When I arrived at Fiona's home in a neighborhood of Dublin 8 known as The Tenters — a neighborhood of identical low-slung brick row houses and street names that change from block to block, as though designed to confuse — it was just after 11 am. Her flatmate answered the door.
"You must be Nora!"
She explained that the electricity had just gone out — while Fiona was in the shower, no less — “and so I can’t even offer you tea,” she apologized, really quite put out by it.
Tea! I thought. Tea, of course!
And then: It’s great to be back.
Fiona, she explained, had run off to her gym to finish her shower — for you see the shower runs on electricity, as does the stove and everything else. We waited and made small talk, and as we did, I took in the details, the things I had forgotten: good Irish butter on the table, clothing hanging from the line in the back, an in-your-bones chill that I know from experience won’t let up ‘til spring.
When the repairman arrived, I listened in from the next room.
"My flatmate was after taking a shower," she explained, "after" being Irish slang for … well, not really for anything. It’s just a filler-word; a bit of that trademark musicality, perhaps. Because she really just meant “my flatmate was taking a shower.”
"Ah, showers on Fridays," the electrician replied. "Sure, it happens all the time."
Did I hear that right? I had to laugh. Only in Ireland do showers on Fridays cause mass electrical outages.
Whatever the problem, they fixed it quickly, Fiona came home, and we had our tea.
I had been staring at the array of butters, honeys, and jams on the cheery yellow table.
"This looks so lovely," I said, "though we’d never do it the States. Too afraid of not refrigerating everything."
Fiona laughed and replied, “I’ve always aspired to this, I think.”
"It’s a Protestant thing," she explained (her family is Catholic, although none of them practice now; as I’m sure you know, though, you can never not be the religion you were, not in Ireland).
"I think it comes from the great English country houses. They keep all their fancy jams and mustards out on a side board, and it just seemed the thing to do."
We had a good laugh about that.
Only in Ireland, I thought, for the second time in 20 minutes.
And: it’s great to be back.