Monday, September 13, 2010

recap '10

I really enjoyed study abroad this year. It was a year of discovery for me - I tried to find new places to see, new things to experience, and new enjoyment in the familiar. The group was terrific: fun, pliable, positive, offbeat, and willing to try everything. I loved that.

A couple of details about the trip, more for me to remember than anyone else:

The Group: Cherie Julander, Alex Ungerman, Kristi Summers, Rachel Cox, Brozin Mottaghian, Jacob Porter, Scott and Alta Stringham, Daniel Whiting, Katie Sullivan, Becca Ingram, Jessamyn Svensson, and Nicholas Grossaint.

I read: The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall. Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays, by David Sedaris.

2010 playlist:

Killed Myself When I Was Young - A.A. Bondy
That Beep - Architecture in Helsinki
Fire - Augustana
The Cult of Karl - Chris Merritt
Any Fun - Coconut Records
We Used to Vacation - Cold War Kids
Believe E.S.P. - Deerhoof
Sailing by Night - Department of Eagles
Light a Roman Candle With Me - Fun.
Driveway - Great Northern
Switched On - Islands
Go Do - Jonsi
Good Day - Jukebox the Ghost
World News - Local Natives
Come Ye Children of the Lord - The Lower Lights
Love for Granted - Phoenix
Pretend - Shark Speed
Oh Mandy - The Spinto Band
Something Good Can Work - Two Door Cinema

People: Anastasia B, the awesome front desk crew at Queen's Gate, The Great Gandinis, magenta bonnet, Gillian Chadwick, Sam Wills, bizarre muttering Indian Tour guide at Sherlock Holmes, The Seeleys and the Tates, Nick at the Globe, The Hampton Court reveler, super encouraging Globe usher/midget, Charlie Cox & Ian McDiarmid, Trilby Cope, Kate & Amelia Ngai, the good staff at the Everyman, guy on the lawn outside Keats' house, Mark & Stephanie Oram, Mark Rylance, David Suchet & Zoe Wanamaker, the nice kids from U of Southern Miss, Jo Breslin & Jill Cowley, Christina Gutekunst, Alta's boob friend, slowly internally dying Thai waitress, the creepy line butter, Jamie Parker & Roger Allam, Borzin's train seatmates, Percy at Ajiel, The kissing staff at Cafe a Gogo, butterfly pin guy in Paris, The good folks at Kok Ping, Kiwi Karl, piano hog at Shakespeare & Co, the American lady on the train who hates Paris, drunk Germans on the tube, Gwin, the guy at the Dirty Duck who dislikes credit cards, Sir Toby & Andrew at Shakespeare's house, flaming Hall's Croft tour guide, angry guard at John Soane's, my seatmate at Into the Woods who hated it, Dominic Rowan & Amanda Lawrence, Benedict Cumberbatch & Nancy Carroll, the old lady I got in a fight with at the National, our irrepressible National tour guide, the awkward aquarium guy, the special kew garden lady on the bench, fancy french waiter at Ma Cuisine with his surly teen busboy, cockney bus driver lady, naked Philip Herbert, James and Colleen Arrington, Frank at the Edinburgh Castle, Ricardo & Paty & Leo, Miguel & Pedro & Sandra, Senior Nevua 1 & 2, Anxious Spanish hot tubbers, everyone at the Avioso, Jackson on the plane

Quote to remember: "Walking skeletons, what do you think? Now my monkey will pour you a drink!"

My favorite shows: After the Dance, Henry IV 1 & 2, Tabu, The Prince of Homburg, The War Horse

Thoroughly enjoyed: Naked Splendour, Keepers, The Winter's Tale, All My Sons, La Bete, The Comedy of Errors, Love Never Dies, The Habit of Art, Carmen Funebre, The Great Gandini's

Meh: Henry VIII, Aspects of Love, Enron, Eonnagata, Danton's Death, Billy Elliot, The Late Middle Classes

Avoid at all costs: Into the Woods

Movies I watched: Inception

I want to say a special thank you to my new friends in Portugal. The four days I spent with you in Geres will always be some of my favorite memories. Especially thank you to Ricardo, a great friend who accommodated me and made me feel welcome, even when turning cows.

I think this completes my account. This was a wonderful trip. If you would like to come with us next year, please consider it. I would love to talk to you more about coming. You can contact me at


Monday, August 16, 2010


I spent the tail end of my trip abroad in the Geres National Forest of Northeast Portugal. It was pretty amazing. My host was Ricardo Pinheiro, a good friend I met at the IUGTA Conference in Austria last May. Ricardo was here with his wife, Paty, and their son, Leo, as well as his extended family and friends. This was their vacation, and they graciously let me crash four days of it. Nothing like the ugly American showing up just when you think you are safely ensconced in a fishing village high in the mountains of Portugal! We have our ways of finding you, and then eating your stuff.

I thought I would combine all of my thoughts into one LONG entry replete with photos. Let them tell you about this amazing experience.

These are grape vines at the Avioso Inn, where we stayed. The proprietors, Senior and Gloria Nevua, make their own wine!

This was my bed. I felt protected from the undead. My room was at the top of the Inn. You opened these little shutters over the window at night and the stars shown in. Yes, just like in Pinocchio!
The view from my bedroom. Every morning I was awakened by a rooster that shrieked "Cock-a-DOO-doo!" I can still hear him in my head. I hope I eat him.
The other view from the Inn. This is the Canicada Dam. We did much jet skiing, water skiing, and swimming. Also, there were dogs.
A delicious plate of cod at Dinner in Santa Maria do Bouro (Minho). Wow.
Some delicious pork interspersed with some not so delicious liver.
This is the Cathedral of Santa Maria do Bouro, and it's like a thousand years old. And it's also a hotel. It was beautiful, all lit up.
Interior of the cathedral slash hotel.
Outside the cathedral, with lime trees lit up.
Weird lighting effects and my crappy camera do little to affect the admirable attractiveness of the Pinheiro family.
Senior Nevua's wine casketry. This whole "wine" issue caused some awkward moments down the line for me. That story, however, is better in person.

The border of Portugal and Spain. I guess you can just come and go; and feel free to spray paint the name of your favorite soccer team!
Here is a group of us hiking in the early morning to some springs. The trails were dusty but the weather was fantastic and the wild flowers and grasses were so impressive.
This trail was actually created by Germans in World War II. A lot of work culminating in a big international spanking!
The springs - with incredibly clear water.

The second coldest water I've ever been in. Maybe third, counting the avuntos in Finland. The coldest water I've been in was a waterfall I swam in at Capitol Reef this past June. This was a season of cold water for me.

This is a natural hot spring in Fondevila, Spain. It was hot, but not that hot. I went in and swam around and put my head under the water. There were some Spanish swimmers there that acted like I was crazy. At one point this fat guy told me to basically get out. He was worried.
From the window of Ricardo's car.
Geres, Portugal. Windy roads, but how's that for a view?
Here I am, proudly waving my Portugese flag towel
Lunchtime at the Avioso!

Pedro and Ricardo on the jet ski. I drove that thing as well. I got it going about 90, and then I remembered all of my children and then slowed down.
Senor Nevua: Inn owner, Wine maker, Shepherd, Renaissance Man.
Everyone talked Portugese the whole time. Sometimes they would translate for me. I didn't mind - I would hate to constantly be translating for someone. They were really nice about it. Mostly I just watched their expressions and listened to their tones and I could sort of understand what they were talking about. But sometimes I thought they were fighting, and I asked Ricardo what they were fighting about. He laughed and said "We're not fighting. We're latin."
The Avioso Inn. Are you getting an idea of how awesome this place was?

Early the next morning we hiked into the mountains to locate, and turn, Senior Nevua's 50 plus cows. It's kind of a crap shoot, since you don't know where in the mountains the cows are going to be. You might find them in minutes, or it could take twelve hours. For us it took about four hours to find them, thanks to Senior Nevua making mysterious cow calls.
Wild horses...couldn't drag me away....
This is called a shepherd's oven. It's where the shepherd's crash - and the mountains are dotted with them. I actually snoozed in this one for about an hour.

Later, Senior Nevua and his brother-in-law, also named Senior Nevua, force-fed me veal that they were cooking over a fire. More veal than I have ever had in my life. More veal than any human being has ever eaten since, oh, Caligula or some other glutton. I was exhausted from eating veal. So I fell asleep right on the ground, nestled among cow pies. Ricardo's cousin Pedro took this picture.

Here they are! Cows.

We felt like conquering heroes, even though none of actually helped much. But hiking is a lot of work! And so is eating veal and telling scary stories about wolves. Pictured is Ricardo, Paty, and Pedro, in various states of excitement.
A final parting shot of Portugal. Such a beautiful country, and such warm and gracious people. I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who showed me such kindness during my four days there. I want to go back.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

should old acquaintance be forgot

Here it is. Our last day for the program. I can never believe how quickly it comes. Suddenly time is up and you vaguely remember doing a million things but still somehow wonder how it all happened so quickly. Best not to dwell upon it. Nothing gold can stay, quoth Robert Frost. I'm actually headed to Portugal tomorrow for a few days with a good friend of mine. It's mostly R&R before I head home and start the school season. I'm looking forward to it. And I'm incredibly excited to see my family in a few days! I've missed them. But I will also miss the little family that I made over here. They have been a really fun group: energetic, gracious, and adventurous. Today on the streets of Edinburgh they gave me a thank you card and a really awesome vinyl Big Ben to put in my office. I started to cry. It was embarrassing. I just felt really touched by that.

Today was the final performance of Rappaccini's Daughter. The show was the best it's been. After the performance was over I heard a gentleman talking about how much he loved it, so I invited him to talk to the cast. He told them how much he loved the energy, the creativity, the sounds, and said it was "just magical." I was glad that they got to hear that. They've worked so hard on this show and deserved to get some praise.

We spent some time at the Edinburgh castle this afternoon. I always like taking the guided tours because the jokes are so so good. I can never remember them afterwards, which is great because then they are brand new to me every year. Our guide this year was Frank, who was so determined that there would be sunshine during our tour that he took off his jacket and threw it to the ground in a heap. Frank was mostly right. As we hit the cannon hill we saw a dark cloud moving over the North Sea and we knew we were in for it. It hit just as our tour ended at the top of castle hill. It was ominous to watch it coming. It was also really beautiful.
When we dried off a little I showed Daniel, Cherie, and Becca the Armstrong and Co thrift shop, which may be the most eclectic thrift shop in the entirety of the UK. It's full of everything you can think of, and then everything you would probably never think of. I've been promising Cherie and Becca for weeks that I would show them some thrifting. So I turned them loose in there, and then headed out for a bit on my own.

This afternoon I saw Keepers, a really interesting two man show about Welsh lightkeepers. They created a lighthouse out of a few chairs and a ladder; everything else was accomplished with sheer physicality and movement. I thought it was really fascinating to watch. To the side of the stage they had a DJ providing all the sound effects: rags on a window, roaring waves, sea gulls, as well as musical accompaniment. It was really creative and interesting, and the story was sad and funny and sweet. James and Colleen were there as well. We agreed that the physicality and the storytelling were amazing, but the sound effects stole the show.

I had one more meal at the Edinburgh City Restaurant, not just because the food is basically American, but because there's just so much of it. I had a 12" Hawaiian pizza and felt, for a few minutes, that I was back at Brick Oven. If Brick Oven were under a perpetual thundercloud, smelled remotely like cigarettes, and looked like Hogwarts.

Lastly, tonight was the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Pronounced "ta-TOO." This is my third time at the Tattoo, but I think tonight was my favorite. Not only did we have the money seats (Thanks, Grant!) on the front row dead center, but the bands were particularly great and the feats were exciting. Here's what I saw:

Lots of bagpipes. Seriously, if you don't like bagpipes you SHOULD NOT go to the Tattoo.
One super awesome mustache!
A group of motorcycle daredevils aged 14 and under. They did some amazing feats, and a little three year old in a sidecar squirted us with watergun.
I don't know who these guys are - some kind of military troupe in white shorts? - but they did some sweet trampoline stunts!
Afterwards we didn't want to go to bed yet - everyone is trying to stave off the inevitable plane rides home tomorrow - so we stopped at The Piemakers, which was open just late enough to make us a few more Apple Blackcurrent pies. Not sure if it was a fitting goodbye to Scotland, or if there even is a fitting goodbye to Great Britain, but it was nice to spend a few last minutes together before we all head our separate ways.