frantic property demarkation

April 20th, 2007


Children have very strong reflexes and often react in a clear, unambiguous way. When you're a kid, even though you are one of them, it can still come as a bit of a shock at how paranoid and over reaching some reflexes can be. To start off, the concept of sharing, which is advocated by parents as such an amazing thing, is very problematic, for kids and adults alike. But with kids it's a lot more obvious. Say you're with another kid, you both have toys of your own, and of course you're most curious about the other kid's toys, cause your own you know inside out. Just the same way, the other kid is interested in your toys. So you pick up one of the toys you want to examine, and just like that, out of the blue, a siren goes off. Mine, mine, mine!!!! You look up, the other kid is yelling at you. You're caught off guard, not knowing what to do, you drop the toy to make this bastard (no pun intended) stop. Just as you do that, he clutches the toy (which 4 seconds ago he was not remotely interested in) and holds it to his chest. Is it time to send the little critter to therapy? Relax, I wasn't about to take it from you, I just wanted to pick it up and have a looksie. Just because I'm holding it right now doesn't mean I'm not going to give it back to you in a second, doesn't mean I'm going to keep it forever. Although that is what your reaction would have been appropriate to.

Of course, as an adult, you will laugh it off. Hahaha, kids...

A caravan is a fairly practical and inexpensive way to travel. You need a car with enough horsepower to pull it (so compact cars are out), but other than that you are your own master, go anywhere, sleep anywhere. That's the beauty of the car&caravan. You can go from campsite to campsite, but you don't have to. You can just as well pull over at a parking lot and spend the night there, quite comfortably. A caravan is bliss.

Unless you're in England. The English countryside (and allow me to generalize here) is not welcoming to caravans. In a classic caravan holiday scenario, you've driven for hours, you're approaching that landmark/city you're heading for, and it would be good to find a place right now to spend the night, so that tomorrow morning you can stroll into the city and check it out.

Normally, this is the easiest thing in the world. There's always a parking lot, a designated "sleep over" lot in the back of a gas station, a rest stop, or even just some side road where you can spend the night. Not so in England. Very hard to find that place to stop. Why? Because everything is private. Every side road is marked private and sealed off, you can't stop anywhere.


Rome is a very dense city. Parts (especially those of historical interest) are very old, with buildings planted very densely, narrow streets between them. This makes navigating (on foot) uncomfortable; yes, it's charming, but you start feeling like you can't get any space, everything is so cramp.

Because it's so dense, they tend to maximize the space they have. So when you look to the horizon and see this hilly terrain (because it is that as well), with these small pieces of property very close together, the land owners tend to leave no space between one piece of property and another. This is not the historical center, this is just plain 21st century Rome as it is. What you often see is a cascade of land property, every piece sealed off with a fence, and they're almost on top of each other. Some are small pieces of cultivated land, some are gardens, yet others are tiny football pitches.

Yes, football, the very reason I found myself in Italy the first time, what sparked my interest. Seeing that terrain arranged in that particular manner, I couldn't help thinking that boy it must be a pain to play football around here. There isn't one piece of land in sight that's actually open to the public, everything is sealed off with a fence, in these cramped little sections. So either you're blocked out (most likely), or you're at the mercy of someone to use the football field (not likely), or you're sneaking in to play hoping to not get caught (not such a great idea). Everything is private, there is no public space. How odd, how sad.

Da capo

It is with astonishment I notice the same culture in Holland. People are only too eager to put up signs telling other people to keep out of their property. It's mine, mine, mine!!! all over again. You come to a road that leads up to someone's house and there's a sign there saying private road, keep out. Relax, I wasn't about to build a cabin on your tiny stretch of road. I wasn't even going to park here, I just wanted to pull in so I could turn around and go the other way. You see this everywhere; there isn't one stretch of road or piece of land that doesn't carry a sign like this. Relax, I'm familiar with property.

Why are people so obsessed with marking their property, putting up fences, demonstrating in such a paranoid, over reaching way what is blindingly obvious?

Let's turn back to football. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't one, I repeat, not one football pitch in all of Utrecht that isn't sealed off with a fence. I can't say this for sure, but I know I've seen plenty, and all of them were sealed off. Why is this? Obviously, you won't leave your best grass pitch, that requires plenty of upkeep, open to the public for prompt destruction. But why isn't there anything that isn't restricted? (Short of those concrete-jungle playgrounds for kids in inner cities that are completely useless. Just to leave no doubt, you do not play football on concrete, case closed.)


Back in Norway, casual recreation is very big, and although the majority of kids start out in some sports club at age ~7, most of them quit pretty soon. These clubs are inexpensive for parents, they pay some fee, but sports clubs are also subsidized by the government to an extent. The property these clubs own is strictly speaking theirs, but it's usually not restricted in any way. We are not talking about professional clubs here, we're talking amateur clubs that (most of them) don't even have a senior squad.

The pitches are not surrounded by fences, anyone can come off the street any play, as you damn well please. That is, unless the club is using it, in which case they will shoo you away. (Which, of course, they do a lot, so you have to adjust to their schedule.) But basically, whatever pitch they have, gravel (standard in the 90s, phased out now), or astroturf (introduced en masse in the last decade), they use it, you use it, everyone's happy.

Of course, the clubs probably would prefer if you didn't play there. Any use will degrade the pitch, the goals, the nets, everything. But that's just the way it is. You pay taxes, they get a cut of it, the system works.

In Holland, no such thing. You wanna play some football? Love to. Where???

Ps. In the Baroque passacaglia you would have one theme and then any number of variations on that theme. In the Classical theme and variation it would be the same structure. In minuet and trio from the same era you have a theme, a contrast to the theme, and then the theme again, with each of the three parts further subdivided into smaller atomic pieces. Finally, in a rondo you would have a theme, then a contrast, then the theme again, then a development on the theme, then the theme again (and possibly more variations). There are codas to be found in quite a few of these structures, not strictly just at the very end, but also serving as interjections. However, the formula I concocted: a theme, a contrast, a variation of the contrast, a da capo and then a coda, does not fit any of these structures and is a non sequitor by all accounts, to either the Baroque or the the Classical era of music. Just so you wouldn't feel compelled to point out the obvious, I'm being quite frank about this.

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4 Responses to "frantic property demarkation"

  1. Graham says:

    You'd love Australia :)

  2. erik says:

    "You do not play football on concrete, case closed"

    YOU wouldn't but the Dutch would. Straatvoetbal is very popular here, it's considered much cooler than regular football because the tiny spaces and hard floors oblige players to use a lot of tricks. It's all about technique: anyone can run with a ball on grass (=lame). Cruyff, Van Basten, Gullit, Kluivert; they all learned their skills on concrete.

    The private signs have an explanation behind them. By law, you are obliged to warn someone on your property that he has to leave before you can take action. By putting up a sign, you can hit a burglar with a baseball bat without having to tell him to go away first (because you already did, via the sign). It's not really anything to do with being possessive.

  3. numerodix says:

    Look, there are different types of football. Playing on gravel (which I grew up with) is wiiiiiildly different from playing on grass, which again is compleeeeetely different from playing on concrete. Frankly I don't care where Van Basten and Gullit learnt their skills, I'm not them. I'm interested in playing in an environment that most closely resembles the real thing, which is grass. Skills are not transferable from one kind of pitch to another, I'm not a pro who trains 6 times a week and can do anything anywhere.

    Besides, if street football is so popular why haven't I seen *anyone* *ever* playing it? (Aside maybe from 10-year-old school kids, but even that rarely.) Meanwhile you walk by those sealed off grass/astroturf pitches (or see them from the train) and they often have people there. Aside from that, the *only* decent sized pitch around here (and I've seen a *major* chunk of the city) is grass. There *is* no concrete pitch anywhere of bigger size. And they're always near schools, obviously for little kids. Let's not pretend that that has anything to do with the sport of football, that's like an asphalt schoolyard, with graffiti painted lines and two goals. Sure, it's fine for the school, but it's nothing like an actual pitch.

    Baseball bat? What are you talking about? So you pull into someone's driveway for a minute, you are in your right to receive gunshots? Besides, that's a pointless argument to begin with. It sounds a bit like the American "protecting my house" mantra, "if you're in my house I'm gonna shoot you". Everyone knows that *your* yard is *your* property. The sign is only in one place around it, if you enter from some other direction, you wouldn't have seen the sign, and you wouldn't have been "warned", so you'd be eligible to sue the lifeblood out of the owner with the bat, right? Cmon, this argument is hogwash.

  4. erik says:

    I never said the argument makes sense, and you're not allowed to seriously physically harm someone either. But people find ways around laws don't they.

    As for the concrete pitches, they were quite popular in my area in The Hague, usually in the more poor areas as Ive seen it. A lot of the time they're indoors as well, but that's usually more of a club thing. We also have provincial and national championships in street and indoor football (usually televised). I remember playing on concrete a few times myself when I was a kid but I sucked so I quit :D

    Cruyff actually agrees with you, he founded this charity thing that puts astroturf pitches in poor areas where kids don't have a lot to do. Hope that feels better :D

    Oh and welcome to Holland. Everything here is weird