Friday, March 27, 2009

Friend-filled Ireland

Ever since St. Patty's Day, I've been hanging out with Mike, Dave, and Kristina a TON. The four of us get along famously, and it's tremendously enjoyable to have guys to hang out with.

Last Thursday, the four of us hung out at Kristina's place. We watched Father Ted (have you heard of this show? It's an Irish comedy following the life of a Catholic priest. I was expecting to be offended, to be honest, but it's actually not bad at all), ate frozen pizza, and drank wine. There was a small mishap involving the mixing of red and white wine, but overall it was a lot of fun.

This week has been filled with a historical figure known as Michael Collins. If you don't know who Michael Collins is, he was basically the leader of the Irish fight for independence from Britain in the early 20th century. He helped organize the Irish militia, gathered intelligence, was present at the formation of the treaty with Britain, and was assassinated at the age of 31. The Cork Opera House is showing a musical based on his life, and the four of us, plus a guy named Nevin, went to see it last night. I thought it was great; the music is still stuck in my head. To get us ready for the musical, the guys decided to show Kristina and me the movie by the same name (Michael Collins) on Monday night. Mike and Dave, both history buffs, would not be quiet for the life of them during the entire film... but at least they didn't talk during the musical.

All my classes are finished! I know, crazy, right? I have until next Thursday to write my paper for my Human Sexuality class, and I have 3 exams when I return in May, but other than that my obligations to UCC are complete. The system strikes me as a little strange, but it works out grand for visiting students, many of whom are taking full advantage of the month off to travel.

Kristina's and my trip around Europe begins in less than a week! We're flying into Paris late next Thursday. I am so excited, but Kristina is practically bouncing off the walls thinking about it. Now that I've made these new friends, I wish they could come with us, but they both have other plans. (We're thinking of doing video-blogs each evening, but I'm going to try and write a journal entry for each day as well while we're traveling).

I have to meet Kristina and Dave shortly, so I must bid adieu for now. Sorry about my lax updating schedule - it's hard to remember to write everything down sometimes!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Patty's Day

Yesterday was an absolutely brilliant day. St. Patrick's Day for the win!

So Kristina, my two new friends Mike and Dave, and I decided we would meet up at noon at Mike's place before the parade began at one. Another girl, Avril, was also there; she's a redhead, very nice, and a Brit. Amazingly, all of us were on time - even Dave, who had to drive into town from his home in Blarney.

When we walked onto Grand Parade (that's the name of the street - it never occurred to me before the coincidence there), the place was absolutely packed. Half of the county must have been crowded into City Center, and due to this huge number of people, we almost immediately lost Kristina, who had stopped to buy a green hat from one of the many vendors who had set up shop along the way. She found us again, though, and we actually managed to get decent positions along the parade route, towards the beginning. The parade, unlike everything else that is Irish, started smartly at one o'clock.

What surprised me was how quiet everything was. I mean, there was plenty of normal-speaking-voice level chatter, but hardly any of the floats or groups inspired shouts or cheers or even really applause from the crowd. Maybe it's an American thing to be noisy at parades? I don't know, but I was pretty weirded out. There were cool floats though - a huge water dragon whose head moved around, occasionally swooping into the crowd; a giant robot controlled by what I was told were Star Trekkies; and some random alien-shaped balloons. Most of the people were on foot - a few weren't even dressed up - and the whole affair was decidedly low-tech in comparison to what might be put on in the United States. I'm sorry to keep thinking in terms of comparisons, but I rather expected it to be like other parades I've seen... and it just wasn't. It wasn't bad, or not fun - it was just different.

The parade lasted about an hour, and then the five of us wandered off to find some food. We ended up at Four-Star Pizza, where we got a massive amount of food for 20 euro, and ate it in a green, grassy park I'd never seen before. It overlooked the city, which made for a completely gorgeous view. I can't believe I forgot my camera yet again... argh. But I could see the cathedral, and the bell tower, and a couple miles of residential areas and small businesses from the high spot on which we sat. We all sat happily for a good two hours, trading stories, "shooting the breeze," as they say. The sun was shining, and it was lovely, warm, and comfortable; I couldn't have asked for better company, either. What was interesting to me was the huge diversity of places the five of us came from. Mike is from California and goes to school in Maryland. Dave is born and bred a Corkonian, and was the only Irishman among us. Avril came from England, about 20 miles away from London. Kristina is from Michigan, and I of course am from Mississippi and go to school in Oklahoma. It's amazing to me how we all came together, despite our different backgrounds.

We finally left the grassy slope, and unfortunately Avril had to leave at that point to get homework done. The four of us remaining walked back to the City Center, to the courthouse, where Mike was meeting a few friends of his. The courthouse steps, oddly, were full of drunken college students - and Mike's 3 friends were no exception. They had greasy pizza boxes and some kind of alcohol wrapped in a jacket sleeve to hide the label. One of the girls was Mike's particular friend, and he seemed a little anxious to find her so trashed. We followed them into a different park, this one right in the middle of the city... which was also full of drunk college kids. It wasn't as if there were fights going on, but the majority of people there were dressed gaudily and had unpleasant expressions on their faces. I wouldn't have felt safe in there by myself, and I deliberately stayed close to Mike and Dave. When we were getting ready to leave, Mike decided to stay behind with his drunken friends; I guess he was still worried about the one girl. I don't blame him.

Dave, Kristina, and I, then, the only remaining members of the group, trotted off with a scheme in mind to feed the ducks and swans at the Lough near Kristina's place. We went to Lidl, bought three loaves of bread at 60 cents each, and then went back to Kristina's place to hang out for a little while before going back to the Lough. Well, "a little while" turned into a couple of hours, complete with making toast that I suggested as a result of staring at the loaves of newly acquired bread. We sat and talked for a long time, periodically idly debating whether we should get up again and go feed the swans and ducks. By the time we finally got out the door again, it was after eight o'clock and very dark outside. The ducks were totally disinterested in our bread, and it took us quite a while to find some swans who would take it from us. It was still a lot of fun though, and Kristina and I were giggling (probably a little too much, haha) at the grunting sounds the swans made as they ate.

We finally got rid of that massive amount of bread and called up Mike again, who'd eventually left the drunks and gone back home, only to find a huge, noisy party at his apartment. When we got back there, he was sitting outside looking gloomy. Fortunately, the day was not yet over. (Yeah, I know. You're telling ME it was a long day). We walked down the street, got some Chinese food, then got in Dave's car and went to yet another grassy area. This one was peaceful, dark, on the river, and nobody disturbed the four of us at all. It was also quite cold, and I wasn't particular dressed for the occasion, but that was all right. We had Chinese food, after all, and I was with people who were (and are) some of the most awesome I have met.

After we left, we drove back to the parking lot of Lidl, where Dave and Mike were going to drop us off, but when we got there, the whole place was filled with smoke. Dense, white smoke. It turned out that a chimney was blocked and nearly on fire, right next door to Dave's grandparents' place. We called the fire brigade after talking to the man who lived in that house. We also knocked on his next-door-neighbor's door, who seemed confused and peeved that we were disturbing him to tell him that sparks were flying onto his roof. (Go figure, right?)

It was only after this, and meeting Dave's grandparents briefly, that Kristina and I went back to her place. We studied for our exam, which was the next day, and went to bed around midnight. (I didn't much fancy walking back home 30 minutes in the middle of the night).

So yes. That was my sober St. Patrick's Day. I loved every minute of it. :D

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kinsale and a concert

Sorry it's been so long since I've updated. School work is finally coming to a head, and I have two tests and an essay due this week. So unfortunately, this might not be a very long entry.

New things:
I went to Kinsale on Saturday with Kristina. Susan was supposed to come too, but that ended up not happening because she didn't feel well. Also, the original plan was to go to Kinsale the Friday before that, but the weather was bad. So we did it this time. I don't know if we're ever going to get to Killarney. We're running out of time before the month off and major traveling happens. :D

Anyway, so Kinsale was really nice. The weather was great - sunshiny and warm. Also, Kinsale is right on the water, and there were lots of sailboats and hills and a very local feel to the town in general. It's a perfect tourist locale, and they take advantage of it. There are bed and breakfasts every few feet, it seems like. We got a lot of nice pictures - those should go up on facebook soon.

I invited Mike over for a movie night one night; we watched stand-up Robin Williams, and that was fun. I've also been getting to know his friend Dave, who is an uber-nerd, but very cool to talk to. He's been helping me a bit with my Irish. :)

The concert was last Friday, and I think it went pretty well. It was held in City Hall. We performed 10 pieces in all, with interludes of string quartet, flute, and piano. One of the pieces, Dulaman, is in Irish, and Tom, our director, was slightly obsessive about making that one absolutely perfect, even though I could hardly understand what it was he wanted us to do differently. But overall, I think the concert went better than most of the rehearsals, which was highly gratifying, and it was a lot of fun as well.

I've got my Eurail pass now, which is exciting. Kristina and I are thinking we'll take the train up to Dublin the first day, when we fly out of there to Paris. We have 10 days of train travel available to us, and we're not using all of them, so we can indulge that way while we have the chance.

That's all for now - I'm sorry I don't have more time to write at the moment. Love to all!

Friday, March 6, 2009

An excellent few days

The last few days have been really cool. I've had a lot going on.

So, on Tuesday evening, I went with Susan to choir rehearsal, from which I left early. Despite the concert being next week, we still received new music at that rehearsal. It's fine, though, it's mostly pretty easy stuff. Anyway, after I left choir, I went straight to the comedy hypnotist show, where I was meeting Kristina.

The place was packed. Held in the same room where the orientation for foreign exchange kids was held back in January, there were just as many people in there this time. The show started very shortly after I arrived, and the hypnotist was a dark-haired, quick-fire man, well capable of keeping the attention of the hundreds of students in the room. About thirty students volunteered to be hypnotized - among them, Kristina. He told them to close their eyes and squeeze their hands together, all the while talking to them, telling them to keep squeezing more and more tightly, to clear their minds, etc etc. You could tell some people were taking his suggestions to heart and others weren't - for instance, Kristina's fingers were turning red and white with the pressure she was applying, while a girl in front of me had her hands so loosely intertwined that there was a gap between them. Then the hypnotist walked behind each of them and laid them down on the floor. Some people were eliminated from the line-up at this point because they were neither hypnotized nor becoming that way. Others seemed to actually fall asleep. Then the hypnotist started taking them through the show. At first everything was a group activity - it's really hot, it's really cold, something stinks, you're a class of kindergartners, etc. Then he started having them do individual feats, and it began to be obvious that these people were not just pretending to be under the influence of his suggestions. The most striking thing, to me, about hypnotized people is that, no matter what they do, they never laugh at themselves. Not once.

So there was this sequence where all of the people on stage were convinced that the people in the audience were off-duty soldiers, and they were our superiors. They were supposed to order us around, tell us to do push-ups, and so on. After a few minutes of this, Kristina walked up to me and barked at me to stand at attention. I didn't stand, but instead sat up straight in my chair and saluted her, grinning at her. Of course to me this was a big joke - nobody here was a soldier, and the whole thing was more than a tad ridiculous. But instead of grinning back at me and trying to get me to play along, Kristina's whole demeanor was instead incredibly stern, and I swear she was actually insulted by the fact that I didn't stand right away. Taken aback, I did as she asked, and she told me to drop and give her five. Which I did - or tried to. She shoved me down so hard with her foot on my back that I couldn't do the push-ups properly, and then she actually pushed my head in the ground, apparently angry that I was doing wimpy push-ups. I wasn't hurt, just surprised.

Generally I thought the whole thing was pretty entertaining. One guy danced with a broom to an Elvis Presley song, another was convinced that a mop was Angelina Jolie, and a third thought he was Rocky Balboa. Kristina was kind of angry about the whole thing after it was over, though, and doesn't want to repeat the experience.

On Wednesday, the two of us went to our usual stand-up comedy night at Club Aras in the Student Center. This time, though, when I walked in, I found Kristina sitting at a table with one of the student comedians. His name is Dave, and he is well-suited to his hobby. It's pretty much impossible for him to talk about anything without joking about it, and due to this, we had a great time. Kristina really couldn't hear him say anything without bursting into laughter, so we mainly listened to him, and the chief part of the interactions were between Dave and me - which is unusual... I'm normally the quiet one. Kristina would probably have talked more if she could have got a breath in between laughing. :P

On Thursday, there was another choir rehearsal. Not very many people showed up - maybe a quarter of the choir - but that was fine, since it meant that the altos got to go over the parts that confused them. Certainly helped me out, at any rate - I'd missed half the rehearsals by not joining until later anyway. After we were done rehearsing, Tom (the director) showed us some YouTube videos of different awesome musicians. I showed the choir the video that Katie Baker, my roommate back home, made with the track of her choir singing "Water Night" by Eric Whitacre. It was good times, and I enjoyed myself.

Yesterday was a lot of fun! Due to bad weather, Kristina and I decided not to go to Kinsale this weekend. Instead, we met at school, ate Subway for lunch, and then went to see Watchmen at a cinema in the city center. The movie was both awful and brilliant, terrible and good at the same time. Out of the whole cast, everyone's status as a protagonist or villain was ambiguous, except perhaps for the main two. And it was oh-my-gosh violent. I lost count of the number of times I had to close my eyes.

After the movie, we weren't sure what our plans were, but we decided just to head back to campus, so we went to the Student Center and found my friend Michael from my Human Sexuality class, hanging out with three other guys (Keane [sp?] and Dave [not the same one as the comedian]). Having nowhere to be, we sat and chatted with them for a good two hours before the Student Center closed. Then they took us to Lennox's, which is a "chipper" (a fish-and-chips place). We brought the food back to Michael's place, where the four of us (Keane had to leave) traded stories and got to know each other. It was SO nice to hang out with a couple of guys for once. I didn't realize how much I'd missed male company. After dinner, the guys headed off to see Watchmen themselves, and Kristina and I each went home.

So that's been my week! I'm pleased it's been such a nice one. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's raining again

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately. Most of my weekend was spent finishing my philosophy essay, which, though a bit on the short side, I was pleased with.

Even though not much has been going on, time seems to move more quickly now. There are fewer than four full weeks of classes before the "review week" - from what I understand, this means no class, but possibly review sessions, and possibly available professors whose brains we can pick for our exams in May. On Thursday of the review week (April 2), Kristina and I are heading out, flying from Dublin to France for the first leg of our journey.

I can't believe our trip is coming up so soon! When we first made plans, it didn't seem quite real - more like we were playing make-believe, inventing an itinerary so that we could see all these places we've only heard of. But now it's only a month left until we leave! There are a ton of details we need to take care of in the next few weeks. One of the hostels we're staying at (the one in Rome) e-mailed me to inform me that the price of our stay had increased a good 16 euro (their excuse is that their technology screwed up and posted them as having cheaper rooms than they actually do. Hmm...). So I'm going to go back and see if there's now a better deal for those nights. If not, 16 euro isn't THAT big of a deal, but it's still annoying. They should stick to what people sign up for.

Kristina and I are planning on going to Kinsale on Friday. Also, there's a "comedy hypnotist" show tonight at 8:20. Choir is at 7, so I'll show up for that and leave early. Since the concert is coming up so soon, I don't want to skip it entirely.

I'll try and write again soon. My next update will probably be about Kinsale!