Sunday, April 10, 2016


Monday we began our road trip, which meant Pierre dove headfirst into driving on the wrong side of both the car and the road. I unenthusiastically offered to take shifts, but Pierre has experienced my abortive attempts to drive manual transmission in France, where I am on the familiar side of the road. He hastened to assure me (to my immense relief) that he had no problem with me acting as co-pilot for the trip. Our gender-normative roles established, we set off, Belfast-bound. Pierre gripped the steering wheel perhaps a little more tightly than usual as I pored over a road map unfolded across the dashboard, providing verbal reminders to buck habit when we came to roundabouts.

The road north of Dublin. The low stone wall along the highway was a riot of blooming genet, the sun was out, the hills were rolling and the farmland picturesque. 
Staying in the lane like a pro.
By far the most interesting thing we did in Belfast was a black cab tour with Michael, a taxi driver who had driven his cab as an illicit Catholic bus during the Troubles, after the barricading of Catholic neighborhoods meant Belfast municipal buses were restricted to Protestant areas. He took us around the Peace Line, a barrier that to this day separates neighborhoods by religion. Michael was full of historical tidbits and personal anecdotes, weaving a picture of guerilla conflict as we toured the protest murals and remembrance gardens which keep the memory of the recent conflict alive.

A section of the peace walls, slated to be taken down by 2023, although that may be an overly aspirational promise.
Murals in the Catholic Lower Falls neighborhood that recall history and grapple with current events.
Pierre and I were both surprised-- and chagrined at our ignorance-- to see how present the conflict feels. To the two of us, who knew relatively little about the situation and (in my case at least) were too young at the time of the Good Friday Agreement to be reading newspapers regularly, the Troubles were a thing of the past. I vaguely remembered learning at some point that there had been a wall, but I assumed (if I thought about it at all) that it had come down, like its counterpart in Berlin. In fact, it remains a thorny problem, as territoriality and community segregation are far from a thing of the past. Twenty years, it seems, has not been enough to assuage all grievances, or to restore trust lost over the course of a protracted and violent struggle.

But Belfast was not all somber reflection and activist public art.  We spent a lovely afternoon drinking Guinness at The Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian-era gin palace complete with stained glass, tile murals, gas lamps, and private wooden booths with elaborately carved doors. It was a suggestion from a Belfast friend, and an excellent one at that.

That night we went to hear an Irish folk rock band play in a pub. Pierre hit it off with a wobblingly drunk Irishman, who advised him not to marry me ("I don't trust her, she's too sober") then bought Pierre a beer and launched into an earnest, slurred conversation. In the interim I chatted with his friend, who told me at length about the Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football, which, full disclosure, I didn't know existed. The band was great, the music was fast and full of fiddles, and Pierre and I were happy to make friends.

Next time: the Antrim Coast and Giant's Causeway!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dublin and Easter Rising

Ladies and gentlemen, I dust off the old travel blog and give you: the first of a couple or three posts about Pierre and my recent trip to Ireland over the Easter holidays. There will be a lot of pictures, because Ireland is a beautiful and highly photogenic place, and hopefully some worthwhile text.

In advance of flying into Dublin a week ago today, I had carefully planned my route from the bus stop where I would be dropped to our AirBnB and back out to the General Post Office, where the ceremony marking the 100 year commemoration of the Easter Rising would be taking place. But the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee, and mine agleed when a policeman boarded the 41 bus and announced last stop, as the center of Dublin was closed off for the Easter Rising parade.

Paddy, as I imagined the policeman to be named-- he sounded, by virtue of being Irish, like every cop in a film noir ever set in Chicago or New York, who are invariably named Paddy-- pointed me in the right direction. Before too long I started seeing roads lined with crowd-control barricades, which I followed to the main axe of the parade, O'Connell Street. Still unsure of exactly where things were in relation to each other, I decided to post up several hours in advance while the crowd was still sparse, rather than lugging my stuff around on a fruitless quest for the AirBnB.

With the advantage of ample time and a good viewpoint, I fell to chatting with a cluster of Dubliner women of a certain age, some accompanied by their young grandchildren. They had been children or young women when the 50-year commemoration took place, offset by a large protest from the Rev Ian Paisley and his hardline loyalists. The women traded fond memories of the parades of their youths, once an annual occurance, although subsequently suspended during the Troubles.

Start em young! Republicans from the cradle!

The women only spoke passingly of this period, and I did not ask them to elaborate, but it came up nonverbally later on. As giant screens along the parade route projected the Irish prime minister, the Taoiseach, presiding over a preliminary ceremony at Dublin Castle, two photographers appeared on the parapet of a building behind us. While the women continued talking and joking ("I hear the Air Force will be doing a flyover." "Oh aye? All four of our planes?" "Come now, Ireland has at least seven!"), I noticed their eyes swing sharply to the figures outlined against the roof. One, watching me follow her gaze, smiled and drily commented, "It's a good thing they have those cameras, or I might have thought them assassins."

There was, in fact, a flyover. It would seem Ireland has more than four planes, but possibly less than seven.
Finally the festivities commenced. Flickering onto the JumboTron screens, the scene playing out in front of the GPO took on life dozens of times every 50 meters down O'Connell Street. A general read Patrick Pearse's proclamation of the Irish Republic as the Taoiseach laid a wreath. As the flag was lowered to half-mast, the Taoiseach took the podium; I was gratified to hear him highlight the role of women in the Easter Rising, a role until now overshadowed by the names of famous male rebels.

And then began the biggest military parade in the history of the state. Tanks rumbled through the streets of Dublin, followed by armored personnel carriers, and what may have been anti-aircraft missile launchers, although I am wildly out of my depth when it comes to military paraphanialia. Troop upon troop of soldiers marching in lockstep paraded past the GPO in an outpouring of nationalism and republican pride. Brass bands played the national anthem, and then-- no joke-- "Danny Boy", and my gaggle of women sang along, shrilling through the high notes.

I finally left and found my way to the AirBnB, where a group of four Italian roommates and five or six of their Italian friends were preparing Easter brunch. They were gracious and voluble and invited me to join; and so I transitioned from a street packed with flag-waving, anthem-singing Irish to a room packed with laughing, gesturing, chattering Italians. The meal was delicious, and Pierre got in from the airport in the late afternoon, in time to join us for tiramisu.

Tomorrow: we hit the road for Belfast!