Borders

niagara

(Full disclosure: These days I’m writing for The Blog of Kevin Dolgin.  Reflecting on one of his sayings, found on page 10 of The Third Tower Up From the Road, I was moved to say a few things back.)

I deplore the presence of borders and cross them whenever possible, sometimes just to spite them.
Kevin Dolgin

I grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, which is right across the river from Niagara Falls, Ontario. One of my favorite things to do, as a young teen with very limited resources and an unlimited desire to get out of the house, was to take a walk over to Canada. There were two bridges, one at the north end of town and one at the south. The one at the north end was older and more utilitarian. Cars were stopped and their business politely inquired into, but a pedestrian would go along a rustic path and through a turnstile and onto the

Because it carried only a small fraction of the tourist traffic, the old bridge at the north end of town was the kind of place where a kid could dawdle around, suspended above the Niagara River gorge, and philosophize, and dream. The bridge was bisected by a perpendicular white line of white paint, across the pavement and sidewalks. That was the international border. I could be making this up, but it seems like there were two of those white lines, with an inch or so of space in between. There’s a strong visual memory of parallel lines separated by a gap, and I can’t think where else it could have originated. And I seem to remember wondering what, exactly, was in that space between the lines, that was neither Canada nor the US.

You could stand with one foot on either side of the line (or lines) and be in two countries at the same time. You could remain there and inhabit both countries for five minutes or ten minutes, yet the two halves of your body would still be symmetrical and pretty much interchangeable. A baby born in one particular spot would be American. Born twelve inches away, it would be Canadian. If it were born in the exact middle, would it have dual citizenship, or none at all? If you committed a crime right there, straddling the line, which country would claim the privilege of arresting you? If you dropped dead, which country would pick up the body?

The whole border concept seemed weird and arbitrary. It was a mystery. The water that roared below did not restrict itself to flowing along one side of the river or the other. Still ignorant of what borders meant in such contexts as, for instance, Europe during World War II, I grew up with the notion of a border as a thoughtlessly permeable and basically inconsequential thing. It was only when the Vietnam draft kicked in, that borders started to mean something.

Yeah, sure, wouldn’t it be great to have just one big happy world, with the same set of rules for everyone, the same chances for everyone, and all that good stuff? Only, as some ornery libertarians persist in pointing out, bigger systems inevitably become worse systems for the people who live under them. If everything were uniform, planet-wide, there would be no “there.” No place to escape to, no way to get off the grid, no where to go for a fresh start. A world government is not the kind of experiment which, if it didn’t seem to be working out well, could easily be called off. About borders, I remain ambivalent.

photo courtesy of exfordy, used under this Creative Commons license

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About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website VirtualVenice.info and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for Earthblog.net
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