Archive | March 2013

The unforgettable fire

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No, this fire is not from the streets of Belfast, but instead a mysterious scene from the window of a small trailer in rural Ireland. I glimpsed the eager flame when I looked up from our non-functional sink, through the thin, plastic window and across darkened farm fields and low hedges. I called for my girlfriend to look and she slipped her arm around my waist for warmth as much as comfort and agreed that we could not know what caused the fire to burn.

At this time last year, I was 7/8 done with Walking Walls, a little burned out, and in dire need of giving my bank account a rest. My girlfriend had a week of vacation for Easter and so it was quite apparent that the solution to all of these needs and wants was to spend a week together doing a work trade on a farm. So she flew out to Dublin where we met up before catching a train south to beautiful, rolling countryside. We were picked up in a rickety van by an excitable guy with dreadlocks named Phil, one of the homesteaders who drove us the last leg of the journey to his farm.

And so we found ourselves in an uninsulated trailer home with no heat or running water, while the Irish gods of weather seemed unaware that it was supposed to be springtime. Perhaps this explains our magnetic attraction to the distant fire across the fields.

For the next week, my Walking Walls posts will be less frequent, as I wasn’t producing much content for the first week of April. 90 days on the road, it turns out, is quite a long time.

 

Some things in common

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the air and earth are pretty much the same on both sides. Crossing over usually helps.

 

Across the sea

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I took this picture looking west over the Atlantic, toward home. Portstewart, Northern Ireland was the closest I had been to home in nearly 6 months, and it was still an ocean away.

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A year ago today, I spent the morning at Common Grounds Cafe, a not-for-profit, fair trade coffee joint around the corner from my hostel. I was becoming a morning person and developing an unforeseen taste for coffee drinks that contained milk.

Disorder

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It’s amazing how the order imposed by walls leads to greater chaos in their midst; this seems like a paradox until you understand that walls do not impose order to begin with, they fundamentally disrupt the fabric of society around it.

The urban decay that surrounded the Belfast Peace Walls was the most visual and obvious instance of this phenomenon I have ever seen.

Painted lines

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Territory marking tactics like these scuffed up Loyalist blocks always struck me as the nationalist version of “Jack was here.” They have less to do with conveying information than self affirmation; nobody (except me) wanders around the neighborhoods of Belfast without knowing exactly where they do and do not belong, it’s just part of living and growing up in the city.

To me, “Jack was here” was genuinely informative, adding a layer of information and understanding to how I read the city. But the painted curbs, street signs and blocks like these are rarely seen by outsiders, considering the degree of segregation that dominates movement in the city. Few outsiders make it far enough to be intimidated or informed by the painted concrete. Instead, they function most frequently as mirrors for the painters and their community, forming comfortable little borders for daily commutes or walks with their dog. It seems like the graffiti artists are actually painting themselves into a corner, limiting the space comfortably available to them through this fairly innocuous, yet persistent visual motif that anchors their experience of the city.

Looking out

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I don’t fully understand the connections between the Republican movement and the other countries represented here by their flags: Poland, Palestine, the Philippines, and China. The relationship between the IRA and PLO is fairly well-known and this connection was most frequently represented in Irish neighborhoods of Belfast (though interestingly, not reflected in Palestine that I noticed). The presence of these other flags, however, remains a mystery to me as I haven’t done enough reading to understand these connections. (Can anyone fill me in?)

It is interesting to note that I didn’t observe the same international connections and relationships being highlighted in Cyprus or Israel/Palestine-the dialogue of these conflicts felt insular, more like an echo chamber than an international community.

Walls in the head

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Posted on a North Belfast Peace Wall. Spotted March 22, 2012.

Open and Shut

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We were the last ones through the gate before the Peace Walls in West Belfast were closed for the night at 6pm, one year ago today. I whipped around to watch the custodian shut and bolt the heavy metal doors after crossing over. It is actually someone’s job to open and close the Peace Walls. I wonder what side they are on (if any), whether it matters, and how they feel about their job and its contribution to the everyday drama of division vs. integration.

Graves

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There were a lot of people in this Republican cemetery when I visited a year ago today. Fresh flowers left by gravesides dotted the field with pockets of orange, white and green. Memories of loss are still raw and fresh.