Michael Harding: The unbearable lightness of looking for garlic in Tallaght
Every time I try to walk to an exit I always end up back where I started
I go from one arts centre to another, and from town to town telling humorous stories about falling in love with strangers and wrestling with demons in solitude. And what I like about touring is that I get to meet a lot of people on the way. From one Centra shop to the next, up and down the country, travelling can be a pure pleasure.
One day I stopped on the big wide street in Gort and parked outside a shop selling wheelbarrows, spades, brushes, shovels, dust bins and bales of turf briquettes. It was such an elegant shop in an early 20th century way that I stood gazing in the window for a long time. Then I went to a bakery across the street, for a mid-morning coffee.
There was a man from Serbia playing a violin on the cold pavement but inside the bakery it was warm and cozy and I had a latte as two Australians consulted maps on their smart phones at another table. They passed me the milk and we began chatting about the music of Kilfenora.
That night I read from my book in Blanchardstown and early the next morning I went walking around the car park at the shopping centre. Young girls were leaning against the glass walls, waiting to get into their stores, name-tags hanging off their hips and a pallor of resignation in their young faces. Mostly it was women that were waiting and young men with big sets of keys that were opening the doors. I walked around in the car park for an hour and my chest began acting up because of the traffic fumes so I went off to a health food shop to find garlic. But the garlic tablets were so expensive that I decided not to buy them.
And the following morning I was in Tallaght still looking for garlic. I sat in a cafe in the gigantic glass pyramid called The Square, on a high stool at the window, eating a bun, next to a young woman who was talking love stories into her phone.
There was a picture of the Mother of God in my wallet, which lay open on the counter between us.
“Where did you get that?” she asked suddenly, as if she had recognised her own mother.
“In Bucharest,” I confessed.
And she told me that her father was a very religious man and that their house was full of icons when she was a child and she looked at the picture with a sort of cheerful nostalgia.
“Perhaps the mother of god will help me get out of this big glass pyramid,” I suggested, “because I’m lost. I can’t find the exit, and I get stressed in large crowds. That’s why I’m sitting in here. Every time I try to walk to an exit I always end up back where I started. And there’s so many shops in here, and escalators, and all I wanted was garlic and a haven’t a clue where to look.”
“What do you want garlic for?” she wondered.
“The chest,” I replied.
“Try ginger,” she suggested. And then like a guardian angel she guided me down the mall towards the open sky.
Going back to my hotel I dropped into a Topaz station to buy a coffee. A fellow from Liverpool was in trouble at the cash desk. His white van outside was full of petrol but his card wouldn’t work at the till when he tried to pay, so he phoned his company in England to sort it out. I could hear the voice on the other end. “For customer service press 1. For sales press 2. For administration and accounts press 4.” He pressed 4 and caught my eye.
“It’s not easy,” I chirped, and he grinned and since I had little to do, we ended up outside on the low wall with two coffees as he waited for the company to phone him back.
“Where are you heading?” I asked.
“Gort,” he said. “Not far from Galway.”
“It certainly is,” I said, “and it has a lovely wide street that would do your heart good just to linger on it and watch the world go by.”
And finally I found ginger in an Asian shop on Blessington Road and when I tried to pay the man behind the counter he waved his hand and said, “It is a small piece. You are welcome to it.” I thanked him, and hopped into my Yeti and headed for home, where I spent the weekend sipping ginger tea in the peaceful hills above Lough Allen.