Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 2, 2007

A glimpse of the Netherlands – after all it is where I was born.

The Hague – A visit some time ago.

The West of Holland has become one large conglomeration, some soggy fields with ditches in neat squares running through them provide a kind of demarcation line before the next conurbation is upon us.  Flats and apartment blocks dominate the landscape wherever you turn, there cannot be any space left that has not been allocated, but then it is no different from any large city anywhere in the world, only these are supposedly separate towns and villages.  The train stops every five minutes or so and then we arrive in The Hague, not sure what we want to do here.  I was not born here, have only ever visited and this is one such visit.  Only now I have lived abroad longer than I have lived in Holland. 

 One shopping centre becomes indistinct from the other, even here in Holland where individualistic and smallish shops offer a kind of variety that seems to have become lost in England, except for the curiosity and second hand shops in forgotten villages and hamlets of rural counties.  Here in the Hague, specialist shops offer machinery and furniture and clothes that are not found anywhere else, but respond to a Dutch hunger for quality and difference. 

The Mauritshuis provides an exhibition of paintings by Rubens and Brueghel joining forces to produce large and impressive canvasses of human flesh and detailed landscapes, blends of mythology and Christian faith, with infinite precision and pleasure of the human body and love of nature.  This provides a very typical view of The Netherlands.  The paintings  tell us something about the low countries, including places such as Antwerp where these two painters lived and worked. 

The cafeteria provides a serene view of ducks in a pond, the houses of Parliament set as a calm and ordered background.  No visible and intruding security measures here, gleaming black cars drop an occasional government official at the entrance, where the only visible protection are boulders that prevent cars from driving straight into the building.  No policemen with machine guns at the ready either, no nervousness, just the static calmness of the pond and the ducks at the back, overlooked by middle aged tourists visiting the cafeteria to enjoy a tea with the inevitable Dutch appletart and whipped cream, deliciously and deceptively light.  Looking at the Rubens figures I expect that these low country people have always been oblivious to fashion’s demands for flat stomachs and thin bodies. 

Not everything is at it appears.

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Responses

  1. LOL, seachanges. I visited Holland often and what I always admired there was people’s civility. I remember once asking a little boy for directions in English and his quick, sympathetic, and correct answer in correct English, too. I had many friends at that time, more than 15 years ago.

  2. There is a strange tension between an ever increased drive for architectural Gleichschaltung in Holland and the Dutch native hunger for individualism and eccentricity. But it’s amazing to see how much The Randstad keeps changing and modernising.
    .
    Have you read De Eeuw Van Mijn Vader [‘My Father’s Century’] by the Dutch historian Geert Mak? It provides the read with poignant glimpses into that pre-modern Holland at the turn of the last century and how it changed so rapidly and unrecognisably in the course of the 20th century. Back then, it’s hard to imagine, the west of Holland were just bogs and marshes.
    .
    Great writing, by the way.

  3. Ario: I’m going to put this on my ‘to read’list. I think I can just about imagine Holland as one big marsh…

  4. Jose: the Dutch pride themselves on being nearly native English speakers…..


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