If you're going to know one Irish word to impress people on St. Patrick's Day (beyond the standard "Erin go bragh", Ireland forever), make it craic.
Pronounced "crack", it is one simple, neat word that sums up a whole idea - that lively, spontaneous conviviality of good conversation and good company. Its what makes life worth living, those times spent with friends and family, maybe over a roaring fire and an open bottle of wine. Laughter, stories, music, love. It rests on the art of conversation and the importance of atmosphere, and is a vital part of Irish culture.
I learned this word on my first day in Dublin, where I met up with my dear friend Iain and his friends Niamh and Ronan. After I mentioned that that weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving, Niamh suggested a celebration. She quizzed me on the typical Canadian Thanksgiving menu, and then dispatched us to Tesco's with a shopping list.
This time (unlike in Russia last year when we had a similar Canadian Thanksgiving feast/excuse to drink with twenty-five people in a tiny flat), we were able to find sweet potatoes. We also forewent Mrs. Beeton's recipe for stuffing (it had been somewhat and controversially unpopular last year) and stuck to a storebought brand. We were a bit cheap with our "mozzarella":
And our wine (yes, that is wine in a box, which we carried not-so- proudly down Grafton Street, but quantity over quality was our main objective):
We made a quick detour to one of the many Polish shops (apparently there are a lot of Polish immigrants in Ireland, which I didn't know) where I could finally fulfill my tvorog craving (an incredibly delicious Russian cheese that I became obsessed with last year) that I've been battling since crossing the other side of the Iron Curtain in July. It was just as tasty as I remembered!
We made it back to Niamh and Ronan's, where Ronan and Iain were out on the Parboiling Committee and got to work on the potatoes while Niamh took care of the chicken (alas, no turkey!) and I peeled veggies. And then the feasting began!
There were nine of us: myself, Iain, Niamh, Ronan, their two roommates Hugh and Griffen, (both country boys who had moved to Dublin to go to Trinity College), Bernard (a hardcore Labour Party member who had eagerly followed Canada's NDP party's historic win last May, and then Jack Layton's tragic death, and couldn't wait to talk to a Canadian about these developments...too bad for him that I'm not exactly on his side of the political spectrum, but we had a great chat!), Ruth (an ESL teacher in China), and Dan (an American backpacker from Philly who was "couch-surfing" at Niamh and Ronan's that night). It was an eclectic crew, but oh, what an interesting one! Everyone had done so much traveling and living abroad, and we all had such varied interests and passions that it was one of those nights that just flew by in a blur of outrageous stories, laughter, wine, and...yes, even holy water. That came out when talk turned (albeit tongue-in-cheek!!) to the 'black bastards", AKA the Protestants.
Backpacker Dan (who all the Irish mistakenly thought was named Den for most of the night, thanks to the accent issue!) not believing his eyes that this was actual holy water
I was operating in a haze of sleep deprivation and wine-induced blurriness at this point, so I had to do a second take. Holy water?!?! Well, I guess this IS Ireland, the country where I was just one of many, many red-haired Catholic Katies!
I remember vague snippets of the craic we had that night (craic is always used with the definite article "the", by the way), but the overwhelming memory is just one of thankfulness. Before we tucked in to our feast, I was slightly obnoxious and made everyone go around saying something they were thankful for. Some were funny, others were poignant, all were heartfelt.
And as I looked around the circle of new friends, people I had met only hours before, I just felt so grateful for everything travel has thrown my way. Sure, gazing in wonder at sights like the Kremlin and Wells Cathedral is AMAZING...but its the moments I have spent in company like this, just enjoying the craic, that I will always treasure. Who knows if I'll ever meet these people again? But for one night, we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving Irish-style, and it was unforgettable.