ar son na fun.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

St. Patrick or: How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Go Outside

It's been far, far too long. I can come up with zillions of baby excuses--like the fact that I've been on hyperspeed lately, flitting around like the social butterfly that I never was in high school or college, with hardly a chance to catch my breath or trim my toenails (Ew. Sorry.) ... but ultimately, I've been neglecting to write because there's simply TOO MUCH TO SAY. It's the same "Dear Diary" mindset that is to blame for the gaping holes in my journal-keeping--I'm either in the habit of updating constantly, or not at all. No in-between. In the same diary, I'll have made three entries in the same day, chronicling the ebb and flow of emotion between breakfast and lunch--and two pages later, have written: "Hard to believe it's been four years! Today, I turned nineteen." So basically, that was a roundabout way of saying that for the past two weeks, I've been making mental notes of what I want to share with everyone as soon as I get home and get to my blog--and then, purposely, obstinately, forgetting to actually do it. But now I'm here; and in an effort to be more organized than I've been in the two months since I stepped off the plane and onto Irish soil, I'm going to take it chronologically.

1. DONEGAL: the more I think about it, the more I realize how much of a deus ex machina weekend this trip really was. RAG week was great craic--other than the fact that I felt like a contestant on the imaginary show "I want to live to see 21, get me out of here" and that our apartment resembled a country recently devastated by guerilla warfare--but I was ready for it to be over. We all piled into Owen's car on Friday afternoon; and about 5 hours worth of Eminem and Donegal countryside later (not a match made in , were sitting in his cozy living room on real chairs, drinking milky tea that didn't have anything chunky floating in it, and feeling like we'd just won the lottery. From there, the weekend only got better--the boys' families are AMAZING. They brought us into their homes, fed us until we thought we would burst at the seams, showed us embarrassing photos of their kids, and tucked us under Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comforters at night. We explored the hills of Sliabh Liag, which made the Cliffs of Moher look shrimpy--my heart was so full, I could barely speak--visited the horses at Higgins' farm, which made Maggie feel the same way--and laughed at virtually every word that came out of Shaun's mouth. It was wholesome, warm, and exactly what the doctor ordered. Plus, getting to see the mothership that our roommates come from gave Maggie and I a healthy dose of their humor, and familiarized us with the key to understanding it. Here is the secret: Irish boys lie. It's just what they do. It's not malicious, or in any way hostile--but they'll do it until they can't get away with it any longer, and even then, they'll try to take it a little bit further. On the way home, Maggie finally realized that Mickey is not, in fact, a Protestant, and he has been lying to her for the past two months just for the hell of it. Maggie's take on it? NOT FUNNY. But in the lads' opinion, it's all fair play: and each time a tall tale comes out of their mouth, we are to swallow down a gigantic grain of salt, politely tell them to "f**k off," and not take them--or ourselves--so gosh darn seriously.

2. KILLARY-ING ME SOFTLY. The week following Donegal blurred by, as they tend to do...and on Friday, a group of us embarked upon the second IFSA-Butler weekend; this time, to the Killary Adventure Centre in Connemara. Even after looking the place up online, none of us had any real idea of what was meant by "adventure"--was this going to be a bunch of granola-eating hippies leaving us in the woods with only a compass and our senses of humor, or two days of supervised freeze tag in a gymnasium? As it turns out, it was a little of both--and it was by far, by FAR, the most fun I've had in years. We arrived at night and ate dinner, surrounded by the aforementioned granola freaks--but really good looking granola freaks--and spent an embarrassingly long amount of time playing board games. That's right. We were all campers, wearing matching sweatshirts, and we were at adventure camp. The only difference was we were practically the same age as our supervisors: so instead of lights-out-at-ten, we were drinking pints and playing trivia with the staff 'til the wee hours of the morning. 

After breakfast the next day, we all set out for different activities: I chose the giant swing to start off... which is exactly how it sounds, and in the best way possible. After that, I conquered the rock wall, did cartwheels all over the lawn, shimmied my way into the second freezing wetsuit I've voluntarily worn since being here (there is a good chance I have actually lost my mind), and kayaked all over Ireland's only fjord. The rolling green hills and snowcapped mountains were something directly out of a dream; my dream, and one that I can't quite place my finger on... but I know that I've had over and over again. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of victory: confidence that I had chosen to come to Ireland, and joy at the fact that--even though I can't quite describe why to anyone else--I knew all along that I needed to come here. This was the place that I needed to come, and I did. Then my soul got a little bit ahead of my common sense--and minus the gloves and boots and headpiece that kept me from catching hypothermia on the surf trip, I ditched my kayak and hiked up a cliff and jumped off it, into the deep freezing water below. I DID IT, and even though I'm paying for it dearly (if I asked the phlegm in my lungs, it would tell me to go screw myself), it was completely worth it. I ran back to the centre, passing many sheep along my way (because in Connemara, sheep have the right of way. Not pedestrians, screw pedestrians. SHEEP.) and indulged in one of the hottest showers and richest dinners I've ever had. The night concluded in a disco, deejayed by a man who could not have been younger than 65, and many a hilarious encounter with our adventure instructors--who by now, we were best friends with. We danced until at least 3 that morning, and woke up early the next morning to climb the tower and Zipline through the sleety rain. 

Where did all this energy come from? Is there a chance that--despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, after all these years of avoiding team sports--that I AM AN ADVENTURER? If you asked the girl in the wetsuit doing relay races in her kayak, despite the arctic water, I think she would have told you that yes, I am. I am that.

3. MUMFORD AND SONS. If you know who they are, then I hardly need to explain just what that means. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Mumford and Sons concert on Tuesday, in the basement of the Radisson hotel, right here in stadium seating, no seating period: just us, Mumford, and a room full of sweat. After waiting for what seemed like hours (probably because it was hours, accentuated by the fact that the boys next to us were doing that elbowy-edge-in-front-of-you thing that everyone knows is the #1 concert etiquette crime), the band came out--and it was surreal. If these guys are bonafide celebrities, then they're the last ones to know it. They treated us like family. They sang to us like they've known us forever, and--while they think their songs are pretty cool--they have no inkling as to why we know every word, every inflection, every moment the bass drum is going to kick in. The power went out on the last song, and rather than ditch the encore, they came right to the edge of the stage--so close we could see their cowlicks, the details of their faces, every spot missed by their razors--and did the last song acoustically. We were lucky ducks to be there that evening, this I know. We heard songs that haven't been released yet... and saints preserve us, we're gonna get to be those buttheads who, the first time the new single hits the radio, get to say: "I heard it FIIIIRRRRRRRRST!"

4. M'ATHAIR AGUS D'ATHAIR I nGAILLIMH. That's right, Mama and Patrick came to Galway this week! It was a strange, out-of-body experience to walk into the King's Head, and in the sea of unfamiliar faces that at this point has become a familiar phenomenon, to see my mommy's blue eyes. She and Patrick have taken to Irish life like fish in water, which is a particularly appropriate metaphor... seeing as they've made a point to stay, erm, hydrated since being here. I absolutely love it. There has only been one night this entire week--including Paddy's day--that I have not been in my bed before those crazy kids have even come home from the pubs. They're regulars; the bartenders serve them after last call, and everyone around them becomes their best friends. I am proud of them, and freaked out by the fact that--now that they're here--it feels like they've always been here. Maybe not in body... but in spirit, they certainly have.

5. ST. PATRICK'S DAY. Have you heard? Apparently, it's kind of a big deal. People drink, just like they do every day--but they do it all day, with face paint, wearing green! There's little I can say to describe what it was like to be here, other than the fact that it was messy, lighthearted, and grand. I loved the fact that, surrounded by at least a dozen foreign languages walking down Shop Street, I got to feel like a local. I loved the parade, which was peppered with countless Irish kids running up and down the street wearing fake leprechaun beards that looked brown in comparison with the ginger of their natural hair color. And I LOVED, more than anything, the fact that as I sat in the Hole in the Wall surrounded by all the friends I've made here so far, a little light went on in the back of my brain: this is bucket list material, right here. I've always wanted to experience St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, and now I've done it.

And so it goes: I'm continuing to ramble down the strange path that I am on, growing more and more aware every single day--without being too prematurely nostalgic--of how intense, strange, and heartbreakingly short this experience is. I know they say 'you can't take it with you,' but I don't know any other way to be anymore. I can't remember the person that I was before this started.

I leave with a quote--to a) prove that I actually am reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in case my genre studies professor is listening and b) capture the way I am, thankfully, feeling... now that I've taken a little jaunt out of the labyrinth of my own emotional brain, jumped off a cliff or two, and run through the wild Irish hills.

"All the while she wondered if any strange good thing might come of her being in her ancestral land; and some spirit within her rose automatically as the sap in the twigs. It was unexpended youth, surging up anew after its temporary check, and bringing with it hope, and the invincible instinct towards self-delight."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


The infamous Galway RAG week is all around, and it is:

1. Anarchy
2. Inescapable
3. Fun
4. Hell on earth?

Maybe "hell" is a bit of an exaggeration. I don't imagine there will be too much fun down there, where as here, there is still the lighthearted Irish spirit that I have come to know and love in the air-- but still, I have to say that my personal hell will feature many of things I have seen in and around my home since Sunday night... also known as the last night that I had a good night's sleep, a cup to put my tea in, and a walk to the living room that did not involve mortal fear for my life.

To those of you who don't know, RAG week is a time when all the rules fly out the window--the few that existed in the first place, that is--and Galway breaks into utter mayhem. It's a return to a simpler time, really: like before paved roads, and self-dignity. The week began as "Raise and Give" week, hence the RAG, and was intended for the University to spend a week focusing on nonprofit service work and charity...but somewhere along the line (about a decade ago, I'm guessing) it turned into RAAAAAGGGGG week: one long, messy party. The  week that we are all in the middle of, that we know and have an exquisitely confused love/hate relationship with, has been renamed "College Week" by the University in a desperate attempt to dissociate the chaos that this week evolved into from its good samaritan origins...but for all those involved, it is still known as the RAG.

Let me explain.

Last weekend, we all got an email from the management at Gort na Coiribe, politely alerting us that they expected Gort na Coiribe residents to remain "respectful" during College Week, with no loud noises or belligerent behavior to cause harm to the property. Right. I didn't pay too much attention to the email, and the weekend rolled by peacefully... on Saturday, my friends and I went to the Cliffs of Moher and gulped down world-class natural beauty by the gallon, just reveling in the sunny weather and the opportunity to be out in it. Back at the house, we played Mary Chapin Carpenter and ate real food off of clean plates, missing the guys (who had gone home for the weekend) but also enjoying the chance to be girly and relaxed. If I had known how desperately I would cling to that memory during RAG week, just in order to remind myself that there was a time when I could sit on a surface without potentially catching hepatitis, I would have taken it in more carefully; but as it goes, Sunday rolled around, and with it a bunch of students and suitcases full of alcohol...and by sundown, Gort na Coiribe had officially launched into party mode.

I had no way of anticipating just what it would be, or what people meant when they said that it was literally one straight week of madness--but in retrospect, I guess when an Irish person tells you something is crazy, they mean business. If the Irish version of "crazy" is held on a spectrum next to ours, its like comparing a bunny rabbit to a bulldozer. Not even a bunny rabbit. It's like comparing the nose on an unborn bunny fetus INSIDE the bunny rabbit to a bulldozer. My roommates arrived back at our place around 8:00 Sunday night, and proceeded to throw one hell of a dance party...and it was happy, goofy, and hilarious. People were wandering in and out of our apartment all night, and I went to bed thinking that if that was the extent of RAG week, I might just survive with all my limbs intact.

Famous last words.

The next morning, I went to Irish...and by the time I was walking back over the bridge at noon, people were milling through the streets like little ants holding cans of something or other, blasting music out of their cars. For the past few days, the weather has been completely unreal--sunny, warm, and crystal clear--so everyone has been taking full advantage of it, wearing swim trunks and t-shirts and sunglasses. It feels like summer in California, only with more drunken Irish folk rambling through the streets, and more people breaking things. Erin, Ellie, Shannon and I walked over to the green in front of Cuirt na Coiribe to be met by a mob of people--and truly, the only way I can describe what we experienced there is to say that it was like that scene out of an apocalypse movie when all the characters realize it is the end of the world, and run into Wal-Mart searching for canned goods. It was unreal. There was a lone recycling bin sitting at the center of the lawn, and before I knew what was going on, everyone started throwing bottles at it--some full, some empty--until the entire surrounding area looked like the place that Budweisers go to die. I wondered if any of the bottles had actually made it into the can, but before I could think too seriously about it, one person walked to the center of the circle, peered into the can, and fell--trash can and all--into the pile of bottles. I'm happy to report that he went down laughing, and also managed to evacuate the scene before a herd of guys thought it would be a good idea to light the can on fire. When that got too boring, they wrestled a few trees to the ground and lit those on fire as well. You know, just an average day.

It seemed like everyone and their extended family was in our house that night, but judging by the scene I saw every time I looked out our front door, we only had a fraction of the population. Every single door was wide open, the entire street was covered in litter, and it was jam-packed with bodies. At one point, I believe there were a couple people jumping on Owen's car--but luckily, unlike the car down the road, all its windows remained intact. Our living room turned into one big slippery mess of people--but by and large, they were all people I love and know really well, so I was one of the lucky ones. When I poked my head out of my window on Tuesday morning, it was bright and sunny--like a summer's day--and the lads were already down on the porch below me, drinking beer. They waved up, smiling--and it occurred to me then just how drastically far apart our two worlds are, and always will be. And you know what? That's okay with me. Let 'em have their RAG week, I'll never be able to keep up... but if anyone ever asks me to do an anthropological report on Ireland, well... I have some good mental pictures to explain.

One would have to be the random girl who wandered into our house around 1 p.m. asking for toast, and then proceeded to make out with an equally random boy in our hallway for about five minutes following. Another image would have to be the current state of our house, which besides being covered with some mysterious purple substance that I'm pretty sure is blackcurrant jam, looks like somebody chewed it up and spit it out again. Shaun wandered in looking for the remote control to his TV, which (naturally) had found its way to our living room.. and after climbing over a shattered jar of marinara sauce, he jumped down to the lawn beside our house to retrieve the coffee table that he had, apparently, thrown over the ledge sometime during the night. As the Irish would say: Jaysus. The last mental image I will take with me will be the lot of us moving our couches out to the porch yesterday afternoon and sitting in the sun, listening to classic rock all afternoon, drinking margaritas and eating tortilla chips. There's a new spray of freckles across all of our noses, and it felt like summertime.

The crucial difference between the Irish and myself, I suppose, is that the afternoon was all I wanted--by the time they were gearing up for round two, and round three, and round four, I was so overwhelmed by it all that all I wanted to do was go for a walk. I spent the sunset down by the river near the University, listening to the roar of humans across the bridge and feeling oddly not guilty for not wanting to be a part of it. If life is all about balance, then last night my balance involved me taking a raincheck from the festivities and being in bed by 11 p.m. with my book. It also involves me being here today, in Café Luna, hiding from the masses... at least for a little while... until whatever is going to happen next comes knocking on my door. Or climbing in my window.

So, to recap. RAG week is:

1. Disgusting
2. Hilarious
3. A part of life, as simple as the cobblestone roads or the old woman who sits outside AIB telling fortunes to anyone who will stop long enough to ask her.

When my Irish Studies professor walked in this morning, she took one look at the lot of us and asked: "What are you all doing here? Didn't you know it's College Week?" I guess not. I guess you can take the  girl out of Scripps, but you can't take the Scripps out of the girl. Kerry and I decided to compensate for our overachieving by leaving the lecture at the halfway break--because to us, that is living dangerously. Maybe not knock-your-tooth-out crazy (saw one of those) or slowly-pierce-your-ear-with-someone-else's-earring crazy (yep, saw that too)... but crazy nonetheless.