Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oysters and Art

In the UK, T.J. Maxx is called T.K. Maxx. I don't know why but I bet the answer is sitting somewhere on the Internet. Potato chips are what we call french fries, and potato crisps are what we call potato chips. I've developed a strong love for red leicester (a cheddar-like cheese) & chive potato crisps. I've been getting a small packet (bag) of them every day at Marks & Spencer. I adore Marks & Spencer, it's sort of a mash-up of a low-to-mid range department store (think of JC Penney in their heyday) with Trader Joe's. If you're visiting the UK and need sandwiches, snacks, or booze for your hotel room, the M&S "Food Hall" is your best bet. If you need underwear, t-shirts, umbrellas or other basics, then head upstairs for decent stuff at decent prices.

Today was a bit about shopping and a bit about sightseeing. I began at the Ormeau Baths Gallery, billed as the leading contemporary art gallery in Northern Ireland. When I was younger I hated modern art and really only was interested in seeing works by famous artists. I guess this was because I didn't have my own sense if what art "is," and figured if it was famous then it was "real" and I could enjoy it and learn from it. My opinion changed drastically in Paris in 2002, when I was confronted by a giant technicolor rhinoceros at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. It stood there at the top of a long escalator, and I burst out laughing when I saw it. I got the idea that art wasn't just tied to art history. I started visiting modern galleries, and noticed the term "Contemporary Art" used to describe recent works. Contemporary art was alive, and "present" in the real world that I lived in. Some of it expressed a great sense of humor. I started to see that art is simply the artist getting something in their mind's eye out into the physical world. I decided that anyone with a vision can be an artist. Since then I've made a point of visiting contemporary art exhibitions, which lead me to the OBG. Contemporary artists work in a variety of media, across a gamut of styles. I saw trompe l'oeil, watercolors, woodblock prints, and still lives. The painting that stood out for me had a sort of 40's-50's propaganda look, and featured two hulking shifty-eyed bankers stuffing money into their breast pockets.

From there I walked across town to Belfast Cathedral, also known as St. Anne's. Even though the church is over 100 years old, it does not have a traditional steeple. Instead there is a modern slim stainless steel spire, nicknamed "the toothpick." The spire was installed in 2007, and dedicated to hope and the memory of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The one awkward thing for me about traveling alone is eating out. I love trying new restaurants, but going out for dinner alone is just sad to me. Lunch, however, is a different story, so I headed over to Belfast's best seafood restaurant, the Mourne Seafood Bar. My waiter was very knowledgeable and friendly, and set me up with a tasty local (hard) apple cider. We chatted about the source for the various fish, and he explained at one of the owners is a marine biologist who farms Pacific oysters up the coast from Belfast. I love oysters, so I ordered a plateful as well as a small portion of Queen scallops that were sauteed with greens, linguine, and finished with a light saffron cream sauce. Everything was delicious!

One of the most famous pubs in Belfast is the Crown Liquor Saloon. It's known for its ornate Victorian interior, and for being across the street from The Europa -- the most bombed hotel in Europe. I meant to drop in and have a pint of cider (I've developed a strong admiration for Irish apple cider), but when I walked in I did not like the vibe of the place. I had heard that it is a big draw for tourists and for locals having lunch, but I didn't think it would be so completely crowded at 2:30 in the afternoon. So, after admiring the chandeliers and the mirrors behind the bar, I wended my way back to my hotel, making a few shopping stops for shoes and those delicious potato crisps.

1 comment:

edhorch said...

Did you also notice in Ireland that it's not Oil of Olay, it's Oil of Ulay?