Yesterday was our first proper program day and we kept the students good and busy. The difference in everyone’s appearance and demeanor from arrival day Friday to breakfast on Saturday is enormous. There’s nothing like some good sleep and a shower to convince you that Ireland might not be such a bad idea after all, although I do think a few students were very disappointed that we weren’t letting them sleep in. Breakfast at 8:15, onto the buses at 9:15 to start learning about Waterford.
We visited the Medieval Museum that houses historical items from or about Waterford. This museum is a great introduction to the city because it immediately plunges everyone into a much longer historical perspective than most of them are used to. Viking arrowheads and brooches; medieval manuscripts; and a complete set of pre-Reformation priests’ vestments are among this museum’s offerings, and it is situated along a portion of the old medieval city wall. At the last minute I learned that we were not getting a guided tour and panicked slightly when Jonathan asked me if I could take the students through the museum. We did end up with a guide but I warmed a bit to my impromptu role when, en route to the museum entrance, we got to walk through an archway in the city wall with a murder hole above it. I had all the students stop on the steps above the archway while I explained what it was. “This is where they could pour BOILING OIL on people who were trying to get through the wall!” Sometimes I do enjoy my work.
Here I must acknowledge that my day as Impromptu Tour Guide/Student Group Wrangler was interrupted by a bit of program director work that took me away for about an hour. While I was on that assignment, the students took Jack Burtchaell‘s walking tour of the city centre. He is an excellent tour guide and a charismatic character; you should take his tour if you have a chance.
I rejoined the group at Waterford Crystal. I’ve done the Waterford Crystal tour before, but it was worth seeing again. Until the early 2000s, Waterford Crystal was the major employer in Co. Waterford. Its factory in Dungarvan closed in 2005 and the Waterford City factory, a stone’s throw from WIT, closed in 2009. Most Waterford crystal is now produced in eastern Europe. The company maintains a high standard of craftsmanship on an apprenticeship model. Today it’s pretty easy to find former Waterford Crystal employees, mostly men in their 60s, bringing the same sense of pride and precision to some other job that they did to their work at the crystal factory. I have to say it makes me a bit sad. It’s always hard when a town loses its major employer–Macon knows that as well as anyone–but to lose one’s chance to do highly skilled and specialized work that one trained years for must be even more difficult. And yet we don’t see much bitterness (not to say it isn’t there). The gentleman who led our tour was a former cutter in the factory and it was easy to see how much he still valued the company’s reputation and its place in the world. The Waterford Crystal showroom still does a certain amount of production and still employs a much smaller number of blowers, inspectors, cutters, and engravers. This time I saw a young woman working as a cutter, which was heartening. Women are few and far between in the Waterford Crystal world.
From Waterford Crystal we went out to Tramore to eat a late lunch–fish and chips is the Tramore classic choice–and relax at the seaside. It was too chilly for Georgia types to go near the water though we did see some Irish kids wading and some surfers out in wetsuits (despite the red flag flying at the beach to advise against swimming/surfing). Tramore is really beautiful. Not chic and expensive and tropical like Miami Beach; not crowded with people in tiny swimsuits like the beaches in Rio. It’s varied and approachable and encourages doing nothing: get your meal to take away and sit on the wall overlooking the beach while you eat it. Listen to the ocean. Watch people walking on the sand. Just keep an eye on the birds. They are cheeky and will get right up in your business!
All in all a very good first day. Some of the students went out last night; after a busy day and a late lunch in Tramore (comprising chips* and a “veggie burger” that turned out to be a potato patty with corn and peas in it**) I opted to stay in and introduce my student assistant to pasta cacio e pepe. This morning, she and I both slept fairly late; I went downtown to fix a problem with a faculty member’s cell phone and then spent some quality time milling around and finding things to eat.
No. 9 is a casual restaurant/cafe in Waterford city centre, upstairs from the much-beloved Carter’s Chocolate Shop. This is their hummus platter: homemade hummus, breadsticks, olives, grilled red peppers, salad, and tomato relish. I recommend it.
And so (later tonight) to bed. Classes start tomorrow.
*Chips = French fries. Potato chips = crisps. You get used to it. I’ve also started saying “toilet roll” for toilet paper because it’s just more fun to say.
** This outcome was my fault for ordering such a thing in the first place. Ireland is really great for vegetarians . . . right up to a certain point. I found that certain point.