Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

I was first taught the poetry of Robert Frost in eighth grade, and watched him in 1960 at the Kennedy Inaugural, before I went off to New Hampshire and learned more about Frost firsthand. Over the span of my life, I have come to appreciate his poetry more and more. Mr. Trump would do well to reread The Mending Wall, and think about its message.

When I lived in Sefrou, the house I lived in abutted the city wall. When I looked through my bathroom window, I looked through the masonry wall of my house and then through four or five feet of the rubble that made up the city wall. Just outside my front door (an impressive wooden one with iron studs, a brass knocker, and a smaller door within the main door), was one gate of the wall. If the city were to be attacked, defenders could close the gate. This system worked pretty well in Europe until the time of the 100 Years War, when cannon and blackpowder made walls obsolete. In the four years I lived along the wall, the gate was never shut. The time of bled es-siba had long passed.

The gate by my house (just inside to right.) Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary and daughter, 1969. My bathroom window is extreme upper right.
The gate by my house (just inside to right.) Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary and daughter, 1969. My bathroom window is extreme upper right.

Next to my house was a garden that also shared the wall, and created an open space between my house and the next house built along the wall. The garden was not cultivated or used for any purpose. From my rooftop one could see the whole inside face of the wall. It had holes that in other times were used to hold scaffolding that had been used to build and repair the wall. In the holes lived kestrel hawks, and in the late afternoons they would return from hunting and fly in graceful circles before entering their nests and going to sleep for the night. It was a pleasure to watch them. Looking in the opposite direction, toward the southeast, the snows of Jbel Bouiblane caught the same rays that illuminated the hawks.

In the past, not only cities had walls, but empires had them, too. The Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall right across England to keep out the northern barbarians, today known as Scots. The Chinese built the Great Wall stretching miles and miles across northern China, and furnishing a name for endless Chinese restaurants. The Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, surrounded his capital, Meknes, with 25 miles of walls, some built by slaves. Modern empires have walls, too. Israel has erected what it calls a “separation barrier” between Israel and occupied Arab territories, but I think the word “wall” describes it better. The East Germans built a wall to separate the Soviet-controlled part of Berlin from that of the West. Walls never seem to go out of fashion, whether they are effective or not. Something there is in politicians that makes them want to put walls up, and wall people in or out, or even, sometimes, both.

It was strange to hear the presumptive Republican Party candidate, Donald Trump begin talking about building walls. The height of Trump’s wall depends on what speech he was making and varies, but in one of his last speeches, the wall reached 55 feet! Trump says he will build it along the Mexican border, and that the Mexicans will pay for it. They say they won’t, of course.

One of Trump’s early Republican competitors, and now a political ally of Trump, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, has said that a wall on the Canadian border has to be considered, too. Well, I can sort of understand that. Canada is the only country that has ever beat the United States in a war, and, even if the Canadians aren’t very bellicose these days, we all know that they spread dangerous ideas such as socialism and national health care and poutine. Where I live, a chain of doughnut shops named after a Canadian hockey player, is taking over the fast food market. The Canadians even have two official languages, a really bad example for the United States, which doesn’t yet even have one. And while the United States has yet to make good on its pledge to take in 2,000 Syrian refugees, the Canadians have already accepted 25,000 and are ready to take in another 25,000!

All the cities of Europe once had walls. Most were demolished to provide room for urban growth and expansion, often replaced by a ring road such as the one surrounding Paris, where exits bear the names of former gates in the wall: Porte d’Orléans, Porte d’Auteuil, Porte de Clichy, etc. In smaller towns and cities, walls still stand as tourist attractions, and some such as those at Aigues Mortes represent unique examples of medieval military architecture.

In Morocco, the French colonial policy of building new towns separate from the existing Moroccan cities resulted in the preservation of old city walls, and many cities have them. For me, one of the first views of Rabat was crossing the Bou Regreg and seeing the walls surrounding the Casbah of the Udayas. The walls of Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh are grandiose, but the walls of Sefrou are special to me. I would get out of a Grand Taxi across from the Bab elMkam, coming home from Fes after work, and walk along the streets outside the wall until I reached the gate outside my house, past the store owners and shopkeepers who were also my friends ad neighbors.




Author: Dave

Retired. Formerly school librarian, social studies teacher, and urban planner.

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