Saturday, February 28, 2009

This week went quickly

So quickly, in fact, that I might have trouble remembering what I did every day. On Sunday, I went to yet another new church with Kristina. This one is the Church of the Immaculate Conception (or as Kristina calls it, "the Lough church") and it's very nice, if not so grand as some of the others. Kristina pointed something out to me that I had utterly failed to notice - most of the churches here are built in the shape of a cross. :) It's lovely symbolism, and I'm glad I can appreciate it now.

Tuesday evening was choir rehearsal again, which was great. Some of the kids are going to Budapest in early April (forgive me if I've already mentioned this), but it interferes with the timing of my big month-long trip, so I didn't audition. Nevertheless, we have a big concert coming up mid-March that I'm excited about. I've really missed choir, and participating in a concert will be just like being home again. :)

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were all caught up in studying for 4 exams that I expected to take on Wednesday afternoon. They were all for a computer course that I'm taking online; OU hosts it, and the first deadline was yesterday (Friday) so I wanted to make sure to do it ahead of time. But when I went in on Wednesday to the international office (a lady there is supervising my testing) we immediately discovered that their computers don't have Microsoft Office 2007, only 2003, which is a problem. So we went to the Boole library computer labs, and then the website for the tests wouldn't work. So, stressed and frustrated, I e-mailed the company's IT, who amazingly got back to me in less than 24 hours with a solution. So I went back to the international ed office on Friday and took the first 3 tests, but my instructor hasn't emailed me the fourth exam yet, so that's postponed to... whenever.

Yeah. Very exciting, right? The only reason I'm having to deal with this is because I was a dummy who forgot to take one of the prerequisites for my application to the Health Sciences Center, and after much hassle and to-do, landed myself in this computer class. SO much more trouble than I was expecting.

Anyway, what else went on this week? I'm currently writing a philosophy essay on the relationship between mind, body, and environment. Essays always take an excruciatingly long time for me, so I'm about 70% of the way done and am dedicating most of tomorrow to it too. I guess I shouldn't worry TOO much, since all I have to do is pass, but still.

Yesterday, after the computer tests, I spent a few hours shoving leaflets into people's letterboxes in a few neighborhoods in Cork. I was doing this with Kristina and a Pakistani man who works at Sania's restaurant, to help promote said restaurant. It was kind of cold and drizzly weather, and I got attacked by a small dog at one point, but overall it was good work. Last night, Erica, Susan, Kristina and I had a pizza party. We rented a chick flick, got some Indian food, some pizza, and watched the movie on Kristina's laptop.

So, overall, I've been doing pretty well. And if you feel the slightest urge to leave me a comment, I love comments, so please do. :D

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bending over backwards to kiss a rock

Yesterday marks the first successful trip outside of Cork I've yet been on! For any of us, actually (Kristina, Susan, or me). And, of course, we chose to visit one of Ireland's single biggest tourist attractions: the Blarney Stone.

For some reason, I had it in my head that the Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle were two distinct entities. I imagined a big rock sitting in an enclosure, blackened on all sides by hundreds of years' worth of kisses from myth-loving Irish and dubious tourists, all hoping to be endowed with the gift of eloquence by a simple piece of granite. I'm not sure why I didn't know where the Blarney Stone was, or what you have to do to kiss the dern thing. If you're in this boat, read on and be entertained.

So, my day began with meeting Kristina and Susan in front of the Student Center on campus. We walked the twenty-five minutes into the City Center, to the bus station, to learn, to our pleasure, that buses left for Blarney at least once an hour, and returned just as frequently. Nevertheless, we still had a good half-hour to wait for the next bus, and we entertained ourselves with Kristina's iPod (Susan got one earbud, I got the other, and we sang along to Matchbox 20's "How Far We've Come" in harmony, earning a few odd glances from the other Blarney-goers nearby. It was good times.) We packed ourselves onto the bus, which was crammed with people. I've never seen so many Americans in one place in Ireland. After the short ride into town, the three of us got lunch at a cute cafe, then set off for the castle.

Entering the grounds cost 8 euro, but fortunately that covered kissing the Stone, climbing the castle, and... entering dank little caves, apparently. Part of the grounds are narrow, wet, muddy caves, which of course we had to explore to our satisfaction. Kristina's satisfaction is to do a lot more exploring than either me or Susan, so we often allowed her to forge ahead and tell us whether the hole in question was worth seeing. Once, we discovered a cave full of people's names who'd visited there over the years. We left our names for posterity and took some pictures (not with my camera. I forgot it in my apartment. Argh.)

Finally, we ran out of caves and entered the castle itself. After a certain point, this was rather nerve-wracking, as we entered a tightly-wound spiral staircase where the steps only seemed to get narrower and narrower. Every so often, a room appeared off the side of the staircase - no landing, just a room cut into the stone walls. Each room had a plaque explaining what it used to be used for (Young Lady's Bedroom. Kitchen. Earl's Bedroom.) Finally we emerged at the top of the winding staircase, onto the roof of the castle.

Up until that point, I had been rather losing faith in the reputation Ireland has for being beautiful. I mean, Cork is not a pretty city. It's not even a particularly clean city. And, aside from the singular failed jaunt into Dunmanway, I hadn't seen much of Ireland at all except for the ins and outs of Cork. But, coming out to the view that Blarney Castle afforded, my faith in a beautiful Ireland was completely restored. The greenness stretched on forever. Vast tracts of farmland and woods, interrupted only by one little town in the distance, were laid out for miles around the castle. Like I said, I didn't have my camera, but Kristina and Susan were each as entranced as I was, and snapped photos every few feet along the wall.

On the opposite side of the battlements from where we emerged, two older men sat around... nothing, as far as I could see. Where on earth was the Blarney Stone? So we walked over there, and on the floor were several mats. Behind the man on the right, there were vertical metal bars protruding from the unremarkable looking wall. But that section of the wall was further out, and there was a hole in the floor behind the mats. If I haven't made this clear up until now, we were high up. We were VERY high up - about 10 stories, I'd say. And the wall, down below the floor level, was darker, smudged with years and years of kisses. But you couldn't lay on your stomach and get your mouth to the wall that way - you'd fall. And so now I understood why kissing the Blarney Stone was such a big deal. You had to lie on the mats, belly-up, your head towards the Stone. You had to grab the metal bars, scoot yourself out and out and out until you could finally kiss the low-down Stone, fighting the fear of falling through that hole, and then make it back. And... I was the first to go. The man on the right's responsibility was holding onto your legs so you didn't fall, and the man on the left's job was to take a picture.

I'd be lying if I didn't say that seeing the countryside, stretched out below my hardly-supported upper body didn't make me want to panic. But, somehow, we all three managed to kiss that piece of wall... Kristina almost didn't. I told her it wasn't scary, it was fine (liar, liar) and we all walked away from that wall victorious.

So now you know why it's a big deal to kiss the Blarney Stone. Not because you now have the gift of eloquence, but because it requires NERVES!

Anyway, the rest of the day was also enjoyable. We walked around the grounds for several hours, seeing horses, flowers, lakes, and fields. All of it was lovely, but we were glad when we returned to our rooms for a rest. The two of them actually went out again that evening, but I was really tired and opted to stay in instead. It's just as well - I heard that the people they were supposed to meet at the pub never even showed up.

And today my job is schoolwork. Talk to ye later!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Classes are halfway over!

As time goes on, I find that more and more activities get planned every night of the week. I haven't just "stayed home" at all this week. On Monday, Kristina and I made burgers at her new apartment after my classes were over. Neither of her two roommates were in yet, so we had the place to ourselves. She had spent the day canvassing a part of Cork we hadn't seen yet, as well as checking out all the details of her new place. She seems really happy and excited to have a different place to live in now.

Tuesday evening, I attended UCC's choir rehearsal for the first time. I went with Susan, and it was a lot of fun, if somewhat unlike any other choir rehearsal I'd ever attended. The laidback Irish attitude extends to their musicmaking, it seems, and between that and the fact that our director (Tom) is only a student himself, the rehearsal was a bit scattered and informal. I enjoy Tom's directing, though. He's a nerd, but very outgoing and loud; it's clear all the choir members love him. We had a big discussion midway through the evening about the proper way to pronounce the word Renaissance. Europeans tend to put the accent on the second syllable (Ren-NAY-saunce), but the way the music was written forced an American pronunciation (REN-na-saunce), much to the indignation of the many native Irish in the room. Overall, it was a lot of fun - and I was pleased to see everyone again the next night...

...because on Wednesday, the choir hosted a showing and sing-along of Mamma Mia! in the basement of the library. (The basement of the library isn't really a basement. And it doesn't strictly attach to the library. I mean, there are about 6 classrooms, bathrooms, and 2 computer labs down there, and you can't access it from the library. At all. Needless to say, this confused me a lot the first week I was here, and I was told to go to Boole Basement, and going downstairs in the library didn't get me there.) Anyway, the sing-along was an absolute blast. There must have been 60 or 70 of us in the room, and every girl was singing at the top of her voice with the helpful follow-the-bouncing-ball-type captioning. Tom even joined in, loudly, a time or two. It was brilliant. Afterwards, Susan, Chris, Franzi, and I went to the Thirsty, a local pub. Chris is an Asian kid from New Jersey, who is somewhat socially oblivious but a great guy nonetheless; and Franzi is an exchange student from Germany who speaks excellent English and is very nice. Susan struck up a conversation with one of the musicians there, as well, so a good time was had by all.

Tonight, Kristina and I went to another Comedy Club show, this time at the Old College Bar. It was quite a small crowd; there were only perhaps twenty of us in the audience. The main comedian was great - he also spotted Kristina and me right away, and proceeded to make as much of his routine about America as he could! He was excellent and had us laughing the whole time. We enjoyed ourselves. :)

My computer course is finally underway. It's online, and the program is neat and organized. Despite the fact that it could safely be used to instruct someone who's been living in the Stone Age and has an IQ of 72, I'm actually enjoying going through the neat little lesson plans - which, due to the test date being next Wednesday, I will spend much of my weekend doing.

Hope all is well with ye - tog bog e!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A very long week, not so briefly summarized

Seeing as I was reprimanded by not just one, but two people, on my neglect of my blog, I apologize for the error, and hope to make amends by explaining just what has kept me so busy lately.

I spent last Saturday with Susan. We wandered around, went shopping around town (Susan got a blanket from the same store where I got my purple dress), and got her groceries from the Tesco in City Center (or City Centre, if I really want to be Irish). Then we came back, did a little homework, and met back up at dinnertime in my kitchen. We made pancakes! They were delicious. ☺ One of the things about Ireland is that there is very, very little brand diversity, no matter where you shop. It takes a bit of getting used to, after the United States’ practice of selling three or six different brands of any given product. We Americans must like our choices or something, haha. Anyway, there are 2 different kinds of pancake mix you can buy, and only 1 kind of pancake syrup – which honestly isn’t pancake syrup in our conception of the term. It tastes like maple syrup and honey mixed together, maybe with a little extra sugariness thrown in for good measure. (The same people who make this stuff, make the one and only kind of chocolate syrup you can find, and oh MAN is that stuff good).

The next day, Sunday, I went to St. Francis for church and met Kristina there. We went to Burger King for lunch in town, and met Kristina’s house-mate Paloma there. They were planning a surprise birthday party for Kristina’s host mother, so I tagged along as they bought streamers, balloons, and banners. We parted ways pretty soon after that; the buses to Carrigaline, where Kristina’s host-family is, are pretty few and far between on Sundays especially.

Monday is a fairly busy class day for me. The professor seems to have changed midway in my Human Sexuality class, and apparently the same thing’s about to happen in my Celtic Religion and Mythology class. I can’t figure why that is. Anyway, regardless of teacher, the psychology class is very interesting, and I met a few nice people there this past week.

On Tuesday evening, I went out to a pub with Susan and Kristina. The pub is called Costigan’s, and it’s pretty cool. It’s right on Washington Street, about 25 minutes of walking away, and we all bought ourselves drinks and laughed and chatted and had a good time. I only had one drink - which will probably be the extent of my drinking at any one time while I’m here, don’t worry.

On Wednesday evening, Susan and I went back to the same pub to listen to the live music there. There were 2 guys; one played guitar and the other sang. They were excellent musicians, and we enjoyed listening to them – as well as critiquing the clothing of the young men and women congregated around the table in front of the two of us. Actually, overall, people seem to be rather well-dressed around here – especially if they’re going out to the pubs. You catch people in slouchy dress only if they’re headed to class; otherwise, they seem to prefer heels, dresses, button-up shirts, and well-fitted jeans (American boys who can’t keep their pants up, take note!)

On Thursday, everything started to come to a head. Kristina’s host-mother had not been treating her very nicely, and Kristina was tired of the treatment she was getting there, so we started poking around other places for her to live. Needing to take care of some things, she skipped our third class of the day (I now love that class. It's the tutorial for Celtic Religion and I think the instructor is fantastic) and stopped in a little place near my apartment building, called Fusion Cuisine, where we frequently buy food for its cheapness and quality. She vented her accommodation problems to a friendly waitress (Erica), and lo and behold, her boss, Sania, has empty apartments she needs to rent! Well, if that isn't a sign from God I don't know what is, so even though we checked out another house that night - which was actually adorable, I loved it - Kristina immediately decided on the apartment which Sania is renting out. Without getting into the messier details of the issues with her host mother and family, suffice it to say that both parties were reasonably pleased with Kristina leaving that house in Carrigaline on Friday morning for the very last time.

So then, Friday morning, Kristina came over to my apartment with her backpack and suitcase hastily filled with all her belongings. We did a ton of laundry (twelve euro), got lunch at my apartment, and proceeded to spend a lot of time going to different stores, trying to get Kristina wireless internet. Of course that was way more complicated than it needed to be. (In short: The company, O2, wants proof of address. A form with her address, stamped and notorized by the school, is apparently not good enough. Go figure, right? Sometimes I wonder whether these companies actually want business, or just want to frustrate people.) Anyway, we went out to dinner that night at a really nice Chinese restaurant, then went to the same pub as usual again (Costigan's, remember? Are you keeping up with all this okay?) Also, we originally thought to move Kristina into her new apartment that day, but Sania needed to take care of some things, so she spent that night on my floor.

And we've made it all the way to yesterday! Okay, so, yesterday, we woke up fairly leisurely, but then the rest of the day was more walking than I have ever done in a single day in my life. We got lunch at Centra and spent more time dealing with the wireless internet problem, to no real avail. She can have her proof of address by sometime next week when the bank gets around to sending her a bank statement. Because the branch of the bank that's inside the school evidently doesn't have the authority to print bank statements. I'm pretty sure that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but whatever. After that, we went by Penney's and bought her some new bedding, pillows, and towels for her room. Then we came back and packed up Kristina's stuff. Then we went back to Fusion Cuisine to wait for Sania, who was still running errands and came by an hour later. We had amazing chocolate cake while we were waiting, and then Sania made us both free chicken sandwiches for the road! :) We picked up Kristina's luggage, loaded it into Sania's car, and went to the new apartment. Sania took us to a couple of places where she had errands to run before dropping us back at the apartment again. We made the bed, then walked to a nearby grocery store called Lidl (pronounced "little"), then walked the long way round to Tesco, where we got a few things. Then we got very, very lost trying to get back to the apartment. This place is in a nearly completely unfamiliar part of town to the both of us, and in an effort to not take the long way back, we wasted even more time trying to find the shortcut that we knew existed somewhere or other. The sun had set; in the dark, we tramped down the side of a road, which turned into a highway, and suddenly we were so far off anyplace we wanted to be, that we had to turn around completely and go back. We tried another road, and thankfully that one led to a landmark that Kristina recognized. We got lost again, but fortunately were headed in the right direction and made it back to the apartment... thirty minutes after the Skype date I was supposed to have with Jason. Keep in mind that we both had full backpacks of heavy groceries during all of this. We were so tired and frustrated (after this 3-hour grocery run!) that we just sat in that internet-less apartment for another half hour, grumpily eating cookies and putting away groceries. We took the bus out to City Center, walked ANOTHER thirty minutes back to my apartment, and briefly both got a chance to talk to our respective boyfriends for about 10 minutes before having to turn around and go back to Fusion Cuisine. Sania's husband took us back to Kristina's apartment, and I spent the night at her place.

So today, Kristina and I woke up, made breakfast, and walked to City Center (we finally figured out where we were going, Buichas le Dia!) where we met the aforementioned waitress, Erica. She took us back to her place, where she made us sandwiches and soup for lunch, and we chatted a while. As it turns out, her husband works for the company that makes World of Warcraft! Bwahahaha, I can't wait to tell Jason that. Then we went to church (St. Mary's), and came back to my place. On the way, we met Ronan - remember him? I met him very early on. He walked back with us, and we chatted with him on the way. Kristina and I picked up popcorn and Coke, and once we got back to the apartment, the two of us watched part of The Tale of Despereaux.

And now I'm here, writing all this up.
And I need my groceries for the week, so I'm about to leave.
And now you know why it took me so long to write.
Have a good day, everyone!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Churches and a purple dress

Yesterday was wonderful. I woke up late (because my Fridays are sans classes) and met Kristina on campus at noon. I splurged a little on food, buying not just my typical personal pizza but also a box of chips (potato wedges, actually). Quizno's, where Kristina got her lunch, had a free-refill offer (this is not the norm here at ALL), so I got some Coke for the first time in weeks.

It was a beautiful day, so after we dropped off our stuff at my apartment, we decided to just go out and walk around Cork. We stopped in the English Food Market and bought a small cake of chocolate mousse and an eclair, then went back outside to eat them. They were absolutely heavenly, and the two put together were only 5 euro (about $6.50). Trust me when I say this is a good deal.

I had my sights set on seeing two Catholic churches that are a bit further out of the way, but before we got there we got sidetracked by a display in a small dress shop. The mannequin in the window was wearing a beautiful, V-necked, deep purple dress, and I immediately wanted to try it on. It was a little complicated to put on, being a wrap-around dress, but it looked gorgeous on me. Kristina tried it on too, and despite the fact that we are two very different body types, it suited her quite well too. I glanced at the price tag. It was on sale, but I didn't have the heart to spend money on a frivolous purchase for myself, so I begrudgingly hung the dress back up, thanked the shopkeeper, and we left emptyhanded.

We went on and crossed the river to see St. Mary's, which from the outside looks almost identical to the Cork Courthouse, except for the tall, white soapstone statue of Mary on the roof. (Why didn't I bring my camera? She's beautiful.) Kristina told me she needed to use the bathroom and that she'd meet me inside, so I went first to the front, then to one side, then to the other before finally finding a door that would open, and I went in by myself. It was styled similarly to St. Francis, with the main altar in the center, but smaller statues in the front corners. Mary was on the left-hand side, and a beautiful statue depicting the Holy Family was on the right. Further to the right was a statue of Jesus, in front of Whom was a set of votive candles. Kristina and I lit one to pray for our trip. There were also doors on the right wall of the church leading into a separate chapel dedicated to St. Martin, one of the first black saints I have seen.

After leaving the church, we went up the hill to find the other one I'd seen on some maps. This was totally unexplored territory for the two of us, and I was charmed by the quaint, quiet, narrow roadways and the typical mushed-together styling of the buildings surrounding. Kristina was carrying a pretty satin bag which she mentioned she'd seen for a couple euro and wanted. As we walked, she asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, which is in a couple months. I told her she didn't need to get me anything, and that the fact that we'll be in Munich on my birthday is good enough for me. Then she handed me the bag, and said, "Happy birthday! Open it!" Inside was.... the beautiful purple dress from the shop display. :D I was so thrilled, I hugged her and thanked her again and again. I'm really going to have to do something awesome for her one of these days... :) :)

On our way, a man standing in the doorway to a pub stopped us and chatted with us for a few minutes ("Where are ye from?" "America." "I know that, where in the States??" Apparently our accents give us away even from a distance, haha.) He talked to us about Obama, seemed dubious that he'll make any real change to the current state of affairs, and asked us if the First Lady was pregnant. Which she isn't, according to Google News, but he seemed convinced by some paper he'd read. Tabloids are popular here - surely the man isn't silly enough to believe what he reads in the tabloids?

Anyway, we didn't find St. Anne's, but we found the North Cathedral, which has to be within 3 blocks of the former. I have never seen so many churches crammed so closely together in my life. At any rate, the North Cathedral is the most modern of any of the churches I've seen yet. They also have a relic - a bone of a man who lived and died in the 15th century, and who isn't a saint but has the title of Blessed. I thought that was pretty cool, but it freaked Kristina out that they keep some guy's bone in a case in a church.

We went back after that, and Kristina caught the bus back to her host-home. And I hung out with Susan, who is now here again, and we're going to go shopping. So I need to leave.

Write later!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Libraries and a hoodie

It's been a little while since I've posted. I haven't noticed the time go by, really - one sign that I'm getting used to it here. The classes aren't exactly rhythmic - Monday is different from Tuesday is different from Wednesday, etc. etc. - but I'm falling into a quiet routine, which I find comforting.

I bought a bright pink UCC hoodie today! This week is something called Rag Week, and to be honest, I don't really know what that means. There was a notice in our apartment last weekend telling us the fines we would receive if caught egging buildings or vandalizing property, which is apparently part of the tradition of Rag Week... but I don't know what the actual point is. Anyway, my hoodie has the UCC crest on it ("Where Finbarr taught, let Munster learn"), the word "Rag," and a little logo on the sleeve reading "UCC Students' Union." Also, despite it being an extra small, it pretty much swallows me whole. Warm, though. And quite pink.

I had the misfortune of checking a book out of the library last week with a yellow sticker on the side. The book, entitled The Magic Flute, followed the lives of four Scottish boys growing up in the fifties, through their lives. Best friends in primary school (elementary school, to us Americans) their lives still went in four completely different directions into their twenties and thirties. It had no real conclusion to it, or moral lesson, or epiphany, or anything resembling a satisfying ending, but it was still a decent book. At any rate, the fact that it had a yellow sticker on the side meant that when I checked it out, it was due back a week later, and when I tried to renew it on its due date, I was curtly informed that I couldn't do that and either had to finish it that day, not turn it in and start incurring fines, or turn it in and wait for it to reappear on the shelf, at which time I could check it out again. Figure THAT one out. At any rate, I decided to spend a lot of time in the library that day, and ended up speed-reading half the book in about 3 hours. It was a little frustrating. I would have much preferred to take my time with the thing, but that yellow sticker must have meant it was very special. (Today, my library no-sticker pick was Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.)

Gaelic is starting to get more complicated. We're starting to conjugate verbs and count items. Irish has got to be the only language in which counting objects requires a lot of thought and memory. Really, the rule actually changes depending on what number you're on. You spell the noun differently depending on whether you're on 1, 2-6, or 7-10, bizarrely enough. But the class is a lot of fun, and I'm enjoying the learning experience. My teacher, Claire, is great, too.

That's all for now. Write later! :)