Galway was our main destination, the city
where we would linger, so sightseeing in Dublin had been marked by speed.
Since the moment we boarded the plane Mom had become infatuated with
the brogue, so much so that it crept into her own words. And when she
spoke, the brogue surprised her by retrieving stray fragments of sentences
she had heard seventy years ago in the streets of Newark, New Jersey.
The language spoken in Dublin was the music of her childhood, and she
wanted to speak it herself. Speak she did, relating the history of the
potato famine, complete with the robust and well-delineated details
of how blight drove her family away from Ireland to the edification
of waiters, waitresses, clerks, tour guides, bus drivers or whatever
fortunate soul happened to be next to her.
Her brogue reached its true glory, though,
when we were in Dublin's pubs. Mom, her brogue and I became pub crawlers.
We went to pubs run by the O's: O'Reilly, O'Shea, O'Garrity. We went
to the pubs run by the Mc's: McSweeney, McGowan and McCarthy. We went
to the pubs of the Blacks: Black Horse, Raven and Forge, and then the
pubs of the Jack's: Jack Doyle, Ryan and O'Rourke. At first I was startled
that Mom, a teetotaler with an expressed interest in discovering the
food of her youth, wanted to eat in a pub for lunch, for dinner, and
to find a "spot o' tay." Though she didn't say it, I knew
she hoped to find a gold and silver cake, a simple cake that her mother
made for birthdays and celebrations. Mom had continued that tradition
and the cake was deep in my memory, too.
No gold and silver appeared, however. We
ate one pub sandwich after another, usually a sorry excuse for food,
merely two pieces of white bread steadying a thick slab of cheese, or,
for variety, a thick slab of ham. Each encased slab gave Mom the opportunity
to tell another patient Dubliner the history of his own country. The
garrulous Irish fell silent, listened, then grew talkative themselves,
speaking with the lyricism so deeply ingrained in them that it seemed
We toured the Dublin landmarks, my personal
favorites being the literary landmarks which gave me the opportunity
to test my mother's love by quoting endlessly from Irish writers, even
including snatches of Molly Bloom's monologue. Somewhere in in the middle
of Joyce, Shaw or Wilde, a memory of my own rose unbidden. I thought
of a long-lost notebook, one that had been my journal when I was just
a young acting student. Though only an inexpensive notebook, I felt
it contained my very soul. In it, I had recorded acting notes and the
foods I ate in the best New York restaurants, tangling food and theater.
The vegetarian Shaw had been linked with salads, while flamboyant Wilde
had been associated with elaborate desserts. When I remembered the notebook,
I told Mom, "No more pub sandwiches. It's time to eat."
We had already been eating the typical Irish
breakfast, a hearty plate of eggs with those yolks as bright as the
sun, bacon, sausage and the surprise of a grilled tomato. Haunting the
pubs, however, we hadn't really dined. Though Dublin offered international
cooking, we knew we could find experiments in fusion cooking in polyglot
New York, and decided to bypass adventure in favor of the traditional.
We even put qualifications on the traditional. We would eat sparingly
of stews, scones and soda breads, for we were in search of one thing
only: the spud.
In the travel about Dublin, we
ate Dublin Coddle, a dish made with potato, sausage and bacon cooked
in cider. At the next meal we ordered potato farls, fried bits of dough
made from mashed potatoes and flour. Then we ate haggerty, made from
potato, cheese and bacon. We ate potatoes greedily, for in every gluttonous
mouthful we were ingesting history, chewing on the essence of heritage.
When we looked down at our plates, my mother's family smiled up at us,
and when they smiled, my mother abandoned the history of Ireland, and
spoke of her mother, and her family. "Did I ever tell you . . .
" she'd begin, and when she spoke she'd reach her hand to her neck
as if she were smoothing a high collar blouse. Her hand would run down
her neck until it found the pearls, but instead of spinning them, she'd
stroke them. "Did I ever tell you . . . " "Maybe, but
I forgot. Why don't you tell me again."
Though we were beginning to feel sated with
potatoes, we continued, finally ordering colcannon, a simple dish of
mashed potatoes with minced greens. Keeping her eyes on her plate, letting
her fork rest on the side, the corners of Mom's mouth lifted into a
wisp of a smile. I thought she would say soemthing about Ireland, but
she was no longer traveling - she washome. "My father always said
thank you at the end of the meal. Most of the time he'd stand up, look
around the table and say 'it's magic yer mither does in the kitchen.'
Then he'd carry his plate to the kitchen and we would follow with ours.
But sometimes he'd look around at everyone and say 'clean as a whistle,
their plates, and them not knowin' about the great hunger.' Then he'd
tell us to be grateful to the Almighty for food and for a good woman
to cook it."
The humble spud. It knew all, revealed all,
especially when free of blight. But we were getting tired of potatoes
and the guidebook promised that Galway was synonymous with salmon. We'd
eat wild salmon at every meal. Promising to return, promising to continue
to travel, we left Dublin.
WITH US TO GALWAY...