I’ve hung my hat for a short sojourn in The Netherlands. The suitcases are unpacked and the few collectibles I’ve trailed from India — through Greece, Scotland and England — have found their rightful, if temporary spot. The furnished apartment feels more like our home as books (always too many), a lovely scented candle, and an old, smuggled Indian globe now stamp it as our space… for just a while.
Throughout our global life, I have taken care to connect the threads that make our lives feel settled and substantial, wherever we may be. In leaving India, I made sure to cut those threads with care and appreciation as they bound us with a sense of belonging. Now here in The Hague, I find that I instinctively make the connections that will ensure we are grounded, only if it is to be for two months. I have always held that it is a privilege to experience another land’s traditions and culture, and carve your own special space amongst it.
And how could I fail to make those connections here, this land where my mother and first son were born. It’s a place where the cadence of the Dutch language is welcoming and the streetscapes seem as familiar as a well-worn wooden clog (shoe).
I feel myself lingering as I explore, appreciating and embracing in an almost heightened sense — the colours are more vivid, the buildings more dramatic, the scenes of every day family life reach towards me with a tender poignancy. Yes I remember fondly that it was once me cycling with my toddler, perched in the front of my bike through our quaint town of Oudewater. Now I wander down pretty cobbled streets recognising these as the rituals of reconnection, of embracing my new yet intrinsically familiar surroundings.
And of course as we’re in a country so abundant in blooms, a home isn’t a home without vases of tulips and peonies, so prolific at this time of the year. I’ve deviated from my predilection for white flowers, allowing rosy pink bloemen to flourish in the room — the fragrance of delicate peonies perfume the air amongst antique furniture, eclectic prints and tall sashed windows.
And one doesn’t have to venture far into the neighbourhood to also be beguiled by the scent of heavenly roses. They blossom prettily, adorning doors of blues and greens with lovely displays of pinks, reds, yellows and whites.
Our temporary abode is on a lively street, with embassies and lovely homes dotting the area. Wealthy merchants once called the ‘Archipel’ home, amassing great fortunes from ships plying the Dutch East Indies route loaded with rich commodities. These streets once echoed with the passage of the traders’ fine carriages — now it is with the tinkle of bicycle bells, the liveliness of chatter, the sing song of birds and chiming of church bells. Just along from us, past the forest, the cycle trail leads to nearby Scheveningen. It’s where sea meets endless sky and gentle dunes.
Our second story apartment looks out to a cafe that spills onto the broad sidewalk, the pastime of soaking up the sun with a coffee, a glass of wine or a pilsje is the norm. As chatter drifts up and I gaze out to the narrow, bricked homes nestled side by side like a child’s play town, I notice the poem on an adjacent wall.
Poems grace the walls of a number of buildings in this area of The Hague, perhaps a project to inspire and provoke. I find them marvellous — they cause one to stop and ponder, maybe even to construct one’s own.
I find myself purposefully wandering the cobbled streets to savour these verses, or to marvel at overflowing flower shops, or perhaps to admire benches doubling as resting places for potted flowers, and to take in the array of two-wheeled family ‘vehicles’ awaiting outside quaint homes. Cycling is intrinsic to everyday life — to get to school, to work, to shop, to cycle for the joy of it, and the Dutch have mastered bicycle infrastructure and design. I find myself also hopping on my borrowed omafiets (grandma bike) just because I can… to feel the breeze, to hear the cozy chatter of families as they pass on busy bike lanes.
Have I missed India? It was a cherished place to live for two years and we soaked up the colour, the unexpected and the history. The experience was like one of the treasured antique necklaces I bought from a local jeweller in Bangalore; intricate, imperfect, but ultimately beautiful as a whole. You cherish it, but it has to be removed and tucked away in a special place – in my memory and into the mosaic of my life. No, I cannot imagine not having lived there.
To live here now, for a spell is simply a joy. If it happens to only be for two months, we’ll embrace it with open arms, many vases of tulips, long bicycle trips, visits from family and we’ll say our many bedankts for the time being. And for the opportunity to live by my friend and co-author, Jo Parfitt… Monday Morning Emails can now be shared a doorway away. Even a place to welcome a visit from my mom!
And just across the street, the poem on the wall of Hotel Mosaic inspires me to sum it up, it reads…
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
that were in
the ice box
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold…
William Carlos Williams
If I had the chance to place my own words on the wall, I believe I would pen…
This Is Just To Say
Your tulips and roses
and my soul.
I have chosen the last
bunch of peonies from
they were so fragrant and full,
oh, so perfect…
Terry Anne Wilson