I was recently in Minnesota for the holidays and took a roundabout route between Rochester and the Twin Cities to add to the collection of prairie nightscapes I started last winter. Working on this project has been a deeply refreshing means through which I have been able to partially reforge my belonging to this wide and empty landscape. The solitude and silence and crunching snow is impossibly peaceful.
I was at home in Minnesota for the holidays, and managed to convince my mom to drive around the countryside just east of our neighborhood so that I could take pictures of the landscape at night. It was snowing and the roads were slippery, but my mom was up for an adventure.
Since being in Boston, I’ve only caught a view without buildings a handful of times. I miss the big skies of the prairie, and all of their isolation and loneliness. I’d also forgotten how much longer and quieter the night feels when there aren’t buildings to block the huge darkness with their windows, radiating with yellow light.
I want to expand on this series, but am not sure when I’ll have the chance to. For now, here’s my take on winter nights:
How do maps address divided space and occupied territories?
This map was produced by B’Tselem and shows where the separation barrier has been built, has been approved to be built, and where the green line is. Yes, these are three different places. Naturally, the most complicated part of the map is the area around Jerusalem, where lines snake and weave. It’s just as messy on the ground.
I got this map from a lady in a booth right after the passing through the Lidra Street checkpoint to enter North Cyprus. This cartographer solved an awkward problem by simply omitting all detail in the Republic of Cyprus. Here there be dragons.
This is an official tourist map courtesy of the Republic of Cyprus and a Carleton alum who marked it up for me with helpful notes. The area to the north of the Buffer Zone contains some sketches of streets (I wonder if they’re accurate?) but otherwise notes resignedly, “Area under Turkish occupation since 1974.” I wonder if this phenomenon can be partly attributed to the two sides competing for tourist attention? (Maybe they won’t visit if they don’t know what’s over there..) Every map has an argument.
Unsurprisingly, my maps of Belfast never marked the Peace Walls. The Walls do not denote any sort of change in rules for the powers that be, only for the people that live there, so the Walls are not added to maps. Furthermore, it would be an unsightly blemish to wares in the Belfast Tourist Center, where I acquired this booklet. So, it was up to me to look up the locations I needed to visit, and mark them on my guidebook, sometimes with an R or L for Republican or Loyalist, so I could remember which side was which when I visited. My entire collection of maps is marked up with these lines and notes.
I wonder how someone living in these neighborhoods would map their city or world? Sounds like another project…
Before I arrived in Derry/Londonderry last week, I posted this tweet: “When in Derry/Londonderry do I….A. Avoid saying either name. B. Awkwardly say both. C. Know exactly who I’m talking to and what they say??” I got a helpful response from my friend Dave telling me I could refer to the town as ‘stroke city’ if I wasn’t sure of my company but felt a pressing need for accuracy.
Ah…What’s in a name?
As you may have guessed, the name of this smallish city in the west is a point of contention between Loyalists and Republicans. In fact, the prefix “London” was added in 1613 after the town received a royal charter, so you can see where that might hit some nerves. The official name is Londonderry, but as I rolled through the countryside by bus, I saw countless signs where “London” had been defaced or painted over.
This quiet city was the site of Bloody Sunday, and its residents have not forgotten their not-so-distant past.
There is just one Peace Wall in the town: this anonymous-looking structure, reinforced with dark green mesh fencing. There’s a secondary fence behind this, providing a second layer of protection against bottles, rocks, and heaven forbid, petrol bombs.
The Fountain neighborhood looks like a little suburban fortress, shielded from surrounding enemies by a few fences and walls, and gentrified by small pathways, nice gardening, and identical townhouses. Despite these territorial markings, my Catholic-born, Atheist-in-practice host said he didn’t feel too uncomfortable walking around the area.
I met a Protestant student who refused to accompany us to a bar because he said, half jokingly that “some ex-IRA member will speak Irish to me” and realize his affiliation when he couldn’t respond. I went anyway, and was not surprised to see Palestinian flags and Bobby Sands magnets amongst the decor. I met a Catholic student who works as a door-to-door salesman. He told me he changes to “Londonderry” when hawking at Loyalist homes. You could say that this divide doesn’t seriously affect lives here anymore. Are these examples ‘serious’? An impeded social life and and the slightest shift in vocabulary? The students didn’t seem to care too much, it’s just the way things are. Half a mile from campus, the entrance of the police station was blown up last year with a car bomb. You can see where they have repaired the wall.
This cannon is aimed at the Catholic Bogside neighborhood from the height of the city walls. Historically, Protestants lived inside the city walls while Catholics were confined to slums on their outskirts. The fort remains a symbol of oppression, its black walls, painted with slogans still loom menacingly over the houses.
This statue in the city center is meant to symbolize bridging the divide between the Catholic and Protestant communities, a representative from each side reaching out to the other. My host suggested that the remaining gap between the stoic figures is more significant, answers and questions in the negative space.
There’s a lot more to Belfast’s division than the Peace Walls. In addition to the snaking lines of brick, fence and concrete, physical division comes in the form of dual resources that allow people to shop and exercise without leaving the neighborhood, murals and flags that mark territory, and the urban geography itself, which has developed and conformed to the tune of polarization.
Today I did an experiment. I walked out of the city center with a very simple premise. Start in the Falls, take every right turn. If you cross to the Shankill, take every left turn. See where you end up. See if this movement is possible. This map shows the lay of the land, and where photos were taken.
I started my walk on Divis Street. My first right turn took me into Finn Square, a quiet collection of houses on a dead-end cul-de-sac. There were brick walls between the houses, and a full-fledged, 50-foot-high Peace Wall behind that. Strike one.
The second turn took me into the Ardmoulin neighborhood. Same story. The wall ran behind houses and crossed the street in the form of a fence that doesn’t open easily. This fence sits perpendicular to a huge Flour Mill complex. This barrier is just as effective. I had to turn around.
I walked next to the ‘International Wall’ on Divis Street, painted with colorful Republican murals frequently alluding to human rights struggles around the world. (Note the reference to Palestinian hunger striker Khadner Adnan in this photo.) It surrounds the rest of the industrial complex.
Finally, I took a right turn that got me somewhere. I followed Northumberland Street through the gates of a Peace Wall that are open by day. I was surrounded by industrial buildings, and the New Life City Church that straddles the no-man’s land. They were holding a vigil when I passed. I took a left on North Howard Link, and quickly came to a sort of horrifying, fenced-off wasteland between the Protestant neighborhood and the Cupar Way Peace Wall. The Catholic community could really use land like this for housing, but it’s on the wrong side of the wall and Protestants won’t hear of it. So it remains a dump, a buffer zone between the neighborhoods. Broken glass jingled at my feet.
I turned right onto Cupar Way. Tourists came and went.
I turned left on Lanark Way and again passed through massive, heavy gates in a Peace Wall. Back on the Catholic Springfield Road, I continued west.
The next opportunity to turn was at the pedestrian gate on Workman Avenue. I crossed into a small neighborhood and, to my dismay, found there was no way to keep moving west. I was being shuffled sideways, back east through the quiet streets. The way is shut. I could not pass.
Back where I started on Lanark Way, the severity of my discovery hit me. Within the distance I covered, there is no way to pass between the Shankill and Falls neighborhoods that is not through a Peace Wall. Every street access point is cut off, whether it be by “Peace Walls,” industrial zones, the layout of neighborhoods, or a combination of all three. The physical division here is much worse than I realized before doing this walk.
Another observation from today’s walk: whose movement do the Peace Walls restrict? Sure, you can get around this massive interface, as I’ve pointed out before, but you have to go to the city center, or farther into the suburban area, tacking on two miles or more to your trip. No problem in a car, but on foot, skateboard, or by bike, this has a significant impact. The interface here restricts pedestrians, people without a car. People who are too poor to own a car. It’s no secret that interface areas also have higher unemployment rates, incidences of violence, and are overall more resource-deprived than almost anywhere else in Northern Ireland. Dare I suggest an element of class discrimination in this scheme?
And so how do we define “Peace Wall?” If the walls around a Flour Mill have the same dividing function as the official walls, should we count it as a barrier? If there are two “Leisure Centers” within half a mile of each other (as there are in Shankill and Falls), I believe that counts as a structural means of separation, too. Division runs deeper than these walls, it oozes out of every aspect of the urban landscape.
Last week, I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Buffer Zone in Nicosia on a UN-escorted tour. For an hour on a chilly morning, Michal, a peacekeeper from Slovakia, showed me the rarely-seen parts of the world’s last divided capital. Photo opportunities were limited, and I was told very seriously, “do not point your camera at the Turkish positions,” but even so, I came away with lots of fascinating stories and pictures. Here’s a sampling:
The view of the Buffer Zone from the edge of the Venetian Walls. Decrepit buildings dominate this heavily militarized strip of land, while everyday life continues no more than 50 meters away.
This building served as a high school until 1974. Now its sandstone walls are riddled with bullet holes as it falls into ruins.
The flags of Greece and Cyprus fly amidst tall grass and crumbling structures. Any changes to the Buffer Zone create military advantages and disadvantages, so it has remained largely untouched to preserve the terms of the cease-fire, if not the historic buildings.
A bathroom in shambles. Residents fled their homes when the fighting started, never to return.
UN Peacekeepers maintain a collection of footballs that have been lost to the Buffer Zone.
An elderly woman named Annie continued to live in this house long after fighting divided the city. Special arrangements and checkpoints were made to accommodate her. When she finally died, soldiers from both sides of the conflicts attended her funeral to pay their respects.
UN Peacekeepers have left their mark on the Buffer Zone, taking advantage of soft sandstone walls to carve a slogan, or the name of their lovers.
Bullet holes still mark the intensity of street-to-street fighting that took place during the Turkish invasion. The entire Buffer Zone feels as though it has been lost to time, and it is easy to imagine a sniper peering through this window as we walk past.
My informative and protective escort, Michal, pauses during the tour. He will serve in Cyprus for another year and enjoys his work, but is not especially optimistic that the Cyprus Problem will be solved anytime soon.