The Christmas Window

OK, yet another post … apparently I’m on a roll this week or something.  Or maybe this is just preferable to doing my essays.  WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

So I decided to go shopping today, because there were Things I Needed to Buy.  And me being me, it was after dark before I headed out to the shop.  This is Ireland – “after dark” here means 4pm.  So it’s not quite as deserving of judgement as it might otherwise have been.

However, this means I got an amazing view of all the Christmas lights up around O’Connell street and Henry Street.  And all the Christmas decorations.  And most of them were gorgeous.  Most.

Melbournites and those who have visited Melbourne around Christmas time will know about the Myers Christmas Windows.  On Bourke Street, every year, Myers has an animatronic Christmas display, depicting a Christmas story like a living four-panel cartoon.  I used to love going to them.  My Mum still does.  They’re usually cute.  Small children are gleeful at them.

This is not one of those displays.  I just wish I’d had my camera with me so I could have photographic evidence of what I’m about to tell you.

If I start from either direction (going to the Jarvis Centre, or coming back from it), I’m going to do it injustice.  So this description is not in chronological order, but in some vague order somewhere between random and how much these things disturb me.  All you need to know to begin is that all the mannequins had cold, dead, unfeeling eyes.  I don’t know whether this was made more evident by the whimsical, colourful, sparkly decorations surrounding them or not, but I’m just going to keep repeating it otherwise.  So that’s your preparation.

A double-spread of windows was done up like a circus.  I would like to say that the male mannequin in the giant hula-hoop-come-monstrous-hamster-wheel was languishing.  I like the word languishing.  It implies comfort and a certain level of safety.  However, you cannot make a mannequin languish.  It is not in their nature.  What it did instead was jut.  It jutted, at a 45-degree angle, suspended like an acrobat with rigor mortis inside this circle of unfeeling whimsy.  He was watched by a female mannequin, who cared nothing for his plight.
I say watched.  I’m still not sure if she was watching him, or us, the poor fools outside the glass cage.
A little to the right of them was a lion tamer, scarier than the lion.  The lion, at least, was furry and looked sleepy.  Almost cuddly.  And then there was the lion tamer with the whip.
Of course, being a female mannequin in a clothing store, she was not allowed to wear sensible clothes.  No, she apparently tamed lions in a white evening gown.  I did not doubt for a moment that she was far, far too successful at this.  Her pose said “I care not for the ability to run away from this dangerous creature”.  It said “This whip?  Oh, this isn’t for the lion.”
I began to wonder if the lion was sleepy at all … maybe it was half-drugged, and thus more malleable.  Or maybe its soul was just crushed beneath the sequinned stilettos of the woman who controlled it with a pristine evening gown, and didn’t need her whip.

One thing I will say in favour of this display.  They got their merry-go-round horses right.  They were certainly merry-go-round horses, stylised and merry.  Unfortunately, the female child mannequin riding it was clearly under the wrong impression.  You cannot bend a mannequin’s legs, so what the poor thing ended up doing was lean back, legs rigid, face mercifully obscured, suggesting she was doing things with that merry-go-round horse that 6-year-old children should not know how to do.  Rituals of the damned.  Something.  Next to her was a wall of lollies, all sorted and alphabetically arranged in true UK lolly shop bottles on what might once have been a shelf before it was consumed by tinsel.  Next to it, a group of child-mannequins played, phasers set to ‘frolic’.

But perhaps the crowning jewel in the display window was in the window next to these unwitting children.  To the left were a perfectly unassuming male and female mannequin, enjoying their time together among the strewn Christmas decorations.  To the right was a ball pit, created and guarded by the lovespawn of Satan and Jack the Ripper.
The mannequin was female.  It wore a white knitted jumper, with Christmas trees on, and had a multicoloured beehive ‘do made of charming balloons.  Its makeup was glitter.  I don’t remember what it was wearing apart from that, though.  I was too worried about its face.
I said before that all the mannequins had cold, dead eyes, but believe me when I say this was worse.  Its eyes were half lidded, its face tilted down.  It looked out from between homey jumper and whimsical balloon hair with an expression that suggested the crossroads of serial murderer and Stephen King villain.  It was clearly looking out at the passers-by, sizing them up for a meat suit which it would fashion from their flesh and skeleton, leaving their entrails for the happiest of woodland animals to puzzle over, to sniff, and when the compulsion became too much, to gorge upon and submit to the vile darkness.
Don’t believe me?  From the ball pit, six pairs of legs, stocking-and-stiletto-clad, stuck vertically up, arranged in identical poses.  Occasionally, one of them rotated, jerkily and half-heartedly, either by the whims of its murderess, or to music that was not audible to we mortals outside the glass.  In other words, she displayed the remains of other mannequins she had already harvested, and found inadequate for her bloodthirsty needs.

And then, almost as an afterthought, the final window, skinny and mostly neglected by decorations, housed five mannequins of varying gender, dressed in the best of Winter Woolens – jumpers, tracksuit pants, fuzzy slippers.  Mittens.
But of course, you can’t have a winter outfit without a beanie.  These mannequins were the headless variety.  So what’s a store clerk to do?  Why, just jam the beanie on the neck stump, of course!
Did they run out of regularly-headed mannequins?  Do the heads now form the gory underlay of the Hellspawn’s ball pit, the beanies there, not to disguise the bare neck-stump, but to serve as a humourless mockery of a face?  Did the lion tamer use them as bait for her latest lion trick?

I came home mildly puzzled.  I think I’m safe though.  I’m fairly sure their corporate overlords keep them leashed to their glass case.
At least … that’s what I’m telling myself.

EDIT:  I have obtained photographs of this.
Here you go.

He just ... juts.

He just … juts.

It's the face that says it all.

It’s the face that says it all.

Just in case you didn't have a good enough look at that face.

Just in case you didn’t have a good enough look at that face.

With her victims.

With her victims.

Travel Blog Update

Whoo.  So, I haven’t done one of these in a while, mainly because I’m not very good at getting out of the house.  However!  I now have Stories, from the parentals coming to visit me and making me leave my dorm room.

So, two weekends’ worth of anecdotes crammed into one blog post.
I got this.

On the first weekend, we went around places on the Saturday – around Dublin.  Dublinia – a museum experience not unlike Scienceworks for history, featuring Vikings and medieval Dublin.  It had always confused me that the English word for the beautiful city in which I currently study is “Dublin”, but the Irish name is “Baile Átha Cliath”.  Well, I found out where Dublin came from!  When the Vikings landed in the river a bit inland, they named Dublin “Black Pool”.  Dubh Linn.
And now I know.

Other than this, there was the Jameson distillery.  This is where I learned what malt was (germinated barley), and I learned that Jameson is aged in port, brandy and bourbon barrels, then mixed for the flavour.
They also gave me a special stick.

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My Tube of Special

This, later, allowed me to compare Jameson whiskey with both Johnny Walker Black and a JD.  After which I got a piece of paper saying that I was “a qualified Jameson Whiskey taster”

I never knew how far having tastebuds would get me in life.

We also visited Christchurch.  Wow.  Just … wow.  I have no pictures of this, because I kind of didn’t dare.  Think cathedral.
Underground, there were the crypts (which we missed), but also exhibitions of clothes from movies shot in Christchurch, and the communion plates and cups given to the Church by King James I.  I think they might actually be the most lavishly decorated pieces of crockery I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’m actually fairly sure they are.
Also, there was a cafe with free Wifi. Underground, next to the crypts, under Christchurch.
Ladies and gentlemen, society.

And in the evening …  the Ghost Bus Tour.  Run by a very entertaining man who remained chirpy in the face of many obstacles, such as the Robed Doorman not being quite ready for us to open the door yet.  There were a whole range of stories told that day, from the teacher of medicine who dismembered the cadavers he was supposed to be teaching students with (“And this is the liver!  No, wait, it’s the spleen.  That’s the liver over there, stuck to the window where I threw it a minute ago.”), to the prostitute who refused to give up her child to the police, and hanged herself outside Christchurch.  It was entertaining, haunted-house-at-a-carnival scary, rather than actually scary-scary.  Nevertheless, great fun was had by all.

Also, seeing stuff like this:

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Suddenly, a Wild Architecture Appears!

Sorry about the crappy lighting – I blame my phone camera.  But yeah, this happens.  Gotta love Dublin.

And then … then, there was the Book of Kells, and this library.

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No caption does this justice.

63m long, 13m wide, 14m tall.  So.  Many.  Books.
On the list of places I need to go back to and just stare at, before I leave.

…you know what, I don’t got this.  I’m splitting this into two.  Adventures in Galway begin next post.

Learning a Language

So, confession time.  I say I’ve been learning Irish for a fair while now.  I say this.
What I generally really mean is that I’ve been watching things in Irish with subtitles, or I’ve been making my way (at a glacial pace) through Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Irish, comparison reading with the English copy.
Fun fact: The title in Irish is “Harry Potter agus an Órchloch”, which tells me that either the Irish actually have a single word for “Philosopher’s Stone” (not unlikely), or that the title doesn’t mean what I think it means (downright probable).
But back to the point.  This brand of learning a new language is one I find works quite well for me.  I don’t learn very well with flashcards.  It’s just not how I like to do things.

What this means, in the end, is that while I have an OK grasp of the very basic grammar (I can tell things like Irish is an adjective-final language, and that I will never understand their prepositions), and some vocab that normal people don’t really need to put into sentences in order to get by in Irish.  What I don’t know how to do is hold a basic conversation with a normal human being.

I’ve attempted to learn languages before (high school French and Mandarin Chinese, primary school Italian, plus some other hare-brained language schemes), so I know the basics of where you begin with a language.  Conjugate the verb ‘to be’, learn to say hi and introduce yourself (and then be forced to do so to the person “next to you”, who is usually someone you’ve chosen because you already know them, rendering the exercise both socially unnecessary and socially awkward).  Standard stuff.

Having been to two lessons in Irish by now, I’ve realised something else.

The only thing I know how to do in this language is be awkward.

The conversation I know reads like one of those intensely awkward cocktail party conversations, where perhaps you knew someone who was far better at this “peopling” lark than you.  Thinking that she’s doing you a favour, she introduces you to someone else she knows, who is probably similarly awkward, in the two-birds-one-stone of social altruism.  She then leaves to go talk to someone else, leaving you alone with the other person, and the conversation goes something like this.
“Hello.”
“Hello.”
“I’m [name],” you say, realising that this is information they already know, and cursing yourself for your idiocy.
“I’m [name],” they reply, possibly because they’re humouring you, and possibly because they’re glad you said anything at all.
“How are you?”  That seems a simple enough question.
“I’m fine.  And you?”
“Yes, fine.”

And then, sensing that this conversation is spiralling downwards rapidly, you use the most vague and multipurpose I’m-going-over-there-now phrase you know.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you too.”
“Well, seeya.”
“Bye.”

I can do all of that in Irish now.  Probably for exactly those reasons, and in exactly that same tone of voice.

That, or I can shout random words (“OWLS!”) at people.

I have successfully mastered the basics of social suicide in another language.

College Life: The realities.

Short post today.

So, we’re now past the “this place is WAY better than Burgmann!” and into the “well, it has its own problems, too.”

For a start, the laundrette is on the other end of campus.  Which is fine.  I can always use the walk.  Except it’s a mission and a half just to find the darned thing. No joke, there is a person-wide gap between two buildings, through which is the laundrette building.  And the door closest to you is not the real door; that would be the door on the opposite side of the building.

Whenever I manage to find my way to a place around here, I’m always struck with the subtle feeling that I’ve missed something.

Of course, then once you get in there, you need to wash your clothes.  €4 for the washing machine, and €.50 for 20 minutes at the drier.  And bring your own washing powder.  So, €10 plus expenses per week to wash my clothes.  I have absolutely no idea where this falls on the scale of reasonable amounts of money to wash one’s clothes.  All I know is that I’m never paying for anything else with coins while I’m here.

But that’s pretty first-world-problems (or first-world-confusion).  The real kicker is the fire alarms.
Come back, Burgmann.  All is forgiven.
I had no clue that any noise could be as annoying as the fire alarm at Burgmann.  Oh how wrong I was.  The noise that came out of that alarm was somewhere between a dentist’s drill and an alarm clock.  The volume was somewhere between Formula One car and rocket launch.
And the pitch was somewhere between ‘kill me now’ and ‘no, wait, kill everyone else as well’.
So I stood out on the rooftop in a group of people until the security guard came along, had a chat to some people, fiddled with some buttons, talked on a walkie-talkie, walked away, came back, fiddled some more, talked again, and finally turned off the alarm for us.
In a way, the first fire alarm of the year is kind of a rite of passage for the uni student living on campus.  It seems some things don’t change.

Societies

Apparently I’ve changed a bit since my first year of uni.

In first year, I went to all the events, did all of the orientation things, you know.  First year stuff.
I’m now half way through my third year of uni, and I’ve been to precisely two orientation events.
The first orientation lecture, which was mostly useless, and the International Students’ reception.  It had snacks, I was running low on food.

I decided not to go to the second orientation lecture because it was about adjusting to the culture, and call me cocky, but I’d prefer to figure that one out by trial and error, especially the slang terms.  It just seems like cheating to get that at a lecture.  I didn’t go to the meet-your-student-mentors thing mainly because it was based around a campus tour (I’ve already familiarised myself with the campus; I’ve been here a week) and carried a high risk of bonding exercises (which I am way too socially awkward for).

What I did go to, gladly, was the societies booths.  My technique here also differed from first year.
I’m still getting e-mails from societies I signed up for in first year, but then never went to any meetings or events for.  I think I will continue to get those e-mails for the entirety of the foreseeable future.  So I tried to plan ahead.
This time, I did a lap of the stalls first, to see who I really wanted to be talking to, and then went to the two stalls that caught my eye.

The first was the International Students’ Society.  Straightforward, sign the thing, pay some money, go online when I get home and such.
The second was the Irish society.  Language nerd’s dream.  I was addressed in Irish, which was entirely confusing, but I managed to find my way to sign on.

So, my plans for the evening were set.  I was to attend a “ceili” and then go on a pub crawl.

Knowing what you know about me, either in person or from earlier posts about adjusting to find my way around places, you can probably tell what happened next.
If you guessed standing in the rain near the front gate of the uni, watching all the soaking volunteers packing up stalls, searching for someone with the right T-shirt with increasing desperation, well done.  Not only that, but since the flyer I was given was written in Irish, I had absolutely no clue where to go.

I eventually found someone with the right T-shirt, who led behind the building, up two flights of stairs, and into the Seomra Gaeilge.  Because I totally would have guessed how to find that on my own.  Yes.

I was greeted entirely in Irish.  So, I understand what “Failte Isteach” means – welcome in, basically – but from there on in, I was utterly lost.  It took me about three sentences spoken to me and a minute of deer-in-the-headlights, rabbit-smells-a-fox staring before I managed to get out the sentence “Sorry, I’m only just starting to learn.”
I expected this to have created one of the most intensely awkward situations possible.
I was so not prepared for the reaction I got.
It was like I’d announced I’d bought a house and everyone was invited for dinner.
I got quizzed on the little Irish I did know, and then reassured that just hanging around people speaking would improve my language skills and comprehension.  Very true.  Definitely looking forward to hanging out with this group more often.

I found out what this particular ceili involved: Learning Irish dancing.  It’s a lot like SCA dancing, with different base moves.
And I now know how to order a drink in Irish.  So there’s that.

Company at Last

Quick update for you guys, that’s a bit longer than a Facebook post, but not quite an actual anecdote.

The first person besides me moved into this corridor.  This means I am no longer a complete hermit.
Her name is Erin, and she’s from New Jersey.  I would post a photo, but I’m far too awkward to ask another person if I can take a photograph of them so I can post it on the Internet.

We attempted to go shopping and buy things.  On one hand, I now have real vegetables.  With leaves and everything.
Irish grocery stores still manage to confound me.  What does a student have to do in this town to find a place that sells more than five vegetables?  And actual meat?  I feel like I’m going to a long series of corner stores of varying sizes.
Maybe it’s time I tried to find a butcher’s shop and a farmer’s market.

I’ll let you guys know if I ever manage to find real food.

My Room

As promised, pictures of my room.  Because this is about the cleanest it’s going to get for the next four months, so it was now or never.

The first experience I have of coming home to my new room is feeling like the seediest person ever.  The building itself looks like a cross between a warehouse and an old government office.  I swipe a card to enter the side door, where I head up the back stairs to a secret rooftop surrounded by buildings.  On the other side, I swipe to enter again, skirt around the next set of concrete, pale blue, only-used-by-the-maintenance-guys-and-drug-dealers stairs.  My room is through a third swipe door, surrounded by six others, all in brick and concrete.

Here’s the secret rooftop, by the way: It’s actually my favourite part of this building:

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Feels all secluded and stuff.

This is the bed.  It’s a double.  Eat it, Burgmann.

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And then the bed was never made again.

And the rest of the room:

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Yes, ‘clean’ for me still means cables everywhere.

And this is what I see when I sit down at my computer:

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Lots of buildings, basically.

However, not everything always works entirely smoothly.  I mentioned last time about those adapters?  Yeah, well, turns out there’s a problem with them.
Because of the way they’re set up, (i.e. mostly for European plugs, with a provision for Australian if you must, some of my plugs don’t want to go into them.  My laptop plug works OK.  Little laptop?  No.  Phone?  You’re kidding, right?

The solution:

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Those inclined to intensely dislike a particular person or action are, by definition, inclined to express their dislike for said person or action.

 

I expect the room will look a little more lived-in once I have crockery, cutlery, and friends.

Dublin – Day 1. Arglflargl *whomph*

So, I’m in Dublin, and it’s always the little things.

This may well be a long post.  I’ll try to be entertaining so that you can say things like “That post was really fun to read” and I’ll pretend you care instead of actually just enjoying the humour of my suffering.

They let me into the country (no, I don’t know why, either).  Upon which I found a taxi.
I have said to people that Canberra taxi drivers are the nicest taxi drivers I’ve ever met.  This is no longer true.  I was driving with a wonderful man who chatted all the way into Dublin from the airport, told me stories about his son (and I’m sure the son would be mortified if he knew some of the stories his father told).  He also gave me the tour of Dublin, including the history of some landmarks, the identities of various statues, and the best places to shop for price.

I just feel kind of sorry that I made this lovely man take me to entirely the wrong address.  Turns out, I’m staying at Goldsmith Hall, not Trinity Hall.  I did manage to luck out again, because a young man who was waiting in line to sort out early accommodation heard me having my problem explained to me, and said he and his mother were going past the College anyway, so they could give me a lift.

And so, I got a lift.  I got a lift right up to the front gates of Trinity.
Too bad Goldsmith Hall is right on the other side of campus.  I carried all of my bags in the direction of the street I needed to be on, and was met with construction sites and back alleys.  I reached my third dead end and turned around to see two maintenance men quietly watching me.  They opened the side gate and gave me very, very detailed instructions, and I walked the 5 or so minutes up the road to where the Hall is.

It took another two to find the door.  
And then I was told that, to get my key, I needed to go to the Accommodations Office, which was right back near where I started.
Yaaaaay.

The receptionist locked my bags in the store room for me, so I didn’t have to carry them, and I walked all the way back, getting only slightly less lost on my way, got my key, and finally got to my room. Pictures to follow when the room is not suffering the aftermath of me deconstructing bags to find fresh, clean clothes, and then pulling out half the other stuff, too, to check whether any of it was broken or lost.  For now, suffice to say that it’s a bit bigger than a Burgmann room, but with more shelving, the desk set up so you have a great view of the window, and a double bed.

 Now, being my mother’s daughter, I made a list.  I needed to get some lunch (it was 2pm, so I felt a meal was warranted).  I needed bed linen.  I needed towels.  I needed soap and shampoo and conditioner.  I needed to finalise my student visa arrangements at the Immigration Bureau.  And I needed to buy an Ethernet cable and some powerpoint adaptors.
The thing you must realise about this is that I needed the Ethernet cable because I have no Internet access at all (hence why these posts are a) late, and b) all together).  This means I have no Google Maps, and no Google, and my sense of direction is slightly less useful than a ferret on a bowling ball.
Therefore, my first real lesson for the day (apart from always check where you’re living before you head to the foreign country) was that tourist information centres do carry maps.  They’re not particularly good, but any map in a foreign city is an acceptable map.  And they will be able to tell you where the Immigration Bureau is, but they will have to Google it first.

I got to Garda, realised that there was a queue to get a ticket to get in the queue and left.  I’m not an illegal immigrant until the 10th of December, so that can happen when I’m not tired, hungry, and need to purchase things to eat and sleep on.

 The second lesson I learned is that I could buy a fitted sheet, duvet, two pillows, three tea towels, duvet cover and two pillowslips, two bath towels and ten wooden coat hangers for 53 euro.
The third was that, if you put wooden coat hangers in a bag the wrong way, they will chuckle softly at your faith in double-bagging, and rip straight through one of the handles.
The fourth lesson was that, although the Penney’s was the only place I actually knew how to get to, it wasn’t necessarily the most intelligent one to visit first.  I learned this by having to carry a duvet, two pillows, the associated coverings, a fitted sheet, three tea towels, two bath towels and ten wooden coathangers around the city while I searched futilely for an electrical appliances store.

It was about this time, on my third lap up and down the street, peering into adjacent streets and trying to pick out the local who looked most sympathetic and most likely to know where I could buy international powerpoint adapters, when I realised I had not yet eaten lunch, and my mood might improve significantly if I did so.
 The place I found for lunch was a café named “Insomnia”, and I think it may be one of my favourite places ever.  All the coffees come with double coffee shots unless you specifically ask for single.  This is the cup of tea I ordered.

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I’m not sure if you can tell the size of this thing from this angle (obviously I don’t Instagram enough), but this is a tea mug roughly twice the size of a standard Australian mug.
It was my first real cup of tea in two days.
I asked the woman behind the counter about the electronics store, and her response was “Here are some adapters.  We have a better range upstairs.”
Adapters, yes, but no Ethernet cable.  I was directed to another department store around the corner for that.

 It’s possibly not been conveyed so far just how much I do not understand Dublin.  Department stores have specialties.  For instance, Penney’s was obviously a clothing department store, with an auxiliary homewares section taking up the least possible amount of space otherwise reserved for children’s clothing.  Eamon’s, the bookstore that housed ‘Insomnia’, was mostly books, but had a small electronics and stationery store above.
Also, the department store I went to did not look like a department store, because there was no outward indication that all the stores inside were connected, until you actually bother to look inside.  In the electronics section, I looked befuddled until one of the floor staff took pity on me and helped me find what I was looking for.  At the counter another staff member, obviously recognising the foreigner’s bunny-in-the-headlights I-haven’t-slept-yet, I-don’t-understand-your-money look (or maybe he just worked it out because I asked for an Australian to Irish power adapter), asked me how long I was staying for, and when I’d gotten off the plane, and said nothing while I tried to figure out whether I was holding a 1 or 2 euro coin.

 Back at my room, I find out that I can’t make the Internet work anyway because something something student registration password something.  Good.  Fine.  Good.  Right.

I tried to have a shower to calm down but I don’t even what are these showers?
The cold tap turns the water on and off, and the hot tap adjusts the temperature, but there are tabs on each one to change the amount of each?  But I can’t move the tabs anyway, and the water temperature still changes.  I AM SO CONFUSED YOU GUYS YOU HAVE JUST NO IDEA.
And the towels.  I usually much prefer huge, fluffy towels, but somehow the towel I have feels fluffy dry, but is actually sleek.  I usually hate that, but this one feels like the best thing ever.
What have I done to myself?

 Showers happened despite my obviously failing sanity, and now I smell like coconut and green tea and bergamot.  Because it’s been a long day, and I can smell like an ethnic cuisine stereotype if I want to.