Sunday, 17 April 2011
It occurs to me as I look out toward a sea of orange-clad, hearty Dutch men and women celebrating their national day at Trafalgar Square that I don't know much about the Netherlands and its people. Every country has their 'thing': the English like their tea, and talk of the terrible weather; the French like their cheese, and wish French, not English, was the world's premier international language; the 'Ghanaman' likes his fufu on a Sunday afternoon, especially in the wake of national or club football success...and so on. These are broad generalisations which may not be necessarily true, yet form part of a country's DNA nonetheless.
It is fitting then, that Saturday finds me in Trafalgar Square, ready to experience all things Dutch with the 'Freaky Deaky Dutch' (FDD - the words on the back of a t-shirt which sold really well at the event). Within minutes of arriving, I walk by the food stalls - just to check out what's on offer, mind - and see that it IS true that the Dutch have a propensity to produce tall, blue-eyed, leggy blondes! At least that's what it seems. Maybe it's just pure coincidence that the women behind the counters have those general features.
I'm bopping along to the live music on stage when a man bearing orange cowboy-like hats accosts me. He thrusts one at me and says:
'Six and a half.'
'Six and a half?' I repeat stupidly. Um..is that the size or the price? He's looking critically at my head, so I decide that must be the size then. 'I don't really know the size of my head..' I begin awkwardly.
He waves an impatient, dismissive hand. 'No, no it's six and a half. The price.'
'Then you should say six pounds fifty!' I also inject the right note of impatience into my voice.
He laughs and leans forward to put one on my head, and then insists on a picture so I see for myself how it looks on me (above left). His name is Walther.
Soon after, a group passes by and asks Walther how much the hats cost. 'Six and a ha-' he starts to say, sees my mock stern look, and hastily corrects himself, 'I mean six pounds fifty.' We share another laugh. Then another seller saunters over to where we're standing and proffers his goods: miniature clogs held artfully together with a safety pin.
I peer at them uncertainly. 'But what will I do with them?'
'You'll wear it with pride!' He delivers this line in grave, dramatic tones. Oh alright then, give me two, why don't you. Maybe I'll wear them as earrings.
I spend much of the time chitchatting with Walther who asks me how much I know about Holland. I tell him that from watching episodes of America's Next Top Model shot on location in Amsterdam, I can tell Dutch fashion is daring and unpretentious. That, and a red light district that would make Pigalle (in Paris) blush. He laughs uproariously at this, and assures me that said infamous Red Light District in Amsterdam (called De Wallen) is now a fascinating mix of prostitution and couture. Ookay..
A roll call of names like Van Gogh,Bosch, Rembrandt, Marlene Dumas..have contributed to showing the world what makes the Dutch unique in art, design, architecture and heritage. It looks like a trip to the Netherlands is in order - and if I do, I've got a tour guide in Walther who's promised a canal cruise past all of Amsterdam's top sights, and a visit to the Rijksmuseum. I think I've got the wanderlust!