Friday, September 28, 2007

Ditches and dykes

With trains canceled and sometimes standing place only and packed in cars I have spend a week riding through a waterlogged country, flat and like old lace fraying at the edges. Yes the Netherlands are really flat, the highpoints are railroad bridges and tree lined dikes, the smoke rising from a chimney stack. Water everywhere. Crossing a border is without formalities, yet one is very aware of the strangeness of this place. The sounds and attitude different, the building style more uniform than one sees at their southern neighbors… I thought that in peaceful border areas the differences would cease to exist since the neighbors cross often and freely for shopping and entertainment, yet it seems to harden one’s own identity. Is there fear of loosing oneself? It is remarkable how well all migrants speak Dutch after just a few years and how colorful and inclusive the public service is. Yet at breakfast in different hotels you find gingerbread and ‘hagelslag’. At noon the fare is bread, ham and cheese, day after day. I am sure that they feel that having a warm meal at noon seems extravagant. Their wealth is in the beautiful words they have for all the waterlandscapes and specific types of ditches: greppel, gracht, sloot, canal, vaart… They have words for how water gets on the land. I don’t main the endless variations of rain and drizzle, but kwelders, which are outlying areas past the dikes of pasture or arable land which will flood at exceptional high tide only and each time a layer of silt is deposited so that the land becomes higher and dryer. Also uiterwaarden, land in the food planes of rivers, between the river and the winter dike, occasionally flooded. The trip brought new words, always a great present.

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