Traveling has always been important to me. I get anxious if I’m in a place for too long, so after a few years dating, I pressured John into taking a trip with me. He had never been abroad. In fact, he had never made ventured far from our Eastern Pennsylvanian hometown. He had helped a friend move from Florida back home, but that was about it so I knew this would be a big step for him. Both of us were proud of our Irish lineage and I thought the North Atlantic island would be a good place to start. After months of planning our itinerary, we flew to where the beer is dark and heady and the pastures really do have greener grass.
When we arrived, the customs worker asked if we were on our honeymoon. He either hadn’t noticed our bare hands or just asked every couple that. I shook my head and responded we just wanted to visit the country for a week. We planned on spending two nights in Dublin, one of which meant staying at a real castle (Clontarf Castle). Then we would take a bus to see Killarney, Galway, and finally stay on the quiet island of Inishmore before quickly returning to Dublin to fly back home.
As with all travels, there are factors you simply can’t control. For us, this included a bus strike, extreme winds when kayaking in Killarney, and stubborn horses more interested in grazing than permitting an easy ride through Killarney National Park. But by far our most memorable blunder was when we unknowingly entered an avant-garde art exhibit. This is our favorite story from the trip, one we told family and friends when we returned and one that shows the true essence of traveling as a couple for the first time.
Any time you walk into a room and thirteen people say in unison, “Welcome. To. This. Situation,” you should run. You should punch whoever blocks your path, high-tail it to the nearest pub for a whiskey shot and say, “Fuck, we almost didn’t make it.” But my boyfriend John and I remained frozen in the doorway, too nervous to offend the creepsters than consider what would happen next. I apologetically squeezed his hand, unable to look over for his reaction for fear I’d laugh or cry. I’m sure this hadn’t crossed his mind when he agreed to go to Ireland with me.
The day had began as normally as it could, granted that we were in a different country. At our B&B we had the traditional English breakfast of fried eggs, sliced tomatoes, toast, bacon, and romance-generating beans. We left early for the Iveagh Gardens, eager to cram in as much of Dublin as possible. The central city park was filled with statues and in the process of seeing them all, we became disorientated.
“No worries, let’s go this way.”
As we left the park, a sign for a free art exhibit caught my eye. Tourists go to the top ten must-sees, but travelers go where the day takes them, especially if it is free. Curious about what amateur Irish art would be, we walked in the door and were greeted by a bookish old woman who whispered for us to silence our phones before pointing to the stairs. We climbed the lime green staircase, admiring the roasted turkey breast wallpaper that dripped with a greasy forewarning. How unusual, how artsy.
As soon as we walked in the first door, I questioned if we did indeed have the right room. There were no paintings on the walls or even sculptures; the room was a bare white square. People were scattered looking in all directions at the nothingness. One man sat in the room’s center and a few knelt down. Just as we were about to turn around and try another room, it happened.
“Welcome. To. This. Situation,” they said in chorus and began to move in slow motion. One middle aged man added jazz hands, while the woman sitting on the ground slid across the floor and got up. Everyone glided in haphazard directions, taking turns to ask questions.
“What does it mean to exist?”
“Is there a god?”
“What are we doing here?”
Strange man, I was thinking the same thing.
The questions flowed one after the other, leaving no time to respond. Just as I was wondering how this artist cult planned to murder us, another woman entered behind us. John and I looked at each other with the same message, That’s our cue. The fifty-year-old woman grabbed my arm as we turned to leave.
You should really stay. It gets interesting.”
I fumbled for an excuse, but gave up. We bolted down the stairs and outside into one of Ireland’s sporadic rains. I was about to apologize for my poor judgment, when he reached for my hand. John laughed, “Talk about a weird situation.”
I had an inkling he was the type of guy that wouldn’t run when things got scary or awkward so I squeezed his hand again.