The web tape

by Paul Maharg on 28/09/2009

During visits abroad I like to get a sense of the place I’m in by early-morning jogging.  You see a city or campus anew, literally so.  The morning of the den Haag conference I headed out of the hotel along Jan Hendrikstraat, past the Grote Kerk, along Torenstraat, doubling back along streets quiet in the grey light, the occasional cyclist gliding by.  Unexpectedly I came across a tiny park.  I jogged around it once, past an unarmed security guard in front of an entrance to a substantial house surrounded by impressively high railings.  The park’s path, though, led into the house’s modest grounds, with just a web tape across the entrance.  The house looked too large for an embassy – what was it?  Second time round I couldn’t resist stopping to ask the guard.  She replied, ‘It’s the working palace of our queen’. 

What I’d taken as an intimate wee municipal park must at one point have been the palace gardens, Royal Stables at one end, with Royal museum and library beside the Noordeinde Palace (to give it its proper title).  All western societies have class & socioeconomic distinctions and markers that play out in so many ways, so I’m not trying to hold up Dutch society as ideal in this respect.  And it may have been the case that the queen just wasn’t in her working palace that day, and if she had been, there might have been a tank in place across the path instead of the tape (though I doubt it). But that simple web tape seemed to sum up so much of what I like about the civil informality of Dutch society.

Co-incidentally I was reading a review of Antal Szerb’s The Queen’s Necklace (concerning the Marie Antoinette Diamond Necklace Affair) in The Guardian Review.  The reviewer, Nicholas Lezard, cites from the book an interesting tale from a moral, jurisprudential and constitutional viewpoint, about an unnamed queen of Spain during the time of the Habsburg court:

‘"On one occasion the Queen fell from her horse, her foot caught in the stirrup, and the steed dragged her along with him.  A nobleman rushed to her aid, freed her, then leapt on to the horse and galloped away out of the country, knowing that the death penalty awaited him for having dared to touch her foot."’

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