ar son na fun.

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.