With wedding cake cleaned off the fork
People ask, ” So, where’s the stork?”
But as time unravels
We’ll enjoy our travels
Onward to the city of Cork!
On Saturday, we took a train ride two hours south of Limerick to Cork, the second largest city in Ireland after Dublin. According to the gentleman at the Limerick Junction, we picked the wrong weekend to go; one of the most significant rugby games was in Limerick and most people were traveling that direction. Well that’s Joe and I for you, going against the current again. Between drags on his fag and friendly jabs at us for not staying in Limerick to see the big game, this Cork-native recommended areas to see and wished us a nice visit.
Arriving at the Cork station, I pull out my hand-drawn map of how to get to the B&B we’d booked. I wonder if Joe would survive without my planning-ahead-ness? Yes of course he would, he’d just stop and ask the first person he saw and get directions. Which happened because my map was a little off… After walking up a small incline, described on Trip Advisor as a steep hill, we arrived at Gabriel House. Funny how one’s perspective from horizontal-Ireland can be so different than one from steep-hilled-Seattle. Our room was on the top floor. Now that was steep, with no elevator and sore muscles from last week’s Zumba class. Would have been helpful information, Trip Advisor, where were ya on that one? I let Joe rest for a minute since the UL holiday party was the night before. Downstairs, I spotted a comfy seat near a big french window in the empty dining hall, a beautiful room that reminded me of something out of the Nutcracker. I poured myself a cup of tea, plopped a fresh home-made ginger cookie on a dish, and took a seat. Time to relax.
Looking out the window, Christmas lights draped along the city’s streets, the River Lee below separating the town in half, the busyness of this “big” city was noticeable compared to Limerick. Ireland’s local Christmas station was playing holiday tunes, and within two minutes I was singing aloud “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fiiiiire is sooooo delightful…” The scent of pine needles from the Christmas tree on display filled the room, along with freshly baked ginger cookies. Sore muscles began to feel like putty melting into that velvet chair.
A few weeks ago, as Joe and I were chilling out one evening, he started to talk about ‘moments’. He said that he doesn’t want the experiences we have in our lifetime, to simply pass him by. That time goes by so fast and he doesn’t want to all of a sudden, one day, be an old man who’s life had just happened to him. He referred to ‘moments’ as the events in our life, big or small, that make us who we are. Like sitting on a couch together in Ireland. Or dancing at our wedding. And that he wants to catch those moments and hold onto them forever. Anyway, sitting in that velvet chair, looking out on the River Lee, snacking on my ginger cookie and tapping my toes to Christmas carols-was a moment. Just as I was about to belt out verse two, “In the meadow we can build a snowman…”, Joe walked in ready to head out on the town.
We followed my map over Bridge Street through the downtown shopping area, and into the Christmas Market: fresh roasted potatoes, mulled wine, crepes, jewelry, scarves, paintings, roasted chestnuts, kebabs, chocolates, Nativity scenes, a choir, a carousel, a decorated Christmas tree and a display of Santa and his elves. I purchased an ornament that had some funny-looking leaping sheep painted on it, to remember our first Christmas together in Ireland. Wouldn’t want to forget that moment! Strolling along, we heard lively music pouring out of a pub and decided to check it out. Three men with their fiddles, guitars, and whatever else Irish musicians use, sat around a pint-covered table in the corner of the bar. Next to them, one more stood on a small slab of wood, dancing his heart out, creating rhythm with his fiberglass-toed shoes. The place was packed; probably because that rugby game we were missing was playing on the big screen. We ordered our beer and found seats amidst the garland, twinkle lights, Christmas sweaters and Santa hats.
Rugby. Those guys are nuts. It’s really NFL without all the padding. But then again, from the looks of them, the players don’t even need it. I don’t know how to describe them in words without standing up and flexing like a muscle man-that’s what they look like. I don’t even remember who won the game, but probably Munster (the region that includes Limerick) because they are apparently the best. If you want to know for sure, ask Joe. I was too busy taking artistic photos of my beer.
Jordan, a friend whom Joe had met in Limerick before I arrived, came out to meet up with us. This kind-hearted and generous man, originally from Nigeria, lives and works in Cork now but previously studied at UL. He took us to dinner at the Newport Late Bar/Cafe where we had some great conversation, and really good honey mustard chicken, crisps (fries), and wine. We ended up dancing the night away to Shakira, Sugarhill Gang, and Bob Marley at Bodega. As I was sipping on my new favorite drink, Jameson, ginger & lime, and putting Zumba moves to good use in the middle of the garland-clad night club, I leaned over to my husband and reminded him that this was a moment. He smiled. Another moment.
Sunday breakfast in the Nutcracker Suite included a fruit and pastry buffet, tea, fresh milk and orange juice, and choice of a meal. I ordered poached eggs (straight from the hens in the backyard) with beans, tomatoes, and toast. Joe had a full Irish breakfast: bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding and toast. We checked out of the Gabriel House and walked down the daunting hill towards St. Patrick’s church. I really was not in the mood to sit in church and told Joe I’d only go for ten minutes. But we ended up staying; sometimes the toughest part of doing something which you know is actually good for you (exercising, praying, cleaning the shower), is getting off your arse and starting it! Somehow it becomes enjoyable after the first five seconds. Except for cleaning the shower, that’s just unpleasant the entire time. Interestingly, one of the readings at church was also read at our wedding. “Wherever you go I shall go. Your people shall be my people.” Good thing we stayed; I like that reading. Moment? Yeah, I think so.
Downtown, we met Jordan again and he drove us around Cork’s neighborhoods. He showed us where he lives, where he works, where the mall is, where the posh area is… Gazing out the backseat window as we cruised along the left side of the road, I felt proud to have roots here in Ireland. It made me wonder: My great great grandmother, Bridget Keeley-where did she live? Is the house still standing? Did we just drive by it?! Where did she get her groceries? What was her favorite pub? It feels good to be in this place where my ancestors came from, like things just make sense, I belong. I am comfortable here. I doubt I am the only American mutt who at times longs to know their roots or to be a part of a culture. My husband has a strong connection with his cultural roots in Botswana. Even though he’s now a US citizen…living in Ireland…those experiences-the songs, dances, ceremonies, rituals, cooking, stories, routines, traditions that he experienced in his childhood-will live in him forever. Being in Ireland and having travelled to Germany and Austria a few years back, I feel a connection to my roots in a mystical sort of way. It’s as if generations past are wrapping their arms around me, feeding me satisfying food, and making me laugh.
On the flip side, I certainly appreciate the open-mindedness and cultural diversity that growing up in the US has provided; it makes life interesting and teaches acceptance. I think that many American families might just create their own culture, a sense of belonging, in some unique way. My parents have definitely done that for my brothers, sisters and me. A prime example of this is Easter. For most families, you get together on Easter, go to church, eat a ham and drink mimosas, and you hide little plastic eggs filled with candy around the backyard and watch all the little ones go on their egg-hunt. Well, not in our family. Little ones, step aside. Years ago, Mom and Dad inaugurated the Hanson Family Easter Egg Hunt for adults only, where they’d hard boil and dye who knows how many eggs, and write various numbers 1, 2, 5, 10 on them with a Sharpie. Here’s the important part: those numbers stand for dollars. And at the end, when all of the eggs are found (hopefully, one year the yard stunk pretty bad that summer), you add up your eggs and cash ‘em in with Dad. You’re probably thinking, “Oh what a fun idea!” Yeah, well this is not just some amusing game. This is serious. If you don’t bring your Nike’s, you can forget it. My sister Gina once dove into a wood pile eight months pregnant to get the $20 egg. Paul walks around calmly pretending like he’s not finding anything, but he’s actually getting all the good ones, like in the exhaust pipe of Mom’s car. Marylee is the most aggressive. I think she really scared Joe at his first Hunt last year, throwing elbows and yelling like only Marylee can do. Kelly lets out a unique sound upon finding an egg, similar to the sound a hen would make as she lays one. Sheila went International for a while and is on sabbatical now in California. Mark is the laid back hunter who would never harm another human just to get an egg. I usually try to bribe my nieces and nephews to give me clues about where the eggs are, like Gina used to do with me when I was too little to be in The Hunt. I even offer them a share in the profit. Every Spring, I add the line “Egg Hunt” into my April budget. See? It’s serious business. But now, all my 26 nieces and nephews are growing up into adulthood which means they get to compete. This is a problem because they’re on varsity sports teams and academic honor roll- meaning they’re getting faster and wiser. So Dad created three different heats: Us, Them, and now there’s a plastic egg hunt for any little ones around (I think he’s getting more lenient with age). This tradition holds many fond memories, such as years ago when Mom caught Paul in the kitchen writing zero’s after the numbers on each egg with the Sharpie. I am really going to miss it this year. Financially. And I’ll miss that moment when I glance over at Dad, as he is tallying the eggs on his engineering graph paper. Laugh if you want; it’s part of our culture.
Suddenly we had arrived in Blarney to see the castle and “kiss the rock.” It’s is a teeny tiny town just outside Cork, where mainly tourists go to climb atop the famous castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. This is supposed to grant you the gift of gab, or some say the gift of eloquence. Well I obviously have all that already so I passed. But since Joe is going for his PhD, he thought it wouldn’t hurt. Jordan and I watched and took pictures as he leaned back against the stone and gave it a smooch. The climb down was much easier. We passed through the ripened stone kitchen, and I wondered how the chef carried dinner down that steep winding staircase without spilling it all? The trail walk looping around the castle was quiet, and serene. We drove back to Cork, walked around a mall for a while, and made it to the train station in time to catch the last ride back to Limerick. I ate clementine oranges, and edited photos the whole way back. It was a lovely, moment-filled weekend.