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.