20 August 2012
I just witnessed something very stimulating, almost magical. In the centre of Utrecht is the centuries-old Dom tower, the bell tower of the similarly old Dom church. They used to be joined together (*) until a spot of trouble in 1674, and the bell tower is the highest church tower in Nederland. Well worth a climb.
There is a attractive piece of open urban space by the foot of the tower, used on one side by a collection of cafes, and on the other there's a few trees and space to loiter. So there I was, on a comfortably warm August Monday evening, on the way back home with my stadfiets, when I became aware of part of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells being played near the city centre. It's human nature - you have to check out the sounds for the chance it's a party you've not yet been invited to. And it was confusing trying to find the source of the music - it was loud, but seemed to be coming from many places at once.
The obvious Euro cent dropped once I was near the Dom - the music was coming from maybe 100 feet up the tower. What was more, the carillion in the tower was being played as well. All around, people were under the spell, transfixed to their particular spot, as the ethereal performance moved from Mike Oldfield to excerpts from other appropriate pieces. Spontaneous applause broke out if the performer dared pause. Comfortably wedged on my bike, I joined the party, feeling invited at last.
I also couldn't help considering that that same magic would have been very difficult to achieve in many British towns and cities. What made it work was the freedom from traffic noise. There were no special road closures; a bus quietly came along the road between performance and audience at one point, and a couple of pizza delivery mopeds rasped their way through. And that was it for the half an hour or so that I was there. In the middle of the fourth biggest city in Nederland. Oh, and there were hundreds of bikes as well.
*If you're really interested in the reason for what happened in 1674, I recommend the book Structures or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J.E.Gordon.