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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Blast from the Past

I’m putting off working on the mountain of papers I have due within the next two weeks, and so I present you with a highly belated entry on what was probably my favorite part of my semester in Ireland: my trip to Scotland with the mountaineering club.

27 October: Scotland

There were all sorts of meditations on Belfast I wanted to record, but now is not the time. We’re on our way back from the mountaineering club’s trip to Scotland. It was a blast, and I’m immensely glad I went.

There isn’t much to write about where Thursday is concerned. We took the bus from Galway to Dublin and Dublin to Belfast, then a ferry from Belfast to Stenraer. Then it was back on the bus to Glasgow, where we stopped for shopping before heading on to Fort William. It was dark when we got on the bus in the morning and well dark by the time we got off it in the evening. So when we finally made it to the hostel, all anyone wanted was food, tea, and sleep.

We stayed at hostel Chase the Wild Goose, which was great craic. We filled the whole thing, so there was no need to bother with locks and such. It was run by a twenty-something guy named Dan, who hung out with and played guitar for us in the evenings and even came out to a pub with us on Saturday night. He also kept us well-supplied with tea and coffee and wasn’t too fussed about us making noise late at night.

The hiking was, of course, great. On Friday we scaled Ben Nevis, which at 1340 meters is the highest point in the UK. It wasn’t a particularly pretty mountain, but it offered some decent views of the highlands. Unlike those of Ireland, Scotland’s major hiking mountains appear to have trails, a fact that I thoroughly appreciated. This, and the fact that I decided to pay for hiking poles, made the walk a lot easier than Mweelrea. It was a long walk, but most of it wasn’t particularly steep. We were told that the medium and short walks would be covering the same distance, but at different speeds, so I chose to walk with the slow group—why hold up the faster walkers when I already know I’m slow?

The difference in conditions between the base and the summit was remarkable. It was raining at the base, but it was too warm for me to keep my hood on without overheating, so my hair was soaked through. Then we got above that level of clouds and it was clear for a good long while, giving us a chance to see the surrounding countryside. But as we climbed up higher, we reached a layer of fog—nowhere near as thick as it had been on Mweelrea, but enough that the lovely view was gone. And as we neared the summit, the terrain became snowier and snowier—there were probably eight inches of it up at the top of the mountain. It was snowing, too, if lightly, and the wind picked up as we went. This was fine as long as we kept moving, but once we got to the top, we got pretty chilled.

Coming down was hard, though. The snow and then the rocks were slippery, and my knees were killing me. I couldn’t keep up with the group either; I tried for a while, but it soon became clear that there was no point in fooling myself. At some level, I knew that there must be people behind me, that they wouldn’t have just left me behind without a leader on sweep. But I was so far behind the main group that I had a hard time imagining that anyone could be moving more slowly. For 2/3 of my descent, I was completely by myself—and for a lot of that, I couldn’t see anyone from our group either before or behind me. It was miserable, and I won’t pretend I wasn’t bitter and frustrated.

Our second day’s hiking was an easy walk along a hill overlooking Loch Ness. There were some decently steep hills, but they weren’t very long, and it was a well-established trail. What you would expect of hiking in the US, really. The walk was short, though, only about an hour—I think we spent more time looking for the trail than hiking it. We didn’t get very close to Loch Ness, either, which was a little disappointing. We did take the bus over to the parking lot above the castle for a closer view, but it wasn’t the same thing.

Ben Nevis by day

A truly enormous tree.

Taken on the bus, believe it or not!

Our last day of hiking was Glencoe, and let me tell you, it was spectacular. Ben Nevis was great just to be able to say that we did it, but I would happily hike Glencoe again. It helped that the weather was wonderful, cold but clear and sunny.

We didn’t take the most logical way up, which meant that we spent a fair amount of time picking our way up and along a field of loose rock (my least favorite of all the hiking surfaces I’ve encountered so far). But eventually we passed that point and were rewarded with some truly spectacular views. Up at the higher altitudes, there was snow on the ground—but because there was enough sun to melt it, you got these really cool ridges where half of the mountain had snow and the other half didn’t.

There came a point near the top where we were told we could see the rest of our route: up a steep and snowy slope and along the top of a ridge before starting back down. Looking up at that one face, all I could think was, “you’ve GOT to be kidding.” Not only was it snowy, it was so steep that it was almost like climbing a ladder—a sharp, irregular, slippery one. But getting to the top was immensely satisfying, and the view from the top was stunning.

Say it with me now: "You've GOT to be kidding!"

The view from the top

And in the midst of all this natural glory, we got a bit of history. We hiked through the valley where the Campbell clan massacred the McDonalds, a surprisingly flat expanse that tapers to a deep crack running up the mountainside. It was a peaceful sort of place, and you’d never guess at its bloody history.

This is the canyon in question.

All in all, I’d say we did a pretty impressive amount of hiking: about 9.5 miles on Friday, which took us up (and, of course, back down)1340 meters. Sunday only took us up about 900 meters, but it took us much longer, so I’d say we walked a good deal further. Not bad for a weekend’s work.

But the hiking was only half of what the trip was about; I’ll remember the time we spent just hanging out just as strongly. On Friday night, we went to a hotel bar and then a pub with a fair number of the group. Katie was short on cash and had to pay with a credit card, so I got her a drink at the first place, and she bought me one at the second. Didn’t give me much a choice about it, really—she asked if I wanted a beer, and I said I wouldn’t know what to get. She just looked at me ad said, “come on,” so I followed her to the bar, and she bought me a pint of Foster’s, which was okay. I met some new friends that night—Andrew and Connlet, whose full name I cannot remember or spell properly for the life of  me, even though it’s been repeated to me on several occasions. In my defense, he speaks quietly, so spelling it out for me while we’re walking on gravel didn’t help me much. I joined them in playing darts that night at Connlet’s insistence; he asked if I wanted to play, and when I passed half-heartedly, he just handed me the darts.

Katie and I had a great time at the pub in town on Saturday as well. Space was pretty tight, and so we ended up crammed into sharing a little table with two guys who weren’t from the group. They were in Fort William on some sort of conservation project, and I think they were Welsh. We ended up talking to them about all sorts of things, from Guinness and microbrews (Katie and I both tried and liked An Teallach, a local brew) to Irish prejudices to the amounts and kinds of tree cover in Ireland and Scotland. Their names were James and Pete, and they were great fun to talk to. Ames even gave us his business car, in case either of us had a LinkedIn account.

As much as I liked the hiking, the socializing might have been the best part of the weekend. We had a really interesting roup of people—international students and staff from France, Germany, Finland, Poland, Romania, Nepal, and the US; older Irish men and women who just take part in the club for the craic of it; a Scottish guy who was doing the same thing. I think I’ve had more experience with the Irish language and musical culture, as well as linguistic conversations, with this club than anywhere else. Several of the guys are studying, researching, or working with Old or Modern Irish, so I could discuss linguistics with them and ask questions like “why is Dublin called Baile Átha Cliath if the name comes from Dubh Linn?” I walked into the kitchen to do my dishes at one point and Liam and Aengus were talking to/shouting at each other in Irish—just functional stuff, nothing longer than “would you pass me that towel?” but still cool.

There’s also a fair amount of knowledge of traditional music and dance. There was an older man and woman who were fantastic at what I’ve since learned is called sean-nós, or ‘old-style’ dancing, and a couple of the others seemed to have at least a basic knowledge. They tried to organize a couple of set dances as well, telling us that we went in and then out and then cross left and then right and so forth. There wasn’t enough space and half the group seemed to have issues with rhythm and direction, so it was a royal mess, but it was great fun nonetheless.

We had plenty of music as well, as we had fiddler, a tin whistle player, and a flutist  for trad music. Plus there were a good four or five guitar players, if you count our host. So there was a lot of singing—traditional and modern, accompanied and a cappella. Though I guess I was the only one singing a cappella. I think I’m going to have to learn to play the guitar; it would be nice to be able to provide my own accompaniment, and a lot of my favorite songs really rely on the instrumental contributions.

All of this made for a grand fancy dress party at the end. The beer, cider, and whiskey were all flowing pretty freely, and they handed snuff around as well, though the Americans categorically refused that one. People went all out with the costumes too—black cats and witches, of course (lazy Americans that we are), but also babies, cowboys, a Trekkie, a leprechaun, batgirl, 70’s guys, an astronaut, a tooth fairy, Pinocchio, a corpse bride. I hadn’t planned or brought a costume, but I wore all black, tied a scarf around my waist for a tail, put my hair up as ears, and used eyeliner to draw on whiskers and a nose. Michelle gave me cat eyes as well—she was a great hand with the makeup.

Corpse bride Michelle, who did such a great job with my makeup (not to mention her own!)

Not long into all this revelry, we played something called the box game. The idea is to pick a box up off the ground with your teeth, without touching the ground with your hands or knees. Those who manage it pass on to the next round, for which you tear off a layer of the box so that it’s about half as tall. I made it to the second-to-last round, for which the box walls were about three quarters of an inch tall. Three people managed the next level, where it was just a flat piece of cardboard, but not me; I was able to get that low, but I couldn’t figure out how to pick the thing up. My muscles were not happy about the unexpected deep lunges; I’m sorer from that than from all the hill walking!

This trip turned out to be one of my favorite weekends of the entire semester, and I’m so glad I went. I made friends with whom I continued to hang out for the rest of the semester; I’m going to miss the mountaineering club and the people in it a lot.


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I fail at this blogging thing.

And so I present to you another entry I should have posted long ago.

October 18: Belfast

The number of unoccupied weekends before me is dwindling, but if I can, I’m going to have to come back to Belfast. It was far too much to try to take in in a single weekend.

We visited the Giant’s Causeway on Saturday morning, and I was enchanted. They gave us two hours, most of which were occupied by a guided tour; I could have stayed at least another three hours to explore.

The Giant’s Causeway is basically a big set of cliffs beside the sea. These are pretty awe-inspiring by themselves, but what’s really awesome about them is the rock formations.  The cliffsides are largely composed of interlocking hexagonal columns of gray stone, though there are pentagonal, quadrilateral, and heptagonal columns as well. Each column could be circumscribed by a cylinder about a foot to a foot and a half in diameter, and most of them have curved horizontal divisions every foot or so. The overall effect was a lot like looking at a giant, petrified honeycomb, but none of the explanations offered involved behemoth prehistoric bees.

Explanation the First: Giants

This area was once home to the legendary Finn McCool, an Irish giant. Here he lived with his wife and grandmother and a slew of animals. The chimney to his house is visible in part of the cliffside, and he left behind other traces as well. His hunchbacked grandmother is now part of a neighboring hill, where he turned her to stone when she refused to deal with her drinking problem and returned after indulging her taste for uisce beatha one time. (Literally translated ‘water of life,’ the phrase is pronounced ish-kuh baha and is the origin of the English ‘whiskey’). His dog, duck, and camel, all proportionally giant-sized, were covered in lava once upon a time, and thus they are still visible as well. And then, of course, there’s the size 96 boot he left lying on the beach.

Anywho, Finn and his family weren’t the only giants in the vicinity—Ben something-or-other lived across the way in Scotland. Apparently he was a bit of a bully, and so one day Finn took it into his head to make his way over to Scotland in order to beat Ben up. And so he built himself a bridge, carving the columns that we see today. But when he made it across to Scotland, he found that Ben was quite a bit bigger than he. Since he had no desire to play David, he abandoned his plans and fled back to Ireland, with Ben in pursuit. Following his wife’s advice, Finn hid in the baby cradle to await the arrival of the Scottish giant. When Ben arrived at the house, Finn’s wife told him that her husband was out at the moment, but that he was welcome to come in and say hello to the baby. Ben took one look at Finn, curled up in the cradle with the blankets pulled up to his chin and a pacifier in his mouth, and decided that if the baby was this big, he didn’t really want to fight Finn after all. So he fled back to Scotland, tearing up the bridge behind him. All that remain now are the hexagonal columns at either end of the bridge, for the same stones are to be found at a site in Scotland.

Explanation the Second: Plate Tectonics

Northern Ireland and Scotland lie along the edge of the European plate, and when the American plate started to pull away millions of years ago, magma oozed through the resulting gap, covering the area in lava. These lavaflows became the basalt that is to be found throughout Ireland today, though in places it changed into other kinds of rock. The top- and bottommost layers of this lava cooled relatively quickly, forming your standard, rather amorphous basalt. The middle layer cooled much more slowly, however. It began cracking as it cooled, forming three-pronged stress fractures. These stress fractures grew eventually joined up, resulting in the geometric formations we see today.

There’s a path along the top of the cliffs, and I would have liked to hike it, but we hadn’t the time. On the way out, we stopped for a group photo at the ruins of Dunluce Castle. You had to pay to get into the castle itself, so we followed the footpaths around and under it instead. Here we were provided with a couple of irresistible opportunities to see just a little bit more. And so, in brazen defiance of the “no access” signs, we climbed down to the subterranean beach in a cavern below the castle, and up the cliffside along one of the walls. Dirt, a spectacular view, a rare sunny day, and the opportunity to scrabble up and down areas I probably shouldn’t be climbing—a good day, all in all.

I ran into Maggie towards the end of our time at the cliffs, and we made tentative plans to meet back up at the hostel, Unfortunately, these and subsequent plans to meet each other fell through due to the separation of the buses, my lack of internet access, and our mutual failure to include the country code when sharing our phone numbers. (I have since become far more proficient at making international calls). We shall have to be better prepared when she comes to Galway in two weeks for the Aran Islands trip.

Friday and Saturday afternoons I spent wandering the city with Celina, and part of the time with Jordan and Emily. The city center is beautiful, full of that juxtaposition of history and modernity that so characterizes European cities. It more what I expected Dublin to look like, and from what I had seen of the two cities at this point, I much preferred Belfast. With the exception of Grafton Street, I found Dublin rather dull and monotonously modern in its urbanity, with little of the historic charm I associate with European cities. Belfast seemed to have much more character, even though it’s a much younger city.

Sadly, I was once more disappointed in my quest to visit the great cathedrals. As at St. Patrick’s in Dublin, I arrived too late in the afternoon. The cathedral was closed, and I had to content myself with taking pictures from the outside. But I did get some lovely pictures of the exterior, for we arrived at that magical hour of the afternoon when the sun gilds it touches before sinking into the shadows.

Other highlights included the majestic town hall in the city center, and over on the banks of the Lagan, an enormous ceramic blue salmon and a modern statue of a woman on a globe, holding a ring over her head. She’s meant to represent peace and prosperity, but the locals refer to her either as “the doll on a ball” or “ the thing with a ring.”

   

Since we confined our wanderings to the city center, it wasn’t hard to forget that we were no longer in the Republic. The buildings were beautiful, the atmosphere vibrant, with no sign of the tumult the city has experienced. The only sign of this division we saw in our first two days was the bar across the street from the hostel. It was called The Royal, and both its name and the flags it flew (British, Ulster, Australian, and Confederate) proclaimed it to be a Loyalist establishment. We were advised not to go there.

For those unfamiliar with the politics of Northern Ireland, the country is divided between the Nationalists, who want the six counties it contains to be part of the Republic, and the Unionists, who want to stay part of the UK. Each of these sides is further divided between a more moderate faction and an extremist, paramilitary one. The extreme Nationalists are called Republicans, the associated paramilitary organization being called the Irish Republican Army; the extreme Unionists are called Loyalists, the associated paramilitary groups being the Ulster Volunteer Force and the UDD (Ulster Defense… something), or Ulster Freedom Fighters.

While the city center shows little evidence of the Troubles, as this conflict is called, the bus tour on Sunday took us out to Sandy Row and Shankill, old Loyalist areas where the conflict was literally splashed all over the walls. (Shankill, incidentally, is not a combination of the words ‘shank’ and ‘kill’ – it’s the English version of sean cille, Irish for ‘old church’). The walls here were covered in murals, some older and more violent than others. Depictions of Unionist heroes King William (or Billy the Bastard, as I’ve heard him referred to in the Republic) and Oliver Cromwell were popular, and one mural even asserted the right of children to a safe place to play—but others showed masked men holding machine guns. The spiked fences and barbed/razor wire that had only appeared occasionally in the city center were a lot more prevalent here, and we saw more and more of them as we approached the peace walls.

The walls were erected at the height of the Troubles to separate working-class Catholic and Protestant communities. The idea was that separating the two groups reduced the possibility of violence between them. What resulted were tall walls topped with spikes and razor wire and covered in murals. The spikes, images of weaponry, and overall dereliction of these areas served as a vivid reminder that Belfast has yet to finish recovering from its war-torn past.


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Things I Should Have Posted A While Ago, Pt 1

This has been sitting in my journal for a month, and for some reason, I’m only now posting it. Due to internet connectivity issues, I will have to insert the pictures at an even later date.

October 11: Mweelrea

Having been in Venture Crew since I was fifteen, I’d like to think I’ve done a fair amount of hiking – in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, in Michigan, along a small portion of the AT. Yesterday, however, I went hiking with the NUIG Mountaineering Club, and I can say without doubt that it was the most intense hike I’ve ever done in my life.

We scaled part of Mweelrea, the highest peak in Connacht (western Ireland, to those unfamiliar with the geography of the island). Let’s just say that the photo album is titled “Holy ****, We’re Climbing THAT?!?” for a reason. The incline for a good portion of our ascent had to be between 45 and 60°, even steeper at some points, meaning that we were essentially crawling uphill some of the time. Our ascent took us up several hundred meters – within the first hour alone, a number that grew to over 800 by the end of the day.

Complicating our hike was the fact that Mweelrea doesn’t have trails, something I’m coming to realize is true of most Irish hiking locations. We got on the mountain by hopping a gate and followed the fenceline up the mountainside as we began our climb. I had to hang onto it at several points, being careful to grab the portion below the top string of barbed wire, in order to keep my footing as we made our way at an awkward angle across slick grass, slicker mud, and unfortunately placed rocks. You could never be sure of where to place your feet, as even the grass was often untrustworthy. Connemara is the land of bog, meaning that the ground gives way beneath your feet like a sponge, often submerging you to the ankle in muddy water. Standing water, where the ground is level enough to allow such pools to occur, is to be avoided at all costs; if the ground is so saturated that even a few inches of water are visible above the surface, stepping in the puddle could well mean plunging knee- to waist-deep in it.

We were all cold enough to don our coats before starting up the mountain, but the hard going quickly warmed us up. Hats and coats were put away, though I was the only person to do most of the climb in short sleeves. The going was tough, beut we stopped regularly for breaks, and so I had no trouble keeping up. Indeed, for much of our initial ascent, I felt like the group was too closely bunched; I kept having to stop so that I could see and plan my steps three or four at a time.

The forecast for the day was sun, but the sun was scarce to be seen. A think layer of mist hung about the tops of the mountains, obscuring their peaks from view – and by lunchtime, we had entered that veil. Our breaks became more frequent, as it became harder and harder to see all the way to the back of the line. Eventually, this became completely impossible, and three or four people immediately before and after me were all I could see. Visibility was down to about fifty feet, our fearless leader completely enveloped by the fog ahead.

[picture]

Only once before in my life have I experienced fog so dense. It swirled around us, muffling all sound. It clung to us, condensing in our hair – no longer do I thing the “foggy dew” of Irish song to be a gratuitous expression. It isolated us, allowing every hiker to climb alone in his own quiet, white world.

[picture]

The ground had leveled off considerably by this point, diminishing to an incline that, while still distinctly uphill, was comparatively gentle. As far as we could see (which, admittedly, was not far), we were walking across a wide, sloped field. For perhaps twenty minutes, we were able to walk somewhat normally, without using our hands for support and balance or worrying about the placement of every foot.

Which made it all the more surprising when the ground to our right abruptly fell away. We had reached the ridge and were now hiking along the rim of a massive bowl. Not five feet to our right, the edge was studded with impressive boulder formations, which although they punctuated it, did not hide the steep slope or the potential for a very long fall. On a clear day, the view from this rim must be spectacular; as it was, the boulders, half-shrouded themselves, were the only things visible between us and a vast white abyss.

[picture]

The view to the left was more comforting, but not by much. It too sloped away, albeit much more gradually. But because anything more than forty feet away was completely swallowed by the mist, it was impossible to tell if the hospitable downhill continued, or if it too would end in an abrupt and deadly drop. Making our way somewhat gingerly along the roughly ten-foot-wide strip of navigable ground, we finally reached a small cairn. This pile of stones, little more than a foot high, marked that we had finally reached the highest point of this particular route up the mountain.

But there was no time to stop and celebrate, for we now had to make our way back down from the height we had just reached. And while the descent was less strenuous than the ascent, it was immensely more stressful. The rock on this part of the mountain was different and consisted mostly of small, flat, and frequently sharp-edged stones. Though I wouldn’t have imagined it possible, the footing here was even more treacherous than it had been on the way up. Imagine, if you will, trying to pick your way through a minefield of small loose stones along a pathway that has narrowed to only a few feet. Best step carefully, because a misstep that throws your balance too far to the right could quite honestly be your last. But don’t take too long deciding on where to put your feet, because the gap between you and the person ahead is widening. Most of the group is completely out of sight, and the path ahead isn’t marked. Once or twice, the group ahead of me disappeared entirely, leaving me to figure out my own way across the rocky slope, a harrowing task indeed.

[picture]

At last the rocks gave way, and we reached a much larger cairn that had been erected to mark the way down. We turned right here, and after making our way one at a time around one particularly difficult corner – the cling to the rock and edge sideways along a foot-wide ledge that disappears altogether at the point of the protruding right angle kind – we were again making our way down the mountainside, with no frightening edges coming perilously close to our path. You still had to be careful about where you put your feet, though, as the ground was muddy and steep.

This seems an appropriate time to mention that the mountaineering club deems several things essential to attend their hikes. These include: hiking boots; wind- or waterproof pants (or at least pants that are not jeans); water; lunch; and a change of clothes for the ride back. During our descent, I was brusquely reminded that the change of clothes should be a full one, including not just a shirt, socks, and pants, but also underwear and a sweatshirt. If, as is entirely possible, you step in a wet patch and wipe out completely, you’re going to want all of those. Even if you can change out of your muddy outer clothes, the bus ride home is not going to be comfortable if you have to sit through it in wet underwear.

At long last, we made our way back down to the bus. My knees were killing me by the time we reached the bottom, and the last part of the descent seemed to take forever. We had finally gotten below the fog line and were able to see just how long we still had to go. The unstable and slippery nature of the  ground meant that you had basically two choices: go slowly, and place every foot with caution, or move fast enough that the ground didn’t have time to give way beneath you. Istvan was of this second, mountain goat mentality, and I envied him his ability to skip nimbly down the mountainside. My own legs were far too exhausted to manage such a thing and would probably have given out beneath me if I tried.

I was thoroughly impressed by the sheep of the region. Even the steepest cliffs were dotted with tiny white specks, and while it was certainly thickest at the base of the mountain, we had to dodge sheep scat all the way up to the top. “Fit as a Connemara sheep,” I have decided, is one of the highest compliments you can receive as an athlete.

In retrospect, all of this sounds a lot whinier than I meant it to. The climb was challenging, and certainly not something I would attempt on my own, but it was well within my own abilities. If anything, it gave me a better idea of what I am capable of. And the terrain, though somewhat perilous, was amazing to behold. My day at Mweelrea was an intense and difficult one, and muddy and misty to boot, but that was what made it awesome.


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Busy, busy, busy

I have been in remiss in my blogging recently. My apologies. I really do have journal entries for Mweelrea, Scotland, and Belfast (and possibly another weekend as well?)… I just haven’t gotten around to typing them up yet. Instead, I have been busy with reading Milton, talking to Irish people, hiking up and down mountains in both pleasant and abysmal weather, learning to speak Irish, seeing rainbows, annoying Katie by pointing out that “ambulatory” means “walking” when she tells me to call ambulatory services if she falls on the broken glass on the stairs, trying not to get caught in downpours and hail (with varied success), sitting in Café Luna to do homework for long periods of time, acquiring a taste for various Irish foods, wishing I had the time and determination to do NaNoWriMo, getting better at climbing, realizing I need (or at least very much WANT) my own climbing shoes, getting hooked on Battlestar Galactica, dealing with registration/changing majors/where I’m going to live next year while out of the country watching TG4, adding words like “craic,” “legit,” googeen,” “eejit,” and “amadan” to my vocabulary, having weird dreams about dancing and then getting chased through Walmart by a large and intimidating man because I called him out on shoplifting, writing run-on sentences, and having other similarly exciting adventures. 


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Rambling Catch-Up

I have been in remiss in my blogging recently. So here is an attempt to catch up.

From our weekly Skype sessions, my parents have gotten the impression that I don’t go to class much, which is somewhat accurate. Though I’m taking six classes (19th Century American Literature, Early Modern Literature [Shakespeare and Milton], Saints and Sinners in the Celtic World, Imagining Modern Ireland, The English Language in Ireland, and Irish for Beginners), each one only meets for two hours each week, with the exception of Irish, which meets for four. Fourteen hours of class per week in total, which really isn’t much. The classes are pretty forgettable, too, especially my Saints and Sinners class. I have never sat through a more boring hour of droning about Columbanus and, more recently, St. Patrick. But I’m hoping Miami will count it as a theology class so I can fill up my last CAS requirement.

There isn’t much in the way of homework, either. Only the Irish class features what they call “continuous assessment” – graded homework assignments and tests on a regular basis. For the others, my entire grade will be based on a final exam or paper, and maybe a midterm if I’m lucky. This, my friends, is TERRIFYING. November is not going to be fun. But perhaps December will be, as I’m pretty sure that I will be completely done with at least three of my classes by December 6th.

I do have a fair amount of reading to do; I’ve been slogging my way through lots of Shakespeare (Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and A Winter’s Tale so far; I missed Hamlet and will have to reread it sometime soon). I’ve also found, much to my own surprise, that I actually enjoy Hawthorne when I’m not terrified by the prospect of writing an essay for Tanimoto on it. And now I have about another 400 pages of Moby Dick to get through. How I’m going to find the time for that, I’m not entirely sure. But I like what I’ve read of it so far.

What I’ve been doing outside of classes and classwork might not take up as much time, but it certainly seems more worth talking about. Sadly, I think I have to limit myself to swing dancing once a month. There is a swing scene here, but I just can’t justify €10 per week for a one-hour lesson. It adds up way too quickly. The place and time are inconvenient, as well, and I can’t keep asking my friends to walk across town with me at 9 pm.

This is not to say that I’ve been going without dancing, however. Dansoc offers lessons in Irish dancing, breakdancing, salsa, and hiphop, but naturally I have class during most of these. I did manage to make it to Irish dancing last night though, and I would like to continue going. My calves feel otherwise about the matter, but they’ll adjust.

Going to Irish dance last night meant that I didn’t go to archery, but there are other times during the week that I can go. It’s a pretty relaxed club; you show up and you shoot, and the more experienced members give you tips on how you can improve. For reasons unknown to me, my form was great the first week and fell to pieces last week. Maybe it will be better tomorrow.

I’m also doing capoeira once a week. I’ve only been once so far, but it was AWESOME, and I mean to make every effort to keep going. Capoeira, for those who don’t know, is a Brazilian martial art that was developed by slaves who had to hide the fact that they were training for combat. In essence, it’s combat dancing. I really wish we had it at Miami, because I have a feeling I’ll be hooked by the end of the semester.

There’s also a mountaineering club here, which naturally I joined. They offer wall climbing twice a week and go on hikes on Sundays. Katie and I took the bus out to Leenane, in the hills of Connemara, on Sunday. Katie opted for the short walk; I decided I would take the medium one. Perhaps I should have taken the short one, as a short hike is preferable to none at all.

My walk got off the bus, and then the leader read off the names to make sure we were all there. At this point, one of the guys asked if there was time to go to the bathroom before we headed off. The leader said yes, so I followed the guy who had asked into the café across the street, and I think another girl from our group went too. I should have made sure the leader knew that I was going; you would think I would have learned this lesson by now, as many times as this has happened to me. But I didn’t, and sure enough, when I got out of the bathroom, the group was gone.

Katie wasn’t answering her phone, and this was my first hike with the group – I didn’t know the names of the exec board and hike leaders, much less their phone numbers. So I called Catharine, and she in turn called Arcadia and International Student Services to get hold of the mountaineering club’s contact information. I failed to make it clear to her that it was in the parking lot with the bus that I had been left behind, so by the time she got through to Ishvan, the club’s captain, I wasn’t just “left behind,” but “missing.” We got that cleared up eventually, but it had taken about 45 minutes for me to get through to anyone; the hikes had progressed too far for me to catch up, or for someone to come back for me. So I got to hang out in Leenane for another three hours.

Leenane is along the only fjord in Ireland, and even from the town itself, the scenery was pretty spectacular. My friends from New England say that it’s not that much different from being in Vermont or upstate New York, but I love mountains no matter where they’re found. I only wish I’d actually gotten to hike these. Another time, I guess.

I did spend my time walking the beach and exploring little creeks, going as far as I could without trespassing on what was clearly private property or straying too far out of the town, which I had been specifically asked not to do. Ishvan didn’t want me wandering off on my own and getting lost for real, which I understood.

The weather was nuts, which I guess is fairly typical here. I saw at least five rainbows that day, which isn’t terribly surprising, because the weather went from dark and rainy to bright and sunny to bright and rainy on a fairly regular basis. This attempt at putting together a panorama is crudely done, but it should be enough to give you the idea:

That’s Ireland for you right there. 


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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.