It’s hard to believe I’ve already been living in Belfast for almost four months. As I arrived back from Christmas break, there was a definite sense of familiarity at the sight of the Victorian brownstones and Ulster accent that gave me a good feeling of being back. The first semester of classes has ended and with it the focus has shifted towards concentrating on building a dissertation topic. After having first mulled over the idea of researching Privatized Military Companies and their activities in the Western Balkan as well as some of the ethnic conflicts in Africa, I’ve begun to have second thoughts and might take a trip to the Balkans for some inspiration. As we’ve learned in our Ethnic Conflict course from last semester, it’s difficult to find the right comparative analysis between countries and much of that decision shapes the actual topic or at least the kinds of question that arise. There’s nothing more important than actually framing a good research question I think.
Before leaving on Christmas break, November was a month of traveling. I went to Spain twice that month, first to Barcelona, Valencia and a small town outside of Valencia, called Lyria. A classmate of mine lived in Valencia and Liria for a year and had a home there. As it turns out the entire southeast coast of Spain has seen an influx in recent years of Irish and British visitors that have decided to buy property there and many of the small, very under-populated and remote villages along that coast have become havens for those from the north of Europe who are seeking tranquility. Who can blame them, as the land is just gorgeous and ripe with potential for growth. Liria is an idyllic spot that epitomizes what Valencia is most known for- acres upon acres of orange groves!
Visiting Spain is an unusual feeling for me because it is at once familiar and foreign. Hearing my native language is a comforting feeling after being away from home for a while, but the accents are so different and with the rise of Catalan nationalism, Barcelona especially does not even feel very Spanish and Castilian is not the norm. There were certain foods I came across which I had been familiar with all my life yet hadn’t ever realized originated from Spain. At the same time though, the cities are very European with advertisements and shops that serve as constant reminders that it is not in fact Latin America, even if the architecture and weather is so familiar. And what architecture! It’s amazing to see what the “empire” built- beautiful baroque buildings, intricately ornate medieval churches, even a marble plaza in Valencia! Yet, Spain is not just about medieval architecture- it is a country that is constantly reproducing creativity, as its modern architecture is almost even more impressive.
My second trip was a five day excursion throughout Barcelona, which allowed me enough time to marvel at the amazing creations of Antonio Gaudi, a true mastermind of 20th century architecture. La Sagrada Familia is like watching history in the making as this church is a remarkable project that has been ongoing for about 100 years and probably has another century of building left to go. The Parque Guell is like walking through a dreamscape straight out of a Dali painting, truly unbelievable. Now that I’m back in Belfast though, I plan on exploring more of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I will try to go to Galway sometime in the next few weeks.
I recently stepped into a bookstore across the street from my house and came across Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and quickly grabbed the book to turn to the foreword. This had been the central text that had inspired me to study here at Queens University exactly one year ago. That text along with a conversation with Paul Muldoon, a famous Northern Irish poet who resides in the U.S. and is a professor at Princeton but was a student of Seamus Heaney when he was studying here at Queens, had excited me to see for myself the energy, history and traditions that existed in this city and this university that had the capacity to mould such creative and thoughtful minds. After being worn down for days by papers and exams, there was nothing better than to peruse through those words again and feel reinvigorated with a sense of purpose and excitement about being here.