Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb 3200 BC

My Semester Start-Up Programme has officially come to an end and tomorrow I begin my first classes here at Trinity College. I have decided to let go of my frustrations circulating around Trinity College’s extremely inefficient “system” that isolates each department and makes it hard for us visiting students, who seek cross-disciplinary educations, to end up with a workable schedule. I realized after a few days here that any hopes of confident knowledge accessible via the Internet is just. not. happening. So, I’ve decided to let go. To smile about it. To embrace the fact that to figure out anything, I must walk from department to department. I must set foot inside each building. I must interact with many different people and be re-directed to many different buildings located at opposite ends of the campus. Luckily, my confusion is constantly met by a friendly Irish accent ready to help me and to explain the timetables (the course schedules) to me.

From an anthropological perspective, this isolation and division that sharply exists between each department is striking different from most American universities. Irish students are accepted into their given department as a freshman and every semester they are basically handed a pre-decided course schedule. They are rarely allowed to take courses outside of their major. Schooling is much more rigid here. However, my American counterparts (my suitemates) who have spent the last five months at Trinity, have explained that for the Irish, school is not usually their number one priority. For many Irish students, social activities take precedence. Most of Trinity’s offices close for a mandatory hour and a half lunch break daily. Are we Americans working too much? Would a little more scheduled downtime be a possible solution to Playstation-addicted youths and “Crackberry” syndrome? I’m interested to find out more about the Irish relationship to schooling, something focal in my own life, and re-evaluate my perceptions.

The past week was jam packed with morning lectures on Irish History, Art, and Literature; a literary pub crawl, an outing to the Abbey Theatre to see “The Seafarer,” a field trip to Croke Park (the Gaellic Athletic Association headquarters), a day trip to Drogheda to see Oliver Plunkett’s head and to Newgrange to see the megalithic passage tombs built in 3200 BC. It was quite the week and I have caught up on some much needed rest this weekend!

Croke Park at Sunset

Friday, the program’s final day, was probably my favorite so far. The brilliant tombs at Newgrange are extraordinary and mysterious. Since it pre-dates written history, virtually nothing is known about the people that built this engineered masterpiece or the full extent to its purpose. It is built of stones and giant rocks that have been traced to faraway parts of Ireland – meaning they were transported back to Newgrange, possibly by raft or boat. These were a sophisticated people. The tomb itself is constructed with absolutely no mortar, just strategic arrangement. The large slabs of stone compiling the roof are geometrically ordered to keep out the rain (a must in Ireland) and these construction methods have been perfectly successful for the last 5000 years. Who were these people?!? Honestly! I can barely assemble a dining room table from Ikea, let alone a structure to last 5000 years. I am, of course, slightly mechanically challenged…but that’s getting beyond the point…

Newgrange Tomb Entrance

After returning to Dublin, we stopped for a drink in Dublin’s oldest pub (established in 1198 AD…now, that’s some serious drinking) and then for fish and chips (where I unfortunately ended up dropping half my fish on the sidewalk…a subconscious plea from my body to not ingest all that grease and postpone a premature heart attack? Perhaps…)

Let’s take a minute to talk about nightlife on the weekends here in the Dirty Dublin.

Much to my surprise, the cozy, yellow haze pubs often turn into nightclubs; complete with scantily clad, barelegged Irish ladies. The fashion motto here seems to be; the more “done up” the better. No matter what shape your figure, girls here strut the cobblestones in skin tight dresses that barely cover their skivvies and platform high-heeled shoes, as well as heavily processed hair and a quarter pound of makeup. Despite the frigid temperatures, these tiny dresses are sported over bare legs! BARE LEGS! I think this is the thing that really gets me. As I walk by, in my multi-millimeter thick leggings and my flat boots, I shiver for these poor girls. I guess the exorbitant amount of alcohol keeps them all warm.

I must say, Dublin, you are not working the fashion scene quite like London… You’re not “bending it like Beckham,” if you will. London fashionistas rock the crazy, decade fusing, high heeled soiree and they do it with ease. They are the kings and queens of the fashion circus. Hell, Brick Lane looks like a vintage movie set deployed an atomic bomb. Dublin seems to have a little work to do. I have yet to see anything extremely unique here, although I still need to explore the “hipster” Williamsburg equivalent named Smithfield. The Dublin girls somewhat blend together and seem intensely juxtaposed with the less stylized Irish man.

Booze. I honestly don’t know how Dubliners afford to drink as much as they supposedly do. Especially students? Most beers here cost about 5 euros ($7.50). Shots cost about 8 euros ($12!) Dublin is notoriously an expensive city. Ireland is also infamous for being isolated from the rest of the “continent” and fails to compare their prices, resulting in some of the priciest nightlife and lifestyles in Europe. How do these people do it? Apparently, most Irish students “pre-game” (drink an extremely high quantity of straight liquor) before going out to a pub or a night club. I know this practically makes sense for budgeting students, but I must admit, my romantic ideas of frequent pub carousing are dwindling side by side with my bank account. I can’t keep up!

I’m off to bed for some reading (I picked up a William Trevor novel at Hodges Figgis Bookstore on Dawson Street this lovely sunny Sunday afternoon) before I venture out tomorrow morning for my first classes here at Trinity College! Tomorrow I start off with Sociology of Material Culture, Planet Earth, and the History of Ireland since 1900.

Oh yes, and my favorite spot so far to sip a coffee and read my new book? The Irish Film Institute.

I’ll leave you with a clever expression I came across today…

“Marriages are all happy. It’s having breakfast together that causes all the trouble.” – Irish Saying

Cheers,

Megan

Trinity College - An Unusually Bright Day

I have now been in Dublin for four days and I finally have my internet up and running (unfortunately, the electrical outlets in my room have decided not to work as of this morning, so I will figure that out tomorrow…) and I can finally give you an inkling into what it is like here in Ireland.

Cold. It has been freezing since I have arrived. In fact, on Saturday morning, the day I was flying in, Dublin was experiencing the worst weather it has had since the 1960s (according to the rosy cheeked flight attendant with a booming Irish accent serving me tea on my Aer Lingus flight). This “worst weather” equates to about two inches of snow…which resulted in the closing of the Dublin Airport “mid-my flight” over the Atlantic. My plane was redirected to the tiny little town of Prestwick, Scotland – where we sat for an hour onboard…unable to deplane as Aer Lingus is an Irish airline and there would have been issues with customs.

Those of you reading that are familiar with Minnesotan or Coloradoan winters might be scoffing at this extreme over-reaction. I was a bit, but in good humor. Honestly, I was childishly excited that I can cross Prestwick, Scotland off my list. Hey, I’ve seen it! I still want to make it off the plane in Scotland but just the thrill of landing once again in Europe kept me calm. Soon after, Dublin’s airport re-opened and I was gathering my bags and in a cab, straining my ear to understand my taxi driver’s thick Irish accent.

Arriving at Trinity with two large bags and a thick layer of ice holding steady to the earth is enough to make me reduce my luggage to just one suitcase for the rest of my life. Of course, the Front Gate (conveniently located to where I have been directed to collect my keys) is closed. I enter through the Nassau Gate. I really don’t see the point of having so many gates as there is one close to the north of campus that is open 24/7 and to what I have observed so far, not heavily monitored. (I probably just tipped off a slew of Irish criminals but, ah well.)

I proceed to drag my bags, arms aching, to an open door close by the Front Gate. A bit worried I may never locate my keys and that I might be forced to haul my bags to some hostel I must find sans internet, I bump into a friendly 30-something Irishman named Kenneth who takes pity on me and insists on carrying one of my bags. After a minute of me pretending to be just fine, Kenneth scoops up my 50 pound duffel and escorts me to the security desk (which I might have never found) and helps me claim my keys. Little did Kenneth know what “helping me bring my bags to my building” would entail. My residence here, Goldsmith Hall, is located at literally, the farthest point away from the Front Gate; directly at the opposite end. It takes 10 minutes to walk the campus and about 20 minutes to drag a heavy bag and skid on the ice across campus. Kenneth was my first Irish blessing. He conversed with me about his running team, his family he was meeting in twenty minutes, and his passion for the French language before wishing me well and parting once we reached Goldsmith, as quickly as he had arrived.

Goldsmith Hall is a bit like a minimum security prison. I am living in a suite where I have my own bedroom (for the first time since high school) but share a bathroom and a kitchen with three other girls. Luckily, my suitemates are friendly and warm this concrete block up when I see them. I have had trouble setting up my Internet, but I am finally connected. This morning, however, the outlets in my side of the suite were not working. Neither was the hot water in my shower. These issues I will save for tomorrow.

I have met up with Caroline and am thoroughly enjoying her company. We have been out exploring pub life every night since I have arrived in Dublin; so tonight we are taking a little break from the beers and Jameson. Our Trinity College “Semester Start-up Programme” (SSP) started on Sunday night. It’s been nice getting to know some new people but mostly I am excited to continue exploring Dublin and to start my classes here on Monday. Our first “meet and greet” was Sunday night. Our SSP group was apparently the first group to polish off the wine and not even touch the soft drinks provided by our program leaders. What a gang! We were thoroughly applauded by the SSP leaders.

The concept of alcohol, obviously something deeply embedded with Irish culture, is unfolding quite interestingly. For one, I feel that the availability of alcohol to people my age diminishes the divide that usually sharply exists between professors and students. I do feel freer in communication and more open and it is almost as if these professors seem less authoritarian; not in a way that de-legitimizes them, but in a way that humanizes them and connects them more closely to the students. Also, pub culture bonds both the young and the old, seemingly carefree. Most of the Irish people I have met, particularly the older generations, are deeply interested in what I am studying, what I think and know about Ireland, and of course, how I feel about Barack Obama. I have encountered several people deeply passionate about music and artistic expression. People seem strongly moved by poetry, by nationalism, by love. There is something deeply emotional about this place.

The Irish have bright eyes and a quick wit that slides off the tongue with ease. Despite their violent and grueling history, I’ve noticed the laughlines of the Irish seem lovingly placed. The lines seem to cradle their eyes. The people here are incredibly friendly, always offering to help in any way they can. Maybe I am romanticizing, but the truth is, I feel that despite the icy weather, Ireland is slowly beginning to capture my heart.

My first night in Dublin, I wandered around alone in the Temple Bar area looking for my first meal in 24 hours since landing in the Emerald Isle. I stumbled upon a family owned restaurant called The Tree. I spent the next couple of hours sipping red wine and eating baked salmon and tiny potatoes and talking to the mother and daughter who pulled their chairs up next to me. Eventually, the father came out from the kitchen and the family scurried over excitedly to the window to gaze out at Dublin’s first big snowfall in many years. I watched them, noses pressed up the the glass, and smiled. I know my stay here will be a warm one.

Nil aon tintean mar do thintean fein.”

(There is no hearth like your own hearth.)

Cheers,

Megan

So, I’m closing in on the last hour and a half (hopefully) of my stay here at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I have circled the tiny terminal several times stretching my legs and I’ve finally located one of the precious few outlets in existence here.

This terminal, terminal 5, which is solely an international terminal does not have a single restaurant once you make it past the security check point. Normally, as I usually snub my nose at airport “delicacies,” I might have taken a spiteful pleasure in this fact. “Ha, I don’t want to eat airport food and now no one can! Muahaha!” However, after my original 5 hour layover ticked slowly away into a 7 hour layover, I find myself feeling resentful. Am I not, in my final hours, still in America? The home of the brave and McDonalds? The origin of Starbucks? Can I get a what what? I’ve eaten the only tasteless vegetarian wrap I could find buried behind the footlong chicken subs at a questionable kiosk; my only dietary salvation. While its iceberg lettuce was not nearly close to being satisfying, I am still appreciative to find an option I could consume.

I’ve also spent the last several hours thinking about people and relationships. Airports are interesting places. Forgive me, as I don’t mean to go all “opening scene from Love Actually on you, but anthropologically speaking, airports are unique. Actually, I might even compare them to the daily solitude among my 8 million neighbors in New York. At an airport, you have a large group of people commonly under extreme stress forced to occupy unusually tight quarters, take their clothes off, sit in chairs both small and uncomfortable, and appear to be somewhat pulled together. You rarely see a disheveled looking personal at the airport. (Those might be the ones that get escorted off into some private room to be “questioned.”) I respect most people for hiding their frustration and remaining calm in irritating circumstances. I also find the people that don’t bottle their stress to be quite amusing. In the security line at JFK Airport on my way home for Christmas, I eavesdropped on a couple insulting each other silly for choosing the wrong (meaning longer) queue. Sometimes these things I overhear make me feel happy to be human.  I am reminded every single one of us experiences these universal frustrations and that every single one of us chooses how we react. It reminds me to remember the humor in everything.

If you are handicapped, you experience many benefits at an airport. You are appointed your own personal airport employee that wheels you to the front of the security line; past the glares of a long snake of people waiting to take their shoes and coats off and walk through the scanners several time cursing the forgotten change in their pockets. You also get to board the plane and get off the plane first. I can’t help but feel slightly jealous. I guess they deserve the special treatment.

I also admire how well most families do with keeping their kids warmly dressed in this chilly Chicago winter. Every time I walk by a small child that is bundled so warmly their limbs protrude horizontally from their frames, I can only think about how much work it is to a) get said child into these layers in the morning b) pack all of these clothes for mom, dad, and child into weight-limit size baggage c) undress child and self to go through intensified security screening d) redress self and child and e) keep child happy and sustained with skimpy snack pickings in this desolate terminal. So far today, every child and family I have seen have been giggling. This makes me hopeful.

I will hopefully be boarding soon so I must make my way back to my proper gate (I am still plugged into the only outlet I was able to locate). I bid my friends, family, and America farewell for four months.

I’ll talk to you from across the pond.

Cheers,

Megan

A new decade has begun and I find myself packing for a new adventure across the pond. In just five days and after one five hour layover in Chicago’s O’hare airport, I will be on a plane descending slowly into the Emerald Isle. I’ll be walking on the cobblestones of a new city, completely reliant on my map and my curiosity. I am spending January through May studying at Trinity College in Dublin.

Trinity College was founded in 1592. It is Ireland’s oldest college and it is situated right in the heart of Dublin. It holds Ireland’s largest library and is home to the Book of Kells, which tourists pay 10 euros to gaze upon. I’ll be taking classes in the Botany and the Sociology departments (I must admit, my heart leapt a bit at the sound of “Botany” as an actual academic specialization…I can’t help but feel like a character attending Hogwarts…) I’m looking forward to the experience of academia at a foreign university, bumping elbows with the Irish.

I’m entering this experience blind. I know relatively little about Irish history or culture. I barely know anyone that will be there. A mutual friend has introduced me to a fellow New York student, Caroline, that will be at Trinity this term, as well. I am excited to get to know her.

As an Environmental Studies and Anthropology student, I have looked into some of the current issues that Dublin is facing. Relatively recently, Dublin has initiated some stricter litter laws. Most businesses have responded very eagerly and the area has really shaped up. However, the city of Tallaght, which is just outside Dublin, has been voted the “dirtiest city in Ireland” and is constantly plagued with litter. It will be interesting to see the public’s reaction to these issues. Another interesting environmental/anthropological juxtaposition exists in Northern Ireland’s resistance to fluoridate its water supply, resulting in a much greater percentage of decaying teeth than in the rest of the Irish Republic.

My heritage is both Irish and Norwegian, so this place signifies a genetic crossroads for me. For my birthday last summer, my very spiritual mother set me up with a tarot card reading. My interpreter Susan told me I would be traveling someplace I had been before. Somewhere I may have lived in, previously, in another life. While I might shrug these “past life” statements off most of the time, I haven’t been able to shake this one. Will I feel some sort of eerie familiarity walking among the same winding streets my literary heroes have certainly strolled before me? Will something resonate in my heart amid the darkness of a melancholy melody floating around a lonely pub? I feel electrified to find out.

It has been awhile since I have spent time abroad. I studied in Granada, Spain for three weeks in June 2006. I took the best Spanish classes I have ever taken from my two professors Africa and Louisa at the Universidad de Granada. I was very young then. Spain was a burst of fresh air into my seventeen-year-old face. I enter Dublin a few years older and with a few ideals unravelled. I enter it as openly as I entered Spain, except a bit more weathered.

After spending a summer heartbroken, I am ready to spend a spring healing and gallivanting around a new city. This blog will serve as both my personal story and as an anthropological glimpse into a new culture (perhaps a culture thought to be less “exotic” than others when compared to America.) This is a tale of Dublin’s kinetic energy. May Ireland take me where it may.

May the blessing of light be on you—
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
and warm your heart
till it glows like a great peat fire.

– A Celtic Blessing

Cheers,

Megan

Ha’Penny Bridge, Dublin

June 2017
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