13 February 2011

Belfast, via MGMT

This is a call to arms to live and love and sleep together–

Emily has been living in Belfast for five years now. She says when she first got there, a lot of the buildings all looked like this one

Nothing was open past 5pm, she said. The Peace Walls between Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods were closed all the time. The British Army still patrolled the streets.

Belfast, as we all know, went through some terrible times. The city still bears witness to those days, in the murals around town.

Those days aren't completely over, either. The Peace Walls still close at 5pm every night. Most places still close around 5pm, too. But when I visited Emily in January, there were signs of new time: a charity cafe, charity clothes shops, cool music venues. Belfast now has beautiful little cafes.

Truly wonderful bookstores, like No Alibis.

Because Emily and I are such old friends, and I had never seen Belfast before, my visit to her town was 1) a little bit touristy, 2) a little bit hometown charm and 3) a little bit nerdy and 4) a little bit silly. As you might expect.

Touristy stuff included City Hall, wherein I once again prove my incredible skills at photographing a built environment

Don't worry, I'm not really starting up that wherein bizzo again.
Touristy stuff also involved Belfast Castle, which is really more of just a really fancy house with an awesome staircase

And lovely views:

The hometown charm came courtesy of a visit to Belfast's beautiful weekend market, where I actually scored some Szechuan peppercorns! Someone tell me what to do with them!

Emily's beloved, Tom, is pictured above, but you can't really tell it's him. I'm the kind of silly girl who forgets to take proper pictures of her friend's boyfriend/husband.

I didn't forget to take a picture of Emily at the market with her two friends whose names I HAVE forgotten. But check out the taller one's belt buckle. It's huge!

Belfast is, of course, also where the Titanic was built. It seems no amount of tragedy in a town means James Cameron can't make it worse. Luckily Belfasters get irony better than most.

  A husband creche: everything the busy girl ever needed. Mine, sadly, seems to be Australia.

The nerdy part of the visit was, naturally, a library: The Linen Hall One! They have an amazing collection of posters and tea towels and banners all about the Troubles, which is what they understatedly call the 30 or so years when Belfast was eating itself alive.

The other nerdy part of the trip was that Emily was having some trouble intellectually negotiating the fact that she's not a nerd. Reader, I ask you: if you met a girl who wrote nothing but funny things down in a book, who wrote plays and once acted as a deranged barbie doll, who has written two novels about pirates, and who knows NOTHING about video games or search engine optimisation, would it not be clear as day to you? That girl is not a nerd. She is many things. Goofy, 1. A little taller than me, 2. A lover of goat's cheese, 3. She is not a nerd. Though you would be astonished at how surprised she was to have received the news only recently. She honestly thought she was a nerd. She didn't even know how to spell w00t, reader. w00t.

And the silly part of my visit was pretty much everything else. This made me laugh and think of Engrish.com, until I remembered that we were indeed in an English-speaking place, at which point everything suddenly felt very sober and sad.

I mean, really! Who ever heard of standing in a saloon anyway??!
We took about a trillion pictures of ourselves. I was like, "No, it's okay, Pheebs. The economy lost, like, 3 times as many dollars. These pictures are as nothing!"

We tried valiantly to guess what the giant copper talons were supposed to mean, and then decided that we didn't really get them, but we liked them anyway. Pretty much exactly how we feel about men. I especially like how tall they are. We'll leave what I'm referring to there ambiguous, hey?

It really did seem like everywhere you looked, people are taking it into their own hands to change things. It felt like people were tired of the sadness and anger and regret and disappointment, and ready to live in an exciting lively city. Where those things will all still be around, but it won't be special just for its blood. Belfast could be a normal city, lovely and tiresome and special for normal reasons. The city that built the Titanic. The city that has five different banks printing different designs of the same currency. Okay. Not normal reasons. But not horrible reasons, either.

–The youth are starting to change oh, together, together, together–

Even the murals are changing. See? Already it could San Francisco or Sydney.

And the buildings aren't all blown out anymore. Some of them are even growing new life now.

It looked to me that Belfast is hearing a different call to arms than it had in a long long time.

1 comment:

  1. Holy smokes, too much to say. Wonderful post!

    One: in that picture with the wall of murals, is one of the murals ("WBTA") a combination freedom fighter memorial/taxi company advertisement?

    Two: Notice the Basque mural to the right of the aforementioned. Neat!

    Three: I can help you with those guys' names. Left: Ted Leo. Right: James Van Der Beek.

    Four: As if you need a husband creche for me! Try "wife creche" when it comes to shopping.

    Nija: "I need new shoes."
    Me: "How about those?"
    Nija: "Ugh, can we go already?!?"

    I must say I do like the idea of drinking instead of shopping in any case.