It has become a weekly ritual. I put my huge black backpack down on the table, and she looks up and says “Hi, love?” We both know what will happen next.
I will gather 4 pounds of apples, 2 pounds of pears, 1 big bag of mushrooms, and the potatoes and carrots that look like they are from their farm, plus whatever else is fresh that week into an ungainly pile. I wait till she is done with the passing customer to ask how much the lettuce is (always the same but I always forget anyway) and then take one head. Often she feeds me slices from the pears, just to share how good they are. I already know, but I don’t object to the slice. All the while she’ll be asking about my week, and where I am going for the holidays. She’ll tell me again that she has a cousin in Chicago and she visited him once. I’m from Chicago. Then, as I put the bags in my backpack and she counts (£1 £2 £2.50 —amazing me every week, she gives me 14 apples in a bag. £1 for 14 apples?) she keeps on wondering how I can eat all this food—how many must I be cooking for?
Then, as I heave the bag onto my shoulders, and move away to keep exploring the stalls, she offers to take my backpack and put it under her table it so its easier for me to move about St George’s Market. When I come back with blue cheese made one county over and a goats cheese that was just made 4 days ago according to its creator, she laughs. She says, “See you next week, love.”
At orientation they warned us about this. They stood up at the front of the auditorium and went through lists “How now brown cow” “ Hello, love” “Good crack.” A polite English girl said each first, and then a local Belfast student repeated “hao nao braown cao” with laughing eyes to the room of foreign students who wondered how they were going to survive the very local accents. “Hello love.” “Hell oh luhv.” When the Belfast lad said sadly only old ladies tend to greet him “hello love,” the room erupted in laughter. We laughed louder, and less sure we could believe him when he explained that good crack did not mean a great bit of cocaine but a good bit of fun, and that it was a totally different word—properly spelled ‘craic’ not ‘crack.’ That you could have good craic at an amusement park, at a friends dinner party, or at the movies, or at a local dance. Since then I have confirmed our trusty guide’s quip—only older ladies greet me as “love.” But for all that’s true, many more could.
Love seemed like the right word for my local French teacher, who once she found out I love traditional Irish fiddling, brought be several CDs to listen to and reminded me when special instruments I had never heard of much less seen would be playing in an open session at the pub up the road. Love seemed like the right word for Ricky, Aaron Kurman’s (Mitchell 07) old roommate, and his girlfriend Laura who invited me to stay the weekend at his parents house to show me all around his native city of Bangor and take me to visit his grandmother—a more Irish old lady you may never meet. And love seemed like the right word for my Ceilidh dance teacher who was all worried that I might not find the “Culturlann” and so wanted her husband to come pick the three of us up so we would not get lost in getting to the dance hall—she would have come but she was calling the dance so she had to be there early with the musicians.
At home, ensconced in the kitchen, scooping out pears in advance of our dinner for all nine housemates (how many are you cooking for?), I tell my housemate Ailish about the fruit vendors week and her nephew and what the plan is for the dance on Sunday, and I think back to the woman’s words “Have a good week, love.” Yes, I think I shall.
Recipe: Cut pears in half, lengthwise. Use a small spoon to remove the center. Place face up on a roasting tray. Roast for 50min at 170 deg Celsius or until blistering and brown at the top. Serve hot with French Vanilla ice cream.