Thursday, January 11, 2007

First days, first impressions.

Greetings from Northern Ireland!

Posting may be spotty for a week or so because internet access is infrequent. My apologies for that, but I've only got touristy travel log stuff to say until the program starts anyway. Not that travel logs are bad or anything; I'm really quite fond of them. It's just that the program itself is really fascinating. I'm hoping that it will generate content here that's a lot more substantial than a 'where I've been and what pictures I've taken' sort of blog.

Having said that, I've mostly only got 'where I've been and what pictures I've taken' for you so far. Mervyn, the program director, picked us all up from the Belfast city airport on the ninth and took us to the Corrymeela Reconciliation Centre, where we're staying until Saturday. Corrymeela is the largest Christian peace centre in Northern Ireland. It's perched up on a cliff overlooking Ballycastle-- absolutely gorgeous. Pictures can't capture it. I haven't even tried. Just trying to give you all a sense of the variations in the color of the water would take up five gigs. There's a pair of lighthouses on the island across the water from us. The whole place reminds me of Maine.

Anyway. Yesterday (the tenth), we slept late and then went out to the Giant's Causeway-- the so-called 'eighth wonder of the world.' It's a volcanic rock formation on the northern coast. We were warned it always rains on that trip, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Chilly but not freezing, and blue skies the whole afternoon. I had a fabulous time. The site itself was beatiful, but I especially appreciated the chance to do a bit of hiking. Not much by any means, but it was good to get up and walk after a whole day of sitting on airplanes and at airports. I'll post pictures as soon as I shrink them down to a decent web-size.

We took a walking tour of L/Derry today-- that's where we'll be until the end of March. There wasn't much time for pictures, but I figure there'll be plenty of time for that while I'm living there. The tour did take us right past my placement, though: I'll be working at the Playhouse in the walled city. It's a small theatre that's being run by a mixed group of Catholics and Protestants. It was nice to get a look at it (we didn't go in, but the door was open. Big pile of fabric inside. Maybe they'll let me sort it :D).

I also fell in love with the craft village. It's a small neighborhood inside the walls that's been deliberately styled after 18th century streets. The street level is full of small craft stores; the second is modern apartments that are intentionally rented out to young people from both sides of the religious divide. As I understand it, it's the only actually integrated neighborhood on that side of the river. Really it's the look of it that fascinates me, though. The architects and designers did a fabulous job-- it was like stepping into a time warp. I'd love to do a costume shoot there sometime.

We did a walk of the old wall as well, and heard some interesting facts about the course of the troubles in L/Derry. It's such an odd match-up, because on the one hand, it's an entirely modern city that looks completely at peace. Most parts of it look like they could be somewhere in Boston or Philly. And then two blocks away there's Real IRA graffiti (on the side of the Apprentice Boys house*, no less). There's a Protestant unionist neighborhood right near the Playhouse-- the only one on that side of the river. It's fenced off with barbed wire. The curbs and sighposts are painted red, white, and blue (the colors of the union jack, a ripped and tattered version of which flies over the house nearest the wall). There's a big mural, black with white lettering, declaring their intent to 'Never Surrender the West Bank.'

English lettering aside, it looks like it belongs in Palestine.

The walking tour ended at the Guild Hall, where we met the mayor of L/Derry (again, pictures once I shrink them). She met us in the council chamber and talked to us a bit about the current political situation (elections are apparantly back on for the seventh of March; Sinn Fein and the DUP** are not pleased). We've been invited back to come play pennywhistle for her once we learn.

After that, we went over to UU to register. They got some of my vitals (namely, birthday) way wrong, so I don't get me 'real' card until Monday at the earliest. This might make internetting a challenge. We'll have to see.

We had to face a squall on our way into the building-- rain blowing right in our face and the wind against us. I ran straight for the door, but heavens, what a workout! When we got out: blue skies. I'm noticing that a lot here. People talk about how it rains every day, but it only rains for maybe an hour at a go before the sun's back out. I much preferr it to Maryland, where if you wake up to rain, it's pretty much a garantee that the weather will be gross all day.

I'm back at Corrymeela now with just a few minutes to spare before dinner, so I'm going to see what I can do about these pictures and then head off. I may post them up later tonight if I get the chance. I'm sorry this entry's gotten so long! I'll try to post shorter entries more frequently as opposed to longer entries less frequently in the future. I imagine that will get easier once classes begin.

I hope everyone's having a lovely new year!


*The Apprentice Boys is basically a protestant men's club, named after a group of apprentices who shut the gates of the walled city against James II's catholic army. Every December and August, they do marches around the wall to commemorate withstanding the seige. The march has gone off peacefully for the last nine years, but the Catholic community doesn't like it much, to put it mildly (The IRA blew up a column on which the marchers used to hang and burn the effigy of a historic figure they consider a traitor some years back. They now burn the effigy in front of the courthouse).
**Sinn Fein and the DUP are the two largest parties for the Nationalists and Unionists, respectively.

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