We fly into Heathrow. Although the London Olympics are in full swing, the line moves quickly and we are processed efficiently by polite, cheerful professionals in a sleek, modern setting – the opposite of the typical American airport experience. S. takes off for Germany, and P. and L. and I get on a tour bus, a nice one with leather upholstery and an affable British driver. Did I win the lottery?, I think. I’m on tour and I don’t even have to work!
I tell my friends that I’m going to be spending a few days in Northern Ireland, living on a bus with some other dudes, no hotel rooms, and the reaction is either of polar opposites. People who are in bands/ crew/ staff, who enjoy touring, curse me for my charmed life. On the other hand, to those who don’t like touring or traveling ( which, by the way, are two different things : I’ve been to Australia, yes, but I wasn’t hiking in kangaroo country or, you know, enjoying myself, I was backstage, worrying about weird-sounding rented speaker cabinets and my chops ), this plan sounds, at the very least, distasteful.
We drive through the night and onto a ferry at dawn, and soon we’re parked in downtown Belfast, which is kind of similar to cities I’ve been to in northern England and Scotland. It’s grey and drizzly and we lock the bus and hit the street.
P: ” So, what do you guys want to d- ”
Me: ” Guinness. ”
P: ” But should we maybe eat someth- – ”
Me: ” GUINNESS. ”
L. agrees. Guinness.
If you’re into beer or have ever talked to somebody from Ireland about this particular subject, you’ll know that Guinness Stout does not travel well, and that, additionally, the stuff we get in the U.S. is pasteurized. That’s right, they BOIL it – and there’s a protocol to properly pulling a pint which must be followed to the letter, often not done so in America, absolutely done so here, under threat of, probably, lynching. I hoisted a few in Dublin when WZ played there in the 90s ( a gig apparently attended by just about everyone I’m meeting in Belfast, and one which I am roundly congratulated on — I do remember the show being totally out of control, in a good way ), and I’m excited to have another opportunity. I vow to drink as much Guinness as I can.
P. takes us to Kelly’s Cellars ( imagine an ancient Irish pub, and you’re probably pretty close to what this place actually looks like), and explains the situation. This tavern, he says, has been strongly linked to the Catholic, anti-British movement for over 200 years, and was a meeting place for the IRA in the 1970s. There are a couple of older hard men ( the current men’s hairstyle in Northern Ireland is none, as in, nearly every guy I see has a shaved head, which gives me the constant, subtle feeling that thuggery is imminent, and I guess that’s the idea ) at the bar who look like they could eat skinheads for lunch, but everybody’s ( we aren’t the only ones drinking in the morning ) friendly and in a good mood.
” Guys, hey, could you order? I don’t want anyone to hear me talk. ” whispers P. Why’s that?, we want to know, and he explains that although he’s from a Catholic ( Nationalist, assumedly ) family, the town he grew up in, about 20 minutes away, is a Protestant ( Unionist ) one, and if the people in here hear his accent, they will assume he’s Protestant and we’ll be lucky to get away with a mere beating. We wait patiently for, and finally receive, pints, and I’m drinking a Guinness in Ireland, and it tastes like, I don’t know – angels? Clouds? It is very, very good. I reflect on P.’s childhood, going to school with Protestant kids. Things must have been deeply shitty for him, although he is a jolly, wise-cracking guy and gives no indication of it. This place was a warzone not very long ago, but you’d never know it from talking to these friendly, frequently hilarious people.
( later ) We go to where P. is from, and if you have a picture in your head of what farmland in Ireland looks like ( bright green fields, moss-covered stone walls, ancient houses ), well, that’s exactly what’s going on here. It is so pretty that it doesn’t look real to me as much as it seems like something a movie director ordered up ( “ gimme an Irish countryside, and make sure it’s extra-charming “ ). The town, on the other hand, seems vaguely malevolent. Everybody I meet on this trip is Catholic, and I start thinking of Irish Catholics as ‘our team’ ( it’s stupid, but such is the fucked-up power of the political situation here that I can’t help it ), and there are British flags hanging from every window, and Loyalist murals ( we note one of Iron Maiden’s Eddie as The Trooper ), and, on our way to the chip shop ( P.’s been dreaming about this moment for months ), we pass an honest-to-god Loyalist drum-and-fife parade. It shouldn’t be anything more than a curiosity to me, but it’s kind of unsettling.
( still later ) Towards the end of the day, I’m still grappling with a nasty hangover, and P. has the bright idea of getting a local - I mean, he’s from this neighborhood, and he stops and chats with almost everyone who passes by – taxi driver to take us on a tour, which turns out to be one of the best ( definitely not ‘fun’, but definitely best ) things about this trip. Here’s the housing project with the bunker on the roof where British soldiers got choppered in, there are the big gates used to lock down the neighborhoods at night. Here’s the Peace Wall, which separates the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods ( things are quiet now, but the houses that back up on it still have chicken wire screens to prevent people on the other side from throwing burning stuff over ), there’s a fence covered with the names and photographs of people killed during The Troubles. There are a lot of names, and we take a good, long look.
Manila, Philippines. You might think, if you’ve taken a taxi in New York City, that you’ve experienced a crazy hell-ride, but you don’t know what that really means unless you’ve been in a cab in one of the anarchic mega-cities of the future, like Manila.
The driver swerves wildly and repeatedly to avoid hitting people crossing the street, and my walk the day before ( a sweaty 5-mile trudge* up Taft Ave., across McArthur Bridge, up Rizal Ave., and right on Aurora to the entrance to the Chinese Cemetery ) showed me why pedestrians are all over the roads : what sidewalks there are, are completely packed with parked jeepneys, cars, trucks, and motorbikes, so that you’re forced to walk in the gutter. You get used to breathing dust and diesel fumes with vehicles whipping by six inches from you, or you don’t walk anywhere. There are few crosswalks, and the traffic never fucking stops, and if you want to cross the street, you’d better run.
He is young and slightly rakish ( ‘rakish’, here, meaning Oakleys and a bootleg Ed Hardy t-shirt ), but there’s a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and he’s very polite, like everyone here. Mass on Sundays and a baby at home, at least one, I betcha.
Me: Is this Linkin Park?
Him: Yes .. do you like this music?
Me: Um, sure. You? ( it seems rude to say anything negative, and I don’t know how to communicate something diplomatic like“ it’s not my cup of tea “ )
Him: Not really. I like Bad Religion!
Me: ( smiling ) Oh, you’re into punk?
( he pauses, not knowing what I mean )
Him: I also like Bon Jovi!
Me: Oh, so, you enjoy music that has loud electric guitars?
Him: Very much!
I spend the rest of the trip gripping the upholstery tightly and contemplating what our music sounds like, and means to, people from other cultures. I try to imagine what rock n’ roll would sound like to me if I hadn’t ever heard it before, and what I’d make of the distinctions between different styles. Not much, probably.
These aren’t taxis, they’re jeepneys ( learn about jeepneys here ), and although I was intrigued ( I’m not sure why shiny sheet-metal with hand-machined chrome parts isn’t standard elsewhere; these things have a sort of 1940s aircraft-aluminum look to them, and it’s wicked-cool ), I didn’t work up the nerve to ride in one.
* To put it in perspective for New Orleans people : imagine that it’s August in the Dirty Dirty., and you’re walking from the Uptown Whole Foods to Molly’s on Decatur, sucking on black fumes and nearly getting hit by a car every 30 seconds. I swear, if I wasn’t hardened to the weather in the Deep South, I would’ve wilted like a little flower. I managed to figure out how to take the Metro back, thank god.
Farther now. Hey, I’ll let you know what it’s like, if and when.
North Kohala, island of Hawaii. “ Moʻokini Heiau is one of oldest historical sites in Hawaiʻi and among its most sacred. It is a living spiritual temple and not just a historic artifact of the Hawaiian culture. Oral histories indicate that it may be 1500 years old. Evidence suggests the current temple was built on the site of a smaller older one, by the Tahitian priest Paʻao, who brought the Hawaiian Religion to the islands somewhere between 1100-1300 A.D. “
” The current site includes remains of the temple, measuring 250ft x 130ft, with an open stone paved court enclosed by 20ft high stone walls, and a large sacrificial stone slab. The temple is constructed of stones that are said to have been passed from hand to hand from the Pololū Valley, over 12 miles away. One myth holds that the temple was completed in one night. “
” For hundreds of years, a strict set of rules ( kapu ) were enforced at the heiau. It was a closed temple reserved exclusively for the Aliʻi Nui ( the highest royalty ) for praying and offering of human sacrifices to their gods. In Kohala it was the focus of religious life and order. In November 1978, Kahuna Nui Leimomi Moʻokini rededicated the Moʻokini Luakini to the ‘Children of the Land’ ( kama ʻaina ) and lifted the restrictive kapu. In doing this she made the site safe for all persons to enter the heiau and created a place of learning for future generations to discover the past. Her family has been taking care of the temple for centuries. “
” A few hundred yards away is Kamehameha Akahi ʻĀina Hānau, the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great. He’s said to have been born here in 1758 as Halley’s Comet passed overhead. “
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 • I got up early and took a walk, which is clearly not something people do here, this city isn’t designed for it. It’s nice here, slightly chilly and very dry ( my hair changes with the weather, it’s straighter and less frizzy ) – less crowds on the strip than I remember, and more down-on-their-luck people ( most of them look like they never had any luck at all ) and aggressive panhandlers, roasted by the sun, drinking, shit-talking at your back for ignoring them, all the way ‘til you’re out of earshot.
Also, little old Chinese guys, who look like farmers or factory workers but who you know are millionaires. They are well catered-to : right when I got here I had a big bowl of congee with preserved duck egg, which was nice.
It seems generally less sleazy than before, and hardly anyone’s smoking, but also I haven’t been down to the original part of the strip, where Circus Circus is.
I like the artificial environments a lot, the ones with cobblestones and painted skies that change from day to night. I like padding down endless, silent hotel corridors. I like the insane, vomit-colored carpets and the sealed-off-from-the-sunlight weirdness of the gambling areas.
* Haunted men from everywhere, fighting anywhere, dying for causes not their own. Legionnaires need war.
* “ It has to be said, that when I was younger there were a hell of a lot more interesting derelict buildings around. “
* You can’t drown the loud sound!
* Sean’s bass.
* Photographing, among other things, Mexico’s Cholombiano street culture.