test of whether or not I'm going to be able to bridge my worlds together; the one of my youth, my home, and the independent forcefield I've created around myself in Ireland. It's tough. Negotiating childhood and adulthood will always be tough. Maybe I needed my dad here, the person in my life whom I've always seen as invincible--timeless, immortal--to realize that this needed to be done. I hadn't thought of it before, but it had been a long time since I'd had someone here to be completely comfortable around; to release some of the energy I've been harboring between the lines of airline tickets, pub crawls, and adventure. I'm still me, I'm still going through something. I'm growing up, and it feels like hell most of the time. However, once I was able to realize that the only person standing in my way was me--that the second I wanted to get over myself and have a good time, I was capable of doing so--it felt like something unclamped from my heart, and it released a flood of good feeling.

So, with that out of the way, there was nothing left to do but enjoy each other's company and the beauty of Ireland in the spring. The weather was perfection, except the one day we went to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands; it was spitting and cloudy, but in a way, completely appropriate for the wildness of Dún Aonghasa and the Black Fort. At the end of his visit, we took the bus to Cork and stayed in a tiny B&B, explored the streets and listened to the sounds of Elly O'Keeffe--a singer songwriter who, if I were so pretentious as to say "is going to hit it big," is going to hit it big; we ate hippie food and talked endlessly...and didn't talk sometimes, which is okay too. We also scoured Galway in search of the best music, Guinness, and pancakes, and were successful on all fronts. I loved having him here. I wanted to show him off, I wanted people to know that we have the same blood running through us; the stuff that propels us to love wordplay (example: Papa-san in the árasán, aka "Dad in the house"--which was the only productive thing to come from the 3 hour 15 minute bus ride to Cork, 3 hours and 12 minutes of which was spent thinking of creative ways I could ask the bus driver to make a pit stop without revealing the fact that I was that blockhead who forgot to pee before boarding). Dad and I are peas in a pod, and I take the fact that we drive each other absolutely bonkers to be indicative of the fact that we have even more in common than we are able to realize. I saw the look on his face the first time we entered Tig Coili and there was the usual smattering of instruments, overly sociable Irish mothers, toothless bartenders, and babies bouncing on their fathers' knees. There is nothing so familiar than that scene; that baby was me, and that long-haired father holding her like she was pure gold...that was my Papa-bear. Still is.

Chapter Two: Gesundheit.
So yes, the absence of my friends made Gort na Coiribe feel like a ghost town last week, but there was something else contributing to my muddy mood. That something was standing on every single corner--holding hands, sucking face, and just being an all-around pain in the ass. That something was love, and it    was pissing me off like no other.

I'm a hopeless romantic. There are no two ways around that fact. I still think that the day will come when someone will treat me the way that two solid decades of Nicholas Sparks novels have convinced me is possible; however, this is an era of my life remarkably absent of romance, and the result has got me jaded as hell. Normally I am quite tolerant--there have even been times when my friends' descriptions of their relationships have made me feel happy for them, not miserable. This being said, there are times when it is easy to walk down the street and feel infinite happiness for the couples holding hands, and other times when it feels like one gigantic game of pin-the-tail-on-the-single-person. It sucks. And this time of year, ho boy--it's spring. That means people are in looooove and they aren't afraid to show it. For some reason, I got it into my head that I wanted whatever it was that they--the Other--had; I wanted to see what they saw in those prolonged gazes into each others' eyes. Mostly, I've forgotten what it feels like when someone looks at me that way. The truth is, though, I'm just severely allergic to couples right now... it's not their fault. They shouldn't be punished, even if the urge to throw spitballs at the backs of their color-coordinated jackets is sometimes unbearably tempting. I told this to my dad, and his eyes widened like I'd just informed him of my secret desire to pluck the wings off of flies and feed them to my pet boa constrictor named Satan. Really I'm not harboring psychopathic tendencies. I'm just a girl who has recently had her heart broken, and there are some things that even time can't make less electrically painful.

But the seasons do change. A heartbeat ago, it was winter and I was sleeping in three layers of fleece every night; now it's springtime, and the couples are popping up faster than the daffodils. They'll be gone again soon, in any case--right now their presence is making my nose run, but no matter. I carry kleenex around with me just in case, and eagerly await the day when they make an over-the-counter drug for the slow burn of seasonal lovesickness.

Chapter Three: Mo Chéad Searc
I've been trying to think of the right thing to say here for a while now, but my brain is mush. In the day or so that I've been contemplating what I wanted to write in this blog entry, things have flip-flopped and looped in ways that even my delusional imagination could not possibly have conceived of. I've contemplated leaving it here, at that--a little romp through my emotional gymnastics of the past week or so, a fantastic visit with Dad, coming to terms with the end of my experience in Ireland, spring fever--but there's something else on my mind, and I've decided it needs to be said. This might be the only place I ever get to acknowledge it.

Something has changed within me. I felt it last week when I was finally able to pull my head out of my own butt, and snap out of my crappy mood--as soon as I realized I could do it all by myself, there was nothing holding me back. As has been happening since I arrived here, I came face-to-face with a few of the emotional paralyses surrounding my ability to move forward; only this time, I finally bid some of them goodbye... for good. There was freedom, truth in that.
So here's what happened next. When I woke up this morning, I was met with an email from Jeremy that effectively destroyed the little blossom of friendship that I have been turning myself inside out to nurture for the past five months. It was unfeeling, unwarranted, and unlike anything I've been met with before; it was cruel. I expect I'll have nicer letters to look forward to from my stock broker. So I looked at it over and over again, turning the words around in my head until they lost all meaning..... and then it just clicked. There's more to life than this. 
Somewhere between the hills of Donegal and the waters of the Blue Grotto, I have found respect for myself, and it has colored my whole world with a different hue. It has allowed me, when confronted with something that hurts more than I can possibly explain, to calmly place my computer underneath my desk, grab my keys, and walk outside. If I leave Ireland next week with nothing else to show for myself than a scar on my back from the fireplace, an empty wallet, and this--this feeling that there is something out there for me, something still to be found from no one other than myself--than I will consider it time well spent. It has already been time well spent.

My dad forgot to give me back my adapter, so I bought a new one from the electric shop, chatting with the cashier for an amount of time that only the Irish would consider to be normal. The same day, I also bought a red dress and got a haircut that--while bearing an unfortunate resemblance to Dorothy Hamill--feels light and easy. I'm sucking the poison from my life. When I got home, I plugged in my new adapter, and imagined that I could see the electrical currents moving this way and that in a desperate attempt to decipher their sudden intersection of voltages. I imagine it is quite the relief when they meet the little white box at the middle, three-pronged and confident, that unscrambles them--allowing them to travel, unchecked, toward the little green light at the base of things.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


If you knew the inordinate amount of time that I've spent juggling puns for the title of this blog entry, you'd be seriously ashamed; however, being my father's daughter and all, I'm not ashamed in the slightest. In fact, I told Maggie that I was "punny"--this was at 2:45 a.m. on the bus to Dublin, to take the plane to Malta, to begin the first leg of our European adventure--and she laughed. Then again, most people would have laughed, it was the middle of the freaking night. When you're on 2 hours of sleep, a garbage disposal would be hilarious.

It's been over a week since our Maltese excursion, and already the details of it are beginning to it was a dream, someone else's very vivid dream, and I got to borrow it for a while. It all happened so fast. One day in March, Maggie texted me: "any interest in going to Malta?"--this being before, of course, either of us had the foggiest idea where Malta was. Somewhere near Italy? Where all those fluffy white dogs come from? And what, exactly, is a Maltese falcon? Will we meet Gregory Peck?

These were the questions running through our mind... that, and how to navigate the labyrinthine Ryanair website. It wasn't until we had bought tickets for Malta (and its neighbor, Sicily) that we realized we were heading approximately 685 miles from Libya...oops. Plot spoiler: everything turned out to be just fine. Truly. We were all a little nervous once we found out the proximity, and cursed ourselves for having slept through elementary geography back in 5th grade--Alyssa bit her nails down to the quick, for the first (but NOT the last) time--and kept our eyes peeled for any hint of travel warning. But none came, and , the wee hours of April 12 rolled around and we found ourselves on the bus to Dublin...passports, sunscreen, and optimism in hand.

I say that we "found" ourselves on the bus, because you have to understand--there wasn't a single moment on the entire trip that I felt anything less than awed by my location in space and reality. When we stepped off the airplane and into the dry Maltese air, I put on sunglasses. For the first time in 5 months. There were palm trees and clouds speckling our sight line, and I simply couldn't believe--still can't--that I could possibly be lucky enough to be there. It never proved to be a bad thing, this weird dreamlike state... it just made the scenery seem that much more colorful, that much more like a gift. It means my feet never quite touched the ground. I doubled the amount of countries that I've been to in one week--what kind of lucky duck gets to say that?

I do, apparently. And there wasn't a dull moment on the entire trip... seriously. Both good and bad, it was unforgettable. I should have known as soon as the bus pulled up to the airport stop, because the words "no risk, no fun!" were printed above the bus entrance, which--surprise!--had no door, directly next to a crinkled photo of Jesus Christ and a pink Playboy bunny sticker. All the essentials, I guess. We bounced and bumped our way from the airport to Valletta, Malta's most popular and historic city; and despite our giant backpacks and delirium, walked around for at least three hours. Right as we entered the gate, we passed by Libyan Airlines-- enclosed behind a metal grate and a layer of filth. Someone had thrown a fistful of black paint at one of the windows, which were almost too cloudy for us to see the creepy man staring out at us as we took pictures... almost. He gave us an unmistakable look of strike one, tourists: put your damn cameras AWAY and get a grip. So we did. Or at least, we got the hell away from there, and started speaking Irish as much as possible to avoid seeming so blatantly American. Ni thuigim. If anyone there could understand us, we would have looked like complete idiots, piecing together our spotty Irish into interactions like "What's your name?" "America. Where is the bathroom? I like studying." "I live in Ireland now. It's sunny today! Thanks be to God." "Really? I have five sisters."

An-mhaith. Next stop on the tour was to sample the local cuisine; because in case I forgot to mention, this excursion was as much of a Food Tour than anything else. I am simultaneously disgusted by and proud of the amount we ate, but at least we attempted to eat our way through the week with the utmost respect for Maltese and Italian traditional fare--which we soon found out, involves a whole lot of rabbit and bean paste. Fortunately, we managed to avoid those two for the most part, and instead focused our energies on eating more Pastizzi than humanly possible. Oh, pastizzi. They are these lovely pea/ricotta-filled pastries, usually running at about 30 cents apiece--meaning that we justified eating a half dozen at a time on the grounds of being economical. Eh, whatcha gonna do. We ate our first round with ice-cold cokes and sat on the wall by Victoria Gate, looking over the harbor where The Count of Monte Cristo was filmed. Sooo cool.

Now, this was the initial point that I remember Alyssa's Long Island flag start waving itself; she sprawled herself out on the stone wall, chattering about Batmitzvahs and mani-pedis, and proceeded to "catch some rays." This girl is absolutely the most hilarious, and slightly travel-illiterate, person I have ever met. Whenever we stopped for more than thirty seconds at a time, she would literally roll up her sleeves and shirt and pop her face up to the sun--this girl will stop at NOTHING to get a tan. Sitting out over the water that day, she could not have been funnier. At one point, lounging back on her backpack with her eyes closed, she let out a throaty "helloooooooo sunshine" to the world. Only, it happened to be right as a fortysomething man was walking past....and he proceeded to lean into Maggie and ask, slightly frightened, "was she talking to me?"

Hahahahahaha. Oh, Alyssa. I don't think anything I could write here would do justice to how hilarious that girl was during our trip--or the fact that, at multiple points, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to whoop her upside the head or adopt her. A little of both, I think. Traveling with others is such a tricky thing--I don't think I ever fully realized that until now. My Ireland family has become just that: family. We have a beautifully contradictory relationship, where we simultaneously drive each other nuts and know that we can never again be without one other. We've interrupted each other's mindsets; we've adopted facial expressions, turns of phrase, habits. Alyssa has gotten us all to start playing with our hair on a regular basis. I know I'm doing that prematurely nostalgic thing again, oy vey... but I can't help it. It's important to explaining my experience this past week, because these people mean more to me than I can possibly explain.

Alrighty, back to the action. Our hostel, Shamrock Apartments, was in Bugibba--a beach-bummy little town about 40 minutes away by Maltese bus. We had a helluva time finding it, but it was well worth it: clean, spacious, and only 6 euro per night. There's something a little bit screwy about expenses in Malta--for example, where else in the world does it cost more to buy an ashtray than it does to sleep for the night? Furthermore, where on earth is it less expensive to drink alcohol than water?! Holy moly. We stocked up on bottled water from the wee shop near the apartments, but during our nights out in St. Julian's/Paceville--the nightlife capital of the island--we didn't buy a single drink. Club promoters hand you tickets for free cocktails as you walk into the club; no limit to how many. It's hilarious, because we--being who we are--scarcely took advantage of this. Ultimately, drinking only would have slowed us down in our mission to eat twelve meals per day. We bounced around the clubs a little bit, amazed at the fact that we were the only Americans there... but unanimously decided that the best moment of all was when we walked into a club that was completely empty, and had the dancefloor to ourselves. We jogged laps around a Maltese nightclub. I'll never forget that.

During the daytime, we saw the sights: Wednesday we took the bus to Wied iz-Zurrieq and the famous Blue Grotto, which looks exactly like it sounds. It was my first real taste of what I've always pictured the Mediterranean to look like: white stone walls, yellow flowers, blue upon blue upon blue water. We paid 7 euro to take a little motorboat on a tour of the most famous caves in the grotto; not imagining that, like the Maltese buses, our chances of survival were about 50/50. We literally hit the waves at the absolutely WORST angle that it is possible for a dinghy to hit waves, and each time, caught about four feet of air. There was a tourist couple perched on the bench in front of ours, neither of whom spoke English--or common sense, apparently, as the husband neglected to move over to the right side of the boat to balance out the weight, despite our sweeping hand gestures to that effect, and we nearly capsized. Like, reallyreally nearly. It was completely worth it, though, even though Alyssa turned an impressive shade of green and looked like she had decided it simply wasn't worth it to go on, no cave could be that beautiful. But it was. The grotto was ancient and creepy and breathtaking, and we celebrated it--and our survival--afterward over Maltese bread, butter, and Cisk lager (the local brew) in a rooftop café. After that, we took a cab to Marsaxlokk, a fishing village in the southwest part of the island. It's famous for its colored boats, and now I know why--they are one of the most astounding things I've ever seen. It is like a giant watercolor crayola set emptied out over the entire harbor, and is just sitting there bobbing in the perfect aquamarine sea. There was a market selling fresh honey, prickly-pear jelly, limoncello, nougat, trinkets, you name it--and we strolled up and down for hours. I got horrifically sunburnt, but wore it as a victory badge: this certainly wasn't Ireland. If I ever go back to Malta, which I certainly hope I do, Marsaxlokk will be the first place I go... I feel like my concept of vivid hues has been peeled away and replaced with a newer, technicolor version.

The next day, we visited the "Silent City" of Mdina: which we all read about at one point or another, either on Wikipedia or in a guidebook, and all promptly forgot minutes later. All I remember is that the island's locus was shifted to Mdina at one point, and infrastructure was built around it; and that we were told there would be no cars allowed, it was perfectly preserved in silence. Obviously, we swallowed it hook-line-and-sinker, and along with the zillion other tracksuited tourists there that day, took pictures next to the Dungeons! Knights! Glass-blowers, oh my! and were seriously disappointed by the amount of white noise in the so-called "silent" city. There was a whole mess of cars there, right next to the women in Medieval costume begging us to take the authentic Maltese train. We opted for chocolate cake instead, which was highly recommended on one of the "Best things to do in Malta" lists that Maggie printed out--and boy, am I glad we did. We had a panoramic view of the entire countryside, and it was breathtaking. We left Mdina to go to Ta'Qali craft village, walking through wildflowers and countless rows of grapevines along the way. We perused ceramics and glass and the most gorgeous silver filigree I've ever seen, and then when our pockets were significantly lighter, took the bus back to Bugibba and--you guessed it--ate some more.

Without a doubt, Malta was one of the most incredible places I've ever been--if not the most. It's a tough call, because the beauty of Ireland blows my mind on a daily basis... but this was a whole different breed of gorgeous. It was sun, stone, and history. Instead of endless expanses of green, it was turquoise.

Somewhere in the middle of the night--we're fans of the weirdo flights, it would seem--we hopped on a 5 euro plane ride to Trapani, Sicily. Now, let it be said that Sicily was the point when our trip started to get a little less Disney movie, and a little more Marx brothers: In the 28 or so hours that we were there, we managed to exploit just about every opportunity for comical misunderstanding. It was one long culture clash, and I loved it. It began the second we stepped off the tarmac, and realized that--though we had an address for our B&B--we had no idea how to get there. It also occurred to us at this (very late stage in the game) that we were, in fact, in Italy... and that we don't, in fact, speak Italian. Not even a little bit. We somehow managed to get into a cab and get to Paceco, where our abode awaited--and after a prolonged and disorienting conversation with the owner that involved a whole lot of hand gesturing, tucked ourselves into bed... sincerely hoping that there were no other boarders to be disrupted by our clomping around the room, or Alyssa's rather dynamic vocalization of her craving for hot wings.

Breakfast was at 8 the next morning, served by--no joke--Vincenzo, Veeeeencheeenzooooh, the owner's very shy and handsome son. He laid out colorful mugs and plates, and an assortment of crackers and biscuits. We ate so many of them that I think he got the hint... the next morning, there were twice as many packages. Viva la  American eating habits, I guess. Anyhow, he took our coffee orders first thing--the lot of us trying desperately to fashion some sort of pigeon Italian out of our limited French, Spanish, and common sense--but apparently, it was too much for us to handle. I think he asked if I wanted cappucino, so I just nodded and held out my mug. Alyssa, on the other hand, is a caw-fee person, so she asked for a big one--placing her hands about five inches apart to indicate the size--and Vincenzo cocked his head at her, smiling. "You drink this coffee you no sleep before three days," he said... clearly thinking that she meant she wanted a mugful of espresso. Oops number one. We polished off breakfast and headed out into Trapani, trying to locate a bus stop without knowing how much it would cost, or what bus we wanted, or where we wanted to go--oops number two. Again, we made it on... thank goodness for the list of basic Italian phrases that Maggie found in her archives. Apparently "non capisco," if repeated over and over again and with gusto, can get you pretty far.... eventually people just give up and you hand them a couple of euro and hope that the bus goes in your direction. That or you wait until it gets to its last stop, and smile stupidly until someone hands you a map.

So that's what we did, anyhow--and after a lot of aimless wandering (broken up by necessary gelato stops), we found our way to the heart of Trapani. It was gorgeous; old, old churches filled with frescos, pigeons perched on statues, sidewalk cafés boasting breadsticks and wineglasses, metrosexual men wearing scarves and handbags. Ah, Europe. The best part of my day was when I broke off from the group to wander around alone-- I sat by the ocean and let my thoughts buzz around a little bit, bought postcards and sampled wine at the tourist office, and pretended to be Audrey Hepburn. The whole city closed down between the hours of 3 and 5, most likely for siesta--or siestizzzimo, or whatever the Italian equivalent is--and I felt like I had the entire place to myself. It was good for me, being alone like that. I soaked it up like a little sponge.

So where's the comedy, you might ask? We finished the night off with a fresh seafood dinner at a restaurant by the sea, and that's when things started to get really funny. First of all, they opened the restaurant for us because no European eats before 8 p.m.--we couldn't have seemed more American (and therefore cranky, and obese) if we had been wearing cowboy hats and blasting Tom Petty out of jukeboxes on our shoulders. We ordered wine and bread, and ordered seafood dishes mysteriously lacking in any concrete description--and as a result, Alyssa ended up with a plate of prawns that still had the heads on. We tried to explain that it was perfectly normal, that they were as fresh as can be--but she wasn't havin' any of it. Those little buggers still had eyes and whiskers. Not one to be squeamish, Victoria and I ate them--this being after she had already consumed what looked to be an entire octopus covered in breadcrumbs, delivered steaming to her plate.

We left soon afterward, in search of--what else--gelato; and after a successful round, began the trek home. But guess what? That's when it started raining. Pouring, actually. We were still ages from the bus station...and not having any other choice, ran through it like the sopping, clueless kids that we are. The sequence of events that followed can only be made funnier by being told in rapid succession, so here goes: we realize the bus has stopped running. We can't find a sign for the route to Paceco. We wonder if Paceco is actually a real place, or if we are part of some Mafia scam. We walk across the street into a restaurant and gather the attention of all the employees behind the counter. I remove my jacket and realize that my shirt is soaked in two places only... directly over my boobs. We call a cab company and wrestle with more Italiglish, even more hand gestures. We realize that hand gestures cannot be communicated via telephone. The number of employees watching us at this point has doubled; should we start charging admission? One of the waiters realizes that the B&B we're staying belongs to Vincenzo's family, and he knows Vincenzo! He calls him and laughs about the stupid American girls, how funny they are. I go to the bathroom, and instead of pulling the toilet's flush (located on the ceiling), I pull the restaurant's alarm... repeatedly, for almost two minutes. I walk out of the bathroom and am met by a very concerned management team. I turn almost twelve separate shades of magenta. We get in a cab and finally get home; the cabbie realizes he had driven the night before as well, and are equally as hilarious as we were then. We curse the euro and pay him in about a thousand tiny coins. We finally get to the door, and we can't open it. We call Vincenzo. He opens it for us, and with that delicious, decidedly-Italian smirk, tells us he'll see us in the morning at 8 O'CLOCK (holds up eight fingers in case we are in fact even more mentally handicapped than he thinks we are), and sends us on our merry way. Yeesh.

I wish I could say that was the end of the embarrassment, but the next morning, the B&B owner couldn't find the right bus stop and ended up having to drive us all the way to the airport himself. He went about a kajillion kilometers per hour on the highway, and we laughed so hard at our own silliness that tears ran down our faces.

By the time we were on our flight home, we were content to sit in our own thoughtful corners with our music in our ears and our sunburns on our noses. On the bus from Dublin to Galway, we sat separated throughout the someone had smacked their hand in the middle of a puddle and sent us scattering to different seats. It was nice. I looked out the window and felt so, so happy to be back in Ireland--almost disturbingly so. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that this was it, that this was home. That's the's wonderful to travel, and I'm loving it more by the minute. But I don't feel like I'm traveling in Ireland anymore,  I feel like I'm home. I feel like I've been here forever and only just starting to realize what that means.

I'm waking up.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bloody Hell

Okay, here’s the part where I stretch what would amount to approximately two minutes of semi-boring conversation into an entire blog entry, most of which will revolve around my newfound obsession with the show True Blood. That’s right. Smack dab in the middle of finals, and the first time in an entire semester that I’ve had to buckle down and study, Maggie and I have become obsessed with the HBO show—so much so that we’ve boycotted virtually all other downstairs activity. When the boys see us come into the living room, they get that look on their faces that says you’re gonna steal the tv from me, I know you’re gonna do it…and sure enough, we usually do.

It’s simple. Ireland has taken our previously borderline-OCD work habits and put them through the blender…leaving us with a rationale that usually amounts to something like: “but it’s ONLY worth 99% of my grade” and “I’ll write it, just as soon as I finish staring at these ducks.” With the rate that I’ve managed to procrastinate, I left myself exactly ten days to write the equivalent of six essays; one of which was a research paper, and two of which I hadn’t read the books for. “But they were written in the eighteenth century! Plus, I’m waiting to see if the ducks will move.”

It’s crazy, because back at Scripps, I never would have waited until the last minute to do this much work. Never. I would have been outlining, highlighting, and three-hole-punching at least two weeks in advance—and while that might have made it easier to get them done, I can’t honestly say that it eliminated any of the stress factor. If anything, I think my disgustingly color-coded time management skills made me more stressed out; where as here, I’m realizing that they’re only essays. It doesn’t mean that I’m not doing the best I can—in fact, I’m pretty proud of the two papers I’ve done so far. It just means that I no longer believe in completing them at the expense of my personal happiness, because at the end of the day, having more than three peer-reviewed literary criticisms in my works cited is not going to alter the quality of my character—whereas taking a sunset walk down the Salthill promenade, which is what I did this afternoon, absolutely will.

It’s the Irish mindset: as Owen put it, they are the hardest workers in the world…24 hours a day, 7 days a week, one week a year.

So it’s just my essays and myself this weekend, as Maggie and Hannah and Alyssa have jetted off to Norway, Shaun is in Barcelona, and who knows else is who knows where. The only thing that I have left to entertain myself, besides the three essays waiting oh-so-patiently for my attention, is this blog—the IMDb of all the True Blood characters (I promised I wouldn’t watch any more episodes until Maggie returns)—the fact that within five minutes of one another, our shower broke, the smoke alarm went off (twice), and the internet stopped working—and the memory of Thursday night, which was surely one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.

Warning: this paragraph contains content not suited for young eyes. It’s not even suited for my eyes, really—but I’m sharing it because a) I’m keeping this blog to record, honestly, what my time here is like and that means not censoring and b) my life up to this point has been, all things considered, shockingly PG-13. So. Anyone who knows me back home knows that I’m not a partier. When I tell my roommates that I don’t drink at school—and that a glass of wine at a potluck is usually enough for me to have deep and meaningful conversations with everyone around me, followed by approximately 10 hours of sleep—they look at me like I’m crazy. Apparently Cian told Maggie that we Americans are “opening their eyes to drinking”—that is, we’re showing them just how much they do it, and just how much we don’t. Anyhow, this being said, Thursday was the last day of classes—that’s right, other than essays/exams, it’s summertime and the daffodils have sprung!—and in Galway that translates into a gigantic celebration. If that weren’t enough, it was also Hannah’s 21st birthday, and she decided to throw a party. Can you see where this is going? Anyhow, in the name of trying something new, I let people talk me into trying vodka and orange juice. I’m simultaneously proud and embarrassed that my main incentive in doing so was the fact that it was a LUdriver (Tico family, you know what I’m talking about!). But apparently, while my grandmother can handle her hard alcohol, I cannot. How was I supposed to know? If she had been here, she would have laughed because the amount that I drank equaled approximately one-and-a-half of one of the drinks that Grandma Lu makes at the average Tico picnic. It was hardly any. But apparently, the iron stomach that I pride myself on—the same one that allows me to do boneheaded things like inhale 3 extra-spicy enchiladas, a bag of sour patch kids, and four kiwis all without feeling the burn—does not extend to hard alcohol. Oops. I guess there are people out there who can drink it, I just don’t think I’m going to end up being one of them. During Hannah’s birthday party, I poured my heart out to Maggie, deleted about half the text messages from my phone in a valiant attempt at GIRL POWER, and went to Club Karma—where I proceeded to get sick in the bathroom. That, and the ten hours of vomiting that followed, mark the first time that I’ve gotten physically ill since I had food poisoning in 2005. It was first time I’ve ever gotten sick from drinking, and I don’t plan on letting it happen again. So as for the screwdrivers, Grandma Lu—they’re all yours.

So there’s my embarrassing story for the week! Not too bad, all things considered. I feel very Dawson’s Creek, yet proud of the fact that I didn’t drink in high school, the time when everyone makes a point to sprinkle a little bit of STUPID onto their breakfast cereal. What does send me back a couple of years though, as I mentioned, is my newfound obsession with True Blood. It’s bizarre, because I don’t even like blood…I go weak in the knees when I get a papercut. But there’s something about this show—what is it?—that is more addicting than anything I’ve ever seen. I think it’s the southern accents, or the destiny theme—I’m a sucker (no pun intended) for Kismet. When Bill looks into Sookie’s eyes…I melt.

See what I mean? I have A.D.D. of the emotion. Elena told me that studying abroad is like an entire life cycle packed into a few months: there is the birth, the growing up, the adolescence, the maturation…and eventually, there is a death. So what stage am I in? I traverse the road between silly, happy, sad, and content on an almost daily basis. Walking along the prom at Salthill today, I heard the words of Alexi Murdoch (whom I am obsessed with, in a completely un-angsty way):

And when I’m alone,
when I shake off the weight of this stone,
that’s when I miss you:
you who are my home.

 …and I felt lonelier than I’ve ever been, only it was beautiful. The most beautiful, fulfilling sadness I’ve ever felt. The thing about True Blood is that all the girls on it—besides being severely malnourished, which is a topic for another feminist platform at another time—well, they’re never without a man. They’re never content just to be. And the way I figure it, the way I have to figure it in order to stay okay, is that this is the most beautiful time in my life for me to be one hundred percent on my own. Maggie is in Norway, and that’s okay. Mama is in Santa Barbara, Jeremy is in Neverland, the Co-op family is in Claremont, and that’s okay too. I am in Galway, Ireland—doggy paddling through Jenna’s Existential Crisis, Chapter 20: the Revelation—and laughing. It’s all worth saving, even the moments that should never be recorded (but thanks to the invention of blogs, will be floating around cyberspace for centuries to come).

I have a folder on my shelf labeled “Keepers,” and it is bursting at the seams.