Monday, March 1, 2010

Wales/Wayne/Week of Bombings

Weekend in Wales....Amazing Race Style

This weekend, Ashley, Rachel, Megan & I went to Wales, in true Amazing Race style (taxi > plane to Bristol, England > bus > train to Wales > another train > both directions). On the way from England to Swansea (after 1 missed bus & 1 missed train), our train picked up a huge wave of Wales rugby fans (they'd just won their match against France), who sang & danced the whole train ride. The 4 of us were delirious from all the traveling and traveling mishaps, & we thoroughly entertained ourselves by making impromptu Harry Potter references that suited our English train ride....e.g:

(Intercom): "Attention passengers, this is to inform you that there will not be food for purchase available on this train ride."

-Rachel: "2 chocolate frogs, please!"....

-Rachel: "Where did my apple go? It was in my backpack, it's disappeared."

-Me: "THAT's Wizard's Chess!"....

-"Oh dang there's no bathroom over here."

-"Alas! Ear wax!"...

(PICTURED: Megan at the Gowry in Wales)

At one point, a Frenchman told us we were on a train to London. Megan & Ashley stood up & shouted over to Rachel & me, "Uh, guys. Wrong train. We're headed to London. Just FYI." Funny enough, we were all pretty excited about this unexpected twist in events, & immediately started planning how we'd find a hostel in London. (Then we found out the Frenchman had misunderstood Megan's question, & we were on the right train after all.)

We visited a charming little seaside town called Mumbles, watching the Six Nations rugby games on TV in a pub (while drinking Irish coffee, in support of our team of course!) We stayed in Swansea with Ashley's friend, & got to see the Gower, which is an area of really amazing hills and cliffs that tower over the sea.

(PICTURED: Megan in Mumbles, Wales)

At the university in Swansea, there was a huge, wirey-looking tree (in the pic below) that instantly reminded me of the little black wire tree that Mom used to keep in her bedroom (I think it was a gift from one of her sponsors a long time ago). The tree was standing in front of a big, modern-looking building, and guess what that building was called? Vivian Tower. Yeah, you can't make that kinda stuff up.

(PICTURED: Vivian Tower)

Risking My Life for Lil' Wayne

Last Thursday, we went to one of our usual clubs called Rain. There was lots of dancing, & while it was overall a good night, there was one disappointment. See, the DJ in the club is up on the ceiling in this little loft. No less than THREE times, I climbed the scaffolding to get to the DJ, & proceeded to wave my cell phone in his face, which read (in the "Contacts" list), "A Milli Lil Wayne PLEASE." Each time, he would nod & convince me to go back down the ladder, but he never played it!! I'll try again next week.

Bombings This Week in Northern Ireland

"There's a threat that's as dangerous as anything that we've had during the 30 years of our troubles. There's no doubt that if you look at the patterns, particularly since last December, there's a growing escalation of events -- fairly major events, 13 major events since last December."

- Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, last night.

Ahern is referring to the threat of dissident Republicans, which seem to be amping up their terrorism campaign, aimed particularly at the police force.

Northern Ireland has seen a lot of violence during the last week. Around 11pm one night, a 250-pound car bomb (the biggest bomb since the Troubles ended) exploded in front of the Newry courthouse (about 30 miles from here)--no one was killed, but the police were only given 17 minutes to evacuate the surrounding bars. There was a mortar bomb device & rioting in Craigavon yesterday, and a guy in Derry was murdered a few days ago by the Real IRA. It seems like police stations are just constantly recovering from petrol bombs.

I am consistently confused about the level of danger here. I read all of these horrifying things in the newspaper, but I don't see any signs of political unrest in my own little world in Belfast. I see Starbucks and I see happy, full pubs. When I get to know Irish people my age, I usually ask them something about the current conflict--and every time, the question's sort of politely brushed-off. I've been told that people who aren't involved personally in the paramilitary gangs needn't worry about it. They very much seem to think about it as we think of gangs in the US--there are several gangs in Nashville, even, but if you're not in one (or living near one), it won't affect you. So the newspapers make it seem like I live in a full-on war zone, while the young people I meet make it seem like the violence is irrelevant to my life. I'm guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle. Maybe I'm being melodramatic, but when I'm in line behind a pair of police officers in a coffee shop, I do look at their bullet-proof vests & think about how I could potentially be standing next to a target.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In Support of the Revitalization of the Hippie Regime

I just decided that I'd like my next boyfriend to be a hippie.

I'm not saying I want to date a stoner...I'm talking about an ambitious hippie. Someone who goes to farmers markets, has unkempt hair, listens to the Alman Brothers, maybe has a poncho...and most importantly, believes in things that most people gave up on during the 1980s (I blame David Hasselhoff): things like spirituality and world peace and human potential. I would like my boyfriend to own exactly 3 pairs of pants (and one pair will be exclusively for spelunking).

Don't you get the feeling sometimes, that ambitious hippies understand something about life that we missed? Could the secret to contentment lie somewhere in that nest of hair?

On another note, this week I went to my first practice with the Swim/Water Polo team. It...was awesome. 45 minutes of swimming (which is exactly the maximum length of time I can swim without getting really bored) followed by 45 minutes of Polo. It was my first time playing in an actual Polo game. I was pretty pumped about putting on that little goofy cap with the ear guards! I even made an assist during the game! (By "assist," I mean that I threw the ball au hasard across the pool, and a guy in an identical goofy ear-guard cap happened to be in that general vicinity.)

On a related note: we (the 16 Americans in my program....self-described as "Team America") have realized that all of the clubs at the university boil down to being "Sport X/Drinking Team." Which sort of explains why Ireland only has 2 women going to the Winter Olympics this year. (And it's a bobsled team...They probably started out as the "Bobsled/Drinking Team," but then realized they could actually lose limbs by taking too many shots before jumping onto a high-speed, blade-driven vehicle).

Slang of the Day: "Slagging off" (=talking behind someone's back)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rugby-Watching...Not for the Faint of Stomach

PICTURED: Ireland vs Scotland (B team)
Why didn't I know about how awesome rugby is? We went to the Ireland vs. Scotland (B team) match last Friday, had a great time heckling the Scots, drinking Guinness, and laughing at the British fans next to us (who at one point had a lengthy conversation about the difficulty of drinking cold beer when you happen to have sensitive teeth; one of them had gloves that you could zip off the fingertips, which he explained was handy for many things, "dialing your mobile...typing on a computer...various forms of poking in general, really..")

Then on Saturday, we watched the Ireland vs Italy rugby match (the Six Nations cup is going on right now, which is a big deal), followed by the England vs Wales game. We watched it in a huge pub, which was completely crammed with fans in green jerseys (and red ones, for the Welsh fans). It reminded me of Steeplechase--definitely a marathon of a party. (A friend of mine approached the day like it was a 100 meter dash, so she had to leave after the first match.)(Talkin' to you, Taylor.)

At half-time during the England vs. Wales game, I saw a Welsh guy stand up on a pub table, rip off his shirt, and start belting out "Don't Stop Believin." (So now I can stop wondering what that world would be like.)

PICTURED: Welsh fans at the pub right before their friend started his topless rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'"..And check out that wrist flick! If there was any doubt..Dude is officially having a good time.
Irish Slang of the Day: Eejit (local pronunciation of "idiot")

Thursday, February 4, 2010


As I walk about Belfast, I'm often struck with how drastically different my life is today, than it was last year.

This time last year, I was miserable. I was studying in Southern France,in a beautiful house with beautiful people and arguably the most beautiful city in the world. Yet every day my goal was just to get the day over with. Because every day, I frantically thought about how my mom was taking chemotherapy, and how I wanted to be back in Nashville sitting on our big blue couch with her, rather than sitting 3000 miles away, and trying to pretend like I was as happy as the other people in my program. They were going to bars, clubbing, dating Frenchmen..and I was going to bed as early as possible every night, to get any relief from the anxiety of knowing that my mom was slowly dying.

In February 2009, I was, ironically, in Belfast. No sooner had I declared to my friend Laura that I knew I'd someday live here in Ireland, than my dad was calling my cell phone to tell me to catch the next flight home. The shops and streets that I walk today in 2010 are the same that I walked last February when I was told that my mom was in a deep coma that they didn't expect her to come out of. These days, I frequently pass the very phonebooths that I used last year in order to phone my dad every few hours, to get updates on Mom's condition.

This year, I could hardly be happier. I spend my nights at the pubs, happily swinging around with my friends to live Irish music, meeting new people who are intrigued by my accent...I spend my days walking about Belfast, hanging out with roommates, going to classes that I enjoy, swimming in the university pool...generally being a young adult with very few responsibilities (which is a strange feeling for someone who's spent the last 6 years as some kind of a caregiver).

All of this to say....I am beyond grateful. Grateful that I've been blessed with the resilience to continue living, continue dreaming. I am not fearless, but I do my best to live as though I were. When I was in France and agonizing over my situation, Allison Stohl wrote me, saying, "Listen to your heart, and don't let fear get in there." I have held that advice close to me throughout the last year. This is a good, good time in my life. Beyond good. This is an impossibly beautiful time in my life, after years of living enslaved to the fear that came with mother (and best friend) having terminal cancer. Even now--10 months after cancer left our family--it still feels like I am breathing in that gigantic gasp for air, after having been choking underwater for years.

It is true that heaven and hell are (can be) right here on earth. Belfast reminds me that last year was real, but that I am in a totally different place today than I was last year. Being in Belfast reminds me of my resilience, and when I walk around this city, passing by those phonebooths where I learned of my mom's imminent death--I can feel my strength.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2AM Chest-Bump gone Wrong

This weekend, I met my friends' British hallmate, Tom. Tom had a friend named Sean in town from England, and I went downtown to the Cathedral Quarter with the 2 of them. We went to a pub called the Duke of York, then to a club called Rain (where there was a total amoeba of people in a hallway , trying to cram into the bathrooms. Seriously, it'd never have been allowed in the States, it was such a fire hazard!) While we were waiting on an empty cab, I met a guy named Conan O'Brien (saw his ID, it was true). We couldn't catch a cab for the life of us, so we started walking home...

On our walk home, Sean was sort of skipping around and singing, and this Irishman coming towards us started to imitate Sean. They sort of skipped towards each other singing, got closer and closer, and then...I thought it was going to be a chest-bump, but..i watched as Sean literally threw this random Irishman into a trash bin on the street with one push. Everyone, I think even Sean, was really shocked and didn't know what to do --the Irishman was so surprised he just looked at Sean, with eyes full of want...and was like, "Why?...Why would you do this?" Sean was like, "I dont know. I'm as upset about it as you are. I do apologize,"
all British and proper-sounding, and helped him up. The poor guy tottered off, rubbing his head...I am still laughing.

Irish Slang of the Day: "Is that you?" (=are you leaving/done with whatever you're doing?)
"Wet the tea" (=make some tea)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Repping America

Today I went to TK Maxx (yes it's called TK Maxx here, not TJ Maxx), bought some things for my new room...including a couple posters that I feel best rep America: one is a psychedelic Jimi Hendrix poster, & one is a black-and-white collage of about 25 American rappers. I also got a Bob Marley poster in Jamaican-flag colors, which I realize isn't very American, but that man makes me happy just looking at him.
Irish Slang of the Day: "chav" (=redneck)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Swim Traffic

Note to self: the Irish swim on the LEFT side of the lane.

It feels VERY awkward to do a flip-turn in that direction! Today I swam a little at the rec center, then played around on the diving boards with a Romanian-speaking family. When I started doing one-and-a-half's on the low dive (the one trick I can do), they said, "romanianromanian-WOW!-romanianromanian" and started trying to do it, too. It was hilarious, they were belly-busting in their valiant efforts. Then I went and sat in the pool-side sauna with some old men who wanted to hear all about Nashville. A lot of Belfastians (or "Belfastards," as they are sometimes affectionately known) ask us kind of incredulously why we chose Northern Ireland (pronounced "Norn Iron").

Phrase of the day: "What about ye?" (=what's up?)