ar son na fun.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happiness is a Warm Bathroom

Oh please, oh dear, dear God in heaven (or Bog, as Alex in a Clockwork Orange would say), if you allow my internet to work for the next twenty minutes that it will take me to complete this post, I will never again fail to appreciate just how wonderful it is when the internet is working at full speed. Seriously.


If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that the wires running the internet service for Gort Na Coiribe had frozen, along with the rest of us living here. It is FREEZING, and has been all week… not in a chilly sort of “oh, isn’t Ireland quaint!” sort of way, but the type of bone-shatteringly cold way that makes you want to rip out your eyebrow hairs and use them for extra insulation in your jacket. After last Sunday, which was gorgeous and sunny and absolute perfect weather for our walk to Salthill, the weather took a turn for the nasty…and though it hasn’t been raining, the streets are coated with a thin layer of invisible ice. I discovered this for the first time on my way to class on Wednesday, my busiest and earliest morning, when I walked past a group of fifteen or so Irish students (all dressed impeccably and not struggling in the slightest, I might add) and had my feet slip straight out from underneath me. I tried to play it off as best I could, making stupid conversation with the Irish students around me (“so, is this weather unusual?” “No, not really.” “Right! Okay.”), but it was a lost cause. Since then, I’ve taken to toddling around like some sort of demented two year old with a brick in her underpants, but if it keeps me from slipping…so be it.
            So that’s the biggest news for the week, I suppose: the frigid weather. That, and the fact that classes are officially in full swing…at least, as much so as they will ever be in Galway. Last week, when Maggie and I were heading out for a 1 p.m. class, we had to fight off our roommates’ most valiant efforts to get us to skip class and go to Scotty’s for a traditional Irish fry (read: a heap of semi-recognizable breaded things on a plate). It went something like this:
Grubb: When in Rome…!
Maggie: We’re not in Rome.
Grubb: Right. When in Rome, do like the Romans. When in Galway…eat breakfast.
And Maggie and I, being the good little American students that we are, went to class. That’s the thing: we all seem to be having a difficult time breaking the habit that has been hammered into us by our fancy-pants liberal arts schools (where classes are 14 people and the teachers know creepily personal data about your life). Here, students don’t sweat it if they miss a lecture, and either do the professors. Classes are huge, usually only fifty minutes long, and teachers provide the powerpoints online. This hasn’t stopped me from going to all of mine, because I’m lucky enough to have a few that are actually interesting… but out of the six classes I’m taking, at least two of them were made bearable last week only by the fact that my seatmate and I were playing Hangman. In my contemporary literature lecture, the only thing keeping me awake was the fact that the teacher had a gigantic piece of disgusting white spittle stuck to his lower lip THE ENTIRE TIME, and I was making silent bets with myself as to how long it would take for him to realize it. So far, for that class I’ve read A Clockwork Orange and Lady Chatterley’s Lover… and in the next few weeks will also be tackling Lolita, The Satanic Verses, The Third Policeman, and on and on. My roommates make fun of me for actually completing the assigned reading—but if they knew just how risqué the novels were, they’d probably understand why I can’t put them down.
            So class is fun, but being on campus—sorry, at “college” (no one says campus here)—is the most fun. I always run into people I know. We registered for our courses this week, in the most disorganized, terrible, and yet distinctly Irish way possible: we all had to pile into rooms and essentially fight over the first-come-first-serve seminars being offered to foreign students. I forgot how nasty Americans can be…I mean, come on, who arrives at 6: 30 a.m. for a noon registration? Do you really want to read Ulysses that bad? But anyhow, I mostly avoided it, and at this point am signed up for 6 classes: Women in Irish Society, Imagining Modern Ireland, European Women’s Studies, Contemporary Literature, Genre Studies, and Irish Language for beginners. Being the nerd that I am, I’m really enjoying the scholastic aspect of my time here. It is a minor portion, comparatively, but I’m really loving it.
            The other type of education, of course, is the stuff that happens outside of the classroom—yes! These Irish kids are whipping my butt at celebrating life. They move at their own pace, meaning that they employ an it’ll happen when it happens philosophy at every fork in the road… and I’m starting to catch on. I had the loveliest day yesterday, all by myself, wandering around Shop Street. I sat in Renzo café and wrote for two hours, drinking cup after cup of milky tea, and then walked to the Saturday Market by Tig Coili, a weekly gathering of vendors from all over the place. There were little old men selling fleece-lined mittens and silver Claddaugh rings, tables of dirt-covered root vegetables and homemade marmalades, a crepe booth, a lineup of buckets filled with different Mediterranean olives and hummuses and sundried tomatoes, and table after table of fresh breads, eggs, and cheese. The Saturday market is also great because the buskers come out—in one stretch of Shop street alone, I saw an accordion player, two guitarists, a standup bass player, a fiddle player, and a one-man band with a picture of Marilyn Monroe pasted onto his snare drum with the emblem “MY KIND OF WOMAN” coming out of her head. A fine sight indeed.
            Now, as the sky outside the window is turning from steely gray to even darker steely gray, the roommates and I are heading to the Hole in the Wall for a night of… you’ll never believe it… American football. That’s right. The Packers vs. the Bears, then the Steelers vs. the Jets—and as Mickey puts it, the Irish lads are planning to root for whichever team has the catchiest fight song. Not a bad philosophy. From now until we leave, my master plan is to huddle under the bathroom heater…the warmest spot in the apartment… and see if I can defrost my toes.
            The land is gorgeous (albeit frozen), the people are gorgeous, and I am happy as a clam. There is magic in the air here, and I don’t think I’ve even begun to touch on it yet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good Craic

Hard to believe it, but we have been in Galway for a week already! The days are beginning to slow, now, and the realization that this is our home for the next five months is beginning to settle in. I feel a little bit more like myself, like I'm walking around in my own shoes instead of someone else's... which is both a good and bad thing. Good, because I'm beginning to actually open the mountain of emails in my inbox and do things like trim my toenails and organize my underwear drawer. Bad, because my shoes are rainboots, and they hurt my feet.

I attempted to wear said boots to a club on Saturday night, which I heard was going to be a "down" night because most of the Irish weren't back in town yet. Being the silly American that I am, I pictured a down night as something involving bunny slippers and a carton of ice cream; but to the Irish, it translates to a night when the clubs--still packed--are at less than maximum capacity. We began the night at the Crane Bar, a beautiful little pub right on the water, where the most incredible 13 piece trad music group was playing. I sat in a little corner booth by the window, warm even despite the chilly air that was coming through the windows, and absorbed the music with my whole heart. Words can't describe just how full it makes me feel... there is just something about it. Fiddle, bodhran, uilleann pipes, harmonica, banjo, and haunting vocals that fill the entire pub. I LOVE the sound of the Irish language when much so that I'm kidding myself into thinking that my beginning Irish language course (aka Irish for international dummies) is going to be anything less than a complete disaster. Apparently it's not enough that I'm in a foreign country, trying to adapt to the pace of everyday life and manage to cross the street without getting creamed by an oncoming vehicle (yep, they come from the opposite direction, and no, I can't seem to remember)... I also have to spend two hours a week attempting to learn a non-Latin based language that sounds like it came out of Lord of the Rings. But it's so preeeeettttty.

Anyhow, after the Crane, it was off to the Roisin Dubh... a pub/nightclub that manages to maintain the atmosphere of both, and therefore top on my list. The actual nightclubs themselves give me a headache; they are noisy and scary and so opposite of everything that I am used to. Although exhilarating, they usually make me want to curl up in a corner and suck my thumb. The Roisin is great because it has a dance floor and sitting floor, and plays ridiculous music that you'd never hear in a U.S. nightclub. Instead of pretentious house music or one more mashup of Daft Punk and [insert top-40 artist here], they play everything from Talking Heads to Buddy Holly to Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's a hoot. Rain boots and all--and with approximately 6 more feet of fabric on my clothing than the average Irish girl--I bounced and swung and boogied with the best of them. Actually, I looked ridiculous most of the time. Those of us who are American stick out like sore thumbs--or judging by the reactions of some of the Irish, like funny looking plants that must be investigated at the soonest possible moment--but we're lucky enough to be living with Irish students, and so far, they have made sure we feel comfortable.

Have I mentioned I love my roommates? I do. There is Maggie, who shares my actual room--she's from Pennsylvania--and between the two of us, there's always something cooking in our kitchen. I'm beginning to realize more and more just how unusual this is. It's not only the Americans who seem to be in awe of our ability to boil water (Erin, Ellie, are you reading this? No more cucumbers for dinner, my darlings...), but our Irish roommates seem to be genuinely confused by our desire to eat meals.

You see, the Irish spend money on beer. Occasionally, I see one eating a pizza or piece of toast... but in general, it's only seen as a distraction from the main course: beer. Needless to say, this is not--and probably never will be--something I'm able to do. I'm a cereal and milk kind of girl. My bookshelf is stacked with bags of dried figs, Barry's tea, soda bread, apples, bananas, and boxes of Mediterranean spices to add to couscous and hummus. When Maggie and I made tacos last night (Taco Tuesday lives on! Although a word to the wise, Mexican food from Irish ingredients makes Taco Bell seem authentic), our roommates got all bug-eyed and kept asking us what everything was. It was adorable.

Maggie and I keep thanking our luck stars for our roommates. They are WONDERFUL--friendly, approachable, silly. There's Andrew Higgins ("Higgy," also known as the potential burglar, also known as Freddy Krueger...also known as one of the least potential criminals in the world,) Owen Lyons (aka Lyoner, who has a weakness for American reality TV. Do you know what happened on Teen Mom last season, or perhaps The Hills? Let's just say...I DO), and Conor Grubb (aka Grubb, aka the Ginger, and one of the funniest people I have met). There's also Colm McGinley and Colm Ferry, who don't technically live here, but might as well. I hope none of them read this blog, because I have butchered their names by using English spelling... but as I mentioned earlier, the Irish language still looks like a well-thought out assortment of hieroglyphics to me.

They are a hilarious bunch. Who knew that one could play FIFA for nine hours straight? Who knew that one could watch 5 American movies in a row without totally going bonkers, and without leaving the couch? Who knew that playing football in the house was so fun, even at the expense of all home appliances? (When asked why we don't have lampshades, McGinley answered quite simply that they were too dangerous during indoor football games. Guess that explains the blood on the ceiling.)

It's rainy, drippy, and grey here, and I'm beginning to miss home a lot... but at the same time, I couldn't be happier. I'm out of sorts, like a fish out of water, or some sort of tiny land mammal stuck in freezing cold water... but I can feel my life expanding.

A quick vocabulary lesson:

Craic = a catchall term for cool, hip, rad, whatever... basically, if something is awesome, it is good craic.
Shift = make out. To "shift and drift" is to kiss someone on the dance floor, and then move on to someone else...usually within a four foot radius. A common pastime of the Irish.
Timetable = schedule
Thanks a million = standard way to say thank you, for anything from holding the door to the bathroom or donating a kidney.
Cheers = hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, thank you, whatever. Similar to Aloha, only better, because is often accompanied by a toothless smile and a little jig.


Friday, January 7, 2011

The Welcome Wagon

As the luck o' the Irish would have it, only a few hours after I sent off that last post, I was launched into one of the most eventful--if not hilarious--evenings yet.

Around one a.m., just as I was drifting off into sleepland, Maggie shook me awake.
"Jenna. There's someone in our apartment."
It took me a minute to realize she meant someone, as in someone other than us--but as soon as I sat up, I heard banging around in the kitchen beneath us. She had already locked the door, but the two of us sat upright in my bed like that for a long time, just listening to what sounded like a caravan of elephants being butchered on our dining room table. The sounds continued, doors slammed, and eventually we heard footsteps climbing up the stairs right outside our door... at this point, both pee-our-pants scared. Granted, most people would have assumed that this was a roommate--a big DUH when you're sharing a house with people--but we were told ours weren't arriving until Sunday night. And who arrives at 1:30 in the morning, anyhow? It is also useful to point out that the night can do crazy things to your brain, and when you've been woken up in the middle of it, it is more than easy to assume that the thing clomping up and down your stairs (in your foreign apartment, in a foreign country) is more likely to be a mad rapist than your friendly neighborhood Irishman.

Having settled on the idea that this was, in fact, someone who was going to kill us and then steal our laptops, we called the security number for Gort na Coiribe. An old man answered the phone in a creaky voice, clearly woken up by the call, and--when informed that the tenants in Unit 23 were terrified for their lives--politely asked us, "so what do you girls want me to do?" We responded, not so politely, that we'd like him to send someone over; and no less than fifteen minutes later, he called us back and told us he would. Great. In the interval, we stood shivering in the bathroom, contemplating what would happen if it really WAS our roommate, and we had to spend the next five months justifying our lunatic behavior. That, and a lively debate over whether we--in addition to getting the apartment without the functioning water heater, and tire tracks on the ceiling--had gotten the one with ghosts.

Soon after, someone pounded on the door, and we leapt up. If it was security, they would let themselves in. Right? And if the intruder was our roommate, he'd open the door. Right?


Nothing happened, so after a few minutes, Maggie called the security desk again. The same man answered. After telling her that they weren't allowed to enter the room unless it was opened for them, and listening to Maggie's repeated assurance that we aren't crazy, really, but there's no way in hell we are going downstairs--the guard banged on the door for a second time, and this time it was answered. Through the door, I could make out two voices coming from the foot of the stairs.

I opened the door a crack, Maggie hung up the phone, and in the tiniest, girliest voice imaginable, mustered: "hello?"

We walked to the top of the stairs, and next to the security man--clearly pissed off--was a small, scruffy boy in a t-shirt and PJs. No baseball bat. No ski mask. Just a head full of rumpled hair and an expression that read of both confusion and awe at how utterly stupid two human beings, both from planet earth, could be.

Turns out, the breaker-and-enterer was Andrew, our roommate for the semester...who from this point on, we will have to make a conscious effort to convince that we are anything other than American psychopaths who wanted to have him arrested for stepping onto the property that he has lived in for almost a year. It's a hard launching pad to jump off from, but on the bright side, it will make everything else we do seem sane in comparison...

or at least, I hope so.

As we went off to bed, both laughing so hard that we could hardly catch our breath, we decided it's a hell of a first week story. And in terms of picking out her Irish husband, Maggie thinks it wise to write off Andrew for the time being... although if anyone ever asked how they met, it would make for an entertaining icebreaker.

"You know, I thought he was a burglar... so I called the cops on him. But we get on great, now! Just great!"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Domestic Bliss


When Maggie walked into our room, I had my foot up on the bathroom wall, toes pointed up into the bathroom wall heater in a desperate attempt to thaw my toes... she might have been a bit surprised to see this particular eccentricity so soon into our friendship, but probably understood. It is COLD in Galway, and our apartments our like little iceboxes. I have on patagonia underarmour, two pairs of wool socks, a long sleeved shirt, and a fleece sweatshirt, and look like Randy in A Christmas Story.  We've been blasting the heater for the past three hours, and our room is the only one in the apartment that is even bearable. You would have thought we were living in a post-apocalyptic dinner time, we rifled through the room for remnants of orientation cookies, gum, little bits of cheese--anything to avoid the trek down to the freezing tundra of the kitchen. We're like squirrely rodents hiding out in a bomb shelter.

We would have stayed here forever, too, if it hadn't been for Ellie: at about 8:00, the S.O.S. call came from their apartment across the way--apparently she and Erin had accidentally left the oven on ALL NIGHT (read: BAD.) and had blown a fuse in the apartment. The only kitchen supplies left by the boys living with them were dirty plates, a few pots, and a rolling pin, so when we arrived at their place, they were drinking orange juice out of empty wine bottles and cooking spaghetti in a "hob" on the stovetop, laughing like people who are about to be put into straightjackets and carted away. Erin called the emergency line for the apartments--apparently this was not, ahem, an emergency, ladies--but a nice little Irish man showed up to fix the fuse anyhow. Erin plugged a few things in and almost blew up the voltage converter (complete with flames and plasticky smoke) and when I went to leave the room, the door handle pulled right off the door in my hand. By this time, we were all laughing so hard we were crying, and the spaghetti was done. We put a lid on the pot and ran across the street to my apartment and ate the pasta straight out of the pot like we hadn't seen food or civilization for days...and in the middle of eating, the smoke detector started beeping on our ceiling, for no apparent reason, and we have determined that Erin brings disaster wherever she goes.

So, life is good. Maggie and I found out that we are going to be sharing the apartment with not one, not two, but THREE Irish boys... who we will meet at the end of the weekend. We know nothing about them except that they eat lots of cereal, are prone to leaving perishables in deep dark places where they can't be found until they rot, and apparently own a leopard-print hoodie.

Bring on the dirty dishes and the broken appliances! At this point, we've all gotten used to working around the little twists and tricks of these apartments. I secretly really like them. They're confusing, messy, and endearing... perfectly Irish.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

From Dublin to Galway

Let's see, how much can I cram in before I put my very, very heavy head down to sleep? Tomorrow morning is the first day of orientation for NUI Galway, and we have to be ready by 9 o'clock on the nose. The European transfer students only have a couple of hours of orientation, but we--the blockheaded Americans, of course--get five hours. I'm noticing a pattern here: do the Irish ever sleep? Or is it just one long party, broken up occasionally by wee little catnaps?

I had a great nap today on the bus, which took us through the breathtaking countryside between Dublin and Galway. This afternoon was our first time in Gort na Coiribe, our apartments for the semester. My roommate Maggie (who was also my roommate in Dublin) and I LUCKED out--we have a big ol' double and our own bathroom. We'll be sharing the apartment with three Irish suite mates, which is incredible--and we have no idea who they are. The only legacy they left us before they left for winter holidays was a loaf of moldy bread, a carton of eggs (yes, eggs) on the counter, and the remnants from what looked to be quite the end of the semester blowout: Christmas lights, tinsel, and cardboard from a case of bad American beer. Seriously, Irish students? You're in Ireland, and that's what you spend your euro on? Yikes. I can't wait to meet our roommates. No idea if they are boys are girls...but there look to be traces of both scattered around the apartment. In the same alcove of space at the top of the stairs, there is a fuzzy leopard-print sweater, an ironing board, and a pile of gillette razors/shaving cream on top of a shard of mirror. The Irish=not so clean. My friends across the way opened their oven to find a nice treat--a tray of charred cheddar cheese and a piece of sausage sitting in a pile of lard. Mmmmm.

Anyhow, our last day and night in Dublin was amazing. Touristy, but amazing. We got to see the Guinness storehouse, which has a 7th floor bar that looks over the entirety of Dublin--St. Stephen's Square, Trinity, everything. It was gorgeous. We also strolled through the streets after dark (me doing more of a jaunt, seeing as I am about 99% more freezing than everyone else, most of the time) and asked locals for directions. Not only are Dubliners incredibly friendly, and usually walk you in the direction of wherever it is you want to go, but apparently everything also takes exactly "ten minutes" to get there.

"How far is Merrion Square from here?"
"Oh, about ten minutes, love."
"Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the Great Wall of China?"
"Oh sure, that's a ten minutes that way."

I love Irish time. There are limited precious hours of daylight per day, between about 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and no one quite knows (or cares) what the hour is.

The other thing I became aware of yesterday, in a way I've never, ever experienced before, is MEAT. Not to the Irish, but to the group of IFSA-Butler students on the program (mostly from midwest/East), I am the equivalent of a tofu-eating, bra-burning, California rabbit freak. I think they keep expecting me to pull out hemp leaves instead of a notebook to write on. Yesterday morning, we had this amazing seminar on cooking healthy, cheap meals in college--something I'm realizing few Americans on the program know how to do--using all products available in the area. The woman demonstrating the cooking was absolutely hilarious, and she gave us a handful of wonderful recipes. But when people were sharing their different dietary preferences, and I talked about being a vegetarian and living at the co-op, I started getting the alien stares. I said the word "compost," and one girl actually looked at me like I'd said "GSjdfjabieuhrauJN!"
Oh well. I guess I get to be hippie weirdo from California for a while, but that's okay.

On a related note, I'm really blown away by the quality of Irish food. During the cooking demonstration, the woman pulled out a package of meat and clarified to the group: this is NOT your average American meat, where as the Irish cook said, "you don't know how long it's been since the meat saw an animal." Irish meat is hormone free, always, and grass fed. We passed many farms on our way from Dublin to Galway, and the cows looked the way cows are supposed to look--chewing on grass, staring off into space, slightly bored. They were fat and happy... kind of like me, after the eating bonanza the past few days have been. I'm in heaven, though--brown bread and homemade soups, strong tea, real butter, Dubliner cheddar on fresh sandwiches... last night at Quay's, in the Temple Bar, I sat with a girl eating bangers and mash, surrounded by millions of fairy lights, and listened to a pair of musicians play everything from "Whiskey in the Jar"on Uilleann pipes to "Poker Face." How's that for a culture clash?

Within the larger group, it's amazing how quickly a few of us have bonded. We haven't had the chance to interact with many Irish students our own age yet (apart from two 18-year-old guys in the Temple Bar last night, who wanted to move to America because it's the home of NOFX and Rancid. OBVIOUSLY.)...but that will change tomorrow.

In the morning, it is off to campus! As fun as the past few days have been, I'm ready to be less of a tourist. I'm all tucked into my new bed, and Galway is home.

Monday, January 3, 2011


This is what Ireland looks like.
Let's see: it's 4 o'clock p.m. Ireland time, which means it's 8 o'clock a.m. California time, which means that I have been traveling for 26 hours straight--the longest I have ever been awake. The pink elephants are  definitely beginning to march around my brain, but thanks to a coffee that the Irish barista deemed "strong"--which, in case it wasn't clear, means STRONG--I have no desire to go to sleep anytime soon.

Well, maybe a little.

Overseas travel is like the childbirth portion of study abroad. It's long, painful, and disgusting; yet minutes after arriving at your final destination, the hellish night just spent curled up in a twisty ball watching Toddlers and Tiaras while your neighbor snores (somehow managing to sleep like a baby, blockading the path to the bathroom which you will inevitably have to use no less than a dozen times) disappears from your brain, and when presented with the opportunity to do it again, you find yourself thinking it can't be all that bad. Or at least, that's the way it seems.

We landed in Dublin this morning at 7 a.m. Ireland time. The sky was still pitch black, and didn't break until around 8 a.m. when we took the bus to the hotel--the O'Callaghan Mont Clare, right in the middle of Merrion square. There is a big group of us, about 50 people (and about 99% female), all with awkwardly shaped trunks and backpacks--the dance in and out of the airport looked like a scene from Saturday Night Live. Now, as the 5 o'clock hour approaches, we're all skittering in and out of each others' rooms--to excited and caffeinated to sleep for more than an hour at a time--and comparing notes about our hometowns, plans for Galway, and miniature life histories. Tonight, we venture off into our first night of Irish food (how many meats can one put into one stew, anyhow?) and our first night on the chilly streets of Dublin. I suppose we could go to sleep, and be rested for tomorrow... but that would be too easy. Sleep is for the weak. Right?

Two things of importance:

A) I have never felt so American. I keep taking photos of bizarrely simple things, like "this is the first doorway I walked through in Dublin!!!" and "MY FIRST IRISH FRUIT PLATE." I almost got hit by a car for looking the wrong way while crossing the street. All I need now is a fanny pack.

B) In all my life, I have never felt so sure of a place. This is exactly where I should be, and I love it here already.