I would not call myself a business traveler, nor would I claim to live abroad; implying distance from some hypothetical home base. Instead, my home, my work, and my life belong to a kind of transient village. As an acrobat with one of Cirque du Soleil’s touring productions, I have performed for audiences in thirty cities across the globe. It has meant adapting to different cultures and climates, foods, fashions, languages, and different rhythms of life.
After four years in the circus, I am used to life in a tent. Weather doesn’t always stay “outside,” there isn’t much privacy, and local pests find it an irresistible place to infest. Still, it’s our tent – wherever it’s set up we belong. So when our company proposed a move indoors, for a rock ‘n’ roll style hopscotch from venue to venue across the U.K. and Ireland, we didn’t know what to expect. We would be hitting eight cities in eight weeks, a mad pace to set. It was all I could do not to give in to the chaos, but I was determined to still experience the cities we played, to find their small gems and idiosyncrasies despite a short stay.
Following Liverpool, we hopped a tiny plane north to Belfast, a place I knew almost entirely from headline news reports but had yet to understand.
It is rare for the reality of a place to so closely match the envisioned version. The route from Belfast airport, a lush green landscape dotted with sheep, proclaims, “This is Ireland – exactly as you imagined!” Emerald hills and stone cottages, the stuff of Irish Spring commercials, are part of the tranquility and simplicity of this region, and they survive despite the violence and complexity of political conditions here.
My first impressions of Belfast were overwhelmingly pleasant, as I was lucky to be staying on Lisburn Road — a long stretch of charming shops, verdant parks, and antique churches. A bus route runs along Lisburn into the city center, although it was also an easy twenty-minute walk.
Downtown is pedestrian and shopper-friendly, with views over the River Lagan, where the 19.5-meter “Beacon of Hope” looks out over the water. Gleaming steel and bronze, she proudly extends a ring out to the world, an offering of reconciliation. Artist Andy Scott’s sculpture was constructed in 2007 and symbolizes thanksgiving and peace for the people of Belfast.