On Tuesday, we staggered into a routine: Wake up, discover that coffee has miraculously appeared – I'm still not sure how, since the only people who drink it are the ones who sleep in – and have some cereal and toast for breakfast. It's not particularly Irish (no Bailey's, after all), but good. And then, work.
The work is menial archaeology, which I say without any rancor whatsoever. Really, it's a chance to play in the mud, with the added thrill of knowing we might step on a thousand-year-old skull if we aren't careful. We follow what I swear is the standard Irish work schedule:
9:00 – Be at work, in theory.
9:30 – Be at work, officially.
10:00 – Okay, now are you working?
11:00 – Tea time!
11:30 – Tea time is officially over.
11:45 – People begin straggling out from tea.
1:00 – Perhaps the cooks need some help preparing lunch.
1:30 – It is officially lunch time.
2:40 – Lunch time may or may not be technically over.
3:00 – Work time.
4:30 – Clean up the site.
4:50 – Sprint back to the cabin.
5:30 – Finish grousing about the brutal, backbreaking day of hard labor. Start scheduling dinner around previously-planned pub-schedule.
Before we left, the Sligo Kids and the Yankees gathered on the porch for a morning harangue. Today's lecture was on cigarette butts. Specifically, Doc was furious that we'd been leaving cigarette butts lying around everywhere. More specifically, he was furiuous that Teresa, the fifty-year-old bartender whose life represents and admirable balancing act between ever-hammered drunkard and anal-retentive harpy, was complaining about how much time she spent picking up cigarette butts.
Doc tried to be measured and calm: “Look. When we got here, there weren't any. Now you can see a few in the yard, and-”
Teresa: “A few. Just look at this: I can see one, two three, I can see four, five, there's six, seven, come on eight nine.”
On Monday, that sounded like the rant before the breakdown – I saw The Aviator, so I'm a fully qualified analyst of control-freakish lunatics – but as of today I can look back and wish that wasn't just Teresa being Teresa. Given that we're both staying in the same (distressingly small) house. [Not to break the mood or anything, but I'm writing this on a bus to Dublin. She's sitting two seats away, hopefully not reading this, and listening to really obnoxious rock music on her headphones. She's wearing headphones, so I shouldn't really need to know what she's listening to. Good headphones are like modern plumbing – they absolve everyone around you of the duty to deal with that crap.]
The minute Zoom and I got to the site, we had an assignment from Doc: Wait at the church for him to come back and tell us what to do. The church won't sound all that impressive: It's a hole in the ground, about twelve feet long, eight feet wide, and four feet deep. Two of the walls are built of recognizably architectural whatsits – stones, mortar, and transvestite compinations thereof – and the other two are dirt. It's a little more impressive to realize that two weeks ago, the church wasn't anything at all; the walls were buried, the hole was five days of careful troweling and a couple hours of awe-screwit pickaxing away.
Oh, and it's about six hundred years old. Nobody's quite clear on why this settlement was abandoned, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd guess midges. Midges are tiny, vicious insects – vampire gnats from hell – that feed on the living, the unwary, and the short-sleeved. They like low altitudes and moisture, and say what you want about the romance of a just-excavated ancient religious site; at some level, it's just a muddy hole.
We didn't do anything before tea time. Not that we tried and didn't accomplish anything, but that we spent the entire hour waiting for Doc to remember that he'd told us to wait a minute for instructions. Tea time was very informative, though: I didn't learn much about Irish accents (the normal conception of them is, basically, dead-on), but I learned a lot more about what people say in those accents.
I've always had a penchant for self-censorship, if not in the sentiments I express then at least in the words I choose to express them. Thick accents give me a nice loophole, but I don't want to dwell on on the pungence of the typical Sligo kid's vocabulary. I'll just note that 'feckless' is when they don't have a girlfriend and can't afford a whore. The rest is pretty easy to get used to: “I can't afford me fags” is a comment about the onerous excise tax on cigarettes. “I'm knackered” means “I'm tired,” while “What a knacker” means (here I'll resort to direct quotes) “Like a city-guy who wears a Burberry hat and a Burberry scarf and thinks he's all that.” Make of knacking what you will. Ireland is far too classy to deal with rednecks; out here, they've got bogtrotters.
At half past teatime, Doc showed up: “Have you guys been waiting here all day?”
And he was gone.
So we waited some more. We eventually got a visit from the Chief Sligo-er, Chris. Chris used to be a Canadian interested in archaeology who happened to visit Ireland. One trip later, he was a Canadian running up colossal phone bills talking to his Irish archaeologist girlfriend. Now, ten years after that first trip, he's raising a whole family of little archaeo-darlin's. After a ten-year tug-of-war between his Canadian accent and an Irish tinge, he's settled on a detached, marginally Irish monotone. Though a detached monotone might just be his thing; I've yet to see him get excited about anything we've dug up, caved in, cooked up, or chugged down. “You've been here all day?” he drawled.
And he was gone.
Lunch was a multicultural affair: We had extremely American ham sandwiches, and a selection of authentic Irish crisps, which emulate potato chips the way Cheetos emulate brie. I'm quite sure what's wrong with them, so I'll go with flavor (or, as they insist on calling it, 'flavour', which sounds like some centuries-old concession to the paid-by-the-letter printer's union). The Irish have not been informed that there are certain flavors that are absolutely off-limits, “Chicken-flavoured corn snacks” among them.
Yes: Irish crisps intentionally made to taste like meat. This is simply a travesty. It's like beef jerky slathered in Essence of Cucumber. It's like Cayenne Ice Cream. It's... “Bacon-flavoured crisps,” too. Ugh. They need to be taught natural seasonings, like 'ranch' (which does not exist in Ireland. Jeff's girlfriend mailed him some, for which he's absurdly grateful) or 'nacho cheesier'. We'll show them the meaning of taste, we will.
After lunch, we waited some more. Another Irish archaeologist – an older guy named Mihal. He and Zoom struck up a conversation: “What's up, Mihal?”
“Worst weekend of me life. One beer in three days.”
He looked awful. Poor guy. Zoom introduced me: “Byrne, this is Mihal. Be careful around him, or he'll try to... befriend you.”
“Befriend? Whadda you mean 'befriend'. Do I look like a Boston priest?”
Mihal took a few pictures of the church, and then shambled off to the other excavations. With good reason: They dug up a new skeleton, named Frances (one of the girls found it), Francis (because one of the guys dug it up), Frances (because Fiona examined the pelvis and determined that it was a woman), and, finally, Francis (because we will not give up. Ever.)
France/is was a demanding find, and Doc left us alone for the rest of the day. The Sligo Kids went home, half of the Yankees went back to their house, and the rest of us decoompressed in the cabin. I took a shower.
It's always irksome to Americans when we spend decades perfecting some arcane technology like, say, the Internet, and go from mainframes chatting with mainframes and crashing in mid-sentence, to PCs gabbing with other PCs via 1600-baud modems, to AOL chatrooms on a 56K, all the way to streaming video on DSL. And some other country gets a late start, misses out on the chance to waste all that money on fancy, now-obsolete equipment, and, overnight, makes the rest of us look like Luddites.
I'm proud to note that Europeans did that for us with their bathroom technology: The lightswitch is located outside the bathroom, which is highly convenient if you've suffered from a hankering for low-grade pranks, and otherwise makes no sense. You could chalk that up to first-draft syndrome, and assume that they didn't correct it because everyone was used to it. But there's no way to explain why they haven't fixed the drain system: The bathroom floor is completely level, the shower consists of a showerhead, a curtain, and a drain. No clear delineation, no barrier. Just a gigantic puddle.
Properly cleaned-up, I was ready for the next adventure. Tuesday was the equinox: The longest day and latest sunset of the year. We decided to enjoy it in classic Irish fashion: We went to a tomb.
A bunch of tombs, actually. For a while, the big trend among Irish burial sites was to build a pile of stones, dig a passage underground, and branch that passage out in four directions. Then, they'd drag bodies to the end of each passage, seal it off, and repeat until they ran out of room. Fun! We popped into three or four of them (it's not every day that you can be surrounded by that much Death), and wandered up and down the Irish hills.
They're distinctly multi-purpose. Not only do they cater to overeducated tourists looking for something obscure to brag about, but they host herd after herd of sheep. Sheep aren't as fun as you might suspect if you were inclined to suspect that just about anything can be fun. They aren't friendly, but they aren't actively unfriendly, either. They just seem to treat us as a bit of geography they'd rather avoid; nothing too threatening, but nothing interesting, either.
The Yankees, on the other hand, were fun to watch. This was my first evidence that in a land of bad TV and historical attractions that, after a while, all look about the same, twentysomethings-through-fiftysomethings tend to find solace in alcohol. They're miraculously quick to drink it, too: A gaggle of us got to one tomb, and Anna had a full bottle of wine. Zoom and I got in. By the time Anna made it in behind us, she had 3/4ths of a bottle of wine. Zoom and I left. She crawled out behind us, half-full bottle clutched in her left hand. And, by the time we walked and she staggered to the next burial site, the bottle was empty.
Teresa handled a winebottle in similar fashion, washing it down with a beer or two. Jeff stuck with beer. Tiny Tim (who, at 27, is a bit of an authority figure – especially since he taught Zoom's freshman-year history class) and his girlfriend divided their drinking evenly between beer and wine. Christie took anything she could get. Doc, Zoom, and I abstained.
The ride back was rough: We didn't have much room (our rental van has suffered all sorts of indignities – it's scratched on all sides, the interior is coated in mud, it has another 2000 miles on it, and we're not entirely sure where the left front hubcap is hiding), so Teresa sat on Zoom's lap and Tiny Tim rode in the trunk. All of them react to drinking differently: Anna's voice drops to a stage whisper, and Teresa belts everything out with a nails-on-chalkboard gusto. Meanwhile, Jeff becomes a comedian, and Tiny Tim an obedient audience.
It was a long ride home.
At Jeff's house (which also housed Tim and Carrie, who'd come along for the ride, and Kyle and Beth, the Mystery Couple who hadn't), Jeff convinced Teresa, Anna, and Christie to stay and 'party'. Which left Doc, Zoom, and me in the car. We had a quieter ride home for a little while, and then we got an Idea. Usually, pranks are a zero-sum game: They make one person a little annoyed, and another person a little pleased, in approximately equal proportions. But when one of the parties is drunk, they're less capable of annoyance, which makes pranks a force for the greater good. Doc didn't dispute this. He dropped us off with one last invocation: “Remember, guys. Be creative, not destructive. And good luck.”
Forty minutes later ('partying' was ten minutes of drinking and thirty minutes of walking home), Christie, Tereas, and Anna made it back. Zoom and I were both in our room, reading. Christie marched in, asked us what was up, asked us if we were aware that those tombs were awesome, I mean awesome, and-
-And then Anna came in. “I have a problem,” she stage whispered. “The bed. It's broken.” Not quite. The bed wasn't 'broken', so much as it was 'adjusted'. Christie and Anna each had a bed, and each of those beds had a mattress, and each mattress had about twenty evenly-spaced slats holding it up, as of 10 at night. As of 10:15, each bed had a like number of slats crammed into one end, and, after Anna flopped down to sleep the wine off, a sunken mattress at the other.
“I know why,” she explained. “It's Ikea. Ikea makes these beds, and you've got to put them together, so they fall apart.” I love drunk logic. Christie and Anna fixed up their Ikea, and soon after that we were all asleep.