It is Sunday evening, and I am enjoying my last hours in Limerick: I am sitting in my dorm room, composing this blog entry, with a box of Maltesers to my right and some music on in the background; after the last days, I really need some rest.
I don’t know what is is with conferences in Ireland, but I always end up meeting the nicest people ever: This time, I sat down across a lady texting during the first coffee break on Thursday; she looked up from her phone, stared at me, and simply said, “You forgot the biscuits!” Five minutes later, Jen and I were joined by her friend Kate, and the three of us hit it off straight away. We all went to the conference barbecue in the evening, where we shared a table (and the same sense of humour) with Anca, one of the conference organisers. Anca was keen on setting me up with the mysterious Jason, apparently a tour guide here in Limerick who specialises in “underground tours”; I spare you the innuendos we came up with, but that tour was not the only thing down in the gutter.
When Jen talked about her research on the Magdalene Laundries, we even created a musical about the topic on the spot – setting up scenes, developing characters, composing (and singing!) songs together: Jen as the evil head nun, clad in a white fur and nothing else, stroking a cat nestled in her arms (again, the innuendo…); I was to be Mother Hen (to which I queried whether “Mother Hun” wouldn’t be more appropriate), while Kate hoped to score the role of the main protagonist – “Think Annie, but sponsored by Daz!” We talked and laughed until way after midnight (the other conference delegates had long gone by then); Jen and Kate even went on to a club, but I decided to walk home at about 2 am, as I still needed to work on my presentation, which I did until 3.30 am.
Even though I had basically redesigned the whole presentation that night, it went thankfully quite well; there was a fruitful discussion afterwards which gave me some new ideas for the structure of my thesis. One of the discussants came up to me later to state that she not only enjoyed the topic, but also my presentation style; when I joked that giving lectures certainly helps you getting more relaxed with audiences, she said, “Oh, I am sure your students absolutely love your way of lecturing!” Awww.
The conference ended with a big dinner in one of the local pubs; over several pints of tab water, Anca and I discussed new double degrees for our universities, our love lives, and the obstacles women in academia sometimes experience (neither of which are related, by the way). I also chatted to several other conference delegates; the Irish ones in particular were keen on figuring out where my accent was from, as I apparently sound like a Scottish Australian who lives on the US East Coast. Just like Jen and Kate the evening before, they were convinced I must have had some Irish ancestors; as Stephen pointed out, “You gel really well with us – you have the same sense of humour, the same cheerfulness, that sincerity, … I mean, you even look Irish!” It seems that having fair skin, blue-green eyes and auburn hair makes you quintessential Irish; at the end of that night, Aisling solemnly declared that “we have adopted you now, Tinks – you are one of us!”
After a well-deserved lie-in on Saturday, I decided to go to the city; the sun was out, and I needed some fresh air after spending two days in a conference centre. After I had stepped off the bus, I walked down the street when a small passage caught my attention: It looked like the entrance to a bric-a-brac shop, with an old piano at the door and lots of second-hand things on display.
It was only when I was inside the shop that I noticed they also had some paintings and prints for sale. Most of them were landscapes and not exactly my taste; but just when I was ready to walk out, I saw a painting of a woman at the back of the store. As anybody who has been to my flat knows, I am quite keen on art, especially female portraits; when I bought my first painting 15 years ago, I was mostly interested in cubism, but lately I have realised that I tend to enjoy impressionism and realism a bit more these days. I am not sure what it was that struck me with that particular painting, but after 5 minutes of intense inspection, I decided that I was going to buy it; it was by a young local artist and a steal at 120 euros.
I had the painting wrapped up and then went across the road for a hot chocolate at a café; when the waiter enquired about the bulky bundle I was carrying, he suddenly got excited when I told him about my purchase: “Oh my God, the painter is a friend of mine!” … who was dutifully texted and informed that he is now an “international artist”, thanks to his painting being sold to Germany.
I continued down one of the shopping streets when I suddenly heard somebody calling out my name – in the German pronunciation, mind you. When I turned around in surprise, I saw Gisela, a German lecturer working at the University of Limerick, waving at me; we had met on Thursday and got along quite well. She was shopping with her husband Glenn and spontaneously invited me for dinner that evening, which I gladly accepted. After a short chit-chat, I continued walking around, taking some more pictures and having some fantastic fish & chips in one of the local pubs (for such an easy dish, it is deplorable how many restaurants can’t manage to get it right).
The dinner with Gisela and Glenn was really nice; we cooked together, had some white wine, and talked about everything from childhood stories and aging parents to the joys of having a pet (something I really miss in my life, to be honest). It was again rather late when Gisela drove me back to the campus; I had originally intended to get up early for a trip to the Cliffs of Moher, but when my alarm went off at 8 am, it was stormy and rainy outside. As these are not the best conditions for a walk on a 120m high and very steep cliff, I decided to roll over and sleep for three more hours.
My last day in Limerick was spent at the Hunt Museum and King John’s Castle; I took some more pictures, watched a hurling match in one of the local pubs (where I had an excellent cottage pie – I can thoroughly recommend Limerick’s cuisine), and finally went home to pack my bags for tomorrow’s trip back to Germany.
Thanks for having me, Ireland – you have been very, very good to me. As always.