Is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over in the autumn of good-byes
For a moment you could not recall the color of his eyes!
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find in
The windmills of your mind… – The Windmills of Your Mind, Noel Harrison
I learnt a new word this week…undersong…it means the underlying sounds of a landscape; the ambient murmur of an environment, often hard to hear or tune in to. What did I tune into during my 3 years in Holland?
It was visiting the Kinderdijk that cemented my awe at a people who quite literally forged a country from the sea. If the Dutch didn’t manage the water, the country would be claimed within 3 months. It was painful to consider the sacrifice and tenacity of the millers over the centuries, absolutely imprisoned by the threat of flooding. Add to this the punishing winds and unrelenting winters. The last one to live in a windmill was Jans in the 1950s, whose picture is on the wall. It was taken as he fell asleep at his table. He never married.
‘Everyone in Holland leaves their curtains open,’ my mother once remarked.
There is truth to this. My husband’s colleagues explained it’s to do with Calvinism. Nothing to hide here, there are no secrets. I often slow down and smile at how houseproud a window display is. Perhaps a ship sits in ode to navigation or harbour masters. An Easter tree with bright eggs hanging from its branches. Or a Delft blue tulip vase. I have even seen a poppenhuis or doll’s house. My trip to a miniaturist convention has become one of the best memories. A dollhouse not a child’s toy at all, the most famous one in the Rijk’s Museum.
It was the inspiration for The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton where it was used as a mirror to the soul and/or future. Homemaking is serious business as it should be.
Reading this novel reminded me of the YA novel The Dollhouse Murders.
The Reformation is just up the road from me. The Huguenot Eglise Francaise stands next to my local supermarket. Another of their once safe houses is in the Noordeinde section of The Hague. It fit a piece of a puzzle for me when I saw God is myn burg signs in Amsterdam. It translates as God is my town or a mighty fortress is my God. It was inscribed during Martin Luther’s Revolution. Can it not also be, as I like to interpret it, my town is my God? Is there not a sigh of relief in the bonds of a parish? We react viscerally to Anne Frank’s house where her family lived in a secret apartment. There is a museum called Church in the Attic in Amsterdam where outlawed Catholic mass was held. Attics and basements are places of stasis, no soul should be locked there in limbo. In my family, there were many storage spaces. Some packing boxes were never even unpacked. They waited for the next posting or stagnated away. I still recoil at the thought of them. I was never girl, interrupted but girl, interruptions.
I met up with a third culture friend in her new marital home. She joked that her husband was a pack rat and I explained to him that growing up as we did, you just couldn’t take it all with you. He had had a home where he returned to throughout his boyhood and where the room reflected the boy and the man he became. He can now smoothly transfer his belongings. My friend can’t do that. She recounts an eviction story to me where she lost almost all items from her childhood. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this from a United Nations child. There is anguish in having a distorted compass, the needle that can’t keep still. What childhood room can I go back to? I don’t have one. It’s why I’ve always found those scenes in films so moving when parents leave the room of a departed child untouched.
What is it about the number eleven? I got married on the 11th. I’ve been out of England for 11 years. My daughter was born on the 11th. The Netherlands is the 11th country I’ve lived in. Outside of McLean, Virginia it has been my favourite home. The reason I love these countries are shared history, the ease of communication and that I can and could fit in easily. I have a few more weeks here before relocating to Manchester for good where I’ll raise my daughter.
“I live in Holland but I’m English?” my daughter asks
“But we will come back?”
“We will always come back,”
Holland, thank you and goodbye.