For 18 years, my world didn’t extend far beyond Deurne, a large village in eastern Noord-Brabant.
Whenever I needed new clothes, we went shopping in the nearby town of Helmond, and occasionally in the ‘big city’, Eindhoven. Sure, we holidayed abroad now and then: four children in the back of the car, a boot full of bags and a caravan in tow – all the way to Greece if need be. Choosing my study after secondary school, I stuck to options in Nijmegen, because Leiden, Amsterdam and Groningen were too far off; too much city. What did I know.
Today, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a variety of places – including some world cities – for some time: the suburbs of Cleveland, San Francisco city centre, a working-class neighbourhood in Nijmegen, North and East Amsterdam, a Hong Kong campus, Winterswijk and, this past academic year, the concrete but colourful maze of Spangen in Rotterdam.
And while I know that the future belongs to the cities, I am happy to trade my downtown pad for a country abode. Literally. Because since last week, I have temporarily ‘settled’ in a caravan on a farmer’s campground, halfway between Rotterdam and Delft.
Although genetically speaking, green acres ain’t the place to be. I’m allergic to hay, grass and virtually every furry animal on Earth. But then I’m even more allergic to city-folk who think that there’s nothing to do beyond the city walls of their own, over-sized village.
Your own cows
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the city and all its conveniences: my night shop on the corner when I’m feeling peckish after 10 p.m.; visiting a museum for free with my ‘Rotterdampas’ after lectures.
But such delights can’t compare to waking to the sound of birds singing – or sheep bleating, in my case. Or the feeling of wide-open space you get cycling through the polder to university. Or fresh ice cream, made from milk from ‘your own’ cows. Here, vintage still means second-hand, and you know exactly who the son of the sister of the baker down the street is married to.
I’ve become increasingly aware that you can take the girl out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the girl. So I’m sure to enjoy myself these next few months!
Unfortunately most of the cities suffer not mainly because of the people who live there, but because of the people who want to live in the country and commute to the city by car, creating traffic jams, parking problems, and the likes. If you’d all stay in the country where you want to be, life in the city would already be so much more pleasant.