The city feels more crowded than I remember it somehow. In particular this Sunday afternoon it seems the whole country has come out to enjoy a bit of window-shopping, real shopping and simply to air their noisy and unruly children. The city is overfull – no doubt about that. The mix of ethnic groups, the heavy Rotterdam accent of the Dutch speakers, the large number of young people, sauntering along and the cyclists and trams weaving through the melee all contribute to a peculiarly Dutch atmosphere.
We have managed to find a parking space for the car and decided to just leave it where it is, even though it costs a small fortune in parking fees. No use trying to travel around by car here. It was bad enough coming into the town and ending up not in the centre of Rotterdam but nearly in Delft, and it should only have been a 30 minute drive or so from the Hook of Holland… The spaghetti junctions are only decipherable by natives, I decided. It’s been too long since I was here last.
Meanwhile I have managed to visit the city’s largest, if not one of the country’s largest, bookshop and have acquired a couple of books by Dutch authors that will do nicely as background reading for my own writing. One is a family history by a Dutch author and journalist, Suzanna Jansen (she was actually speaking that same afternoon in the bookshop, but I could not get tickets as it was full). I bought her book on a recommendation of a friend, who knows my obsession with trying to unearth material for my own novel (dare I still call it that, after having decided to rewrite it completely in the light of what I have and am learning in the creative writing course, as well as having discovered that I want it to be much less autobiographical than it started out as). ‘Pauper Paradise’ (translated from Dutch) is the story of a family going back to the 18th century and relates the history of a well kept secret where grandparents were brought to and brought up in a kind of camp in the north of the Netherlands, where beggars and the poor were re-educated into well mannered Dutch citizens. It seems quite amazing that that sort of thing went on in this small and tidy looking Holland where everything is regulated and just so. Well, perhaps it is exactly because of that. I for one was totally unaware of this practice so this book tells me something completely new.
Other books I bought are by the Dutch author Jan Siebelink who relates the story of his father, a fanatic convert to the worst and most severe form of the Dutch reformed church.
It was lovely to browse through so many different books (different from the English Waterstone etc) in such a large store and to see how many people also spend their time doing exactly the same. So it’s not all about window shopping and consumerism, this Sunday afternoon past time.