where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
Flying into Belfast from Paris was like flying into another world.
The minute I got on the plane everything changed. Everyone was speaking English in a heavy Belfast accent, pulling around a string of kids, smiling more and snacking liberally.
But driving through the country roads from the airport, the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, I felt like I’d never left.
The fields were green and damp, the sky was grey and heavy, and my relatives were as warm and familiar as I left them.
I found comfort in staying with family, in crawling into a warm bed at night, in having hearty meals made for me and having the luxury of a bath.
I spent most of my time with the Haslem family out in the countryside of Moira. This is the family that opened their arms the most to us when we lived here; staying with them I felt myself fall into their arms all over again.
My cousin Suzi also took me into her new home for a couple of nights, made me up a bed, let me drink as much of her vodka as I wanted, cooked for me, and took me out on the town.
One day we took a black taxi tour around Belfast, where Martin, a chatty Irish man with a horrible sense of humor, took us through the segregated neighborhoods and showed us the political murals.
We gasped at the height of a brick wall with barbed wire-something straight out of a prison-that separates the Protestant and Catholic communities.
The areas we drove through were grim and depressing. Garbage lined most sidewalks, and several young mothers pushed strollers down the street wearing badly done make-up, tracksuits and severe ponytails.
It’s hard to see religion still segregating people after so many years. Protestants mark their streets with a British flag, Catholics mark theirs with an Irish flag, and the wall holds its ground. I didn’t get out of the taxi to take pictures of a mural. I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t want anyone to take offense and lash out at me. There would be too many people eager to fight for their pride in this part of town.
Our taxi driver said that in order for Northern Ireland to achieve peace, that all flags and parades had to be banned. The sad thing is that parents would still raise their children with the beliefs they were brought up with, and peace still feels a long way away.
The troubled side of Northern Ireland is dark and dreary. The only thing I’ll thank god for is that a lot of them still know how to laugh, and definitely know how to drink.
My days were well spent. I caught up with some old friends, ate good food, had long conversations, and drank away the dampness.
I spent a lot of time with my six-foot-tall, gorgeous cousin, who always makes life interesting. Needless to say we drank, danced, shopped, and made fun of each other as much as possible.
She took me to the airport this afternoon, and I flew back to Paris beside a large Northern Irish family heading to Euro Disney. I took in their heavy accents and warm faces, knowing it could be a while before I hear another Irish lilt.
As soon as I landed it was back to fending for myself, lifting my suitcase down endless stairs, and finding my way home through the train and the metro. Back at my apartment I went grocery shopping, lugged a bag of produce home in the rain, and made myself dinner.
It was great to be taken care of for a week, but it feels good to pick up my independent stride where I left it, the Eiffel tower glowing in the distance, and my affair with Paris ready to begin again.