My first month as a member of the Postman Pat fraternity was spent filling temporarily vacant spots all over East. At the beginning of my second month I was given my own two rounds in Garden Village, which is the literal translation of this 1930ties model village (Tuindorp) that was added to Utrecht municipality only in 1953. My first experience of Garden Village was something of a cold shower, a mixture of underwhelmed alienation and hard graft as I walked endless tree-lined streets, passing uncountable ornamental mini-parks, walking up and down the deep gardens that front the three-story high brick buildings with their brown tiled roofs. The overall impression of the ambience of Garden Village is one of boring and diminutive order, a corner of maddening sanity surrounded by neighbourhoods famous for the desolate genius of their towerblocks.
In the hazy Indian summer air the end of the long street are hidden behind the curving of the earth, out of reach beyond a horizon of which the distance can't be approximated; empty space creates a richly filled time, it's part of the Situationist formula for a new urbanism but I don't buy it. I need to shake off the emptiness that follows when sterile uniformity and rational domesticity meet on the drawing table of a mediocre utopist. There are two churches, one catholic and one protestant, both located conveniently central but at polite distance from each other, there is one school and one playground, there is one garage and no shops (though there are a few corner-houses used by small business that must have been greengrocers and butchers in the past). The Catholic church is the centre of a little park with a pond with a small flock of aggressive geese. It keeps annoying me that the small electricity relay station is housed in a little building with a roof identical to the church. So thought out, so pretty, so devoid of contrast. At the nearest corner, at opposing sides of the road tree roots have upset the pavement and I need to navigate my trolley, heavy and unstable, loaded with 3 full bags of mail, around them. Oh my: the wildness, the shade, the cryptoforest.
There is no place for poor people in Garden Village, they can't afford it. The neighbourhood is obviously affluent, its occupants all working in professions that are the pearls in the crown of the middle class: doctors, dentists, airline pilots, lawyers, architects, professors, and school directors. In comparison to most other places where houses are privately owned there are hardly any for-sale signs to be seen. Real estate is at its lowest point in decades and the number of houses that are on the market is rising visibly, but you don't notice it here. It 's another sign of its village sleepiness, its ability to ignore the insecurities of the world around it. Once you move into Garden Village you stay there for the rest of your life, it's your final destination on the housing market. Here you raise your children and spent your retirement. A house here starts at 450.000 Euro. Social demographics add to my alienation, I am just another underpaid servant servicing the living death.
Between the trees and the bushes, walking from door to door, via manicured garden to manicured garden, through streets that appear empty even when people are about, blotted out against the massiveness of the houses, the 80 year old trees, the photogenic symmetry of its streets. At first I felt continuously disoriented and lost, following the post through a spooked ghost town free of internal contrasts and without street life, delivering post to barrister blonds and their Human Resource division leader husbands. People do not live here: they dwell comfortably in uncluttered rooms, a piano in the corner, a piece of art in the window, marriage disputed settled with an informal meeting over a coffee machine that costs more than I earn in six months. The windows are clean, the cleaning ladies are the only non-white persons I ever see.
After a month in Garden Village the front of uniformity is beginning to break. A little. I am beginning to see where the 'bad' streets are: where the gardens are weedy and the cars are unwashed. The average age of the population, as I estimate it, keeps rising, many gardens have been kept in the same state for decades, to a garden historian Garden Village must be a Rosetta Stone of thirty years of garden fashion.
Saturdays are different: the ghost town becomes a Lazarus village. Gardens are tended, neighbours complain to one and other, fairs are organized, sports are practised. Teenagers in sporting cloths are to be seen everywhere, going to or coming from their football and hockey clubs. It's like one of those Midsommer Murder villages, albeit without the murder and the deprivation. The image is not that far fetched as Garden Village was modelled after English example.
After four weeks the sense of being lost at a place where I did not belong is making way for a gradual awareness to difference and detail. Most front doors have been opened for me by now, people great me, people start to recognize me, people begin to speak to me, I begin to see where the people are who are home all day. Next they will be offering me candy. Garden village is absorbing me, in that it is a real village as well.