The Nicest People I’ve Ever Met
The year was 2009. ’Twas a simpler time, to be sure. I had just graduated, against all odds, from a university in Montréal and was living with my French (France-French, not Québecoise—that’ll become relevant in a moment) girlfriend who, against all odds, would go on to marry me. But that’s the future. This was the past.
A trip to France had been scheduled. A graduation present of sorts but also an initiation. I was to be thrust deep into the bowels of ancient Gaul, where my future in-laws lay in wait, waiting to poison me with Pastis and Chartreuse and magnums of wine, waiting to fatten me with bread and cheese and saucisson at never-ending dinners. But that’s a different, longer story. A novel. This is a prologue. A vignette.
We stopped in Ireland on our way to France. Just for a couple of days, but they were full days. Unforgettable days.
The unforgettableness started with a Dublin hostel canceling our reservation (womp, womp). There was an early, jetlagged morning spent lounging on benches in St Stephen’s Green, watching the city awaken. That was followed by a full Irish breakfast at Bewley’s, makers of the Irish creme coffee my family always serves on St. Patrick’s Day. The Guinness Storehouse was a must, of course. Ditto hitting up the pubs in the Temple Bar district. (We were tourists, after all.) But the real fun came the next morning when we boarded a train to Sligo.
I don’t know what Irish trains look like now, but a decade ago they were gorgeous. At least this one was. It carried us from Ireland’s east coast to its west coast in about three hours. Tea and biscuits were served. A couple across from us spoke Irish for the duration, my first real exposure to the language. Ireland’s hinterlands streamed past the window, blurs of green and yellow. At a tiny countryside train station, flower boxes hung from the weatherboard boasting splashes of red and purple and orange. The soul-warming scent of burning peat crept in the car when passengers alighted.