Trump Tales Follow Us to Emerald Isle

Although we’re nearly 4,000 miles from home, we can’t escape the specter of Donald Trump. He’s seemingly everywhere, whether he’s pooping out Armageddon on his throne at the Ulster Museum or acting eerily like Santa Claus in the Lyric Theatre production of “What the Reindeer Saw.”

While Marilynn was in Dublin giving another public “Hopdance” lecture, Declan and I had the day to ourselves. After a somewhat lazy morning, we headed to the Ulster Museum to see art from our friends Marcus Patton and Joanna Mules. They are part of a Royal Ulster Academy (RUA) 136th annual exhibition at the museum. The Ulster Museum is free to visit and always fun.

Get yours in the gift shop

Marcus and Joanna were friends with Stewart Parker when he studied at Queens University Belfast in the ‘60s and were invaluable to Marilynn’s biography of the playwright. They live a few blocks from the museum (and Queens), and no visit to Belfast would be complete without stopping by their imposing Victorian duplex (not kidding) for a gin-and-tonic, a warm fire and good craic.

Marcus is a talented illustrator who is showing an architectural watercolor in this year’s exhibition. Joanna submitted two bronze sculptures, a medium she took up recently. Joanna is a skilled painter and portrait artist who did a rough sketch of Marilynn this summer for a series of portraits of writers reading from their work. There is a future column on that experience coming up.

While perusing this year’s artwork, we came across this multimedia work of Trump pictured at top. Whether you think Trump will make America great again or drive us all off a cliff, you must agree that Kyle Alexander Lundy’s representation certainly is provocative. According to the description, photo prints are available, if you’re interested in adding to your art collection.

Santa Trump?

A Trump-like character in the guise of Kris Kringle made an appearance later that night in the Lyric Theatre’s original production of “What the Reindeer Saw.” It’s no coincidence that the ascendant Santa happens to be the 45th incarnation of Claus who wants to break all the rules before understanding why the rules exist in the first place. Maybe it’s to make the North Pole great again, but it didn’t work any better in the play than the US president has managed thus far in real life.

Instead of learning how to drive the sleigh and making his list (not to mention checking it twice), Santa prefers to spend his time at his own Mar-a-Lago, the reindeer shed. There he plays reindeer games with Prancer and his pals, although games are difficult to play among those lacking opposable thumbs.

Much PG-14 hilarity ensues, including liberal use of the “f” word at one point, a succession of fart jokes and a randy Santa wanting to make merry on his desk with Mrs. Claus, who was played by a dude. For good measure, throw in fractured Christmas tunes, local references (many of which flew right over my head) and a lot of snow at the end.

While not a panto, I guess every Irish Christmas play must have its own version of a dame (who is always a dude in drag). And like a panto, the play had a happy ending. I sure hope we can say the same thing about a Trump presidency.

Remember the Venues Less-Visited

In the two months we’ve lived in Belfast. I’ve walked past the historic Palm House in Botanic Gardens at least a dozen times. I know how cool it is to walk among the tropical plants and marvel at the architecture of the steel and glass structure. You can see for yourself what an impressive structure it is.

But I’m always on my way to somewhere else, either the PEC (gym) to work out or a shop along Botanic Avenue, the garden being a popular, tree-lined cut-through when it’s open during daylight hours.

Declan and I made a point to go by there on Sunday after we visited the Ulster Museum, also located within the gardens. But the Palm House closes at 4, so we missed it.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. Haven’t.

We have notched many “firsts” during our extended stay in Belfast, including visiting Belfast Castle and Cave Hill, attending a pantomime performance at the Grand Opera House, as well as events at Ulster Hall and the Linen Hall Library. But in the search for the new and the wow, we’ve lost touch with the familiar-but-still-impressive.

At a former job, I sat among the managers and heard them talking about flying in such-and-such job candidate, putting him/her up in a hotel, arranging dinners, etc., when I knew there were qualified, in-house candidates who were getting the short shrift. But the new and shiny has the power to grab and hold our attention much more than the familiar.

I’ve lived in in-town Atlanta for nearly 25 years, most of that within four miles of Zoo Atlanta and the former Cyclorama. For many of those year, we’ve been members of the zoo. And for the last four years, Marilynn, Declan and I have been Zoo Atlanta volunteers who were able to get into Cyclorama for free.

How many times did I go before the big Civil War canvas was rolled up and carted to the Atlanta History Center? Exactly zero. Marilynn and Declan saw it on the very last day it was open.

I was born in central Florida and still have relatives there, but I’ve never been to see the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs. Declan has never smelled the sour mash fermenting at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, despite the fact we get to Murfreesboro fairly regularly, and it was a favored destination when friends or relatives visited Fayetteville. And I’ve still never been to Tims Ford State Park in middle Tennessee, near where I grew up.

More on the Palm House

The two wings of the Palm House were completed in 1840 for the sum of 1,400 pounds. Each is 65 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet tall. The central dome rises to 46 feet and was constructed in 1852 and ties the wings together perfectly.

One wing houses more temperate plants in a cooler controlled climate, while the other contains tropical plants in a heated environment. The central dome houses a range of both temperate and tropical plants, with tall trees that tower over visitors.

Like the Ulster Museum, the Palm House is free to visit. And the very next time my feet take me past the Palm House, I’m pushing the door open and walking in. I promise.

Walking Between the Raindrops

If you were a tourist in Belfast today and doing anything outside, you’d have hated the weather. Fortunately, we aren’t tourists, so it was a wonderful day. If you stayed inside every day it rained in Belfast, you’d become a hermit in short order.

We entertained guests at the flat last night and slept in later than normal for a Sunday. I’m fighting a cold and welcomed the extra slumber. But when we got up, the rain was slanting sideways across the bay window in front. A crappy day, to be sure, and not one that screamed, “Let’s spend the day outside!”

For the love of crisps

But the flat is small, and one can only lie around for so long. So between downpours, we walked down the Lisburn Road to Poundland to buy weird crisps. This will be fodder for a future column, but Brits love odd-flavored crisps. Prawn. Lamb. Worcestershire sauce. Ham and pickle. Steak.

On past trips, we’ve become quite taken with the Meal Deal, which normally consists of a sandwich, crisps/dessert and a drink for a low set price (generally 3-4 pounds). Great for eating lunch on the go. I always try to buy the oddest crisps I can find that don’t contain onions (I’m allergic). But I have been unmoved by the selection at Tesco (local grocery store chain). Then we wandered into Poundland a few weeks back, and there, in all their glory, were the odd crisps I hadn’t yet encountered, many of which I likely won’t love. But I will try them all.

We bought a half-dozen bags (at a pound apiece, of course), went hairdresser window shopping for Marilynn and bought a few sundries at Tesco, before returning home.

Poop and polar bears

The rain started coming down almost the second we reached the flat. But it soon let up again, so Declan and I spent some time at the Ulster Museum, which is free and near the flat. The Ulster Museum is a joy to visit, and the exhibits feature a little something for everyone. You’ll find contemporary art and sculpture, Egyptian mummies, artifacts from Ireland’s rich history, ammonites, dinosaur bones, dinosaur poop and Peter the Polar Bear, who lived life at the Belfast Zoo and now lives on in death in a prominent place at the museum. You’ll also find an Irish elk (pictured), more accurately described as an Irish giant deer.

We stayed for about an hour, leaving right before the museum’s 5 p.m. closing—and yet another rain storm.

Meal Deals aren’t just for lunch, either. For dinner, we had a Marks and Spencer 10 pound dinner deal—whole roast chicken, rosemary potatoes, apple tart and a surprisingly good bottle of wine. And there is half a chicken left over.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday in Belfast.