08 May 2019
Stranded without coffee in
a world Kafka could create
A younger family member shares many of my interests, including travel, conflict and dialogue in the Middle East, Italian wine and food. We have shared connections with Trinity College Dublin and with Cambridge. Although we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic, we have met in the most unexpected places, including an hotel lobby in Dingle, and we have even worked together almost 20 years ago in an edition of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs.
He is better travelled than I am, and has joked sometimes – he may be half joking but wholly in earnest – that he feels safer in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon or the streets of Kabul than he does in Temple Bar in Dublin on a Saturday night. Not that I have been in Temple Bar on many Saturday nights, needless to day.
We were comparing travel notes during a recent lunch – in an Italian restaurant in Temple Bar.
Which countries had one been in that they other had never visited?
Indeed, how do you count whether you have been somewhere?
It’s a little like trying to count up the scores in Darts, I suppose.
Can you count if you have been in Syria if it has been a stopover in Damascus Airport? Or in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights?
Is swimming in the Dead Sea a visit to Palestine, to Jordan or to Israel?
How do you count – how do you even admit to being in – the Israel-occupied strip of south Lebanon?
Was Walvis Bay in South Africa or Namibia?
There are some places for which I have no stamps on my passport. The European travel areas have eliminated the need for many of them. I did go to the bother of getting my passport stamped – unnecessarily – in San Marino, but there is no obvious way of getting your passport stamped as you walk in and out back in again in the Vatican City.
As we continued this line of silly talk that, perhaps, we agreed is only possible among family members, he suddenly said he had never been in Northern Ireland?
I was taken aback.
Never in Northern Ireland?
But then I realised his method of counting where he had been depended on staying overnight somewhere. Yes, he had walked and trekked through the Mourne Mountains in Co Down. Yes, he had visited Belfast on countless occasions, but he had never stayed there overnight. He felt he had never been to Northern Ireland.
On that basis, he might say I have never been to Morocco, North Korea, San Marino, Scotland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Symi, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the Vatican … Yes, I have been to all of them. But in his books, they would not have counted, because I had never stayed overnight.
For my part, my minimum calculation for visiting anywhere is whether I have had a cup of coffee there.
Time having coffee is time well spent and time that is not wasted. And if I have had a coffee somewhere, then I have been there.
Since I moved to Askeaton, there are many places I have visited without staying over but there I have had time to enjoy coffee. That means I have visited Charleville, Fermoy, Killaloe, Nenagh, Thurles, Tipperary … so many cups of coffee are within range of a bus journey or two from Askeaton without ever having to stay overnight.
But there is one place I have to question. Catching the train from Limerick to Dublin or Waterford usually involves changing trains at Limerick Junction, as I have been doing this afternoon.
Now, Limerick Junction is an unusual place, to say the least. It is not in Limerick – in fact, it is in Co Tipperary. And sometimes, when connections have turned the cold statistics of timetables into Kafkaesque fiction, I have been left standing in the cold and the rain for seemingly endless times on the platform at Limerick Junction – with no shelter against the elements. And with no place to buy a cup of coffee.
I dare not leave the platform to seek out a cup of coffee in the nearby village – the late train may arrive early, or the early train may arrive late.
It can be a solitary, lonely experience, exasperated by the lack of coffee.
So, by own standards, have I ever been to Limerick Junction? Was I really there this afternoon?