Hilary Fannin: The Spaniard who came to Ireland looking for rain

The sweet Spanish woman I met on the flight home was looking forward to seeing the Giant Goose Way

The Giant Goose Way

The Giant Goose Way

 

Top of the morning to ye on this emerald-green weekend. May the road rise up to meet you, may your dewy eyes keep smiling and your craggy feet keep dancing at the grid-locked crossroads. May your scarlet petticoats billow to the thrilling music of a blind fiddler and the hiccuping bray of his companionable goat.

And when that stony road runs out, mate, when those dancing feet still, when the fiddler drops his hawthorn bow, may each and every one of you be in heaven half an hour before the divil knows you’re dead.

I do hope your Paddy’s Day went swimmingly. I hope you didn’t pierce your tender breast with your safety-pinned shamrock. I hope you got to throw a sullen glance over the mottled thighs of a Cincinnati majorette or two.

I assume that the promised pageantry of imagination lived up to its billing, although I would hazard a guess that it rained on at least one of your parades.

“What’s a drop of rain on St Patrick’s Day,” I hear you lilt, “only tears of joy spilling from the gimlet eye of the angels and saints, beaming down on our sainted isle.”

Paddy’s Day is unimaginable to me without bitter wind, the lash of ice-cold rain, and pockmark bruising from bursts of hailstones. Our national psyche is hewn from the blue-lipped, goosebump years spent staring at the back of somebody else’s speckled raincoat while an unseen parade passes down O’Connell Street.

Not everywhere can boast such cloudburst fecundity.“Ve hab nothing rain since one year maybe,” said a sweet Spanish woman to me as we prepared to disembark on a packed flight from Barcelona recently.

Outside the cabin windows, to her excited delight and my dull dismay, rain fell in rivulets, puffing and swirling on the tarmac.

“Pardon?” I asked as the downpour played a drum solo on the aircraft roof.

“Ve hab no rain in my region. Nothing rain. First time wearing for one big year,” she beamed, showing me her pristine raincoat with its unsullied hood.

“I practise my English,” she said, smiling. “My language class, all we go Belfast now, walking Giant Goose Way.”

“Causeway?”

“Yes, Goose Way.”

“That sounds lovely,” I said, lying through my heartbreakingly expensive fillings. “I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful trip.”

“No, trip very dangerous on Goose Way. But Ireland very, very beautiful.”

“And wet,” I said. “Very very wet.”

The seedier side

The night before, walking through El Raval, on the seedier side of Barcelona’s La Rambla, I had stumbled (metaphorically) on a tapas bar where customers sat at the counter, watching chefs with tattoos, spacers and tongue studs build miniature wigwams out of battered anchovies, fling pink gambas into oily pans sizzling with garlic, soak aubergine chunks in honey, drizzle gin along a silver knife into willing glasses. We took our places at the bar.

I spent most of our three days in the city in a fever of gratitude, for the sun, for the snaking alleyways, for the Mirós on the gallery walls and for the way the light fell on the stained-glass windows of the Sagrada Família, illuminating the tomb-cool interior like a Christmas tree.

At the tapas bar, an American couple pulled up the stools next to us. She was blond, Floridian; he was Texan, youngish, confident, spoke perfect Spanish. We fell into conversation over the aubergine (“eggplant” in his neck of the sunny woods), and that conversation ran perfectly smoothly. He told me that they and their children were on sabbatical, spending a year in Barcelona, imbibing the culture.

There followed a bit of harmless chat over the chorizo sausage and then, somehow, the talk turned to politics. The Texan said that Donald Trump had been painted in a very bad light by the so-called liberal media, and I said, “Well, the shagger is holding the brush himself”, and while the eggplant sweetened, the conversation soured, and presently we paid our bill.

As we were preparing to leave, the Texan told me that he was a successful businessman, a very successful businessman, and that successful men liked other successful men, men who knew the value of money and weren’t going to give their hard-earned cash away to people who had never worked a day in their damn lives.

Later, wandering the dry, dark streets, we found another bar, with a window seat. We looked out at young lovers and old lovers, joyful under the medieval gargoyles, the blue-black sky.

“Will you be in Ireland for St Patrick’s Day?” I asked the lovely woman on the flight home.

“No, one week only,” she replied. “One week only of beautiful rain.”

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