Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Dutch experiences not recollected in tranquility

Over the past years at the University of Namur, I have been looking forward to trying and going to a new environment, to meet different people, to discover other pleasures. I yearned for liberty and discovery. All this I found in some of my literature (and linguistic) classes, but my heart started weakening to bask still and all in its ignorance of the current way of life in the North-neighbouring country.

Utrecht! Utrecht! Burning bright
Through the canals of de stad
Why thy heart remains immortal?
Is it thy sinews I’ll recall?

Utrecht was an unknown city to me, certainly full of treasures to be found but no means at my disposal to dig them up. Until I got the opportunity to get as far as possible from my native city. I had never taken in the sights nor inspected the target town before. However, I had paid a visit a few years ago to far-off family living there, allegedly in the most peaceful though not remotest district of the city centre. But in those years, I was still too young and foolish to pay attention to the resourceful outside world surrounding me. For this reason, the only thing I can now remember from my quick visit is the house in which my host lived and -more accurately- its interior design. The plafond of the living room was decorated with a voluminous modern lamp, hanging in the air like a zenithal sun, high enough though to prevent its shining rays to blind anybody who would have a direct look at it.
This particular reminiscence serves me in no way to begin my story in an illuminated manner, but nevertheless sheds some light on how the eyes of an adolescent on the height of things –here: the height of a wall- can be filled with imagery likely to speak the truth about my host’s rank, but also telling you a lot -or nothing- about a given society.
First of all, as the enormous amount of light provided by the lamp described above probably needs more energy than a Hilton Hotel’s hall, there could be reason enough to think and generalize that the Dutch are not a stingy folk. This view would be totally mistaken and as different from reality as chalk and cheese.
Although their well-known lactose tolerance finds no limits, these people can’t help making cheeseparing profits. If like mice they happen to invite you in their hiding place, don’t expect from them a generous cup op English tea to warm you up. Don’t sit down until you are asked to. If water boils nevertheless, don’t be shy: grasp your own tea bag in the caddy, otherwise you will end up colouring your lukewarm liquid with a consumed, tasteless flavouring.
Besides these ‘scroogy’ features, the Dutch like to seem well-entrenched in society. In order not to appear lazy, Utrecht’s inhabitants fake a busy life. If you happen to meet someone you know in the street and ask him or her ‘om gezelligheid’ for a cup of coffee –beverage they prefer to its English variant, by the way-, you will not get a straight negative answer. He or she might first search for a hidden diary in his or her rucksack or handbag, then skim through its filled in pages and finally assert that an appointment (‘een afspraak’) can be made over three weeks or so…

Utrecht! Utrecht! Burning bright
Through the canals of de Stad
Who would dar’st compare thy wealth
With the sinews of thy heart?

From 1 September 2010, the only thing I can clearly remember is the sunny weather. After having unloaded the panel truck - carrying all the furniture from home - which my parents managed to borrow for the back and forth trip to Utrecht, and before taking a bow for my parents’ departure, I had in mind to take a walk on the green side of the area. But as they did not seem to be willing to fly away and subsequently let me fly on my own for the very first time, I was to postpone my runaway and started bird-watching for their flying-off. Preempting my genitor’s footsteps, the sun went down and the sky became dark. At the glow of a naked light bulb hanging in the furnished but empty-looking room, signs of tiredness could be read on my father’s face. Hence, I knew that I was soon to discover how the wings of responsibility were to fly over my eternal laziness.

It took a few seconds to realize in what place I was awakening the next morning. I first did not recognize the white, pallid walls. I rose my head out of the king-sized bunk bed I had not in the least found difficulties to get asleep in. From the floor above, I looked up enthusiastically to my new living room -and painter studio, library corner, TV-room and kitchen area all at the same time!
From a very first breakfast alone in front of my cereals and milk, I could scarcely foretell that the absence of company would inch by inch temper down my seize-the-day-conversion of the first weeks. Consequently, take my advice personally: whoever you are, don’t lock yourself indoors nor drop the key in the pan, unless you are two easy-going nuts. Half-jokingly now: don’t wait until the last week before the academic festivities actually get started for making your home choice in Utrecht. And this, in order to make sure to land up in a shared living place. Moreover, it is much more likely to cost you half the price of what I used to pay for this luminous, far too big flatlet I lived in. Last but not least, this sentence proves that I have been contaminated by the typical Dutch avaricious mentality that I disparaged above...

Leonard Leroy

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