#94, Royal Avenue, Belfast
I was going to subvert Chekhov’s famous line (“Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress”) to say that Dublin is my lawful wife and Belfast my mistress. But then I realized it's a much more convoluted relationship than that. Belfast is more than my mistress. Belfast is also my ex, the “it’s complicated” friend, the city I see far less frequently than I’d like, but when we meet again, it’s always a little awkward, a little familiar, and just when things start going good, I have to leave again. And then I realize Dublin is not my lawful wife at all, Brooklyn is, as I will have to report to the IRS very shortly, and so you can see relationship metaphors will only get you so far in life.
You see, I wrote a novel. It’s that famed first novel, the one that sits in a drawer and is read by no one. It sits on a shelf, actually, and it was read by a good number of fine editors at major publishing houses; it was looked at and nibbled on and declared tasty but no one took the big bite. I’m quite at peace with this now because I watch Dylan Moran’s short film on the nasty subject at least once a day. It helps keep the equilibrium as I finish work on the next one. The book-in-progress is set in Dublin; the first was set, in part, in Belfast. I’ve unfinished business with the place and while I don’t know the size or shape of the business, I do know it’s there.
This photograph was taken on an overcast, grey late afternoon in Belfast (is there any other kind?) after I'd spent a good hour or so writing and looking out the window of a coffee shop, admiring through a plate glass window the ghostly behemoth of an Art Deco building that stands guard at the end of Royal Avenue. Ireland’s banks evoke a whole host of feelings these days (see Bock , Sweary ) but on this day, it stood out as a singular beauty, imposing and odd, its streaked white façade and top like a melted-down, digitized Palladian dome.
I have, over the years, learned the joys of the fiction writer’s research trip. Its possibilities, whether wandering about with a pocket notebook, whiling away the hours in the streets or away in the pub researching the quality of Guinness while still feeling like you’re getting work done, are endless. The point of all the copious note-taking, presumably, is to gather material for the work you have yet to do. But in the moment, the notes and sketches, the scraps of overheard conversation and street signs, end up creating something almost as satisfying as the finished project.
And while Belfast may conjure certain associations and sights, I can guarantee none of them are quite as bewildering as this . There is glitter and disco and, while I can’t figure out what any of this has to do with the gray, once war-torn city I'm thinking of, a horrible and delightful earworm. You have been warned.