Friday, February 6, 2009

Sheep shit, bogs, creepers & the superbowl



Hey creepers, leave those kids alone


Rutgers planned an excursion to Galway last weekend for all the Study Abroad kids in Ireland and the UK. We were told to take a train to Galway, and that's about all I read into the itinerary, although it went on for pages about all the activities planned for the weekend. I figured I would just go with the flow and be that much more surprised. Hah. It turns out when we got there we got on another bus and drove for an hour and a half into West-Bumble-Fuck, Ireland. By this time it was dark, and wherever we were going had ZERO street lights. We bounced around in the van (a Mercedes from the 80s - HOLLA Alyson) as the driver swerved in and around, up and down the mountains and rolling hills. Of course the scenery is all an assumption as it was literally pitch black outside. I felt like I was on Skull Mountain....for 90 minutes, although certainly not going as fast, and without the waterfalls and creepy-neon tribal imagery. Helloooo nausea. I shut my eyes and tried to keep my lunch down. Luckily, apart from stuffing my face with a muffin from Centra, I hadn't really eaten since my typical thrilling breakfast of toast and toast that morning.

Speaking of Centra, let's rewind to before we got on the bus. We were waiting in a pub for some other students who had missed the train and were arriving late. Sarah and I went to Centra next door to get some food and I needed to top off my cell phone. Anyway, the Centra has a very wide opening, no doors, clearly catering to the mass of people coming from the train station with all their luggage. I notice people lurking around near the entrance like creepers but who am I to judge? I top off my phone and wait around for Sarah, who's in the back of the line. I meandered around near the entrance and scanned the newspaper headlines...Nothing extraordinary, a big car accident, more on Obama... I was in a good mood, finally being off the train. I was probably humming to myself as I walked around in circles waiting for Sarah. I then caught myself being more conscious of my movements, as though someone were watching me...Or more than one person, I felt oddly as though on display.

I spotted him out of the corner of my eye immediately. An old creepy man, dressed all in black, was staring at me as I ate my muffin and walked around. There were other suspicious characters but this old guy was by far the creepiest. Whatever, a creeper of the older generation, not a rare find. However, it was of my past experience that these old creepers could be the worst of the lot - they are unabashed about touching you or saying creepy things into your ear with their creepy ancient breath in your face...like they get a free pass for being old as fuck. Back to the present situation.

I'm reading about Obama, when suddenly the old creeper is literally IN MY FACE. (How did he move so soundlessly?) He whispers creepily and ominously into my face with his old creeper breath and all I could decipher through his mumbling was ".....be careful....be careful." I wish I could have watched my facial expressions on instant replay. As a reflex I retreated from the old man, and into a younger guy a few placed behind me, whom also appeared to be glancing at the newspapers.

Now, on a side note, I have watched too many seasons of 24 to be anywhere near a laid-back person when it comes to traveling or being by myself, especially when out of the country. I am extremely paranoid, and although at times spontaneous and seemingly carefree, when it comes down to it I am a psycho, and think that everyone is going to mug me. This has served me well thus far. Although I must seem very aloof to strangers talking to me when I'm alone, I also have never been mugged, robbed, or pick-pocketed. Instantly my senses were heightened and I clutched my purse, pivoting quickly away from the two strangers I was sandwiched between. The old creeper walked out of the store without another word or glance in my direction. Wtf was that? I turned quickly back to the younger man, whom was looking rather awkward now. Still he was staring at the headlines, but as I watched him he appeared to be glancing a little too hard at them, eyes moving too quickly, while also arching his head as though looking past them. He leaned into me, and I backpedaled instinctively. The young guy left the store abruptly and without purchasing anything. Another creeper I had noticed on my way in followed in suit as soon as he left. I literally spent the next minute or so pivoting around the center of the store, really freakin confused.

Now clearly this entire interaction had me startled, but it also got me thinking: Was the old man looking out for me? Was the real creeper the young guy?

Details I had filed into my subconscious suddenly came to the forefront. It was interesting to me that I noted in my mind how when I topped off my phone, I asked for 20 dollars of O2, as a reflex, instead of Euro. Then the cashier was friendly and asked me where I was from. After our brief exchange I waited for Sarah, but even in the back of my mind I had realized I made myself a target for anyone in that store whom wanted an easy target to steal shit from: Dumb American Girl!

Needless to say I was relieved to get the hell out of there and back to the pub. Despite the immense creepiness of the old guy, it was probably the younger one whom was trying to get near my purse. I will never know.

I know I went way into detail on that story, but I am constantly fearful of being mugged or having something stolen from me. It happens so often here, to the people I live with. Cellphones, wallets, money, honestly every weekend someone gets something taken here..Normally in a crowded bar in Temple Bar, sometimes on a bus.

Back to the bus. As we bumble along the roads in the dark, we all start to make jokes about where the hell we are going. We decided we were either going to be abducted by banshees or we were being punk'd. Images of the old creeper swam in my head as I battled with my will and my stomach to rid myself of nausea.

Holy shit we've reached civilization! We pull into a parking lot for the Carna Bay Hotel, and stumble wearily inside.


Carna

The rest of the weekend can be expressed in great detail, but I will resist in doing so. It is truly something you have to experience for yourself and thus recounting "we went to A, then drove to B, then watched C" will not accurately articulate how breathtaking and evoking this weekend was. I will try my best, in a few words.

At the Hotel, we ate delicious food. It was glorious to be off the bus, and into a warm and cozy living room. The lighting was warm, the room decorated, an alcove for a small stage in the middle of the room, a wooden dance floor as well. We were then treated to some local talent. Young kids aging from what I would estimate ages 8-16 played instruments like flutes, an accordion, the guitar. They were so good. I have a video of it.

It was traditional music, truly authentic, played by these kids of this small traditional town. They all spoke English and Gaelic, and as we would learn later in just about all we saw, this town was intent upon carrying on traditions, upon preserving language and culture by passing it all on to their children.

I felt oddly at home here, although I guess it was hard not to. The room and lighting was warm, the hospitality of the hotel was unprecedented, and the entertainment was for our exposure and enjoyment. I took it all in, as much as I could. I found myself getting sucked in, lost in the music. It felt very familiar, comfortable in me. It was a feeling I can't really find words for. All I can say is that I could imagine myself, hundreds of years ago, enjoying all of this. Being home here, singing with these people, and dancing. It was the most connected I've felt to my ancestry. On both sides of my family, I have Irish roots that have since been lost. I know the towns my mysterious family are from, but nothing more. It bothers me more now, seeing first hand what I have been missing, what is a part of me but what I will always be out of touch with.

The night was excellent, my favorite experience of the weekend. All night the locals sang, danced, and played for us. Each person showcasing their talents, openly. If I were to have grow up musically in this environment I doubt I would be as shy about singing in front of people. It was a warm and caring environment and I could go on about nuances of it for ages but I think anyone by now would get the jist of it.


Hiking through History

Saturday begins with a full Irish breakfast from Sally, our adorable B&B host. I ate just about everything, but I'm not used to that much meat in the morning. (TWSS!) And unknowingly I ate "black pudding" which I'm told is essentially pig's blood. These images turned my stomach...welcome back nausea!! I missed you. I shut my eyes for the duration of the bus ride as we took another bumpy journey to some ancient hills with Michael Gibbons, our extremely knowledgeable if not long-winded tour guide. Exploring around where he took us was absolutely fascinating. Although there was sheep shit EVERYWHERE, that Carla so accurately referred to as being way too identical to chocolate dippin dots. It was swampy and unpleasant at times, but all the while, worth it. We saw an old graveyard, which was eerie. Most of all though, while we were stopped listening to Michael, he informed us that we were all standing on top of an old tomb. THAT was really fascinating and weird. I felt like we were intruding, but also tried not to imagine the dead bodies only meters below me.


Bogs.

Bogs in Western Ireland are just like strip malls and guidos in New Jersey: inescapable. This is hardly a surprise given the immense rainfall. You can build roads over them, and that is part of the reason the roads are so bumpy. Bogs can be as dangerous as quicksand, we were told. People have fallen into them and drowned. People have been punished in the olden days by being tied and submerged into them, drowning them. Some of these bodies still remain. Real-life Inferi! Creepy.

The best part of hiking was what took us about an hour to reach. We were on top of a hill overlooking old fields, a lake, and the vast mountains in the distance that seemed to span into eternity. Like I said, it's hard to put into words the feeling of being up there. As though you are experiencing history. We were looking down on a lake that Oscar Wilde used to sit at and write during his early life. Very cool stuff.

A quick overview of the rest of the trip: Dinner again at the hotel, brief bus ride, Dance Competition at Rus Moc of the locals, all ages. I do have a video of my favorite dancer, Einstein Jr. as we named him:


After the dance, we went to a local pub, and were gawked at by the regulars and I felt like a monkey in a zoo.


Sunday

Lecture on traditional fishing boats where I fought sleep for an hour and a half trying to stay awake. That's the worst, falling in and out of sleep. He was interesting and passionate but I was exhausted.

Train ride back. I pass out.

One great thing about Dublin and Ireland in general is the attitude toward alcohol. It is available for purchase and (I would argue) encouraged in many public places including trains and cinemas. Anyway, we sat near a jolly group of middle aged men whom were cracking beers and talking to us, though I was passed out for most of this.

They did alert me that United played the day before. I got the day wrong. Being cut off from civilization in Carna, I never got to go online or check the newspapers or catch it on TV. At least we won.

Back to Dublin, back to Blackrock. I hoped to nap, but as usual with something to look forward to I was unable to fall asleep. I got ready for the Superbowl, which kicked off at 11 here. We went to a night club, Q Bar, after being turned away from Wool's Shed, which was at full capacity. This was where the rest of the Blackrockers had gone, but once in Q Bar it was freakin sweet! It had the game on all the TVs and a huge projector, whilst having the advantage of being a banging nightclub only a few feet below. It was fun, we watched, drank, danced during commercials, then ran back up to watch the game and half-time show (GO BRUCE!) By the fourth quarter, we were exhausted and it was past 2 in the morning. Took a cab home and passed out.


Sleep.

This whole week was a waste. I don't have Monday classes, I slept through all but 1 of my 5 classes on Tuesday, making an appearance at my latest class where they actually take attendance. Wednesday I have one class then I wandered around Dublin all day. Today, I declared my own snow day after waking up and noon and missing my early class anyway. I don't know what my deal is, but I have been sleeping like it's going out of style. This week I attended 2 classes, total. My professor canceled my one class I had Friday. Excellent. I need to make sure I am not lulled into a false sense of security with the laid-back nature of my classes, as this will surely bite me in the ass come exam time.


Snow.

The only example I can compare the past week to would be from my freshman year at the Rut, when the nasty Raritan flooded, spilling it's contaminated juices all over Rte 18. No class for two days....HELL YES! <-- Take this "hell yes" and multiply it by 11. That is the enthusiasm and zeal felt all over this town when it snowed, and snowed, and kept snowing. All in all, maybe it was 2 inches, MAX. It kept melting then snowing etc etc, but even that is so rare it had people going crazy. Although I missed being on campus for most of this (ZzZzZz) I heard stories that kids had a massive snowball fight at my school, 50 people or so. Total chaos, and anyone walking around was fair game. Also, in some classrooms, the door opened, a snowball was launched to the lecture stage, then nothing more. I was coming out of a shopping center and some little twerp threw a snowball at me, totally unprovoked. Jerk.


Now.


I am staying in tonight, even though it's Saturday. Tomorrow, I'm watching the United game at 4. Unless I got the day wrong again. I am starting to make plans for Spring Break, and I'm hoping to go to Prague and Amsterdam, along with London and Manchester (hopefully to see a game at Old Trafford).

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