August 29, 2006

Utrecht. Beggar's city.

Utrecht´s Oude GrachtWent to Utrecht yesterday. It is a city that poet Ingmar Heytze called a “golden cage”.

Utrecht is a city that you can’t leave, where you can’t stay
to stylishly go grey in, between pubs, churches, palaces,
to doubt a prey. Utrecht is a golden cage.

My translation, link for the same lines in Dutch.

One wonders where from comes Heytze’s feeling of being haunted, of all places, here. It cannot have been the city itself. This old city, with all the charms of an old established university, cathedral, patrician houses, is itself an image of style that, at first, appears to hold all picturesque ingredients for graceful ageing.

A walk through it will make you find out though. Around the train station, beggars. In every shopping street, a student working your guilty conscience into joining some charity. On every street corner, by every bridge over Utrecht’s old canals fundraisers, asking you “if you can afford a donation for the kidney foundation”. You feel rude at first saying no. Then, after the second, you have really made your decision. After about five fundraisers, you get annoyed. After ten fundraisers, you feel like telling them off, but only after throwing them in the canal.

Just before you do so, you realise that it’s not possible. Below the street in which this cunning fellow blocks your way are the docks by the canal side, used as beer gardens and for beverage deliveries. A fall onto which would effectively break his legs, rather than tip him in the water. Annoyed, you sigh, tell him “no thanks” and continue your way through the beautiful city centre. And you know Heytze was right: in this golden cage you will never age in peace.

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