|Day 4: James and the giant artichoke
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
We ate our breakfast in the kitchen while the Polish excavators prepared their lunches of sausages and bread. They hummed softly, sipped milky tea and smiled shyly at us before saying goodbye. I washed our dishes, then washed the rest of the dirty ones in the sink as a last little courteous gesture towards the workers in the hostel, including Martino, who would have had to do them if no one else did. We attached our panniers to our bikes and wheeled them into the hall after trading addresses and European greeting kisses with Martino.
The ominous mists of the previous day turned into an outright downpour after we set off from Castletownbere, cursing its name. In rapid succession, we discarded the notions of stopping for lunch, photos, or anything other than the occasional gulp of water. I learned what a mistake it is to dismount from the bicycle when it's raining, as it gives the water an opportunity to seep into places to which it hasn't previously had access. We cycled determinedly toward Kenmare, arriving in less than two thirds the time it took us to get from there to Castletownbere the first time. I taught omniana to shout "¡Tu madre!" at cars that passed us two close, which she did with great gusto and two fingers.
Looking like a pair of bedraggled kittens, we wobbled into Kenmare. We checked into the same hostel as before and snagged the same beds. The room was shortly strewn with all our wet gear and we changed into our only surviving dry clothes, sports tops and shorts. omniana went out and bought me some nice flip-flops as my Pumas were soaked through and unlikely to recover. Since it wasn't exactly warm outside, our appearances netted an axtraordinary amount of attention when we went to look for food. We enjoyed hot soup, sandwiches and a bit of sticky toffee pudding, ending with hot chocolate and a very milky latte, which upset our stomachs.
We returned to the hostel for a lie-down. omniana picked up some veggie noodles from the Chinese takeaway. The server struck up a conversation with her, telling her that the restaurants did nearly all their business in summer and that most of the shops were closed for the rest of the year. He seemed to be part of the only Chinese family in town and asked if she'd moved there. "You look Chinese," he said, apparently mystified by her American accent. "That's because I am," she replied.
We decided to try out a bar for a glass of farewell whiskey on our last night in Ireland. We waffled between one that looked like it attracted more tourists and one that looked more like a local before selecting the local, although since we were tourists it seemed a bit silly. We ensconced ourselves in a booth. omniana politely turned down an offer of a glass of Guinness from one man who wanted to explain horse-racing to us, but other than that, the locals didn't harass us.
That is, until James and his giant artichoke showed up. He sidled shyly up to our table in his tweed jacket, placed the legume gently on a beer mat and sat down next to us. omniana leaned forward and asked if it were mature. "Oh yes," he said, and offered for us to taste it. It was very sweet, with a little bit of salt added in contrasting to it. He launched into an explanation of the different types of artichokes. Clearly he was the town eccentric, with a strange breadth of knowledge extending from artichokes to spoken French to written Chinese to mycology, anything he could teach himself from books. We nibbled at the artichoke, drew on beer mats and talked about atmospheric science and ecology. His bright eyes sparkled at us over his sharp pointed nose, which was startlingly unreddened, unlike most of his peers, since he'd found ways to entertain himself other than excessive drink. When we had to leave because I was falling asleep at the table, we were most regretful, but also happy to have met a kindred spirit.
On our way home, we passed a Spanish couple leaving the hostel who greeted us with "¡Hola!"'s. I think they were a bit surprised to hear me respond with "Buenas noches." I know I was. I'm not usually very bold about speaking in different languages. I guess I finally understand how comforting it is to hear someone try to speak a bit of your own language when you're in strange and foreign lands, even if they can't say much more than hello and goodbye.