High and low culture

In the space of one episode I’ve become totally addicted to “Torchwood.” This isn’t even the regular series – it’s a five-part miniseries. Unfortunately I’m missing two nights now, and the BBC site won’t let me watch the episodes online for some reason. (Hmm, look what’s on Amazon…)

Work was much more exciting today. We had visitors from an American school, and I got to sit in on their meetings and tag along for the campus tour and meet with the UCC kids who are going to spend the year there. And later tonight, I get to go out to dinner with them. (Well, “get to” may not really be the right phrase – I’m sure I’ll be nervous and awkward the whole time, but I am determined to network the hell out of this visit.) I’m glad the visitors allowed me to be included, because I think it gave me a good look at what the real job will be like.

Oh, and I’m officially set to go on a field trip on Saturday! I’m going with one of the summer school classes to the Rock of Cashel, which is not so much a rock as a really cool castle – the seat of pre-Norman kings and the site of a conversion by St. Patrick etc. and so forth.

Speaking of Irish history, I learned today that I’ve been lied to most of my life. During the Gaelic revival of the 19th century, Irish historians decided that the Irish needed to identify with a group that wasn’t Normans or Anglo-Saxons (or Vikings, because they always get bad press), because they were looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the Anglo-Saxon/Norman/British conquerors. They decided that the Celts fit the bill, even though they were never really a very significant group here – the Vikings had much more influence. Apparently there are whole classes here dedicated to the “myth of Celticism” and how Irish identity has been shaped.

Here are some pictures from the last couple days! (I can’t believe I’ve only been here a week – it feels like it’s been ages.)

These are some of the sights on the way from my apartment to work and the city center.

The English Market:

Blarney Castle:

As if I didnt have enough to worry about.

As if I didn't have enough to worry about.

Note the strained and terrified smile. Oh, and the trenchcoat!

Note the strained and terrified smile. Oh, and the trenchcoat!

I didnt get to see much of the view, partly because I was too short and partly because I was TERRIFIED.

I didn't get to see much of the view, partly because I was too short and partly because I was TERRIFIED.

The castle grounds:

See the ledge in the lower right? Were standing over the witches kitchen.

See the ledge in the lower right? We're standing over the witches' kitchen.

And for future travelers…



Irishism of the day: “Go ‘way!” (v): Synonyms: get out, nuh-uh, no way, shut up, what. Said to express disbelief or outrage. Example: “I paid fifty euro for my hair and they cut it crooked!” “Go ‘way! Did you complain?”

(By the way, no, you didn’t complain. The Irish way [which is sort of similar to my way and the way of many other people I know] is to let it go at the time and then complain about it later to sympathetic friends.)

Today was my first day at work. I didn’t have to be in the office until 10, so I took advantage of the morning to call (gulp) the last two French hotels. The phone card worked fine, and the receptionist answered at the first hotel. I asked her if we could speak in English, and she started laughing and said “Yes, of course!” And that made me feel immeasurably better. So we are officially set to go to Bordeaux and Avignon and I am thrilled and every time the Irish news talks about the economy, I just stick my fingers in my ears as I usually do.

Speaking of economy, after three visits to two different bookstores with buy-2-get-1-free sales, my resolve broke. I bought more books. But they’re really good books! If any of my Linfield professors are reading, I think they’ll be proud. I’m already over 100 pages into “The Three Musketeers,” and today I bought “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. “Shadow of the Wind” has been on my list for a couple years, and it recently reentered my life thanks to its sequel, “The Angel’s Game,” and Brittneigh’s Spanish class. (I think that was how it came about. Anyway, Brittneigh read it and loved it, and she and Jessica debated the ability of wind to have a shadow, and then I saw it in a store and realized I’d been wanting to read it. And soon I shall.)

And finally, my first day at work was bearable but totally uneventful, as befits the life of an intern. The women in the office are all incredibly nice and very helpful. I spent the day sorting massive stacks of papers to be mailed (yee haw) and drinking tea. Over the next few weeks I’ll get to go on a couple day trips with the Irish Summer School class, and hopefully sit in on a couple lectures!

(Instead of the Italian boys who spend their nights watching Youtube videos, today we have American girls watching the music video for that “Sweet Dreams” song from the 80s.)

I’m going to spend the next hour writing and looking for a job in Corvallis (with no expectation of actually finding anything – mostly so I stress less about it), and then – oh yes – I am going to go watch the premiere of the “Torchwood” mini-series. Oh British TV, how I have missed you.

(Oh, now the Italian kids are here – I hope we have a sort of passive-aggressive video war between the club techno and the Eurythmics.)

Blarney Castle

Well, today was my last real day for adjustment and exploration. I slept in, had a nice breakfast, and caught a bus to Blarney Castle.

That’s the short version. The long version is that finding the right bus was a little challenging – I didn’t know where exactly to go, and it turns out the bus departed from somewhere other than the main station, but the bus wasn’t at the stop when I started looking for it…ack! But I made it, and rode for half an hour behind a New Zealand goth couple.

Going to the castle was sort of the final reminder that yes, indeed, I have returned to Europe. My oblivious inner twelve-year-old popped back up again and said “Yeah! Castles! Sweet!” and went exploring. The people who run Blarney have kept it as close to its authentic (as in, crumbly and almost ruined) state as possible. Before entering the castle itself, you get to actually crawl into the dungeons, and it’s dark and dank and creepy and I did not go in, sorry. I took a picture.

Getting to the top of the castle, well…that wasn’t as much fun. 95% of the time I’m okay with heights, but this was definitely part of the 5%. You have to climb multiple flights of steep stone stairs, which are both uneven from wear and wet because it was raining. There’s a rope you can hold on to, but that’s about it. Even when I took a break on the landings, I was surrounded by barred windows and standing on uneven ground, and there was nowhere for me to regroup. All I could do was keep going up.

But then I got to the top, and then I was surrounded by uneven ground and wet stones and barred-off windows and people and the view was spectacular, but it was sort of hard to enjoy when you’re trying not to slip and fall to a newsworthy death. I had already decided I didn’t want to kiss the Blarney Stone (kissing something that’s been kissed by decades of strangers does not appeal to me – neither does the hullabaloo about swine flu, or the rumor that the locals pee on the stone), and once I got to the front of the line, my decision was reaffirmed.

Imagine this, if you will: You’re standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down at a metal grille. A few inches beyond this grill hangs a bar of gold. You’re allowed to get this bar of gold for yourself, but in order to do so, you must lie on your back, wriggle backwards so your head is hanging over the Grand Canyon, and grab the bar of gold with your teeth.

It’s a little like that, only there’s a park employee to hold on to you. So I booked it off the top level and crawled back downstairs, clinging to the rail the entire way.

The grounds, though, were well worth the fee and the torment of scary scary stairs. There’s a very beautiful mansion out on the grounds, and past it, there’s a whole menagerie of waterfalls, groves of trees, hidden walkways, even a mini forest of devil’s club. The waterfall spilled into a pond covered with green, and behind it was something they called the “wishing stairs.” Apparently you’re supposed to go to the top, make a wish, and then walk down them backwards. I had had my fill of old wet stairs, so I just went up and stayed there, wishing the whole way not to fall.

My favorite part was the “witches’ kitchen.” Under the roots of a huge tree, someone had built a miniature kitchen, with a little fireplace in the back of the cave. The chimney is built up next to the tree, and you can walk right past the chimney over the roof of the cave-kitchen. I may or may not have made ringwraith jokes to myself.

I’ll add pictures later – picture posts take a long time, and I’d rather get my thoughts out first. Maybe I’ll set up a Photobucket or something and just throw them all in there. In the next batch, I’ll have pictures of the English Market, St. Patrick’s Street, and Blarney Castle. There was practically no one on the streets this morning because of church services, so I finally got to be a shameless tourist and take pictures of the more public areas.

Oh, dinner last night was very nice. Mary made steak and potatoes and broccoli and gravy and all that hearty Irish stuff. After dinner, we just sat at the table and talked about university costs and cool family members and Obama. Later, we all sat and watched some Irish TV, and I bonded with her daughter (who’s about to get her PhD in the states) over the British version of “Survivorman.” The guy’s name is Bear, seriously, and he got himself stuck in a bog after trying to get a dead sheep to eat. He took a bite out of its heart and everything.

Maybe I should have opened with that story so I could close with proof of my cultural enrichment. I promise I’m learning and I’m sure my first day of work tomorrow will be all kinds of enlightening.

Settling in for real

The last eighteen hours or so have been absolutely wonderful. I got a phone call around 9 last night from reception – my luggage had finally arrived! I went straight for my converter/adapter, lugged it downstairs with my laptop and charger, and signed on to AIM and cheered myself up even more by talking to Kevin and Linnaea. I was really having a bad evening, but the stars aligned and even though the common room was fulling chattering guys who may or may not have been drunk, I was able to sit and talk and catch up and oh gosh it was lovely.

This morning, I woke up early and actually got to choose from a variety of clothes to wear! I walked down to St. Patrick’s Street and spent a few minutes in Waterstones (a chain book store – and let me tell you, I am practicing serious self-restraint every time I go in. They have an insane variety of authors I’ve never heard of, and they’re having a buy-2-get-the-3rd-free sale, which I would have taken advantage of if books didn’t cost 9+ euros). Mary met me there and took me to the English Market, which is sort of a miniaturized Pike Place with all kinds of little food shops. The upstairs is an open balcony sort of thing, and it’s all a cafe. I got a scone and mocha, and it was really delicious – their lunches prices were a little steep, but I’m definitely going to stop by later this afternoon and get a snack.

When we finished, we trekked around downtown trying to find a place where we could get my borrowed cell phone working – unfortunately, no one’s able to unlock Siemens-brand phones, so I need to just get my own. Math time: one option is 50 euros plus 50-cents per minute international calling (yikes), or 60 euros with 30 cents per minute. Then Mary drove me back to my apartment. As we were pulling in, she said, “Well, we can’t just leave you all alone for Fourth of July evening.” It took me a while to process that. “Do you eat steak?” she asked. “Oh yes!” I said, and babbled all kinds of thank-yous as I got out of the car. She’s officially on holiday now, but still looking after me. And she’s picking me up again at 6 for dinner! (I’ve no idea what to bring – I think I’ll stick with flowers?)

And finally, some pictures!

Beautiful last view of the States.

Beautiful last view of the States.

This was my first view of Ireland, sort of. The seats on the Aer Lingus flight were 2-4-2, and I was on the aisle of the 4 section. The window seats were full of high schoolers, but the boys next to me noticed me craning to see out the window and offered to take a picture for me.

And this is Dublin from the top of a double-decker bus.

And this is Dublin from the top of a double-decker bus.

A fun ad in the Dublin train station:

And here’s the apartment!

Swipe card #1: the hallway.  Cheerful.

Swipe card #1: the hallway. Cheerful.

The kitchen, with a TV and mini lounge area behind me.

The kitchen, with a TV and mini lounge area behind me.

My Irish food purchases include English apple juice, Irish bacon, and Irish cheddar.

My Irish food purchases include English apple juice, Irish bacon, and Irish cheddar.

Speaking of kitchens, does anyone know what this is for?

Speaking of kitchens, does anyone know what this is for?

The bathroom! I'm glad I have my own, but this shower and I are not getting along.

The bathroom! I'm glad I have my own, but this shower and I are not getting along.

My room, which has become considerably more homey with the addition of photos.

My room, which has become considerably more homey with the addition of photos.

My view, with the river below and County Hall across the way.

My view, with the river below and County Hall across the way.

And this is where I work…

Almost across the street is the UCC campus.

This is the bridge going right over the river into campus.

This is the bridge going right over the river into campus.

It has gardens and everything!

It has gardens and everything!

Even the newer buildings are faithful to the old styles.

Even the newer buildings are faithful to the old styles.

Moving on to St. Finbarr’s Cathedral:

I loved the details on it.



UCC, St Finbarr, and books

Still no luggage. I’m really really hoping it comes in tonight, for a multitude of reasons. I’ve been trying to write, but I don’t have enough battery power anymore (currently I’m on a PC in the common room), and I can’t remember the details of my book well enough to feel really productive.

I’ve been reading a lot – I finished the book I brought on the plane, and am six chapters into “The Three Musketeers,” which I purchased today – in hopes of being in the apartment when they call to tell me my luggage has arrived. But I’ve been exploring a lot, too, and this is where the beauty of an unscheduled day appears. I planned this morning to go down to the sidestreets off St Patrick Street, where the Lonely Planet guide said there was a quality chocolate shop and a used bookstore. But on my way, I figured I should stop by the UCC campus and look around. It’s a really beautiful campus – a branch of the river runs right past it, and even the newer buildings are careful to keep in the spirit of their much older buildings. Once I left, I spotted the spires of St. Finbarr’s Cathedral off to my right, and made my way there. I didn’t go inside because a service was starting, but I was the only one around, so I got to take my time examining the facade and wandering the grounds. Eventually I found the bookstore (hence, musketeers), but not the chocolate shop, and made it back just in time for office coffee hour.

The weather here is generally insane. I didn’t need to bother packing for seasonal weather, because Ireland covers three of four seasons multiple times per day. We did get a fair number of sunbreaks, though, which was very nice.

Oh, and we were all joking beforehand about how I might pick up an Irish accent. I didn’t really think it would be possible, but without other Americans to talk to, or even hear, I’m noticing myself speaking differently in conversations. Maybe it’s just that I don’t spend that much time in conversation here anyway (luggage contains my cell phone), and I’m not used to hearing myself speak, but I think I’m drawing out certain vowels and using a different cadence. It’s bizarre.

I’m going to explore a park on the other side of the river, but I intend to be safely off the streets before this Irish Friday night gets too far underway. They’re actually having an American music festival this weekend in honor of the 4th – I may stop by just to hear what they’ll pick.

Washington and California are not related.

People here are always a little surprised when I tell them the weather here is a lot like the weather back home. Then I explain that Washington is pretty close to Canada and it seems to make more sense. Fortunately it seems to get the rain out of the way in the morning around here, and just spends the rest of the day being gray and humid. It’s not even that cold, which is pleasant.

This morning I walked to the office, where I met up with Mary for the coffee hour – apparently “elevenses” is not restricted to hobbits. Mary introduced me to the other staff in about five minutes, which means I don’t remember anyone at all. Fortunately there’s a girl close to my age who’s working as the receptionist, so I’m going to practice my underdeveloped Making Friends Skills and see if we can hang out sometime. (This is about a hundred times more terrifying than having to figure out new office skills, by the way.)

The coffee hour went really well, though – we all got our mugs and our drinks and sat around a big table and chatted. Well, they chatted – I mostly listened, partly because I’m not that great at small talk, and partly because trying to enter an Irish conversation is like trying to snatch coals out of a fire. Usually it begins with one person telling an anecdote, and then two or three people will respond at the exact same time, and it is completely acceptable for everyone to talk over one another. Usually someone will listen politely so you’re not just talking to yourself, and somehow everything stays on the same topic, but it’s definitely challenging, especially with the accents.

After that I explored Cork’s downtown, specifically St. Patrick’s Street and a little bit of Merchants Quay. I got a cheap t-shirt at Marks & Spencer in case my luggage didn’t arrive today (guess what, it didn’t), along with a very classy (and waterproof) black trench coat. I also got shampoo, so I can take a proper shower this evening. Unfortunately the doors don’t entirely close, and it has two temperatures – freaking hot, and off.

But today I got the bus right! Well, mostly right – I tried to walk in the wrong direction for downtown, but caught the right bus in the right direction to get there and back to the apartment. Hooray!

I’m seriously hoping my luggage arrives tomorrow – not only would I rather like to wear different pants, it has my phone, the gifts I brought for my “co-workers,” computer charger, the converter/adapter so I can actually use that charger, and my makeup without which I am beginning to feel sort of zombie-like, which is surprising. I don’t wear that much makeup to begin with. Maybe getting to wash my hair with shampoo instead of bar soap (which really doesn’t work at all) will help me feel better.

(For the record, I have yet to buy any books or tea.)

day one

Okay. I’m in Cork. Ireland looks a lot like Washington but with even more green. It actually reminds me of a Ray Bradbury story, the one about rain on Venus – it never stops raining, and the plants continuously grow and consume things…only Ireland is very beautiful and not threatening at all.

Today, being the travel day, was not the best of days. My layover in Chicago took an exciting turn when I ended up reaching the check-in counter as they announced boarding. Hurrah. I made the flight, but my luggage (naturally) did not. I made it through customs after a while and found the right bus to get to the train station, and I got to ride on the top deck! (Things About the Irish #1: Road lanes usually do not apply, especially if you’re bigger than the vehicles around you.) At the train station, the clerk helpfully sent me to the station’s Internet terminals, where I could reserve a ticket for 20 euros instead of 66. (Things About the Irish #2: They are not as gushingly friendly as the guidebooks may lead you to believe, but if you ask for help or just start a conversation with them, they will hang out with you and comfort you until you’ve got everything figured out.)

The train ride to Cork was pretty nice. The trains are fairly new, very clean, and they even have a snack trolley! I chatted a little with the man sitting across from me, who is recently unemployed and has been in London and Dublin looking for work, apparently along with the rest of the country.

Mary met me at the train station and greeted me with a hug, which I think is an excellent start. She showed me the layout of the town and explained a bit about the office – it sounds like everyone does a variety of jobs, instead of specializing in one particular thing, so I think it sounds promising already.

I’ll post pictures of my apartment when my luggage arrives with the camera cable. It’s pretty nice – I have my own bathroom, and the kitchen is fully equipped. Plus the laundry is right in the ground floor of my building. The only downside is there’s no internet in the room – I have to go down to the common room. This will probably just mean that I will get a lot of writing done, with no in-room internet to distract me.

This evening, though, was no fun whatsoever. I took a 10-minute walk to the Irish equivalent of Winco, took my basket of apples and bread and Irish cheddar and generic corn flakes to the register, and rang everything up. Then I stood awkwardly at the end of the counter, because the bags are all up front with the cashier.

“Can I have a bag?”

“They’re twenty-two cents.”

“Oh.” I started rummaging for my wallet again, but the man buying groceries behind me took pity on me and bought me a bag. Lo and behold, I needed another bag. After he left, I held out my coins, and the irritated cashier handed me another bag.

Then the fun really began. I got on the bus, paid the fare, and sat down on the wrong side of the bus, so I couldn’t see where my stop was. We rolled past it. I settled in, resigned to just waiting for the driver to finish his loop.

Turns out the loop was almost two and a half hours long, including the time where he waited at a stop for ten minutes for his replacement driver to arrive. The rest of the day had been almost enjoyable because every few minutes my oblivious inner twelve-year-old would pop up and go “Hey! We’re in Ireland! Whee!” And that helped. But by the end of that bus ride, she was screaming silently and I was just reciting “eat, blog, shower, sleep” in my mind.

Two of those are done. The rest await. More tomorrow.