My Irish friends were so excited by the idea of American Thanksgiving that they asked if we could have our own Turkey Day here in Dublin. So that's exactly what we did....except on Sunday instead of Thursday, so lecture wouldn't get in the way. We even played a bit of American football first - our very own Turkey Bowl - except the Irish have no idea how to play American football, but it was hilarious to watch. They got enough of the basics, anyway. The food was delicious. I cooked 2 turkeys, mounds of mashed potatoes, green beans, carrot souffle, stuffing, cranberries, and 3 pumpkin pies. I had some great kitchen help as well. And there were almost no leftovers. Following in tradition, everyone had to go around and tell what they were thankful for. Some were funny, some were serious, and a few even got people all teary-eyed. Almost felt like America.
Our class went on a little venture to a place called Blackditch in County Wicklow yesterday. We're talking about conservation biology this module, and we went to have a look at some habitat restoration work. And since this is Ireland, they wanted to restore a fen - it's sort of a wetland that is seasonally flooded. This calls for Wellies. The Blackditch nomenclature comes from the color of some of the water here once it's flooded. You can see it in the pictures. While I was standing on the boardwalk looking into the gloom, I kept waiting to here Gollum's voice saying "Don't follow the lights, or hobbits go down to join the dead ones, and light little candles of their own....". Little bit creepy. A large debate also ensued on our trip as to who was the best survival show host, and people went out around "Bear Grylls-ing" anything they found of interest. It involves crouching down obscenely close to the object of interest and gesturing while talking in an intense, hoarse whisper.....and makes a lot more sense if you've seen his show. What nerds. And yes, I'm including myself when I say that. We ended up down by the Irish sea, and just beat the rain back to the bus. When we got back to Dublin everyone went - covered in muck - to the pub to warm ourselves by the fire and with drink. We frequent a pub called MacTurcaills close to Trinity. Not too bad for a day in the field.
One of the girls in my class has a cottage out on the west coast of Ireland in a place called the Burren. What makes it unique is that the bedrock out there is limestone, and you get these funky formations (check out the pictures below) like islands of limestone - called clints - and deep fissures that separate them - called grykes. It sure makes for some great scenery while hiking. And said girl from the class, also known as Nessa Darcy, invited all of us out to stay for a weekend. Getting out there was an adventure. Half the people (plus one dog) drove in a car, while the rest took the bus. I was in the bus group. Only problem was that the car group got a late start - 2 hours late, actually - and the bus group already was set to arrive an hour early. Luckily right off the bus there was a pub with a peat fire smoking away and delicious food. Everyone likes to fry fish over here (hence the traditional fish & chips), but they did a baked salmon with a peppercorn sauce and heaps of fresh vegetables. Once the car half arrived we all made it to the cottage and settled in for a proper Irish session. Mostly that involves music, having a chat and a few pints, or having the craic (pronounced crack) as the Irish would put it. They can go on til the next morning even, and boy are they a good time. Our class really gets on well. Vivi's friend Petra - also from Finland - came along and was deemed an honorary member of the class. Saturday we did a bit of hiking down by the shore and through a bit of countryside. Lots of cows and limestone.
Ireland also has some ancient megalithic tombs called dolmens. They're typically made up of a few standing stones with a large capstone laying across the top on top of a mound so it was the focal point of a landscape. I really wanted to see one, and there happen to be quite a few in the Burren. Sadly, not everyone wanted to get their lazy selves out of bed to go see one, so Nessa and I decided to walk/hitchhike our way to the Poulnabrone dolmen, which literally translates to "the hole of sorrows". Now, I know I just heard the sharp intake of breath from at least 3 moms reading that last sentence, but hitchhiking in the Burren with Nessa was pretty safe. Being a small town in the Irish countryside, if whoever offered us a ride didn't know at least 2 or 3 of Nessa's relatives, we didn't get in the car. And we didn't have to walk the whole 15-mile round trip. The Poulnabrone dolmen dates back to about 2500 BC, and portal tombs are only vaguely understood. The bones of about 20 adults, 6 adolescents, and 1 newborn have been found placed at various times in the dolmen, but the bodies were defleshed elsewhere. Also in the dolmen were a polished stone axe, stone beads, a bone pendant and pin, quartz crystals, flint and arrowheads, and shards of pottery. The dolmens were certainily used ritualistically, but it's hard to get specific about more than that. Very neat to see in person though. There are also some ringforts and earthen forts in the Burren, and it's supposed to be beautiful in springtime, so Nessa invited me back when all the flowers start to bloom....
There was a massive student protest in Dublin yesterday on Wednesday. The protest was over a raise in student fees that the current elected official campaigned on not allowing. So about 30,000 students took to the streets on Wednesday and marched around Trinity, a small bit of Dublin, and on to the government building where they held a rally. The gardaí (Irish police) were out and about as well - including a few mounted officers and some in full-on riot gear (There are picture of the horses below, Missy!). With the exception of a few tiny squirmishes, the whole thing was quite peaceful. And quite loud. I was there to observe a bit of it, but my sense of self-preservation told me to move off just in case anything did happen. And of course, there were some great signs. A few boys carried around a casket for education and recovery. For the Harry Potter fans, someone had a a sign saying that even Voldemort didn't have to pay fees. Quite the exciting day.
Professor John Parnell has inadvertently done me a favor. I now know that I have no desire to be a taxonomist/systematist. None. John Parnell taught our last moduel, and right at the beginning of November he gave us one week to write a 6,000 word literature review on the systematics of a genus off of his list. You basically had to write about everything ever recorded about the genus - who discovered it, where, when, all the names it has, a detailed species description of its members, where it fits in to the rest of biology and why, create an original dichotomous key, discuss its economic/cultural value, what's being done to conserve it, acknowledgements, references, etc. It's the sort of thing that if you did it well it could be your thesis and published. As a matter of fact, we have another assignment like that - 6,000 words on a given topic - but that's due in February....5 months after it was assigned. You cannot do it and do it well in one week's time. Our class did nothing but work for a week and stress out. People started developing that slightly crazy look around the edges. I'm pretty sure I had a little of that going on, too. Those giving us marks (they're not called grades here) on the assignment are supposed to take into account (somewhat) the amount of time we had, but it's surprisingly hard to write that much just to get it done and not do your best work. Thankfully it's done now. And I got to write mine on a fungus and not a plant, which was slightly more interesting. I've spent the last week recovering and moving into a new module on conservation biology, and I was sick for a few days in there, but that's really all you missed.
Far more exciting than the last 2 weeks is what's coming in the next week or so: I get to go to IKEA tomorrow and work on actually decorating my apartment, we've started a Tuesday night class dinner deal, we'll be having Thanksgiving at my apartment, and next weekend we (our class - extracurricularly) are going to a cabin in the Burren, which is a cool place out west (see map below). Also Vivi found an open vegetable market on Saturday's not too far from our usual flea market, which has great deals and much better produce than the regular grocery. Speaking of the flea market, before we got there this weekend Vivi asked me if I was looking for anything in particular before we got there. I told her I needed a clothes iron. Guess who went home with a brand new iron for only 6 euro?! Apparently all I have to do is tell Vivi what I'm looking for before we go, and it appears at the flea market. Printers, irons.....maybe next time I'll ask for a sewing machine. Or a kayak.....