Wondering & wandering
I wrote this during my month’s stay in the Netherlands last year. I haven’t been able to write much in the past week; emptiness and a sense of loss prevails, so I thought it better to just post something completely devoid of…. everything we’re all feeling write now.
The Netherlands, where life is orange. And on time. When the train schedule says a train will depart from Lelystad station at 9.38 to arrive in Amsterdam at 10.18, it does. When neighbours invite you to coffee- tea is for the weak, and the English – at 3pm, you go next door at 3pm.
If you leave your bicycle in town to take a tram around the city, you can expect to find it in that same spot, hours later. If you stop at an intersection, your doors can stay unlocked, your windows wound down. Burglar bars are unimaginable. So are alarm systems. Dogs don’t bark loudly, and they sure don’t guard. There are no beware-the-dog signs; if anything, windows and walls are decorated with everything from the name of the residents’ new baby to Mother-In-Law’s Tongue.
Signboards, promotional material and certain buildings carry the hue of the nation; orange.
Fruit is shiny, measured, weighed, perfect. Carefully inspected, only the cleanest, freshest fruit enters its borders from the supply country. Bananas are imported from South America. A half-joking myth passed around here says that unless they are 5.5 inches long and 1.1 inches wide, they will not be found in the Netherlands.
And, did you know that carrots were once a purple root? The Dutch, in a fantastic display of organic engineering, turned them orange. Those vegetables you see on your plates are thanks to a few ambitious Dutchies and their obsession with Holland’s official national colour.
You can forget white privilege and Afrikaans-owned farms. Here, the term “reclaimed land” has nothing to do with land redistribution and more to do with dikes. What you see in Lelystad, for instance, was underwater 50 years ago. The earth upon which houses and schools and railways now stand was taken from the ocean. When you control the sea, everything is easy.
Natural parks and ‘wild life’ are not to be confused with nature or the wild: life cycles are overridden and forests carefully planted to mimic nature. Despite protests from conservationists, wild horses are fed in Winter so they don’t starve. My uncle told me that they were once given blankets for the cold, and I’m not sure that he was joking. Don’t be fooled – this is not nature. This is the system, hard at work, and work it does.
The windmills of touristy postcards are few and far between. Instead, monstrously-tall wind turbines litter the landscape – some, the colours of the rainbow.
Highway art is the norm – Satan’s Tongue, a sculpture that struck me as ironic, is a giant tongue that appears to stick up from the earth. To me it points at, rather than towards the sky and something about it rings true about the country’s control over its environment. Most of the Netherlands is just on 6m underwater. If the dikes burst, they’re toast. But burst, they won’t. You see, this is the naartjie-coloured land of the terrestrial mermaid; where sea and sky have been conquered. There is no place for deviation, no space for error. This is the epicentre of European control. This is the Netherlands.
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