Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Pick nick




Criss-crossing the Netherlands on various day and weekend trips these past few weeks has rekindled my love for the motherland. It almost feels like I am seeing the low horizons and endless skies for the first time.

 Over the past six months I have been pretty much blind for what the Netherlands have to offer. Moving back after eight exciting years living abroad felt a bit like an anti-climax. No new horizons to explore, no alien culture to conquer and going to the supermarket was like a deja-vu. My surroundings felt way too familiar to really appreciate them. The fact that we moved to a new village in a part of the country that I had never seen before, did not change that feeling one bit.
My eyes were not ready to see beauty close to home, nor was my heart ready to let new people in. After the draining months of prolonged farewells, an exhausting move and a month of unpacking boxes and trips to the skip, I simply was not ready to look at the world with expectant eyes.
Luckily autumn came to the rescue, giving me a perfect excuse to hibernate. Within the four walls of my rented house I could easily pretend nothing much had changed. Armed with my knitting needles 500 grams of wool and endless cups of tea I could just about face my new life.
But now it is spring and the sun has been shining bright for at least six weeks. Fresh, almost see through leaves have magically appeared, countless tulips open their flowers and little lambs are frolicking left right and centre beckoning me to come out of my shelter. And I must admit that after visiting the famous Keukenhof, I am feeling a lot more upbeat about Holland. Even the ubiquitous tulip/wooden shoes/windmill paraphernalia that I find in most places I visit can not seem to dampen my spirits. The little multicoloured windmill my friend bought me a the tulip festival has quickly become one of my most priced possessions. I love how its moving vanes and tulips set the scene just outside my back door.
Last weekend I mingled with tourists from every corners of our planet to have a lovely Easter stroll round the Museum Square in Amsterdam. The sky was the brightest of blues, the fa├žade of the Rijksmuseum looked truly magnificent and I did not even have to wrestle my way in to get a look at the paintings, because I can do that any day, so in effect it can wait for a rainy day. No, I just sat and watched and ate an ice cream and it was lovely.
The rest of my Easter weekend I spend visiting friend in Zeeland, the far south western tip of the Netherlands, where the land is so flat and the villages so few and far between that the sky really takes centre stage. I used to live in this beautiful corner of the world and felt the roots I grew tug at my feet. Life seemed simpler, or at least gentler in this peaceful corner of the world. I surprised myself by enthusiastically taking various pictures of a photogenic dike with typically Dutch houses and a windmill.
Without moving away from the Netherlands and living abroad for almost a decade I do not think I could have ever seen my country, nor understood the identity of our national symbols with such fresh mind. I always laughed at this windmill fantasy of Holland, but actually seeing an antique windmill in a spring green field adorned with lambs and narcissus, these days almost moves me to tears.  Tulips are indeed absolutely wonderful and I love the fact that you can buy arms full of them for very little money so my house is never without in vase filled with tulips in the spring.
Wooden shoes are of course a bit of a nuisance. No one actually wears them. Or may be some farmers still do, although the reason eludes me, as wooden shoes must be the single most uncomfortable shoes in the world. I must try them on one day, just in case I am totally wrong.
As far as national symbols go, we have done all right in the Netherlands. Our easily recognisable, quite decorative and brightly coloured windmills, tulips and wooden shoes don't need much explaining around the world. Come to think of it so don't the gondola', the boot shape and the Colosseum of Italy, nor the cowbells, cuckoo clocks and pocket knifes of Switzerland. England our first expat country is probably the trickiest of all places we lived to define by just a few symbols. Cricket, cream teas, school uniforms, rose gardens, liberty prints, cooked breakfast are all part and parcel of English culture, but which one to choose to unify it all?
One image that springs to mind is the ability to have a pick nick in the rain. And I mean to sit and eat completely unperturbed when the heavens open. I have witnessed, on more than one occasion how people just flip open their umbrella's while they continue eating. No panic, no screams, no running for cover. My favourite school trip with my son's class was one to the seaside at the end of June when the rain was pouring down, but the kids just went on with it, making sand castles, playing chase and jumping the waves. Of course we all had an ice cream, even though our lips were blue and we were shaking violently from the cold. We were at the seaside after all.
So I dare the tourist crap making industry to come up with one of those little glass domes with a pick nick scene inside. The minute you hold it upside down or shake it, instead of snow, rain should fall and umbrella's should magically open. Or even better, let them produce a whole series of these with different rainy scenes (the beach, the camp ground, the Easter egg hunt, the summer fair, the diamond jubilee to name but a few).
It will be an absolute delight to look at them. Especially on - the not infrequent - rainy weekends when on Saturday I will be getting soaking wet watching my son's hockey game and on Sunday I will be getting soaking wet coaching my daughter's rowing team. Because how wet, cold and miserable I might be when I get home, it could be infinitely worse. I could have been pick nicking after all.