Monday 29 December 2008

Home where your trouser is ??

I write this blog during Christmas weekend, when the roast chicken (not Turkey??) along with a tad heavy red wine sauce and accompaniments has been a treat! But the leftovers for the next day were a bit too much.

On the dark, crisp and cold Boxing Day morning while when looking over a frozen small canal, I see in the darkness someone riding bicycle in freezing temperature! To me that sums up the Netherlands, a country of very down to earth and simple people and canals.

In general people in Holland are physically heavy (not fat) with normal height for both sexes being above 6 feet. I think it comes from riding bicycle and race to get most sunshine in a densely populated country ;). All said the people are friendly and most tolerant in the world. As you might know this is the country of bicycles every household has one or more. Even today I am amazed by the fact that children as young as 9-10 years ride a bicycle on a wet, windy, cold freezing day so do the older population in their 70s. Parents would not drop their children to school in their BMWs but instead they would accompany them on their bikes!

The Dutch language is like its people it sounds very heavy and even harsh. I remember during my early days here, I overheard, what can be called an intense, conversation between two men. It looked like they will exchange punches soon. But later it turned out to be conversation over someone who was gravely ill. As harsh it may sound, but the language is rich with uitdrukkings or sayings, punctuations and once you know it then you know it is a beautiful language.

Historically the Netherlands has been in trade, importing goods/slaves from Eastern Asia, India, Africa to even South America. Present day New York was owned by the Dutch and had name New Amsterdam which was eventually exchanged with Britain with a small country called Surinam in South America. Hence the names in New York suburbs are similar to the cities in Netherlands Brooklyn (Breukelen), Harlem etc. Does it show that the Dutch were stupid? I think no, because then New Amsterdam had nothing to offer where as Surinam has Aluminum, Bauxites and then very important commodity, the slaves. I think it was a very good business decision.

VOC or East India Company existed at the time of British East India Company. VOC made numerous voyages towards India Indonesia and once in 1672 when docked in Surat, an artist on the ship made a portrait of Shivaji Maharaj while he was on Mission Surat. For all maharashtrians this is the only known picture of Shivaji. Just to put it in perspective, it is the same picture that you would see history text books. This picture is published in a book called Oude en Nieuwe Oost Indien by Francois Valentijne. This book was first published in early 18th century (1702 or something). I had a fortune to see the print and even read one of the later editions. I even had a plan to trace details of the ship, the captain and the crew members and figure out who made the portrait. But it has been shamefully futile :(

The geography of the Netherlands is nothing spectacular, it has a descent looking countryside but within about 10 minutes it really gets boring. Vast flat lands with rural houses, occasional church, grazing cattle and frequent appearance of centuries old wind mills along with the not so elegant new ones is what defines the countryside for this low lying country. Of course I cannot under estimate the sheer beauty and skills involved in growing tulips and other varieties of flowers.

Keukenhof is something we visit year on year and the charm of its beauty will never fade away.

The society is as any other. There is a class of people who live in huge houses and drive in big expensive cars and then there is a middle class who buys a row house or sometimes even semi detached or detached house. Drives reasonably descent car and pays taxes. Then there is lower class which lives in subsidized housing drives relatively old cars and makes both ends meet. But generally everyone in Holland rides a bicycle. You can buy a bicycle from 3000 Euros to absolutely nothing! 3000 Euro bike would be a very good bike where as in Amsterdam you could buy a bike for 30 Euros from a junkie who nothing but breaks a lock of a parked bicycle and gets it to you.

This is what we can call a tolerant and forward thinking society in real sense where prostitution, soft drugs and homosexuality is accepted. And Noooo, not every other Dutch person is gay and every third person is a junkie and every 5th person is a prostitute! If you go to red light district the most visitors are foreigners from other European countries and of course from Japan! It is quite funny to see Japanese people listening to the guide and then nearly reaching to take a picture of a women in the window! Guide stops him and so does his not very impressed wife. Coffee shop is a regular site in the Netherlands and they sell no coffee but cannabis and other soft drugs! Once an acquaintance went to Amsterdam for gay parade with his parents! Are you out of your mind??? I said. Then I remembered a dialogue from a bollywood film Dostana ‘Love is blind but not so blind that one cannot differentiate between man and a woman!’
Some less known facts about the Netherlands is that it is the first country to legalize lottery around 700 years ago. Also arguably the only country with odd currency denominations, Dutch used 2.5 guilders coin, 25 and 250 guilders bill. I have never seen 2.5 Indian rupees or French Francs or US dollars ever. As a foreigner living in the Netherlands one can participate in local elections and vote! Utter nonsense! The health system here is as strange as other things the patient would not go to the doctor unless he has suffered for good few days and doctor won’t prescribe a medicine if patient is too early! 80% Dutch women prefer to deliver baby at home!!!

Of all what I find depressing is the food and dressing habits in this country. As this country is known to be simple and practical the food is so boring that it can actually kill a foreigner of boredom. The typical breakfast is brown bread, ham and cheese along with glass of milk. This can be easily repeated for lunch. This is the only country where I see grown men drink multiple glasses of milk during the day every day. The dinner is little more colorful! The dinner would normally consist of cooked vegetables, boiled or roasted potato’s and piece of cooked meat.

During winter you can eat Ertewen soup (green pea’s soup) with smoked sausage, this is a typical Dutch dish for winter along with mashed wild cabbage, potato and butter. Also eating row fish called harring along with spoonful of onions is a customary. A typical Dutch family will go to South of France or Spain and will make sure that they have enough stock of Dutch cheese and potato’s! Other not so typical Dutchies would dismiss this idea outright.

This has been my home for best part of last 10 years and thus I have so many things I can still share with you but I don’t want to kill readers of boredom so I will sign off. Do I feel that this is my home I can say yes! Home where my soul is not where my trouser is! India is my other home where my heart is!
Thank you for stopping by!


Erwan said...

Pretty realistic painting of Netherlands ;-)
I totally agree about the food... so lucky we are in France.
Nice to read your prose

Varsha said...

Nice article on N/L, I got the feel of N/L though I have not visited it.