Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Getting started on my thesis

My last (!) term of school is approaching, and consequently I've been thinking about getting started on my thesis, which is pretty much all I have lined up for myself to do until June. I've written a few of my ideas here before; presumably I've been pruning and refining them some. Mainly I think I still need to narrow things down, things being defined as "what I am going to talk about," the hope being that once I've got things narrowed down I'll actually be able to figure out what I want to say.

So, here are my current thoughts on the matter of horror fiction and its usefulness to ethical/moral philosophy. (BE WARNED: this is a beast of a post, and I understand if you don't read it.)

In the Modern American Horror Film class I took last Spring, we read Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture (Kendall R. Phillips) a book with the thesis that horror films (at least, American horror films from Dracula to Scream) reflect the societal terrors of the era during which they were produced. Phillips and others make the (often convincing) argument that horror films are socially important.

What I want to know is, are horror films (and novels and stories, etc) also morally and philosophically important?

For me, philosophy refers to the individual, as opposed to society. When I look at individuals in stories, however, I must necessarily look at them as standing for multiple existent individuals--otherwise, I would simply be examining the moral life of a specific character of fiction. To be relevant, such examinations must be applicable to real people.

This should not be controversial; after all, Kant's Categorical Imperative implies that for any given situation, there is one moral way to act. The particulars and circumstances surrounding the individual in question cannot come into play.

I am obviously not the first person to question the philosophical validity of horror; Noel Carrol's The Philosophy of Horror does just what its title implies--creates/defines/uncovers a philosophy of the genre. I have only read part of the book so far, but as Carrol outlines his intent very clearly in the introduction, I feel comfortable saying that my purpose is more specific is (also, that we don't agree on everything--or at least, that our different goals necessarily require different approaches). For Carrol, in a (unfairly simplistic) nutshell, horror is about how the protagonist (and the reader/viewer, vicariously) feel simultaneously threatened and revolted by the monster. And a monster needs to be unambiguously threatening AND revolting in order to be a horrifying monster.

Okay, fine. However, I feel that for my question to be meaningful (Is horror morally relevant?), the concept of a monster, what it is that causes the sense of horror, and what role the protagonist plays all need to be more complicated than that. (Another distinct difference--Carrol's approaches focuses largely on the audience of the work of horror, and I don't intend to consider audience very much, if at all).

Right now, two...I'm not exactly sure what to call them, scenarios?...are occupying my mind, when it comes to common scenarios in horror works with potential moral/philosophical relevance: a) how the protagonists react to the situation they end up in and b) protagonist as monster/monsters that remind us of the terrible things about ourselves. I'll take them up separately, as far as I've thought them through so far.

I. The "Survivor Scenario"

To quote "Firefly's" Shepherd Book (who in turn is quoting the Qin Dynasty general Xiang Yu):

Live with a man 40 years—share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge—and on that day, you will finally meet the man.
While I don't necessarily agree with this concept in my own life, I think it's an interesting rhetorical and literary device, and one that rears its head fairly frequently in the horror genre.

When considering this scenario, the focus is off the monster, and really on what is happening to the people (protagonists, victims, etc) in the situation created by the monster. What does the situation do them? How does it change them? How do their attitudes toward each other change?

John Carpenter's The Thing and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead are great examples from cinema. In The Thing, men at an Antarctic base turn don't know who they can trust after their base s invaded by a shapeshifting alien; in Night, survivors of a zombie outbreak become fatally distracted from the threat at hand by their need to be right. As for things I've read recently, Scott Smith's The Ruins and Stephen King's "The Mist" also both address the Survivor Scenario in similar fashion: in the former, six people who find themselves quarantined are manipulated into quarreling and taking sides, and in the latter, the only survivors (as far as they know) of an experiment gone terribly wrong and holed up inside a supermarket, a few individuals find remarkable courage as they struggle against the growing insanity and calls for sacrifice of the others.

Does it always come to pass that the protagonists turn against each other in these situations? If so, the Survivor Scenario seems a lot less complex and consequently, less useful philosophically. If it comes down to the simple principle that "When people end up in dire situations, they turn against each other," there isn't much work to do (likewise, the corollary of "if they don't turn against each other, they bond with each other" also doesn't leave a lot of room for exploration).

I plan to read Richard Matheson's "I am Legend" as a possible answer to this--after all, if the main character is alone, there is no ally to turn against or bond with (unless his dog counts; I haven't read it yet, and neither have I seen the recent movie version).

Whatever the answer ends up being, how the protagonists in a story respond to their situation is one of the things I almost always find most compelling about the horror genre.

II. The "Mr. Hyde Scenario"

If my clevel moniker is not clear enough, "The Outsider" and "Shadow Over Innsmouth" (both by H.P. Lovecraft) both provide examples of the other type of scenario that I see as potentially philosophically rich: protagonist as monster.

This scenario is closer to what Carrol deems philosophically relevant about horror in that some focus must be directed to the specifics of the monster--appearance/form, origin, and, especially compelling for me, the monster's relation to the protagonist/s. This last aspect can take a variety of forms; for example, in the Lovecraft stories I referred to (SPOILER ALERT!) the narrator/protagonist in each case comes to discover that he is the very monster that causes so much loathing (in the first case) or that he himself cannot abide (in the second). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is obviously another example of this, as is Frankenstein.

However, I'm also interested in monsters that aren;t so directly tied to the protagonists, but find some other way to cause the protagonists to look upon themselves in horror by recognizing something in the beast that is also in themselves. Though I don't believe Carrol addresses this role the monster can play in quite this way, it touches on some of what he says (and I believe that Julia Kristeva's writings on abjection will aso be useful). Take zombies as an example: they are not only threatening/horrifying because they lust after human flesh--because they used to be human, they remind humanity of our own mortality and the looming presence of death; they remind us of the most vile, shameful aspect of our physicality. Even less directly, the way a monster looks or behaves can act as metaphor for human action and behavior (I can't think of an example for this off-hand).

The way that both of these scenarios come together to help me is in their focus on the effect of the horrifying events on the protagonist.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Are you ready for November 4?

Two things* have been occupying my time a great deal recently, and they are beautifully illustrated together below:

*the election and playing Katamari

I never intended this blog to be about politics (mine or anyone else's), and I want to keep it that way, but I don't think I'll be straying too far from that intention if I take the time to ask a few simple questions:

Are you registered to vote? Have you double-checked?

Furthermore, if you intend to vote absentee/early, have you submitted your ballot request yet? And do you know what the requirements are for returning the ballot once you've filled it out?

If you answered "No" or "Not yet" to any of those questions, it's not too late! Time is of the essence, however, as voter registration deadlines for the 2008 General Election are as soon as Oct 3 for some states; absentee ballot request deadlines are generally a little later, but if you don't request your ballot soon enough, it may not arrive in time for you to get it in (this nearly happened to me with the 2006 midterm election).

Here are some resources to help you out:

League of Women Voters

State-by-state information on registration deadlines, state voting policies, confirming your registration, locating your polling place, absentee voting, etc.

Long Distance Voter
Focused on early and absentee voting, obviously, but also has information on registering, deadlines, etc.

For specific information on the candidates and issues that will be on your state's ballot, Google the website for your state's Secretary of State.

This election promises to be a close one, and every vote will count*--make sure that yours is one of those votes.

*Yes, there are certain states that will go one way or the other in the Presidential race--I still vote in a swing state so that vote still feels pertinent to me--but you can have a lot more say in local races and ballot measures.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ireland, in retrospect

It was a good trip.

Despite the fact that much of the latter portion of the trip felt like surviving it rather than living it, I had a good time.  

It was definitely a different kind of trip than my other overseas/abroad travels have been.  The largest difference, I think, is that there was no real cultural immersion.  Since we spent most of the time we were there by ourselves out in the wilderness, I don't feel like I got much of a picture of what it's like to live in Ireland, what the major cultural differences are, things like that.  Instead, I got to appreciate some beautiful and diverse scenery (I never knew Ireland was so mountainous), as well as test my own physical limits (for better or worse).  I don't think there is time for both in just a week, and certainly spending more time there would have allowed for great cultural saturation, but if the trip had gone exactly had planned we would have ended up spending even less time than we did in places with people.  I don't think that one kind of travel abroad experience is better than the other, but this was certainly a new side for me.

Of course wish I that I (and Andrew, and Brandi) hadn't gotten sick, and of course getting sick put a damper on some things.  But what I can say?  I can't regret something like "getting sick" because it's not a choice I made and anyway, I don't like having regrets.  I'm not even sure I'd know how to plan better to keep it from happening again, except for what I mentioned in one of Thursday's journal posts.  Really, I think we had the best time we could under the circumstances.   This trip hasn't put me off difficult hikes, either, though I have a better picture now of my own limitations, which will hopefully lead to better planning in the future (not that we planned poorly this time).

I really enjoyed traveling with this group of people.  It was a great size for a group, and we got a long well and enjoyed each other's company.  This was the second time I have spent time with Brandi and Keller, and I like them a lot and feel like we are getting to be great friends.

Well, the above was really just an amalgamation of the things that I've thought/talked about since returning.  I don't know if it's meaningful for anyone else, but it sums up my feelings pretty well.

Monday, September 15, 2008

That's all she wrote

...meaning, "That's all Ayn wrote about Ireland." But, in the interest of rounding out the experience, here is a quick recap of the rest of Friday and Saturday (the trip home):

We did in fact get into Dublin around 4pm (the train ride took only 2.5 hours), whereupon we wearily dragged ourselves from the train station to the city center to find the bus that would take us to our hotel. We found it, and it did, which was great. The buses in Dublin are something of a thrill ride, especially if you ride up top, where you can really appreciate just how frickin' close these things get to one another.

Andrew felt pretty terrible and we considered staying in or some other drastic alternative to real dinner, but eventually reason won out and we took a bus back to the city center, where we wandered around for quite a long time, unable to find any menu that sounded appetizing. We eventually picked a tiny Italian-esque place with a vaguely Indian sounding name, where we shared a pot of the tea (the billionth of the trip) and had really pretty tasty pasta dishes. We then dashed to a movie theatre up the street to catch the last showing of "RocknRolla," the new Guy Ritchie film that had just opened in the UK that day. We actually left after an hour--while this eagerness to flee can partly be attributed to our being sick and in poor moods, the movie was also really terrible, and we're big fans of some of his earlier stuff. Ah well.

The most entertaining part of the day was probably watching a kid's game show on the Gaelic channel on the television in our hotel room. I don't think it was super-interesting as far as any kid's game show goes, but Gaelic is a really unusual-sounding language, like something made up for Stargate SG-1, so it was interesting to listen to.

Saturday, we get to the airport super early. Our flight is delayed an hour. We arrive in London with 45 minutes to catch our connecting flight, get stuck in a slow security line despite the "speed passes" the British Airways attendant gave us, and run breathless all the way to our gate, where they are holding the plane just for the two of us. I think Heathrow has something against us. The flight itself is uneventual, as is the ride home from the airport. And there you have it.

I'll post some kind of reflection in the next day or two.

Friday, September 5 - Day 7

Train from Wexford to Dublin

Andrew and I are on the train back to Dublin. It is a rainy day. Brandi and Keller are on their way to Cork via bus. Last night's entry was truncated due to sick people needing to go to sleep, so I'll continue it now.

After leaving the hotel yesterday, we wandered around Wexford, almost lost Keller for good, stopped by the tourism office, and eventually made out way to the Selskar Abbey, which not all that exciting, despite being built on what was originally a sacred spot dedicated to Odin. We found out later that there is a castle just outside of town, but it was too late by then.

We decided not to go back to the hotel between the abbey visit and dinner, so we ended up seeing Dark Knight at a movie theatre just outside town, to kill some time (it was on the ride there that I noticed the sign for the castle; ah well).

When we got back from the movie, we tried desparately to find a pub with live music (the internet cafe owner in Rathdrum had said there was good music in Wexford)--but we were unsuccessful. Apparently there is music to be found anywhere, every night EXCEPT Thursdays. We kept getting directed to smaller and smaller pubs (read: tiny, filled entirely with locals, where we would have felt uncomfortable sitting for fear of taking someone's regular spot)...to the point that we soon felt just so out of place that we gave up the search and returned to an Indian restaurant we had noticed the night before. The food was good, although Brandi got into a bit of trouble for making the (usually correct) assumption that "spicy" in Ireland doesn't mean what we think of as spicy. We got back to the hotel around 11pm and went to bed shortly thereafter.

Today, we woke up to rain and planned to get to town with just enough time to stock up on a few supplies before catching out respective rides out of town. We get into Dublin around 4pm and will probably make our way straight to the hotel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thursday, September 4 - Days 5 and 6

(returning to Ireland posts)


We are currently lounging in a hotel just outside the coastal city of Wexford. Yesterday morning, after everyone woke up feeling worse than we did the day before, we ultimately decided not to continue on the trail at all. We ate, got a ride into Rathdrum with the cook, and spent about an hour in an internet cafe, canceling our B&B reservations and booking new accommodations in Wexford.

Why Wexford? We could have just caught taxis to our B&Bs and kept our plans mostly the same, but Keller wisely suggested that we find a place to finish out our vacationing that has more to offer in terms of things to do, than the littler hamlets along the Wicklow Way. Wexford is by no means a big city, but it's not a village, either, and we figured we'd have a better chance of entertaining ourselves there than at the B&Bs.

So, after making arrangements, we ate some lunch, and caught a train to Wexford. The ride was pleasant, and it helped me appreciate just how small Ireland is (and how large the US is). If the Wicklow Way didn't go up and down through mountains but instead cut straight across flatland, we'd make across the entire country in no time.

It was about an hour ride to Wexford. After arriving, we stocked up on cough drops (that contain anti-biotics), and then foolishly decided to walk the (it turns out) 3km uphill to our hotel, learning later that it only costs 6 euro to travel between the town and hotel. Due to some confusion regarding the reservation we had made, we end up with a room in a private building caled The Lodge, with a king, double, and twin bed, private bath, and full breakfast included. We make tea and lounge around for a couple hours, just chatting and resting.

Around 6:30, we head to town (by taxi this time) to get dinner. We wander around a bit before deciding on a small second-story Italian place called Amalfi Coast. It's new, apparently, and has real, Amalfi-style Italian cooking (by the way, the next time we all travel, Keller and I are going to push for a cycling and culinary tour in Italty). We enjoyed a speciality tasting menu with four courses and shared a bottle of a dry Italian wine called Soave. We toasted to getting off the trail and getting to Wexford. Full of food and plague by sinus headaches, we returned to the hotel and went to bed.

So far today we've eaten breakfast and taken showers, at the most leisurely pace possible. We'll head back into town shortly, maybe to find a castle or ride in a boat. Andrew and I leave for Dublin tomorrow morning.


If I had one piece of advice to give when it comes to having a good vacation, it would be: Don't let things that are out of your control happen. However, since that is by definition impossible, here are some real pieces of advice that may help you survive when things do inevitably get out of your control:

1. Be flexible/open to changes of plan. Along the same lines,
2. Plan to spend more money than you think you'll need to. Having a plan is important, but it is also important not to be too attached to or invested in those plans because if something changes you need to be clear-headed enough to come up with (and be accepting of) a realistic alternative. The four of us have been pretty good about this--right now, we are in a town we hadn't planned to visit, we are spending money on meals and hotels and medications that we didnt know we'd need. And we're still having a pretty good time, considering that we're sick as dogs.

I think the one area where we could have had more forethought would have been:

3. Know your limits. For us, I mostly mean this in the physical sense. We've been saying this whole time that getting sick was not something we could have avoided, and mostly I think that's true, but maybe it was foolish of us to think that we could do 5 days of rainy mountain hiking without consequences.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We're fine.

After we spent most of the night sleeping (or trying to sleep) on a futon in the walk-in closet*, our electricity (hooray for AC) was restored around 7:30am and finished out the night on our real bed.

*Our apartment is chock full of windows.

From what we can see, there wasn't a lot of damage around our apartment complex, just some small trees and fence sections down. We're supposed to boil tap water before drinking it, and we're supposed to stay indoors until 2pm, but we've got electricity and internet and food and we'll be fine.

My thoughts are with those who are not so lucky this morning.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spending a day in the kitchen

After looking at the pictures I took of the food I made today, I have decided that our black dishes, while classy dinnerware in and of themselves, are not great backdrops for food photos. After we move I may buy a small set of clean white dishes for food photography (along with a work light for better illumination); we'll see.

A few hours after cooking our remaining pot stickers for a sort of brunchtime meal, I decided to make pasta. We had noodles, we had vodka marinara sauce in a jar in the fridge--whait more do you need? Well, I'm the kind of girl who likes a lot of flavors, and wants to feel a sense of accomplishment while enjoying her meals. Enter the remainder (read: most of) the poblano pepper from the pot stickers (hey, we put bell peppers in pasta all the time, so why not these?), and a healthy chunk of goat cheese from Monday night's panini (chevre and prosciutto with cranberry sauce, for the record). I diced the poblano then cooked it in the pasta sauce and stirred in the cheese so that it all became one creamy pool of goodness. I then stirred in some cooked pasta (macaroni is all we had...not what I would have choose, but it worked out well) and voila!

It was really good; the poblanos added a nice depth to the flavor of the dish, as well as some crunch that was good contrast to the chewy pasta. I can't say I explicitly noticed the flavor of the chevre as it was pretty well integrated into the sauce, but it did make it creamier. Yum.

Almost immediately following the demoition of the entire large pot of pasta, I got around to making a sponge cake. I had been planning to for some time, and it was an excuse to use some of our milk and eggs before the power goes out. It's a recipe I got (I think) from an Anne of Green Gables companion tome that was mine when I was younger (that's where my jelly thumbprint cookies come from, too), and it's a simple recipe with delicious results.

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9" round pan or 8x8 square pan, and coat it with sugar (the original recipe calls for you to flour the pan, but remembering that I had read somewhere about sugaring pans instead, I decided to try it, and the results were lovely).
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter on medium-low until the butter is melted, then remove from heat and cover, to keep warm.
  5. Whisk eggs until they are thick and lemon-yellow.
  6. Add sugar a little bit at a time while continuing to beat the eggs.
  7. Add dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon JUST until everything is combined.
  8. Stir in the vanilla and the warm milk/butter mixture.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minuted, until the top has browned and is springy to the touch.
  10. Cool in pan before removing to serving platter. Optional: once cooled, you dust with powdered sugar.

Pot sticker/hurricane interlude

As you've probably heard, there's a giant hurricane in the Gulf headed for Houston. Andrew and I are fine, and aren't expecting much more than heavy rain and power outages in our area (that said, we've never been through something like this before). Consequently, it's kind of hard to take this situation seriously, especially considering that it looks like a beautiful day outside. But, we stocked up some water and non-perishables, and are keeping an eye on the weather sites.

That aside, last night I conducted the delicious experiment of making pot stickers!

They turned out deliciously. If you want to try for yourself, I recommend checking out this blog post on nytimes.com. I made something between then recipe and this one.

The store only had tiny dumpling skins, so I folded my dumplings like gyoza. I made exactly 60--all the dumpling skins in the package.

They were so simple to make, and turned out so well, I think I will add them to my regular recipe arsenal, though I plan to experiment with the filling

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 2 - Day 4

Glendalough to Glenmalure, about 8.9 miles/14.4 kilometers.

Today was full of rain--wet, cold rain--and lots of uphill climbing. Too much. We did get some great top-of-the-world + sheeps views, but the continuous uphill climb (pretty much the first two-thirds of the day) was tough, and made worse by the fact that we had to keep stopping to put on and take off rain gear. Though we managed to stay dry, we were all pretty miserable, and consequently we've decided to skip tomorrow's walk. (We took a lot fewer photos this day, due to the rain):

We're currently at a B&B in the tiny town of Greenan, which is near the tiny town of Glenmalure, today's Wicklow Way destination. After arriving in Glenmalure, we dropped into the convenient pub for hot whiskey, warm food, dessert, and a pint. We complained about our day, discussed plans for tomorrow, ate and played cards.

After a couple hours the owner of the Birchdale House B&B came by to pick us up and cart us away. We've had tea and biscuits, discussed nature vs. nurture, and what we want to do tomorrow.

Broadly speaking, tomorrow we are going to skip our planned 21km hike and instead catch a lift to the nearby larger town of Rathdrum for the day, before catching a taxi to Moyne, where our next B&B is. So far, we plan to eat, play cards, and maybe do a hedge maze.

This B&B, Birchdale House, is quite different from Tochar Cottage: the surrounding town is smaller, the house is new and obviously built as a lodging. Thee's a concierge desk at the entrance, and a hallway with five bedrooms, each with a private bath (there's even a communal bathroom with a full-sized tub--most bathrooms here just have shower stalls barely big enough to turn around in). Also, the owner, Tom, brings in someone else to do the breakfasts and clean the rooms, while Stella at Tochar did all of it herself.

More photos from Tuesday

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Monday, September 1 - Day 3

Roundwood to Glendalough, with a pit stop in Laragh; about 6.56 miles/10.56 kilometers

Breakfast: cereal, orange juice, yogurt, tea (with milk and sugar of course), toast & mini baguettes, tomatoes, hash browns (cooked like the waffle fries at Chik-Fil-A), Irish-style bacon, sausage, and black pudding/blood sausage (which actually isn't bad, but after eating everything else I just had no more room). Everything was delicious.

(For a picture reference, check Wikipedia, then add tomatoes and mushrooms. Now, imagine eating that every morning for a week...good thing we were walking every day!)

We walked around the town a little bit, mostly in order to get some supplies at the pharmacy. The trashcans are sponsored by the Tidy Towns Committee, which is ridiculously quaint. We head out shortly; we're all still incredibly sore, but we did some stretches, and at least today is shorter than yesterday.

Right: Another one for the tiny wildlife collection!


The trail really was better today--shorter and less up&down. We stopped in Laragh for lunch (via a detour that was actually shorter than staying on the Way). We ate at a restaurant (the only one around, apparently) called the Wicklow Heather--delicious, kind of fancy food (we shared a gorgonzola tart, and I had a tortilla wrap with goat cheese and roasted veggies). We enjoyed many pots of tea while we sat out the rain that arrived just afte we did.

Then we continued on to Glendalough, about 2km further, and checked into the hostel that apparently had never made our reservation (luckily they had a room). This hostel (run by the same company as the one in Knockree) is not quite as nice as the other, and we've concluded that all things considered (like having to pay extra for towels and breakfast, and the poor quality of the beds), it wouldn't really have been that much more expensive just to stay at B&Bs the whole time.

After leaving our things in the room, we wandered the nearby St. Kevin's cemetary. St. Kevin's is another trail (much shorter) you can hike around here; apparently there are several little trails in this area.

We stopped by the Glendalough Hotel Bar/Lounge for some mediocre food and our daily pint (Brandi has actually taken to ordering hot toddys, known simply as a hot whiskey here) before heading back to the hostel. Brandi and Keller did some laundry while we played a game of Rook.

Tomorrow is another lightish day on the trail, but for the fourth day of hiking we ae considering paying someone to cart our packs to the next town while we hike without them, as it is going to be the longest, toughest day of the trip, Brandi is still under the weather, and I seem to have strained my knee yesterday.

More pictures from Monday

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sunday, August 31 - Day 2

Hike: Knockree to Roundwood, approximately 11.4 miles/18.3 kilometers

We've safely arrived in Roundwood, at Tochar Cottage (the town's Gaelic name is An Tochar), after 8 hours on the trail. To begin at the beginning:

We left our hostel in Knockree around 9:40am, following a breakfast of cereal, orange juice, toast, maramlade, and tea. The scenery is for the most part truly epic and really beautiful, as pictures will show (the greens are lusher in person):

We did quite a bit of up and down today (most of it gradual, thankfully), with a total elevation gain of 500m (though, considering that we were going up AND down intermittently, I think our total uphill mileage was somewhat more than that). The landscape was diverse: there were forests, open stretches of hills and mountains, and even sheep pastures.

I don't think I need to say--our feet are killing us. We walked at least 18km (according to Keller's pedometer), and I don't think we'd be comfortable right now even if the terrain had been feather beds instead of rocks, mud, grass, wood planks, pavement, and sheep poo.

The low point of the day was around 12:30 or 1pm; we had just gotten to the top of a hill and planned to eat lunch when a heavy mist settled, along with strong winds, and we began to get very cold and wet. Every changed into rain gear and managed to stay dry, and we kept moving. A little while later it had let up a bit so we picked an open spot off to the side of the sheep path we were traversing to sit and eat. Lunch was PB&J, protein bars, and trail mix, plus turkey jerky for the meat-eaters. After a while the weather cleared up, giving us a gorgeous view of the countryside and hope for the future:

The sun actually came out, and the rest of the day was beautiful.

We got to Tochar Cottage around 6pm. We have two bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a living/dining room to ourselves. The owners, Tom and Stella, seem very nice. Tom picked us up at the road and Stella served us tea with cake and biscuits. She said they've had the B&B for about 6 years; the guest book shows mostly names from Ireland, Holland, and Belgium, with visitors from places as diverse at Israel and China.

We're showered and about to go our for dinner and a pint. I'm feeling a lot more optimistic right now about tomorrow than I was a couple hours ago (especially since tomorrow is almost half today's distance).

We had dinner at the Roundwood Inn--I had traditional Irish stew (I bet you can picture it), applie pie with ice cream, a pint of Guiness and a Bulmer's cider. And I'm a bit tipsy--we all are, to be fair. Poor Brandi had bad allergies all day and was completely exhaused at dinner.

Tomorrow, Andrew and I are having a full Irish breakfast, which I will describe tomorrow as I don't know exactly what it entails. I wonder if we'll have black pudding.

Anyway, our pub was apparently named Ireland's Pub of the Year in 2007 by someone or other, but it seemed just okay to me.

Things are expensive here. (Also, on a brighter note, it's cold!)

More photos from Sunday

Monday, September 8, 2008

Saturday, August 30 - Day 1

10:50am London time
Arrived at Heathrow airport. From the window of the plane we could see castles and manors dotting the countryside.

In a few of my travels, I have been made very aware of my white-ness: in Thailand, among the hill tribes, with women surrounding us and pushing their handicrafts; in Mexico, walking down the street and being called "guera" (literally "white girl")--these were pretty blunt reminders.
But on the plane to London, surrounded by English-speakers with British accents, I suddenly became very self-conscious about my American-ness, which hasn't happened before. Considered that we were coming from Texas and traveling to a popular destination, I think this feeling was my own projection.
(Update: I mostly got over this during our time in the airport--and I was also made painfully aware that having a British accent does not mean you know what you're talking about in the slightest--more on this soon).

I'm currently sitting on the plane to Dublin, waiting or take-off, recoving from a harrowing experience with airport security--namely someone telling Andrew that no, we can't go through to our gate because we're actually in the wrong terminal (they're separated by bus rides, by the way), resulting in us going al the way back to where we started in this terminal only to have our suspicions confirmed that actually we ARE in the correct terminal, the guard was wrong, and we were probably going to miss our flight because of it. SO we hurried back through passport control, biometric scans, security, and all of Terminal 1...and we made it all the way back to the errant guard who laughingly apologized, taking his time (when we had no time left) before trying to tell us that our flight was leaving from a different gate than what the TV monitors said.
Well, we had none of that and moved on, thinking the gate was just around the corner. To our dismay, it was several long hallways away--we took them at a despairing jog. We arrived at the gate finally, sweaty, panicked, and exhausted from our prior overnight flight from Houston, with no time to spare, only to discover that our plane has been delayed and has not even begun to board yet. My reaction is both relief and immense frustration, now that I finally have the time to get pissed about the guard's incompetance.

Our plane is taxiing, and I can barely keep my eyes open. We're going to spend the majority of this trip being tired and sweaty; I'd just asumed that would begin with the hike, not in the airport.

Our trip to the first hostel was made considerably easier thanks to Keller's old supervisor David who just moved to Dulkey (outside of Dublin) and drove us there. We stopped in Eniskerry for dinner (blandest Chinese take-away ever) and a pint--of Guiness, of course. Our hostel is new, entirely IKEA-furnished, and seems nice enough. The bathroom is all-in-one, with the sink and toilet basically in an oversized shower stall, but there is the unique addition of an emergency pull-cord that summons a nurse.

Dublin itself is unlike any other city I've been to, in that it seems to combine the least efficient/most dangerous aspects of other big cities: the roads are narrow and filled with dare-devil pedestrians, and the layout is far from a grid, and streets are seldom labled. Kind of makes me glad we'll be spending out time walking in sheep pastures.

On the way to Eniskerry


We're laughing because we're not exhausted yet!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Having returned from the Emerald Isle

I've made it safely home, if not entirely in the same condition I was in when I left. I working on getting photos uploaded to the computer and internet today (I've finally created a Flickr account--hello new internet addiction!), but starting tomorrow, I'm going to post once a day, covering a day of our trip at a time, from the notes I made in my journal while we were there, plus photos and my current reflections on the day and the trip. After I've gotten through the whole trip, I may do a final reflection post; we'll see.

Anyway, look forward to that starting tomorrow morning.

EDIT: If you just can't wait, I've uploaded the first couple days of photos.