Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Tale of Two (or Three) Host Cities

The past few days of tour have been quite the whirlwind of host experiences. In three nights, I went from crazy to perfect to unpleasant and back to perfect with barely a minute to catch my breath. After each of these nights, I considered writing a post solely to describe the experience, but now that it's been several days, I figured I'd just write about all three.

Our last two nights in Ireland were spent in what I'm going to call 'the beach cities.' The first one is technically called Barna. I honestly have no clue what the second one was called, since it was a 40-minute drive away from the parish that hosted us. This lack of name knowledge is merely one of a thousand mysteries presented to me by the beach cities. I met my first mystery early in the evening in Barna, when I was shifted around between three different host family assignments before finally landing with our outgoing Folk Choir president in the home of a woman named Mrs. Fagan. Upon seeing this name, I naturally grew concerned that this woman would live in an abandoned warehouse where she would rope my roommate and I into a ring of underground pick-pocketing and song on the mean streets of London. I then remembered that my life does not actually follow the plotline of Oliver!. The actual Mrs. Fagan experience, however, was just about as weird as the crime ring would have been. This woman, you see, greeted us with purple spiky hair, a largely toothless (albeit enthusiastic) smile, and a 1984 Nissan whose trunk was inexplicably filled with rope and walking sticks. To enter her home, Mrs. Fagan led my roommate and I and our suitcases packed for two weeks of international travel through a small path set in the middle of her entirely rock front yard. Despite the sidewalk two feet from us, we walked through this rock-yard, passing such lawn ornaments as a giant rubber duck and a small collection of live chickens, eventually arriving at her Winnie the Pooh sticker-adorned front door. Once inside, Mrs. Fagan showed us where our room and the bathroom were, informed us that her cat often enjoys perching on the windowsill next to my roommate's chosen bed, and left us to relax in our new room. Relaxation, however, proved a difficult task, seeing as my roommate is allergic to cats, our room contained such disturbing distractions as a poster of Roald Dahl's terrifying Big Friendly Giant and not one but two quilts that looked to be made of flattened scrunchies, and the whole house reeked of fish. After Mrs. Fagan popped back by to inquire about or preferences in eggs (duck or chicken?) and milk (cow or goat?) for the next morning's breakfast, we drifted off into an uncomfortable and anxious slumber. Breakfast, as it turned out, was blissfully free of both duck eggs and goat milk, but it did allow us a strange glimpse into the life of the Fagan family. For starters, Jake the cat stood directly outside the window the whole time, perching on the windowsill, glaring at me, and - I kid you not - even mimicking the concerned faces I made at his every move. Then Mrs. Fagan told us about her children. Highlights of this discussion included her assertion that she dyed her hair purple because two of her grandkids are on a dance competition TV show in England and the news that her youngest, most 'bohemian' daughter, named her latest child after marijuana. Needless to say, this was a strange night.

When we arrived at our hotel the next night, then, I could not have been more thrilled. Our rooms were spacious and clean, not a single scrunchie quilt was in sight, and we were just yards away from a real, beautiful beach! This place seemed perfect. After our concert, a few of us got the bright idea of stopping by the bar for a glass of wine before heading down to the beach. By the time we left the bar, an unrelenting drizzle was pouring from the sky, the temperature had dropped to about 45 degrees, and it was something like 11:45 PM. I realized at this point that a beach trip was probably ill-advised, but we soldiered on. Because it was dark and we couldn't see the steps that lead straight to the water, we set off on the only path to the beach we thought possible - climbing over a surprisingly steep, tall grass-covered hill until we hit sand. This was tolerable if unpleasant on the way down to the beach. The return trip proved a bit more challenging. Climbing up a hill of about 85 degrees in flip-flops during a driving rain would have been bad enough. Doing this when the grass covering the hill is, unbeknownst to you, full of devil-sent brambles that will make you feel like your hands and feet have only minutes left before they fall off your body, is considerably worse. Let the records show that it has been 60 hours, and the little red marks all over my hands are still visible.

After these two experiences, I was eager for a fresh and bramble-free start in Edinburgh. And Edinburgh has delivered. My host family here is arguably the most perfect family in Scotland. Their twelve-year-old daughter is both adorable and sassy, a combination that I thought only a young me could pull off. Their twenty-year-old son is a (hot) Scottish guy my age living in the same house as me. Literally nothing about this can be bad. Both nights since we've been in their home, they've served my roommate and I light snacks at their kitchen table, where we've sat around and chatted happily for hours on end. When I first saw my absolutely beautiful host bedroom, my young host sister whispered to me, 'Mum keeps that one like a hotel. She doesn't let anyone sleep in there!' My host dad just popped his head in to the room where I'm sitting at the computer writing this and said, 'Ah, good mornin'! You sleep okay? Ah, great.' Our first activity yesterday when we left our host homes for the day was a workshop at the primary school where my host siblings went. At this school, they let us go to recess with the kids, and then go in groups of seven or eight to sit in their classrooms and chat with them. The class I went to - Primary 4 - sang us two songs they had prepared for their First Communion and then asked us dozens of weird questions made adorable by their accents, such as 'What is your favorite mountain?' and 'What is your favorite country in Africa?'. Sightseeing yesterday afternoon confirmed what my host family and the school had already shown me: Edinburgh is the best city ever. I am never going to leave.

So, readers, that is what the last four days of my life have been. Really, really strange. I'm very pleased that this is our last host family for the trip, because one more experience as extreme as these last three have been may just send me over the edge. I hope you've all enjoyed my tour posts, since this will probably be my last one. I'll be back in the US of A on Monday night, and undoubtedly back on the American life blogging grind shortly thereafter. See you (stateside!) again soon!

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