We’re all here, nose to tail, thanks to the “border controls” that the French government, brought into force following the Paris November 13th attacks. In a previous article, I documented my recent slow crossing from Belgium into France. That crossing was rip-roaringly rapid in comparison to today’s torpid crawl. This is the real deal, with three 120 kilometre-an-hour lanes slowed to nothing, then funneled into one. It's a farce.
The French are serious, they’re going to check everything. The road surface will be immaculate. They will ask complicated questions. That’s what this big delay is all about. I have a piano, several lampshades and a box of garden worms in the back of the car. How will I explain myself?
Ireland's dear and glorious leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood manfully astride the COP21 podium in Paris. Holding the lectern in a white-knuckled embrace, Enda rolled out Ireland’s comprehensive plan for taking global leadership on climate change, and he would personally corner Hollande, Obama, Merkel, Putin and Xi Jinping and the rest of them into finally saving the planet.
That was a weird weekend. Brussels, the world’s 2nd most cosmopolitan city, with 62% of its population born elsewhere, has been a standstill for three days. The metro is still not running. Music venues, bars, cinemas, suburban swimming pools, all closed. Parents have kept their kids home, waiting for news on whether schools will reopen tomorrow. Soldiers and armed, balaclava wearing police patrol empty streets downtown, and in some of the suburbs. On our roof terrace on Sunday afternoon, the cold November air smelled of barbecues and baking apple pies. There's rumours of a baby-boom in nine months time. Across our street, more lights are on in apartments than seems usual. In one apartment, where the television alternates between cartoons or shoot-em-up games non-stop from 6am till midnight, I can spy revolving news stories showing b-roll of Brussels streets, cut with press conferences with the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel,...
All over the city my friends are losing their homes. The ones you think will last forever, passed from one artist to another, a bit crumbly, with uncertain heating but warm in atmosphere, always with stuff left over from previous inhabitants. Bit by bit they are getting sold or renovated for higher rents and more desirable tenants. But then for others it is worse still: families sleeping in cars, families fleeing conflict across land and sea, braving great dangers for a place to lie safe at night. Where are we all to go?
I paused at a crossroads. An image of a postcard flashed into my head. A postcard I received from my friend Donal, years and years ago. A black and white image showing two hands barely meeting across a map, with three commandments in red strips overlaid: Admit Nothing. Blame Everyone. Be Bitter.
I’m sick again, and so my world shrinks to the boundaries of the house, sometimes to the bedroom walls or the soft edges of the bed. The living room feels remote, but when I’m a little stronger it become safe territory again. The outside world is still too brash, too bright, in its distance.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Brussels (where hundreds of refugees are camped in parks, understandably turning down government dormitory accommodation). I’m Irish. I live here, for now. I migrated here, but I’m not a refugee. But look at the history of the Irish diaspora, or that of your own country. Look at how many people in your family or friends are descended from or connected someone who was displaced by war or crushing economic pressures, and think, did any of these people - the Syrians stranded on the beaches of Kos, or arriving in Munich ever dream they would become refugees?
Beautiful and poignant reaction by Suzanne Walsh, to this weeks news of walrus beachings in the Arctic, and the deplorable global loss of our fellow animals: "And yet not completely: the soft top of the head can still twitch with incoming images, like walrus stampedes on melting ice-floes. It's better to be the last of your kind, when you rule the world, because your kind is burning it up, even here under the clear blue skies." Continue reading The Last of our Kind, over on Visual Verse.
or all the travelling I've done, it's always good to come home. I am writing these words 50m away from the River Slaney, in the south east of Ireland, with a a copy of Crossabeg: The Parish and its People (Vol 2) waiting for me. And I'm honoured to be featured in the book. When my neighbour here, Alice Devine, one of the team who put the book together asked me to write something about my travels, I thought the best way was to show how my upbringing in Crossabeg provided the foundation for everything that followed - including my trips to the Arctic and the Antarctic.