If yesterday was a day for a walk in the neighborhood, today was a day for a drive to the marketplace. I was a little star-struck in Cork, and did not appreciate the opportunity to investigate the shopping opportunities that existed. I made up for it today, when we took a ride up the highway to the city of Inis, or Ennis, if you prefer the English word.
I was shopping, along with the others, but I was also on a hunt. I didn’t start out that way, but began the minute we attained the shopping lane, after parking Megane (our car) in a big garage, and walking through a Dunnes Department Store and Food Market.
I thought that the two were a funny combination too, but there they were, side by side, under the same roof. I was hunting for words, or combinations of words, that you are unlikely to see back home. It’s not that I didn’t expect to see differences; it’s that the differences are cute, and remind me that the English language is very flexible. Whereas, I try to find a Restroom, an Irishman searches for a Gents. A person in California looks for an auto repair shop, while an Irishman seeks car crash services. One offers a four bedroom Townhouse in mint condition for sale, while another advertises a stunning town Bungalow. Here in Cali, we celebrate a holiday by taking the day off, whereas in Ireland, we go "On Holliday."
I was trying to find a bottle of Paddy’s Irish Whiskey, which is not exported to the United States, and was told that I would find it in an “off-license,” which is a liquor store. I paid 27.99 Euros for it, but no tax. Afterward, I asked Eric about it, and he said, “Excuse me, but you did pay tax.”
“Oh, duh, it was included in the price.”
As we exited the off-license, I saw a book store.
“Annie, check it out. Want to see if David Monagan’s book is available in here?”
She had a good snicker, and then said, “I don’t think so.”
“What? You don’t think they have it, or you don’t want to go in?”
“Both. Unless you’re interested in betting on the rugby game this weekend, I don’t think a bookmaker’s is going to help you.”
“I guess bookmaking and making books are not quite the same thing. And Irish bookies get to have betting shops in the middle of a busy shopping lane here.”
On the way home Annie and Cecilia were talking about how the shoppers in Ennis were not foreigners, so much as they were the locals, Ennis not being the attraction that a bigger place like Cork might be. I had my eyes peeled, and therefore saw the sign that said, “Opticion,” which seemed a funny way to say optometrist. Next door was a SuperMac’s Take-Away Taco and Burger Bar. I’m guessing, because I have seen one in every urban setting we’ve visited, that it’s one of Ireland’s answers to McDonald’s. Yes, the locals eat at McDonald's, also.
I was hoping that we would be spared the embarrassment of seeing that McDonald’s had made its way to Erie, but they were there, along with the signs advertising them. We also saw Burger Kings and Subway Sandwich shops. We managed to restrain ourselves, by settling in at Brogan’s, a restaurant which had a menu out front advertising, among other things, fresh vegetable soup, which caught my eye, I just don’t know why. I have become an expert on the subject, and Brogan’s was top shelf. During the meal, Eric had asked the waiter for a few more packets of ketchup, and he had kindly obliged.
“You know how we Californians are,” Eric commented.
“Oh yes, though I have never been one much for it myself.”
I asked, just to see a reaction, “How about home-made ketchup?”
“Oh, I’ve made ketchup; I’ve just never put it on my chips. No, this is what I like. Take a bit of Philadelphia Cheese, some garlic salt, a splash of oyster sauce, and mix it with the au jus sauce from the meat you are cooking, and oomph,” he said, putting his fingers to his lips, and letting them splay outward, as if by magic. I felt a little humbled, but also enjoyed being schooled by a waiter, who had more than being snooty on his mind. All of the wait-people seem to be into their jobs, and treat us as guests, instead of customers. After all that, Eric decided that the ketchup we started with, was much better than the second batch the server brought out, which had a bit of a fermented tinge to it.
One of the little take-away shops had a sign reading, “Food Hygene: (sic) No Dogs Allowed,” further illustrating that spelling is very arbitrary. So are apostrophes, as indicated by the sticker on a package of coconut sticks that Annie bought, reading “Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, Purveyors of the Finest Confectionery.”
I thought the owners of the Numero Uno Pizza Shop were telling it like it is, but if you stood out in front of it, you were bound to get dripped on by one of the hanging pots of flowers. You also had to be careful not to step down off the curb, right into a “Pick up and Set Down Only” lane, right alongside the sign advertising Curley’s Furniture, showing a grinning, bald-headed man.
We passed the Lunch Box, a little outdoors cafe, which had no takers today, as a result of the fierce winds we encountered every place we went. The paper had informed us yesterday, that we could expect hurricane-force winds today, in excess of 100 kilometers per hour. Since it has been windy since the day we arrived, we yawned, and said, “Whatever.”
Walking out of the parking garage in Ennis though, the wind came around the side, and swept us off the curb. It wasn’t so much unexpected, as it was forceful. What I was saying the other day, about being careful while walking along the side of the roads, now came into play.
The traffic was not fast, and the lanes were built to accommodate the fact that this was some serious shopping zonage, so drivers tended to slow, slightly.
We rounded one corner, and were about to cross the street, when it became obvious there was a scene going on right across from us, less than fifteen paces away. My first inkling, was looking up from the curb, and locking eyes with a dude across the street, who was staring at me like he wanted to kill me. It didn’t help that he was in the process of locking and loading his sub-machine gun, a weapon that was similar in appearance to the M-16, except it was polished to a brilliant shine, and that it was being used to discourage pedestrians from approaching.
That was fine with me, because I had just noticed a sign that looked friendlier, and that was Hillbilly’s Fried Chicken Express. Why did he have a machine gun, in the middle of downtown Ennis? He was one of five, similarly adorned soldiers, dressed in fatigues, and absolutely primed to guard the armored car, that they had just disembarked from.
“Take a picture, Mark. This is something we sure don’t see in California.”
“No, thank-you. I think I’ll not, and say I did. That guy staring at me, looks like he’d like to rip my mustache out by the roots. Either that, or he has to use the Gents real bad.” I actually thought he might belong in that poster I had seen a few minutes earlier, by the big statue of Daniel O’Connell, a Clare Member of Parliament, back in the day. The sign had been advertising Irish Rugby, by depicting several players, dressed in green, and labeled “Forces of Nature.” This guy looked like he could provide a little force in nature, if the need arose. If I could have asked him one question, it would have been to find out if he was related to Father Aidan, my ninth grade language arts teacher, a man who managed to convey a similar feeling of fear and power, with a single look. His image still scares me to this day, and I heard he went to his eternal reward twenty years ago.
Even though we saw few foreigners along this road, mirrors being scarce, I did hear what I feared was a typical exchange between an American woman, and a shop keeper, who did his best to keep his face composed.
“I’m looking for something that should be everywhere, but no one seems to have it in stock. I’m looking for that little leprechaun who sits at the base of a rainbow.” She looked expectantly at him, as he tried to assimilate the request. The leprechaun at the base of a rainbow. Of course. That leprechaun.
“Ah, Madame, alas. We also have been unable to keep them in stock. Possibly at the Irish Shop?” As I looked around, I saw Waterford Crystal, ornate wood carvings and pewter wall hangings of Destiny Knots and other Celtic symbols, so prevalent in the better shops. I thought he did pretty well to have dignified the request with a response, but it may be the norm, for all I know, when it comes to American visitors. That clerk was probably thinking of the lunchbox, in the window of the Darma Logica Shop, which featured crafts and gifts. The lunchbox read, “Cheeky Monkeys,” whatever they are.
For all I know, a cheeky monkey could be the term given the little guy, with the sucker in his mouth, who was traveling with a group of his compadres after school. The little guy had a hurly stick in his hand, and he was bouncing a small rubber ball off the wall, so it landed amongst his friends, but avoided hitting any of them. He was pretty good. He caused a few yelps, but no one seemed to get nailed.
The students streamed by, having just been let free of school. They were traipsing along on the sidewalk, in front of Dunnes (where’s the apostrophe?), and as are all Irish school kids through the twelfth grade, these kids were in uniform. We saw ties being worn by all of the primary grade girls, who were dressed in pleated gray skirts, pink blouses, and gray men’s ties. It was a pretty combination, and all of the ties appeared to be neatly in place, even as the girls danced along, touching the top of each and every concrete tassel, which embellished the low stone wall, along the busy thoroughfare.
Having been set free myself, to roam the streets in search of a good word, I’ll leave you with this: Talty went into Fanny O’Dea’s Pub, looking for the proprietor of Custy’s Patisserie, but found instead that the “Moody Cow” had joined forces with A-bra-ca-ba-bra, (kebobs shop) and they were heading to M. F. Casey’s Paper and Polythene Merchants for some Top Stop action. I’m going, too. How ‘bout you?