Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Non- Sequitur

So I'm taking a half an hour out of my never-ending schedule of studying (and by "never-ending" I mean "ends on Thursday, but I probably won't make it...") to share some thoughts and impart some wisdom.
As the semester drags to a close, we're in the process of goodbyes. I'm no good at goodbyes, I always just assume there will be a next time in order to avoid saying goodbye.
But it's weird for me because I'm saying goodbye to my friends, my new family and this city that I've come to love, but I'm not actually going anywhere. Not in the way I'm used to. Things for me are bookended by plane flights. An opportunity for which I'm overwhelmingly grateful.
But I realized today that I've never gone this long without being in an airport. Funny how times change, isn't it? I think a big part of my frequent flights has to do with close family on the other side of the United States. But I seriously haven't gone five months, much less seven months without some quality airport time. And I miss it. I love airports.
When I was flying back from Tennessee a year ago, after the Bonnaroo music festival, I remember walking through the terminals that were just littered with festival-goers. I dropped my duffel and myself outside of a sports bar in which a woman who didn't know who Bob Dylan was sang Knocking on Heaven's Door and the golf tournament played on the small tv and the sun flowed in through the skylights and windows like liquid gold.
When I went to Prague we could only arrive at the airport the night before for a 6am flight. We moved from the gumby chairs of the McDonalds to the floor of the Starbucks before we finally found a place to curl up under coats and hats in the freezing cold Dublin airport where every once in a while a policeman in shiny boots would wake you up to check your passport.
Man, I can't even remember the first time I flew alone...
But I miss airports. I'm probably one of the only people on the planet who loves airports, but I do and I can't wait to be back in one. It's so thrilling.

On a completely unrelated note, I have been having the most disjointed, random memory flashbacks ever. I have no idea where they are coming from. Perhaps it is the weird weather (gorgeous and sunny in the morning, gray and rainy afternoons that are still hot) or maybe it's that I'm almost done with the semester but it's not like the end of any semester I've experienced.

Whatever it is, it's messing with my head, and at a time when I need that particular part of my body the most, it's just not fair.
My host sister cooked apple pie the other day. (They saved me some filling. It was delicious.) The next day I was sitting in the living room eating dinner and watching tv when someone heated up a piece. Suddenly I was at the Dickens Fair with it's eerie orange light and particular smell (a mix of roasting chestnuts, cinnamon and bangers and mash. Mmm.)
I'll be sitting in my room studying when suddenly I'm 9 years old, it's Christmas time and I'm at Fresh Choice with my mom. I remember this day distinctly. We saw someone I knew at Fresh Choice and everyone was dressed up. I also remember the pudding bar.
Or walking to school through the park and suddenly I'm answering a question (or slacking off... either one...) in Physics class, senior year of highschool. It's a gorgeous blue day and I can see trees through the white blinds that are failing to obscure the window.
Or I'll be walking home and feel a light sprinkle of the threatening rain and its Halloween. I can't quite remember which Halloween, but I was definitely young.
Or studying for my exam, and I'm transported to the Bridge School Benefit two years ago.

So weird.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two more weeks

It was just one of those days.

I hadn't wanted to admit it this morning, fought through my annoyance at being up early, inability to feel at peace with my clothing, and chronic tardiness (though ironically, our group meeting had been pushed back, so I was actually a half an hour early). I even hit a bright patch in the middle of the day when the sun was out and I got an hour off of class because of some department assessment that, as a foreign exchange student, I did not have to partake in. I strolled around, was thwarted at one ATM but found another, wandered through the "Micro-finance Refugee craft fair," hoping, though failing, to find presents for some friends.
And as the ominous dark clouds rolled in, I headed back into class, only to be reminded of the all-encompassing frustration that comes from not being able to communicate, from having my identity as an intelligent, eloquent person be absolutely stripped away.

It's been raining for the past couple of hours now. Not pouring, not drizzling, just lightly raining. It's the kind of day I became accustomed to in Ireland. A dark day, in which every hour feels like nightfall with a constant, seemingly inconspicuous rain that, even after it stops, still drips and tinks and plops no matter how far inside you may be. The kind of noise that is inconsequential when you are busy and productive but nothing less than a dull roar when you have nothing else to do but stare outside. It was the kind of day without an appetite, the idea of hunger is completely foreign, but once you start eating, you can't seem to want to stop.

The Hours was playing in the dark living room when I came home. I watched it while I ate my lunch, which was appropriately unappetizing. The pork chop was mostly fat, which sat in a rejected pile on the edge of my plate, and the mashed potatoes had lumped and congealed sullenly.

It was a day for funerals. It was a day for cradling your head in your arms and staring at nothing for far too long.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

< Insert Dylan Thomas reference Here >

So as I settle into what I’m fast realizing is finals month (as opposed to the traditional finals week), I feel like it’s almost time to sit back and take stock of my astounding progress in el español. It should be a time for positive encouragement to propel me on to the end of the semester. It should be a time for secret self-congratulations because, after all, I’ve made it through four whole months of classes in a foreign language. I suppose it could be a time for minor stress and anxiety about taking finals and finishing final papers in a foreign language. But it really shouldn’t be a time for plummeting-gut, dry throat panic attacks (which, surprisingly are similar to that feeling I got yesterday after watching an epically intense movie. Perhaps that indicates that my experience here has been epically intense?) that grab hold and shake you like a wooden roller coaster. Picture red and blue spiny demons with claws, fangs and spikes, and giant evil eyes, obviously artistically rendered in a comic book style standing on my chest with their long fingers wrapped around my neck, shaking my head like a giant mosh-pit without the fun. I mean, at least that’s how I picture them…

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh yes. See I have this professor. He’s Haitian and a visiting professor which means that he doesn’t know much about the way things are generally done here. It also means that he speaks with an awesome accent that I can barely understand. He’s imposingly tall with an unnerving way of stalking through the rows of students and occasionally stopping to tower over someone and pose a question that the poor sap he’s standing over feels compelled to answer even though it was posed generally. His emphasis oscillates between deafening and almost inaudible and sometimes I think he’s just talking to himself. It’s generally a fun class. I haven’t the faintest idea what we’re learning about because sometimes we talk about the CARICOM and the OEA (which is apparently the “Organization of American States”) and sometimes we talk about Haiti and voodoo. I can honestly swear that I pay more attention in that class than I did in all of my MCB (molecular and cellular biology) lectures combined during the spring of 2008. And yet I’m always startled bright red when suddenly he’s talking directly to me and we’re talking about the word “hub?” Or he’s really interested in my opinion but for the life of me I can’t figure out what the question was, I’m still taking notes on what he was saying two minutes ago.

And then today he drew a diagram on the board and it all made sense. You see, his diagrams are a general source of mirth for the class. I have attempted to re-create it in Paint and, to fully understand it, you should know that I’m DAMN good with Paint. This is an actual and very reasonable facsimile of the diagram that was scrawled on the whiteboard earlier today.

(Profe: “Hmm… not sure why this one looks like an “8”…. This one down here, it’s probably Africa because it’s big, yes, Africa is big, and these little lines over here, they look like the Caribbean, right? I suppose these are the Caribbean…” True story.)
You see, we were discussing the 4 major poles of attraction (powers) of the world and then the peripheries. (Yes, that is what I am learning in a foreign language in which I can barely carry on a basic discussion of my day.) Obviously, the labeled blobs are the 4 poles (US, Europe, Asia and the Arabic world, which I can’t for the life of me figure out a better translation of) and all of the specks and lines and un-labeled blobs are periphery countries that are attracted to these poles for different reasons. One hopes.
And even after the rest of the class’s laughter had died down, I was still smothering uncontrollable giggles. Suddenly, it was all absurdly clear. The diagram was, in fact, a diagram of my experience in the class. You see, the labeled blobs represent the main ideas of the day’s lecture which are always written out in the syllabus or made explicit at the beginning of the class. Then there are the things that I assume I can label.
Considering that we are discussing CARICOM today and I’m pretty sure he just said “does not belong” I’m going to assume that we’re talking about Cuba. Sound assumption, if I do say so myself. He’s probably talking about international relations right now. Something about NAFTA? I’ll mark that down with an asterisk so that I remember to look it up later and maybe make a connection. And now I suppose he’s talking about integration again? Hopefully?
And then again there are all the little dots and specks which go straight over my head and I have no hope of understanding. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they are just words and that I’m able to hold onto the big idea blobs. Which is absurd right? It’s downright hilarious. At least, apparently I thought so…
I guess we’ll see… three weeks and counting!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

by any other name.

You know that feeling, the one where even a half hour after the movie has ended and you've found your way out of the darkened theater and out of the taxi or car or bus or what-have-you and into your bed and you STILL can't figure out where your stomach went except that you must have dropped it somewhere along the way because you can feel it tugging at the pit it left behind? The one where your eyes are still clouded on the edges like a black and white photograph because the tears are trying to hide themselves in the shame of cliche and the knowledge that they'd do no justice by falling? And your whole body is sore and there's a dull pain in the back of your head, just above your neck that, if you massage it to lessen the pain flashed images and scenes and snippets of dialogue before your closed eyes?
The movie ended an hour ago and I'm still struggling through it. Granted, Zwartboek or The Black Book or La Lista Negra is a Dutch film and we watched it with Spanish subtitles so that might be partly responsible for my general post-movie exhaustion (which has nothing to do with the current "finals month" exhaustion that I'm experiencing).
But what a movie!
As we walked out, all I could say was "That was such a good movie... except "good" isn't the right word. It wasn't "good," it was amazing? intense? It made an impact...?"
It was probably one of the most amazing war movies I've ever seen, if only because every character spoke their own language. The nazis spoke German, the Dutch spoke Dutch, the Canadians spoke English. There was none of these namby-pamby villains who speak English when no one is looking... Also, the movie was touched up with film noise, specks and distortions so that it looked like they wanted it to look like it was filmed at the time (ish).

But the real point to this story is that I saw a foreign film with Spanish subtitles and understood it. (Never mind that sometimes (read: most times) I can't understand my host sisters when they are talking.) A level of awesome which was only SLIGHTLY mitigated by the fact that Ems and I high-fived each other during the movie every time we remembered that we were watching a foreign film with Spanish subtitles.
Also, it was fun catching Dutch and German words that are similar to English words. Especially the swear words. Subtitles NEVER get that kind of stuff right...