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.
Today was a travel day, and though I had landed in Cyprus by 9am, I was pretty shelled out by the efforts involved in the airport process. I don’t have any pictures from today, but here are a few random thought sketches.
Waiting on a street corner at 3am, with all of my possessions, for the Sherut to pick me up for the ride to the airport was a terrifying farewell to Nachlaot.
Airport security was not as bad as it could have been, but I’m pretty sure I was shunted into one of the more high-security inspection lines. My stuff was unpacked and inspected for explosive material; my harmonicas were apparently extremely suspicious.
Arriving in Cyprus was amazing. I felt totally relaxed in the airport while waiting for a shuttle to the capital, Nicosia. I was back in Europe, if a distant corner geographically speaking.
I was staying with a classmate’s family, though they were away when I arrived and I had the entire flat to myself, which felt astonishingly luxurious. I had an excellent nap as soon as I settled in.
That afternoon, discombobulated by daytime sleep, I wandered down a street with broken sidewalks to a market where I bought pasta, salad, bread, and bananas. I was surprised by how quiet the city felt and had a hard time orienting myself in the urban landscape. True, it was a residential area, though it seemed sparse and empty after Jerusalem’s fast-paced density. Welcome to the island?
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.