On Urk

Schrijver en essayist Matthew Stadler woont en werkt tijdelijk in Rotterdam. Op scherpzinnige wijze observeert hij tweewekelijks de maasstad. Vandaag deel 13: Een bezoek aan Urk.

I ended my first Dutch summer with a holiday on Urk. They still say "on." Urkers think of it as an island. But the Dutch prefer polders, and they built one abutting Urk's southeastern shore, tethering it to the mainland with farms. Proud Urk has been laid low. Why? Apparently it's in the nature of the Dutch; the Netherlands is a "polder society." For the common good, a rationally planned, richly fertile polder of farms, peopled by the very best farmers, reached out, like a lasso to wring Urk's neck. The high quality of the dirt was a kind of added insult, as though Urk was not perfectly well off with a sea full of fishes as its neighbor.

Urkers still etch the names of their annual dead, lost at sea in the restless search for fish, on a stone wall at the lofty height of their rocky island. They're fond of church and sing well. I listened one evening to four men (who had inadvertently destroyed my campsite by riding through it on their ATVs) sing mournful drinking songs around a blazing fire, hastily made from the branches of a dried-up hawthorne they also ran over. Their speech was slurred, and I barely recognized the language. Urkish, I wondered? But no, the men were British, the police explained to me when they arrested them.

The British don't deserve their island. If the Dutch had it, they would have made a pirate's paradise, a bigger Urk. The British made a garden, while the Dutch were stuck to Europe, with all of its depressing domesticity and sober compromise. If only the British had been shunted into this glorified delta and the Dutch been given a kingdom off shore! Urk is the offending cousin who actually lived the fantasy—pirate's in charge of their own pirate island. They had to be squelched, so that the Dutch could bury their humiliation. The tall sunflower always gets chopped down!