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Trusting Yourself

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”

–James Joyce

Terminals always make me phlegmy.

I can’t quite explain why, but I think it has something to do with the cheap starchy food you find in the restaurants; it glues to the back of your throat and you cough and sputter and finally try to wash it all away with water and Pepsi, but of course that only makes things worse when you realize that Pepsi is pretty much all corn syrup and sugar and very likely much more ill-equipped for dislodging chunks of potato than nothing at all. Of course, you can still attempt to cough it all away, but when you do be forewarned that any spectators who catch you attempting this will think that you’re either hacking up a fur ball or choking on one.

There are solutions: don’t eat from airport restaurants, consume a huge breakfast, or stick to the light stuff like soups and salads (though these, remarkably enough, can still prove to be a gamble). Maybe attempt Lipton or coffee instead of soda if you’re having difficulties.

Aside from that, there’s not much more I can think of. Phlegmy throats and coughing fits are a characteristic of terminals that I have never been able to circumvent in all my years of traveling, no matter how adequately I prepare myself. To say I’ve gotten used to it would be an overstatement, though by now I can admit to having achieved a level of complacency. Braving terminals may mean a day of hacks and wheezes, but all things considered, I prefer knowing my inconveniences beforehand so I can prepare for them. And on a more optimistic note, a grainy throat is a small price to pay to go to the places I’ve gone to.

None of this really has anything to do with my upcoming excursion to Ireland per se (three hours and counting until my flight leaves) and you may very well chock these paragraphs up to personal problems and stop reading here. They are personal problems, I’ll be the first to admit, but there’s a traveler’s truth behind them: amateur travelers, experienced go-abouters, and cosmopolitans alike can share an experience of nothing, ever, going as intended.

This is of course true wherever you go, and yet nothing quite brings you into its universal focus until you’re immersing yourself in another culture and realize that every word you say or frivolous hand gesture that you make has the potential to mean something different from what you intended. We forget that culture is as much a concept as it is a developing organism: it adapts to the times and to people and to trends, even borrowing form sister cultures, and always emerging different from its source material.

This is not my first time overseas. I’ve frequented New Zealand and tramped the streets of Prague; I’ve hiked the Swiss Alps and gotten yelled at by the Austrian police for an invalid bus ticket. I consider myself an experienced traveler not because I’ve had the opportunities to go abroad and taken them, but because I’ve made more mistakes abroad than most other people. As recently as last year, I found myself walking a three-hour journey back to the home of my host mother in Austria at four in the morning, having taken the wrong (and coincidentally, last) bus away from the city center. This is hardly an isolated event.

The thing about it is though, mistakes, until proven harmful, are only unintentional paths. Stephen Dedalus had it right when he called mistakes the “portals to discovery”, though it doesn’t have to be only geniuses that make them. If anyone can make a mistake, anyone can be a pioneer.

There is a theme here, in case you were wondering. Getting lost at four in the morning in a foreign country and culture itself: they’re both just mistakes that led to chance products, ones that history, being ineluctable and perpetual history, has simply had to carry on with. The word ‘mistake’ itself does not do us any favours either; mis-intention is perhaps the more appropriate term.

Clacking away at my keys in the corner of the terminal takes the mind off problems like the phlegmy throat, but only for so long. Sometimes, once you realize that the only-so-much-you-can-do isn’t quite good enough, you’re more comfortable with your situation than you were in the beginning. This can go for anything: packing for a semester-long excursion three thousand miles across the world, researching a foreign country in the hopes of having a better understanding of your future home, brushing up on current politics so that you’re careful not to say anything offensive to your fellow countrymen. Accept the fact that you’ll probably forget something (portable toothbrush) or accidentally insult someone and you feel immensely better.

I’ve been researching Ireland for the past five years—from Famine politics to Gaelic poetry of the Great Blasket Islands, the music of the Dropkick Murphys to traditional ceili and everything insignificant in-between. This may sound a bit like bragging: this is definitely a bit of bragging. Even so, after all is said and done and with all my research, I can safely confirm that I know next to nothing about Ireland or its culture. With preparation one can only learn to speculate: culture moves too fast for anyone who’s grounded only in books to have much of a realistic idea about what it means or what’s important about it.

I’m not saying all of this only because I’m feeling philosophical, but rather because most of the pre-departure blog talk you’ll here is pretty much the same. There’s much talk of nerves and worries, packing woes and cell phone troubles, all of which is overlaid with an emphasis on how excited the traveler feels to be traveling. Describing all of these sensations is a fine way of explaining how one feels about setting off on his or her adventure. Most of it is useless.

I imagine that most people realistically don’t care what I’m feeling about going to Ireland. Adventures are adventures only to those who take them; everyone else’s job is to be polite when they regale you about them. Which means that I’m not going to set out and explain to you how I’m feeling or why I’m excited: what you’ll get here are the stories, as many as I can provide, with as much culture as I can possibly squeeze into the gaps.

I’ve probably rambled away for too long. Too much talk leads us in circles like pony trails: better to make your mis-intentions than talk yourself out of doing anything at all. And so, from now until my plane takes off:

Sláinte agus saibhreas!

PS: Attached some pictures here. Still don’t really know how the add images toggle works so I just threw them down without much consideration.

IMAGE 1: My attempt at sporting some Irish cool

IMAGE 2: My attempt at sporting some Irish sexy

IMAGE 3: Packing despair: do we pack the hurling cleats or the stepdancing heels? Every man’s worst nightmare.

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