Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In A Strange But Happy Land

In the interest of not falling farther behind, I’m going to write about this weekend before working on the backlog of updates from the past month. Apologies to the chronologically anal—I do feel your pain.

I believe I’ve already mentioned the awesomeness that is the UCC Medieval and Renaissance Society, so if you missed it, go back to around the end of September to catch up. I missed a few weekly meetings/training sessions after that first one, but I think I’ve managed to go about half the time and it’s always a good evening. The spear and I are not a very good team, but I am uncoordinated, slow to process visual cues, and pretty damn small, so I don’t think anybody should be very surprised about that, myself included. It bugs me, but no one makes a fuss about it. I know that sometimes the guys with a couple of years of experience go easy on me during training to sort of let me [try in vain to] figure things out, but there is no such mercy when we play games, so I don’t feel like an object of pity.

This past weekend, the society booked out a hostel in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, County Tipperary and nine of us spent the weekend holed up in the woods with an experienced reenactor who worked with us on spear and then on dagger. The experienced also got some sword and shield training time, and those of us who are beginners got a few minutes of very basic sword instruction, too.

I was absurdly excited for daggers, partly because it’s cooler than spear fighting and partly because I had a suspicion/hope that dagger might go better for me because it’s considerably less unwieldy than a spear. I’m not sure I’m any better at it, but it was really fun. I definitely felt like my size was somewhat less of a disadvantage—I can at least name both pros and cons to being small and using a dagger. Using a spear… mostly cons. Using both was just problematic: If the dagger is in your belt, it’s hard to get to it fast enough while you’re still learning how to react to things, but keeping it my hand like everyone else was even worse. I could probably do it with my own dagger back home, but we were using big clunky wooden practice daggers that had handles as big around as the spears, and I could barely get my hand around both at the same time, let alone find a good enough grip to handle the spear effectively.

I do think one of the biggest things I took away from this weekend is that I just wasn’t made for hand-to-hand combat. I could have the best reflexes in the world and fantastic hand-eye coordination and I’d still be 5’1” and not strong enough to get out of a contest of force. Or, alternatively, I could be tall and muscular and still be slow and clumsy. There are just too many things to fix that are out of my control.

I am very much looking forward to archery this weekend. I really like archery, and I think it’s partly because I’m not at the same automatic disadvantage.

It was pointed out to me a couple of times that being closer to the ground does have its advantages. And that if I ever do get to be pretty good at something, I'll have the element of surprise in that my opponent won't expect it of me.*

Anyway, it was a lot of fun even if I kind of suck. And the place we were staying was completely awesome. When I said it was the middle of nowhere, I was absolutely not exaggerating. There’s a sign at the place where you turn off the main road, and then a long, narrow, bumpy road through the woods to the actual hostel. It felt like it took half an hour. So when I say we were out in the woods, I mean it. Utterly surrounded by trees, no signs of civilization. There are deer nearby, and a random lone chicken in the yard.** The owners of the hostel do not stay there, nor is there any staff; they live somewhere else on the property and come up in the late afternoon to light the fires, and if you need anything else you have to call them. Yes, I did say “light the fires”—I think supposedly there is some sort of heating, but I never noticed it. It was quite cold. We stayed near the coal stove in the dining room or the fireplace in the sitting room whenever we weren’t in the kitchen. There is no electricity to speak of; there are lights in the rooms but they run on batteries. The ovens and stoves are all gas, and the refrigerators are somehow also powered by gas, which I’ve never even heard of being done before.

When we went to bed the first night, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. The four girls (two Irish, one German, and me) shared a room, and the Irish girls (or rather, their disembodied voices in the dark) were gushing about the darkness and how they’ve been in the city too long. And I was like, well… I grew up in the city. I was amazed at how many stars there are when I moved to a small rural town for college. I don’t think I experienced total darkness until I was an adult, and frankly I still don’t like it very much. I like to leave my window shades cracked to let in light from the street. I don’t think I minded the dark that much in the jungle, but the jungle is never silent in the same way as the Irish countryside.

Speaking of stars, there was a clear enough sky on Saturday night that we could see them. And oh my. I saw constellations I’ve never even seen in Ohio.

Anyhow, it was remote and rustic and altogether a perfect setting for us. We all loved it. I think they are going to try to go back to the same place for training weekend next year.

We stopped at a discount grocery store on the way up to the hostel and all chipped in and agreed on what food to buy for the weekend. We were able to eat A LOT quite cheaply, and it was really really nice to cook real meals with other people. It was a little like being in a co-op. Or like living with Meredith and Thalia and Matt, whom I already missed before being reminded of how much I love “family” meals.

On Sunday, two of the other girls and I had planned to get up early and go explore the woods before training, but after a marathon zombie board game the night before that kept everyone involved and two of us who were invested in watching up until two, everyone overslept and there wasn’t even going to be as much time for training as we’d hoped. We ended up skipping training and going exploring anyway. It was very pretty—it was a cold, grey, classic-November morning and the woods are mostly pine forest where everything is covered in moss and you can totally understand how Ireland came to be the land of fairies. I am not a fan of autumn or winter in their own right, but I do love the woods this time of year.

It still catches me off guard that it’s ok here to wander off the road or the path and just dive right into the woods. But… there are no snakes. No bears. No large carnivores, or large animals at all other than deer. Ireland’s great outdoors is so very safe. All you have to do is watch you don’t stray into the Otherworld. ☺

We found a deer skeleton. Smooth white bones, totally clean, half buried in a bed of pine needles. I didn’t want to move it or try too hard to dig out what I couldn’t see, but everything I could see was roughly where it should have been. I don’t think it had been moved or dismantled at all. I pointed out what the different bones were to the other two. It was seriously cool. Totally made missing out on more spear time worth it for me.

Sunday afternoon before coming back to Cork, we visited nearby Cahir Castle, which is very large and was expanded and remodeled a lot over the centuries. It’s apparently one of the best preserved castles in Ireland, and was very different from most of the others I’ve seen in terms of layout and design (presumably because it was occupied for something like 600 years, which is ridiculous, and changed so much over that time). So that was cool. And a really fun thing to do with people with whom you spend a lot of time playing with medieval weaponry.

Something else that’s a fun thing to do with those people is watch the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven (which it turns out is exponentially better/more interesting/more cohesive that the cinema version that so disappointed me when it was first released), which is what I did last night instead of going to my history class. Hey, I think I’m allowed to absent myself one time—and it was even historical.

On a somewhat irrelevant note, I utterly failed to come up with a really good song-line title for this post, which kind of puzzles and irritates me. Why do I not know any songs about battles and castles and green Irish woods?

* He meant well. But it’s probably fortunate I am not easily insulted about stuff like this.
** We discovered this on Saturday morning, and he became a sort of mascot. At least I think it was a he, based on the impressive spurs. It had no tail or comb to speak of and I never heard it crow, but one look at its feet and I was not much inclined to try to catch it. Spurs or no spurs, we never did figure out how it avoids getting eaten in the night.

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