Don’t blame Belfast (2017)

As we wound down to the end of November we found ourselves in Belfast. The rain came on, the sideways rain, the same rain we knew from Seattle this time of year. And when I went to the shops to buy some booze it felt like I was asking for porn with all the buzzing in and out, the cameras and controls. Belfast. It seemed like a luxury to go there, a place no tourist would go. Surely there was something precious in the dark there waiting to be found, surely.

My birthday was on a Monday and that’s never a good sign: the kids were bucking our home school regimen, it was falling apart: I tried reading Jane Eyre with Lily but didn’t get it in college, and didn’t get it in Belfast either.

Dawn came home and said the bank card got rejected and that’s when we learned we got skimmed in Edinburgh, our funds drained, but worse: the process to work through the bank to get it all sorted out…which began on my birthday that Monday, in Belfast.

And we tried to recover the day by going out to eat but the GPS didn’t work and the restaurant was nowhere to be found…and we wound up going to a grocery store instead, and I cooked in that small kitchen, where you had to move the table to get to the pots.

But Belfast is where we discovered David Attenborough, the naturalist with the pleasing voice, the nature programs we soothed ourselves to by the coal stove, the coal stove that reminded me of my dad’s family back East, the dirty, soothing quality of a fire that lasts all night…the queer aspect of a house with a designated spot for coal in a narrow space by the back door, the mud room as we call it, in the Pacific Northwest.

And so we looked for what light we could: we got tickets for the Titanic museum, considered the Giant’s Causeway, but got a flat…and something simple like that took longer than you’d think it would to get fixed, and the light fell fast from the sky, and we counted the days to our next stop, in Dublin.

We drove to the neighborhoods we read about with the graffiti and murals portraying the hard times in Belfast, we took what we could from it, but we seemed to get lost no matter where we went: like nothing was easy, and when we arrived for a meal somewhere they were all surprised we’d come…like they weren’t ready for guests…and they wondered what we were doing there, and so did we.

On the last day, a Friday, we loaded up the car and left without sentiment. And on the drive up the road we spotted the police, a special SWAT unit with vests, helmets, and rifles: they were climbing up the roof of a house down the street from ours and we wondered why, and had to laugh…and almost got in an accident, which happened often, then got on the motorway south, the sun came out, and on the way to Dublin we passed a sign that said you could see one of the houses the Brontë sisters grew up in and stopped to inquire, but it wasn’t open and that was just as well: by lunchtime we’d be in Dublin, and likely not back to Belfast for quite some time.


Categories: Memoir, travel

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. One of my grandmothers was friends with some families in her town, all Diehard Presbyterians, that had come over from Ulster, and none of those folks ever went back to visit. Oatmeal for breakfast, oat cakes for lunch, and might be oatmeal for dinner when things were tough. Low cholesterol anyway.
    That’s a helluva taxi ad – – forty years of unbroken service, the Real Story, and guys with Armalites, like that Elvis Costello song, “Oliver’s Army”—just a rockin’ good time, perfect for this tale. I find I can laugh and commiserate at the same time, as you head down the road to Dublin — man, we’re not goin’ back there anytime soon – – really enjoyed this, sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s something appealing about a destination no tourist wants to go to. Heck, for all I know my people could be from Belfast (the Catholic part!), but I’ve never considered a visit. Yours sounds like it was hard duty …

    BTW, I have a book recommendation for you — I’ll send it along via the email machine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i enjoyed my time in belfast, interesting feeling though, with the graffiti, the bullet holes, the stories. depended on who i was talking to –

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m reminded of the sheer misery Frank McCourt wrote about in his memoir “Angela’s Ashes”. At times it was so heavy I wanted to chuck the book, but I’m glad I read it through. He became a favorite author of mine as a result. Sometimes we need those dark black holes on the map to fully appreciate the lighter, brighter ones.
    Happy Thanksgiving Bill!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The way I remember the original Belfast posts, they had a gloomy desperate vibe to them. And there was the whole accent thing. Retrospection has taken some of the edge off without losing the vibe.
    Happy Thanksgiving Bill!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Have only been to Eire once, and not to Northern Ireland at all.
    That line ‘by lunchtime we’d be in Dublin’ carries an exhalation of relief.


  7. I remember hitchhiking through Belfast back in 1980, the days of Bobby Sands and the IRA. It was a little unnerving seeing the armored troop carriers cruising down the streets, with rifle barrels stuck out their little peekaboo slots. I also remember the rain; getting through town to a roundabout where I stuck out my thumb and turned into a drowned rat waiting for a ride. Finally, someone took pity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! What a story, how cool you got to experience that. I bet that was unnerving, I can picture that…funny to us Americans how foreign that seems in an otherwise familiar-feeling place, as far as the language goes, at least…thanks for reading and sharing Dave, good to hear from you and hope you’re well. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

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