Confessions of a drinker student abroad

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Holidays

This shall be a Chronicle of our doings far and wide this past two weeks. I apologize for not writing sooner, but having had no means of internet access, I feel justified, it was not through laziness. I did take many photographs, and many of them have stories of their own that I will write in due time. But until then we must try to sort through the tales in a fashion that will do them justice, whether this be chronologically, or simply as they return to me we shall see.

Over mountains capped with snow
Across the lochs where cold winds blow
From the cold north sea where oil dwells
I've come with many tales to tell.

Right now in my room it is morning, and my own belief is that morning is not a time for gaiety and the whirling confusion of pub nights and ceilidhs. It is a calm morning, the skies are blue and the trees are green, and to any observer this is a time for joyous breaking of the nightly fast before a beautiful day. However, the mood that sits on me is a reflective one, like a raincloud before my eyes, with thousands of memories reflected from behind me in the shimmering droplets. With this in mind I shall embark upon a tale that is not a joyous one, and pray your forgiveness when the song is done. But before we begin there will be a word of truth, this story did not transpire exactly the way it is set down here. In fact there is some doubt as to whether it happened at all. I feel that while my own two eyes may not have seen the events as told, my spirit felt them, inspired by some small thing observed, reach out from the past.

An additional word: my sincerest apologies to the lovely young woman in the foreground of the picture, it was not my intention to record you, but only the ocean walk, it was not until later that I realized my mistake and had not time to return.

The Widows' Walk

My travels brought me at last to Aberdeen, where the Highlands run down to meet the North Sea, it is there, nestled in between the Cairngorn hills and the gray vastness of the ocean that I spent my few remaining days on the journey. After a shower and night's rest to refresh myself from the train I set out upon the streets. Aberdeen is a small city, it's position never lent itself to travelers, passersby, wanderers or traders. For hundreds of years it was an island, adrift in the mists of the north, cloaked in shadow and fog, where the creak of the foremast and crack of a set sail were commonplace.

Yet the town has changed in recent years. Now there is a university, and the recent discovery of a hidden treasure under its harbor waters led to an influx of outsiders. Hundreds and thousands came seeking the black gold, looking to draw from the ground and the ocean the sustaining lifeblood for the machines that brought them. The buildings grew taller and the streets more crooked, leading often to darkened alleys and houses of worse name. There the evil that always followed a city boom could shelter and hide away during the days that seemed to always get brighter, as if the Sun herself had become interested in the goings on at Aberdeen and refused to be kept out of the secret.

It was on a bright and clear morning in the spring that I set out to discover this city. My feet bore me down towards the harbor, sensing that this was the direction in which the most bustling markets could be found. When I reached the high street where the buildings gleamed and people crowded, listening to street performers and staring through shop windows, my eyes drifted down a narrow stair and saw the harbor itself. Something about that stair drew me inward, the ships in the harbor, tall, stately, weatherbeaten monsters, called to me. I had not seen a harbor such as this on my journey, and it must have been curiosity that spurred me onward. Down along the quay the ships rocked and heaved on the waves, giddily tugging at ropes and bumping into the docks, for they had a day of rest in the sunshine, while their partners and fellows had gone out to work, searching for newer and better places to drill. As I walked along I saw more and more ships, all bearing the name of some large company, all sent here seeking the wealth of the North Sea.

Far out along the quay, where the harbor mouth opens into the gray vastness of the sea there is nestled a small village. I doubt very much I could find it again if I were searching for it, but on that day I simply turned a corner and stumbled into its midst.
There the brightly painted houses and shacks drove away the noise of the harbor and the shadow of the giant ships over the quay. Here Aberdeen had chosen to hide part of its old self away from the prying eyes of tourists and visitors. As I strolled along its gardens I was called again by a small opening in the wall of houses. Behind the houses lay the beach and sea wall. I peeked around the corner and looked down the path that lay above the wall. Along the path ran an iron rail, struggling mightily to be the last defense of the land from the sea, but alas, the only success it made was in keeping the land and those upon it from the sea. Far off to the north the sea wall gave way to a sloping beach that ran down to the water, crowned with arcades and small shops that crowd along every water front with the hope of snaring summer holiday travelers. It was only after a moment of gazing off to the horizon where shops turned to grassy dunes and bent far away out of sight, that my eyes returned to myself and saw what was happening closer to hand. Along the rail were several women, clad chiefly in black. Each one carried a flower or some small token. The eldest was advanced in years, a mother, and a mother of mothers, with her youngest heirs standing somberly by her side gazing out at the water. Other such groups were spread out along the rail, each one far enough away to be respecfully removed, but close enough to lend a shaky support to those on either side. Either end was occupied by the women who appeared most advanced in years, the cornerstones of this structure. Towards the far end there was an open space. Suddenly a newcomer came out from the village, a young girl, not more than twenty walked out along the path. In her gait there was something amiss, the strides were a bit too long, and the pace was a touch too quick, as if in an attempt to appear carefree. As she neared the open space in the row her pace slowed, each step more labored and filled with dread than the last. When she drew even she stopped, but remained facing down the path. With a start she turned and drew her arm back, preparing to cast something into the cold water, an offering, or perhaps a bribe, but her hand failed her, it could not release its precious burden. As her arm returned to her side something broke inside of her. She turned and fled along the path away from the village, but her feet were not able to carry her from the sea, after a stones throw they gave way, and she stumbled forward against the rail, clinging to the cold iron. The oldest woman there, on the far end of the row walked out to her and knelt by her side. She smoothed her hair back and whispered calmly in her ear. The older woman gently opened the young ones hand, and removed a small object that shone in the sun. She slipped the tiny thing onto the hand untouched by Time's withering kiss, and then turned it so that the glimmer disappeared. She helped the young girl to her feet, and led her back to the right place at the rail, not leaving her side, for the first summer is always the hardest, and it is only as the years pass that the spacing of the line grows. On a smooth white hand there glowed a golden band, the light that had once sparkled on the outside was now turned inward, a source of pain, a source of memory, there to remain in the tradition of the village.

The cold wind whipped along the pathway, stinging my eyes as I watched, blurring my vision. This was the way along the quay of Aberdeen. The powers to the south desired something of the Sea, the men of the north wrested it from the Sea, but the gray vastness that stretches beyond the horizon demanded something in return, an unspoken covenant, an unholy lottery. Year by year the vine along the path grows longer, the old protecting the young, as rosebuds turn into thorns.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Brightest Beacon

Come now children and let me tell you a tale, a tale or warriors strong. A tale of old, a tale of yore, a tale of homegrown sons on foreign shores.

As some of you are aware, my brother is here now, if you're one of his blog followers that somehow found your way in by the fire, look less for truth here and more for colourful depictions and exaggerations.

Yesterday dawned bright and cheery, and then we pulled down the window shade to secure a few more hours of precious sleep. The night before had been somewhat uneasy after watching vampire shows, and just being able to feel someone else in the room made me uneasy. My poor brother shut the bathroom door and one point and I jerked out of sleep and was halfway out of bed into what would have been a teeth rattling hit when I caught myself, this was not post apocalyptic Kansas, and i was not being chased by demon possessed groundhogs...yeah, my dreams are a mix and match.

Anyway, Sunday morning, bright and clear. We met with Phil and made the trek down to Dewi Sant (Saint David's) Cathedral for the Passion. The choir was even more well coached than the last time I was there, their angelic tones helped transform a relatively plain building into the Sacred Temple that it was. I saw one of my nanomechanics professors there. Afterward my brother and I wandered our way to the Cardiff Bay. There to see the sights of the Torchwood fountain and the Ianto memorial, and feast on the rare delicacy of Eddies American diner...where they didn't even have the wall clocks set correctly. While ostensibly set to the current time in several different American Cities, they somewhat missed their mark, placing New York and Boston in different time zones, which pushed off Chicago and L.A. Then the Washington clock (whether set for State or District) was magnificently wrong, we were unable to even find the pattern followed to obtain the time displayed.

Today though is when the real story begins. I was up morning doing paperwork so I don't run out of monetary units, then to the market to get some bread and apples for a traveler's breakfast. Then we hopped on the train to Aberdare. I know I've been there twice, but I really love it more each time. As you go farther and farther north you can feel the city slipping behind you. Maybe it's that the forests are thicker, and the hills are greener, but it was a magnificent ride. In Aberdare we went straight to the bus stop, hoping for a #7 up to Penderyn. I think the reason I love it out there is the people. Here in Cardiff people are either 1: students 2: here making a living off the students 3: jaded city dwellers who are trapped in with the students but can't enjoy the sunshine as much. Out in the Beacons the air is cooler and the people are friendlier. Not that they go out of the way to welcome a bunch of Americans, but they're friendlier to each other. Everyone knows each other. The smiles are genuine. On the way up you see the children on holiday running around, because as you move from Aberdare to Penywaun, to Hirwaun, and finally Penderyn, you're going from a town half a mile across, to a village you can throw a rock over. In each one there's a pub, a chippy and a small market. It's sunny and playful. There's boys in the park playing football, smaller children chasing each other around a playground, and over it all a quiet peace that assures those present that this is safe. It's not the wealthiest area, it's not a place of big opportunities, but it's a place where love grows deeper than the pure springs of water coming out of the hills.

We went to the distillery, but that wasn't the true impression I was left with. When we got on the bus back to the city a young woman boarded at a later stop, she was quite attractive, but then I noticed the small boy with her. My mind ran the gambit, from "Oh, it's a sister" to "that's his mom, she's so young, poor girl" to "poor boy, born in a place like this". When we reached the bottom of the hill I was put to shame. The mother and boy got off the bus and a young man was waiting for them. His face lit up when they appeared, the boy running forward to his arms to be scooped up and held in one arm as the mother and father kissed. The young man was rather young, probably 19 or 20, as was the girl. He had plaid rugby in his day and still wore some of the scars from it. I realized suddenly, who was I to judge this family? They were young, sure, but there was love there, a love that I can only hope one day to find for myself. Their lives may not reach the glamorous peaks that we always think of as a success, but who's to tell them that living in a beautiful countryside, with a community that cares about it's people, and a loving family is not a success. May we all remember them in our lives, you'll never hear of them on the news, see their picture in a magazine, but if we could all in our lives even glimpse what they have grasped, we will have lived well. Cheers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring time and Leeds

Springtime in Wales, absolutely fantastic place to be. We've had pretty consistent sunshine and 65 degree weather. I guess it kind of makes up for the winter. And what better way to enjoy the spring than with shenanigans and athletics. So, we'll do a football post, probably the last one.

Playoffs, an absolutely magical time. We've basically been playing for our playoff chances since November after starting the season 0-2. I clearly remember sitting in Live Lounge the night after we lost to Swansea (bloody Swansea) by one point. It was heartbreaking. Since then we steamrolled, going undefeated in the second half of the season, including the UWE bullets, who were undefeated. That 6 game winning streak was enough to put us in third in the conference. Since we beat UWE we were ranked pretty high, actually the second seeded team in the Challenge Trophy tournament, which was all of th 3rd and 4th conference ranked teams on the island. Since we were seeded high we got a bye week before playing in the quarter finals against Exeter. Exeter didn't quite live up to the hype, and we racked up 39 points. then came NTU in the semis, we railroaded them...sadly I didn't play, I sprained my ankle on Thursday before the game and was having trouble walking.

Last week was crazy, people were bouncing off walls all week with excitement. I got myself an ankle brace and doped up on Ibuprofen. Thursday was fun, I ran at Slot receiver and ended up throwing a touchdown on a reverse pass. On friday we all got on the bus up to Leeds, got there and crashed in the hotel. Saturday morning we were all up early, destroying the breakfast buffet, stacks of bacon and eggs later we all grabbed our kit and went outside to do starting lineups in the sunshine. There was an thrill in the air as we boarded the bus for the ride to the stadium. When we pulled into the parking lot there was murmuring running up and down the bus. All year we've been sweating and bleeding and freezing on floodplain pasture, and now we were going to play in a stadium.

We got into the locker rooms, music pumping. After a bruising season everyone was popping ibuprofen by the sleeve and slathering on icyhot. Once we were all in kit that matched for once, so we looked the part of a finals qualifying team. We actually got to do a run out of the tunnel to Enter Sandman, which was awesome. Even more awesome was the wait in the tunnel before running out, we were jumping and shouting and headbutting each other. Charlie and I smashed our heads (helmets on) so hard that a rivet popped out of my lid, literally I had a screw loose.

What followed was our most physical match, we got two receiving touchdowns early in the game. Then in the third quarter nobody scored. Finally, in the fourth quarter I got on for the last drive, we punched in a rushing touchdown on the last play of the game...not that I had anything to do with it. We ran weak side so all I did was headbutt a few linebackers. With the final whistle we were up 20-0. Next came an epic celebration, body checks, hugs and shouting. Postgame celebrations, ladding it up on the bus, and then after a day of recovery on sunday we capped it all off last night with a night at Tiger, which of course led to Live Lounge when a bunch of us didn't want the night to end. We all got home around 4:30 in the morning after a mackey d's. There aren't many better ways to cap off a night than shouting and screaming along to the Live Lounge DJ with a bunch of friends.

Anyway, here's some pictures, be warned, sweet hair styles are inevitable. Enjoy.