Friday, February 22, 2013

Back from Ireland + The Future / La vuelta de Irlanda + el futuro

I'm a little under the weather today so I thought I would update this bad boy to let anyone readin' know what my status is. I've got a real post in the works on Microsoft Word, one that describes a little bit more profoundly our stay in Belfast. I hope I can go into a little more detail and analysis of some of the things we saw while we were there.

So obviously, I just got back from Ireland on Monday, Feb. 18th. I spent two days in Dublin and one day in Belfast with my good friend Pete T., and then when he left for the airport on Saturday I headed over to Galway by my lonesome. I hung out in Galway for a night and met some good people there, including a couple infantrymen from the Maltese army, a nice couple from Minnesota, a party-animal from Australia (there are no shortage of this species in hostels throughout the world), and a fellow distinguished metalhead from Belfast. We went out and heard good tunes and shared a few laughs.

I went and saw beautiful Connemara the next day. This is the wild west of Ireland, full of peat bogs, rolling desolate mountains. It's been the setting of countless films through out the years. But make no mistake, it has seen its share of suffering and battering and toil.

It is famine land - one of the worst-hit parts of Ireland when the potato blight sunk its claws into the Emerald Isle in the early 1800s. Over one million left the country. Over one million died or were displaced. It is harsh land, but enrapturing and beautiful.

Take a look at Galway and Connemara.

This is actually Dublin. Lied a little bit.

So is this. Lots of Polish people in Dublin!

I went to a real peat bog!

This is the bridge from "The Quiet Man". Haven't seen the film though.

Lough in Connemara

Kylemore Abbey in County Galway

I like the palm trees plus the Irish and EU flags

Why is she always so sad?

Ireland has fjords too!

Fairy tree aside the fjord. You tie a ribbon to it and make a wish. Apparently fairies are there to grant them for you.

Lough Corrib, County Mayo

Whiskey bottle. Green fields. Ireland.

Book of Kells Exhibition, Trinity College, Dublin

St. Stephens Green, Dublin

Keep Off The Damn Fields, You Damn Gaelic Speaking Ruffians
Ireland is indeed a beautiful place. Now I see what all those longing, lonesome singers were singing about.

I'll go into more depth here in a little bit. At least I hope I will. That's the plan!

My next trip, which is happening during the ridiculous two full weeks we get off for Easter here in Spain, is to: Cluj Napoca, Transylvania, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Kraków, Poland; and Warsaw, Poland. I'm going to see Dracula (and hopefully some of Romania's many bears - biggest bear population in Europe!), where Liszt wrote music (hopefully), and many, many beautiful cathedrals and buildings.

But I'm maybe the most anxious about seeing and learning the history of Eastern and Central Europe and its peoples, specifically with relation to the 20th century and its great turbulence. I had originally written "excited to see", but I feel that "anxious" is a better word here. Being someone from outside, from the safety and security and stability of the USA, I don't think it's right for me to say I'm "excited" to see Auschwitz, that I'm pumped up to see evidence of war and oppression and conflict, especially one that I was distant from, not even yet born, that I was never at risk to see or experience.

It's similar to how I felt about Belfast. It started as a somewhat morbid curiosity, but quickly turned into respectful and reverent fascination. After seeing the Peace Walls and the memorial murals, I can't and will not ever again joke around about the conflict in Northern Ireland.

In a similar way, I want to see for myself the scars and stories and sweeping landscapes of europa oriental.

Please don't take it the wrong way, but it's something I need to do. I have to.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Belfast: In Photos / En fotos

Here is a small selection of photos from Belfast, with descriptions. I can't really describe it here, nor do the photos do it justice, but the feeling of being amongst these homes and streets and pictures and buildings was something I have never experienced before. There was a dark, grayness here, left by the fiery years it has seen. But there was an electric hope as well, an eager sense of change that I felt on the streets, a vibrant youth. Hard to describe. 

A series of murals on the Catholic side of the Peace Walls in Belfast. The Catholic murals tend to commemorate revolutionary and independence movements throughout the world, whereas the Protestant murals are more militant, defensive, and "British" in nature.

This hotel is the third most bombed hotel in the world, a dubious distinction indeed. Only Tel Aviv and Sarajevo have hotels which have suffered more attacks with explosives

A street version of Picasso's "Gernika"

Another Catholic mural, this one commemorating a women's march in Belfast

These five young people were killed when the bomb they were building exploded prematurely. The oldest person was 20. We later saw the plaque on the house where it happened. By the way, the residents, by choosing to live in these neighborhoods, must accept the artwork and memorials that cover them. Our guide told us that if they object to it, they are not permitted to live in the area.

Revolutionaries from across the globe. Note MLK, Fredrick Douglass, and Obama (far left)

This is one of the gates in the Peace Wall between the Falls Road neighborhood (Irish Catholic) and the Shankill Road neighborhood (Ulster Protestant). This gate is closed every night between 10 PM and dawn and no one is allowed to pass through. Note the height of the wall and the barbed wire. Still all of this in 2013. Crazy.

Another shot of the gate. Note Obama on the right. Also, note the "No Man's Land" between the two gates. This was to prevent projectiles from being thrown/launched between the two walls.

Sinn Fein headquarters with Bobby Sands mural. Bobby is somewhat of a martyr for the Irish Republicans. He was actually elected MP of the British Parliament by his Irish Catholic constituency, and he later died in a hunger strike in one of the infamous H-block prisons.

Memorial garden in Falls Road neighborhood.

Many of the houses have these cages to protect their property from bricks, bottles and other projectiles that were thrown over the walls

"The Last Supper" on the Shankill (Protestant) side of the Peace Wall

This is an example of an Ulster Protestant mural in the Shankill road area, apparently commemorating one of their commanders who died.

In front of the Protestant mural they call "the Belfast Mona Lisa", so called because the AK-47 follows you no matter where you stand looking at it. Notice all the British flags? The Ulster Protestants consider themselves British and only British. They do not say they are "Irish".

The Queen, Shankill Road.

William of Orange, or "Ol' King Billy". In 1690, William defeated Catholic Jacobite forces at the Battle of the Boyne, so the Ulster Protestants venerate him. He's in a lot of murals.

OK, no politics. Just us in front of City Hall.

City Hall square, downtown Belfast. A far cry from the murals and walls of West Belfast. It's a modern, happenin' city over here.

Inside the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, downtown Belfast

Even amongst all of the other messages, we found the most important mural in downtown Belfast

Ulster Museum, near Queen's University, South Belfast

A high-schooler did this. Incredible.

Queen's University main building, modeled after Oxford University.