Sunday, June 28, 2015

Travelogue 629 – June 28
Summer Outing

We’re attempting a family outing. We want to introduce our summer baby to summer pleasures, fresh breezes alongside the big river. We have travelled by tram to the city’s old yacht harbour. It’s a relatively small marina in this city of enormous port facilities, where harbour cranes crowd miles of the western horizon. Here the yachts are crowded into a dense thicket of masts, and enclosed on three sides by historical blocks of old Rotterdam. They are beautiful things in themselves, these boats. Some are clearly antique and objects of much loving care. Behind us in our photos is the clubhouse, the 1909 creation in modest Jugendstil, where is housed the rich Royal Maas Yacht Club, one of the oldest in Holland. It’s a royal club because the royals are members. The House of Oranje has given their sanction many years ago. The new king is find of wearing naval cuts, I have already noticed. I can just about see him standing at the helm of his own extravagant yacht, flute of champagne in hand.

It’s common to see yacht club members in the nearby eetcafe, the venerable old bar and restaurant called the Loos, pronounced like the Los in Los Lobos. One may not realize one has stored away a stereotype of the yachtsman until one recognizes it embodied, in baggy, striped shirts, or polo shirts, in jackets cut in nautical style, the shorts and loafers, a style that one might have called preppy in its day. Either way, the Loos is a good stop for beer and fries. The ladies order apple juice, Batu comments that the apple juice here tastes like the final batch when brewing t’ala, the traditional Ethiopian beer. That’s not a compliment. Menna likes it. When we want to order more, Batu pulls one of her faces. Food and drink are serious matters, and there is no polite way to decline. She doesn’t say, ‘No, thank you.’ She grimaces with distaste and shakes her head, saying nothing. We see this face often. It’s all well and good to have good roads, safe streets, schools and parks and trams to carry Baby to the doctor. But food is the true stuff of civilization. She need say nothing. She holds her head high, gaze set high, over all the tables of faranji food.

Batu is proxy for ancient Ethiopian civilization here, reminder of what is right and wrong in the scales of time, guardian angel for the African half of Baby’s genetic make-up. Food and drink are serious matters. Baby herself reminds us of that at frequent intervals with lusty exhalations of pure sound. It’s both moving and amusing to observe the force of her protest when she’s hungry, body arched and fingers clenched and her toothless mouth open wide. I laugh every time. Batu frowns at me, but I can’t help it.

We play cards while Baby sleeps in the buggy. Batu is winning. We tell her it’s the apple juice that has made her dangerous, but she shakes her head no. She turns her cards toward Menna and asks advice. After a quick session in Amharic, Batu plays a series of cards for points. She discards and Menna picks up the discard to use in her own run of points. I want to protest to the rules committee, but I think I will be outvoted. I see the lay of the land by now. One doesn’t win against young mothers. Old mothers. Any kind of mothers. Or little girls. This is my fate.

We take a walk before heading home, passing through ‘Het Park’, crossing long grassy lawns that make Batu marvel. People are having picnics, lying in the grass, playing Frisbee. We find a small English garden overlooking a small lake, and we take more pictures. ‘Des yilal’, Batu says. This is kind of the Amharic catch-all for fun times, good things. Literally it means something like, ‘It’s called happy.’

We have made it to the Metro station, well satisfied with summer and sleepy. Batu must negotiate the escalators on her own. I have to handle the buggy, and Menna is carrying dozing Baby. I watch as Batu clutches onto the moving handrail with both hands, her face a mask of apprehension. The handrail is pulling her and she must step forward. She does so, just before the handrail would pull her off her feet, taking a sudden, jumping step. She rides down, still leaning into the handrail, holding on with both hands.

There is nothing to look at windows on the Metro. I wonder why they have them. Just to counter any sense of claustrophobia, I suppose. Earlier, Batu was looking out the tram window and noting that all the buildings we were passing were ‘G+3’, meaning four storeys. And I thought suddenly how striking the uniformity here must be. Addis is an architectural free-for-all, multiple storey buildings rising to order, any size, any style, any position along the street. And they stand alongside the city’s prevailing lack of form, the expansive shanty-town, corrugated iron shacks beside small concrete improvisations, unfinished, rebar rising from the highest corners in an expression of hope.

We’re home. Baby is settled among the signs of home. She makes no acknowledgement of the day’s adventure. It’s just another day, another new world, another feeding time. She’s getting fussy. She’s balling her fists and she’s making her little body-builder’s motions, getting ready to howl. It’s all about the food.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Travelogue 628 – June 27
The Adventure

Baby doesn’t think much of the big world outside the doors of the flat. She doesn’t think too much of the open air and the noise of the streets. She doesn’t know what to make of the bumpy ride in the buggy.

She’s a summer arrival. During the winter, we imagined the fun in taking her out for fresh air in the parks, imagined the pleasures of her company on walks along the canals. She has so far been indifferent.

Her first expedition outside was one of necessity. We had to take her to her first hearing test. It meant getting her onto the tram. The motion and the sudden sunlight were perplexing. She flinched at the strong light, and she stared at the wall of the buggy. Her buggy was parked at the back of the tram, and it rocked with the motion of the rails. She was looking at nothing and she was working her arms.

I found myself again – how many times just that day – wondering what she experienced. What was her new brain processing? And without language, what was the order she put to things? I was amazed by her resilience and her trust. This degree of newness and alienation would have sent most of us older units into a steep spiral of shock.

At the doctor’s office, I didn’t know how to maneuver the buggy, so I was acting out the new parent comedy, bumping into walls and blocking foot traffic, multiplying Baby’s trauma. She was a good sport. She only cried when the nurse stuck a probe into her ear. Even then, she was open to being convinced that a hearing test while feeding wasn’t such a bad thing. She passed her test. She fell into her sweet milk coma. The ride home was peaceful.

The second trip outside is purely recreational. It’s a perfect summer day. We have to enjoy. We stop at the park next to Sparta stadium in our neighbourhood. It’s the closest kiddie park in the neighbourhood, and I have business at the stadium. Sparta is the oldest team in Holland, played Chelsea in one of its first matches. Now the season is over, and Jan is playing in the stadium with his league of ageing enthusiasts. I get to stand pitch-side in the big boy stadium, empty now, and cheer for the wheezing and happy athletes alongside a few of their wives and children.

The kiddie park is fun, too. We watch a group of girls, about age four, playing in the sand, tossing the stuff in the air and then all rubbing their eyes and then starting over. After that game, they run to the swing set. Two sit face to face on one seat and start to swing. A third watches just out of range of the jutting feet of her friend. Mothers, groups in Muslim headdress, sit on the benches and indulge in breezy chatter. There is a very old man being led round the central circle, where the sand and swing set are, being led round and round for exercise He pushes his own wheel chair while his middle-aged son holds his arm. The old man stares dead ahead with either intense focus or an intense lack of all focus, unconscious but for his shuffling feet.

Standing at long last, we are in no mood to quit the sunshine. Baby has settled into restful slumbers, the kind that won’t be easily disrupted. We decide to try a trip into town. We bundle buggy and baby onto the number eight tram. We’ll head toward the old and scenic yacht harbour of the city where we can pose for photos that will inspire jealousy in family back home.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Travelogue 627 – June 18
It’s the Squirming

Neil Young is singing this morning. It’s 1972, he wants to tell us, and this window looks out on an uncomplicated landscape. The setting is North American prairie, a sketching of a morality of the heart. He says you can just about sketch it out. And then the wind takes it.

What is Baby saying? It may be in reply, it may not. She is not in attendance at the café, not in the flesh. I left her at home, asleep, blessedly asleep. She does not know Neil Young. But it could be she’s dreaming North American prairies. She’s never seen one. She has no word for it. But she only dream about her blanket and her mother’s nipple, over and over? The truth is, she’s a philosopher. She teaches me.

The café presents as a space of relief, as point of contrast to the cold and the bustle of the world outside. I’m happy to buy into that illusion, for the price of a croissant and an espresso. The colours and the aromas are warm ones. The routines of ordering, of small talk, of finding the comfortable seat, all these things are reassuring. Neil is singing that it’s 1972 and there is hope for the heart.

She likes to stretch a lot, my baby. We clenches her little fists; she arches her back. She makes funny, breathy chattering noises. Then the hands open, and the fingers uncurl from the pinkie toward the tiny thumb. Then her arms shudder and flap, and she cries out in a voicing of excitement.

‘And I’m getting old,’ Neil Young says. I’m not sure if it’s a play on his name, or the stunned cry of someone not even thirty who is suddenly tired. There are a lot of miles to cover in the prairie. ‘It keeps me searching …’

Baby has her way of teaching, her own squirming pedagogy. She teaches as she moves, and she teaches as she looks up at me with eyes that are curious and then that are fretful. She says, look at me, I’m a furnace of creation, like a biological star. I can’t bear to be still.

She pauses and looks up into my eyes, and she starts with a passing crinkling of the smooth, pink brow, she starts to tell me that she understands why the people researching artificial intelligence have such a hard time of it. They hypothesize static states of knowledge and action. They have to. It’s hard, she says with some compassion, having to start from the dynamic complexity of the double helix, geometry forged from motion. There is more to this than the quiet stage-sets of classical physics.

You don’t say, I reply, tapping her gently on the end of her upturned nose. She stops the slow windmilling of her arms with a stunned look. Then she puckers her red lips and she continues. You must see it, she says, and she begins in a slow and intense fretfulness. There is no programming language for pain. Perhaps a circuit can be said to digest electricity, but the metaphor just doesn’t suffice. There is no struggle among the intestines of a circuit. No circuit is birthed in pain and struggles with its own physicality, a struggle of years.

Well, he did get old, after all, Mr. Young did. Perhaps there has been a moment, stored away among the memories of this world, in which Mr. Young driving alone across the prairie, heard through the speakers of his car radio the lament of a young man. ‘I want to live. I want to give.’ And the sound evokes an emotion in the older Young, and he realizes now that the isolated emotion has very little significance. He knows it as he experiences it, even as he enjoys it. The whole was the answer, the circuit now completed. And he thinks, ‘Hm. It was always in the squirming.’

The answer, Baby says, and she raises her eyebrows in a show of both wit and amazement, the answer is in the squirming. In robotics, all this motion would be wasteful and dangerous. No businessman would sustain the expense. No economic output justifies it. It’s our age that would like to contain all uncertain economies in the box called Aesthetics.

She wants to kick now. She’s going to be a fine runner, I’m thinking. But there is no purpose to it, she cautions me. The legs pump with surprising strength. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but there lies a lot of territory between repetitive motion and artificial intelligence. We measure AI by capacity to solve problems, but there is fallacy woven all through that. Baby is really getting worked up now, hard to hold. ‘Waa,’ she cries. Problem isn’t the stone that breaks the calm surface of the water that is life. Problem is the water. It’s the twistings and turnings that keep us afloat, moment by moment. It’s the squirming that teaches us to swim. When we think of problem-solving as a function of the mind, we have failed at the outset. It is body and mind. Body never still, a pulse within a pulse, and still again within greater pulse. These are systems without end, and the ‘solution’ is in the squirming itself.

That’s all fine, Baby, but Mommy and I would love it if you could take a rest now. We would like it if you would sleep a while. ‘To sleep, perchance to dream,’ she quotes, suddenly calm and contemplative, before she starts to lick her lips. 'Aye.'

The milk is a great soporific. She will dream. It might be the prairies of Mars, for all that we know, when her eyelashes twitch with vision. A plain governed by the sound of one harmonica.

Tomorrow it will different. She will move and she will move. There was a time when scientists amused themselves trying to design machines for perpetual motion.

For the moment, I’ll be satisfied with rest in the haven of coffee. ‘It keeps me searching…,’ Neil sings again. The melody is a comfort. We tell ourselves it’s the same as last time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Travelogue 626 – June 17

‘I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold,’ Neil Young is singing as I enter my morning café. Harvest plays, and suddenly I’ve left Europe well behind. Neil’s sound is pure prairie to me. Maybe it’s the incipient country sound, the pumping harmonica, his barroom warbling, his sentiment, the primitive 1-2-3 from four, but whatever it is, it seems like it could only come from North America, where space is the rule, where spaces can make everything fade into the call of the loon. I’m homesick.

Outside, the European city is waking to its purpose, a confined sense of bustle, its tidy servings of business. We’ve been gifted another rare sunny start, and people are brisk about their joy. I got started a few minutes later than I usually like to, distracted by Baby’s peaceful sleeping face. I can happily do nothing but look at her for long spells at a time. I awake; my start is late. It isn’t much later than usual, but the rate of change on mass transit is steep on workday mornings. Every five minutes before eight o’clock means a loss of so many seats on the Metro, so many square centimeters of breathing room.

When I was young, I scanned a map of population densities around the world. I wanted to find the lowest densities and immediately board a ship to one of those places. I made hasty plans for Australia, for South America. I had to find those quiet and least human of places. There I would find a life of untroubled contentment. The trees would offer no lip. The animals would steer wide circles around me. The sands would encourage meditation. The time would fly.

And here I am today, living in one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, measuring over four hundred people per kilometre squared. That compares to about thirty in the US. How did that happen?

Standing on the speeding Metro, I’m contemplating the mysteries of Baby’s sweet face again, so innocent, so unguarded. I’m surrounded by adults now. The expressions on their faces are composed. The muscles in the face are engaged in holding the whole of it firm. The expressions are uniform. There is a mould the faces conform to, some standard of polite neutrality. There’s also an element of self-protection, a suggestion of the bellicose. I wonder about this. When does this happen? Is there a hormone responsible? A shot of fear as the social instincts become predatory?

It’s true, I had high hopes for civilization as a child. I dreamt about the highest achievements of humanity, all the best impulses, all the best thoughts. I dreamt of cities as centers of enlightenment. That was the counter-poise to my instinct to run away from humanity, to find an outback of the soul.

And so this is the way the wind has shifted for me, indulging the dream of civilization. The city works like clockwork. Systems click with wondrous efficiency. The city is aesthetic wed with productivity. The state delivers its doses of compassion. It is tempting to believe in civilization. It is tempted to see humanity in its largest productions. If the state is compassionate then the people are humane.

The Metro has reached my station. We engage in the rituals of disembarkation, the shifts in posture that signal a claim of territory. There is a contest for ranking in the order we will go through the nearest door. The same contest is going on outside the door as the train slows to a stop. No one looks into the eyes of another, and when the door opens, the advance is undertaken with an insistence on straight lines that brooks no opposition. In the most crowded country in Europe, one must act as if there is no one in his path. If it becomes necessary to go round a human obstacle, one does not acknowledge it as human.

‘It’s these expressions I never give,’ says Neil as I enter the café, ‘that keep me searching ...’ There’s that feeling again, melody as counter-argument. It is the reply of the primitive inside the civilizing. There is an affecting generosity woven into the chords, something lonely and wind-blown, an imaginary place with a flickering dimensionality. It dissolves into the song.

It does make one wonder. How do a people lacking warmth create a system that delivers care with a quality so uncanny a counterfeit of warmth? If it is the thing itself, compassion, then it is a compassion that arises from the cold mind, rather than the warm heart. It is conviction. It is principle.

Place is a tricky game in this world of places. It is firm; it is inescapable. It. It could be just the through that holds it fast. And yet, it can nonetheless be dissolved in a solution of song, even if only for a moment.

Place is a tricky game. It’s a world of places, and one has to choose. Place remains firm, only becoming more so under the weight of the passing millions. It becomes a nexus of history and character, quite independently of one’s imagination. There comes the time that the escape is the more creative pursuit. ‘It’s such a fine line that keeps me searching …,’ the man says.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Travelogue 625 – June 14
Hode and the Metro

I’m walking toward the Metro. That means leaving the apartment complex and walking among the subdued Sunday morning neighbourhood, between rows of quiet flats by the small playground usually resounding with boisterous shouts. Past the two-storey flats facing each other across a pedestrian walkway, I cross one more silent side street and there is a flight of stairs up to the open-air transit center, where buses swing round their circle of stops to the right, where trams rest at a series of covered stops dead ahead. Beyond that I enter the Metro station.

I’m getting used to this strung out feeling. Baby is six days old. She had a rough night last night, and the three adults of the house spent hours comforting her and discussing high strategy. There’s an awful lot of problem-solving when it comes to babies. And it seems so many problems originate in the stomach. Here my mind inserts the Amharic word for stomach, hode, which carries something more with it than the biology. Witnessing Baby’s struggles makes me wonder about humanity and the hode. The cycles of it come so surely, so quickly, the feeding, the contentment, the troubling stirrings of the digestive system, the varieties of its mild misfirings and bubbling workings, then the respite and rest until the next high tide of hunger. I’m fascinated by the urgency and the relentlessness of this cycle. Freud imagined civilization as what comes after, or even as a product of, the regulation of what is primitive. The primitive would consume all time and attention with a chaotic and unrestrained will if allowed to. But well before instinct is this issue of the hode. How much have we transcended these struggles of infancy? Don’t we all, at some sublimated level, twitch our way through each day, from hunger to stimulation, to digestive distress and remedy, and rather than crying when the heavy doses of coffee turn sour we snap at the spouse, scream on the highway, or botch something at work and irritably blame the system? Or we eagerly accept the label of ‘depressed’ because, of course, in the twenty-first century there will be a pill for it. The result must be a sandpapering of all surfaces into smooth contentment and productivity.

Anyway, the adults in the room came up with some marvellous theories, but none of them seemed to make much difference. Baby fell asleep on her own schedule, and took the secrets of her pain with her into dreamland.

There’s no place as anonymous as a Metro station. In most cases, there lacks the orienting features that nature provides. These are just chambers of concrete, after all, accessed by tunnels that are all dug and lined to uniformity. There’s no sun or city skyline, no paths or line of hills, no street signs. Engineers pal up with practitioners of design of one stripe or another, and they lay tile, pave, paint, and place photos and art pieces, and all this helps to identify the station from inside the train, and to entertain the waiting commuter, but it does little to actually place one inside the belly of the underground beast.

Then one day you discover that you know where you want to stand on the platform. You know where you need to be on the train in order to exit at the most convenient spot. At the destination, you know where the stairs are and where is the old, cranky escalator. You turn at the head of the stairs without having to think. You know where each exit will place you on the street overhead. These are the signs of citizenship.

You know what behaviours to expect from fellow passengers, the rush for the turnstiles, the dead-ahead walk eyes averted, jaws set grimly, the odd and indirect dance on the platform, and then the funny drift forward when the train comes in, strangely competitive, as though we’ve all spotted our door at once and there will be a struggle. This is the way of citizens, each facing the day’s battle with digestive issues as best they can, sharing if possible the sour experience with a stranger.

It’s Sunday, so things are quiet. There are plenty of seats on the Metro. I emerge in the Eendrachtsplein, the square of harmony, where my Rotterdam life seems to have begun, a seedy little brick-lined square, where they board up the glass-lined entries to the Metro on holidays and long weekends, where I often stop in the mornings, pouring the first bitter coffee down my throat and starting the gaseous story of the day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Travelogue 624 – June 10

And now she’s here. Two days old. She arrived six days late, and she didn’t come without a struggle. Menna was a hero, bringing her into this world. It was a privilege to be there. As it happens, I was first contact (aside from the very close contact with mommy, of course,) literally catching her as she entered the world.

Waking again, this time at home. It’s 6am. She is stirring. Like she was at 12 and like she was at 2am, and perhaps there were a few other times I slept through. She is making those amazing sounds, like a sweet whimper, sometimes a songbird’s sound, sometimes a sigh, sometimes the mwa, mwa-a-a that comes with a contortion of her face into the mask of tragedy. It makes me laugh every time. These are really the sounds of a siren, irresistible.

Her hands wave like the fronds of an otherworldly plant, the fingers running through an obscure set of positions, like signs from a Hindu dance. Her arms shudder through a long stretch, and she yawns. I stop to watch.

Her face is so expressive, but it’s expression uninformed by society. It communicates, but the messages are secret ones. I can’t know, and she won’t retain them. The feelings behind them are mercurial, passing across the fresh skin of the face, painting quick suggestions and then surrendering to more, messages in sand.

Her dreams seem intense. Her breathing is rapid and shallow. She moans in a high, windy way as she breathes. Her eyelids pulse in a regular rhythm. The eyes even open a crack, but she isn’t seeing. When she’s awake those eyes open and she looks tentatively into the space of the room. There is a wrinkle of befuddlement or concern on her brow. The eyes won’t focus yet. She is capturing only blurred form and movement. None of it can make any sense yet.

But there’s the rub, and there’s the fascination to baby. What sense? Making sense without sense must be a wonder. It all must make perfect sense without parameters for sense.

Baby whimpers as she dreams. Her leg twitches as she dreams. Menna says maybe she’s dreaming of running. I say, how does she know about running?

We wake. The first waking is in the hospital, the four of scattered among makeshift beds, as though we were tossed in with the luggage. The nurse knocks and quickly comes in, voicing a brisk optimism. This is the gebortecentrum, the birth center. Only optimism will make sense among people drunk with sleeplessness and biological success. She must take tests. She talks us through it all, including the policy behind it, even though we are only staring blankly and silently back with exhaustion.

There is something benign and insistent about the Dutch health system’s intervention in parenting. I can’t help admiring and appreciating it, even as I am reminded of recent reading among the works of Foucault, who describes power since the Enlightenment as a process acted out on the body. There is nothing private about biology.

Baby has spent much of her first night in the hospital crib, which is little more than a plastic tub. I’ve taken it off its stand and set it on the bed next to me. Menna needs her sleep. Baby is made content with a finger to suck on. She sleeps fitfully, sighing, waking to look for daddy’s finger, dreaming again about all those shapeless children she hasn’t met yet and running with abandon in the park.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Travelogue 623 – June 4
Summer’s Bridge

I owe this to Batu. We are strolling in bright sunshine. We are strolling across the Erasmus Bridge, over the expansive waters of the Maas, the miraculous waters as they appear to me now, through the eyes of the woman who spent her whole life in Addis Ababa. We stop to watch the huge barges pass underneath us, the huge barges made small. We take photos. In Ethiopian fashion, she is holding an umbrella up as shield against its powers.

We will cross to the Wilhelmina Pier. We will sit for a while among the celebrants of sunshine in the outdoor patio of the New York Hotel. We are there near the tip of the pier, looking out over the river as though from the prow of a great ship. We find a table that is half shaded by the table umbrella, so that I can have the sun on my back and she can continue to hide. She will repeatedly ask what time it is, still marvelling that the sun is this high in the sky on into the evening.

I owe this to Batu. Only a few days ago, we made her go out on a day more common to Holland, blustery and overshadowed by swift clouds, swept with recurring showers. She was miserable. ‘Does it get any colder than this?’ she asked in surprise. It had dipped down into the 50s. Her fingers were hurting, she said.

Menna and Batu had volunteered to watch me run a 10K. I had had misgivings once I saw the weather report, but they insisted. And it seemed like a good chance to see Den Haag, neighbouring town with the cosmopolitan flair to complement Rotterdam’s stolid, business-day vibe.

This was the aristocrat’s town, built around the count’s palace. It has the open-avenue stateliness of a capital. Sometimes you still see the town’s original name here and there, ‘s Gravenhage, meaning something like the Count’s Hedge.

Not far from the central station there is a large park called the Haagse Bos, open meadows and small stands of words with walking trails. This was the peaceful and scenic setting for the 10K set. Unfortunately for spectators, the start and finish were in a rather stark and unromantic spot under a railway overpass.

We arrived late, a family tradition when Menna and I go to races together, and I have had to climb in among the crowd of runners at the back, just as they are counting down for the start. I’d had to abandon Menna and her mother among the wet asphalt lots, hoping they will find a dry spot to wait. Fortunately it was only a 10K, and I would be back relatively quickly.

The race was on. The worst weather for a spectator can be the best for a runner. The summer chill felt perfect. The rain was light. It only enhanced the silence of the park and focussed my attention on the puddles of road and the mud of the park trails. There was only the sound of everyone’s steps and the steady exertion.

Just past the finish line, I saw Menna. She was waving happily, and bid me stop in the runner’s chute for a pose of victory. I was relieved. She seemed fine. We circled back toward the registration tents. We found Batu huddled against a brick wall, shivering under her umbrella, looking shrunken inside her big sweater and her headscarf. I felt so sorry for her. I should never have encouraged them to come along. I led them quickly back toward the train station, new medallion swinging from its ribbon round my neck.

Today we will soak up as much sunshine as it takes to warm poor Batu’s chilled bones. Menna laughs at her. She tells her horror stories about winter here. I wouldn’t know how to say that the mild winters are something I love about this country. I can cycle around town year-round.

The weather is so bad, Menna affirms, as we enjoy the blue skies. Why was everyone always fighting for this place? She’s been learning some history. She has some trouble differentiating the various eras of Dutch history, events crowding each other in a rush through time. William of Orange and Napoleon are temporal neighbours to her, the two-and-more centuries losing all distinction. Even the characteristic costume of each, the ruffles vs. the funny hat, provides no clue to her, raised so far outside the stream of imagery of European culture.

Why fight for little Holland, we ask, gazing over the precious waters heading seaward and glinting with rare sunshine, where just discernible at the far turn of the river are the hundreds of cranes of the port.