Thursday, December 22, 2005

Things I should be doing now or in the next few days:

1. Finishing up Christmas presents;
2. Cleaning out my room, getting rid of things I don’t need/want;
3. Finish/continue writing about my trip;
4. Go dancing, FINALLY;
5. Decorating for Christmas;
6. Making Christmas cookies;
7. See people;
8. Watch old episodes of Inspector Gadget;
9. You get the idea.

I’ve been trying to decide what warrants starting and maybe even finishing first, and I decided on writing at least one entry, because that is how much I care about you people. And also because I can do it sitting down.

Until dancing comes around, ‘cause ain’t nobody standing in the way of my dancing. Almost nobody.

So. Where to start. How about with the Hukilau? Excellent idea.

On the 8th, which was a Thursday, I went to Edinburgh Swing Dance Society’s dance lesson, where Diane was teaching the Dean Collins Shim Sham. Afterwards, Bjarte, Diane, Michelle, Alan, and I went to a pub down the road for drinks. I was wearing my flip flops because the centre where they hold the lesson is barely two blocks from my place, and I didn’t feel like putting on my sneakers. And OH they teased me for it, what with it being the middle of winter.

Wacky Americans.

It was after the first beer that we were discussing the cabaret (talent show, if you will) that was happening at Tuesday’s dance. Alan, Françoise, and I were planning to do our three-person balboa. Diane then brought up this dance she knew – the Hukilau. Presumably a hula dance, done to a song by an Italian swing band. Being at a beer-and-a-half, we (save Bjarte, who was going to be gone by Tuesday) decided this would be a great thing to perform at the cabaret.

When we sobered up our eyes widened collectively when we realized what we’d agreed to do. But the decision had been made, so the Hukilau was a go.

Diane, Michelle, and I met on Sunday where we went over the dance (it’s pretty simple). Have you ever heard the hukilau song? It gets into your head worse than “It’s a small world.” It will be on repeat in your brain until the end of time. Bleah. Anyway, we practiced until we got bored, and then gussied ourselves up and went to the Christmas dance that two dancers were throwing.

It wasn’t until Monday that we got to practice again, but we grabbed an empty, unused hallway in the pub where the Monday lessons are held, and learned to hula. We thought it was hilarious and laughed through the whole thing.

Fast forward to the Cabaret. We were wearing crepe paper grass skirts, plastic leis, flowers in our hair, and flip flops. And Alan… well, the plan was that he was going to get a coconut bra and, at the climax of the song, tear his shirt open. I can’t remember if we were drunk when we decided that one. For some inexplicable reason he didn’t buy the coconut bra, but instead bought large rubber breasts with a demi-bra. It’s almost the same thing.

I think we thought the whole thing was funnier than the audience did. They were appreciative, though, and loved Alan flashing them.

Oh. And the whole thing’s on film. Good thing I wasn't planning to run for office.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I leave Edinburgh today. I fully reserve the right to run around screaming and possibly also crying.

Fear not, gentle readers. I still have plenty of stories to impart upon you, including:

1. My North Carolina replacement.
2. What the Hukilau is and how I got roped into performing it. On stage. In front of people. While sober.
3. What dry skiing is and how I got that palm-sized bruise on my thigh.

And more! So stay tuned! For a while!

Until then, I plan to be racing around, finishing packing, moping, and wondering why the hell I have so much crap and why it all has to come back with me. And also why I can't get rid of any of it.


Monday, December 12, 2005

One of the train rides

Dancer folks


Mull Head.

The Gloup.

The ferry ride back. That tall bit of rock is the Old Man of Hoy.

Haggis Tour:
Doune Castle. Site of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Callander. I think. I'm pretty sure that's the town we were in.

Rob Roy's Graveyard. Not pictured: Rob Roy's Grave.

Loch Lomond & The Trossochs tour
Loch Lomond.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A (very) few photos of dancer folk:

Some dancers rockin' the shim sham.

A super-stylin' Bjarte.

The lovely Angela and me.

10 days left. Holy hell.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I realize a while ago that it took me about three months to get really tired of traveling. For the past few weeks I’ve had no motivation to go anywhere. Even when I decided on a destination it took me a week to get moving. I’ve been sedate and tired and thinking fondly of going back to the states.

The irony of this is that it took me three months to start to be really comfortable with people here. I have friends here! Groovy friends, who I can call up and say hey, let’s do things!

Who make me not want to leave.

Consequently I’m a little itchy, thinking about how I have less than two weeks before I leave (!!). There are still places I’d like to go, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to happen. Angela has left to go home to Korea for Christmas, and I won’t get to see her until either I come back to Edinburgh, or she comes to visit me in the US. That’s really disappointing, because by the last week we were hanging out she felt the most like my friends back home – lots of joking, lots of physical affection. I’ve really missed it and was glad to have it again.

On Saturday Bjarte goes back to Norway. He’s one of the best dancers here, and will be finishing his PhD in Norway, so he won’t be going back to Edinburgh. Again, I won’t be able to see him until one of us visits the other.

Oof. Well.

I went to Glasgow (pronounced “Glaz-gow” and not, not, not “Glass-gaw” it doesn’t rhyme with “cow”) last Saturday. It took a couple of stern conversations with myself before I finally left the house, bag of essentials (underwear, book, knitting, and computer) on my back. The plan was to stay until Monday.

It’s a short trip to Glasgow, only 45 minutes by train. I got there a little after 1 and found myself in the centre of their major shopping district. It’s apparently one of the top rated shopping places in the world these days. Imagine, if you will, being in a large city with top-ranked shopping. On a Saturday. Three weeks before Christmas. When it’s cold. And moving on to being dark.

That’s my idea of fun! Except not so much. The stores were all just larger versions of the chains they have here. There wasn’t much that was new. I saw evidence of an Urban Outfitters and stopped in the Borders, but we have those in the states. I slogged through the ooze of narcissistic, pushy shoppers and wandered the streets. It wasn’t until well after I left my house that I realized that I’d left my guidebook at home, so I didn’t know where I was going.

I kept to the better-lit sections of street that I found, but once the sun sets (around 4pm) the whole city looks shadowy. The streets are lit from lamps attached halfway up the buildings which gives the impression that there aren’t many lights at all. And once you leave the shops it looks even darker. Encouraging!

I finally decided to find a hotel, and kept my eyes out for one. I finally found a Radisson – a chain, but it was decently situated and, beyond that, the only place I’d seen so far. I went in and asked for a room, but they were all booked up.

Of course. It’s a near-Christmas weekend – everyone’s here to shop. I made a decision that I would do what I found first: stay in a hotel, or take the train back home. Fighting through stores and people made me tired and bruised, and made my own bed have a brand new intrigue. After wandering around the same streets over and over again I found the Tourist Information Centre and decided that okay, hotel it was. If they could find me one.

When I said I was looking for a hotel room for the night the woman at the desk winced. Oh dear. She asked what my budget was, and said that she might be able to find me something on the other side of town – an easy ride on a bus or underground. I politely declined and asked where the train station was.

In the five or so hours that I was there I didn’t see a whole lot, and wasn’t impressed by much. The nice thing, though, about being in this country at this time of the year is that they really go all out for Christmas. Decorations everywhere, and many of them tasteful. Maybe not the bow tie on one of the statues, but at least it was funny. They also have amusement park rides and an ice skating rink. Not exciting enough to keep me there, however.

I have an idea of going back at some point. I feel like there might be things other than shops there.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How on earth is it December already? Good gravy.

I have a free piece of advice for you. If you’re planning to go to Europe and cook while you’re there you should either 1. leave all of your recipes behind and forget you ever had them, or 2. bring a good metric conversion chart, plus cup measures.

I will explain.

Angela was organizing a dinner party for oh, seven or eight swing dancers, and we were all slated to bring food. No problem! It could be fun to cook. I haven’t done it since I’ve gotten here, as the kitchen is totally depressing. And by totally depressing I mean it’s a hallway and a closet and even a power-washing wouldn’t make a huge difference on the dirt. And peeling floors. And grimy dishes/pots/pans. And stained walls. You get it.

But! I would make Joy Of Cooking brand garlic bread! Easy! And also a fudge-like substance that is often smiled upon when made. Also easy! I’ll give you the recipe:

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese
2 c. sifted confectioner’s sugar
2 1-oz squares unsweetened (baker’s) chocolate
1/4 tsp vanilla
Dash salt

Throw cream cheese in a mixing bowl, cream until soft and smooth. Slowly mix in sugar. Mix in chocolate. Mix in vanilla and salt. Then, if it’s firm, form into balls, throw some fruit on the top (strawberries and raspberries are the way to go here), place on wax paper, and chill until you get bored or hungry. Or pour into a greased cake pan – a 9” one works well – top with fruit, and chill, then slice into squares.

So easy! Right? Hah! Not so much. So I went to the grocery store for supplies. The only thing I had on that list is salt.

Cream cheese! In packages! Except that it’s measured in grams, not ounces. I blinked at the packages for a while, wondering if I had relevant converting information at my disposal. I just bought a package, figuring they looked about the right size, and moved on.

The sugar aisle! Great! Confectioner’s sugar! Nope! Nothing. It was all granulated. I needed powdered, or it likely wouldn’t work. I hadn’t even heard of half the sugars they had. Castor sugar? I made a guess as to which was the most in the manner of being powdered, and moved on. It was by fluke that I ended up staring, dejectedly, at the cake-decorating section (puzzling out pre-rolled icing) where I found icing sugar. Which was distinctly not in the sugar section. But it was right! It was powdered! Hallelujah!

Chocolate! I found a large bar of baker’s chocolate, nice stuff, too, but it was £4.50, which obscene. I had no plans to use the whole thing (or get even close). So back to the baking section. They had a few bars, but they all seemed sweetened, which is Bad and Wrong. But preferable to paying £4.50, so I got one.

Vanilla! That one was actually really easy and cheap. Bonus.

Back to the fruit aisle! Strawberries, I was thinking, if they weren’t too dear, maybe raspberries, maybe some other inspiring things. They had raspberries, okay. And nothing else that would be appropriate. Apples? No. Pears? No. Mangos? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Bananas? Naw. And zero strawberries. Well then! Raspberries it is.

I had, at this point, gone through the whole store about three times at this point. It was annoying. Because I still needed a serrated knife (the apartment version left a note saying it was fed up with the kitchen and was leaving) and maybe a dry measuring glass, as I wasn’t sure we had one.

Two more turns around the store and I finally found a suitable knife, and measuring cups. Except that the measurements were metric, and mine, as you may notice, aren’t. Not helpful! So I didn’t buy it.

Finally home, where I learned that we sure didn’t have any measuring devices. Not such a problem, though, since the recipe involves things like “cups” and “tsps.” I was left without any way to measure anything, and didn’t realize I had a conversion chart (in the back of my marbled composition notebook) until it was too late. I just guessed, as that was really all I could do in the time that I had.

And it didn’t work. I mixed everything, threw it in the fridge, and it didn’t firm up. It was goo. An hour later I pulled it out, tested the viscosity, and added more sugar. What else was there to do? Back in the fridge. An hour later, the same again. More sugar.

In the end I didn’t take it. I blame the cream cheese. But the goo tastes fantastic with raspberries.

Visitor Count (hi!)