“A good friend is like a four leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.” Irish proverb
I do feel very lucky to have good friends to call my own here in Dublin and at home. And one day last week I heard from my dear friend Victoria in London who messaged to tell me that she wanted to come to visit me for the weekend. I was so happy because even though we’ve kept in touch, we haven’t seen each other in ten years. We became fast friends many years ago when we met at a wine tasting and cooking class in Florence, Italy. (I still remember vividly dropping the egg yolk into the well that we made in the flour that would soon become pasta.) Victoria was everything you could ask for in a friend – kind, cheerful, thoughtful. She had the most beautiful speaking voice. We shared so many fantastic road trips and train trips through Tuscany and Cinque Terra and the Amalfi coast. But my most favorite times were the ones we spent in Monterosso al Mare, one of the villages in Cinque Terre that is cut into the side of a mountain.
This will be Victoria’s first visit to Dublin, and I’m so excited to be able to show her around. She takes a short Ryan Air flight and then takes the Citilink bus that drops her off right in front of Christ’s Church, just a few feet from my apartment. She sits in the clear winter sun for a while before I come to collect her. She looks the same even after all these years, and within seconds it’s as if the time in between has melted away. We don’t know it now, but those moments in the sun will be the last for her entire trip. The rest of the day turns cloudy and bitterly cold. We decide to head over to Chez Max for French onion soup. It arrives sans onions. When we mention this to the owner, she says,” Keep looking.” We’re shocked, but then we just laugh and continue to talk without a pause. Because we just had onion broth, we’re still hungry, so we carry on to my most reliable spot – Lemon – for the gorgeous strawberry crepe with ice cream.
It doesn’t disappoint. Next, we’re off to The Bank to meet up with Helen and the rest of the members of the international book club to have a chat before seeing Big Maggie, the play that we’ve chosen for this month’s read. Victoria and I sit at the bar and order glasses of Guinness, and Helen offers to take a photo. “I know perfection when I see it,” she says.
The next stop is the Gaiety Theatre, and because we’re in Ireland we have a pot of tea in the bar inside the theatre. John B. Keane’s play Big Maggie takes place in rural Ireland in 1969, and it’s all about Maggie Polpin, the tenacious matriarch of the family, who treats her children with extreme tough love. It has a few good lines – “If a man or woman hasn’t self respect they have nothing.” – but otherwise, it’s very slow and the actress playing Big Maggie is acting by screaming. But I’m keeping with it until the very end, waiting for Maggie’s big soliloquy and then…nothing. The play is over; for some reason the ending has been omitted. Seriously? The members of our little book club come together for a few minutes, and almost everyone is sleepy and disappointed.
Victoria and I decide to counteract the bitter pill the best way we know how, with food. I take her to Cafe Topolis for minestrone soup and a pizza made in a wood-fired pizza oven and topped with prosciutto, fresh tomatoes, parmesan shavings, mozzarella, arugula, and tomato sauce. We go back to the apartment exhausted and happy. We both wake up Sunday morning with tiny colds, so we make hot lemon and honey to go with thick slices of brown bread and butter. We go out to face a day that is dark and drizzly, so we decide to head over to Queen of Tarts just thirty seconds around the corner. We get the French toast that is so light and fluffy and covered with a blueberry compote, maple syrup, and fresh whipped cream. We have cappuccinos. We walk over to Trinity College so that Victoria can see the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript that is one of Ireland’s national treasures. We both agree there should be someone standing by turning the pages because, alas, the display is of course open to one page only and under glass. We walk along Nassau Street to the National Gallery where there is a special exhibit of J. M. W. Turner’s watercolors. They’re beautiful – my favorite is of a rain storm hovering over Edinburgh.
We have a cloudy lemonade and almond cake in the cafe in the museum. We stop in the gift shop for books and souvenirs, including a key chain for her son who collects them. There is a book called How to Paint Like Turner with step-by-step instructions. (If only it were that easy.)
We continue to walk and we stop in the best book shop in Dublin – Hodges Figgis established 1768 – because Victoria loves books as much as I do. I’m so happy to find A Model Partner by Daniel Seery, the author that I went to see at the Pearse Street Library in November. When I step up to buy it, the woman at the till Patricia recognizes me from the other times that I’ve been there. We chat and I tell her about my blog – she comes from around the counter to hug me, promising that she will link my blog to the store’s website. Once again I am amazed by the kindness of the people here. And because the weather is so bad, we decide to go to the Irish Film Institute to see the movie Youth with Michael Caine. We order traditional Irish stew at the restaurant inside the IFI, and it’s delicious. It’s my first since I’ve been here. Unfortunately, the movie is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s disjointed and boring, and even Michael Caine can’t do much to save it. We laugh at our luck with plays and movies. On the way home, we stop at the Oak, a gorgeous, dimly lit traditional pub. It’s quiet and intimate, the perfect spot for our last glasses of Guinness for the weekend.
The next morning we get up early because Victoria wants to go back to Lemon for their sugar-crusted waffles with strawberries before her flight home. We are served by my favorite cook there, a tall Irishman who exudes kindness and confidence. And just like that, in less than forty-eight hours, Victoria has fallen in love with Dublin just as I have over and over again. The weekend was at different moments misty, cold, and almost entirely sunless. We were rendered powerless by the elements, a play, and a movie, but we had so much fun in between. By the end of the weekend, we were saying the same things at the same time. And so as it is with all good friendships, the fun comes from the conversation and laughter, the reading and walking, the good food and drink, and the mysterious link that holds two kindred spirits together for life.