Finding Myself in a Not-so-foreign Land

The Netherlands are truly incredible. It’s hard to write with all these thoughts spinning in my head and finals at my tail, but something was truly great about that place, its art, and its people.

France is fast-paced, ludicrous, high tension, ever-running, competitive, ancient, steeped in history and in blood, passionate about everything and sensitive to it at the same time, where nothing is isolated and conserved by one emotion but complicated, always complicated. In France you are beholden to everything and everyone, and as a foreigner or a Frenchman you are a part of the social fabric, you have a role in society no matter what role it is, and everyone around you is intensely aware of the point in space that you occupy. There are free times, of climbing trees and seeing films, yet they are built into the structure of everyday life, planned for but embraced with the heart and soul of the people living those experiences. Two lovers in a park will completely disentangle themselves from their daily lives for an afternoon in the park, enjoying each other and the sun exclusively before resuming their wonderfully hectic schedule, allowing the meaning to seep into their infinitely productive states of being.

It’s amazing how different a society three hours north by train can be so completely different.

The language knocked me off balance at first. For someone who is moderately well-traveled, I have never been in a place where I could not speak bits and pieces of the language before. Then the people knocked me off balance. They were kind but never relinquished, well-spoken and intensely aware of the culture that they have created for themselves–it is no accident that the Netherlands ended up the way that they did. The people have a sure and open acceptance for those who come to the Netherlands looking to embrace it, not overpower it. There was very little illusion, but there was magic sewn into its architectural and artistic being. To my knowledge, there was no modern controversy over the Iamsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum as there was for the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre–the sign is, and will be, and has integrated itself seamlessly into what the Netherlands represent–carefree love, bound by intelligence and common sense, bordered by quiet pride.

The first day we spent in rolling through parks, stopping to glance in the Van Gogh museum (uncluttered; conscious of its own strengths; flawlessly curated) and taking a dip in a shallow fountain that became a spontaneous public pool in the middle of the spring. The gait was always fast but people walked for the joy of walking.

The red light district was dark and full of contradictions, contorted into a shadowed playground for the lost. Even in the fast-food restaurants, shopkeepers dangled sweet donuts in front of your face, eat this in place of going there, doing that. Amsterdam was electric and alive, and for once I felt not like I was walking through a ghost town populated by the descendants of history past, but as if I was in the here and now, living as history was being written.

The rest of the Netherlands thrived off of that same sense of self cultivated in Holland. I spent Sunday sailing near Zwolle in a sailboat without a motor, tied to the air and the sun and the water below me as I helped adjust the sails and direct our path, like learning to walk again after being reborn. I spent the day in quiet, sunburnt bliss.

If you’re reading this, Robert and Indira, thanks for one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.

I need to start practicing my cycling.

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