Sunday, January 18, 2015

Navidad Foodstuffs and a Farewell to Madrid

It's been a jam-packed couple of weeks, what with Christmas and New Year's, and I have more photos than I know what to do with.  So I'll just jump right in with Christmas, which here in Spain manifests itself in three days of feasting and late-late-night jamborees with friends and family: the first comes Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, then New Year's Eve, and finally Día de los Reyes Magos, which takes place on January 5th, the night before Epiphany in the Christian calendar.  While each one of these holidays has its own special quirks and traditions, the one thing they all have in common is they are filled with mountains and mountains of strange and delicious food.  (Yes, that is a disembodied pig's leg below, trotter and all.)

First of all, I'll start of with the iconic jamón serrano, which is a dry-cured ham that takes 18 months hanging in abandoned sheds high up in the lonely sierra (that how I picture it anyway) before it's properly prepared, and then it's carved up in thin slices and eaten for Christmas dinner.  While it's salty and oily and delicious and every Spanish person I've talked to just raves about it, I still prefer chorizo.  

While I was stuffed to the brim over the course of Nochebuena and New Year's Eve with all sorts of delectable dishes I'd never tried before - Russian potato salad with homemade mayonnaise, crab sticks, pan-fried shrimp with the heads still attached, stuffed mussels and scallops still in the shell, triangles of Manchego cheese, and anchovies of all kinds - if I were to name my absolute favorite, it would have to be boquerones, which are anchovies seeped in vinegar and served with teeny-tiny pickled onions.  

Cava, a sparkling white wine, is the libation of choice.  And when it comes to desserts, you wouldn't even believe the variety they have.  All sorts of pastries and cakes and chocolates and marzipan.... my favorite, so I don't have to go into all of them, is a toss-up between chocolate and churros (which is technically a breakfast, but ya know...) and turrón de yema which is a soft, golden-brown candy made from sugar, crushed almonds, egg yolks, and joy.  It tastes like a birthday cake, only a hundred times stronger, and you can just take a tiny little bite and your whole mouth is flooded with almondy sweetness - it's sheer genius.

On New Year's Eve, there are three key superstitions you have to observe for good luck in the upcoming year: you need to wear something red, something made of gold, and eat twelve grapes before last stroke of midnight.  And on Día de los Reyes Magos, which commemorates the day the Three Kings came to visit the Infant Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (see, I went to Sunday school as a kid), it is imperative that you attend the cabalgata, a parade of Mardi Gras proportions with the Reyes Magos as the grand finale.  (Incidentally, while I believe Papa Noel has started to become a Christmas trend as American customs slowly infiltrate Spanish culture, it is the Reyes Magos who give good children the bulk of their Christmas presents on the night of the 5th of January.)

Unfortunately, I didn't get into town to see the cabalgata, but I had a good excuse: I went on a walking tour of Alcalá de Henares, which involved a lot of culture, a lot of architecture, and a lot of chatting over cañas and tapas.  It put a lot of the buildings of the city into context, especially the grand, old university building, the facade of which is a mixture of Gothic and Classical architecture, with statues of Christian and Ancient Greek mythological figures: St. Matthew and St. Paul were engraved right below Perseus and Andromeda, overseen by a battalion of gargoyles.  

So we took a tour of the historical center, which our tour guide described as having once been the center of a bitter political feud between the university and the municipality.  We visited an old convent, which was also a refuge for repentant prostitutes, the cathedral, and the Archbishop's palace where Catherine of Aragon - first wife of Henry VIII - was born, and also the house where Miguel de Cervantes was born.  We perused the remnants of the Christmas market, watched some churros being fried at the pop-up churrería, and then retired to a cafe for coffee and chocolate cake.

 Otherwise, it's been a busy, hectic Christmas season, culminating in me packing up and taking an epic train ride across Spain - the northwestern outskirts of Madrid are pretty stunning, and I passed by the famous monastery Escorial, which I am determined to go back and visit in the spring.  Now I am in the rainy coastal city of Vigo, in which Lisa's and my dreams of being roommates again have at long last come to fruition.  We are both thrilled to be together again, and all is right with the world!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Russian Cinema and a Paella Made With Love

I've been so busy this past month that I barely realized Christmas sneaking up, as it does.  However, I'm staving off the Christmas spirit as much as I can, and so will write a bit about my doings out and about Madrid and Alcalá de Henares, with hopefully a Christmas post to come in January. 

First of all, in a crusade to acquaint me with traditional Spanish cookery, my roommate's friend Alberto came over to cook us a giant paella and ply us with delicious sangria.  Determined to capture every step of the process, I hovered around the kitchen snapping photos the entire time, which probably was not conducive to cooking.  However, as Alberto explained it, the secret to cooking a true Spanish paella is to cook it with lots and lots of love.  Which is not to say you have to kiss it or buy it presents or anything... it's more of a mindset.

Anyway, as I followed it, here is how to make paella:

1) Cook your meat, which in this case was rabbit and chicken, in a decent amount of olive oil.  On another burner, simmer something which I believe is broth with some saffron thrown in.

2) Remove the meat and drain, and in the leftover juices sautee onions and peppers in a shape that looks very much like a Christmas wreath.  

3) Throw in some other things: chopped leeks, mainly, and three whole cloves of garlic.

4) After this it got complicated, but I believe what you do is pour the broth into the sauteed vegetables, then add three or more handfuls of rice.  And the most important part, as Alberto impressed on me (possibly not THE most important, but it's the one that stuck with me), is that you never stir the paella; you dance with it.  So there he was, spinning the paella back and forth on the stovetop as it simmered away, and lo and behold by the end of it all he had a real masterpiece on his hands.  Needless to say, it was delicious.

Also, I've discovered a Russian cultural center on Calle Atocha that hosts a free cinema club every Tuesday, as well as occasional exhibitions of hand-painted Matryoshka dolls and lacquer-ware depicting old Russian fairy tales and knitted lace shawls that are so fine the curator demonstrated that she could draw the whole shawl through her wedding ring.  (Also there was free champagne, which I am always a fan of.)  

And I know it's not a very Spanish-themed post for a blog set in Madrid, but I had so much fun watching the following three films that I've decided to try my hand at film reviewing:

1. Moskva Slezam Ne Verit (Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears)  This was the most wonderfully Soviet movie you could ever hope to see, from the very name to the climactic scene where a man in a wifebeater knocks back an entire tumblerful of vodka and then sniffs a crust of bread as a chaser while another man smacks a fish against a table interspersed with a shot of three women sitting in a room sobbing hysterically, to the closing vignette of the fish-smacking man eating a bowl of borscht and scowling.  But histrionics aside, it is really a very touching movie - a love story towards the end, but primarily a story of the friendship between three women as they grow up in Soviet Moscow, struggling through their careers, first loves, disillusions, and so on.  And while some of the opinions expressed on gender roles are a bit overly... chivalrous, shall we euphemistically say, overall it is a story that focuses on tough, resourceful, complex women.  It's fairly long at two and a half hours, but it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1980 and is well worth the time.  Also, according to IMDB, Ronald Reagan watched it multiple times in preparation for meeting Gorbachev, as a way to better acquaint himself with "the Russian soul."  FOUR STARS!

Also, for anyone interested in watching, it is here on YouTube with English subtitles. 

2. Morozko  Not exactly high cinema, but worth watching just to appreciate its sheer weirdness.  First of all, it's a fairy tale, but unlike western fairy tale adaptations, it doesn't follow a single story arc of handsome man insults mushroom fairy, gets turned into a bear, repents and is returned to his handsome self.  No, Morozko is an ambitious seven or eight fairy tales mushed together: handsome man turns into bear, terrorizes village, beautiful girl gets left in the woods to die under her wicked stepmother's orders, handsome man meets Baba Yaga, beautiful girl meets Santa Claus, accidentally gets frozen by his magic staff, is saved and married by the handsome man... and THEN THEY GET ATTACKED BY SINGING BANDITS!  Delightfully camp and surreal, and a good way to familiarize yourself with Russian fairy tale archetypes.

THREE STARS with the extra star owing to a very clever Chekhov's gun thrown in at the beginning, plus the mushroom fairy's line, "Yes, Ivan, a bear will ask my pardon.  But yours will be the back that bends."

3. Snezhnaya Koroleva  Given that Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen is my very favorite fairy tale of all time, I have watched nearly every film adaptation there is and found them all to be ridiculous.  Except for this 1957 animated version, which is a marvel of classic Soviet animation and wondrously faithful to the original story and just magical and scary and heartwarming in every way.  Again, it has the appeal of being filled with dynamic and courageous female characters, and I do fiercely love any story about a girl journeying out into the world to save her jerk friend.  Plus, the little robber girl  is literally one of the greatest characters ever conceived.  That scene where she frees all the animals in her menagerie... it gets me every time.  I cannot talk enough about how much I love this movie, and I think I'm going watch it right now.  

And so should you!  FIVE STARS!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life in Alcalá

It's hard to believe I've been living here for a month, but there you have it.  I've been working almost exclusively since I moved into my apartment - working in this case meaning writing, transcribing, researching future graduate programs, and signing up for Spanish classes.  (I have realized that my language-learning strategy up until now which has been mostly chatting with backpackers while drinking beer and building up my vocabulary via Latin American magical realism novels has resulted in me being able to say things like, "The vagabond had a terrible upheaval in his demented soul," but unable to understand such commonplace and rather more useful sentences as, "Leave the report on the desk in my office.")

I haven't been doing much out and about the city, though I went out for my birthday with my roommate and a group of her friends, to a trendy tapas place around Puerta del Sol.  Incidentally, tapas are the single greatest idea ever conceived in the history of cookery; rather than order one meal on an evening out, in which case you will inevitably get bored with it after two bites and wish you'd ordered what that guy is eating instead, you order ten different meals and get to sample everything.  Tapas!  Tell your friends.

The only thing I just can't get my head around, and this caused me a lot of grief in Argentina as well, is how freaking late people stay out here.  As a person who enjoys getting up early, and who gets very moody very easily if my sleep patterns get out of whack, I just can't get used to this whole culture of dinner at ten and then drinks not starting until eleven or twelve at night, and then clubbing until six or seven.  I suppose it makes sense in hot countries, where during the summer the weather doesn't become tolerable until after the sun goes down, and you have a midday siesta during the hottest hours anyway.  (Incidentally, siesta is another custom I have issues with, mainly since there seems to be an unspoken agreement among all the shops, libraries, and museums in Alcalá that the moment I finish my work for the morning and decide to take a walk, that's the signal for everybody to close up for three hours.)  My point of all this, of course, is.... tapas!  Tell your friends.

Moreover, I've actually been making more progress in NaNoWriMo than I have in any of the past 10 or so years I've tried it.  Will I reach 50,000 words by midnight tonight?  Not a chance!  I'm currently at around 6,000ish and will be hard-pressed to get another thousand in due to actual work taking precedence, because I, being an American citizen born after the Baby Boomer generation, am being slowly asphyxiated and having all my dreams murdered by student debt.

However, after years of telling myself, "Once I'm out of Baltimore and free of its ambiance of inspirational stiflement, I'll set aside time each morning to write," and then, "Once I'm done backpacking and have some measure of stability, I'll set aside time each morning to write," and then, "Once I'm gone from Dublin and my life has ceased to be a whirligig of chaos, I'll set aside..." etc., I have finally come to a point where I can set aside an hour or two not every morning but close enough to work on a novel I've been envisioning since I was ten.

Otherwise, I really thought I'd have more to write about after nearly a month living here, but things have been slow.  Alcalá is a quiet yet adorable medieval town, dating back centuries upon centuries to when it was a Moorish citadel, which the Visigoths conquered from the Moors and then the Romans conquered from the Visigoths.  As it is, it has a smattering of different cultures lingering in its fabric, including a Jewish neighborhood, a cathedral, a stately, antiquated university, the Archbishops palace where a community of cranes have built their nests, and ancient Roman ruins.

Otherwise, things are going splendidly, and I'm juggling a couple of knitting projects in the scarce free time I have.  I have a set of fingerless gloves and either a headband or a cowl in the works for my roommate and her sister, and multiple possibilities of tiny jumper-like garments to make for my friends who, deciding one bilingual super-baby wasn't enough, decided to have a second.  More exciting projects include a creative writing class I'm going to teach in the city, a Russian cinema club, and Spanish lessons, which start tomorrow. ¡Hasta pronto!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Goodbye Forever, Ireland, and a Room of Her Own

As schemes fall apart and newer, grander schemes congeal, I enter this, a new phase of life in which I am settled in a lovely, tiny, blue room in Alcalá de Henares, a university town about 40 minutes from Madrid by the commuter train - the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, in fact.  I miss Dublin and everybody in it keenly, but leaving forever this time - the eighth time - is not quite as harrowing as the past seven, whether because I'm not surfing the fallout of some huge catastrophe or because I'm only one time-zone and a 20 euro RyanAir flight away.  Or maybe both.

However, as smooth transitions go, the past two weeks have been disaster after disaster, to the extent that at one point I was a hair's width from booking a flight back to Baltimore, getting some sort of white-collar clerical job, and marrying Chad.  (Chad, for those of you who don't know, is American.  He is Presbyterian.  He wears khakis and is an accountant and was in a fraternity and can't think of a better drinking game than beer pong.  Chad has a membership to the local country club where he spends his Sunday afternoons playing golf.  His fondest dream is to own a house in the suburbs, where he will live with his trophy wife and 2.5 children and a golden retriever. And, of course, he drives a Cadillac.  Everybody knows a Chad... if you don't, you probably are Chad.)  While my last couple of weeks in Dublin were lovely, filled with culture nights and whiskey-tastings and a sunset train-ride across the country and ice creams in Phoenix Park and a Murdery Mystery dinner party, things started going disastrously the night I got my wallet stolen - in the past seven years I've traveled through Russia, Eastern Europe, and South America and I finally get pickpocketed in f-ing Temple Bar! - which catalyzed a ruinous chain of events that I shall intersperse with cool photos of around Madrid.

A List of All the Things That Went Wrong Following My Arrival To Spain 

1. Accommodations Fall Through.  Bless her heart, I do love my friend Lisa.  Lisa, who spent months planning the elaborate backpacking trip we were going to take together across South America and then ran out of money and flew back to Dublin the day I got to Colombia.  Looking back, it was probably not the best decision to bank everything on us moving in together in Galicia - especially since said plan was made at Lisa's going-away party and we were both drinking moderate-to-heavily.  Needless to say, it didn't happen and I found myself stuck in Madrid with nowhere to stay, no credit cards, no bank cards, and dwindling cash.

2. No Room At the Hostel.  I had only three nights booked at my hostel, a very pleasant place right in the heart of Madrid's gay district.  (I didn't figure this out until later, and after a few days of exploring the neighborhood had come to the conclusion that EVERYBODY in Madrid is gay.)  But the weekend was approaching and their dorms were all filled up - moreover, I had no means of booking hostels online, so I was forced to go out into the world and scour the streets for a cheap room on super-short notice.  (This actually sorted itself out much quicker than I thought it would, but at the time it was incredibly stressful.)

3. Accommodations Fall Through, Part Deux.  While a girl had contacted me about renting a room in her flat in Alcalá de Henares, which caused me great joy, the room would not be ready for another five days.  And while I had wired myself money from my bank account in the States, it all had to go toward the first month's rent and deposit so I was in the same sinking ship as before.  So I took a friend's advice and contacted a stranger on Couchsurfing about a safe berth for three or four nights.  And since I don't want to sound ungrateful for the one night he let me stay, I will not talk about what a SCUMBAG he was for letting me navigate myself across the Metro system and then the commuter bus system with 2/3 of my weight in luggage before informing me that, just kidding, he had a lady-friend coming over so I had to go back to Madrid in the morning.  Also highly suspicious is how he said not a word to me about this other, higher priority house guest until I mentioned having a boyfriend (not true, but one quickly discovers the magical power of imaginary boyfriends when one is traveling solo across a continent of gringo-hunters).

4. I Left My Suitcase On the Bus.  I was sleep-deprived and starving and still seething over Scumbag the Jerk-Face on the escalator back to the Metro station, imagining the white picket fence bordering my prize-winning chrysanthemums in the house I'd live in once I married Chad, when I realized that I was only carrying 1/3 of my weight in luggage.  So I ran in circles around the bus station until I found it, still sitting in the hold of the 518 bus which miraculously had not yet left.

5. I Went the Wrong Way On Metro Line 10.  This is something I'd never done before.  Never, ever, not even on my very first time traveling by Metro when I was clueless, young expat trying to bumble my way across Moscow.  But for some reason I picked the wrong platform to embark from and found myself heading away from the city, past the suburbs and out into strange countryside where I could see poking through the trees either a creepy, condemned amusement park or an abandoned rock quarry.  Aghast and bewildered, I threw myself off the train at the next stop, clattered down a million stairs, crossed under the train-tracks, and with the very last of my strength hauled my gargantuan suitcase back up another million stairs to the opposite platform.  And I was overheated and hungry and destitute, so I sat down on a bench and it occurred to me that I was in an exceedingly life-like fever dream, and this seemed to make the most sense of anything that had happened to me so far.  So I sat there crying (we've all been there when we're sick of the road) and trying not to collapse until the train finally came and whisked me back into the city.

6. My First Foray Into AirBNB.  After shuffling around between two more hostels in three nights, I finally spent the night before Halloween staying with a Peruvian man in a grand, old apartment complex just off of Calle Atocha.  In my determination to just get on with it, I forgot to ascertain which room in the building my host lived in.  So, fueled by sheer desperation, I dragged my 2/3 of my weight in luggage up flight after flight of stairs - grand, old, imperial apartments don't have elevators in them, of course - knocking at every door I came to and demanding, "Busco a Manu!  Manu vive aqui??" until finally a woman informed me that Manu lived on the very top floor.  Of course he did.  And I was actually so beat at this point that I had to make multiple trips up and down the stairs, heaving my suitcases after me piece by piece.  And at last I came to Manu's door and barely had enough time to move my things in and introduce myself before I fainted dead away in his living room.  When I came to, he had served me a glass of orange juice and was in the kitchen cooking me eggs, but still it's a disorienting and not quite pleasant thing to pass out in a stranger's living room, and that did not help alleviate my maximum capacity stress level.  Manu invited me to a dinner party he was hosting that evening, however, and I got to meet a group of other expats living in Madrid, which made for good Spanish conversation practice.  Moreover, Manu cooked a fantastic dinner (Peru is renowned throughout South America for its cuisine) with chicken, onions, desiccated potatoes, and a crushed peanut sauce.  

Needless to say, it was a relief beyond all words to finally move into my apartment with Belén, far from the weirdness of the city center of Madrid, where I can sit quietly in my room like a peaceful hermit, working and writing and cooking for myself.  Otherwise, Belén is cool and we get along well - she is a music teacher/professional clown/cat lady and has a lot to talk about.  Moreover Alcalá de Henares is a surprising town, which I have not yet properly explored.  

AND in more exciting news, I have finally finished knitting my gorgeous cabled jumper with my alpaca wool from Peru.  And it is WARM and SOFT AS A CLOUD and DELECTABLY FUZZY and my absolute favorite thing I've ever knitted!  I am currently finishing a yellow slouchy hat, with more projects to come.  Moreover, I've decided to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge this year and attempt to write a novel by the end of November.  I've never once completed it, but I'm a week in and still going strong - usually I give up around the third day or so.  So I have high hopes and will be updating frequently to blather about my writing, Spanish-learning, and knitting exploits.  Because I hope my life is going to be nice and boring for the next six months.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Shenanigans and What Have You

It's been a hectic couple of weekends, each at opposite ends of the country.  Just after my last post, my friend Jian from high school in Baltimore, currently doing Science in Zurich (I am very much in awe at having a friend who does real-life Science for a living), came to visit for a few days.  This gave me a chance to explore a lot of pubs and restaurants that I wouldn't have normally, as I am rarely the one who plans nights out.

However, in this case it fell upon me to plan a proper pub crawl for the Friday Jian arrived.  As this was his first time in Ireland, he insisted on eating dinner at a traditional Irish pub... unfortunately, without a reservation, getting a table off the cuff at a pub in the city centre at eight o'clock on a Friday night proved to be impossible.  So we went for Lebanese food instead at The Cedar Tree on St. Andrew's Street, one of my new favorite places that I lament not having the presence of mind to put in my book.  But every time I've eaten there the service has been lovely and the food delicious, and not overly expensive either.  Since we couldn't make up our minds on what to order, we ended up ordering a smattering of starter dishes, tapas-style, and ate them all.  There were some sort of sausages in tomato sauce and hummus with pita bread, but what sticks out in my mind as being especially delicious was a spicy halloumi cheese with chopped tomato and cucumber salad on the side.  Amazing.

We met up with my friend Eoin from Blackrock and commenced with dignified and conversationly pints at the Porterhouse and the Mercantile, somewhat less orderly pints at The Temple Bar because Jian wanted to hear live music, and finished off with drunken, messy pints at The Mezz and Doyle's, just for nostalgia's sake.  In the morning I strangled off an impending hangover by eating leftover sausages from my asado and then embarking on a frenzied cycle to Tesco to buy beets for a pot of borscht I had to make for a friend's birthday party.  For lunch Jian and I went to the thankfully empty Stag's Head on the corner of Dame Lane, where we sat around in the cozy Victorian-era snug and he finally got to have his beef and Guinness stew.

Over the course of the next two days, I gave him the full-on walking tour of inner Dublin: St. Stephen's Green and the open air art gallery lining its fences, Dublin Castle and the sand sculptures, the National Archaeology Museum where we learned about Brian Boru and the Vikings, Trinity College, Christchurch Cathedral, and finished off with tea at Bewley's Cafe.  He was pretty thrilled at how arty and musical Dublin is, which I remember being stunned by when I first came here but by now just take it as the norm.  Everywhere you go you're being accosted by buskers or street artists or outdoor Shakespeare plays or something of the sort, which he says is not the case in Zurich.

The next weekend was a new-moon excursion to Lahinch, a seaside town in Clare renowned for its surfing, golf courses, hurricane winds, and sleazy nightclubs.  After a three-hour drive - just the perfect length for a cross-country roadtrip after the all-too-raw memory of South America's 42-hour bus marathons across desert and Andes mountains - we pulled up to a pair of holiday homes we'd rented for the weekend, hitting the tail-end of a huge Atlantic storm that had hit the coast.  Tommy, who'd grown up in the area and whose family's houses we were staying in, was just after telling us something to the extent of, "You've never seen winds like these.  These are Clare winds."  (And indeed, the gale was so strong I couldn't even open the car door from the inside.) Then, peering into his wallet, "Jesus, I brought a lot of cash with me.  There must be nearly 300 euro in here!"  Needless to say, we kicked off our holiday with a lot of screaming, flailing, and chasing a tornado of soggy banknotes after a freak gust of wind had snatched up his wallet and exploded it all over the street.  I had to be hefted bodily over a tall gate to run after 40 euros that had blown behind it.  It was good fun all right.

By some rare fluke we managed to get all the money back, and the rest of the night was coziness by a peat fire, drinking whiskey, knitting, and reading H. P. Lovecraft stories aloud.  In the morning we took a blustery beach walk, got knocked about by the wind some more, and went on a quest to some ruined fortress which may or may not have once been the castle belonging to the King of the Fairies.  When our one friend ventured too close to the ruins and then disappeared without a trace, we assumed he'd been taken away by the Fairy King, but in the end it turned out he'd just hitched a ride back to town.

On Saturday we went for a wild ramble along the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, which reminded me of Machu Picchu in that it's one of those few places in the world that has ever instilled in me such awe and breathlessness and overwhelming sense of my own utter, utter smallness.  The Cliffs are so high and dizzying and completely lacking any sort of barrier that it makes you wonder what it would be like to throw yourself off the edge.  That crazy vertigo and the stories you keep hearing about people 15 feet from the precipice getting barreled over by homicidal winds (and occasionally blown back onto firm ground after falling) made me latch onto whatever anchoring person was in the vicinity for most of the afternoon - I was pretty sure I was going to blown off the edge like a dead leaf.

It was altogether a lovely weekend, just chaotic enough and with a happy medium of cultural activities, cliff hikes, delicious dinners, and drunken guitar parties.  Now I'm back in Dublin, hanging out in Santry with my friends' cat Patch on account of they are off jet-setting in San Francisco for the fortnight.  I'm looking forward to some downtime for reading and writing, and I'm determined to finish this sweater so I can wear it before I head to Spain.  I'm so very close, with only half a sleeve left to finish and then the ends to weave in.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Fairy Tale of Dublin

Yes, I'm back in Dublin - subleasing a gorgeous room in a giant house way out in Booterstown - my most favorite place of all the places in all the world (Dublin... not Booterstown).  It's difficult to put into words why on account of I'm not entirely sure myself.  Is it because eight years ago I was nineteen and exploding with travel-excitement and in such a mindset that I would have fallen in love with anywhere that wasn't a depressing suburb of Baltimore or a small town in central Pennsylvania?  Is it because all the weirdest and most interesting and cataclysmic things that ever happened to me happened in Dublin?

(Okay, that's a lie... there was the time I spent in a scary, Soviet hospital in Moscow, and the time I rode a horse through the Pacific surf as a storm rolled over the ocean while being chased by feral dogs in Ecuador, and climbing up to Machu Picchu, and doing sauna in Finland and rolling naked in the snow, and that summer in Galway I pretended to be a street musician, among others... what a strange eight years it's been.)

Is it because Dublin is where the highest concentration of my friends live?  If I'd gone to England for my semester abroad would I still spend everything I own and burn every bridge I've ever had trying to claw my way back eight years later?  Somehow, I don't think so.

Part of the reason I decided to go to South America at all last June was to try to break myself of my weird Dublin thing, like if I just gave myself a chance to enjoy living in other countries I'd stop trying to go back to Ireland which invariably results in me spending all my money and flying back to America in tears and anguish, because Dublin is an expensive city and its principle recreation (drinking) is the most expensive part of it.

Only now I have every intention of getting out of Ireland before that happens this time.  Today, after nearly six weeks in Dublin, I bit the bullet and booked a flight to Madrid.  I miss speaking Spanish, and I am not particularly eager to go through another Irish winter - churros and hot chocolate sound infinitely preferable to damp and dark and seasonal depression and praying the rosary over my dying fire as I waste away slowly from the consumption, subsisting on tea and Wild Woodbines.  (Irish summers are wondrous; winters not so much.)  After my allotted 90 days in Spain, I have every plan to head south and take the ferry to Morocco.

Otherwise, my past six weeks have been lovely, filled with swimming with the jellyfish at Seapoint; lounging in the sunshine at Dublin Castle; sparkly drag shows at The George; sand sculptures and art gallery openings and pub quizzes and 'zine exhibitions galore; recreating an Argentine asado as best I could in my backyard (there was steak and red wine and an overabundance of sausages of all sorts); buying a rusty-blue secondhand bike and cycling back and forth across the city, through wind and rain and everything in between; seeing the Milky Way and visiting ruins, a horse's grave, and the museum of Jackie Clark, local archivist extraordinaire and very well-traveled man, in Ballina, County Mayo.

And as I have two more months to go, I am continually scheming ways of coming back and visas I could apply for.  More education is a possibility, if an expensive one, but I have lots of traveling to get out of the way first.  And there are more Ireland adventures to come, including somehow managing to transport a massive tureen of borscht from Booterstown to Harold's Cross for my friend's potluck birthday party, free operas at the Wood Quay amphitheatre, serving as an American au pair for my two friends' amazingly precocious bilingual baby, and a four-day surfing/singing/drinking holiday with a huge group of friends out west in Lahinch, Co. Clare.  But for this weekend, I have an old friend from high school coming to stay with me, so I may have a more typical Dublin weekend to write about, - Book of Kells, Temple Bar, and the like.

Otherwise, yes... I am thrilled to be here, and thrilled that I have two more months.  The weather is already getting chilly, which means I get to wear all my knitted garments that I packed.  I'm nearly finished knitting my alpaca jumper as well, all but one sleeve, and shall be starting a new project soon enough.