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.


Visitor Count (hi!)