Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Eiland van Briennenoord


This specific spot in the picture has an unique soundscape so outstanding that the sounds alone merit a visit. The A16 highway traffic and the howling underbridge-winds concoct a raw and hard-coming rumbling. The waves from the Maas break on the rivershore rocks and make for constant water splashes. When these sound sources layer up, if you close your eyes and retreat into an audio reality, it is not difficult to imagine a rainstorm taking place around you. This is a storm point, even on a fairly sunny day.

But then, if you're here at the right time, you will also notice the presence of a lively chirping from your local bird-friends, hanging around in the trees on your sides. This lightness dresses up the heavies, and together they satisfy both ends of a tonal spectrum. There is a deep moving force which overwhelms, but there is also this reminder of immediate lives that sing regardless. Buddy, it's like the truth of the universe or something. 

It may be difficult to believe that a soundscape as aesthetically complete as this one wasn't designed specifically to be so. Sometimes recorded music isn't even this good.  I don't know if they took these sounds into consideration when they built a concrete bridge over an island in the middle of the river. On one hand I would like to live in a world where people have the sense to intentionally create spectacular spaces like these. On the other hand I would also like to live in a world where spaces like these can come to be on their own.

Where is this specific space anyways? Remember in the previous post where I saw some trees in the river after I've crossed the bridge? I managed to walk to where the trees were. It turned out to be an island in the middle of the Nieuwe Maas called Eiland van Briennenoord. I guess I've seen it on the map, but I never expected it to surprise me in so many ways. I guess that's the definition of a surprise.

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There's something cinematic about tall, grey concrete structures. Especially when you walk under them and realize how small you are in comparison.  You can see this place in a post-apocalyptic movie as a spot where future nomads would settle for a week. There's a lot of graffiti here which gives it an urban personality, even when it's a little far out from the city centre.

For more current information, I have heard about a presence of present-day urban nomads, namely the homeless folks that come here at night and hang around. Some might feel uncomfortable about that and wouldn't want to be here after a certain time. How you choose to feel about the situation and what you decide to do about it is an issue you have to resolve internally. According to numbers from 2006, there are 4000 homeless people in Rotterdam, and this was before the economic recession. I don't usually think about it much lest it keeps me awake at night, while I lay in my bed, under a roof. Anyways what matters is what needs to be done to help them and who is willing to contribute to these efforts. How I feel about it personally is of minor causal significance here except that it is difficult for me to summarise the issue in any short sentence. Here's more details on the Rotterdam government's homeless policies.

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A discussion can be had about whether managed green spaces like this in an urban setting count as "nature". In my preferred definition, anything that people do and build is "natural", as people came to be and act they way they do "naturally" (i.e. we came from cave people to this urban civilization without any artificial third party involvement). As such, a man-made park is a piece of "nature" but then maybe so is a parking lot. There are plants and animals that are active in both environments.

Many plants and animals are active on the island. I've never gotten into identifying them but maybe I should. There are several different kinds of birds here, for instance, and it would be fun to know what species they are. But it is also fun to just look and listen. I think the walking ones are pheasants.

Starting every May and until sometime in the winter, they also place grote grazers on the island, namely Scottish Highland Cows. They are really chill (as long as you don't get too close or irritate them) (anyone who's chill is probably like that). You may find them hanging around the woods or strolling on the footpaths or taking a dip in the ponds. They have younger calves too. In my experience it is difficult to find a person who doesn't like these cows.

People also come to the island for angling. I feel neutral about angling. I eat fish. I don't eat cows. But hey this isn't chiefly a blogpost on how I manage my compassion and how that affects my life choices, maybe I'll stop now. I can write about these topics elsewhere like in these motivation letters I'm sending out 

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We may identify the island's two specific connections to Rotterdam's urbanity, one historic and one visual. The historic one: in the 60s, Rotterdam built the first metro system in the Netherlands, with a metro line that went from Centraal Station to Zuidplein. After the Maastunnel, a second tunnel under the Maas had to be built for this metro, and most of that tunnel was built on the island before being lowered into the bottom of the river. It was 2 km of solid engineering feats, very much in character with this city. Some traces of the construction process are still left on the island.



The visual one doesn't need much explanation. Initially I planned to stand on the Van Briennenoordbrug to find a sweetspot for viewing the city's skyline. I didn't find it on the bridge but I have found it on the island that the bridge is named after. Come and see for yourself. The city looks pretty good from here.

A line of conclusion? I'm really busy now but hopefully as the summer hits I'll have time to come back here more often. City-dwellers like to talk about the search for an island of composure and retreat, in the sometime-stifling anxiety of urban life. People usually mean that metaphorically but this is literally that kind of island. Lately I've been feeling like I can use some composure and retreat but oh look we're back to my problems again.

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