Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Belfast Murals

During my summer travels in Scotland and Ireland, attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and exploring the landmarks (and pubs) of Dublin, I caught a two-hour train ride to Belfast. My goal was to wander the streets in search of murals commemorating The Troubles, that period of conflict between (mostly) Protestant Loyalist/Unionists and (mostly) Catholic Republican/Nationalists that produced spasms of violence in the form of bombings, kidnappings, torture, and inhumane prison conditions. While the bloodshed largely ceased after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, tension remains.

My colleague Matt Spangler advised me to avoid crossing the Peace Lines that still divide Unionist and Nationalist sides [see map], recommending that I treat those domains as spokes of a wheel by returning to the town center before passing into each neighborhood. While his advice was undoubtedly sound, I was simply too amazed by the prospect of walking through one of the few “interface structures” that allow passage between the districts. The portals were not staffed during my visit - though the checkpoints are closed during marching season when opposing sides parade near and through each other’s neighborhoods.


I shot those photos on August 14, 2016, between Crumlin and Shankill Roads (on the Loyalist/Unionist side) and along Falls Road (on the Republican/Nationalist side).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Europe 2016

Here are some memories from my Summer '16 European adventures: teaching in Jyväskylä, rediscovering old haunts in Rota, searching for a decent absinthe in Paris, exploring the fringe of Edinburgh, and sipping pints in Dublin...

• Finland: Geisha chocolate

• Finland: Tango Finlandia

• Finland: Two nice things

• Spain: One day in Rota

• Spain: Missing batteries in Barcelona

• France: Parisian drizzle

• Scotland: Wandering Edinburgh

• Scotland: "That’s not the one you want"

• Scotland: First Fringe

• Scotland: Wrecked

• Scotland: Plunging further into the Fringe

• Scotland: Bad Shakespeare

• Scotland: Vivaldi for Breakfast

• Scotland: Trumpageddon

• Scotland: Trainspotting

• Ireland: Dublin

• Ireland: Belfast murals

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ireland: Belfast

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Four hours of hiking through Republican and Loyalist sides of Belfast. And despite some good advice, I crossed one of the "Peace line" transit points without going back to the center of town. So many murals, so many chance discoveries, and even a parade complete with Bobby Sands flags and grim faced elderly marchers for whom "the Troubles" were no mere historical period. But, wow, are my dogs barking. So you can imagine my delight when I find a place that serves Guinness, free wifi, and comfy chairs! That's where I am right now... I think I'll sit, enjoy the accordion music, and have a pint or two.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ireland: Dublin

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Matt, Crystal, Eliot, and I flew to Dublin from Edinburgh yesterday and grabbed a taxi to a rental house, a quiet and comfortable place 10 minutes from the downtown area. After the requisite unpacking and deliberating we walked into the central district, sharing a relaxing dinner before going out for pints in a pleasantly random pub crawl. Matt and I stayed out somewhat later, bypassing crowded spots and opting instead for quieter places suitable for conversation.

Today we slept in before returning to the city center - stopping first for Matt and Eliot to toss a football in a nearby park. Highlights included a visit to Trinity College’s Book of Kells exhibit (celebrating the 1,200 year-old collection of Christian Gospels illuminated by glorious calligraphy and illumination) and the Long Room library, which Star Wars fans will recognize as the inspiration for the Jedi Academy. Later we visited the Guinness Storehouse, which isn’t so much a brewery tour as much as a really swell exhibit of history, production methods, and advertising campaigns.

Naturally we concluded our stay at the Gravity Bar, notable for its wonderful 360-degree view of the city. I peeled off for a while thereafter to check out the Temple Bar district, with a stop at the famed pub that pretty much every Dublin tourist visits at least once. I rejoined the crew later in the evening, enjoying rounds of drinks with two of Matt and Crystal's close friends before turning in for a much needed night’s rest.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Scotland: Trainspotting

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Yesterday was the final full day in Edinburgh, and we made the most out of it. After a relaxing morning, a few of us met to see Dublin Oldschool, perhaps the best show (outside of Albatross and Vivaldi for Breakfast, of course!) I saw at the Fringe. Spoken word, explosive rap, clever blocking, subtle staging, and amazing seats! Best of all, the performance included so many shout-outs to Ireland’s capital city, I can already imagine myself walking around the place when we arrive later tonight. Sure I’ll visit as a tourist, but I’ll be reminded how other layers of the city rest atop and beneath that rarified continuum. Afterward we attended a wrap party for the cast of Vivaldi to chat and celebrate the achievements of the Hawaii based crew who came to Edinburgh, not so much for money or fame but just to get their kicks. I was happy to help contribute to the festivities with a bottle of Laphroaig (which I don’t think survived two hours).

Then it was off to another highlight of the last couple weeks, a performance of Trainspotting. We queued outside what appeared to be a club, were handed glow sticks and received hand stamps, and then made our way into a smoky, hazy, jammin’ dance floor, with the characters occupying the room’s center. Gradually the tableau gave way to drama and we settled into a performance that evoked the shock, stench, humor, and pathos of the book (I’m told) and movie. Of course, this being the Fringe, performers pushed boundaries in ways that would likely not be acceptable back in the States. Full frontal nudity was just the start of it. When one of the performers woke up having shat himself from the night before, he not only cleaned himself off but actually flung the filthy blanket and towel into the audience. When other characters would pass out, they’d sidle up to audience members and lay across their laps. [I know this from personal experience!] And of course when dudes ran through the room with knives, I really wondered just how close I was to being stabbed if just one actor fell the wrong way. It was a perfect last show for such a violently and amazingly eclectic festival. Afterward we went out for pints and whiskey, stopping first at a nearby pop-up spot before settling in at the Devil’s Advocate, which lies down a narrow line of steps that descend from the Royal Mile. Now it’s time to pack and say some goodbyes before catching a flight to Dublin and three final days of European adventure!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Scotland: Trumpageddon

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Second to the last full day in Edinburgh, packed with three shows so far - and one more this evening. The afternoon started with Trumpageddon, Simon Jay's satirical take on The Donald, complete with orange makeup, loopy answers to audience queries, and occasional efforts to unpack the psychology of the would-be Tweeter-in-Chief. Afterward I joined Matt's crew to check out Scorched, a moving, complex, and somewhat bewildering one-person show most notable for its remarkable staging (most especially with the sight of images dancing on pouring sand drained from the protagonist's fingers). Then I headed off to Nuclear Family, an audience participation performance that called for us to vote on how workers in a nuclear plant disaster should react to the unfolding crisis. It was... not great. But it was fun to compare notes with audience members, reviewing files and tape recordings to make sense of, and deliberate about, the actors' decisions and outcomes. I'm resting now but will take off later to see Shit-Faced Shakespeare a show whose title should be taken literally. The actor supposedly drinks for four hours prior to the show. Who knows what will happen?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Scotland: Vivaldi for Breakfast

While I didn’t write a formal blog post for my Summer 2016 European adventures, I thought it’d be fun to share some memories I initially stored on Facebook.

Chillin' today. Did a bit more shopping, completed some chores, picked up tickets for tomorrow's shows, and visited Oink for lunch (vegetarian friends, don't look in the window if you're walking by. Trust me, you won't like it). I then stopped off for a dram at the White Hart - when, who'd I see but Matt's mom and friends from the cast of Vivaldi for Breakfast! It's so nice to run into new pals in a strange city. I think I'll check out the Scottish National Museum this afternoon. Out on the Royal Mile, buskers and performers are pitching their wares and performances, sea gulls are wheeling over the streets like they're following a map, and rains occasionally wash over the city just to remind us where we are.


After an afternoon nap, I joined friends for dinner at Divino Enoteca - a lovely meal and conversation - accompanying one new pal for an impromptu attendance of a late-night Fringe show called F*ckboys for Freedom - followed by a return to the apartment for post-midnight Scotch and chat with Hanns about classical music and Hitchcock films. Yeah, it's been that kind of trip.