Monday, May 26, 2008

To Ireland!

Where do I begin to describe Ireland? Common sense tells me the beginning, but my $120,000 philosophy education tells me that the beginning is merely an illusory category imposed upon time by the human mind. Knowledge is power!

I convinced a friend from home to fly out to Europe before her job began in the States. Being a major in spontaneity, she jumped on board, and we met in Dublin for a 10 day trip in the Northern Isles.

The theme of our two days in Dublin should be - Parks: The Rich Food Remedy. We thought it appropriate to eat a hearty Irish meal at every meal accompanied by a pint of Guinness. I never knew how heavy Irish food was. We were incapacitated in St. Stephen's Green for 50% of our time in Dublin. Of course, we did the compulsory pub-hopping in the Temple Bar district, heard some Bob Dylan in Temple Bar, toured the Guinness Factory, and talked to some local North Dubliners about Las Vegas and the war in Iraq. Well, I guess I should say that I had interesting conversations, while Gina got constant attention from creepy guys. Score one for the Y-Chromosome!

The key ingredient is pride. Learned that one from Arthur Guinness himself.

For some reason, we found it necessary to break up the bronze lovers...

Turns out the ingredient that separates Guinness from every other beer in the world is water...

After a hearty two days in Dublin, we picked up our ridiculously little, powdered blue Fiat at the airport, and set out for Doolin on the west coast.Did I feel like a man driving this beast...

4 hours later on terrible roads we arrived in Doolin, and we were gonna go check out the coast rain or shine.

And it was worth it...

Doolin is the capital of music in Ireland, so we went to the pub to hear some traditional tunes. Two old men with fiddles strutted in like they owned the place, and started orchestrating sheer awesomeness. But the best part was that people would bring their instruments to the bar and join in unplanned. After a song, they would walk up to the stage, shake hands, and start playing. By the end of the night, we had 4 fiddles, a flute and a guy playing spoons. And God said it was good. Even better than my fish and chips.

The next day we headed out for Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, which, for those of you who aren't aware, are pretty baller.
However, if you lean out over the cliffs with one leg off the ground, you'll kick some rocks off. Or at least that's what I gathered from this.

Galway was good times, and I bet you'll never guess what we did. Yup, ate and chilled in some parks. Galway is a cool city, because unlike Dublin, it's really young crowd. We went to the river and joined about 200 people on the grass to watch the sunset. We met some strange, and I can see with a decent degree of certainty, already intoxicated middle age Danish people. One woman leaned over to me and showed me her fanta bottle, saying "You want a taste?" I was like, "No lady! Why would I want to drink your fanta?!" But then I gathered from her fiendish grin and raising eyebrows that it wasn't really fanta. Who sneaks alcohol into a place where there are kids 20 years younger than you drinking openly?

On the way back from Galway, we stopped and watched the greatest sunset ever. Behind us was a medieval castle, and inside was a musician playing the lyre. There are some transcendent moments in this world, and this was one of them.

After our 2 and a half days in Doolin, we forged onwards to the last leg of our Irish tour: the home of the Casserlys, Dudleys, Reardens and Mckeons - Cork! Gina had a friend from high school studying at the University of Cork, so we had an excellent tour guide for the 5 days we were there. Cork can only be defined by crazy good times, and had but one drawback: it turns out I'm going to get pregnant, since I stepped on the University's seal. Sorry mom.

Lieser gettin' down with the tap at the Beamish Factory. Much better than my pour...

Blarney Castle wasn't really a necessary stop on the trip, since both Lieser and I were born with the gift of gab, but it can't hurt right? I also got a free pamphlet of the castle in French, because the lady told me that my student ID picture is awful. She's right though, it is awful.

After spending the days with Gina and her friends, I was in serious need of some bro time, and this could only be remedied with some good conversation and some serious dance moves. I'm proud to say that I had more pints bought for me than the 9 girls I was with combined. I may not know how to get down with a tap, but mama didn't raise no fool.

And impromptu trash-banging sessions! With a chorus of football chants! I have no clue what they were saying, but I was definitely singing along!

But hey, the important part was that we all had good times in Cork, and I don't know why my family ever left. So we raise a glass to Ireland!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Viva Italia!

Luke (thoroughly discombobulated): Whoa! Where am I? What happened?
TGX2000 Supercomputer (nervously): You have just reawoken from a 2-month pasta-induced comatose. You need to shave.
Luke (with a gusto of heroic virago): No time, TGX2000! If I've been in a coma, that means my blog has been left forgotten and forlorn! My people need me!
TGX2000 (cautiously): Sir, your O2 stats have dipped under 90 and your BP has skyrocketed like a rocket in the sky. You need to rest.
Luke (impatiently brusque): Enough with the poorly constructed metaphors, TGX! Your mechanical heart lacks the substratum of the human condition: feeling!
TGX2000 (under his breath): Your feelings will mean nothing when my my electromagnetic messages pierce the Taurus ring and reach my people in the T9 quadrant of my galaxy.
Your precious feelings will become acidic-based fuel for my poetically handicapped brain.
Luke: What was that, TGX?
TGX2000: Nothing, sir.

My people! I have returned! And with the marvelous tales from the recesses of my pasta-induced dreams! Oh! I will tell you of the marmalade forests and the make believe trees! And of the grumpy wombat in the cottage cheese cottage!

No, but seriously. I've been lazy for about an eon and half now, and I will now make more reparations than the white man. In what form you say? Why in digital sugar bites, of course! No, but seriously, sugar bites of anecdotal wisdom. Ah, you see, it's a metaphor.

I don't even know where to begin, much like dressing myself in the morning. Easter has come and gone, as have the station churches. My travels have come to a regrettable close and finals now loom over my head like a big looming thing. Worst of all, my flight home is June 24th, which now feels like a deadline.

Whether I'm ready to go home or not changes daily. I've gotten more out of Europe than I ever intended. I remember the months of anticipation and planning I naively spent preparing for Italy, and looking back, I never could have planned for this year. This rings true especially for Italy, because they treat organization like it's the plague. Every morning, I wake up with no idea what I'm going to do that day, but it always becomes an incredible day. Whether I find myself 10 feet from the Pope at a personal concert put on by the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra or meeting someone randomly and deciding 10 minutes later that we're gonna go boarding in the Alps, it has been an incredible trip. A lot of people struggle with this country because of its disorganization and inefficiency, but those are the people that need to have their hands in everything. Once you relax and allow Italy to plan your days for you, you realize why it's been around for 2700 years. The pasta, the wine, the gelato, the people, everything in this country is so rich. You can see it in the 75 year old cantankerous grandmothers walking around in hair curlers at 10am. Or in the gawking tourists that stand starstruck on the corner of the street as they see you part the Italian traffic like Moses and the Red Sea. Or in the fact that I've never once been brought my check before asking for it. Or in the well-to-do Italian businessmen clutching their phone between their shoulder and their ear, because they absolutely need both hands to express their point.

Many complain that Italy is fading from significance in the modern world. Their economy is falling behind, there aren't many jobs, and the previous government only passed one law, and that was a pay raise. Italian progressives complain that Italy will never change, because the people don't have impetus to reinvent themselves. I look at it much differently though. The Italians are clinging to the last vestigial shreds of pre-globalization culture. With the immense amount of globalization, cultures are no longer tangential, they have infiltrated each other. While this is not a bad thing in its own rite, it sacrifices the real flavor of the culture. As countries begin to follow America's economic blueprint, the polarization of cultures will slowly melt into one proximate homogeneity. America is the poster child for this revolution. What great art forms can we lay claim to? One could make an argument for jazz and country music, but these hardly compare to the Italian renaissance, Irish music and dancing or French literature and poetry. Where does the heart of our culture reside? The heart of our culture resides in the dilution of the heart of every other culture. We have no real cultural dishes of our own, but you can find a weakened recreation of sweet and sour chicken, Italian carbonara or Mexican tortillas anywhere.

There is certainly benefits to an amalgamated culture, namely, cultural homogeneity. Nowhere else in the world can you find so many cultures existing peacefully side by side than in America. Unfortunately though, each of those cultures has to sacrifice an integral part of their culture in order to cooperate with the whole: the idea that their culture is their own. Say what you will about the peaceful coexistence of cultures in America, but Mexicans are not proud of their Mexican-American culture, but their Mexican culture. Italians are proud of their Italian culture, not their Italian-American culture. Italy alone has more strong cultures than all of America. Rome hates Milan, Milan hates Florence, Florence hates Siena, the South hates the North - cultures are radically different every 50 km. In America, we've sacrificed cultural identity for security and diluted uniformity.

Italy may never achieve a modern significance the way France, Germany or Britain has, but they'll always retain what makes them Italy. Italians are the only people more proud of their country than Americans (and maybe France), and I think there is a direct correlation between their strong culture and their pride. Progressives may say that Italy will never change, but I'm all right with that.

When I begin writing this, I didn't intend to bash America, it just developed that way. Let it be known though that I wouldn't trade my passport for anything, and I think the moral future of the globe lies in America's hands.

I have more updates about my travels, but right now I have to head to church. There's a gorgeous Byzantine rite mass near me with lots of incense, processions and song. It's gorgeous. I must be off! I promise to update soon! I still have tales of Aviano, Scotland, Ireland and the 2 weeks Italy will never forget.