Thursday, 18 December 2014

On the outskirts of Amsterdam

Staying this week in Diemen, formerly a small village in the countryside, now almost swallowed into greater Amsterdam. But definitely a centre of its own ... shopping mall, own small theatre and cinema, playgrounds for the kiddies, two railway stations, a fine new Town Hall, its own memorials for its heroes, and of course plenty of watery ways and old weeping willows.
I am being Granny for one of my former tenants and her two small girls. Had forgotten how exhausting small people can be (when they aren't one's own family) and how one needs to adjust and adapt in order to understand how it must feel to be aged three and a half ... or smaller. Had some practice at the weekend with my own little grandchildren, aged three-and-a-half and JUST ONE (we had a birthday party and a cake with one candle which big sister blew out!). Big sister is jealous , too young to understand the concept of sharing, not happy that this other is getting all the presents. She says adamantly of her sister's wooden railway set, 'It's mine', and her patient mother explains that this day is for her sister. ... When I was about forty years old, my one-and-a-half year elder sister told me, in a burst of unwonted confidence, that she had always been jealous of me. I was gob-smacked. Had never conceived that this beautiful, intelligent, often elegant big sister could possibly have been jealous: what was there to be jealous about? She told me: our parents always let me do everything she was allowed to, so she had no special privileges and hence no advantage in being that slight bit older. Oh. I have puzzled over this for many years. Never occurred to me even to compare myself with her. She was always there, my bastion, in the vanguard, a bulwark between me and the world's woes! But there you have it: her take on our sisterhood was not quite the same as mine.
So I watch these small girls, my granddaughters, and the daughters of my friends. They are quite different in their sibling relationships. And not suprisingly, quite different in how they react to my presence: here in Diemen I am a substitute Granny while their Daddy is abroad for a week. Something of an intruder at first... gradually accepted. But safety is only with Mummy.

I love it here: we live four floors up and the wind wuthers round our roof top and shakes the alder just outside the window. Outside, the sky is huge, a soft grey expanse stretching out towards Schiphol airport. On occasion, there are stars to be seen, but more often it's a misty wash of silvery greys.
As ever, time skates past, no day ever providing sufficient hours. But all most pleasant and the food (made by me) is delicious (thick vegetable soups finished in the liquidizer,  Stilton doused in port, a specialty discovered in the local Albert Heijn ((Diemen has a five start variety of this excellent supermarket)), fresh tangy mandarins, spelt (farro) bread, pancakes made by me with wholemeal flour) and we drink endless cups of real China tea from green tins boxes covered with Chinese lettering.  I learn more and more about listening and watching. Shenghui gives me her small book on Yoga, filled with exercises I once learned and need to recall.
The windows rattle in the wind, the rain pelts against the panes. Tomorrow I return to my house in central Amsterdam, and David returns from the boat. A Dutch Christmas awaits us. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Return of the native, maybe??

Returned to my homeland on 3 December. Stunned by the cold (about zero degrees at night...) but delighted by the colours ... Rich deep greens are the fields that stretch in geometric shapes, resting now for the winter. The many small lakes are bearded by tall reeds and bullrushes, faded by the summer sun into pale beige and tawny shoots, that wave softly in the ever-present winds. In Amsterdam the water of the canals is ruffled, scattered with a few brave crested grebes and a desolate swan. The streets are full of people, endlessly fascinating. I watch, I listen.Takes time to get my Dutch fluent again ... words keep popping up in Italian. The great thing about my peripatetic life is that again and again my eyes see things freshly: sights that otherwise would have grown everyday and stale become newborn after a year's travel. My friends (who have stayed in the Netherlands or nearby all these years) ask me if I like this wandering life. And I reply that I would never have missed it. Of course, I have my complaints about living month after month on the boat (much as I have grown to love her) ... aspects that on the one hand I appreciate, because they keep me fit and alert (like climbing on and off Stroemhella, even onto a bouncing pontoon!) but that after many weeks, I am happy to relinquish! So back on land and able to sleep on a fine firm bed that I can get into without too much wurmling and wriggling, I do enjoy the benefits of four walls and a solid floor. Though, of course, John Masefield's poem Sea Fever (which I learned when I was nine years old, in Canada, after crossing the Atlantic from Southampton in a Cunard Liner, to Quebec) continues to sing inside my head. I must go down to the sea again / To the lonely sea and the sky because that's exactly it: the huge space, the light from sky and water, the quiet sounds so different from city noises... Right now, my head is so full of sea memories and seascapes, though happily I have made thousands of photos over these past years. I guess it's time to do some sorting out and setting into order...
A month in Amsterdam before setting off for the Far East, to visit Judy and family in Brunei. So digging into the history of Borneo, Sarawak and recalling past studies of Indonesia.
So vast the world (so huge the sea) so limited the time.