Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

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I wish…

… more than anything…

But seriously, now that I’ve got that song stuck in your head (and if you were ever involved in Into the Woods and now have to sing through the entire musical to get it out of your head… sorry!), I really do wish:

  • The Irish had a defined passing pattern. In the States, you walk on the right side of the sidewalk, you don’t run into people, and everything’s cool. Here, they’re as likely to go left as right, and they probably won’t move out of the way if you’re on a collision course.
  • The Euro hadn’t gone up to $1.36. Ouch!
  • The grocery stores here sold sour patch kids. And Worcestershire sauce. And turkey, not in a package where you pay E3 for 3 slices.
  • Irish kids turned the TV off when they were done watching it. Or at least before leaving the house.
  • It wasn’t impossible for me to canyoning at Interlaken.
  • Swing dancing lessons weren’t E10 for a one-hour lesson once a week.
  • I could have actually been with my family for the September birthday celebrations.
  • That more of my classes had midterms. (A weird concept, I know – but think how stressed/terrified I’m going to be in November when I’m writing essays upon which my entire grade will be based!)
  • It were easier to make Irish friends. It’s really hard when your classes are massive lectures! But maybe now that I’m doing mores stuff with the clubs and societies, I’ll have more luck.
  • That Miami had a capoeira club, because capoeira is awesome.
  • That I understood how the heck Gaelic Football works.
  • That some of my friends could be here to experience all this awesomeness with me. Because although this list was mostly one of complaints, I really am having a great time.

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what the…?!

Well, I certainly didn’t need an  alarm clock this morning. The dream that woke me up at 6:56 served well enough. I don’t often dream, and even when I do I don’t usually remember my dreams, but let me tell you, this one was a doozy.

There’s some nonsense about Swedish composers and a school play about the Oregon Trail and picking up legos (Duplos, actually) at the very beginning, but these are all scenes that don’t really cohere. At some point, something resembling more of a story line begins to emerge.

It’s Christmas, and the extended family is over at my house. By this, I mean the old house on Price Lane; even though we haven’t lived there since I was thirteen, it’s the only house my dreams have ever known. Katie and Catharine are over too, for some reason, and we’re sitting in the living room with my brother. I’m talking about how my family left me behind for something or other; I don’t remember what.

At this point, however, all conversation ceases because we’re distracted by something in the backyard. A large mothy creature has landed in the backyard. It’s roughly human-shaped and -sized, but purple, with pathetic little wings and an enormous moth-like head. Big eyes like Venemoth, and something big and droopy coming out of the top of its head, but a darker purple.

We’re all gaping at this thing, and everyone starts taking pictures through the windows in the dining room and the kitchen. But the flashes seem to bother it; it walks forward and knocks on the dining room window.

Everyone scrambles back from the windows, and I retreat onto the living room couch, which for some reason is missing a cushion. Then the thing casually punches through the glass and climbs in the window. It walks into the kitchen and begins wreaking havoc, starting with throwing food; there are potato slices everywhere. In a matter of moments this creature has gone from a curiosity to an invader to a hostile intruder that must be dealt with.

My dad runs to the garage and grabs a baseball bat, but the thing takes it from him, so he has to grab another one. In any case, he and the thing start battling with baseball bats. Katie has a broom, which she’s using like a quarterstaff. I’m stuck behind a crowd of relatives in the dining room. All of us have either our cameras or our cell phones out – but rather than calling the police, the ones with phones are either calling other relatives or getting video of the incident, just as I am.

At this point, the dream skips ahead. I don’t remember how we got rid of the creature, but we were plainly victorious. Now it’s just me and Katie and Celina alone in the kitchen, making dinner as we so often do. But we aren’t in our kitchen here; we’re still in my old kitchen, cleaning up the potato peelings and spilled water from the fight with the moth-thing. There’s cold air blowing through the jagged hole in the dining room window, and I close the curtains, but it still makes me nervous. I mention, lightly, that the windows are obviously a serious weakness that will have to be dealt with in case of the zombie apocalypse, but I’m quaking inside over what’s just happened.

And that’s where I woke up. I don’t even get the satisfaction of knowing what happened to the thing, or how we beat it, or even if we managed to salvage a satisfactory dinner out of the whole thing. (We were making salmon and potatoes). Mostly I remember the sensation of being terrified in my own house, as though it’s no longer a safe place.

Dear subconscious, where the heck did that come from?

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Homestay in Tuam, part 2

17 September

I spent most of this weekend hanging out with Arianna and Nadia, the international students who are here until Christmas. I went out for Chinese food with them and six of their friends—a girl from Switzerland, two from Italy, and three from Germany. The Swiss girls were all from the German-speaking part of the country, so I didn’t have anyone with whom to talk in French. I did wish there had been, because the two groups periodically broke into conversations in German and Italian, neither of which I could understand. I know now why their program pairs students with different original languages within the same host family—if English is the only language they have in common, they can’t default back to speaking in their own language.

In general, however, the girls were good about switching to English to share the joke with everyone. Arianna and Nadia had warned me ahead of time that all of the girls would be younger than me. But I told them that wasn’t a big deal—it wasn’t that long ago that I was 17. Moreover, I spent a good portion of my summer surrounded by teenagers and preteens. Mostly, however, those teenagers were boys, and as I noted last night, the difference in maturity between 17-year-old boys and 17-year-old girls is remarkable. Naturally, boys were a prominent feature of the conversation—including their principal, who is apparently considered quite sexy—but the discussion was significantly less graphic than similar conversations I’ve had with guys at camp. I also found it interesting to listen to the different girls and the way they spoke. I hadn’t known before that Swiss German was considered its own language, but I did notice that the Swiss girls sounded more French to me than German. I was also interested to note that Arianna’s Italian accent is much more pronounced in French than in English. And I discovered with fascination that there may be something to the French belief that Germans have a less pronounced accent when speaking other languages, or at least that they sound like Americans. Perhaps it’s because English is Germanic in origin, but it was the German girls’ accents that seemed to differ the least from my own.

Linguistic matters aside, what struck me most was our similarities. Seventeen-year-old girls are 17-year-old girls, it seems, no matter where they’re from.

In other respects as well, I could as easily have been staying with a family back home. Irish mothers with five-year-old children are just as likely to serve you chicken nuggets, hamburgers, or Spaghetti-Os as their American counterparts, though they’ll ask if you want a cup of tea afterwards. And they’ll listen to American music and could quite possibly know more about American television than you do, if you don’t watch much TV. This went for the international students as well; I’ve never seen an episode of One Tree Hill, but some of the German girls love the show.

But in other respects, my homestay was a distinctly Irish experience. My host mother’s sister and half-sister both came over for a cup of tea and conversation this morning, bringing their five-year-old sons with them. Both of them live close enough to walk, though I imagine it’s rather more difficult for the half-sister, as she’s fighting cancer that sounds like it’s pretty advanced. They stayed for about half an hour while their children ran rampant in the back room.

The one-lane roads with sharp turns around blind corners, winding past stone-walled pastures filled with sheep and cattle, were also a sight to which I certainly wasn’t accustomed. There was also a strange smell in the air—smoky, somewhere between the odor of burning charcoal (sans lighter fluid) and wood smoke. Judging by the contents of the basket of fuel before my host family’s wood-burning stove I think it must have been peat.

The other awesome and very Irish part of the homestay was that this was the traditional music festival in Tuam. I wasn’t able to attend much of it because it largely took place in pubs, where the girls I was hanging out with were not supposed to be. But I thoroughly enjoyed the parts that I did see. I went to a little bar called McDonough’s while the girls were at the library. It was located at the back of a little general store called the Custom House and roughly the size of a postage stamp. I exaggerate, but only slightly. There were two booths, a small assortment of stools, and then the bar itself, with room enough between for about six people to stand.

The band was small as well: one man with a guitar, and another with an accordion, later joined by a third with a bodhrán. That was all they really needed, though. The really cool part was that other people sitting nearby (though in such a small place, there’s no such thing as far away) would join in by picking up the guitar, adding vocals to a song that was being played, or starting a new one. It was hard to tell the band from the customers, which I really liked. And there were other people who participated as well: an old man who reminded me of Grandpa did a shuffling sort of dance to a couple of songs, remarking as he did so that “there’s no fool like an old fool.” And after he sat down, a little boy who couldn’t have been more than four years old started bouncing around to the beat. It was adorable and immensely satisfying to see.

The bartender himself was incredibly nice as well. All I’d gotten was cranberry juice, largely because I didn’t feel like shelling out for cider, but he offered me tea when I finished my juice. When I asked how much I owed him for it, he said that he wouldn’t have offered it if he intended to charge me. He also came out from behind the bar to talk to me since I was sitting there by myself. He wanted to know where I was from, as does anyone who hears me say more than three words, and how long I was here for, and for what purpose. When I said I was studying in Galway, he told me that his son goes there as well, though I won’t see him because he’s studying in France for the semester. And when I told him that I was studying literature, he got a book out from behind the bar and gave it to me. He told me to keep it as a present, saying that his neighbor had written it but that he hadn’t really had the time to read it. It’s called Eggshells and Broken Dreams, and while I haven’t really had a chance to read it yet, I certainly mean to do so while I’m here.

It was a really fantastic weekend, one that I don’t think I could have experienced anywhere else. And while I complain about the ever-partying students, the difficulties of the Irish registration system, and the incessant rain, I really like Ireland so far. The people are lovely, the culture is fascinating, and there’s great craic to be had all around.

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Homestay, part 1

17 September, 2001

It seems chose (well, Arcadia chose) a good weekend for my homestay. The traditional music festival is going on here in Tuam (pronounced [tum] or chewm – like ‘tomb,’ but with a ‘ch’) this weekend, which promises to be a lot of fun. Aside from that, however, I don’t know how much of a traditional or even typical family experience I’ll get here. I doubt that most Irish families take in six international students at a time in addition to their own four children.

There are two 17-year-old girls staying until Christmas, one from Switzerland and the other from Italy. There are also two 18-year-old French boys who are here for the week, and an 11-year-old Spanish boy who’s finishing out his month here. And then there’s the 14-year-old  Spanish girl who’s staying with the neighbors but spends most of her time here, playing the family’s 5-year-old girl. The teenage girls all speak good English, but the boys seem to be harder time. It’s like being back in Dijon only in reverse – they insist that we converse in English so that they can practice but I resort to French when they appear to be having difficulties.

I tried talking to them over dinner, but the conversation was about as interesting as the food. I can’t remember the last time I had chicken nuggets let alone Spaghetti-Os – but in all fairness, they do have a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a 13-year-old. And I can’t imagine what it must be like to cook for 13 people.

I’ve talked with the parents, and with little Abby, but I’d like to get to know the boys in the family. None of them seem to be particularly talkative; the 19-year-old I only met in passing. The family’s been taking international students for 9 years, longer than the two youngest children have been alive – what must it have been like to grow up with such a transitory family?

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DubLindy Exchange

So the Dublin Lindy Exchange was awesome. There were over a hundred people there, and while most of them were from Ireland, and a fair amount were from the UK and Northern Ireland, I also met dancers from Spain, Italy, Australia, and even Japan. I met and danced with all three of the other Americans, including a fun dance with Carrie, during which we traded off leading. It was fun seeking out the Americans based on their accent – if you stumbled across one in a random conversation, “where are you from?” was always one of the first questions to be asked. All over the country, apparently: two were from Oregon and one was from Philadelphia. I also met two expats, a guy from Michigan who now lives in Ireland and a girl from Colorado who now lives in Britain.

One of the things I noticed right off the bat is that there’s a significant difference between the American and European swing scenes. The European scene is much older – there were only a couple of other dancers in the exchange who I estimated to be around my age. My guess is that most American swing dancers pick it up in college, while European colleges often don’t offer swing dancing. Dance lessons and exchanges are more expensive here, as well, so I think the Lindy scene here is largely composed of the people who in America have moved on to West Coast.

There was also a distinct difference in the skill levels of the dancers. While there were a couple of really excellent leads, I would have expected a higher general skill level. And very few Europeans dip at the end of songs, which I found confusing and a little disappointing. The late night in particular was a bit of a mixed experience: the setting was awesome, the music was wonderful, and the food was great, but it was clear that very few people really knew how to blues. But then, from what I’ve heard, the late night at this exchange last year was the first experience that a lot of them had ever had with blues dancing, so it isn’t surprising that the general population contained a lot of beginners. Like ice, air conditioning, and large refrigerators, blues dancing is apparently not a European thing.

However, I had a lovely time getting to know dancers from so many different places and visiting parts of Dublin I would never have seen otherwise. Hopefully I will get to dance with at least some of these people again over the next few moths.

After this, I had more stuff with pictures integrated, but when I tried to post it, it just deleted everything. Maybe I’ll add that later, but in the meantime, I’m a little too irritated.

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Rambling Reflections from Galway

European cities are oddly deserted in the early evening. Everything closes except the restaurants and the pubs, to which the people on the street are indubitably headed. I walked down the street this evening knowing that I was going to get to the restaurant early and looking to kill time on the way – only to have my designs thwarted as shopkeeper after shopkeeper closed the door in my face. 

The darkened shops and brighter streets created a strange illusion in the windows. I spend some time looking into the windows of shops I would like to visit another time: a bookstore, a soap and candle shop, etc. It was difficult to see all the way to the back of the stores, however, because the windows superimposed a reflection of the street onto what I could see of the interior. This meant that again and again, I watched people behind me emerge from the back wall of the store into which I was gazing, as though they were stepping out of some secret world. Apparently the people of Galway all know the secret way to Narnia. I wish some of the students would take their partying there, because Gort na Coiribe is awfully loud at night!

Loud drunks aside, I’m having a good time in Ireland so far. Catharine, Celina, Katie, and I spend most of our free time hanging out together, and dinner’s have been a group effort almost every night we’ve been here. I wonder how long that will last before the novelty wears off – or how long it will be until we’re whipped into faster, more efficient cooks by growing time constraints!

It’s raining now, as I have a feeling it will be almost every day we’re here. Seven of the next ten days predict light rain, showers, scattered showers, or some other name for water falling from the sky. We heard someone in Dublin joke that Galway will be under water for the next few months, which looks to be a fairly accurate description. We did have a few days of lovely weather over the weekend, however, which we used to start exploring the town and picnic down by the coast.

I haven’t really met any Irish students yet, but I’m looking forward to doing so once my classes actually start up. Assuming I get a chance to talk to people in any of my classes, that is – most of them are enormous lectures. Smaller seminars are few, far between, and hard to get into here, but I’m doing my best. And within the next week or two, I may even know what classes I’m in.