Like all international arrivals, upon arriving in Belfast, I had to complete a two week self isolation. With the exception of accidentally ordering four bags of sweet potatoes instead of four individual sweet potatoes, it went extremely uneventfully.
So instead, here are fourteen eventful days from after my release:
Day 1: My first day out of self isolation — I had a coffee inside of a cafe and bought a king size duvet for my double bed. My memories of the day are dark at the corners from sun squinting. It was a rare sunny afternoon and I spent all of it wandering the various squares and picturesque entries — small alleys that open into internal courtyards. I think the memory is more overexposed from the influx of new people and scenery scrawled over months of the same four walls of my high school bedroom.
Day 2: On the evening before classes start, a bunch of classmates organized a meeting at a nearby pub. It’s mostly empty, hard to tell if that was because it was a Monday or a pandemic. We therefore got the full attention of the MC during the drag performance that was occurring behind a plexiglass barrier.
Day 3. My first day of in person class is on Tuesday. Arriving for the first time feels not dissimilar to an airport. I follow the one way only signs to my classroom where I scan a contact tracing QR code with my phone and then buckle my seatbelt and sit down for six hours. Before lockdown suspended in person classes in mid October, we would sit at our computers six feet away from each other wearing masks and jackets (the room’s required ventilation flushes all the heat out of the open door.) Despite all the protective measures, I feel incredibly lucky to benefit from the classroom community during my art practice.
Day 4: I finally finished the sweet potatoes I had ordered in quarantine by making an enormous soup.
Day 5: It is Yom Kippur. I take a bus to East Belfast thereby doubling its Jewish population. Ella and I watched a live streamed synagogue service from two twin beds in the spare bedroom of her airbnb.
Day 6: I’m on a break from virtual class when I got a text from my friend to look at Cave Hill (one of those quintessentially Irish, rolling green ones) asking if I can see him from my window. He says he’s between the two radio towers and is jumping up and down and waving. I don’t think I can make him out, but I do tell him It looks like there’s a big cloud growing ominously behind him and the weather website says it’s about to start pouring.
Day 7: I finally finished the enormous soup that I made to finish the sweet potatoes I had ordered in quarantine.
Day 8: I woke up in the dark on this Tuesday to walk forty minutes to a bakery in Ormeau with a friend to buy olive sourdough right when it came out of the oven. Forty minutes and our daily 10,000 steps later, we inhaled the loaf in the public park outside the university before class started. Like all good things (in-person classes, pub night, bakeoff, and 3 for 5£ tacos) olive bread occurs only on Tuesdays. While time has lost most meaning during the pandemic, there is definitely a weekly structure emerging which divides the week roughly into Tuesday and anticipation-for-the-next-Tues-day. Of those two days, my favorite day is Tuesday.
Day 9: Northern Ireland announces a four week circuit breaker lockdown.
Day 10: In a book store I picked up “Nobber” by Oisin Fagan because the back jacket promised a tale about a noble traveling the Irish countryside in 1348 “using the advantage of the plague which has collapsed society to buy up large swaths of land.” I’m quite glad of this purchase as in lockdown I’ve been looking for new hobbies that one can do in plague-ridden Ireland.
Day 11: I’ve been running a lot since I arrived in Belfast. On Sunday I woke up around seven and ran to the Botanic Gardens through the city center. The streets were almost entirely empty at the time and without the lively throngs of people I realized that Belfast was a lot smaller than I had thought. I’ve been growing more aware of the different neighborhoods in the city that are carefully subdivided, and stacked side-by-side. Murals and street art give particularly potent insight into a given street’s residents and histories.
Day 12: I wondered if I should cut my own hair.
Day 13: I decided not to cut my own hair.
Day 14: Election day has been the longest Tuesday yet. While I had a lot to learn about Irish politics (which I’ve been learning about mostly from friends in my course during our weekly pub trips) almost everyone I had met was in step with every update about the American election. The man at the security desk of my building was refreshing the CNN website faster than I was and when a maintenance man came to fix my floor, he asked if there were any updates on Philadelphia’s ballot count. When I found out the election was finally called, almost simultaneously I heard shouts of joy from a nearby group of Irish teenagers. A group of friends joined me in celebrating outside by the river where we struggled to uncork a bottle of prosecco and hid from spots of rain and from slugs on the outdoor benches. Although I was looking at America from afar, it was a night that made me feel at home here.