Borders, Barriers, Walls: Identity

To the Phoenecians and the Romans, the Straits of Hercules marked the boundary of the known world.  Not so much for the Basque fishermen who had already sailed up the coast of Portugal, around the British Isles, through the Faroes, past Iceland, and (possibly) into Greenland and Newfoundland.  Nor for the plucky North Africans who sailed across to the Canary Islands and perpetuated there until some Spaniards discovered them in a neolithic-like existence in the 15th Century.

Mons calpe (the Phoenecian name for the 1,400 foot high limestone promontory) is the northern pillar, and Mons abyle (or Jebel Musa) is the southern.  About 8 miles of water separates them.

Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق) (“The Mountain of Tariq”), when españiol-ized, then Anglicized, becomes Gibraltar.

When the Hapsburg dynasty was in its death throes, succession battles flared across the Old Country (as you might expect).  A Dutch-Anglo army went for the rock, and took it for the Queen in the early 18th C.  Leveraging the Spanish War of Succession (1702-15), Gibraltar was granted to the UK “in perpetuity.”

The myth remains that if ever the macaques leave Gibraltar, then so will the British.  Winston Churchill during WWII imported a mass of them from Morocco when their population dwindled to a few inbred mangy curs.

Alfred Lord Tennyson spun a poem in blank verse, widely considered a dramatic soliloquoy in the vein of Robert Barrett Browning, called “Ulysses.”  In this speculative fantasy, Ulysses has returned from his wayward voyages and gotten – as you might expect – bored.

So he rouses his men to action, proposing they sail beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, into the great unknown.  A final venture.  A last plunge.

I expect neither Tennyson nor Ulysses would have ever expected over 50 miles of tunnels to have been bored through that limestone promontory.  Never expected a massive data center and a server farm and three hospitals and a power station and a conert hall to be housed within.  Probably never even realized this is the last stand of the Neanderthals.

Regardless, the establishment of a border, of a boundary, or an end, a red line, a last straw… the act invites an investigation into the rationale behind the decision.  Often, the act is proven to be not rational at all, but highly emotional.

When we delineate the other (this is Spain, this is the UK; this is the known world, this is the unknown; this is Africa, this is Europe; these are Catholics, these are Protestants; these are Moors, these are Christians; these are Neanderthals, these are homo sapiens), we’re really defining ourselves.  Without an other, we wouldn’t know who we are.

It is a very egotistical act, usually born of fear.  Also dangerously galvanizing.  For ever cross the walls.  That’s the only way to make sure you don’t trap yourself in someone else’s definition of you.  Though the more intransigent are the walls you build yourself.  Always seek to broach those: better yourself.  Better to find yourself.  Better to be with your fear.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.


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