Where You Write, Where You Dream

A couple weekends ago, during the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, Dear Wife, Little B.T., Shasta Dog and I all packed in the family car and took a trip.  We went to place we’ve been often, a wondeful hideaway in the nearby Nantahala National Forest in the southeastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It’s a frequent retreat of ours, and one we love deeply.

I didn’t do any writing while we were away.  Circumstances worked out that I wasn’t able to – although I did do plenty of reading.  Mostly this little family trip was about relaxing and enjoying our time together.  And for me, there is very little more relaxing, little more enjoyable, and little more soul-enriching than time in the mountain forests.  Up there, on top of the world, everything feels clean and fresh.  The sky is bluer.  The sun more friendly.  The trees breathe with a vibrant life, and you feel connected to everything.  The views and vistas are inspirational – the blue mountains rising all around you, the wildflowers in the forest clearings, the cultivated flowers in the gardens, the trees swaying gently in the breeze.

I always just feel more alive when I’m up in the mountains.  I’m lucky that my Dear Wife feels much the same way. Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 4: It’s All Greek to Me

Here we come to the fourth and final of my blog posts about my MBA class trip to Istanbul and Athens. It was a great trip – and I hope an interesting series of posts.  It’s a trip I would definitely re-visit if given the chance.

In Athens, as in Istanbul, I was interested in more than just the sights and artifacts of a foreign land.  I was interested in language and culture.  Call it a weakness.  Little did I know that plunging into Greek was going to give me a lesson in some of the particulars of linguistics that I’d read about in a theoretical sense but had yet to put into action.  (That said, I’m going to be getting into some funky-nerdy language details in this post.)

Greek, I soon realized, was going to be both easier and harder for me to pick up on than Turkish.  Easier because it is a European language that has heavily influenced English (we use all kinds of Greek prefixes and suffixes).  Harder because it uses an entirely different alphabet to the one I am used to using.  (It is perhaps worth noting, at this point, that the word alphabet itself we owe to Greek.  It’s a portmanteau of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta.  But then you probably already knew that.) Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 3: Attack of the Acropolis

After our short stay in Istanbul, it was time to move on to Athens.

View from my hotel room in Athens

View from my hotel room; the hotel had a view of the Acropolis, but my room was on the 1st floor (i.e. 2nd floor in the US), and there was this school in the way; the view from the rooftop garden was pretty good, though. This was the last picture I took during the Colloquium trip before my camera died for good.

A decent-sized group of us arrived early on the Wednesday travel-day in Athens.  We touched down a little after noon, and after getting settled into our hotels it was about half-past one.  We were pretty hungry, so of course first on the itinerary was lunch.  I had spent almost the entire flight from Istanbul to Athens reading my guide-book on Athens and familiarizing myself with the lay of the land.  This proved fairly useful – especially since there were a couple restaurant recommendations in the area of our hotel.  The first one was a bust – closed despite their posted hours – but the second one turned out great.  Unbeknownst to us, the mysteriously closed restaurant was the first hint of a running theme for our Athens trip. Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 2: Turkish Delight on a Moonlit Night

Actually, I wouldn’t have any idea if it was a moonlit night – the cloud cover was too thick – but I did try Turkish Delight late one evening.  There are, thankfully, varieties that don’t involve nuts or coconut – two ingredients I generally avoid as I am not terribly fond of them.  After all, as the saying goes, when in Rome… And, for that matter, Istanbul was once a capital of the Roman Empire.

One of the fun things about visiting a foreign country is learning and immersing yourself in another culture and another language.  Sadly, I learned very little about the Turkish language itself – I was surrounded most of the time by English-speakers (my fellow classmates) and many signs were easily readable or interpretable by English-speakers or included English translations.  But, I did want to learn, at least, how to pronounce Turkish. Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 1: Epic Quest in Istanbul

Domes & Minarets

You know you're in Istanbul when you see the domes and minarets... You know it's the off-season when you see the gray, gray skies...

The MBA program I’m in requires of its students that “your feet touch foreign soil” before you graduate, except under extenuating circumstances.  It’s perhaps a little odd for an evening program, whose students mostly have full-time jobs, when the same school does not have the same requirement of its full-time MBA students (whose only regular daytime commitment is generally to their education), but there you go.  Except for the added expense (and the necessary time-off from work) I don’t mind the requirement.  I enjoy the opportunity to travel. 

Students are able to fill this requirement in one of two ways: they can do an international class during one of the regularly-scheduled study-abroad courses, or they can participate in the annual “International Colloquium”.  Each graduating class selects its own Colloquium destination (within certain guidelines) and this year we chose a combined two-city itinerary in Turkey and Greece.  And so, a few weeks ago now, my bags packed I hopped on a plane that took me half-a-world away to my first stop in the city of Istanbul, a city with ancient roots rich in history. Continue reading

Where Have I Been?

Some of you may have noticed last week my complete lack of response to comments  to posts here (there were quite a few), and wondered what may have been up.  It’s even possible some few of you were worried.

Well, the following almost sums up what became of me during the week.

Yes, well, that only tells part of the story – but it’s the only part with a snazzy song sung by They Might Be Giants  and a Tiny Toons music video to go with it.  Alternately, the following could serve as an illustration of  the latter leg of my trip:

That’s right: I spent last week first in the city of Istanbul and then in that cradle of Greek Mythology (of which Clash of the Titans is something of a bastardized kin), in Athens.  It was an awesome trip.

This was part of the MBA program that I’m wrapping up this semester – the last requirement that I need to fulfill, excepting the class I’m in right now.  The school calls it an “International Colloquium”, and the goal is to learn about real business as it happens in an international context (in this case Turkey and Greece).  Which meant I spent a good amount of time there in company and agency visits learning about the business and investment climates.  But there was no shortage of site-seeing, either.  I’ll have a few pictures up later this week (my camera died upon arrival in Athens, so I’ll be waiting for a few classmates to post some pictures from that leg, but I’ll share a few gems from Istanbul momentarily).  Expect a write-up of the experience later this week or early next…

Apologies… brain still melted

My apologies to those who actually like reading my blog.  My brain is basically melted from the long week of projects and working on finals.  That stuff fried my brain like a scrambled egg.

You know.  I enjoy being in school, generally.  I loved college, and I was having a ball with my MBA for a while.  But I’m now 2 years in, and have a year left to go.  And I’ll tell you what.  I’m tired.  I just feel the need to take a break and mentally check out.

And, for whatever reason, that now has me reminiscing to last year, circa mid to late March.  Let me tell you about what happened last year in March, since my brain is too fried to think of something else more interesting.

That’s when Dear Wife and I took our penultimate pre-children-being-introduced-to-our-family vacation.  We went skiing – and for the first time in my life, too.  That first day when we got out on the slopes, and I was on the bunny hill skiing out of control, I was pretty concerned that skiing just wasn’t going to work for me.  Dear Wife had skied many times before, and had only to get back into skis to refresh her body’s memory of how to do it. 

She tried to take me down a nice green slope.  For those not in the know, with regards to skiing, slopes are rated in terms of difficulty by color-coded shapes.  Green Circles are the easiest.  Then come Blue Squares.  Black Diamonds are basically the hardest, though you do run into Double Black Diamonds, which in this case are what I might have called Widower-makers, to coin a term.  Anyway, Dear Wife tried to take me down a nice and easy Green slope.  Basically, what happened was that I fell down the mountain.  Almost quite literally.

Luckily, we’d planned for this.  We’d also enrolled me in a beginner’s ski class.  The Ski instructor was great.  While Dear Wife went and tempted fate with Blue Squares and Black Diamonds, the Instructor took us through all the basics of skis, how to put them on, and ran us through some very basic exercises before leading us down a very easy route on the bunny slope.  The bunny slope was basically the greenest of the green circles (kind of like a double green circle, I guess).  And it was short, with probably only a twenty or thirty foot drop in elevation, max, over the whole thing.  We ran that route several times.

By the end, the instructor thought I had done great, and was ready for the next, “intermediate” class.  (Some of the students seemed to have more trouble, and needed additional “remedial” instruction, and the instructor stayed with them a little longer.)  I still fell down the real green slope immediately after, a lot, but I was getting the hang of it.  So we enrolled me in the next level lesson the next day.

The thing about the second day’s lesson was this: it was supposed to be a group lesson.  Those were way cheaper than private lessons.  But nobody else had signed up for the lesson.  So guess what that meant?  It meant that I basically got a private lesson at the group lesson rate.  And it was pretty awesome.  The instructor for this lesson taught me a few more advanced techniques (like the hockey stop instead of the snow plow stop) but mostly all he did was run me down pretty much every green slope in the resort.  I did fall, but by skiing in his tracks – most of the time anyway – I managed to avoid falling all but a couple times.  And I felt like I learned a lot about how my body needed to move on the snow.  (Plus, it had snowed the night before, probably the last natural snow of the season last year, so the snow was fresh and new, and that probably helped.)

By the end, I was really enjoying skiing.  And I’ve been wanting to go again every since that trip.  Sadly, skiing is something of an expensive hobby, and with dear B.T. on the way, it’s not trip we anticipate being able to take again in the near future.

So then why did I just blog on about last year’s ski trip for so long?  Because I need a break like that one, right about now.  And somehow, I’m just not sure that the three weeks off before classes start again is quite what I mean when I say I need a break.

Ah well, enough grumbling and reminiscing.  Onward, to greater and more glorious things.  Like finishing that story I’ve been working on!

Céad Mile Fáilte

Happy St. Patrick’s day.  Or, as they say in Ireland, Éirinn go Brách! – Ireland Forever!

I think it’s fitting that today, on St. Patrick’s Day, I continue with my wife’s idea and speak a little more about our trip to Ireland.

One of the things Dear Wife and I wanted to experience in our trip abroad was a land where a different language was spoken.  At first we were a little disappointed that we’d miss that particular opportunity in Ireland; but wait!  They do speak a different language in Ireland – or at least parts of it.  While the majority of Irish people speak English as their native language, there’s a fair-sized community of native-Irish speakers.  As we wandered around shops and through towns, we would often hear small groups of people – a mother and father and their kids, or a pair of close friends – conversing in Gaeilge, or Irish Gaelic.

I was far more excited about the prospect of learning bits of a new language than Dear Wife, I think.  Dear Wife loves the cultural immersion of being in a place where another language is spoken.  I love the language itself.  Not Irish, I mean, but foreign languages (or even my own native language, for that matter).  I love the sounds of spoken language, I love the way we infuse sounds and written characters with meaning and ideas.   Dear Wife will attest that I was excited each time I learned a new phrase, or figured out a new bit of the Irish Language. 

The first phrase I learned was Céad Mile Fáilte, which means “A Hundred Thousand Blessings”, and is a traditional Irish blessing.  We were in Kilkenny, our first stop on our Ireland tour, and in their ancient cathedral, where there was a gift stand with a number of plaques and other items inscribed with this phrase.  Naturally, I asked both what it meant and how it was pronounced.  I was told it is pronounced “KEYD meeleh FALCH-uh”.  The first word, with the “éa” is pronounced like “ey” as in the word grey (or gray) or as in shade or wade.  Elsewhere, I heard that combination of letters pronounced like head or said (I could share the IPA, but I’m not sure that would mean anything to my readers).  The “ái” was pronounced most like the “a” in fat, cat, or hat, but could also be pronounced like the “a” in fall.  The “t” was pronounced as English “ch” (and “ch” in gaelic means something else; see below), though I think it was pronounced that way mainly because of where it appeared in the word; other dialects usually treat a “t”  in the same way English does in the way we’d normally expect.  [Note: I failed to point out in the original version published this morning that the letter “t” in English frequently takes on some very non-“t” like values as well, most typically the value of English “sh”, as in virtually any word ending in “-tion”.  The original version seemed to imply that I thought English treated the letter “t” consistently in how it is pronounced, but obviously that is not the case.  I’ve amended the original sentence so as not to be accidentally offensive.]

In writing up this entry, I’ve learned that the pronunciation the gift-shop proprietor gave me sounds most like the Ulster dialect, although since we were in Kilkenny, the Munster dialect would have been more common in that area.  (However, the Gaeltacht, or Native-Irish speaking regions were all on the west coast, pretty far from Kilkenny.  Dingle, which I wrote about on Monday, is one such Gaeltacht region, within the Munster Dialect area.)

Before our trip had ended, I learned a few other Irish words and phrases.  We listened to traditional Irish music in a pub in Dingle (an Daingean) called An Droichead Beag (pronounced ahn DROE-hehd BEYG ; though the “ch” in “droichead” is actually pronounced more like the “ch” in the Scottish word “loch”, so it’s something between an “h” and a “k” sound) meaning “The Little Bridge”.  When we visited the Dun Beag fort on our tour of Dingle Peninsula, I quickly connected the “beag” together.  Dun Beag means “Little Fort” or “Little Castle”, and “Dun” is just one of about a half-dozen words in old Irish that meant fort or castle.

I also eventually learned to read the Irish Uncial alphabet (scroll down on that link).  Particularly vexing for me, for a while, was the capital-G character in the Uncial alphabet.  A lot of traditional shop signs used this alphabet so as part of learning bits and pieces of Irish, I wanted to be able to read this.  Finally I saw a sign in English using the alphabet that allowed me to figure out this one letter.

The last major lesson I learned was on the consonants.  I knew, from other studies, about the process of consonant lenition, and that this was often represented in Celtic languages by following a consonant with the letter “h”.  But I wasn’t sure how this process had affected Irish pronunciation, or when it happens.  In Ireland, they call this “Aspiration”, though in linguistics that word means something different.  In the traditional celtic Uncial, this is noted by putting a dot over the consonant (take a close look at the photo of An Droichead Beag on the link to their site; you almost can’t see the dot above the “c”, but you can see there’s no “h”), but in the regular Roman alphabet used in English, this is replaced with the “h” after the consonant.  By asking a few local Irish people how certain words were pronounced, and after talking to our friend in Ireland (who is a teacher, and has several teacher friends, one of whom let me keep a children’s text book on learning Irish), I learned how most of these lenited (or aspirated, if you prefer the Irish term) characters are pronounced.

For instance, I’d heard that “bh” was often pronounced as a “v”.  And I knew that “ch” was pronounced like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” or German “ich”.  I assumed that “dh” was pronounced as “th” as in English “the” or “them”, but it turns out that it’s actually pronounced as “gh” (I have no examples of how to pronounce “gh”, but it’s like “ch” except voiced like a “g”).  “Mh” was one that stumped me until I asked our Irish friend.  She said it was pronounced like a “w”, though I was certain I’d heard it pronounced as a “v” sometimes during our travels around Ireland.  Turns out both are right.  “Th” doesn’t make what you’d think of as a “th” sound at all: it’s pronounced only as an “h”.  What’s more, some of these sounds change based on the sounds around the lenited letter.  So a “bh” can sometimes be a “w” sound instead of a “v” sound.  And a “dh” and “gh” can sometimes be a “y” sound.

I tried to learn all I could, though ultimately one week is not enough to learn a language.  But I had  lot of fun.  And I’m happy to have shared a bit of our Ireland journey with you.

For me, learning bits and pieces of Irish was another bit of inspiration for writing.  I equate my love of languages and my love of writing as coming from much the same source inside me.  They tickle me the same way.  And I hope you’ve been tickled by my little foray into linguistics here, today.

Happy writing.

Journeys in Dingle

This post is another idea of my wife’s, and it was certainly a great idea.

Shortly after my wife and I had learned we were expecting, our thoughts turned to the traveling we had wanted to do.  We’d both spent time out of the country (we were both Military Brats in our youth).  We knew once the baby came that travel out-of-country would be financially infeasible for many years, so we decided to take one good trip abroad before the baby came.  We initially wanted to go to France or Italy, but the cost for such a trip was just a little outside the budget we set for ourselves.  Then we saw a great air-fare deal on flights to Ireland.  Neither one of us had been to Ireland, but we had one good friend from Ireland who had spent some time in the States and had returned home.

So, last October, we took a trip to Ireland, a country rich in culture.  They aren’t known for the food culture (potatoes and lamb in everything, and Full Irish Breakfasts) or their fashion culture, but they make up for it in spades in folklore, mythology, and old-world charm.  Ireland was exactly as you’d expect it: green and rainy, and just a sense of being somewhere where Things-Have-Happened-In-Ancient-Times.  We’re talking Bronze Age history here.

The highlight of our trip, without question, was our time on Dingle Peninsula on the west coast.  We opted for Dingle over the Ring of Kerry on the advice of Rick Steves (Dear Wife’s favorite travel guide), who loved both but preferred Dingle given a choice.  We were not disappointed.  There is an awesome, primal beauty about the Dingle peninsula, and the driving tour took us past ancient forts built with primitive dry masonry (without mortar) and sites made famous by the movie “Ryan’s Daughter” (set and filmed in Dingle) alike.

On the western shores of Dingle, and from the tip of Dun Mor point, through the gray mists you could make out the rise of the Blasket Islands.  The larger An Blascaod Mór and to the north the Sleeping Giant peaking above the waves, suggesting some ancient lost world.  The history of the Blaskets was one of the most fascinating parts of our tour of Dingle.  Peopled since ancient times, and speaking exclusively a dialect of Irish Gaelic until modern times, the Blasket Islands were abandoned in 1953, making them a true lost world.  Many of the former residents still live in Dingle, while others emigrated long ago to the United States.

Life on the Blaskets, we are told, was harsh and unforgiving.  But it also held an idyllic, primitive vitality that somehow still resonates with people today.  What’s more, the lifestyle, culture, and folklore of this people became the bedrock of an amazing, if unlikely, literary community.  While holding a population of no more than a few hundred at its height, the islands were nonetheless home to numerous gifted writers and story-tellers, including Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers, and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.  Their stories of life on the islands romanticized the troubles and challenges of the island people.

The link I felt, while there in Ireland, to the ancient Celtic people, to their mythology, to their history, and to their folklore and way of life, still lingers with me.  Its something I hope to try to capture in my writing in the future.  The trip was an inspiration.  I regret only that we were able to spend only a week in Ireland (and that because it was late in the season, we couldn’t take day trips out to the Islands or Skellig Michael).

If you readers ever make it out to Ireland, I highly advise a stop through Dingle Peninsula (and stay at the Milestone House Bed & Breakfast; the proprietors were super-friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable; one of my prized souvenirs from the Ireland trip is the photocopy of the hand drawn map they made of Dingle Peninsula for visitors).  Take it slow, take it easy, and take in the sights and the language and the history.

Happy Writing.