Monday, August 07, 2006

Chapter 2, in which I actually leave!

I went home, had a screwdriver, and slept. My phone rang. I looked at the number, which started with +46.


I picked up the phone and leaped out of bed. Phone calls are better standing up. Shut up, they totally are. Especially at 4am. Yes, oh yes, it was 4am. I should be at the Stockholm airport. Oh god, they're probably at the airport waiting for me. They didn't get my message!

The woman on the phone was very kind and asked if I was still coming. Yes, yes, I said. "I emailed! I emailed. And the rain! Oh, the rain and the waiting! I missed my flight." She was confused: someone else had come through on the Newark-Stockholm flight (oh, thank god she didn't drive all the way out to the airport just for me). Yes! I exclaimed! I never made it out of Greensboro. Ahh, she said. I gave her my new information, finally confident that I would indeed be picked up when I got there, and went back to bed.

In the morning DJ picked me up and drove me to the airport in his Massive Van. At first he gave me a bit of flack for my giant bag, and then praise when he found out it was full of camping stuff.

I went, as I do, to the self check-in, a little gun shy now. And it didn't find my reservation. My heart seized even as I read that it might be because my tickets had been changed so much. All I had to show for my tickets was a bit of paper from a dot matrix printer with a slew of characters that made no sense to me but theoretically meant I was getting to Sweden. Right? RIGHT?

I handed the bit of paper (complete with holes on the sides! Remember that? Aw, memories...) and he got on the phone and talked very quietly to someone. So quietly I couldn't hear him. Breathing, breathing. "It's going to work out, right?" I asked him. "It should," he replied.

It should?!

In the end I got my tickets and went through security (a different terminal this time! What fun!), and managed to get on the plane and off to Philadelphia. Step one was finally completed, and it only took me two days.

Finally in the air!

I realized that I hadn't told Andrea that she shouldn't pick me up on Friday, so I called her and related my Tragic Tale of Woe, and asked if she could switch the pickup date to Saturday, knowing that since she had family in town, the answer was likely no. She couldn't, and that was fine. So I called Kate and we talked for ages, and if you were in the Philadelphia airport last Sunday and saw a woman doubled over with laughter in the magazine store, hi, that was me.

And I decided that since it was after noon, and since I had been so harangued (har!) by the elements, I deserved this:

I chatted with a nice punk couple and another gentleman at the bar. We were all on the same flight. Punk couple was going on a whim for his birthday present (she was a modern dancer -- didn't see that one coming), other gentleman was catching up with his fiancee who performs on cruises. He'd catch the cruise and tool around the ocean with her. Neat.

It's possible I also had a beer in addition to the martini.

They squeezed us on the plane, and I found myself in an aisle seat. Ick. I tried to get comfortable enough to sleep, but HAH!, I laugh! Yes. I laugh.

There were movies, though! "Firewall" and "The Shaggy Dog." Dear god. I watched more of them than I'd care to admit. Why would they show those? I mean for serious. On British Air we got our own screen and a selection of movies. Not so much on US Air. Bah.

And dinner! There was dinner. I chose the beef instead of the pasta, because I am incredibly stupid. The "meal" consisted of this:

(Pardon the blur: the woman next to me was sleeping and I didn't want to wake her). Let's explore this meal, shall we? Up at the top left you'll see, sitting at an angle, a sponge, or what US Air likes to call "bread." It came with butter, which had melted in the bottom of the tray. Underneath that you'll see two crackers which came with a slice of cheese, packaged in indestructible plastic.

The top right corner contains a "salad" (unseen), which, as I can recall, consisted of iceburg lettuce and carrot bits. For your eating pleasure, there was some kind of dressing provided, pictured middle. I don't remember what variety it was, but I do remember it was "lite."

And now, the -- ah ha, ah hahaha -- meat of the matter. Let's take a closer look:

To your left, modeled by the beautiful spork, we have canned green beans and corn, which wouldn't be crisp if you froze them. To the right we have shredded beef in brown goo. And the middle! Well, that's my favorite. That, my friends, is a mashed potato log. It was cylindrical. Yes it was. I imagine that it also came out of a can.

Apparently US Air is catered by Schoolroom Lunches, Inc.

I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep, since I had nothing to lean on, and the space in front of me was too small to put the tray table down and rest on that. Can you imagine? Too small to lean forward!

So I alternated between resting my head on the seat in front of me, twisting left, twisting right, giving up on sleeping, watching the movies, feeling pain from said movies, and repeating. It wasn't until an hour before we landed that I got comfortable enough to sleep. Isn't that funny? I also was laughing.

Upon landing I breezed through customs (the Swedes are so civilized -- the one line I had to wait in was only two people deep), found my bag and my ride, got exceptionally confused at the ATM (7 kr to the dollar -- you have ten seconds to try and figure out how much you'll need for a week. Go!), and set off for camp!

There wasn't much to say about the ride except that 1. a half of a bee flew in through my window almost immediately upon leaving the airport (fiddle de dum, a-fiddle dee dee, Eric the half a bee), and 2. it mostly looked like this:

But I'd made it. It took me three days, but I made it to Sweden. The end. For now.
Herrang was a very surreal experience. I slept three times a day, saw some intermingling of Edinburgh, Greensboro, and Raleigh friends, enjoyed 19 hours of sunlight, always caught sunup AND sundown, camped alone for the first time (as alone as you can be with 50 other tents packed around yours) -- it was a strange and generally wonderful time.

Since it was such a dream-like trip (you don't try to explain it, you just stand back and watch) and since I seem to have lost my Magic Free Internet at home I'm going to update with little vignettes, as much as I can write at work. And then update somewhere else, as I would prefer to not get fired for blogging at work.

I have never had so much trouble getting somewhere. The intention, back in the good old days, was to leave on Saturday (Greensboro - Newark - Stockholm) and then return Friday (Stockholm - Newark - Greensboro) in the horribly early morning. Kate and her mom dropped me off, and I tripped prettily into the airport with no idea of the Stupid that lay ahead.

As predicted I got my tickets easily and breezed through security, leaving a solid hour-and-some before boarding. But what's this? Flight delayed? Eep. There didn't seem to be anyone from Continental in the terminal, so I waited. And waited. Finally a woman showed up and I asked how long the delay was. She didn't know. Storms in Newark. BIG storms. Would I would still make my connecting flight? Maybe not, she said. You should go check at the ticket counter.

I booked it back to the ticket counter, where there was a line (excellent). I waited more in the long, slow, jumbled line to talk to one of the two people at the counter. When I finally got to the front, near tears that I might miss my flight and miss my trip to Sweden because the camp is only open for another week and I only have a week off work and it's already a short trip as it is and do you know what a miracle it was that I could take this trip at all and COME ON, PEOPLE, I NEED SOME ASSISTANCE HERE AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP BEING SO PERKY WHEN I AM SO CLEARLY UPSET.

A friendly gentleman assured me that I had plenty of time to catch my flight, and that I may indeed stop freaking out now.

So BACK through security, back to my gate. And at, oh, 4pm (a mere two hours after we were supposed to leave, and enough time where if-we-left-right-then-I-could-still-make-my-flight!) we got to board the plane and we taxied out -- and we waited. And waited. For an hour and a quarter. I missed my chance to make the Sweden flight in Newark. I called to see if it was still running on time, what with the storms and all, and it did. It left on time. Without me.

When we returned to the terminal I returned one more time to the ticket counter to see what they could do, and hello, freaking out some more! I needed to contact Herrang and let them know I wouldn't be on the flight, but I didn't know how because I didn't have a way to call internationally and I didn't have email access! I needed to GET TO SWEDEN, DAMMIT!

So near tears! So very near tears. I started wrapping a bit of elastic around my fingers so that I wouldn't start bawling in front of the Continental counter. When I was finally linked up with someone who worked there I started chatting with a couple who were on a later flight to Newark which had been cancelled. They sympathized with me as I waited for the Continental woman to search for ways to get me overseas. A friend of theirs was dying and so they were going to go visit him. Now they couldn't get there (and didn't want to drive). "This is going to kill him," she'd said.

Ha HA ha ha, I said, in the most awkward way possible.

She decided to keep me on the flight to Newark (which hadn't been cancelled), then they'd put me up in a hotel in NJ (super awesome of them, since they're not required to do anything for me as it's a weather problem), and I'd take the same flight out the next day, and she even changed my return date to Saturday so I didn't lose any Sweden time. This was pretty groovy. I asked if she had internet, and she let me go behind the Official Counter and use theirs. I emailed the camp saying hi! Not going to make it tomorrow, but look for me on Monday, please! Please dear god I hope you get this email!

And so it was that I went through security for the third time, and returned to the gate. Every once in a while they would announce one of two things over the loudspeaker:
1. We'll have an update in an hour, or
2. We'll have an update in a half-hour.

They wouldn't cancel, but eternally promised updates. Little by little people drifted away to take different flights. I stuck around, because so long as I got to Newark by 5:35pm the next day I was sorted. But I wondered if there was there any other option.

I checked to see if they could get me to Newark on another flight/airline/ANYTHING PLS -- or even to Sweden in a different way, but there was just nothing. Apparently there was a storm over every international airport on the east coast, and since it was Saturday there weren't many flights anyway. They could send me Greensboro - Detroit - Amsterdam - Stockholm, which would still have me leaving on Sunday, and would still get me into Stockholm on Monday, at 9am instead of 8:45am. I declined for now, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the flight would go out.

But the stress was so bad that I went into the bathroom and I cried. I cried hard. Tears dripped down my nose and landed between my feet -- it was all very melodramatic. But it'd been hours of waiting on tenterhooks -- are we going to go, would I make the flight, how would I get there, how do I let them know, would I make it at all, and GOD I just realized how much this trip means to me -- and it was just completely miserable.

When I finally emerged I found the cleaning woman standing outside the door to the bathroom, waiting patiently for me to be finished. Oops. Hi!

At least the sky was pretty.

The problem with this flight was that we had to be "wheels in the belly" (i.e. in the air) by 8:58pm or we weren't going. If we left after that then the pilot, who had come out to chat with us, would have "gone pumpkining."

Travel factoid!
Pilots have a set number of hours they can fly. If they don't take off in that time (and they mean off the ground), then they're flying illegally, which is going pumpkining. Because after midnight you turn into a pumpkin. Like the story. Get it? Right.

The pilot was based in Newark, so he was keen to go, which is likely why they wouldn't cancel. And then, at around 7:30pm, it started to rain. And rain.

See the sheets of rain? Well, I could.

Blurry rain!

And this little girl was very cute and well-behaved:

I think she was watching "Finding Nemo."

I talked to my parents for a long time as they bolstered my confidence about the damn flight. Sobbing helped calm me down a bit, and I got back in line to see if there were any other options for flights. She found me a Greensboro - Philadelphia - Stockholm US Air flight leaving Sunday around 11am, getting in around 8am Monday. Also a relief, though I'd wait to see what happened.

Cut to 8:30pm. There were a dozen of us left, optimistic to the end. It was pouring rain, with thunder and lightning, but it looked like we might be able to make it! We gathered around the desk and joked around, full of anticipation, as the Continental women (one of whom had been there since 4:30am -- give that woman a medal) and the pilot called a thousand Airline people, begging them to let us go.

One guy who was in a set of teens who gave me zero hope for the future said it'd been the worst day of his life. I looked at him, aghast. "This is the worst day of your life? This?" I asked. "Boy are you lucky." "Yeah," he said.

I don't think he got what I was trying to say.

I started to give up the ghost, and the Continental woman started setting up my flight through Philadelphia, when the metaphorical winds started to change!

It was 8:45 and they looked like they might be able to sneak us out! But we had five minutes to board! "We can board that quickly!" we cried. "In fact, we're already on the plane!" Continental woman promised to fix my tickets -- I should just go and she'd take care of it all. And we raced out, threw ourselves in seats, and got the safety lecture. The Continental women waved and gave thumbs-up as the boarding ramp pulled away, and I pulled out Sky Mall magazine and buzzed with excitement and a little worry that HELLO, GIANT LIGHTNING STORM, but whatever!

You have to wonder when to take so many disasters as a hint. Perhaps the universe is trying to say something.

But us! On the plane! All of us! Seatbelts and everything!

And then the ramp pulled back. Oh dear. Yup. Cancelled. That was it. We were so close. So very, very close.

Continental woman fixed my tickets for GSO-PHL-STO for Sunday, and I trudged back past security one last time. In the end it's for the best. I could sleep in my own bed, I still got the same amount of time in Sweden, and I wouldn't have to fly through lightning storms. So okay.

I called Pete, got my bag, and went home. DJ would give me a ride in the morning, and thus it was that the number of people driving me to/from the airport was up to 5.

In our next episode, I actually get farther than spitting distance from my apartment! Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Airport arrival: 1pm

Airport departure: 10pm

Number of plane boardings: 2

Number of phone calls to parents, updating status: 30

Number of times through security: 3

Number of flight changes: 435

Number of storms: 2

Number of convenient flights: 3

Number with empty seats: 0

Number of sobbing sessions in airport bathroom: 1

Number desired: 49

Miles traveled: 0

Hours until next flight: 12

Friday, July 21, 2006

The pile of clothes (look how small! So exciting!):

The space left in my bag after putting in my camping stuff:

New note the first: as I was on my way to the bathroom (giving myself a break from all this internet perusal) I recognized a feeling that I've Had Before! It was the good god, this trip needs to HAPPEN already so I can stop thinking about it!
New note the second, in which I embarrass myself slightly: I called Cingular becuase their website was entirely unhelpful, and was directed to Michael in some effort to talk me through the confusion that is international calling with my cellular hand growth phone. He was entirely delightful, funny, AND helpful. Oh, how we laughed! I miss him already.
Anyway. I got most of my information, and then as we were saying goodbye (good times do end... alas...) he said to have a good trip, and I said, "You too."
I hate it when I do that.
Work is over in 30 minutes, even though the last person who I go to for stuff to do left an hour and a half ago. I wish to also leave pls.
That is all.
Emily in Europe, part 2: The Swedening!

I've had that title in my head for days. It still causes internal amusement. Hee.

Doctor: Mrs. Vanderboodle, you seem to be suffering from acute internal amusement. I'm afraid you have 20 minutes to live.

Chapter one, in which I am a little punchy.

Or whatever. I'm at work. I'm running on adrenaline and 2 cups of coffee. Be quiet. Also, someone broke the internet and I am Miffed. But that's why I'm finally writing this and not reading the complete archives of another knitting blog in that way that I do, um, constantly. Hee.

So. A little over a month ago I was bored at work (like today!) and perusing the internet (like I WAS doing, stupid computer) and had a whim to check what it would cost me not if I went to Sweden for Herrang.

For those of you who are not In The Know, in the month of July the tiny town of Herrang, Sweden becomes a mecca for swing dancers worldwide. There's a camp there that is flocked upon by crazed dancer types. Classes are held, famous people (well, in the swing world) are flown in – it's chaos. I, personally, knew about 5000 people who were going. But, alas, I didn't sign up because, when everyone else was making their plans in May, I didn't have a job. This meant:

1. If I got a job by then there's no WAY they'd let me just take a week off immediately upon starting work, and
2. If I didn't have a job by then I wouldn't be able to afford it.

Finally I did find a job, and I became chief file monkey of the second floor of Giant Law Firm. I listened to my friends make their plans for Sweden and felt Envy, but was pleased to have a job. I heard that some of my Edinburgh-based friends were going. I lamented (lament! There was repetitive head-to-wall contact) not being able to see them, particularly since many of them are looking to move soon. That = not getting to see them all in one place again which also = bad. There would be North Carolina dancers there, too, but that, well, was less of a concern.

Which is when we return to a month ago! Looking up what it would cost me to go to Sweden and see lovely people!

Turned out that for all my travel and living costs (here to there, plus their "limousine" fare from the airport to camp and back again, including camping or getting a bunk there which, technically = free) would be about $1100 (slightly less than what my friends were paying months ago). I had $6500 in the bank. This was totally plausible. Holy sheep.  

I wouldn't take classes because it'd be an extra $500 and I wouldn't be there the whole week, with flights working out the way they do (arrive before-god-early in the morning on Sunday, leave just-kill-me-now early on Friday morning). BUT for 200 kroner a night (about $30) I could social dance from about 9pm until 8am (after 2am it's free). This is fine by me, because Annie sent me an email today reminding me of that fact, and that the dance floor's too crowded to move until 4am anyway.

I will just remain on east coast time! No jet-lag for me!

The trick, of course, is getting that time off work. This was infinitely harder considering I'd just asked for the second week of August off for the yearly family vacation to Colorado. What kind of company would let me take another week off work?

This company, apparently. Their attitude is that because I'm temp and Low on the Totem Pole of Law, I can take off any time (within reason), so long as there don't appear to be any major crises on the horizon.

And so it was that I got the first week of July off.

Dear Job!
I love you, and your vacation-enabling!

BUT WAIT, you type in the Capitalization of Excitement! It is now well past the first week of July, and you are just writing about the beginning of… the trip… is – is that right? What's going on. Damn you.  

Calm down, internet.

Here's how it went:

I needed someone to convince me to buy the tickets, because it's skeery to 1. spend assloads of money, and 2. go to Europe. So I called my folks.

Dad first, and the conversation went approximately as such:

Me: I can go to Sweden for a week for 1/6 of what I have in my bank account. It would enable seeing awesome people and dancing awesomeness and also, hi, Sweden. Should I go?

Dad: Um, YES. Omg, hawsome. Go now.

And with mom:

Me: I can go to Sweden for a week for 1/6 of what I have in my bank account. It would enable seeing awesome people and dancing awesomeness and also, hi, Sweden. Should I go?

Mom: I don't understand. Why is that a question? Are you listening to yourself?

I love my parents.

Travelocity was sought and tickets were purchased! I sent out an email to Scotland-related folks and said "OMG I'm going! Who else is going to be there the first week??" This is, of course, when the universe laughed and me, and I got responses from all of them saying, "That's great! But um, I'll be there the fourth week."

Shit. The main reasons I'll be there and I'll be missing them by three weeks. No doubt it'd cost me $100 to change the tickets, and [expletives deleted because it'd just take up too much space]. Travelocity was called and I was connected with a very nice woman in India, where it was 5am. Ouch.

I said I wanted to change my tickets, and she said it'd cost up to $250 plus the additional cost of the new tickets.

Heep! I love my friends, but is seeing them worth the additional $250? Is… is it? Oh dear…

Painful shudder!

She pulled up my records, and lo, the universe smiled upon me, and she said that since it was less than 24 hours since I'd bought the tickets she could just void them and I could purchase new ones. It'd just cost $10 for the nonrefundable Traveocity fee from the original purchase.

I made her repeat that  5 times and then got it in writing because it sounded too good to be true. Buying $1000 plane tickets twice in two days and being wrong is a terrifying thing. I checked my bank account many times over the next few days, though, and it seemed to work out. Phew.

Excitement abounded! New camera was purchased! Emails were sent! Bragging commenced, which led to gentle haranguing (get it? It sounds like Herrang! Ah-ha!) from co-workers, with my excessive vacationing in exotic locales!

Here it is, then, a month later (it's today, even). I leave tomorrow.


Okay, breathe, Emily, breathe. HEEE HUGHHHH, HEE HUGHHHHH.  

My parents were good enough to send all our camping equipment, dutifully purchased a decade ago and used exactly never. (Side note: why the hell is camping stuff so huge and bulky? What is WRONG with you people?). They also sent little gifties like a super-absorbent towel and a keychain LED flashlight which is little but mighty like a rambunctious kitten. Turns out the flashlight, while appreciated and delightful (har! DeLIGHTful! It is TOO funny, shut up) will not, um, be much use. It being Sweden, and it being summer, it's dark from 11pm to 3am. Which is when dancing happens. Ha! I laughed. And bought an eye mask for sleeping.

(I just realized I'm having mac and cheese and apple juice for lunch. Hi, I am four!)

After many discussions with C4 at work about camping and what to bring (she lent me stuff! She gets a t-shirt!) I have made stacks of post-it note-style lists, brought the wrath of my debit card down upon Target/CVS/Great Outdoor Provision Co, scrounged the internet for some (ANY) relevant information, and made piles of "to-bring" stuff in my apartment. When I was not hiding from it all by burying myself in the couch and knitting.

See, I'm not totally sure what to pack because while there are approximately infinity number of pictures on the web of Herrang, none of them involve 1. the campsite, and 2. any of the buildings! I-do-not-know-what-is-available-to-me. So do I pack everything? Or nothing, and then buy what I need for many many dollars kroner? (Kroners?)
Conclusion: I DON'T KNOW. I will pack what fits, and leave whatever doesn't. I will pack my knitting first.
Tonight's agenda: run around my apartment as adrenaline replaces the water in my body. Pack things until totally insane (estimated: seven minutes), then give up and go traveling super-back-to-nature-style with my passport and debit card. All will work itself out later. What? Debit cards = nature. Shut up. 
Actually, that's sounding really good.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I’d traveled before this trip: over the States and into Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, the UK, France, Scandinavia, college – you get the idea – and I’d never had culture shock. Granted, I’d never stayed in a one-room hut with 30 other people in the middle of the jungle, but these places were, um, different in their own ways. Anyway, I wrapped myself in a cozy blanket of being too flexible, too adaptable, too smug to get culture shock.

Ho ho ho. The cars here are so huge. Irrationally huge. Well, they’re not now that I’ve been driving my monstrous beast around, but for the first few days I felt incredibly short. Shorter than usual.

That was fine and good, and then we went to the grocery store.

General stores and food stores over there are pathetic. While in the US I can go to a decent Harris Teeter or Whole Foods (oh Whole Foods, how you ruin me, with your impulse purchases) and get everything I need with one stop – including potting soil. It’s impossible to find potting soil in Edinburgh. You’d think that a country so into gardening would have easily accessible potting soil.

But to get my usual groceries I’d go to Sainsbury’s, which was a close, decent grocery store. But they don’t have large packs of asparagus or gorgonzola cheese (despite their advertisements for it), so I’d have to go to Marks & Spencer to get it. And I wouldn’t want to carry a 2-litre bottle of coke all that way, so I’d have to go to the corner store on the way home. And the drugstore for vitamins. I’d have to visit five stores and still wouldn’t get everything I need.

Now I can go to one store and get much more than I need.

So we’re in the grocery store, after many hours of sitting in a plane and then more time in the car. There’s a five hour time difference and I’m a little half-brained. And wide-eyed and agog at all the variety and choice and look! Potting soil! And the soups! If there’s anything the Scottish can’t do it’s canned soup. Progresso is a godsend. Heinz soup is hideous.

All the fresh fruit and veg! The obscurely-flavored potato chips! (We have flavors like “ranch” – they have flavors like “roasted chicken with thyme.” For chips! Really!). Flowers and plants and gallons of milk and giant jugs of OJ.

Their cheese selection was lame and their gorgonzola had half the flavor that British blue cheese does, but that’s for another entry.

It’s kind of nice being back in a place where I know how to find things, though there is the problem of excess. Ah, well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In the last week or so of my trip I panicked and became determined to go travel somewhere. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get that urge earlier, but you do what you have to do. My last two days came down to 1. going to Glasgow to get my father’s Christmas present(s), and 2. going to the grassmarket in Edinburgh. Cute shops.

My plans were altered, though, when I got a call from Ben (of BenAndHelen) asking if I wanted to go dry skiing. I’m quite a fan of skiing – the downhill, through-the-snow variety, and was intrigued.

What the hell is dry skiing? Excellent question. I’d never heard of it, and neither had Ben, but it sounded interesting, relatively cheap (£11 per 2 hours, including rentals), and so phenomenally absurd that we had to try it.

A bus ride, boots, skis, and poles (without the bottom guards, for some reason) later, we were standing on gray carpet, waiting for the lift. It was an old school lift, one I only recognize from Archie comics from the 50’s. You grab a short pole with a disc on the bottom and jam it between your legs. When the cord attaching it to the upper cable catches then you get jerked up the hill. And it was a hill. Not a mountain. Those kinds of lifts take some thigh effort to hang on. And they’re totally phallic. There was a chair lift, too, but that’s not interesting.

Anyway. From afar it looks like the slope is covered in a mat of dirty snow. When you get closer – well. Imagine, if you will, a kitchen brush. One with a handle and plastic bristles. Imagine those bristles as a carpet, in mesh form. That’s about what it’s like. It’s the snow version of Astroturf. It’s called Dendix. The benefit of this bizarre invention being that you can ski year-round, even when it’s really warm out. The problem being that, as one ski teacher told us, it’s about the worst surface you can possibly ski on.

You know, he was right.

Because it’s a mesh rather than a full carpet, skis tend to bump along instead of gliding smoothly. This killed my knees. It grips more than snow, so you have to overcompensate – at least when you’re getting used to it – and this often makes you fall down. And oh, heavens. Falling is so miserable. There’s the initial problem of falling on plastic bristles. They go right through your clothing and poke you, and if you’re going at any speed they can leave a wicked burn. Equipment Rental Man had a noteworthy 8-inch scab on his forearm. I saw one young boy do a face plant on the ground. It scared my heart into stopping briefly.

The other problem with falling is that there’s no padding. Falling on snow? Not so bad! You get some snow up your pants and down the back of your shirt and it’s okay. Falling on ice isn’t thrilling, but at least there’s usually some snow underneath that to help cushion a bit. Dry skiing? No padding. None. Other than what you have on your body, and I had everyday trousers and a thin jacket. Not only are you falling on frozen ground, but you’re also falling at some speed. Usually. Which means slamming onto frozen ground covered in plastic prickles. Thus, giant bruises. And tiny, pinprick-looking bruises! They were cute! After they stopped hurting, I mean.

And the hill? Very steep at the top. The lift is interesting in that you have options of where you want to get off – a third of the way up, most of the way up, or at the top. Usually we stuck to a third-to-most of the way up, but once we decided to go to the top. Bad move. Such a bad move. So steep, this hill was! And the thought of falling at any sort of speed was terrifying. I can sort of handle steep slopes on snow, but if you take a bad turn on this you could break your neck with no trouble at all. I think someone did recently. I spent most of my time at the top shuffling down slowly, keeping parallel to the hill.

Merely skiing on plastic with smooth-bottomed skis isn’t enough, apparently, and so they need some way to lubricate the pot-scrubber surface. How would you do that? Well, I learned this the hard way. I was skiing down the hill, minding my own business and glaring at the kids swishing down the slopes with incredible ease, when I got sprayed in the face with water. Oh yes. They have misters underneath the Dendix that occasionally send up some water to make skiing easier. Or so they claim.

Getting water in the face is arresting enough, but it’s made worse by the fact that it was cold that day, and ice crystals formed on the bottoms of my trousers and made falling painful and wet.

There were good things, though! The view! It was incredible! You could see all of Edinburgh, ending with the Salisbury Crags in the distance and the Firth of Forth beyond. As it got darker more and more lights came on, creating a sparkling carpet of land. The moon was heavy and round – full – and draped in clouds. I would’ve happily stood there for hours, just watching the yellow moon rising over the city.

And I had my camera! What a stroke of brilliance and luck! Except that I didn’t have my memory card with me! So no pictures for me! Or you! Photos aren’t allowed anyway, though they don’t explain why, not that it would’ve stopped me.

Eventually I got used to it and could zip down (most of) the hill with little problem. Once the novelty had worn off, though, it wasn’t much fun. Ben and I lasted about an hour and a half before hiking the kilometer back down to the bus stop. On the bus we made friends with some rambunctious girls who were thrilled with Ben’s accent. Not so much with mine.

I was sore for days. It was fantastic. But I wouldn’t really recommend it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I’m back in North Carolina for the first time in over five months. It’s not that long a time, but it certainly feels like an age. Things look the same, and I still generally know my way around. I had dinner with Beth and Brendan, and things immediately reverted to our old college ways. I’m back at Andrea’s (for a few days) and Mel is still hogging my lap.

I feel so uncomfortable. Things are familiar, but slightly off. I keep expecting things to be new, but they’re not. I don’t know if I want to be here. I don’t know where else I could go.

In Born Yesterday Melanie Griffith laments that after a brief foray into education she doesn’t want the things she used to want (furs, jewelry, television); they don’t make her happy anymore.

I left and returned and I feel displaced in what was and will soon be home.

When I was driving into the state I was surprised by how commercial it is here. Billboards and giant signs every fifty feet. I hate it. I still miss the beauty and charm of Edinburgh, but I still don’t want to go back.

And I don’t know if I want to try somewhere new.

When I first got to Europe I would get terribly homesick until I attributed it to fatigue. After sleep I was more confident. I don’t doubt this will be the same. But I need to wait for Andrea to come home so I can say hi.

I was thinking I’d set my lease for a year, but now I’m thinking six months. Wondering if I’ll regain my comfort with the city, wondering if I want to.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Something that's decidely unnerving about being back in the states is the view around. Walking around Scotland -- everywhere except Glasgow, really -- there are rolling fields, old farmhouses, building dating back to before there was a Pennsylvania, and even in the middle of Edinburgh you could look down the hills of some streets and see the Firth of Forth and mountains looming behind it. I miss that a lot. Even when I was in the mountains here it wasn't the same. They seemed dull; dry and yellow.

I went to the Edinburgh Swing Dance Society website the other day and felt really nostalgic.

I have a strong urge to go back. I can picture my little corner of the city so well, and there are things there that I didn't get to do. I miss my friends. But it's too far. I'm not like so many of my friends who can pack up and leave their families for years at a time. I like being home for thanksgiving and Christmas. I like my weekend trips back, if only to remind myself that I don't want to actually live there anymore. Driving around here and looking at the scenery is just depressing.

Maybe when I get back to North Carolina things will feel normal again. North Carolina, where I haven't heard from most of those people in months. I feel so uprooted. I don't have a place to go back to in NC -- I have to find a place to live, and it's looking like I'm going to be living alone. But where should I live? Near friends in a place I don't particularly like, or farther from friends in an apartment complex with more perks?

And jobs -- that's a problem. I've gotten my first rejection already. My other options leave me stuck in an office all day doing work that I'm overqualified to do, or jobs for which I'm underqualified.

So for now I'm staying with my folks until I get my act together enough to move, job or no. I have enough money to support myself for a while, but I'd rather be saving that money for something fun than sitting around somewhere new with no job. I'm comforted that I have enough to be able to move without a job, though.


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