Life at the Border: Separation and Continuity

In the last few years I found myself spending large parts of my holidays in places that were very close to country borders. It didn’t start as a plan but I suspect that, at some point, the decision to plan holidays in border areas has turned into a conscious choice. There is something about borders that draws be back again and again, some personal meaning that calls to be explored and unpacked.

I am not that interested in exploring the main points of entry, the highways, the hundreds of cars crossing the border each day. I focus on small border villages, backroads, and borders drawn along rivers and other natural demarcations. These are regions that often struggle with crime and unemployment (read here for instance).

The lonely traveler’s pub.
Riezes, Belgium (2022)

Life at the borders

There are borders that are meant to keep people in or out. They prevent people from traveling to see how life looks on the other side, or to prevent those who are unlike us from mingling with us. There are a lot of ways in which we dehumanize others in order to justify why they are meant to be kept out.

The borders meant to keep people in or keep them out are clearly visible, militarized, cold. People need to comply with conditions in order to be granted passage, to enter or to exit.

In a large part of Europe, there are also invisible borders. They mark administrative and political divisions but are not visible any longer to the casual traveler. There is no need for a visa. No control. No conditions to comply with.

We’re all travelers crossing borders

This summer I spent part of my holiday close to the border between France and Belgium and I hiked seamlessly across it. As I was doing this, I couldn’t help but think about the borders from my childhood, built to keep people in.

I also thought of how we define the other, the stranger, the one who needs to be kept away from our sunny shores and lively cities. I thought about the different stories we tell ourselves in order to dehumanize others and turn them from fellow human beings into foreigners, migrants, aliens.

As I was hiking across the border, I thought about my own experience of being perceived as an alien and a migrant. Somebody less than fully human.

It’s funny how so many of us don’t seem to realize that we are all potential aliens in the eyes of others. We are all part of different groups that are not welcomed somewhere.

We are all travelers, crossing borders and waiting to see how we will be met on the other side.

Looking across the border. Here, the river does not act as a natural border, as it often does. In fact, I am standing on the border on this hill overlooking the Meuse/Maas river.
Fumay, France (2022)
Small country road crossing into France. The border follows the small river crossing the road.
Riezes, Belgium (2022)
The pond across the border
Riezes, Belgium (2022)
Country road following the border between Belgium and France.
Signy-le-Petit, France (2022)
An abandoned restaurant on a road parallel to the border.
Chimay, Belgium (2022)
You can see where the border is by following the power lines. There is nothing on the other side of the road.
Couvin, Belgium (2022)
The old customs office is purely decorative.
Couvin, Belgium (2022)
An old, abandoned customs checkpoint.
Signy-le-Petit, France (2022)

17 Comments on “Life at the Border: Separation and Continuity

  1. Beautiful images, profound words to go with them. An interesting interpretation on the challenge. Sad so many buildings are abandon. It is the way of things, I know. Very much like that here as well with our “ghost towns”. Always a pleasure Florin.

  2. This is an amazing interpretation of “Fences” Florin. There are all sorts of fences. Some are visual, some are delineated on a map and some are emotional. You got me thinking!

    1. Thank you, Anne! Yes, there are all sorts of fences and often the less visible ones tend to be more important for our day to day life.

  3. Interesting take on the fences challenge Florin – hadn’t thought of fences as borders and vice versa but of course it’s true. Very thoughtful post, well done!

    1. Thank you Tina. Didn’t have many photos with fences 🙂.
      But I did have photos with border areas, whether the fences are visible or not.

  4. What I miss about Europe is this, the ability to cross countries were there are no physical border/fences. Obiviously that is lost for us in the UK. I love your take on this challenge. Thank you, Florin.

    1. Thanks Sofia, that’s kind of you.
      I did grow up in a world where borders were visible and tightly guarded. I can really appreciate living in a space with mostly invisible borders.

Leave a Reply