blog (November, 2002)
I chose my seat on the 737-200 and sank down, already weary from three hours of travel from my hostel in Edinburgh to the plane at Glasgow-Prestwick, and not yet even half way through my journey back to Galway.
"I don't know about y'all, but this is my first time to Ayerland."
I'd chosen poorly; stationed right in front of three American sorority girls from the south -- not a prejudiced statement, I swear (!) just a descriptive one. Anyway, they were the loud, chatterbox type.
"I'm so excited about Dublin I can't believe this flight's only 30 minutes it takes 40 just from Little Rock to Dallas We need to pick up an event guide when we get to Temple Bar Oh the plane sure is goin fast on the runway ILoveThisPartWhenWeTakeOffIFeelLikeTheBackOfThePlaneIsGonnaHitTheGround-"
We lifted off, and I was deaf to the chatter. The fog thwarted my last glimpses of Scotland, but we triumphed over the poor, overcast weather by breaking through -- up through -- the clouds to the sky above the sky -- the great wide open.
The cloud landscape was no less interesting than that of Scotland's below; there were castles with towers and moats, a mountain range to the south, gentle rolling hills, peninsulas, and volcanic islands, with billowing pillows of themselvesmoke caught in a motionless plume from their craters.
We come to a cloud clearing -- cliff -- off which the sun dives and skips across a thousand million ripples on the sea, a broad expanse of light that the ocean waves on one side of push those in front of them to enter-- eager to sun themselves -- then, reaching the other side, wave back in thanks to the sun before fading disappearing into an anonymous wrinkle in the vastness.
We land, and no sooner are inside the door of the the airport when the security man receives an important request:
"Excuse me sir, [I'm the president of my sorority and] do you know where we can pick up our luggage?"
"Just follow the people, miss."
Well, that's that for Scotland; come tomorrow I head back to Galway. It was a whirlwind tour, or really just a short tour; I didn't see that much. I stuck around in Glasgow for longer than I had expected -- I enjoyed the city, so I stayed longer. Sat atop a double decker -- wind in hair, hair in wind -- for a bus tour of the city, dug the library and some used book/record stores, saw Bowling for Columbine -- a good film that begs the question of why Americans like their guns so much -- met up with Gillian, (a friend I worked with at camp earlier this summer,) as she lives in Glasgow (and I was stupid enough not to get in touch with her earlier than Tuesday night,) and walked about a few different museums and a cathedral.
Last night I took the bus to Edinburgh, and began Kerouac's Big Sur, cafe and bar hopping to places where I could chill, read, and have coffee and pilsner. This morning I took another narrated bus trip, being the lazy tourist -- I still haven't hitchhiked at all, which was my plan -- this time to Stirling Castle, through Braveheart country, and to Loch Lomond, where I strolled through the forest next to the loch and marvelled that I was walking along the bonnie, bonnie banks of lore, and wondered what, in fact, that meant. Tonight I caught the last half of an Advent concert at a cathedral; good sonorous settling stuff that rejuvenated me
I'm going to be a jerk and take this Kerouac book with me back to Galway instead of leaving it on the hostel's shelf here -- This morning my memory wasn't caught up to my bookmark, and I don't read fast enough to finish it in time.
Conor gave me the ticket for the Foo Fighters concert, so I told him I enjoyed the show very much, but I lied. I wasn't impressed with the band, the music, the acoustics, the crowd -- anything, really. And there wasn't enough energy to make it exciting. But I enjoyed exploring the inside of the convention center and connecting hotel while Conor waited out back. He was hoping to catch the band as they left, accompanied by some ~18 year-olds sporting t-shirts that hinted they had probably either been to a previous Foo Fighters concert, or been to a store that sold Foo Fighters apparel.
We and the ~18 year-olds were un-forcibly forced to leave the premesis after an hour or so in the cold; told that the band had left immediately following the show.
They were probably about to come out, everyone agreed.
Bastards, everyone agreed.
We caught a cab back to our hostel. The ~18 year-old who caught a drumstick at the end of the show, (to make a pair with the other he had at home,) was not leaving. He was staying. He was going to talk to Dave Grohl.
Last night was long and frustrating, climaxing in me missing the night's final train to Dublin. I had already given up my bed in the swamp, the hostel's twelve person room, as I was planning on being in Dubs, so I moved into a six person, retiring early and finding four beds empty and the last overbooked; with two french people occupying. But all was calm, and I climbed into my bunk, and picked up a book rather than extinguish the light they had left on.
One chubby frenchman, clad only in blue undies, hopped out of bed.
"Jeff, light off now? -- Oh you read, sorry."
"Nono, that's alright. I'd rather sleep."
The light went out, but sleep I did not. French whispers kept me up awhile, and his getting out of her bed and moving to his own woke me later, as well as her subsequent crying... It was a long night. Always the punctual one, 7AM didn't show up late, and this time I didn't either, and made the train. Three hours train to Dublin, 45 minute bus to the airport, 45 minute plane to Glasgow Prestwick airport, one hour rail to the city center, and I'm finally in Glasgow.
The weather is brisk but clear. The city is abuzz, and it smells a bit like Christmas. People in the streets apologize if they bump into you. Now it's time to find a hostel and meet up with my friend Conor. We see the Foo Fighters tonight.
Frank, one of the hostel managers, left a note beside my bed for me to find this morning: (use Babelfish to translate.)
Pour tout ce que tu m'as jail endurer. Amuses toi bien et bonne nuit.
My stomach ills the other day were prolonged and quite unpleasant. I decided to try curing them by an alternative method. I ate Monday night around 11 o'clock, and decided later that evening that if I was still in pain the next morning I wouldn't eat that day.
Tuesday came: my alarm clock yelled at me and then my stomach chimed in. I turned on the shower before I sat down on the pot -- a good way to cover poo noises! -- and set my mind to beginning the fast.
I'd never not eaten before, but I didn't think it would be too difficult. But I was hungry already and knew it would be a long day, as I had to clock 9 hours in a restaurant kitchen.
I was weak and tired the whole day, and I wear my feelings on my sleeve, so everyone was telling me I didn't look well. The head chef chose today to offer me some delicious fried lemon sole, and I'm sure a little bit to eat would've been fine, but, like my abstinence from drinking two weeks before the marathon, the means had become the end and I was determined to make it through the whole day without anything but water, (and a little toothpaste.) By the nighttime I wasn't hungry anymore, and the finish line was in view so I was feeling a bit better. I went to bed early in anticipation of break-fast.
I woke early - fresh, but body aching a bit. I didn't look any thinner, but I felt good about cleaning myself out; detoxifying. I sat down to a hearty breakfast of porridge, cereal, toast with marmite, eggs, cheese, a tasty orange/apple juice, and a cup of tea. My ills were gone, and I chalked another triumph in my book of tiny victories over temptation.
Today I watched Apocalypse Now (for the first time) here at the library. Kurtz's character suddenly made a clear picture of what I've been reading of Nietzsche about stronger humans, meant to rule; the supermen he envisions leading humanity. I've never seen anyone like this, nor been driven to follow any man by his presence. The only exception to this is when, a couple years back, Jen showed me a picture of the 17th Karmapa, whom she met on her trip to Tibet, and I was immediately struck by the strength and will apparent in his face, in his eyes. I begged her for a copy of the picture, and that, coincidentally was my present in her letter yesterday. It was a different picture of him, though -- he looks pleasant and peaceful -- nothing like the first I'd seen.
Continuing the coincidence, Apocalypse Now is based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which we read in senior-year English together, and of which the protagonist shares Jen's last name.
I left the university trying to harden my eyes and face, and exude power. People passing as you walk are more likely to look at you if you do not make any attempt look at them. Is this because they don't fear the ever so frightening locking-of-eyes, because they are not worried you'll catch them looking at you, or because it makes you more interesting that you have some other motive -- something else on your mind -- than to pay attention to them?
This morning the wind and postman brought me a letter from across the big pond -- enclosed was a small gift from jen and her hope that I might be "watching the waters off that Grand Old Isle."
I took her advice and headed out to the bay, and found a seat on the rocks at the end of the pier. The wind blasted my face while I sat, drawing tears from my eyes, and I was afraid that the dog-walkers would misread my exhiliration for sorrow.
Swans, pidgeons, ducks, and the heron that flies around the city and teaches me lessons entertained me as the wind slapped the waves up against the rocks. The pidgeons are anxious and flutter here and there, surprised by something I can't see. The seagulls love the wind, and I am sure they are at play and enjoying it thoroughly. The ducks slice straight through the wind rather than catching the gusts. The swans rarely fly, but when they do, their necks are stretched out and their wings enormous -- they look like white warplanes in my tear-blurred eyes. The heron squaks once to get my attention. I wouldn't have noticed him had he not. He strikes off into the distance, and I almost wonder if I should follow him -- if it's another message.
I am bulletproof this evening, just off work with a caffeine drive. Now the i-net cafe is closing and I am off into the night.
Friday night David drove Hisako and I to Dublin, where we couldn't find a club with any good music. We slept in David's car that night, then spent Saturdayday and Saturdaynight with his friend Yasmina, sharing French, American and Japanese culture, and pasta with aubergines (eggplant.) Hisako stayed in Dublin and David and I returned to Galway for work on Sunday. At work I ate roast beef, and some other stuff, and something gave me a nice stomach bug. I walked about 6 miles after work, visiting Emeline's driveway and throwing woodchips at her window, and the whole way my burps tasted like rotten eggs. This morning I still tasted rotten eggs, and my tummy hurts tonight.
Barrie is 26, and looks 30. He has spent a total of 3.5 years in the hostel -- in and out -- a month and a half into his current stay. He wears holey sweatpants and t-shirts, and sometimes an old green fishing vest when there is a freezing rain. His light brown hair is longer than most of his Irish compatriots, (although this isn't saying much,) and it is almost always unkempt and windblown. He has run marathons in his earlier days, but now he has taken to walking, and averages 15 miles a day. His walk is very quick, and carries a high, lively bounce. He reads many books, and has a sharp and extremely quick wit. Right now he flips burgers at SuperMacs. He has been a cabinetmaker, and a factory worker, and dozens of other jobs. A jack of all simple trades. He could do better, but I don't think he cares. He has been called the nicest man in Ireland, and I believe this may be close to the truth. I have never heard an unpleasant word leave his lips, and he is patient and jovial with anyone he meets. He teases and flirts with every girl he can, and they don't slap or ignore him because realize his harmlessness. He is an alcoholic for 10 months of the year, and when in season puts down 20 pints of Guinness in an evening. He takes November and December off from drinking, although he had 4 pints on Friday, and says its my fault. He sits on his barstool and rests his crossed arms on the bar; relaxed. He doesn't care what he looks like, and no one else that matters does either. He taught me by example the real meaning of the Craic and the Irish pub.
When I'm home I keep my head out of the general sort of global happenings -- the daily, the new -- to a large extent. I don't read the paper, (except the funnies,) or watch the news, and online I can avoid headlines and seek out the information I want - read about the parts of humanity I might be interested in. Here, it's easier in some respects, as my sphere of life is kind of outside the world, and global goings-on don't seem to affect me quite as much.
I am not completely isolated from things, though: My coworkers like to update me on the doings of crazy Americans, like the sniper and his short-lived reign of terror, and Bush and his own, larger scale and more terrifying, reign. And, living in a hostel, I meet others from around the world each day, and must confess to them that I share the same nationality of a lot of loony, shortsighted, and ignorant folks. I won't apologize for being American, nor am I embarrassed, but I will only be held accountable for the current situation to the extent that every other person in the world is responsible to the same degree. Everyone's a loony and everyone's shortsighted and ignorant. And everyone's responsible. I don't know enough about details to discuss politics. I don't want to. I know too much of it is selfishness and power struggle and bullshit, and I'm tired of it. I don't want war, or terror, or division.
I am not proud to be an American, nor am I ashamed. I have no reason to be proud (to hold respect for myself) because I was born in one place rather than another. I have no reason to be ashamed specifically of the actions of a people born near me. Any self respect and ashamedness I hold deals with me, and deals with humanity, and is not held to an artificial border of state.
Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice. Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.
-- H.D. Thoreau, Walden
Things have been kind of strange since the marathon. The race was constantly on my mind and on my tongue while I was preparing for it, and when it was finally over I found myself asking, "What now?"
I had expected to be a medium shade of blue for awhile, but didn't realize how life had lost some of its spark until it came back...
I spent Saturday catching up some of the Guinness I'd missed out on, the protracted day beginning at a pub with the Aussie/Ireland rugby match and ending late with some friends and a cup of tea.
Sunday morning came quickly as work began at 9, but I rose early and went for a short run that ended at the kitchen's back entrance, (I keep extra clothes in the staff room.) The morning hadn't lost its bitter Irish winter freshness, but was unusually sunny and warm, perfect for a sunday morning run, or a sunday morning anything. I made my way up a hill to better see the sunrise and the city-rise, and jogged around a small, new cemetery, reading the names on the too large and polished gravestones before coming back down the hill and heading to the restaurant.
I feel refreshed and strong again, eager to find a new path to travel down.
All my life needed was a sense of some place to go. I don't believe that someone should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.
-- Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver
Last night on my walk home from a friend's house I chose my route along Galway's River Corrib rather than the city centre, avoiding the throngs leaving the pubs and enjoying the rush of water running out into the sea.
A river, a stream, pond, an ocean; all so relaxing, but all so different in meaning and reason for the emotional response they evoke.
I told someone once, while making the same walk, that I like rivers because they are water's example of continuous flow; never ending -- the water doesn't really have a destination -- it won't stop when it gets somewhere -- it's just flowing. And you can think of one small piece of water moving along toward the sea, or you can look at one point in the river and see that different water is continually passing through it.
Where has that piece of water travelled from?
But water doesn't travel in pieces -- not even droplets -- for certain, but is rather one mass constantly changing, molding, fitting. But does it travel in molecules? Has this H2O molecule been to Madrid, to India? But reactions are changing the molecules constantly. What is the normal "lifespan" of a molecule? Of an atom? Do the electrons move from atoms so constantly too? Not only has this electron been to India, but it has been a piece of New Delhi soil, then a part of a young Indian boy's wooden flute, then so quickly danced through air, bird, house, and finger until I see it float by in the Galway river...
How spectacular and dynamic, then, is our world - our universe - our very bodies?
I scored a free Nokia 5110 mobile (rest-of-the-world speak for cellie,) from a friend earlier this week; only had to pay 20 yoyos for the simcard that goes in the phone, which came with 20 euros of call credit anyway. It's an old phone; now almost considered a piece of junk, but at least I'm reachable now by my friends and co-workers here, and I don't have to go to a callshop to get in touch with others. Everyone and their dog here has a mobile -- I'm told it is the same in much of Europe -- the U.S. lags behind in this regard. Text messaging is widespread, as well. 13 cents to send a quick note, and I don't have to interrupt whatever they're doing. Back home I was always torn between the good and bad aspects of being always contactable, and, having a land line, couldn't justify the cost of a cell phone. But now, it makes too much sense, especially when the phone is free. I don't keep it with me when I don't want to bother, and my only regret is its bulkiness. Five days with it and the simple and silly joy of getting a call or a text still hasn't worn off.