It’s also great, I mutter above De Groene Amsterdammer, which contains an article about how the government is withdrawing from the villages. Especially provinces such as Zeeland, Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen have had to deal with increasing distances to care and education, fewer libraries and swimming pools, and fewer police in recent decades. Useful info for burglars: the agent is present from two to five on Mondays and Thursdays.
It’s surprising how quickly you start grumbling and complaining to yourself when you read such a piece. Not that there’s nothing to criticize, certainly. It is true that the government does not seem to care about small communities. The only thing that is always invented is to make everything cheaper by increasing scale, which rather disproves the story that the municipality is so much closer to the citizen.
And it’s not just the small communities that suffer from short-sighted policies: see the filling hospitals and the insufficient reception facilities for asylum seekers. Time and again it turns out that one has not foreseen anything, is prepared for nothing. And then you think again of all that happy booing about lean and mean, that misunderstanding that everything that is not used immediately and continuously is superfluous. The misconception that a country is something like a company.
The angry citizen in yourself hardly needs to be awakened, the slightest glance in the newspaper is enough. “Menschenhass” I hum angrily and then laugh. It’s a troubled chant from Brahms’s Alt-Rhapsody, in which a man is lamented who can no longer participate, he has come to hate the people too much – Aber abseits wer ist’s? Who’s standing there like that? Yes, who would that be. That is no longer a lonely figure.
Last week Radio 4 played the Classical Top 400, voted together by the listeners (no Alt-Rhapsodie by the way). All those people who become happy, moved or impressed by music, who can be enchanted by it or start stamping happily through the house, who sit in the car nodding their heads, conducting — it’s an extraordinarily exciting idea. Of course you have to worry about the world, the country, the fellow man, justice, care. But in the end you worry about politics because you envision a certain kind of life, because politics is not there for its own sake (“You think so,” mutters the angry citizen). Something like joie de vivre, that is what it is all about. My own angry citizen, of course, also delights in the grumbling, although it is mysterious, because it does not give a pleasant feeling in the least.
I am thinking of the words that the writer and poet Zbigniew Herbert puts in the mouth of the painter Johannes Vermeer: „[Ik] I will tell you that I am proud to have managed to combine a certain, very special intense cobalt with a luminous, lemony yellow, as well as to capture the reflection of the aurora borealis passing through thick glass on a gray wall.” You don’t solve the big issues with it, but if you look at a painting by Vermeer, or even think about the concentration and effort needed to capture that southern lights on the gray wall, then, yes, then. Then everything is different, just like when you hear Schubert’s string quintet or Bach’s double concerto for violin. Or when you read about wood dating that can determine exactly when a particular Viking settlement was built – that’s very cheerful and optimistic, isn’t it? Even if we go down then?
Marjoleine de Vos is editor of NRC.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 25 October 2021 A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of 25 October 2021