So yeah, I’m not dead. I haven’t gone anywhere either, just had a bit of a break from the blog. In the past six weeks I turned 30, went to Belfast, climbed a 6c at the climbing wall (YAY!) talked back to my boss and witnessed a friendship that has been dying on the vine for the past year and a half move onto the last death throes before its expected demise (was that a seriously mixed metaphor or what?). So it’s not that nothing has been going on, just that I couldn’t find an interesting or entertaining way to talk about everything. So…I just didn’t. Oops?
Anyway, so yes, I am now 30. And so far 30 has been pretty much like 29. Not exactly a life changing event, but then I wasn’t expecting it to be either. But I did head over to Belfast to celebrate, which was very fun. I’ve never been to Northern Ireland before and I figured, what other time in my life will I be able to drag a bunch of friends wherever I ask them to go?
So while in Belfast we had to head up to the Giant’s Causeway because, well…look at it! It’s weird and odd and totally naturally occurring! I swear you’d think these stones are man-made but THEY ARE NOT. There were some signs explaining how they were formed, but honestly, I got bored and didn’t really care. Cool rocks, who cares how they were formed? Apparently, from my friends who actually did read the signs, there are some of these on the coast of Scotland too, but I’ve never actually seen them.
Oh and I did I mention that I drove up there? Meaning that I drove? The one lone American in a group of five British people and the only one to remember to bring her driver’s license in order to actually rent a car? The one who is technically not allowed to drive in Britain due to a lack of a British Driver’s License? Yeah, well, I did. And I didn’t even hit one single thing thank you very much! That’s not bad for not having been behind the wheel of a car for six months. Though I did almost get in the passenger side the first time I tried to get in the car, but whatever. And ok, yes, I maybe kinda broke the law, but we’ll keep that between us, ok?
While in Belfast we went on one of the Black Cab tours, which I would highly recommend for anybody heading over there. It was sad and absolutely fascinating at the same time, once I managed to understand what the taxi driver was saying. Is this what people feel like when they come to Glasgow? You look at someone and you KNOW they are speaking English but it is like NO English you have ever heard. Our driver, John, was pretty awesome and knew a lot about the history of the city. John was also able to give us a lot of information about he current state of the Protestant/Catholic divide in the city and what it all means for regular folks just trying to live their lives. He brought us first to Shankill Road, the Protestant area of town, which also was the location of one of the creepiest murals in the whole place.
Yes that IS a great big gun pointing right at you. And no matter where you stand, it still points at you. Totally creepy. John said it’s to reinforce the idea that the Unionists/Loyalists are always watching you. I asked if the owners of these buildings gave permission for the murals to be painted or how that worked, and apparently it doesn’t really matter what you personally think, when the local Unionist come knocking on your door saying they want to paint a mural, you just nod your head and don’t argue.
One one of these murals (not this one, though this one has some LOVELY things to say about Catholics) misspelled ‘vigilante.’ Of course, being the total grammar-nazi that I am, I found this highly amusing. I turned to my friends and said in my usual ‘outdoor voice,’ ‘Ha! They misspelled vigilante!’ All five of my friends turned to me in horror and in total unison immediately went ‘SHHHHH!!!!’
So if we all die in a shooting someday, possibly by vigilantes, it was my fault for mocking the scary military group with the big guns.
I was expecting the murals and the catholic/protestant disagreements, but what I really wasn’t expecting were the peace walls. This is a picture of the largest one, separating the Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast. That wall is HUGE. And it stretched for a fair bit, with big locked gates across the roads. John said that all the roads between the Protestant and Catholic sides of the city are locked at nights and at weekends, to discourage violence. The only one that is open is wired up directly to the police station so that it can be shut immediately if there is any hint of trouble. It was so strange to actually see these huge walls separating communities, an actual physical boundary between people in order to keep the peace. It really opened up my eyes. A lot.
See we get quite a bit of Sectarianism here in Glasgow too. But it’s nowhere near like it is in Belfast. But what John said about it really made me think, because it has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It’s about where you were born or where you went to school. Who your parents are. Where you live. It’s just a way for people to say you’re either ‘us’ or ‘them.’ It’s not about Catholic or Protestant. As John said, ‘In Belfast you can be an Atheist, but you’ll still be either a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist.’
Like most people in the U.S., I pretty much thought all the violence was over. But just a few months ago two police officers were killed in Belfast by the Real IRA, though Sinn Fein and the IRA (separate group) both condemned the killings. And the day my friends and I flew back to Glasgow a Catholic man in Derry was beaten to death by a Protestant gang following a football game. So the violence never really stops. Even in Glasgow you’re not allowed to wear football colors into pubs for fear or sparking off violence. One of my friends spent the whole tour questioning John about how things are and if there is any way to stop it. She kept saying, ‘it’s all just so horrible.’ And yes, it is, but I just kept thinking, this is just part of being human. There is ALWAYS an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’
Apparently this used to have Bush holding a handful of cash and sucking all the oil out of Iraq. I guess now he’s sucking something out of Palestine? I’m not too sure on that one.
The other most exciting thing to happen on my birthday weekend was that we witnessed a VERY drunk man come stumbling out of the pub, trip and smash his ENTIRE FACE into the sidewalk. He was so drunk he didn’t even manage to get his hands up to catch his fall, he just did a total faceplant. I can still hear the bones crunching as they hit the concrete. EW.
Otherwise we had a great time and I was very responsible and didn’t even get very drunk at all. Not easy in Ireland, but I managed it. Of course the next weekend I partied in Glasgow and stupidly invited my friend who bought me tequila shots…but that’s a story for another time.