Dear readers, when last we spoke, I left you with a quote from the beautiful Hungarian artist Lili Orszag who said, “What I would like to do most is travel constantly.” I’ve been doing just that for the last two weeks – first to Budapest, then to Vienna, and lastly, Prague. (More on Vienna and Prague to come.) I’ve had all the fun that a girl can handle. I find myself heading back to Dublin on a short two hour flight from Prague. I’m not expecting or hoping for anything. Recently when I fly I’m just hoping to avoid sitting near the worst kind of seatmate one can imagine – the overbearing talker, the loud eater, and the dreaded cougher. Who doesn’t cover his mouth. A few years ago on an overnight flight to Rome, I sat next to a gorgeous musician who had just lost his wife to cancer. He told me about her and showed me photos of his little boy. We watched The English Patient together.
Since then, there’s been a long dry spell, well actually a drought. Until yesterday – when I sat next to two of the loveliest lads on the planet. I was in the aisle seat when Jamie sat down next to me in the middle seat. A few minutes later another lad asked us to get up so that he could scoot in next to the window. Jamie said, “Which one do you want? This one or the window?”
“Which one do I want? Are you fecking kidding me? I’m sitting next to the window.”
And so it started and did not stop for the entire two hours. Both Jamie and John Joe were with ten other lads for a stag party in Prague the night before. I try to imagine the craic that they had, but I don’t have to. Jamie shows me a short video clip that gives me a glimpse into their world. They’re singing together loudly on a street in the middle of Prague. I ask them how much they drank and Jamie says, “Enough that we should both be dead.” As he’s saying this, John Joe, who looks like he could be Bradley Cooper’s younger brother, orders a Heineken. I say, “The hair of the dog.” He says, “Exactly.”
“The hair of the dog that bit you” is such an Irish thing. Of course it basically means that the best cure for what ails you is to have some more of it. In ancient times, it was literally used to say that if a dog were to bite you, putting the dog’s hair into the wound would heal it. Of course it makes absolutely no sense to me, but what do I know? I’m American.
We laugh at all the coincidences we discover – Jamie’s sister is named Kathy, his dad is Jerry, as is mine and his mother is Maggie, my great-grandmother’s name. Oh, and we both went to Lake Tahoe for our honeymoons. And the list went on.
I offer a more logical solution to their hangovers and offer Jamie a selection of over-the-counter drugs, something that bonds people regardless of ethnicities. He shows me photos of his three cute young children who are five, three, and ten months old. He’s got the strongest Irish accent I’ve ever heard and he tells me it’s a country accent.
He starts to wax nostalgic for his granny. “Ah, what I want now is a bit of me granny’s food. Homemade soda bread, like. And then lumps of cheese. Not wee small lumps of cheese, but really big lumps of cheese. Irish men die of heart attacks because of their granny’s cheese and butter. And then a tin of me granny’s biscuits. Irish women aren’t what they used to be, like. You know, equal rights and shit.” (I’m not sure if he knows how funny he is.) Anyway, because we’re on a plane, he orders the next best thing to his granny’s lumps of cheese – a cup of tea and a ham and cheese toastie. (And he makes me wonder – with everything I know about men and women – does it really come down to the old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”?)
And even though they are both so hungover, they basically entertain me with stories and laughter for two hours straight. When John Joe sees me rifling through my purse, he says, “What do you have in there?” I confess that I have a banana and a hard boiled egg that I took from the breakfast buffet at my hotel. They’re horrified and ask, “How do you know it’s hard boiled?” I say, “I’m moritified.” They say, “You should be,” in unison. (But in my own defense, a girl never knows when she might get hungry! It’s hard to find healthy snacks on the road!) Jamie takes the egg and draws a little face on it. I tell him that I’ll treasure it always, but alas it’s an egg, so I ate it today. I think how much fun he must be as a dad.
They offer repeatedly to let them get me something to eat or drink. They give me a few of the best compliments I have ever had in my life.
We talk about the perks of being an independent traveler. After all if I were traveling with someone else, I might not have met them. And what a loss that would have been.
We talk about Prague and how beautiful it is. And then somehow we start talking about what the Nazis did to Czechoslovakia. The Nazis infamously wiped out an entire village and even redirected a creek so that the village would be literally wiped off the map. Today there’s a memorial nearby the spot of the original village.
John Joe tells me that he’s been to Auschwitz. He drove there with his girlfriend. He said that the air was still full of the memories of the unspeakable atrocities that happened there. He’s the first person I’ve ever met who has been there. Jamie tells me how much he loved The Book Thief, which is also one of my favorite books. I tell them that I taught The Diary of Anne Frank for years. And even though I would like to, I don’t think I would have the courage to visit Auschwitz. Of course we also mention The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – a true classic – that was written by the Irishman, John Boyne.
It’s hard to describe finding the craic with two lads on a plane. I remember reading the last sentence of a chapter in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. It was something like, “Everybody had a good time.” I remember I was shocked. I always heard that as a writer one should “Show and not tell.” But in some cases, like this one, it’s best to just say, I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. And I have never met two nicer men. At one point John Joe said, “If you don’t write about us, we’ll be disappointed.” I tried my best lads, but in the end words cannot do you justice.