Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Made Connections

               Sometimes this year feels like the opposite of a column of missed connections.  Counter-intuitively, knowing you will probably never see people again is often a great reason to start conversations with them. I talk to strangers all the time. Because the woman in the bookstore has an American accent, I ask her where she’s from. Because I don’t know where to get a cheap lunch, I ask the taxi driver. Because friends are miles away, I cook dinner and invite people over.   I have turned into every thirteen year-old's worst nightmare, getting too caught up in strangers’ lives.
                These “made connections” sometimes feel remarkably serendipitous. A few weeks ago in Dublin, I randomly met a student studying at Trinity who I hit it off with and who kindly said he’d meet me the next day and get me into the Book of Kells for free with his student pass. Then there’s the German woman I met on a plane who had just written recommendations for the Watson for two Bryn Mawr students. There’s the fact that, of all people, Sam Amidon, one of my favorite musicians (and Vermonters) came to Belfast Friday night as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. I went to his concert, hung out with him briefly afterwards and learned that his albums were produced in, of all places, Iceland.  He gave me recommendations for Reykjavik, we discovered mutual Vermont friends, and talked about his ten month-old son. I had met him once before when he played at Swarthmore on my twenty-second birthday. (“So you’re the girl who had the Vermont party…” he had said then).

                Another one of these connections, connections that feel exceptional but I'm learning might actually be the norm, was with Tricia and Gaby, my hosts for my first eleven days in Belfast. Last weekend I moved again, because my new friend Anise (another serendipitous connection) has an empty (and free) apartment in Queen’s University for a few weeks while he’s in the U.S.
                I'm here for another week and am figuring out what I'd like to accomplish before heading back down south again. I've spent my time in Belfast doing a few interviews and trying to understand names, but also the enormous divides that make up this city. Most of all, however, my time here has been defined by these new relationships. From across town, I want to thank Tricia and Gaby, who gave me not only  the most adorable bedroom to sleep in, but also handed Belfast to me on a platter. We painted the town red, in the way that puddle-jumping-seven-year-olds seem to do best.

Festival of Fools

The new MAC Arts Center

St. George's Market 
Bouldering (hopefully more photos to come)

Titanic Quarter 
The new Titanic Museum, photo taken from the spot where the ship was built. 
The Drawing Room where the plans for the ship were made. 
 The Waterfront

Cavehill Hike & Belfast Castle

They have been my generous hosts, bouldering/hiking/eating/festival of foolsing companions, distractions from my name research, and made connections. I have come to believe in these serendipitous connections enough to know it’s not really goodbye.

I didn’t know much about Belfast before I arrived, but I recently remembered that I’ve actually been hearing about it for a long long time. Growing up, we didn't listen to a ton of music in the house. When my parents turn something on, it's NPR about 90% of the time (this fact agonized me as a child, but I'm now beginning to do the same as I slowly turn into my parents). This also means that my parents have pretty much no familiarity with contemporary music.  (Side note: My family's recent obsession with the TV show Friday Night Lights has given them a bit of a boost in this department). This is all to say that the music of my childhood tended to be exclusively Raffi, Free To Be You and Me, The Beatles, Abba, Enya and a few Irish/Celtic selections of my mother's, including Teresa Doyle. Teresa Doyle is a singer who lives on Prince Edward Island, and because she does a lot of children's songs, she became our summer music when we were up there.

Around the age of five, I fell in love with her song Tell My Ma. I think I played it in that PEI house on repeat for years, doing my own culturally insensitive version of Irish dancing in the kitchen. I loved the music, loved the story, and loved pretending I was the belle of Belfast City (the one Albert Mooney says he loves).

I was kind of a dramatic obnoxious child. When I was five I quit piano lessons because I told my mom I had thought I would be wearing a fancy red outfit and people would be watching me while I played. (Side note: by age eight I had gotten over it and continued to take lessons through the start of high school when I quit for slightly different reasons). 

I had kind of forgotten about Tell My Ma until the other day I was walking around Royal Avenue and realized I was in the Belfast of Belfast City and it all came back to me.

 (I couldn't find the Teresa Doyle version online, but this one is by the Rankin Family who were also occasionally listened to in our house). 

How strange it is that, years later, I'm here in Belfast City (albeit without rings on my fingers and bells on my toes), spending my time with a seven year-old girl who dances to Lady Gaga in the kitchen and pretends she's American.

Lemon cake with Anise and Gaby (photo by Tricia).

It's a pretty amazing world.

p.s. Happy late Mother's Day, Mom. Although I can't be with you, know that I'm thinking of you and passing on the love.

Just like you taught me to. 

Photos taken last Monday when I took Gaby to support her mom in the Belfast City Marathon.

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