Shamrocks and Sabinas

The phone rang at 9:40 pm last night. It woke me up.

“We have your bag. It’ll be delivered in 4-6 hours.” The other bits of the conversation, merely polite formalities, slipped in and out of my ears, blending in with my dreams.

Yesterday, without even so much pomp and circumstance as a passport stamp entering Boston-Logan, I arrived home (?) back in the US after 3 flights, 4 countries, and just a little over 96 hours. Tuesday at 12:30, my first flight departed to Belfast from Menorca. Splashing water on my face in the airport sink to try to wash off my eyes, stained red like a   child’s hands peeling a pomengranate, I wondered if I would find a piece of myself in Ireland.

There’s Spanish me, of course, but the freckles, the red hair, and the wide-feet (“meant for walking in the snow”-R.) testify that I am far more Celtic than Iberian. Yet, landing in Belfast, walking through a gray maze of unfamiliar hallways, lit with cold fluorescent lights  rather than windows to the Mediterranean sky, I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. The unusually harsh, repetitive interrogation I received at customs didn’t feel like the ‘land of a thousand welcomes’ they advertise. 

An hour later, my 22 kilos of red rolling duffel-bag (and far more than the allotted weight allowance of carry ons) and I stepped into Vagabonds, a rather unassuming name for a very charming hostel in the Queens Quarter, near the university. Eye-catching modern artwork mingled with high ceilings and original crown moldings, giving the old brick building a  feel of youth and character, much reflected in that nights’ boarders. While the usual hostel crowd is 19 or 20, notoriously stinky, messy, and un-sober, the majority of my “housemates” were graduate students attending a mammal conference. I was too tired to see much of anything in Belfast aside from the botanical gardens which were a welcome splash of color and beauty in a leaden city, like a bright ribbon tied in mousy hair. Indeed, I found the conversations in the dining room with fellow travelers, including two Catalans, to be the most rewarding part of my few hours in the city. 

The train down to Dublin was un-spectacular (perhaps made more so by some rather irritating passengers seated behind me), but easy. Though Isaac’s hostel wasn’t oozing the same warmth and charm as Vagabonds, they did have one element that made my day better: Rick Steves’ Ireland-2013. 

It may sound absurd to say that I have a relationship with this author, a man who I’ve never met, but somehow, I get the feeling that he and I (and some other characters, naturally) travelled Europe together. He’s been with me to Greece, Germany, and Spain, and as I felt my inner flâneur emerge wandering up Connelly street, I knew I had in my hands more than a book, but the words of my little travel Buddha. It was almost as if I were no longer traveling alone. 

When the Texan in the lobby commandeered my loaned copy around 5 pm, I knew my city wanderings were over, and I did my best to kill time until I could fall asleep by doing the best things I knew how-checking my email, reading the paper, and chatting away in one of those almost forgettable conversations that seem to repeat themselves in hostel lobbies, the ones that always revolve around backpacking, opening your eyes to the world, the beauty of the unplanned, the importance of learning languages, and cultural quirks of the home country. Though I do love these exchanges, I also was ready to go.

… 

We left Boston 10 minutes early, yet I knew something was wrong when the 20 other passengers or so were already peeling away from the baggage carousel like adolescent boys finding their dance partner at the middle school sock-hop. My un-lost bag karma had  got me through more than 3 years of flights with no glitches, but this time, no such luck. Holding back needless tears, the kind that only would have come from sleep deprivation and not actual life trials, I told the lady a the desk my address, “And I’ll be leaving tomorrow at noon, so I’d really need it before then.” When I called back, around 8 pm, just to check, the lady told me to relax, “have something to eat and we’ll call you when we have it.”

When the phone rang again, this time just after 5 am, something had already told me to wake up, that my bag was here. In fact, I already had one leg in my pants (and out of my G-mummy’s XL purple nightshirt) when I answered. “Sorry for waking you up. I’m downstairs and I have your bag.” I couldn’t really squeak out that he hadn’t woken me up at all because my voice was hoarse and my throat was dry, but it didn’t matter anyway. My bag!

Barefoot, I pranced down the green floral carpet of the hall and picked up my red roller. Like Rick, this bag has been with me everywhere, Spain, Germany, Italy, and it was holding precious cargo; dirty shirts and a summer of memories-sand from the beach, a bottle of Mahón gin for my dad, and a beautiful rug from Fez that I know will one day become a story I tell my children. 

The summer is winding down and I’m making my way back to Charlottesville today. Though my clothes are now clean and my hair has [finally] been washed, Spain is still with me- Cala Mesquida, sailboats, paella, R., the little gray lizards.

I may just be the only Celtic Iberian you know. 

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