March 24th - You Sink, You Drown, You Die

March 24th, 2009

Dublin, Ireland.

The tourguide informed us more times than I can count that 62% of the population is under 32 years of age.

I can believe it.

Also, that the number of tourists exceed the actual population by some obscene number that I can't remember, but I think it was a good 6 times more, or so.

And that I can most definitely believe.

Maybe it's because I had spent the last 3 months in London -- A city that is no stranger to tourists, but a city that owns itself. London does not bend over for foreign visiters or seek to cater to their every whim. You go to London, the city does not come to you --

But as I walked down the streets of Dublin and couldn't help but think "kitch."

The main streets are wide and patterned with paving stones. O'Connell Street strikes a pose with its towering spire that marks the way back to our hostel. Irish flags flutter from every pub, on every corner, down every street. Pizza shops, corner stores, and bag shops line the cobblestones of Talbot Street. And every time I side-step one smoker, I'm hit in the face with the next plume.

City sweepers never sleep in this city. They can't. We walked down a freshly cleaned O'Connell street and 2 hours later there were cigarette butts littering the ground. People think that Parisians smoke a lot, but Paris has got nothing on Dublin.

One bus load of tourists gives way to the next and Temple Bar is chock full of drunken college students doing their best to not remember a single minute of their trip. There are more tour buses and taxis on the streets than average cars. People mill around in groups and snatches of different languages and accents are picked up as I walk by.

If green, white, and orange weren't blasting me at every step, I may very well have forgotten I was in Ireland. Where were the Irish?

Robin and I tried to find them. We walked until our feet were about ready to fall off and then we turned around and walked back, stopped at one of those pizza joints, and hunkered down for some Van Helsing in the common room at Jacob's Inn.

Earlier that day we visited the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough -- home of some the grandest beauty I have ever encountered. You'd recognize it if you've ever seen Braveheart or P.S. I Love You. In that day I discovered why people come to Ireland. Why this country can get under your skin. And why you're guaranteed to come back at least 3 times in your life. Our guide, Damien, told us that. 3 times, guaranteed.

I believe him.

I don't know if I can even begin to describe the majesty of those mountains or the way the sunshine tumbled off the hills into the glistening water. You just have to go. Stand on an outcropping of grass, away from the groups of Italians, feel the wind whip through your hair, sting your eyes, and just simply look,
and look,
and look.

My only regret is that the heather wasn't blooming. If it had been, the fields would have been a riot of blazing purples, whites, greens, and yellows. We got to see some yellow, but had to imagine all the rest. But then, I have only one trip under my belt. Sometime in the next 2 I'll see that purple. I just have to now.

On our trip back, Damien told us that we needed to be individual travelers, not tourists. I couldn't agree more. It's difficult, but worth the time to do something beyond the money-sucking traps that are the tourist hotspots. Maybe it's why I'm not in love with Dublin. You can't help but be a tourist. There doesn't seem to be much option for anything else.

And so we took Damien's advice and avoided Temple Bar. Instead, we headed to the River Liffey, took a right after crossing O'Connell Bridge, and 5 bridges later we were to encounter Bridge Street and the Brazen Head. Right, 5 bridges down, including 2 footbridges we came to . . . not Bridge Street. So, maybe the footbridges weren't supposed to count. Another 2 bridges and 20 odd minutes later we came to . . . some other street. We were beginning to think Damien either didn't like us, or the man simply couldn't count. Whatever the case, we ended up a good 8 bridges down with no Brazen Head in sight, sore feet, rumbling stomachs, and 2 hours gone from our lives.

I'd say that was the epitome of my experience of Dublin. All this build-up and hype for some real Irish passion only to be utterly let down.

But I will come back. Not for Dublin, but for Ireland. Because I encountered it up in those hills and by that lough. And I know it probably exists in Dublin, too. You've just got to scrape off the layers of tourists before you can really see it.

But if you don't, and you get stuck in that tourist trap - you sink, you drown, you die.

Damien meant it as a reference to the peat bogs, but I'd say it's pretty apt for Dublin, too.

You Sink. You Drown. You Die.

If you ever go to Dublin, remember that phrase and for the love of everything good in this world, don't get sucked in. The traveler inside you just may die.

March 21st - A Little Bit of Dublin

So, I'm sitting here in this dingy Internet place in Dublin with a train rumbling overhead every second or so and I thought I'd take advantage of the 50 cents I paid for an hour usage and jot a little in my ill-used blog.

There's actually quite a bit I could say, but I'm reserving that entry for when I have my laptop back and I can use a normal keyboard and find time to pretend to be prosaic.

Most of this trip has been spent at the hostel. This may seem more pathetic in hindsight, and I'm sure it sounds so to those who are not in my position. But to be honest, Dublin isn't much of anything. I'm preparing myself for an onslaught of jeers from you Irish wannabes out there. . .

Yesterday Robin and I arrived and managed to find our hostel without any problem, and were pleasantly surprised at how tidy it was - especially after our last experience in Bath. We went out for a little lunch and tried to muster up some enthusiasm but after a week of sleep-deprived studying we didn't have much to go on. So, we returned for a short nap. Or a long one, whatever. We ventured out on the town a little later in the evening and found some snacks and one of many Carrolls. These are like the ABC shops of Dublin. You'll probably only understand that reference if you've been to Hawaii, so allow me to elaborate -- tourist shops. Tourists shops with the exact same merchandise as the last Carrolls you walked into, each about one block apart.

And then we went home. Watched the evening movie - What Happens in Wegas, as the foreign boys with the pungent BO pronounced it, and that was the highlight of the evening. Then, we slept for another blissful 8 hours, got up for an early breakfast of toast and OJ, returned to bed, and then got up again 2 hours later to set out for a walking tour of the city. Came home with numb fingers, new books, and some oh-so-lovely Toffee Crisps and settled down for some hours of reading and napping. Really, quite a perfect afternoon.

And now I'm here, around the corner from my hostel, giving Dublin another go. This time I think we'll head off for Temple Bar to enjoy a pint in a real Irish pub. And maybe, encounter a real Irish man with a lovely rolling accent and not, yet another, group of Americans. But that's just wishful thinking.

March 12th - Riding the Metro

On the Metropolitan, I have to balance on my toes so as not to crash knees with the woman sitting across from me.

The girl sitting to my left works her frizzed side-pony like it's 1986 and entertains the boy opposite of her with a story about a phone call. Katie would say she speaks “common.” The woman three seats away and diagonal to us continues to glance at her from time to time. She's telling her to quiet down with her eyes. Pony tail doesn't see her. Her story continues to entertain the whole carriage.

Periodically the train pops as it rattles down the track. The smack reminds me of my older sister, who taught me the magic of swiping your finger across the inside of your cheek in order to make the 'pop!' during the Lollipop song.

The woman to my right has her head inclined towards me and from the corner my eye it looks like she's trying to read my notebook, but her eyes are closed. The Japanese teenager across the aisle from her looks like he is about to be sick. His head is slung low between his knees and he is clutching his ears. Maybe he has been to the Fat Duck.

My leg begins to shake uncontrollably as my muscles buckle. The girl on my left has finally stopped talking and now music rockets out of her earphones. I'm not sure which I preferred.

Graffiti has been scratched into windows with No Smoking, Please Keep Your Feet Off The Seats, and CCTV stickers pasted in their corners. The CCTV sticker has a picture of a helicopter on it. I'm not entirely sure why. Cameras are everywhere in London, but I think this sticker is a lie. Maybe the helicopter pushed it over the edge. Or maybe it's because “Dorpz” managed to tag two separate windows. He did choose the windows without the stickers, though. Maybe that's the secret.

I'm 7 stops away from my station and none of my seatmates have left. The lady next to me is still sleeping and now the woman with a daffodil pin on her lapel who is sitting kitty-corner to me has nodded off. I don't know how much longer my legs can take this. I'd like to switch the song on my i-pod but it's in my pocket and I don't want to jostle the sleeping woman beside me.

I can't wait to get off this train. Another Metro just passed me. Fast Track. I never catch fast tracks. I think it may be a cruel joke.

Neil Young will be in concert on June 27th in Hyde Park. I know this because the woman directly in front of me, the one with whom I've been trying not to collide knees, has sheltered her face with her newspaper and the full-length, orange advertisement has caught my eye.

I'll bet Neil Young doesn't ride the tube I'll bet he hires a private car service.

I hate you, Neil Young.



March 2nd - A Case of the Uninspired Mondays

March 2nd, 2009

10:20 pm

On my walk home today I smelled freshly cut grass. I breathed in deep and smiled. The day was redeemed.

Not that there was anything particularly horrible about this Monday. It wasn't even necessarily bad, as far as Mondays go. It was simply uninspired.

I woke early so that I could finish, scratch that, begin the paper that would be due in 6 or so hours. My schedule was a little out of whack since I had spent most of my weekend catching up on the sleep I had lost the week before. This left me wide-awake at midnight on Sunday, and before you ask why I didn't write my paper then, you should probably know that I thrive on procrastination. Actually, that's a lie. I get by with procrastination and I only abide by deadlines because I have to or else I'll fail. Ironically enough, if I live without a schedule or short-term goals for too long I go a little bonkers. I'm hoping that one day I'll grow up a little and break this tension, but at present I've reconciled my lifestyle with the insipid reasoning that at least I'm being honest with myself and my shortcomings. Overcoming denial is one of the first stages to healing - or in my case, revamping my habits.

This blog doesn't bear the title of Tangents for no reason.

So, there I was, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6 in the morning, one hour later than I'd promised myself I'd wake up, ready to get down to it. Two pieces of toast, some facebooking, and 30 minutes later I cracked open my book and began hunting for quotes. A half-page of notes and another 20 minutes gone by I decided it was time for a shower. Clearly this day was getting off on the right footing. A morning of leisure with plenty of time to get to class without the quip from the professor about my choice of arrival was the perfect way to begin the week.

Except for the fact that I'd yet to write even the opening sentence to my paper.

And the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed thing was a lie. It usually is. I don't understand "morning people." While I'm not necessarily grumpy in the morning, I'm definitely not overly chipper. I don't do chipper. Even the word itself is annoying. 'Chipper' should be eradicated from the dictionary and everyone who embodies it should be re-adjectivized 'annoying.' Or at least chained to their beds until 11 am.

In case you're wondering, yes, I made that up.

I eventually manged to get myself out of the house, lugging my laptop along with me so that I could spend some quality time with my nonexistent paper in the coffee house on the corner by school. On the especially crowded train I attempted to sort through my thoughts and at least get a rough outline of how I'd approach the topic. Unable to concentrate I finally leaned over and tapped the boy sitting opposite from me - "Dude, I'm sorry but could you turn that down? Much as everyone would love to sing along to Akon with you, not everyone knows the words."

He didn't laugh.

Actually, he didn't hear me. You'd think that would have been a sign. I tapped him again and this time just simply asked him to turn it down a bit. He looked rightly contrite and turned down the rap to a more tolerable level.

It lessened my annoyance but it didn't really help my lack of inspiration. Time was running short and my paper resisted any attempt at growth. The topic wasn't even hard and I had all the materials before me, I just simply couldn't get past my block.

A change in my normal route, 3 trains, and my quota of strangers pushed up against me filled for the day and I was resolved to break out. Literally, I couldn't handle the people. We stacked up before the escalator, winnowed our way through the ticket barrier, and then I finally broke out of the station at a half-run, into the glorious sunshine, and away from the moldering smell of winter that clung to everyone's coats.

Settling down with my cuppa' and muffin I was finally ready to get down to business. An hour on the clock lit a fire under my fingers and they flew across the keyboard. My trial subscription to Microsoft Office having expired, I was truly unhampered by red and green squiggly lines and words leapt onto the page. I was using notepad, which is just one long continuous line, and so I was doubly unfettered because I couldn't reread what I had written, and thus no proof-reading. I must have been butter because I was on a roll.

Clearly, the lack of inspiration that accompanied me this morning hasn't really gone away . . .

To make a short story which is turning into a longer story than it should be, shorterish, I finished the paper. I can't say that it's my best work because I don't know. I didn't read it. But I'd say it's probably up there, given the amount of time I invested in it.

I think my lack of inspiration was catching. The class bussed it on over to Parliament to watch a lively debate on some political matter or another, and despite my heavy eyelids and growling stomach I was looking forward to it. The MPs were not. I'm still not entirely sure what the issue was about. The man in the front bench with his feet propped upon the table and his nodding head must not have either. Or the man who was texting throughout.

The wigs were great though.

And so was the not so veiled insult from the Minster of some department that I never caught.

A grueling hour of fading in and out of consciousness later, we left the hallowed white halls and climbed onto the train. Or more accurately, were shoved - shoved - into the train. I ended up between some man's legs. That was a comfortable experience.

So, walking home at the end of that tirelessly long day it's little wonder that I was uplifted by the smell of cut grass. My one inspiration in a city steeped in history and architectural wonders and literary giants was grass. Go figure. But I guess it was enough - it inspired this blog.

If my friends actually read this they would understand why I feel I have so little to say about my so-called adventures in London. I'm living a country and an ocean away, but I'm writing about how grass has inspired my day. Grass.

If they read this, they'd stop asking.