Saturday, December 6, 2008

One More Week!

A few weeks ago I took a little field trip to the National Museum of Ireland --- it's just down the road on Kildare Street, and it makes a nice free afternoon-filler. I'm sure for some people it would be really amazing, room after room of old stone bowls and iron spears. Don't get me wrong, it was all fascinating, but I was there for one reason: bog bodies.

I'm telling you about this not to give you the willies, but to give you all an idea about what we might look like when we come back from Dublin. I feel like a bog body, anyway. All tired and leathery and my hair a disaster. One week left, and then my parents will pick me up at Dulles Airport and not recognize me.

That being said, don't worry! I'm doing my part to keep holiday spirit in my heart --- Nia and I are watching Dukes of Hazzards with a tray of homemade cinnamon buns between us. It's all part of getting ready to come home. We're in the cleaning-out-the-fridge phase. The two things we have to use up: butter and brown sugar. What else are we supposed to do?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Is My iPhone Communicating With the Dead?" and other FAQ

Tonight, rather than work on our screenplays and music videos...

....we photocopied our faces.
....we summoned spirits with a Ouija board.
....we had a competition to see who could hold their breath the longest.

Q: When do you come home, Monica?
A: December 14th!

Q: That's only two weeks away! Are you excited to come back?

Q: Are you getting lots done in Dublin?
A: Normally, yes. This morning was obscenely productive. Right now, not so much.

Q: Do you miss us?
A: Are you KIDDING?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Get Top Bunk!!

Thanksgiving came at the perfect time for all of us here in Dublin. The twelve kids in the music video program and the twelve screenwriters have been working feverishly (with all of the delirium and hilarity that comes with any fever), and it all came to a head this past week. Pretty much everyone has been working on the music video shoots this week, running around Dublin with camera equipment and giant dice and knitted trees and paint-filled water balloons.

In case you were worried, the bear heads came out just fine. And the last-minute bear paws look great. If I never see another bear again I will be a happy, happy person.

Here's my theory on sets, though, and I think it'll help everyone not familiar with film shoots understand what it's like: being on a shoot is like going to summer camp. Except you're both the counselor and the camper.

You've got to be mature enough to keep chaos at bay, but irresponsible enough to throw any dignity in the garbage and make a fool of yourself. You hardly ever sleep, you get weird rashes, you eat nothing but peanut butter and chips for weeks at a time, and everyone smells funny. If you aren't keeping the campers from drowning in the lake, you're earning badges in bridge-painting or knot-tying or stiff upper-lip-keeping. There are rival cabins, and homesick bunkmates, and lots of secrets and gossip. After the week, you have a whole host of new memories and scars and friends. Sometimes you say never again, you'll never spend another summer locked away with such nutjobs, but then you remember about the time Joe got his sleeve stuck in the electric saw or Ellen accidentally knocked over the whole set trying to get apple slices to the actor, and you know you'll beg your parents to send you back. That's my two cents, anyway.

Also, if you're ever in Ireland and wondering what flavor of Disco Chips to buy: BBQ Beef Flava makes everything smell like cat food. Keep the morale up, and stick to Salt n' Vinegar.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Tanksgiving!

Okay, okay, Dublin, you did it again...enough with the holiday magic.

It's just too perfect that when we're rushing around the apartment cooking Thanksgiving dinner with a turkey that barely fits in the oven and rolls that won't rise, you've thrown a Christmas party outside our window. We're getting teary and sentimental and so happy to be cooking together and there's a brass band literally below our balcony playing "Adeste Fidelis" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" while people are flocking around the Temple Bar Christmas tree. Free mince pies and cups of mulled wine? You're killing me.

What are you trying to do? We're poor Americans making the best pies we can, all of us calling home in terror because the jelly won't gel, and Irish breadcrumbs are beyond our comprehension, and only mothers can calm us and tell us how to wash the turkey cavity properly. And you're outside, being beautiful and putting holiday cheer back in our hearts.

Ack! Now "Jingle Bells!" You've got the mayor outside, schoolchildren with French horns and trumpets, and everyone making merry. It's too much, you guys. What's next? Sending elves to hang mistletoe over my bed while I'm sleeping? Putting gingerbread in my pockets when I'm cold and stomping my way through the wind?

Fine, I'm thankful for you, and I'm so sorry to be leaving you in two weeks. But enough is enough! This is too nice for kids like us --- we're getting coal in our stockings, and you're convincing us otherwise.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fixing the Mean Reds, Dublin-Style

“ ‘Listen. You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds?’

‘Same as the blues?’

‘No,’ she said slowly. ‘No, the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, bu you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. You’ve had that feeling?’

‘Quite often. Some people call it angst.’

‘All right. Angst. But what do you do about it?’ ”

Not ten minutes after I posted that last gloomy entry (thank you for putting up with me), the other sweet barista here brought by a hot chocolate with mounds of whipped cream and caramel and nutmeg and cinnamon. She leaned over and put the mug on my table, saying with her cute Polish accent the three best words a broke American student abroad can hear: "it's for free!" I nearly cried again. It was wonderful hot chocolate and healed pretty much everything that was troubling me.

Wrote more, sipped more, bought some Diet Coke and went back to my apartment. Then Dublin did something wonderful. It sent the good yellow-vested workers of the City Council (or fairies, or elves) out to put this outside my window:

A Christmas tree of my own. Perfect.

And that's my window where I am right now, warmish and drinking my tea. It's not necessarily Holly Golightly's answer to fixing the mean reds, and I don't know if there's even a Tiffany's to have breakfast at in Dublin, but I'm pretty happy with it all.

Nineteen days left! Ready for me to come back?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bon Voyage, Lucila!

Ugh, I cried today while Skyping my mom. If I told you what I were stressed about, you would laugh and think I'm living the stupidest, most childish life in the world.

I have to sew four fuzzy brown bear heads for people to wear in a music video, and I can't get the noses and snouts on straight.

My clothes and bag are stained green and blue from a few paint-filled balloons that exploded.

I can't find cranberries, and I don't want it to be Thanksgiving without cranberry jelly.

I have too many movies to watch for class.

Every time I blink, little pieces of the bear fur fuzz drift in front of my eyes.

My screenplay is sad (and crummy), my history papers are about sad and crummy injustices, and my favorite girl at West Coast Coffee just came over with my mocha and a hug, because she's leaving to go home to Argentina. After three months, finally we know each other's names.

It makes me realize that manner-wise, Ireland is really pretty separate from the rest of Europe --- nobody gives little bisous when they meet or part. Normally it's a good strong handshake. As soon as I'm back in America, I'm going to hug everybody. Perhaps while wearing one of the four fuzzy bear heads I'm sewing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

For the Love of an English Major!

I've come to the terrible realization that not every entry can be about the postal service.

So here! Let's go back to Rome for a second.

Having narrowly escaped the Swiss Guards at the Vatican, we made our way to Piramide, where the Non-Catholic Foreigners' Cemetery is. It was quiet and green, and populated by more than a few stray cats --- I have to say that the cats roaming around made me more nervous than wandering the graveyard did!

"It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place," said Shelley. Lucky for him, he drowned and was cremated and buried here.

Lexi and I went on a mission, though --- to see the grave of Keats:

Chalk that one up as a success, I think!

In case you don't want to strain your eyes, it reads "this grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart, at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water."

It wasn't the first time I'd sat and spent an afternoon with the remains of a great writer. Having gone to high school directly across the street from F. Scott Fitzgerald's grave, it felt very comfortable sitting on the grass and resting our sore feet next to Mr. Keats -- some morbid kind of deja vu. I know they say familiarity breeds contempt, but it was actually one of the nicest moments of our trip, those few minutes with Keats and his friend Joseph Severn and the horrible yowling cats.

Later that afternoon we ended up at Keats' apartment next to the Spanish Steps, happily shown by a sweet docent who insisted we take in the museum at our leisure, even encouraging us to sit on the period furniture next to her dog, who was equally as content in the library armchairs as he was trotting up and down the stairs. Another reason why dogs trump cats in every possible situation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wait Wait There's More!

In case you were ever curious about how mail gets from Ireland to anyplace else...Jac was kind enough to demonstrate proper mailbox technique. Look and learn, kids!

Another Bonus Post!

Here, Pops! For your enjoyment, an honest-to-goodness Irish post office. Though the one I send you postcards from is not nearly as official-looking, it's probably just as efficient.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Live, from West Coast Coffee, It's Thursday Afternoon!

Greetings from West Coast Coffee, and from the very few minutes of my weekend! I don’t mind telling you that I think I’ve earned this weekend --- our first fifty pages of our screenplay were due this week, and my mind’s a little melted after all that writing. Not that I don’t enjoy it! I know how rare it is to have a semester (or even a major) that allows you to earn credit and take time to do exactly what it is you love to do, no questions asked. But, you guys, for ten nights now I’ve dreamed about typing. I’ve just spent too much time in front of the laptop! Not even interesting dreams, just six hours of pushing space bar and backspace and a couple letters every so often. You wake up more tired than you went to bed.

So of course, what am I doing now? Updating the blog. What can I tell you….it’s another grey day, of course, but it’s getting really tolerable. In fact, I’ll tell you this --- ready for this admission? I really like the weather here. Isn’t that gross? It’s never sunny, but when it is you make the most of it. And otherwise, you just bustle around, dodging rain, always thinking of the next warm place you can go to get out of the chill. I like that kind of single-mindedness.

This past Sunday they threw the switch on Dublin’s huge Christmas tree on O’Connell Street, officially starting the holiday season here. We were disgusted with the premature enthusiasm everyone had until we realized that with no Thanksgiving to celebrate here, there really isn’t anything to stop Christmas from beginning as soon as Halloween’s over. So I’m a Yuletide fool already, and it’s Dublin’s fault. I’m always over the moon when it gets close to Christmas, but with everything in full thrall here, I’m a disaster. The streets are all decorated with “Nollaig Shona Duit” signs and “Happy Christmas,” and I drink gingerbread lattes and look at the advent wreath that’s already set up in my coffeeshop.

So no, I don’t think there is a problem with having my X-mas Xtreme playlist all made. I’m exercising some self-restraint, at least. Be proud of that! And anyways, I wouldn’t be so excited about Christmas if I didn’t know that it meant coming home.

Here, to prove it, transcribed directly from my class notebook:

“Things to Look Forward to: the Homecoming Edition!
- seeing my family!!!
- being in the same time zone as everybody!
- driving!
- Target!
- Christmas parties!
- Having at least two pillows to sleep on!
- Trader Joe’s!
- Hugs!
- the possibility of snow!
- More sunshine than rain!
- Clementines! Tortilla chips! Root beer!
- my ukulele!
- Christmas lights! Gingerbread!
- Diversity!”

Obviously, I’m excited, and my capitalization is inconsistent.

One of the nice girls who works here, who knows to get down a mug and start making a mocha when she sees me cross the Liffey, is going home to Argentina in two weeks. And I’ll be leaving in four weeks. It’s still a while, but I know it’s going to fly by. I am a little scared.

In any case, West Coast Coffee’s still here, and I’ve still got my little routines, and even though I wish you were here, I hope you’re as excited by whatever’s creeping around the corner in your lives as I am.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Italians Love the Irish

Red light.... light!!!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vatican City, or Where is Monica's ID?

Our first (and only) morning in Rome was spent not actually in Italy, but instead in Vatican City.

Let's talk for a second about the Roman metro system. I know there are a cornucopia of ancient ruins that can't be disturbed by a subway system running underneath them, but something's got to be done! For those of you who haven't had the joy of taking the metro while in Rome, it's pretty easy, and cheap. Not hugely efficient, though --- there are two lines, A and B, and they intersect at only one station, Termini. Thank goodness our hostel was just two blocks from Termini, but really, Rome! There's got to be a better way. There's never not rush hour at Termini Station. It's like somebody combined a snowglobe and an ant farm. Lots of frantic scurrying, lots of shaking and looking around to see where the herd's going, zero elbow room. Needless to say, it made me miss New York quite a bit!

We beat the crowd to the Vatican, patting ourselves on the back. By this time, our merry group of travellers had split --- Carmen, Jac, Sarah and Will were off to Paris, while Nia went to London. Lexi and I wanted more time in Italy, so we swallowed all our doubts and language insecurites (there weren't many, actually, we figured our smiles and good intentions needed no translation) and headed off to Rome alone.

Something about this morning was very stressful. I'd heard that from other travellers we'd met along the way, that Saint Peter's and the Vatican Museums were the most hair-raising experiences you could have in Italy. It's overwhelming in every sense. Beautiful, absolutely, but nearly too much to take in. It was especially a mental shock for me to wander around the piazza and see the Church as an establishment, having spent the entire semester in Ireland, one of the most Catholic countries in the world. At the same time, how much of Irish history has been exhausted on the persecution of Catholics, or the war between the Catholics and Protestants? To step inside lavish Saint Peter's, to kneel and pray in the gilded and marble chapels, it was too much. How strange, to think about the young men and women who died because of their association with Catholicism. I doubt the religion they suffered for had much to do with the glory and extravagance in Saint Peter's.

Anyway! Though troubled by my thoughts, I was still able to appreciate the Vatican immensely. Easily two-thirds of my time there was spent with my jaw hanging open. Lexi, with her passion for audioguides, convinced me to pay five Euro and get one to show us around. The narration was pretty heavy-handed, what with the narrator calling me "pilgrim," but I learned a lot.

After we emerged bleary-eyed into the sunny noon, Lex and I went over to the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. I hope I'm not offending anyone's artistic sensibilities if I say that I'm not sure the Sistine Chapel should get top billing there. Out of all the treasures and beautiful rooms there, I don't necessarily think the Sistine Chapel is a worthy centerpiece. All the tourists rushed from room to room, holding their breath until they reached the Chapel. Is it awful to say it's a little underwhelming? It's jammed full of people, with guards yelling "SILENCE PLEASE" in a half-dozen languages. It is anything but restful or reflective.

Feeling a little betrayed by Michaelangelo, Lexi and I trudged back to Saint Peter's to return our audioguides. By this time, the piazza was chockablock full of sweating pilgrims downing water and snapping photos. Knowing we had just a few more hours of daylight in Rome left, we were ready bid farewell to the Swiss Guards, handsome as they were, and to get out of the Vatican. Clutching our receipts, we arrived at the office to return our guides --- only to be instructed to go back out to the piazza and stand in the TWO AND A HALF HOUR line to get back in. "But, but," we stammered...No luck, just a stern Vatican grimace.

There was no way we were giving up two and a half hours to wait in line to return a piece of plastic. So, cringing at our dubious morality, we left.

Ahh! I'm still so guilty about it. Please don't think I'm proud of this! I'm mailing back the guide tomorrow. It's my very own telltale heart now, sitting in my bag under my bed. I know that if I want to, I can lean over and be told in eight different languages about the cupolas of the Basilica. I'm sick thinking about it.

In any case, it's not like I didn't make a sacrifice. The audioguide office required a deposit: a passport, a credit card, a student ID, or 100 Euro. So that's where my ID is. In the Vatican. I'm amazed --- if we had left any of those others as collateral, you're darn right we'd wait in line another two and a half hours to retrieve them. But our flimsy purple NYU IDs? Completely dispensible.

I'm awful, I know. But it makes a pretty good story!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Florence, or There's Something in the Arno!

I'm going to hammer out these last fall break posts so that I can get back to telling you about Dublin and everything that's happened these past few days --- boy, there's a lot!

The second half of our break was spent Italy-hopping. Two nights and a day in Florence, two nights and a day in Rome, two nights and a day in Venice. I don't know if these lightning-fast visits qualify me to really talk at length about Italy, but I can show you what I saw, tell you about the people we met, and of course describe the food we ate!

First up, Florence! It was a perfect introduction to Italy --- and home to the most comfortable hostel beds we'd ever encountered.

Not only did our room have a tiny little patio for sipping coffee on, it brought us together with two young guys who had just graduated from college and were spending eight months traveling around the world. They were wonderful companions for the day, having already gotten their Florentine bearings. With their entertaining accompaniment, we wandered the city.

"I went first to the cathedral, the centerpiece of the town," writes Bill Bryson in Neither Here Nor There. "I defy anyone to turn the corner into the Piazza del Duomo and not have his little heart leap. It is one of Europe's great sights." My little heart leapt, don't you worry.

My first cup of Italian gelato in hand (it was lemon, and it was perfect), we took in the streets. It was disconcerting, hearing virtually no Italian spoken during our first day in the country. About 85% of the people we came into contact with were English-speakers. It was a little soothing, after the frantic days spent miming our Spanish interactions, but it did not at all seem like we were in the real Florence.

Figuring we had seen the really crucial bits of Florence, the Duomo, the Baptistry, and David, we took the evening off --- clambering over a stone wall to go sit next to the Arno and talk, enjoying local red wine. The sun set over the river, making us feel like we were back in Dublin, debating next to the Liffey. Strange --- it seemed finally at that moment that we were really on vacation. It felt very much like that typical "college kids backpacking through Europe" moment that we had all imagined. And it only took us until Day 5 of fall break to realize it!

We spent the rest of the evening there, watching people walk their dogs and fisherman float over the stagnant water. I don't know what they were hoping to catch. The only wildlife we saw was a contented little otter swimming around, bobbing up and down as he made his way towards us on the bank. Somehow that was a real comfort --- he wasn't there for the tourists' entertainment. He had never known anything else but his muddy Italian river. And that was fine by him. And it was fine by us. We hurled ourselves back up the incline, boosting each other up over the wall as we tumbled back into the streets, delighted with the piece of Florence we'd carved out for ourselves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear America,

My heart exploded a couple minutes ago. I don't know how many miles away I am from you right now, but I have never felt closer or more proud to be American.

I can't wait to come back to you.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Special Guest Blogger: Let's Have a Warm Round of Applause for Will Hopper!

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the first of (hopefully) several guest bloggers. You guys deserve better than my same-old same-old, and of course I'm studying with the creme de la creme in terms of hilarious writers. So let me introduce Will, who I asked to put together a little entry about...anything! This being the halfway point of the semester, we're all feeling pretty reflective. Will especially. Please enjoy!

Dublin. Dublin? Dublin.
Can’t wait to get the hell Dubl-out. I hate to say it, but it’s no wonder Ireland is known for its immigration. Duh-blin-there, done that.

Yet, no regrets coming here, at all. I don’t believe in regrets.

Wait. Yes I do. Allow me to elucidate.

Yesterday morning, I woke up bright and early to get my haircut. I noticed last week while in Barcelona that the humidity turned my hair into something that Diana Ross would be jealous of. I found cowlicks that needed some serious mowing, so I popped into the hair salon below my apartment to get the situation under control. Made an appointment. It was good. Awesome. I’m going to get my haircut. Trim. That’s all I want. Just a trim. Simple. Easy. In-and-out.

It was very professional, or so it seemed. They offered me magazines and coffee while I was getting cut. All seemed to be going smoothly. And when they are done dancing around your chair for about 20 minutes, they say ‘look good?’ and, after struggling with painful hairdressing small talk, I say ‘looks fine,’ just so I can get the hell out of there, go home, and go back to bed. The lady said ‘You were the first haircut of the day. Cheers!’
Cheers to you too, sweetheart.

When I get out of the shower about half an hour later, I wonder if I misunderstood what she had said. Did she say ‘I was the first haircut of the day?’ or was it ‘I was the first haircut… EVER?’

I look in the mirror. I start to sweat.

I look like a friar. I look like Thomas Aquinas. Lord in heaven.

Apparently, that Irish lassie’s idea of ‘trim’ meant ‘cut around my ears.’ Perfect. Friar Will. That’s what my friends are going to call me. Tomorrow I’m going to the hair salon and I’m going to nail some pissed off theses to the front door. Take that.

I’m not going to back to have it reshaped. I’m afraid if I tell her to reshape it I’ll end up looking worse.

My regret: I’d rather look like Diana Ross than a Dominican Monk. There is no moral to this story. Just don’t get your haircut in Europe…ever. If you don’t walk out with a bowl but, you’ll walk out with a Euromullet. Even worse, some might say.

On the brighter side, I do appreciate Europe for other things. There are some things here I’ll miss. Queen of Tarts. The parks. The Laser-gun noise the crosswalks make when the light turns green. Oops. I’ve run out.

After seeing other parts of Europe last week, I realize I may have come to the wrong city. Barcelona was heaps of fun. Great food. Sangria. Beautiful people. Hookers on the corner of KFC. The works. Florence was picturesque and warm. Rich in history and beautiful art. Cheaper than Dublin. Paris reminded me the most of New York, which made me happy but also sad. Sad because I miss NY so intensely. Paris may have been plus cher, but it was worth it. Great shopping. Delectable food. Fashion forward. I loved it.

But now I’m back in Dublin. Crap shopping. Crap food. And zero sense of style. Pasty white will never be in. I just need to get back to New York, and fast. I miss the shock and jolt of the culture there. My friends are there. My old haunts are there. My life is there. It’s the best city in the world. Not to step on any European toes, but let’s face it; NY is the center of the universe. Dublin is nice to visit. There’s no diversity here. Can’t even buy tortilla chips here. What the hell?

I plan on going back to New York, getting a plate of all-American ribs at Virgil’s Steakhouse, tossing back a Long Island Iced Tea, and fixing my friar-do.

Thanks, Mon. Was that an appropriate blog entry? Was that good craic?


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bonus Post!!!

Here you go, Dad! A genuine Spanish mail truck.

More Gaudi, More Sun

Our last day in Barcelona, we went to Park Guell, another one of Gaudi's contributions to Barcelona's art and architecture scene.

We had unbelievable luck with the weather --- by now, we were freckled all over and adoring the sun!

Park Guell is hugely difference from Sagrada Familia, but you can tell it's Gaudi's work. Lots of seashell-inspired twists on conventions of his time.

These guys played "Fly Me to the Moon" and the Godfather theme while we squinted and applauded.

The whole park is lined with these tiled benches --- they're the perfect place to take a rest, leaning your back against the warm ceramic mosaic pieces.

A farewell view of the city we'd soon be leaving!

A very happy camper.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi's kind of the golden maniac of Barcelona --- he's equal parts hometown hero and mad scientist to the Spanish, and his architecture is hugely celebrated in the city. We spent a morning visiting Sagrada Familia, the massive church that became his passion project. It's got an unbelievable story behind it. Construction on the church started in 1882. It's still not finished.

Gaudi was run over by a tram in June 1926 and killed. Fortunately, his proteges and collaborators continued work on Sagrada Familia --- that was, up until Gaudi's drafts and blueprints were destroyed by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War in 1938. So nobody really knows how Gaudi intended for the Sagrada Familia to be finished.

Completion is projected for 2026 --- 144 years after the first bricks were laid. But even this is a disputed date!

The entire thing is just astounding. To see the brute strength and literal years of labor it takes to make something so grand and so sacred makes your jaw hang open. After seeing St. Peter's in the Vatican, I was even more impressed. The whole of Sagrada Familia looks as if someone hauled up an old shipwreck after letting it mold for years under the sea. You wouldn't be surprised to see little crabs scuttling out of corners, barnacles on the foreheads of the sculptures.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Barcelona 2.0

So! The javelinas have made their grand entrance. If that were the most exciting thing that happened to us in Barcelona, it would still make a great story. However! We still had four more jam-packed days in the city.

We moved on to our second hostel, perfectly located on the Paseig de Gracia, Barcelona’s answer to the Champs-Elysees. And we were just a short walk from Placa Catalunya, just like Union Square in Greenwich Village. Below Placa Catalunya stretches Las Ramblas, the main drag of Barcelona. Along Las Ramblas there are cozy cafes, Hemingway's favorite absinthe haunts, and quite a few merchants selling plants and animals of all sorts.
Believe you me, it took every ounce of willpower I had not to buy a chipmunk as a little companion. Only 15 Euro!

About six more NYU kids met up with us there --- although somehow I was put in a different room from them, which was not altogether unpleasant, since my Brazilian roommates all looked like disciples or fishers of men and had strong penchants for playing “Dear Prudence” on their guitars at all hours of the day. That’s half the fun of budget hostelling, isn’t it?

Our Barcelona days were spent trying to get as much sunshine and culture into our lives as we possibly could. We took in the Museu Picasso (a mind-blowing collection of his early exercises and artwork, so humbling to look at what he produced at only 15 years old!) and a Alphonse Mucha exhibit at the CaixaForum (beautiful, feminine posters in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec) and blew dozens of Euros on postcards and prints. We walked kilometer after kilometer, taking in the strong Spanish faces. There’s something about the “Old World” countries, I’ve found. It’s effortless to look at the man sitting across from you on the subway and imagine his face in a 17th century court. Something about the eyebrows and the nose --- they’re just timeless, compared to all of our muddled American features.

That’s something else --- in Ireland, we blend in fairly well. With our pale film-school faces and big eyes, we’re actually considered kind of beautiful here! Not so in Barcelona. While here in Dublin we can get away with messy Rapunzel hair and pasty arms, in Spain we looked like short albino mushrooms, all moist and mutant. It was humbling, and a little mortifying.

You can imagine our new priority was to soak in as much sun as possible. Carmen and I started a feeding frenzy in the harbor, coaxing fish two feet long to fight over cookie crumbs. All the beaches in Barcelona itself are manmade, but that only means that the sand is dark and trucked in monthly, and falls like cornstarch under our feet. It was such a welcome rest from the gloomy seashores of Ireland --- the Mediterranean, how exotic!
Pasty Irish moonface and all, I was really, really happy there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Benvinguts a Barcelona!

I feel bad starting out writing about Barcelona. Chronologically, we visited it first. But I loved it so much and was so sad to leave that I'm afraid any entry not about Barcelona will be a letdown. Not that Italy was a letdown at all! But all of my enthusiasm and all of my exclamation points have to go to Barcelona. It's phenomenal.

Our introduction to Spain was a really pleasant one, and pretty indicative of the five days we spent there. Immediately, we knew we weren't in Dublin. The air was warm and moist, and everything smelled like orange juice and wet trees. We shouldered our bags and, amused, followed the directions to our first hostel, a place out in the hilly suburbs --- "walk 500 paces up the mountain." Something had been lost in translation, we assumed. It couldn't have been a mountain we needed to march up!

It was, though, and it took much more than 500 paces to reach the summit. But what a reward, once we got there! Our bunks were really comfortable and actually kind of good-looking, a far cry from the sleepaway camp aesthetic we’d seen in so many hostels.

We threw our bags down and found a sweet Spanish senyora who handed us trays and plates and bowls of food --- our first meal in Barcelona, a real feast! Tomato soup ladled over rice and peas, fish sticks, good bread, salad with unbelievable olives, and a poached apple. The fish sticks I fed to a cat that was creeping around my ankles, but everything --- the food, the company, the view --- was wonderful.

We spent our first day exploring Barcelona, wandering up and down Las Ramblas, the main drag in the city center. La Boqueria, a giant marketplace, provided our entertainment. Stacks and stacks of fruits we’d never seen before, crates of eels and crabs and seashells meant to have their innards scraped out and eaten with broth. And of course, new and foreign words yelled at us.

Catalan is not at all an angular language, so no matter what volume it’s being spoken at, it sounds nice. Lots of eus, and xos, not many zs. It’s similar to French and Portuguese to my ear, at least. And Barcelona being bilingual is really something amazing. In galleries and museums where there are no English translations of texts, reading both panels of Castillian Spanish and Catalan will clue you in on most of the big ideas, in terms of the English cognates and similarities to other Romance languages.

And if all of this weren't enough for our first impressions, we had the absolute terror and delight of climbing the 500-plus paces back up the mountain to our hostel in the pitch black, clutching each other and hoping we didn't trip and fall off a cliff. Imagine the three of us, tiptoeing and clutching our keys between our knuckles to stab anyone who might try to emerge from the bushes and abduct us. Instead, we came across these little javelinas rummaging for food between the yucca plants and the morning glory.
If they had had tusks, we mightn't have gotten so close to take pictures. Hindsight's 20-20!

Don't Take My Word For It!

In case all of this seems too good to be true and you'd like another traveller's account of our vacation, I invite you all to go to the fabulous Carmen Angelica's blog ---

It's one of the links on the right hand side of the page. She's got some fabulous photos and exclusive videos you will see nowhere else. I guarantee!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ryanair, and the Beginning of the End

After the past ten days of roaming around Spain and Italy, I am over the moon to be curled up on the couch in my apartment with tea and my journal, going back over all of our adventures. There's hot water in the kettle, clothes in the wash, and socks in the trash. There was no way of resurrecting them after the abuse they'd been through these past few days. So I tossed 'em.

Where to begin? Last Friday morning, I caught a cab at 4:30 with Carmen and Lexi, my companions for the first leg of the journey. Drowsy but excited, we headed out to Dublin Airport to catch our flight to Barcelona.
We flew Ryanair this fall break, which was an absolute experience in itself. Dirt cheap flights --- I don't think we paid more than 35 Euro, or about $50, for any of our three flights. In fact, going from Barcelona to Pisa was 11 Euro, taxes included. But here's the thing about Ryanair. It's awful. In a really entertaining way, of course, when you're a student backpacking on a budget, but it's just terrible. The plane's decorated in banana yellow and navy blue, the flight attendants are grumpy, and you have to pay for your own barf bags. But hey! If the plane can get on and off the ground when necessary, I'm a happy camper. The flights make for great blog fodder, at least.

Every Ryanair trip's a mixture of a gypsy caravan and a Tupperware party. There's complete anarchy as you board the plane, because there are no assigned seats, no first class or business class. Everyone scrambles for a seat, they strap you in, and we're off. No fuss. Until the official Ryanair jingle comes on! This is when things get exciting. You didn't think you paid 11 Euro to sleep on the flight, did you? Not a chance. The flight attendants, wan and smelling like Lysol, troll up and down the aisles for the entirety of the journey, hawking wares. Not the cool gadgetry you sometimes see in the catalogues on American Airlines planes. Ryanair sells discount makeup, phone cards, scratch-off tickets, generic corn-based snack products. It's like an infomercial without the charm, Chinatown in a culture vacuum. It is appalling and amazing, and you should try it at least once.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Home Again, Jiggety Jig!

Hello, everyone! I'm just arrived back in Dublin -- an afternoon with the sun shining, no less! The city must have known we missed it. Fall break was really wonderful, and I have SO much to write about. So be patient, please, and stay tuned!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

We're Getting Off the Island!

It's officially fall break! In six hours, I'll be hopping in a cab to Dublin Airport and heading over to Barcelona for the first leg of our journey. We'll be trekking around until the 27th --- then it's back to the grindstone! While I hope to stop in a few internet cafes whilst in Barcelona, Florence, Rome, and Venice, please don't be upset if I don't post any new entries. Just think of all the stories and photos I'll have you for when I get back!

Slan go foil, Dublin! I'll be back soon.

Pulp Fiction

Bits. They do a body good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Listen Up, Boys and Girls!

Ireland's kind of all over the place when it comes to gender. The Celtic pagan religion was structured around the idea of a sacred feminine, but Irish women didn't get the vote until 1928. Despite countless speeches and poems dedicated to "Mother Ireland," the streets here are all named after her great sons --- Daniel O'Connell, Padraig Pearse, Arthur Guinness, James Connolly. Along the River Liffey, there's Bachelor's Walk. No Spinster Street, though. But Ireland's got a female president and deputy prime minister! The place is full of contradictions.

This is a popular chocolate bar around here. I keep meaning to buy one, but...apparently, I can't. Who would tell a girl she can't have chocolate? Talk about reverse psychology. This is not a recent sensation, though. Nor is it a sensation at all. Yorkie bars can be bought anywhere, anytime!

And then there's the new Burger King campaign going around here advertising the "Meat Beast Whopper." 100% Irish beef, bacon, and pepperoni, in case your arteries were getting bored. Anyway, buses and posters everywhere are urging Dubliners to buy one --- well, maybe not every Dubliner. The campaign's slogan is "A Man Has a Right to More than One Meat."

Here's one of the TV spots they've had on recently:

Burger King Polygameat - Illegal, or Lunch?

I'm not really sure how to feel about this. It's kind of funny? Nobody really thinks of it as controversial.

At the same time, this being Europe, there's also a certain level of flamboyancy that's tolerated --- and even encouraged --- in men, regardless of orientation. Primetime television is interrupted not only by the typical glamour ads featuring Penelope Cruz wearing mascara and loving it, but also by cute young guys playing soccer, hair frozen in trendy peaks with the aid of Garnier Sculpting Gel! Never is a man here emasculated by the fit of the pants he wears, or the moisturizer he uses.

Next blog entry will be lighter, I promise. I guess we're all getting pretty fired up for the election here, and it's been making me think about why Palin's so-called "success" and Clinton's apparent "failure." Even here in Ireland, where there's such a contradiction in terms of the social expectations of gender, they had a female president elected in 1990. That was Mary Robinson, whose excellent quote I will leave you with as I go to fill out my absentee ballot:

"I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system."

Now that's what I'm talking about!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Transatlanticism Much?

You know how sometimes you wake up in a bed and you're disoriented for a few seconds, trying to remember which side the wall is on and what day it is?

Wouldn't you think you were in D.C. if you saw that? No such luck. It's Phoenix Park, in northwest Dublin.

Being in D.C. sounds pretty good right about now. Anywhere but on this island, really. We're all getting cabin fever, I think --- but if we can survive midterm week, we'll be set for fall break, finally! It should be amazing. We're flying early Friday morning from Dublin to Barcelona, then spending five days there, then off to Florence, Rome, and Venice. I'm open and enthusiastic about any suggestions you have for me --- where must I eat? what can't I miss? what should I bring you back?