I was standing nowhere, letting the vibration of the music fill my body, letting it rattle in my bones.
I was standing in no man’s land, feeling—rather than listening—the warped guitar and drums that shook the window panes in a squat in a demilitarized zone, or dead zone, in Nicosia. Nicosia, the only divided capital in the world, between the Greek half of Cyprus and the Turkish half of Cyprus. Nicosia has been divided since 1974, following the Turkish Invasion.
The whole point of the gig was to play music this loud—so loud you felt it. Earplugs were handed out at the door and I was glad to have them.
The building throbbed like a heart, resting in the thin line that divided the heart of the nation. The squat, like many of the buildings in the demilitarized zone, was left fairly untouched since the walls and great curls of barbed wire went up. Bombed out, broken, dusty—the buildings had windows like eyes, half lidded and filled with sand bags like sleep gunk.
I’d been to a handful of squat parties in my time, though to be fair, I’ve known more squatters than I have squats. This squat throbbed to the beat of a different drum; some were the quintessential squatters, just looking for a place to live without money, but most of these squatters had purpose.
Compared to the squatters I’d seen in London, these squatters were twice the activists, if not more. Signs pleading for unification of this broken city, this καρδιά—this heart—were painted on bedsheets with surprising elegance; the sheets then strung up along fences corralling the street that ran between the two halves of Nicosia, ran the breadth of that little strip of nowhere.
Despite the energy of the beating music resounding in the main room of the squat, the sense of space and isolation, the disconnect of the dead zone felt nowhere greater than the roof, which we had been shown a few days prior during our grand tour.
Starting from the muck filled basements and abandoned machinery, up past the wayward shopping carts and rusty, aged oil drums stalking the halls—silent, still, lonely and forgotten—and finally up to the rain glazed roof. There, one saw mosques and flags of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on one side, and the flags and cathedrals of Greek Cyprus on the other. Between them lay a narrow band of buildings, naught but bare, broken brickwork overrun with grass and weeds, save for those which faced the road running between the two halves. The fronts of these were rebuilt, refreshed and replastered, like the movie set of a Western. It’s a peek behind the movie set of the world, behind all the fettered buffoonery.
Showdown in Nicosia, high noon. The Turks and the Greeks meet for a shoot out. Pew! pew! They fire the water pistols of hand-me-down grudges at one another across the gap of nowhere.
Existing in nowhere, in the in-between, in someplace neither here nor there creates a sense-heightening experience. You’re still on planet earth, still slingin’ around the sun, but you know there’s something different: you’re someplace where everyone else in the world isn’t. Someplace where the powers-that-be have said you should not go, someplace where you cannot be.
Someplace that exists in a rip of the carefully matrixed socio-political existence—this place is no country, no city. This place is just a place on a planet spinning around a G-type star somewhere out in space. How wonderful, to be living the way we should, the way we could, if we tried.
Just people, just living.
Livin’ it up in the dead zone.
The defiance was intoxicating.
This little rip in the heart, though, longs to be mended: the Cypriot youth were crying for unification, to an end to the division. Anarchist publications were everywhere. I was, and still am, conflicted. On one hand, I wholly empathize with the squatters and their desire for Nicosia to be reunited with its other half.
Yet, on the other hand, I lament the loss of this rare experience for others: to step with relative safety—considering the nature of other unwillingly divided cities—into the in-between, into the dead zone. Into another realm of being, for the sake of being.
Just humanity and the earth.
How stingingly sweet it is to find the essence of what the world could be without division, in such a grand act of dividing.
Walls pounding, the music blared on, screaming through the plaster and disturbing the quiet evening of the officers minding the border dividing two halves of a heart. The man I was travelling with, a Cypriot—later to become my boyfriend—knelt over his many guitar pedals next to the amp, fingering chords and altering their tone and frequency, adding them to a haunting choir that looped out of the sound system.
This was music you could feel: iconoclastic, unrhythmically penetrating sounds—the symphony of nowhere. Guitar and drums. No rehearsal, no organization, just two instruments riffing off each other in the moment, singers spewing nonsense lyrics over their deep tones that dig right into your heart, right into your bones—into your soul. This musical duo was called SPOKO, which means “lighten up” or “no problems” in Polish.
The music of freedom may seem more cacophony than symphony, but eventually it coalesced into something familiar that had slept within us all along.
Then, all those little dreams of unification and dancing in the dead zone were blown apart like halva in strong wind. The squat was raided and cleared out several weeks later for possession of cannabis, among other equally petty charges. Many were arrested; instruments were taken and trashed. The article about it on Cyprus Mail has since been taken down.
Now the building stands empty, an empty face on the row of the dead zone once more.
SPOKO is exactly what Nicosia needs to do.
We all just need to learn how to SPOKO.
Maybe someday we can just SPOKO our governmental systems out of here, forever living in the nowhere that would be everywhere.
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Assist Ed: Kate Spano/Ed: Sara Crolick