18 October 2010

Concrete Walls and Ghost Trains

Well winter is well and truly upon us now; the heavy duvet is out of storage and on the bed, no journey out of the house without at least three layers is considered and in some circles there is even talk of turning on the heating for a limited time, later on in the evening. That's loser talk if you ask me, sure it was only 3C last night, 2C at a push, nothing that an extra layer and a belly full of wrath and ire can't handle.

Thus it was in the aforementioned multitude of layers that I bundled myself up and out onto the streets of our Fair City this weekend for a series of adventures that can only be described as, with some not inconsiderable exaggeration, epic.

After returning from [REDACTED] earlier this year I went on something of research drive to try and understand much of what I had seen there from a socio-historic context. The main question, indeed the only question, that I am struggling to deal with is how a nation born out of the greatest horror in the western world's history could in the space of the last twenty years become the very antithesis of everything that its foundation was supposed to herald. How could the children of those who suffered the greatest oppression of the 20th Century themselves become some of the greatest oppressors of the 21st? For me this has nothing to do with religion, history or geography, and everything to do with the very core of the human psyche, it is as if the 60 year history of [REDACTED] is one giant Stanford Prison Experiment writ large, exposing the base inhumanity that lies in the soul of every man.

Pretty depressing stuff, really.

Mixed in my reading with books by Sand, Shahak and other local writers was a rather nice book by London-based photo-journalist William Parry, "Against The Wall". Parry travelled to [REDACTED] and [FURTHER REDACTED] in the wake of Banksy's 2007 visit and catalogued the artistic resistance to the Separation Barrier, the massive 8m high and 700+ km long (when completed) wall that snakes along, very approximately, the border between [REDACTED] and [FURTHER REDACTED] and divides, entraps, impoverishes and imprisons entire communities in the process.

Parry was in Dublin on Friday both to speak about his book and the situation in [FURTHER REDACTED] and to support a street art event at the Bernard Shaw that highlighted the [FURTHER REDACTED] message of 'To Exist is To Resist", complete with a mocked-up section of the Separation Barrier. Over pints much later in the evening I said that one of the things that struck me most about the book was that almost all the tagging on the wall was in English, suggesting that it was either by foreign artists, or was aimed at the international media, and asked where all the Arabic tagging was. Parry replied that all the Arabs were too busy just trying to survive to develop a local tagging scene.

Pretty depressing stuff, really.

Saturday saw a trip out on the opening day of the Luas Green Line Cherrywood extension. At Parry's talk the previous evening the IPSC had drawn attention to their Irish campaigns against companies involved in dubious activities in [REDACTED] and [FURTHER REDACTED], highlighting Cement Roadstone (which owns 25% of the company that supplies almost all the concrete used to build the Separation Barrier), and Veolia, operators of the Luas and original partners in the planned Jerusalem Light Rail system, currently under construction with a controversial route that travels across territory seized by [REDACTED] in the Six-Day war and servicing settlements in East Jerusalem considered illegal by the international community.

I love the Luas. If I was asked to stop being grumpy for sixty seconds and name one positive thing about Dublin, it would be the Dublin Bikes Scheme. If I was asked to name a second, it would be the Luas. Yes, we probably paid too much for it. Yes, there are arguments that its not the right stock for the city, that we should have gone with a 'lighter' light rail system, but I don't care about that. It looks great, its a joy to be on (except between Jervis Street and the Four Courts on the Red Line, which appears to be the preferred location of choice for junkies and their entrepreneurial dealers to conduct business, seemingly unafraid of the on-the-spot fine of €45 for travelling without a ticket. Have they no shame?), and there is something magical about seeing it travel over the canal at Charlemont, its like living in the future. Thus to learn that it was an active agent in the oppression of those in [FURTHER REDACTED] weighed heavily on my mind.

Pretty depressing stuff, really.

Its worth stating at this juncture that I don't actually support a generic boycott of [REDACTED] or all things [REDACTED]. I don't believe in either the Academic or artistic boycotts because both falsely portray [REDACTED] as a monolithic environment where every aspect of the culture and the entire citizenry supports the current deplorable situation. As I've mentioned before rarely does the international media report on opposition within [REDACTED] to State oppression, nor do movements like the human rights group B'Tselem, without whom Parry would not have been able to work so freely to capture the images in his book, get significant external coverage. I do, however, fully support any boycott of, and campaign against, individuals or organsiations that actively support or profit from activities considered illegal under international law, such as the Gaza blockade or the building of settlements and the construction of the Separation Barrier on areas designated as Arab according to the 1949 UN Armistice Agreement. Nothing about [REDACTED] is ever black and white, and no decisions involving my attitude towards it are ever easy.

Luckily for me though on the very day that I found out about this connection Veolia agreed to divest itself of all remaining shares in the Jerusalem Light Rail (after losing the contract to run systems in Stockholm, Bordeaux, Melbourne, and Hong Kong because of this involvement), so now it is ok to ride the Luas again, Yay! Thus Saturday saw a trip out on the opening day of the Luas Green Line Cherrywood extension.

The Luas was packed, free travel on the Green Line for the day drew out hundreds and hundreds of families and unaccompanied minors all looking for a cheap bit of fun on a cold and blustery day. We rode the full forty-minute length of the line, from Stephen's Green to Bride's Glen (nope, I'd never heard of it before either), then hopped out to walk around and explore the wondrous vista laid out before us. And by "wondrous vista" I mean "half-completed business park full of empty office blocks and concrete shells built atop what can only be described as an open sewer (if the smell was anything to go by)". Yay!

Planning for the extension started in 2000, the route was finally approved in 2005 and construction started in early 2007. A lot can happen in three and a half years, in fact, a lot did happen in three and half years, specifically, the greatest economic crash and property bubble-burst in Irish history. Oops. Thus many of the estates the extension was designed to serve never actually got built, and those that were built are sitting half-empty. Two stops, Racecourse and Brennanstown, have been fully fitted out but will not now open due to the lack of anything actually being at the stops, no streets, no houses, no people, and given the current state of the economy it is unlikely that this will change in the foreseeable future. Travelling along the line is like a Disney/Epcot ride exploring The World of Failure! (TM), a cautionary horror-house tale of hubris designed to scare small children into fiscal responsibility, a glimpse into an economic nightmare that you pray will never come true. Only it did. Poo.

There's a scene in Czech Dream where all the shoppers lured by the filmmakers with the promise of a new supremarket suddenly realise the whole thing is a hoax, that there is nothing behind the hoarding but empty wasteland; they are confused, they are embarrassed, but most of all they are angry. While it wouldn't be fair to say that Saturday's commuters in Bride's Glen were angry, there was certainly bemusement on everyone's face as they got off the Luas after a 40-minute sardine-ride, wandered around the office-block and peaked behind the hoardings for ten minutes, then got back on the Luas for the 40-minute sardine-ride home. The Cherrywood extension is our own Czech Dream, holding up a mirror to our Celtic Tiger fantasies and shaming us all with the reflections that we see.

Pretty depressing stuff, really.

The next post will be about happy stuff, honestly.

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At 12:14 pm, Blogger Niall Murphy said...

I will display my train nerdery in full next time we meet, and explain The Hidden Background Behind Line B1.

But in the main, I agree with your assessment: it's a line compromised by events outside its control.

At 12:34 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

The World of Failure! (TM)
Brilliant. You should start doing tours Davio...

At 3:00 am, Anonymous steve said...

love it... must hook up soon.

At 5:31 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

But whats with "redacted"?

Also Dave, while you are toasty warm in your sheep's-wool-well-insulated-super-building, remember that the rest of us live in damp and insulationless hovels in the bog arse of nowhere and have had the fire on for weeks... Its no loser talk round here!

At 11:11 am, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@Niall M - cheers for your words of planning wisdom, and the treasure map to the Secret Dolmen of Brennanstown (its a Class Two Relic, you know)

@2 Bit - now that I have a Treasure Map to the Secret Dolmen of Brennanstown I might just start those tours

@Steve - indeed, and given your own excursions to hiden spots on the OS map, maybe I could interest you in a trip to find the Secret Dolmen of Brennanstown?

@Snag Breac - I have found in the past that when one writes on the Middle East, you tend to get comments trolls and all sorts of crazy folks attacking you. Both to highlight the fact that its difficult to have a rational conversation about the Middle East, and to avoid the aforementioned trolls seizing on my posts via Google alerts or other keyword searches I chose to use [REDACTED] and [FURTHER REDACTED] instead of country names.

Also, if you are too cold in your palatial estates perhaps I could entice you to join me on a quest to find the Secret Dolmen of Brennanstown? There will be no, I repeat, no, crystal skulls or aliens.

At 12:48 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

"There will be no, I repeat, no, crystal skulls or aliens"

Well you _would_ say that wouldn't you....

(so yer worried about pro/anti[REDACTED] trolls but not UFOlogists? ;D )

At 12:01 am, Blogger g man said...

How about organising safari tours, whereby you can watch people in various office uniforms drinking from puddles of stagnant water while we take photos.
great posting. g

I found the posting happy.


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