30 March 2008

Working Weekend

Friday I had choir practice. Not much to discuss.

Saturday I was planning to go on a trip to La Rochelle, but slept through my alarm or turned it off in my sleep or something... at any rate, when I woke up I discovered that it wasn't six o'clock unless you turn the clock upside down. So I procrastinated the morning away, trying to get myself to do homework and instead wasting a lot of time and cooking. That was fun. Then I opened the windows, put on my iPod, and cleaned my apartment.

(In this next paragraph, I'm going to ramble... the purpose of this rambling is to ensure that the photo will not be near the top of the entry, because my homemade gas mask looked ridiculous.)

This was a true Spring cleaning. Like I'd never done before. I cleaned the shower and sinks. I swept. I washed the kitchen floor. I scrubbed the kitchen counters. I moved the stuff off my pantry shelf and dusted it. I cleaned the toilet. I washed my dishrags and towel. I took the sheets off the bed. I flipped the mattress. I sprayed everything with Febreeze. I washed all the dishes. I organized the dishes. I washed the dish drainer. I dusted the radiators. I organized my desk. I hung up some photos. I figured out how the curtain rods worked and switched the ugly bedroom curtain with the pretty kitchen curtain. I reorganized the medicine cabinet. I put all the papers from my desk in a neat, though unorganized, stack. I took in the waist of a pair of pants (and then amused myself when I thought "Wait, these fit fine, they don't need to be taken in... oh." when I tried them on to test the fit). I charged my cell phone. I arranged the pens and pencils neatly in their pencil mug. And so on.

However, during the "scrubbing the kitchen and degreasing the work area" step of the Spring cleaning process, I used a cleaning spray. It was the cheapest one that said "Degreaser" on the label, and it would be more honest to call it a "noxious toxic gas that will degrease the counters but fill the apartment with a horrible stench, make you wonder if you'll choke to death, and leave residue that has to be washed off." So I made a classy looking gas mask out of two headbands and a tissue, and for your amusement I include a photo:

Anyway, Saturday was very productive. I felt really good about all that I accomplished, and I finished off the day with a carrot soup (seasoned with ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, soy sauce, and lime) and fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate pudding fondue-style. Even though it was cleaning, it was a lovely day.

Sunday I got up at eight, having resolved to finally make it to Mass at that domed building a couple blocks away. I was absolutely exhausted, and getting up was really hard. I was so tired that when I glanced at my watch an hour after getting up and saw that it read eight o'clock, my first thought was "Haven't I been up more than zero minutes?" rather than "Oh yeah, today the clocks go forward an hour." Good thing my computer, and therefore my alarm clock, changes automatically.

Mass was beautiful. There were seventeen people in the congregation, four priests, and about fifty nuns who were singing in absolutely perfect unison. It was Tridentine Mass, so most of the responses were chanted in Latin, but the readings, homily, and important prayers were in French. I sang along when I knew the chants, hummed when I just knew the melody, and did my best when I knew the words but not the melody. The priest had some interesting thoughts on Thomas: that he wasn't a doubter, per se, but that he was a realist and afraid of disappointment and for that reason needed to see Jesus to let himself believe. He was very attached to the guy, and seeing Him executed wasn't a picnic. He was thrilled to see Jesus alive again, and note that he didn't actually need to touch the nail holes or anything, he was already ready to believe. I'm planning to go to this Mass regularly, the least of the reasons being that it's a five minute walk rather than a forty-five minute one.

And this afternoon I finally got around to doing my homework! I'm amazed that I spent so much energy avoiding it yesterday, because one translation took five minutes and the other took ten; I spent ten minutes rereading didactics notes and it only took half an hour to read a chapter of the book I have to write a paper on (I still have to read the last chapter today, so that I can start writing the paper, which is due in a week) and about five minutes to finish learning the Mendelssohn solo. It feels so good to have accomplished so much this weekend!

28 March 2008

All the World's Stages

Yesterday I went to a play at Angers' newest theatre, Le Quai. It's a very modern building on the other side of the river from the castle, and it's a nice venue. Why did I go to a play? Because yesterday morning my translation teacher opened the class with "I have two tickets to a play tonight. It's gotten good reviews. Free to whoever wants them." So I volunteered to take them off his hands :) The first friend I encountered who could go was Katie from Ireland, so we went together.

The play is called Derniers remords avant l'oubli (Last Regrets Before Oblivion), and it's basically a play-length character study, mostly in monologue. The plot is simple: two guys and a girl had bought a house together when they were lovers, and now, years later, one of the guys is still living there. The other guy and the girl come back with their respective spouses, and try to convince the stubborn guy that they should sell. So it's all discussions and arguments, and it was really well done. It may sound like a rather depressing set-up, but it was really funny. My favorite character was the husband of the girl, who was the most constant comic relief. He's the type who misspeaks a lot and doesn't like silence, so he rambled on and on in a really funny way. The best scene was between him and the other guy's wife, who obviously was quite comfortable with silence. Have you ever been to a play that seemed to go really fast? The type where you look at your watch when it ends and are surprised to discover that an hour and a half had already gone past... it was that kind of play.

The theatre itself was unlike anything I'd seen. Stadium seating that was quite steep, so everyone had a good view. The entire thing, walls, ceiling and floor, was black. The main "room" of the set was created by light alone. The set was a table with two chairs, an armchair, and one more chair. The garden was a triangle of stones in the corner of the "room." So it crunched when they had to walk on it, and every so often stones would leave their border.

My favorite thing, actually, was the way the play was written to include the audience. Some lines were addressed directly to the audience, "You don't know him, but I can assure you that he's stubborn," then to the character, "You are SO stubborn." Like that. It brought us closer and made us appreciate it more, I think. At one point, someone in the audience sneezed and the actor paused his monologue to say "Bless you."

The only "problem" was that the play (and long curtain call) ended about five minutes before my bus was going to pass: my choice was 9:58 or 11:15, so I really wanted to make it! Katie and I speed-walked up the hill to the castle, but saw the bus pass by when I was about hundred yards away. So I got to walk home, which takes 45 minutes. Oh well. I gave the empty streets of Angers a nice long lip-sync concert of an iPod playlist as I walked.

Today is a very businessy day. My inbox is packed, I have train tickets to buy, homework to do, grocery shopping to fit in, and choir practice at the end of it all. If you, unlike me, have time on your hands, there's plenty of new procrastination material at my other blog, Procrastination, Made Simple. Enjoy!

26 March 2008


In French, Pâques (plural, pronounced pak, and notice how it's reminiscent of "pascal") is the word for Easter. Pâque (pronounced the same way, and singular) is the word for Passover. Strange.

Easter Mass was nice. My choir and the choir school both sang, and they brought in a bunch of tenor and bass alumni, so there were about 150 people stuffed into the choir section of the cathedral. Mass doesn't have quite the same panache as it did before the bishop was promoted, but it was a really nice service. We even closed with the 'Allelujah chorus (the French don't know how to aspirate an H), so it felt quite festive. After Mass, I had Easter lunch with my landlord Anne, another of the students living in the house, and about twelve of her relatives and friends. I sort of know who's related to whom, but not quite. She served the traditional Easter food, which are stuffed hard boiled eggs reminiscent of deviled eggs. They weren't bad, though I don't generally like hard eggs. The main course was pork, and I think this was the first time I'd ever had pork for Easter. After most people had left, the six of us who were still there played a game of memory. It was a good afternoon, although honestly it put me into extraversion overdose: as an introvert, I can take constant company for a certain amount of time before I need to curl up in a ball. I'd been going non-stop since Wednesday. So I spent the rest of the day relaxing, organising, and enjoying the silence. Easter Monday is a national holiday in France, so I didn't have any classes and spent the day relaxing more.

Tuesday's exciting moment was in choir: the director gave me a solo! It's a solo quartet section in the Mendelssohn motet we're singing. In the States, there would have been an audition. In France, it was just assigned. And I was apparently the top choice among the sopranos. It's nice to have proof that one's self-confidence isn't unwarranted :)

Today, Wednesday, I gave a presentation in French class with Melissa from Missouri and Chloe from England. We talked about the Angers cathedral, and I got to talk about the things I didn't need to research: cathedral organisation, diocese organisation, and the Angers cathedral choirs. I prepared a bit last night, to make sure I had all the vocabulary I'd need and knew how to spell it, and it went quite well. It really is an interesting topic: for example, did you know that the Maîtrise de la Cathédrale, my choir, was founded in 1369? It's a rather old organization.

In other news, cinnamon sugar crêpes are delicious, the weather is annoyingly rainy, I turn 7777 days old in one week, it's not a good idea to make meatballs when you only half-remember the recipe, and I now have another blog! It's called Procrastination Made Simple and every day I post something fun I've found on the internet. It's a way for me to better organize the huge list of unlabelled links I have, and a fun way to share with you people. And I really will update it every single day, since unlike this blog, I don't have to wait until interesting things happen :) I've posted four times already, so there's plenty to help you procrastinate. Enjoy!

23 March 2008

Sun and Fun in Lisbon and Madrid

Wednesday (France, Lisbon)
Wednesday I spent the morning packing and procrastinating (I didn’t have class, because I’ve dropped literature: my schedule has gone through so many ridiculous transformations...) and I took an early afternoon train to the airport in Paris. Then I flew to... Lisbon! It’s so relaxing to fly when you haven’t checked any bags, although I’ll admit that having my bags lost has scarred me for life. I’m nervous about my bags, and I have some deep-set paranoia about them being lost, even when they’re carry-ons and can’t be. Having your bags lost is a truly harrowing experience.
The flight to Lisbon was uneventful, and I didn’t even get lost in the airport. The hostel had recommended taking a taxi (as opposed to taking either a bus or the metro and then having to hike up a hill) so I went outside to look for one. They have a strange queueing system for the people, and the taxis line up behind a line as well. A police officer blows a whistle at them when they can move forward to pick up a passenger, so that there are about four taxis being loaded at a time. It’s quite efficient. The taxi ride wasn’t too long, since Lisbon’s airport is very close to the city center. I’ve never seen an airport that close to downtown, in fact! It didn’t even appear to be expensive, the meter was just over ten euros when we arrived at the hostel. Yes, “didn’t even appear to be.” Because it’s apparently standard practice for cab drivers to charge a supplement for their return trip, and therefore the price was double what I expected. So it was typical taxi fare instead of amazingly cheap. Bummer.
The hostel was like the taxi: overall nice, but with a disappointing twist. It’s a relatively new, nice hostel, and is cheerfully decorated. However, they have some sort of a problem with the water... and therefore only one working shower. For a whole hostel, which has beds for about fifty. At least they lowered the price significantly to make it up to their guests. Jakob and Meghan (for those who don’t know Jakob and Meghan: we went to high school together, were in various classes together starting with science sophomore year, and played cards together a lot) met me at the hostel shortly after I arrived. Meghan is studying in Bilbao, Spain this semester, and Jakob came to travel with her for his spring break, and I skipped a few days of classes to travel with them... does that make sense?
Late as it was, this is southern Europe, so we headed out to get some dinner and hopefully hear some live fado music. Fado is a rather melancholy type of music, usually a singer accompanied by guitars or mandolins. The best we found was a touristy fado restaurant, whose kitchen was open for another fifteen minutes.
We ordered a small dinner to avoid the cover charge (I got prawn soup, Meghan and Jakob got omelettes, and we shared garlic mushrooms). They had several singers and several musicians, and tried to encourage guests to buy their CDs. My critique? It would have been great if there wasn’t singing. The guitar/mandolin playing was beautiful: usually you don’t get a chance to hear guitars playing in an ensemble like this, it was lovely. The singing was (for the guy) too loud and (for the lady) off key, and in my opinion it detracted from what otherwise would have been awesome. I would have bought a CD from the musicians if they didn’t have singing on it. (For those who find it interesting, they sang in a very chesty way, and used lots of turns though no trills and very little vibrato.)

Thursday (Lisbon)
Thursday morning I woke up naturally quite early, and only had to wait about five minutes to use the shower. Remember how all the showers were broken but the one? It wasn’t in peak condition either... the water worked, but the temperature and pressure were inconsistent, and the door was broken! Good thing there were few people up and everyone was good about giving people privacy, because otherwise it would have been a terrible situation.
The hostel provided us with cereal and warm milk (as it is southern Europe), rolls with jam or nutella, and tea. Not a bad breakfast: it was the bright side of the hostel experience. We left our bags locked in a locker and set off to explore Lisbon. [I apologize for the lack of names in this blog entry... I don’t speak any Portuguese and I speak very little Spanish, so it’s not easy for me to remember what things are called or know how to spell them. Or pronounce them.] We started off the day in a rather famous central neighborhood that’s built on a grid pattern. After the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, this area was rebuilt in an orderly, symmetrical pattern of straight streets, supposedly to model London. It’s very easy to navigate, so kudos to the designer. Lisbon has a lot of really beautiful architecture, and lots of it is painted in very bright colors.
Here’s a view of the city. On the opposite hill (Lisbon is a hilly city) is the castle.

This is the gate to the Praça do Comércio which has a big statue in the middle and pretty buildings.

Here’s the other side of that arch.

We next walked towards the castle, and stumbled upon the Sé cathedral on the way. It’s shaped like a cathedral, and it’s very pretty. The stained glass windows were quite small though... perhaps since Portugal gets so much sun they don’t need to let in as much light as French and English cathedrals do.

We then climbed up the hill to the castle through a number of windy streets. Meghan is an incredible navigator: not only does she have a good sense of direction, she can follow a map. Maps are little more than artwork for me, if I don’t know the city a little bit already (since I navigate by landmarks) it’s useless. She figured out where we were and led us through the maze to the castle. Wow. Anyway, the castle is at the top of Lisbon’s tallest hill, and it offers a beautiful view of the river and the city and the mountains in the distance.

There are benches inside the castle walls with an incredibly cheesy poem on them... one in Portuguese, one in English, one in French, and one in Spanish. Try reading this poem declamation style... it sounds funnier the more serious your tone.
I say: “Lisbon”
When I arrive from the South and cross the river
And the city opens up as if born from its name
It opens and rises in its nocturnal vastness
In its long shimmering of blue and of river
In its rugged body of hills
Lisbon with its name of being and nonbeing
With its meanders of astonishment insomnia and shacks
And its secret theatre sparkle
Its masklike smile of intrigue and complicity
While the wide sea stretches westward
Lisbon swaying like a sailing ship
Lisbon cruelly built next to its own absence
- Sophia de Mello Breyner

Here’s a self-timer photo of the three of us at the top of the hill.

Here are Jakob and I sitting in a window in a tower. It was Meghan’s idea.

This is a view from one of the other windows in that tower.

From one of the towers, we spotted this church. It looks like a French basilica. We decided to head in that direction once we left the castle.

Here’s the castle that we climbed around. It looks like a castle should look, I think:

With very little difficulty, we found the basilica-like church. It’s not actually a basilica, just a big white church with a monastery attached. It was quite pretty.

We stopped at a grocery store to buy lunch, and ended up with a picnic of fresh fruit, nuts, yoghurt, and cookies. The sun was nice and bright, so we ate in a deserted park-like area, that was all concrete but had benches and seemed like a park. Then we walked to the metro, and rode north (uphill, to avoid the hike) to go to a museum with an unpronounceable, unspellable name. It’s a collection of art from every corner of the world from every era, and it was neat. On our way back we walked through Lisbon’s biggest park, which has, among other attractions, a very strange fountain and some artful hedges.

Here’s the fountain, which to me looks like it’s in ruins. It’s not.

Here am I with the artful hedges. Way in the background is a big statue, part of Lisbon, and the river. Way behind that are some mountains :)

One of the coolest things about Lisbon is its sidewalks: they’re sort of cobblestone, but they’re small stones and most are arranged in some sort of pattern. Every block is different, so looking down while you walk is nearly as interesting as looking around. Here’s a bit of sidewalk in the park:

We walked back to the hostel to get our bags and take advantage of the internet, then took the metro to the train station. Side note on the metro: it’s beautiful! Big and airy, new and clean, and lots of nifty features like escalators that move very slowly until someone steps on them, at which point they move at normal speed. We took an overnight train to Madrid, which wasn’t very comfortable. I’m so glad I’ve recently developed the ability to sleep in planes and trains, since a few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to sleep sitting up in rigid seats with no leg room. This time, I got a decent, though broken, night’s sleep. I woke up several times to change position, but slept about eight hours all the same.
Friday (Madrid)
We took the metro to the opera house, which is a block away from our hostel. The Spanish metro is even shinier and fancier and niftier than Lisbon’s! To think I used to be impressed by Paris’ and London’s and Moscow’s... nothing compared to Madrid. The hostel, on the other hand, was less impressive. We had a three-bed private room, which is nice, but the whole place was run down. [Since I won’t go into detail later... the shower was ridiculous (bad pressure, inconsistent temperature, no ventilation, small tub with a potted plant in it that naturally was full to the brim with shower water), one of the toilets didn’t flush, the room wasn’t very comfortable, the beds moved, we weren’t allowed to use the kitchen, there was an enormous beetle exploring the hallway, and the staff were never there so checking out and returning the key was guesswork. Water under the bridge.]
Near the rather disappointing hostel, however, were the rather incredible palace and cathedral! Half a block from the door we could see the palace, and it’s quite a sight. We bought breakfast in the bakery and ate it in the little park, which was nice. Here’s a picture of the three of us by the fountain in said park:

I got a pastry with almonds on it which I think must be fairly traditional, since I saw it all over the place. It was delicious, and the little birds liked it too. I had fun feeding them, and testing their limits: two were brave enough to grab a piece from my shoe when I put it there.

And here’s the palace! Well, as much of it as would fit in the frame... it’s enormous.

Here are Meghan and Jakob inside the courtyard of the palace. Also enormous.

We spotted this peacock, who was showing off his colors. Just in case there was a peahen among the tourists, I suppose.

Much of the inside of the palace is still furnished, since they have fancy events there. And there’s still a King. The place was full of lavish painting and gilding and fabric-covered walls and fancy furniture that looks very uncomfortable... beautiful but I couldn’t imagine living there! The chapel was really pretty as well, but it had nothing on the cathedral next door. Here’s a picture of me in the courtyard. The basilica-shaped church behind me is the cathedral.

After a quick visit to the Royal Armory and the Royal Pharmacy (which had lots of empty jars and bottles, and a nice distillery) we went to the cathedral. Here’s a slightly closer picture of it:

If I didn’t feel any particular loyalty to Notre Dame, I think this would be my favorite cathedral. From the outside it’s fairly normal (incredible is normal for cathedrals), but the inside is extraordinary. It’s modern and very colorful. Look above the Gothic pointed arches and you see this bright, geometric ceiling:

Glance into the dome and instead of seeing plain stone or flaking paintings, you see color:

Look for the traditional side rose window, and you see this colorful dome and paintings. The windows say “Word” (as in “In the beginning was the word”) in a few languages, including Russian for some reason.

Look in the back and you see a really cool looking organ:

Everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful, and it’s all cheerful to boot. Awesome.

We explored towards a grocery store, and bought an eclectic lunch to eat at the hostel. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to be eating meat (Good Friday) and got a chorizo sandwich. Meghan and Jakob got pasta, which is how we found out that we weren’t allowed to use the kitchen. So they just had raisins and cookies. Then we set out to walk across the city center to Madrid’s biggest park. On the way we walked through Plaza Mayor, which is full of restaurants, street performers, and hundreds of people:

Here’s one of the more impressive buildings on the side, complete with Spanish flags and a sign saying “Plaza Mayor.”

In the park, called Parque del Retiro, there are several things to see. One is a big artificial pond covered in boats, full of fish. There are some impressive monuments at the other side.

Another is an art museum, which was closed. The third is a greenhouse-style building which has modern art inside. It was also closed, but we could look through the windows!

The fountain outside this modern art greenhouse was creating rainbows, which were fun to take pictures of:

We took a picture of the three of us as well... although Meghan decided to make it a bit more interesting than usual!

We sat around enjoying the sun for a while, then headed back into urban Madrid. I had fun, as usual, taking backlit pictures:

Down the street, along the road outside the Botanical Gardens, is a large collection of statues of faces. Many are faces found in strange places, such as this:

I stopped to get a chocolate-covered churro (a Madrid necessity) and then we walked back downtown to look for a cheap tapas restaurant. It took a long time to work our way through the area, since it was absolutely packed with people. There were Good Friday processions going on (carry a statue through the streets) and the somber holiday didn’t stop the Spanish from going out on a Friday night!

We didn’t manage to find a reasonably-priced tapas restaurant, so we ended up eating at a buffet near the hostel that had plenty of salad and pasta for Vegetarian Jakob and temporarily-vegetarian (because we’re Catholic) Meghan and Kel. It was reasonably priced, and good food. I had a couple bowls of spinach soup, which was delicious. And they had lots of good fresh fruit for dessert. It wasn’t tapas, but it was a great meal. After dinner we headed back to the hostel, where we checked e-mail and watched the first half of Singin’ in the Rain before falling asleep.
Saturday (Madrid, France)
Saturday Meghan had to leave around 6:30, Jakob had to leave around 10:00, and I had to leave around 1:00. So we hugged Meghan goodbye when she left, then slept more. We spent a few minutes walking around by the palace before Jakob had to leave, and then I explored on my own for a while. I got more of those almond pastries in the bakery, one and a half for me and half for the birds. Then I went back to the hostel to try to check out, but there wasn’t anybody on staff. I hung around for a while surfing the internet, then gave up, locked my bag in the room, and walked around downtown. I came across some people decorating a statue of Mary with flowers, probably for an Easter parade. This is the size of whatever they were carrying (I couldn’t see it clearly) on Friday night!

As usual, I went a bit astray from my intended path, but I came across the beautiful town hall (I think), on my way back.

I went back to the hostel (where there was finally someone to give my keys to) then got on the metro to the airport. As far as I can tell, there is only one fault to the metro in Madrid: some of the trains are used on more than one line, so they have several route maps inside. This is fine if you’re expecting it. If you’re sure you’re on the number eight line to the airport, and are pressed for time, and upon glancing up see a big number nine and think you’ve gotten lost... not so fine. I figured it out though, and the panic subsided.
At the airport, I got to use a tiny bit more Spanish, but that was the most exciting thing that happened. Didn’t get lost, or have my flight cancelled, or have my carry-on lost, or anything. On the flight to Paris I seriously lucked out and got a whole row to myself! Plenty of leg room; it was a great flight despite the turbulence. As I write this (sans internet, it won’t be posted until tomorrow once I’ve uploaded all the photos...) I’m sitting in the airport’s train station’s waiting room, which has plugs. A happy discovery from my last trip, which makes my long waits a lot more interesting. I know that a day and a half in each Lisbon and Portugal is a really short time, but it was great. Some sun, some time with good friends, time to explore and time to use the tiny bit of Spanish I know. A wonderful three days.

16 March 2008

Rosemary Sunday?!?

Today is Palm Sunday, the celebration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem the week before he was put to death in a really nasty manner. It's a cheerful day. If you go to a Palm Sunday Mass in the States, you'll be given a palm leaf to wave around, just like the Jerusalemites did two thousand years ago. Usually, the Mass begins outdoors and everyone processes into the church together. Chicago doesn't have any native palm trees, but we have palms all the same. My church in Blagoveschensk, in palmless Siberia, had palms.

Angers doesn't have native palm trees, so they usually use rosemary, or whatever other local leafy plant they've got lots of. It smells nice, but you can't fold little palm crosses out of rosemary!

Other than the herbal variety, Mass was pretty much as expected. There were the usual last minute changes of music (some communicated via text message by the organist way at the back of the cathedral) and moments of confusion when the priest skipped over our songs, and occasional realizations that nobody actually knew their notes... normal. The wanna-be-rocker organist did some nice improvisation, including a very sneaky minor "arrangement" of the Happy Birthday song for our now 27-year-old choir director. It was perfectly disguised, there was plenty of ornamentation covering the rather morose melody.

So now I have a slight dilemma. Palm Sunday palms aren't supposed to be thrown away normally since they've been blessed. You're supposed to either burn them or give them to the church to dispose of correctly. I've never had Palm Sunday rosemary though... I'm sure you're not allowed to cook with blessed herbs, but what am I supposed to do with it?

15 March 2008

Linguists, Rejoice! Everyone else, skim.

Two days of etymology conference later, there are a lot of little points that I want to mention. Here's my really brief summary of the conference and list of trivia.

Summaries and Favorite Bits
• Excerpts from Jacqueline de Romilly's new book: interesting thoughts on etymology from a really interesting lady. I wish I'd gotten to meet her, but she couldn't come to the conference because of reduced mobility in her advanced age. I ordered her book on Amazon and I'm looking forward to reading it.

• Onomastics (study of proper nouns) and philology (loving languages) in JRR Tolkien: interesting talk, even though I'm not a Tolkien fan. I think it's cool that he originally said that The Hobbit was written by Bilbo, that he was translating. And he actually did very sophisticated translation of place names, respecting both the sound and the meaning of the original (original in both senses of the word) names.

• Onomastics in Joseph Conrad's work: also interesting, though I knew almost nothing about Conrad before. I found it interesting that part of the reason he wrote about exotic locations and peoples is that he was too unfamiliar with British culture when he began writing to do so convincingly.

• Etymology of proper nouns and Thomas More: this talk was done by a really really old priest, who wrote a handful of Greek and Latin words on the board instead of using a PowerPoint presentation like many other presenters. He was adorable. His talk was also quite interesting. My favorite bit was an anecdote about one of his professors (in the 40s) who, when asked if he knew Russian, answered, "Je connais seulement un /morys/, c'est Thomas." Here's a translation for those who don't read French or IPA:
/morys/ sounds like "mot russe," which means "Russian word." However, it also sounds like Morus, which is Thomas More's last name in Latin, and how he was known in France at the time. The sentence therefore sounds like it starts out "I only know one Russian word" but then it turns into a very erudite pun.

• Etymological pronunciations of present-day English: the case of yogh: This was also interesting, and it was given in English. I felt bad for the other people though, since it's a really specific topic and it must have been hard to follow for the non-native English speakers. I had no problem though, and I learned a lot. Yogh (ȝ) only disappeared about five hundred years ago, but it still makes pronunciation of people's names difficult. One example is Menzies, where the z is a replacement for the yogh which turned the n into what we'd see is an "ng" sound. So it's correctly pronounced "ming-iss," and incorrectly pronounced lots of other ways.

• The Love of Language(s): this one was also in English, and was about the problems that ambiguity poses for translation. Even words that don't seem to be ambiguous in any way can pose problems, and attempts to reduce ambiguity can backfire. The presenter gave a lot of interesting examples. One that I particularly liked was the difference in meaning of "room" in "The room burst into flames" and "The room burst into applause." She didn't even mention that burst isn't quite the same. Quite ambiguous. As a native speaker, I think it's fun and charming. It must be very frustrating for translators though!

• Toponyms in New Mexico: they come from "Indian" languages, Spanish, and English, and they're weird. I love English toponyms: we have really weird names for our towns and such. This talk inspired some interesting reflection on my part. For example, in Native American languages a mountain range will have a creative name like "the big green mountains," whereas a Westerner will think that's a silly name and call them the Menzies mountains, since that's who found them. But it makes sense, since for a nomadic culture, a description is a lot more useful than an arbitrary name. And speaking of nomads, that cultural difference would have played a part during the conquest of the Americas. White men would put down roots in empty places, and as local tribes would move, they took over more and more. Which must have been very confusing for the local nomads. And their resulting anger would have flustered the white men. "They weren't using the land, but they wanted it anyway?" on one side, and "Why are they still in that same field?" on the other.

• Two etymological minorities in Central-American Spanish: much of this one flew right over my head, since I know so little Spanish. But I did find it interesting that such a high percentage of the terms unique to the region were borrowed from native languages.

• The origin of languages and the question of its relation with thoughts and objects: In my translation of the title I said objects rather than things to make it seem more serious, since otherwise it would seem like part of my usual paraphrase style. But you see, I'm trying to be serious with descriptions and stuff. This one didn't inspire me too much, since it was too philosophical for my taste. It was presented by a professor from the Ivory Coast, and my favorite thing he said was "Sorry... philosophers really like to talk. And to listen to themselves talk." Teehee.

• The etymology of the French word /galgal/: Why's one of the title words in phonetic transcription? No idea. I didn't get a handout, so I don't even know any of the multiple possibilities for its real spelling. I also don't know what the word means, and my dictionary didn't have anything possible. So this whole talk flew right over my head.

• Stories behind words, etymology and imagination in the Apocalypse: this one was really neat. It had a lot of interesting points about translation and faith, which I've been thinking a lot about lately. My favorite point she made was that to her, Angels are "God's prepositions." They say very little, but they serve as an influence and a guide to the other words/beings who are around them. They may not be as noticeable as other words, but they're very instrumental and they make God's work more stylish. Not only do I think it's an amusing comparison, I think it's quite apt.

• Etymology of oral languages and iconicity of signed languages: this one was fascinating. It was presented by my linguistics professor from last semester, and translated into French sign language (LSF) for the two deaf guests who came to hear the talk and respond to questions. LSF had a much rockier history than A(merican)SL (or B(ritish)SL or pretty much any other signed languages since it was forbidden for a long time. That led to stronger accents and more vocabulary differences than you might find in ASL. One thing I found particularly interesting was that there are hypocoristic terms in LSF just like in oral speech. Those are doubled terms, like mama using the first sound from mother and other "baby" words. For example, repeating the first finger movement for father gives you the word for Daddy. Neat.
Here are my two favorite words I learned in LSF:
- "Book" is simple, you just put your hands together and open the "book." Typical. For "dictionary," pretend like you're grasping two halves of a huge volume in your hands (so your hands are open and curved, not flat) and slowly open the book. There you have the orientation, configuration of hands, placement of hands, and movement.... fifth is the facial expression, which in this case is puffing the cheeks to emphasize how heavy the book is! Fun word.
- To sign "mayor," you use three fingers (thumb and first two fingers) to trace the mayor's sash. Why three fingers? For the three stripes of the French flag on the sash.

• Between common noun and proper noun: brand names: This talk was given by an etymologist from the Robert dictionary. She talked about the problem with listing words that now have been registered as a brand name, and listing brand names that have entered the language as common words. They have to take into account language that's "commercially correct" as well as "politically correct," which is an interesting idea. I'd always been kind of annoyed at English brands changing the spelling of words for a brand, like if a company sold "Pitsa" brand pizzas. But at least then there would never be problems with a company telling dictionaries not to list "pizza" because it was their trademark!

• Diachrony (how languages change over time) and synchrony (how languages are at a specific moment): footbridges of time: This one was an interesting look at how people don't realize that studying "dead" languages is useful. People complain about how modern language is changing without realizing that languages do so naturally. Her conclusion was an excellent thought: "Without roots, the tree dies." If we lose track of our past, and the past of our languages, there's no future.

• The conclusion, by the university's rector, talked about etymology in the religious world, especially the word/verb translation of "logos" in John. In English, you'll probably recognize the phrase "In the beginning was the Word..." Well, in French, God's called the Verb. I personally prefer the latter, since after all, God introduces Himself to Moses as "I Am." His name is a verb, not just any word.

Trivia and Other Little Notes
• An English-speaking person might drink like a fish... The French would drink like a sponge.
• In English (this has nothing to do with the conference, I just noticed it) "twiddle" is a really specific verb. The French just say "turn your thumbs" where we've got this great verb. Would you ever use twiddle for anything other than your thumbs? It's possible, but it just doesn't happen much.
• The Latin "ve ve ve" in Revelation is "woe woe woe" in English, and "malheur..." in French. However, it wasn't actually that word, it was an onomatopoeia of the Hebrew word for "ouch." So that would be a more accurate translation.
• In French, a neologism made from more than one word (like adulescent combining adulte and adolescent) is called a mot-valise, or a suitcase-word. According to Wikipedia, this is a translation of the English "Portmanteau word," a word which we obviously borrowed from them.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, which should be an adventure. For now, I need to try to get some sleep. À bientôt!

12 March 2008

Fate and Bemusement

Monday it took a lot of motivation to make myself go to translation class, but I am sure glad I did! I needed to talk to the professor after class, because I joined another of his classes this week and wanted to get whatever text they were working on so I'd be a bit caught up. While waiting for him outside his office, I saw a poster on a bulletin board... and was instantly sure that I had Fate, or Luck, or whatever you want to call it, on my side.
This week, on Friday and Saturday, my university is hosting a... linguistics colloquium. Speakers from all over France are presenting some really interesting topics, and students can go for free. I am incredibly excited about this! Talks about etymology, philology, language and thought, and several talks about proper nouns. It'll be lots of fun.

Yesterday a letter came in the mail that worried me a bit. Bring your passport, your temporary carte de séjour (residency card), this letter, and your proof of medical visit to the prefecture, and we'll give you your official residency card.

Oh my.

You see, within a few months of giving them your forms and getting the temporary card, they're supposed to send you a letter saying when you need to come for a medical visit, where they make sure you don't have tuberculosis. It's a hassle to go to Nantes and do the whole exam, and I'm not looking forward to it. But the problem is, I never got the letter inviting me to one. So therefore I don't have this essential confirmation letter thing. Yet another snag in the process.

All in all, I'm just very bemused by their system. I didn't like applying for a Russian visa, but at least they make you get the TB test and HIV test*, before you even go to the country. France's system seems backwards at every step of the process.
* When you call your doctor to ask for an HIV test, explain why. I neglected to, and therefore when I said in an incredibly cheerful voice, "Hi! This is Kel Miller and Dr. Notherrealname is my doctor, and I need to have an HIV test as soon as possible!" I got a very awkward, sympathetic, flustered response. But I learned from my mistake, and thanks to my explanation at the free clinic where I eventually went, I got to avoid all the lectures.

So today, I went to the prefecture, took a number, and showed the documents I do have to the lady. I explained that I'd received this letter, but I'd never gotten the invitation to a medical visit. I asked what to do. She said that I should have gotten it, and gave me a phone number to call... and my official, laminated and shiny, residency card.
So I'm legal!

09 March 2008

The Result of, and the Source of, Procrastination

I've been meaning to blog about several things this week, and just never got around to it. So this post is the result of that procrastination. However, another thing that never made it past the to-do list stage is my homework, which I should start since it's Sunday evening. Therefore, this post is the source of some more procrastination. I'll try to keep it short, for your sake and for my own!

Phrase I Never Thought I Would Hear:
In downtown Dublin, a small boy, about four years old, has a disagreement with his dad. The father says in a firm voice (this is a direct quote, I jotted it down right after I heard it):
"Oliver... Oliver! We'll go to the church on the way back, the park is gonna close."
"No! No..." the son protested.

Also from the mouths of babes...
On the flight from Paris to Budapest, there were two cute French kids in the row in front of me. They were having fun pointing out airport things like "Ooh, a plane!" "Another plane!" "A big plane!" "Neat truck!" and so on. (Naturally, this was all in French and I'm translating for you.) They were pretty excited during takeoff, but had cooled down by the descent and landing. When we had almost finished the taxi, the girl said in a completely dismayed voice, "Another airport??" And I nearly snorted. What was she expecting?

Recent Weather
March in France is a mixture of sunshine and rain. Five minutes of sunshine, ten of rain, repeat. Most rain here is half-hearted drizzle, but this month there have been a few decent showers. No good downpours until today, but I'll talk about that later. Still no thunderstorms though!
Here are some pictures of the beautiful clouds we get during the sunny spells:

Really Cool Poem
Pangur Bán, by an ninth-century Irish monk

I and Pangur Bán my cat
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will
He too plies his simple skill

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

I often count my steps without really noticing that I'm doing it. I'll start consciously, but then it'll trail off into my subconscious and I won't even notice until I realize that I'm still counting, even after thinking about something else for a while. Anyway, I can tell you that it's 14 steps fewer to the northern door of my main university building than to the southern door. However, that route is slightly uphill, so I'm not sure if it's worth the "shorter" journey since it's a bit more tiring than jogging up eleven steps at the end of the other route. The two ways to get to the supermarket are within five steps of each other, so the traffic lights are the deciding factor.

What's the difference between snigger and snicker? The first seems more English to me, and the second more American. I looked them up and it seems that the difference is even more nit-picky than that. My computer's built-in Oxford Dictionary of American English says that snigger is a noun, and is a "smothered of half-suppressed laugh." However, it gives a second meaning, which is the related verb. It's an 18th century variant of snicker. Strangely, though, snicker is listed first as a verb, with the meaning "give a smothered or half-suppressed laugh." Then comes the noun form. Weird, n'est-ce pas?

I bought two scented candles at the grocery store, since they're pretty and make me feel fancy. Even if they're sitting on a desk strewn with paper (mostly to-do lists and post-it notes telling me bus times and things to write on my blog) with two mugs that should be emptied of their dried-up tea bags and washed. But that's beside the point. The candles are pretty. What I thought was interesting about them, though, was how they were marketed. The store had plain candles, and they had "anti-tobacco" candles. I got two anti-tobacco candles, in cinnamon/vanilla and in apple. I suppose the French wouldn't imagine people buying scented candles purely because they're scented!
The problem, however, is that I have a slight tendency towards pyromania. I'm a pyromaniac without the mania. I just really enjoy playing with fire when I have some handy. So it's a good thing that the candles are scented, since every time I found a hair on my desk or shirt I burned it, and that smells nasty. And it's a good thing that I have a lot of matches, because it really is fun to light ten at once in your candle (watch what happens to the nearby wax!). And it's a good thing that I have a trashcan nearby, since then when I pour wax onto my palms and play with my fingerprints, I can easily throw away the result. It's not such a good thing that I have an artistic mind, because I discovered that it's possible to burn snowflakes. You know, when you fold paper and cut out little triangles to make a snowflake when you open it up... you can do that with fire instead of scissors, and it's quite pretty. Not Recommended, of course. And don't hold me responsible if you hurt yourself trying these activities which I don't recommend.

Remember how an Irish breakfast includes a weird kind of sausage called a pudding? They're delicious meat/starch mixtures that come in white and black, the black ones being seasoned with blood. They inspired me to buy some sausages at my grocery store, and I got some cheap ones called boudins blancs, and they're quite good.
But that's (for the moment) beside the point. Pudding has, that I'm aware of, four meanings: one is the creamy dessert Americans like. One is the English usage, where a pudding can be pretty much any dessert. Many are cake-like. One is a bread-like side dish, such as Yorkshire pudding. And then there's the sausage? How did that happen?
According to the dictionary, the word pudding comes from the Old French word boudin which means blood pudding, which they stole from the Latin botellus meaning sausage! So it seems that our creamy dessert is about as far from the original meaning as it's possible to be, and the Irish have been right all along.

Thursday my landlord invited me to dinner. We had an international dinner, since Riza the Japanese girl headed back to Japan this weekend. She and the new Chinese girl (whose name is something like Sh[vowel]n Y[vowel]n) prepared main dishes, and I was asked to bring dessert. I was going to make caramel apples, but didn't have enough sugar, so I just brought a box of cookies and made a big pot of Russian tea (one third orange juice, one third pineapple juice, one third tea/infusion, plus cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla, served hot). It was a fun dinner, Anne invited a few of her friends and they were interesting people to talk to. I had a fun conversation with one about strangeness in the French language, including words like "gens" which is sort of masculine and sort of feminine: Les heureuses gens but Ces gens sont heureux.

Soup Recipe
Put some spinach and mushrooms (frozen or otherwise) in a pot with some water. Add chicken bouillon and your favorite spices. Then add a can of peeled tomatoes in their own juice. Then slap yourself on the forehead and fish out the tomatoes. Slice them. Put them back in the pot. [Note: feel free to change the order of these instructions, and omit others if you do so.] Bring this to a boil. Boil some water in another pot, and cook a bunch of tortellini in it. Any flavor is good.
Spoon some tortellini into your dish, then spoon vegetables and broth over it. Yum!
If you have leftovers, store them separately. Storing noodles in broth will take away their al-denteness.

1. When drinking orange juice out of the carton, turn it sideways so the triangular top won't interfere with your nose.
2. Unless you live alone, never drink orange juice out of the carton.
3. If you do live alone, only drink orange juice out of the carton if you're late and just need a quick drink before you run out the door.

Today was busy enough to get a whole category, rather than just little points.
• I got up really early to go to a gourmet expo with my landlord and the Chinese girl, whose name I'll tell you once I find out what vowels are in it. The expo was part of a set of demonstrations, tours, expositions, etc. which showcase artisans of all kinds from the region. Anne goes to this one every year, which costs two Euros and offers demonstrations of cooking techniques from the chic restaurants, tastings of everything from bread to desserts to meat to beer, and an opportunity to learn a bit more about where food comes from. It's in a really neat old building, as well:

I found the caramel exhibit quite interesting, although I don't like caramel very much. Too sweet. The culinary school's table was neat as well, although if they spend an hour making a dessert I don't understand how these people will ever be able to work in a real restaurant. My favorite samples were of various French meat delicacies, including foie gras, pig feet with fruit and nuts, and boudin noir, the puddings with blood in them. I'm sure that the noses of my readers are uniformly wrinkled at this point :) There were also local mushrooms to taste, and the best bread I've eaten in France. It was fun, and two Euros for an eclectic gourmet lunch is a good deal!
The best part of the morning wasn't related to the food, though! I spotted my friend Mika, who is a Japanese girl who was in my French as a foreign language and comparative linguistics classes last semester. I went over to say hi, and we kissed each other's cheeks in a French fashion, and she introduced me to her host mom. When Mika said that we had taken French together, her host mom was confused, and asked, "You're not French?" I said no, and she said, "You certainly look French. Sound French, too." I thanked her, and Mika said that I was American. That seemed to surprise her (typical reaction here, honestly) and I invited Mika to go to the movies, and etc. etc. The rest is trivial. But she thought I looked French!! And sounded French!! Having people tell me I speak good French after knowing that I'm foreign is nice, but having someone actually think I was French by sight and sound... that's a landmark. I was quite flattered.

• In the afternoon, I went to see "Be Kind, Rewind" with Kelsey from Truman and Cat and Becca from England. There were two problems with the afternoon: first, it started to pour (hardest rain I've seen in France) when I was twenty feet away from the door, but I didn't have time to go back for an umbrella. In French I was "soaked to the bones," but I assure you that I was only soaked to the skin. My epidermis isn't porous. Second was the creepy homeless man who was hanging around the theatre. He was trying to sell a book on France, which according to posters comes free when you buy a certain magazine this week. He was clearly drunk, and stuck around the area even after being threatened by the theatre manager. But once we got into the nice, warm theater, all turned better. The heating was on, so I started to dry out. The seats were cozy. And the movie was superb. I haven't laughed so much in a long time, and it was a feel-good movie as well as being a good comedy. It's one of those movies that anybody would enjoy.

• My post-it note says "today- 3: food, movie, etc." I don't remember what the et cetera was supposed to be, so it must not have been very important. That I'm getting a cold from being soaked to the bone/skin frequently these past few days? That I got an apple tart at the bakery? That I made Chinese mushrooms? No idea. It must not have been important!

Finally, for your viewing pleasure...
... Here are some video podcasts I've stumbled upon lately.
• The first is called "Things You Ought to Know," and this is my favorite episode, linked here. It's a funny take at the types of ungrammatical grammatical rules American English has. (What I mean by that is that we don't talk like books, but although our spoken grammar isn't textbook-correct, it's accepted and understood and correct in that sense. Anyway, you'll like the segment.)
• The second is a podcast of performances from a conference called TED, and some are quite spectacular. I have three favorites:
- These two jugglers are both the most amazing jugglers you'll ever see and some of the funniest performers you'll ever see.
- This speaker does a great presentation on the ever-strange time that is four in the morning. Highly enjoyable, and very funny.
- This performance is an excerpt from a one-woman-show, and it's laugh-out-loud funny. Especially if you're not Mormon.
• The third is called "Stump the Chef" and is a funny cooking podcast. Not the type where you'll learn a recipe and you can go make it, unless you particularly want to cook with chocolate and sardines in the same recipe or know where to get yak meat. But it's lots of fun to watch, and the sports-style commentary is really funny. You'll even learn something about an ingredient during the "tangent" segment.

All of these can be found on iTunes, or on podcast-finding-programs like Miro (which is open source), or just on the internet. Have fun!

Now I should probably do some homework... although, I should also go wash the dishes, and maybe read a novel and organize my Q-tips... there's gotta be another way to procrastinate!

04 March 2008

More Dublin, (Windy and Beautiful) Rural Ireland, and a bit of Angers

As promised, we started the day at the Guinness storehouse. It's a fairly interesting museum (for instance, I learned that hops smell good before they go into beer, but give it its disgusting taste post-brewing) and the ticket comes with a free pint.

My least favorite thing about Guinness is that it's very hard to find. We took the tram, and after two wrong turns (don't let the fact that two is such as small number fool you!) were horribly lost. The second of those turns was made after consulting a map. Half an hour later, we finally found the place. My favorite thing about Guinness is knowing that it'll be there for a really long time: the lease, signed only a couple hundred years ago, is for 9,000 years. I think that's hilarious.

Kristen and I both enjoyed watching a video showing a cooper make a barrel, which is a complicated process. They were so skilled that measurements were taken during only one step of the process, otherwise everything was done by eye and feel. The advertising exhibit was also quite interesting. The barley exhibit smelled gross. Guinness tastes disgusting, so I didn't get my free pint (I would have gotten Fanta, but they had run out).
Kristen likes beer:

I do not:

We took the tram back downtown, stopping at a woolen mills shop before finding a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The Irish are hesitantly welcoming international food, but Kristen and I greeted it with open hearts and stomachs. A wonderful, filling lunch to tide us over until our arrival in County Mayo in the evening.
Ireland's trains aren't nearly as fast as France's, but they're reliable and Kristen and I had a blast eating toffee and playing cards. We even discovered how closely linked our minds are: while silently trying to think of an adjective (or some other non-noun part of speech, I don't remember exactly) that starts with an M, we simultaneously suggested, "Monkey." [Note: the next day, while listing animals in French, we both simultaneously said "Singe," which is monkey in French. So not only do we think alike, we think alike in French, and we think about monkeys a lot.]
We arrived in Claremorris around nine, and Kristen's host mom Sheila picked us up and drove us to Ballyglass, where Kristen lives:

View Larger Map
Don't worry if you can't find the "town" on the map! It's tiny. Sheila had made dinner for us, a typical hearty Irish dinner of winter vegetables, potatoes, and a hunk of meat. Potatoes are one of my least favorite foods, but I've gotten quite good at eating them politely. Sheila is really sweet, as is her husband Sean. Their kids, Niall (pronounced "Nile") and Niamh (pronounced "Neeve"-- gotta love Irish Gaelic!) are adorable. They're ten-year-old twins, and are energetic and intelligent. I'm fairly shy around people my own age, but I feel perfectly comfortable talking with kids and older people, so I felt right at home with Niall and Niamh.

Friday Kristen and I got up early enough to see the kids before they headed off to school, then we headed out to Burriscarra Abbey. It's several kilometers away from Ballyglass, along winding, hilly roads. We were lucky that the rain had stopped, but it was incredibly windy out! Not ideal weather for a long walk (Kristen in hiking boots, me in borrowed wellies), but Ireland is green and beautiful so we didn't mind!
Here's a field full of sheep. Fields are generally surrounded by a stone wall a few feet high.

Here's a sheep who paused its grazing to stare at us through the hedge:

This is a tourist map, which isn't very helpful. There are virtually no street signs in rural Ireland, and people navigate by "turn left at the house with all the horses and a red door, then right the first chance you get, then right again when you pass the short brown house that usually has a truck in front of it." Roads are known as "the Ballyglass-Claremorris road," not by an official name. But it can give you a bit of an idea of where all of the places I talk about are.

And here's the Abbey! The sign explains, "In 1298 a priory was founded here for the Carmelites by Adam de Staunton, possibly on the site of an earlier monastery. It was abandoned before 1383, but was re-founded as an Augustinian friary in 1413. It was burned around 1430 but repaired shortly afterwards. The repairs, additions to and insertions in the 13th century church probably date from this rebuilding. There is a 14th century parish church in the same field." The best part about signs in Ireland is that they're first in Irish Gaelic, then in English. Though Irish isn't a mother tongue for many, everybody learns it in school and it's enjoying quite a renaissance.
There's also a cemetery, with "new" gravestones dating from the 18th century to the 20th, plus really old eroded gravestones that are obviously much older.

Here I am in front of the church building:

One of my favorite discoveries were some tiny stalactites growing on one of the limestone walls! They were about half an inch long, so they're several decades old.
Kristen and I have visited lots of old buildings, and most of them come with entry fees and guards saying "No photography" and signs warning not to breathe on anything, let alone touch it. This is different. We could explore to our hearts' content, touch anything we wanted, climb through the short doors, go up the stairs, take as many pictures as we want... so much fun. Here's my favorite picture of Kristen, peeking through a tiny little (cat?) door.

At the top of these stairs you can look down into what must have been a very slim chimney of sorts.

Here's the side of the Abbey, with those very ancient grave markers:

Our next stop was a few kilometers farther, to Moore Hall. A short ways from Burriscarra Abbey, a dog ran out from her yard to say hi, and after running excitedly around us for a moment she dashed off up the road. When she saw that we weren't going very fast, she darted off into a field to run around, then ran back to the road, checking that we were following before running forward another fifty feet. We expected her to go back, but she didn't! She followed (well, led us and followed us at the same time) for the hour-long walk to Moore Hall, running through every field we passed along the way. Moore Hall was the home of an English landlord family who did a lot for the area during the famine. They really protected their people, and Mayo likes them for it. The house was abandoned in the 1800s, and now has no roof or floors. You can't go in because of instability and because it's now home to a very rare species of bats, but it's nice to walk around it and there are fun things to see in the woods. Here's me in front of Moore Hall, plus our traveling companion:

The Moores really tried to make their home English. They planted trees in rows to make the forest, and had a huge English walled garden (none of the original plants are left, since they weren't native to Ireland and didn't survive well). It's such a neat area! In this photo, you can see the carriage way, which goes under the ground. There's a doorway in the middle to the courtyard (kitchenyard perhaps?) and bottom floor of the house.

While we were exploring this area, we heard the dog, whom we'd christened Maddie (short for Madra, which means dog in Irish) barking and crying. She could evidently hear us but couldn't find us. She caught up with us by the walled garden, and didn't stray far after that. She stuck right by our sides while we walked through Kiltoom Woods, and climbed all over the Moore family grave site.
Not looking forward to the long walk home, and worried about what would happen if we continued to lead the dog away from her home, Kristen called Sean and asked if his offer to give us a lift still stood. He had been under the impression that we were crazy to go on such a long walk, and gladly picked us up. After we explained about Maddie, who really did seem to have no idea where she was, he put her in the back of the truck and we dropped her off at home. She seemed happy to be back, and Kristen and I wonder what happened to her that evening. After spending two hours in our company, running around and exploring, she must have been exhausted. Kristen can imagine her family saying, "Come on, you lazy dog! Time to go herd sheep. Why are you so tired? You haven't done anything today..." Her secret adventure!

After a delicious homemade soup, we watched Singin' in the Rain (bought in Hungary) with the kids. Kristen and I tried not to sing along too much! We spent a fun evening baking chocolate chip cookies and playing cards with the kids. It's amazing, the kinds of things Irish kids have never eaten and would never consider appetizing... chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (perhaps because jelly is Jell-O for them?), macaroni and cheese, s'mores, and so on. The loved the cookies though! We taught them Spoons, and Spam, and other games that need four people to play. They'll have to go back to old standards now that I'm gone.

So all in all, Friday was about as perfect a day as could be. I've been living in quite an urban environment for a long time, and all my vacations have been urban. Hiking around in a peaceful, nature-filled environment and spending time with kids was ideal. When studying abroad, people always ask you what you miss most. Family, a particular food... I miss dill pickles and babysitting. French pickles are horrible, and there's nothing like spending time playing with kids to give me energy and cheer!

Saturday we slept in very late, and had a full Irish breakfast (fried egg, bangers, pudding, toast) at lunchtime. Then we played with the kids for a while, card games inside and Mother, May I? outside. In the early afternoon, Kristen's advisor Diane, who had arrived from the States in the morning (minus her mom, who was supposed to come for a holiday but got sick, and her luggage, which didn't make it out of Newark) came to pick us up. She's a lot like Kristen: a great storyteller, very intelligent but not in-your-face about it, and lots of fun to talk with.

Saturday was as windy as Friday, but with a constant drizzle to make it more miserable. So we had to scratch our plans to climb Croagh Patrick, a tall (for Ireland) mountain where people go for pilgrimages.

We climbed only as far as the statue of St. Patrick, but, fearing that we would be literally blown off the mountain, we went back down to the warm car. Here's the view from his statue. Under the grey of the sky, you can see a slightly different shade of grey, which is the Atlantic Ocean. This was the first time I'd seen the Atlantic from this angle, before I'd only seen it from planes!

Across the road is Murrisk Friary, which is like a seaside friary version of Burriscarra Abbey. According to the sign, only the church is still standing, it was built in 1457, and the name means "sea-marsh" in Irish.

If you climb a little spirally staircase, you can see a portion of the roof that's intact:

And at the base of the stairs is a very short door. It was probably a bit taller before they filled in the gravel, but not much! You can't tell, but per Kristen's orders I am smiling for the camera.

On our way back, Kristen's boss/advisor in Ireland, Sister Maureen, called to invite us to dinner. She's a really sweet lady, I enjoyed getting to meet her. Very gentle and welcoming, but she's clearly a take-charge person as well! After we all shared tea and homemade scones, we were put into the living room to sit by the fire while she made dinner. This "stay out of the kitchen while I cook" attitude is a part of Irish culture, along with the fact that you don't have to take off your shoes when you go inside someone's house, the frequency of tea drinking, and the prevalence of potatoes. She made us well-seasoned steaks and caramelized onions (the steaks were seasoned with salt and pepper and finished cooking with the onions to give them that great flavor) with the usual carrots and potatoes, which I ate quite politely.

After dinner we went to Ballintubber Abbey, which isn't in ruins and has a Saturday evening Mass. We had been warned that the Mass would be a long one, since it included a mime of the Gospel performed by the First Communion class. It was a long Mass, by Irish standards: nearly 45 minutes long. Irish Masses don't have music, have very short homilies, and are sped through. Kristen thinks this goes back to the era when Masses were celebrated in secret at Mass rocks in the middle of fields, and priests were beheaded if they were caught. You wouldn't want things to drag out. A normal Mass is less than half an hour long. It was wonderful to go to Mass in English again. I enjoyed it so much, even though there was no music. The mime was very well done as well! I didn't take any pictures of the Abbey, but it was a medium-sized stone church with a little bit of stained glass and a warm feeling. Part of that was probably due to the radiators under the pews, which were particularly welcome because of the weather outdoors!

After Mass, Diane drove us back to the Gilligans', and by the time we arrived the sky was clear enough to see a sky full of stars. Angers has far too many street lights to see any at all, and it was magical. Kristen lent her some clothes, and then we hung out with Sheila and the kids for a while before heading upstairs to transfer our photos to each other's computers and go to sleep.

Sunday we had to get up very early, since my train was at 8:22. I got into Dublin a bit before noon, and made it to the airport in time for my 2:20 flight. [The ladies at the tourist information desk were quite bemused when I came up to pay for a little guidebook that we'd picked up on Tuesday, not realizing that it wasn't free. We hadn't noticed the tiny price tag until we were in the bus. So I gave them the two Euros and fifty cents that we should have paid.]

All the walking of the past week caught up to me for my travel day, and I had no difficulty sleeping on the train ride, on the flight to Paris, and on the train to Angers. I finished reading Stardust in French in between, and read a bit of academic stuff too.
Surprisingly, the best part of the day was my cab ride home from the train station. The driver asked me where I had gone on vacation, and when I said Ireland he asked if I had gone home. I explained that I was American, and he was glad to hear that. He said he thought the elections were really interesting, and that he'd been following them. He asked my opinions, and (strange for a European) agreed with me. When I asked who he would vote for if he were American, he said he would vote for McCain, since he can appeal to the liberals more than either Obama or Clinton could appeal to the conservatives, so he would have a better chance of helping unity. He said that one of the reasons he was so glad to follow the American elections was that it was a good example for the world: what with what happened in Kenya, and the "elections" in Russia, it's good to see a true democratic process. When we arrived, he refused to take a tip, saying that it had been a pleasure to talk with an intelligent American and that he didn't have that privilege every day! Such a pleasant surprise to have a cheerful discussion about American politics.

I'd gotten home at just a bit before midnight, and gone to sleep less than an hour afterwards, but Monday I was totally exhausted. I decided to skip my translation class to catch up on brain function (and internet needs). In fact, I've decided to move down a level, since the one I'm in is too tough for me. I'll start a new first-year class this week, with the same teacher. Monday evening we worked on sentence structure in Dutch, which was very useful. It seems to make perfect sense, but it's hard to use. I'm sure I did other things on Monday, but I honestly don't remember what, I was so tired!

The big event of today (after my didactics class, which was interesting as usual) was going to the International Relations office to see if my grades were in. All but one are, so I can happily report my grades from first semester! The first number is the grade out of 20. This varies by professor. Some give 13-14 to those who do best, and occasionally would grant a 15. Some give 16-17 for the great students, and an 18 if someone's extraordinary. No one gives 19 or 20, those are too perfect to be possible. The second is a letter, which is part of the ECTS system:
A (Excellent): best 10% of class
B (Very good): next 25%
C (Good): next 30%
D (Satisfactory): next 25%
E (Sufficient): next 10%
FX, F: fail grades
I got:
- Choir: 16/A
- Dutch: 17.2/B
- Anthropology: 15/B
- Translation (French-English): 16.5/B+
- General Linguistics: 16/A
- Comparative Linguistics: 15/A
- French as a foreign language: 17.5/A

So I'm incredibly proud of how I did! Especially that I got A's in both of my linguistics courses: not only did I do well, I was in the top 10% of a class of masters-level French students, who didn't have the same language barrier as I did. If I was the bragging type, I'd brag about that :) But of course, except for those who read this blog, I'll be keeping that to myself.

A final note: I wrote this blog post in the university, since the wifi at home wasn't working. And for the first hour of me sitting here, there was a moderately creepy girl sitting next to me. She was listening to music on her headphones, but didn't appear to be waiting for anything or anyone. She didn't have a computer like most people who hang out here at this hour, she wasn't reading anything, she didn't have a purse with her, she didn't have or consult a phone or watch. After an hour, she just got up and left. Very strange.