The world was wide enough

As we talked about in our New Year’s Eve post, life here is slowly becoming more navigable and enjoyable. Though we certainly don’t (and may never) feel Dutch, there’s an awful lot we’d miss about life here if we left tomorrow. Further complicating this cultural calculus these last months has been one curious thing: the soundtrack to the smash musical Hamilton, the songs of which have crawled their way into our ears, of course, but also triggered a reckoning of what we connect with most about our new and old homes.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, in its lyrical virtuosity and genius weaving of different genres, has become the soundtrack of daily life.  Prepping meals is infinitely more enjoyable while doing your best En Vogue or Martha and the Vandellas impression (thank you, “The Schuyler Sisters” and “Helpless”). “You’ll Be Back” is made for late night strutting around the apartment with whiskey, cape and makeshift crown. Our hearts grow two sizes during “That Would Be Enough.” We drift off to sleep to “Dear Theodosia.”

{...}

Given the extent to which Hamilton has saturated life in New York City, it’s unusual to have a monopoly on the experience in Delft. Everyone around us is blissfully unaware of the show, including Ryan’s American colleagues. 

But as former residents of “the greatest city in world,” the show places Delft’s peace and quiet in stark contrast with constant buzz of creative expression that defined life in New York, where it was perfectly normal for your online date to be one of the brains behind Occupy Wall Street, for your college roommate to be a professional dancer, your lifting partner to be a leading mind in feminist philosophy, or to share a morning coffee with a New Yorker cartoonist. When Hamilton invokes that quality of New York’s, it serves to remind you that for every 100 degree subway car and pizza rat the city forces you to endure, it gifts you a stunning view from 100 floors up and late night slices at Artichoke. (Or Franny’s, or Roberta’s, or Lucali’s.)

And in a much bigger, but less precise way, Hamilton taps into our flag-waving, patriotic, proud-to-be-an-American sides. Working as he is with archetypes -- these are the Founding Fathers, after all -- Miranda fleshes out his characters such that people of all stripes see themselves and their struggles in them. Though the dramatis personae range from the principled to the slippery, they all bear that most American stamp: an overwhelming drive to preserve or improve their lots in life.

Miranda, too, has clearly made it a priority to make the America portrayed in Hamilton instantly relatable to the modern audience. For all the promise the new nation holds, it is, even in its infancy, deeply divided, dangerous, and built on the backs of people whose way of life is one domestic argument, one paycheck, or one stray bullet from being taken away.

That uneasiness, the persistent, survivalist impulse whose refrain replays in the back of our minds, is by far the most American thing we brought to Holland, moreso than our giant mattress, subway rollisgn, or endless supply of cold medicine. It’s what impels us to work hard, watch our money, and, however irrationally, plan for the day when it all disappears.

It’s an instinct that explains our surprise at discovering yet another way the Dutch government is trying to protect its citizens from falling behind. For better or worse, it’s an instinct we don’t sense as keenly among people here.

{...}

As would happen back home, a slew of new laws took effect in The Netherlands on January 1. The more prominent of them merited a few column inches or a segment in the morning news. A new mandatory charge for plastic bags even got its own ad campaign, with notices plastered on shop windows and bus shelters.

Reading about the new laws felt noticeably different this year, chock full as they are of small wins for the Dutch people. In the Staten General (the parliament), a grand coalition of the main conservative and liberal parties, despite their abysmal poll numbers, pushed through modest increases to the minimum wage, widened the middle income tax bracket, increased child benefits and reduced healthcare payments, raised tax on cigarettes, and instituted a three-year rent freeze on public housing while making it available to families on higher incomes.

How did it feel to read, for a change, about a government’s accomplishments, instead of its failures? There was pride in realizing that our adopted homeland, despite disagreeing vehemently at times with its politicians, retains some trust in its government, believes it has a meaningful role to play in improving its citizens’ lives, and is willing to collectively support it.

It’s impossible not draw comparisons with the second act of Hamilton, in which emerging philosophical divides split the Founding Fathers into their factions, presaging the rancor and partisanship that has brought Washington to a halt and is threatening to derail this year’s elections.

So our biggest concession to Dutch-ness, you could say, is not our newly-discovered love of biking, plastic grocery bags, tiny coffees or big hunks of cheese, but our willing participation in daily life in a country of big government, a transition made easier because we have already reaped the benefits of it.

And as public debate in The Netherlands reconsiders the nation’s stance towards the thousands of foreign workers, immigrants, and asylum seekers in its borders, Hamilton reminds us that we are, for the time, ex patria -- out of our homeland. Though our status here is not under threat the way it is for others, we will still struggle to establish ties and understand life here, while striving to maintain a connection to “home."

{...}

For all their artistic beauty, Hamilton's songs have been a powerful tool through which we’ve reconsidered who we are and what we stand for. The irony is not lost on us -- we can imagine that moment, years from now, when a playlist calls up the show’s opening bars, or when it reappears as a question at a pub quiz. We’ll think fondly of our “something they can never take away:” the winter when an iconic American musical defined our time as strangers in a tiny town in Holland.

Oudejaarsavond

The sky above the Markt just after midnight.

The sky above the Markt just after midnight.

No better day than New Year’s Eve (or “Old Year’s Evening,” as the Dutch call it) to break our long-standing radio silence. The last three months have been a particular type of busy -- nothing like the business of our first two weeks in the country, when everything was a whirlwind -- and nothing like the weeks we had back in New York when the combination of work, school, and keeping up with chores made it feel as if there was no time left in the day.

No, the past three months have been about the slow, steady, time-consuming process of making Holland feel like home. And five months after arriving, our life here is starting to feel as if it is taking shape. Slowly but surely, we’ve discovered the best places in town to buy groceries, plotted the beer selection against bartender friendliness for most of the bars in town, found favorite stalls in the market, and gotten to know the shopkeepers at a bunch of small businesses in town. We can taste the difference between oude and jonge kaas; a dubbel and a tripel; traded pumpkin ales for herfstbok.

We filed our first health insurance claims and are coming to understand what life actually costs here, which has meant throwing out the budget we made back in the States. Navigating trains, trams, and buses across different cities is becoming routine -- as is the expectation that a rush hour train going anywhere will arrive five minutes late if it’s raining. (We dread the day we need a train in the snow.)

{ … }

And then there’s the pleasure of all the new things we’ve taken to since the move. Ten kilometer bike rides have become humdrum affairs, as are days when our iPhones tell us we’re pushing 30,000 steps. Both of us have six hours of Dutch lessons a week; Matt is learning the ins and outs of the canal system with the De Delftsche Sport rowing club and becoming something of an expert chef; Ryan took up bouldering and picked up his squash racket for the first time since Colgate.

Our first visitors trickled in this fall -- a colleague of Matt’s dropped in for a day during a trans-European trek and on two occasions, an old friend of Ryan’s spent a day in Delft during a trip to Amsterdam and Paris.

We ventured outside of Delft, but not as often as we thought we would. In October, Ryan made a whirlwind four-day trip back to the States for work. The verdict: a delight to see old friends, colleagues, and even better to see his family. Being back in New York was oddly overwhelming: a barrage of English (understanding everything happening around you again is disorienting), the infuriating traffic of the BQE, the sheer expanse of a city of 8 million people.

Matt saw the UK for the first time at Thanksgiving, as a colleague of Ryan’s generously opened her family’s home in Surrey to us for a feast fit for royalty. After packing in all of London’s big sites in a day, we returned to Schiphol exhausted, and with Matt feeling some of the same big-city hangover Ryan did after returning from New York.

The back garden at Marres, the Center for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht

The back garden at Marres, the Center for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht

Inside the country, we picked Maastricht as our destination for a quick post-Christmas getaway. After a charming cross-country train trip (post to come soon!), the city blew us away with its ancient architecture, boutiques tucked into winding lanes, and exceptional food and drink. Groningen, the “jewel of the north,” was a charming contrast to the congestion of the Randstad. Amsterdam is quickly becoming our go-to spot when we’re craving luxury: we have a stall of places to turn to for a great dinner or a tasty cocktail, with each trip taking us further from the old center. Our favorite spots are now dotted all over the city, from restaurants and boutiques in the Old West to breweries east of the canal belt. Rotterdam continues to reveal itself as our Brooklyn stand-in: each trip to Witte de Withstraat or the Katengracht draws comparisons to Williamsburg and Red Hook.

{ … }

This time last year, Matt and I were driving east on I-80 through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Ryan was getting over a cold that Matt would succumb to by the end of the night. We were polishing off (finally) the last episodes of the first season of Serial. Ryan’s application for his current job had just been rejected. Matt was still a semester away from his M.S. Between us, we had two salaries and no rent, money in the bank but no free time or energy to enjoy it. We weren’t yet engaged.

The past twelve months have been a blur -- a year-long test of cooperation, communication and compromise, which we haven’t always passed. But as we walked Markt Square for one final time this year, we remarked that we were so happy that things turned out the way they had.

And the next twelve months? Few things, apart from visits from our families, are certain. This time next year we could be in our own house, or setting of our own fireworks, or writing this in Dutch, or back home with our families on the east coast.

Whatever happens, we do pledge to keep you along for the ride.


Earl grey smells like Hamilton

A chance occurrence at work triggered old memories and a burst of creativity in Ryan.

{ ... }

One afternoon last week, during a sleepy stretch of afternoon, when I ought to have been drafting a presentation for work but couldn’t focus, I lumbered into the kitchen to brew a cup of tea.

I closed the tap, shut my eyes, and inhaled deeply, taking in the distinctive smell of the earl grey leaves. 

{ … }

I take a seat in a small office in Lawrence Hall, partially below ground, in a wing of a building built into the hill on which Colgate University sits. Fallen leaves are pushed up against a tall, narrow window. Light pours in through the top, revealing the dust floating through the room. 

A machine rumbles in the corner of the room. The sound dies down and the smell of tea suffuses the room. For a moment it even crowds out the smell of musty, fraying editions of Plato and Aeschylus.

{ … }

Joshua Reynolds, professor of ancient Greek, hands me the cup of tea. It was a small gesture, the least he could do before he tore apart my translation of the opening lines of Seven Against Thebes and the shoddy argument about it I had slapped together.

Professor Reynolds, or JJ (when he wasn’t around to hear us), was one of a half-dozen or so eminently talented professors who taught in the Classics department at Colgate. My professors -- from post-docs to associates and endowed chairs -- were always dynamic; each class presented new challenges and fresh perspectives on old texts.* 

At Colgate, I enjoyed the company of friendly, motivated classmates, who were dedicated to the discipline. The room where we met was as well appointed as any I’ve seen in 25 years of teaching and learning.**

The professors, though, made everyone and everything shine. 

And while some had more flair, some I got to know better, and others I have kept in touch with more consistently since leaving Colgate, Professor Reynolds, more than anyone else, pushed me to be better. 

I felt compelled to impress him; there was something about Josh that was worthy of emulation.  It was, in part, how he carried himself: never boastful, always just informal enough to relax the room, but without stooping for our approval. Most importantly, he detested laziness in all its forms. 

The work I brought to Josh’s office that day was the last Classics assignment, whether at Colgate, for my M.A.T., or in my time teaching, that was less than my best. Over many more weeks and cups of earl grey tea, a final draft of my essay on the Seven took shape. It was nothing groundbreaking. At the end of the semester, I filed it away, then forgot about for eight years -- until I found it while packing for the move to Holland. 

And then the other day, the smell of that cup of tea brought me back to his office.

{ … }

The first major hurdle I must clear at my new job is to produce a massive investigation into the nature of Classical languages instruction in secondary schools around the world, so that I can make initial recommendations for a curriculum that will, hopefully, reach more than 10,000 students in every corner of the world.

My deadline is far enough off that it seems hard to comprehend finishing. There days when writing is impossible; motivation can be hard to find when the low, grey clouds roll off the North Sea and settle over Scheveningen. Dim office lights and fuzzy computer displays shake the focus. An empty agenda does little to stir the creative juices. 

But a cup of earl grey tea, I’ve learned, can work wonders. 

_____

*There was one exception, yes, but it only made us appreciate the others even more.

**I might be biased, though, as the Keck Center, with its cherry panelling, leather couches, and a picturesque view of the quad, was also the place where I got engaged.

Press three for English (or, a taal order)

For Ryan, as a former language teacher, the most intriguing opportunity presented by the move to Holland was the chance to learn Dutch. Below, he recounts the ups and downs of his attempts to get by in the local tongue.

{ … }

For the first time in my life, I responded to the sentence with something other than disinterest. In fact, the words were a relief to hear.

“Press three if you prefer English.”

I was on the phone with Gemeente Delft (the city's municipal office). Having lodged at three different temporary apartments to this point, Matt and I had days before gotten the keys to our permanent accommodations on a charming lane just outside the city center.  As law-abiding migranten, we understood our obligation to alert the city to our change of address. To do so, though, we needed (as is the case with most things here), een afspraak -- an appointment. So the following day, while on a break from work, I walked to a quiet corner of the office to make the call. Though I knew it was entirely irrational, by this point I couldn’t ignore the anxiety I harbored about my pisspoor Dutch. It been gnawing at me and growing more palpable all morning.

Located across from the Nieuwe Kerk on the Grote Markt, the old stadhuis no longer houses the municipal government, which now occupies a much uglier space on the Phoenixstraat.

Located across from the Nieuwe Kerk on the Grote Markt, the old stadhuis no longer houses the municipal government, which now occupies a much uglier space on the Phoenixstraat.

This was new ground for me. Back home, neither Matt nor I suffered from the phobic aversion to telephone conversations that plagued many of our friends. (We had even talked on the phone before our first date; it was an early sign of our compatability.) That has all changed in Holland, where conversations on the telefoon reveal, better than anything else, just how far we have to go before we can say we’ve woven ourselves into the Dutch society.

Phone conversations, of course, expose our inability Nederlands te praten — to speak Dutch. Of course, in person there are plenty of things that signal this, too. Our facial features and clothes are distinctively non-Dutch; more often than not we are speaking to each other as we enter a restaurant or a shop, and in English loud enough to be heard by anyone around. Taken together, all these grease the wheel for easy communication -- it’s easy to (rightly) assume that we need to be addressed in English. And since that cultural divide can be tacitly acknowledged before the conversation begins, each party gets a few extra moments time to plan their first remarks. In most cases, this makes it easy to save face.

But a phone call starves you of every security blanket, worst of all the furrowed brow or shrugged shoulders that are universal gestures for “I don’t understand you.” No, the phone demands a spoken reply. And in my experience, I have only one line ready to go once the Dutch from the other end of the line dies down.

“Sorry, ik begrijp het niet. Spreekt u Engels?”

“I haven’t understood -- do you speak English?” In theory this isn’t asking too much, particularly in a country where at least 90% of the population can conduct a conversation in English.* But over the past two months, I have grown increasingly frustrated at having to ask the question. I worry about how often and brazenly I impose my native tongue on the Dutch. My inability to return the favor, while all around me the Dutch perform linguistic gymnastics, breeds both guilt and complacency in turn.

It is the complacency, I am realizing, that is most dangerous. Long stretches of incident-free English exchanges have left me sorely unprepared for moments when communication does break down. Most of these failures are trivial: the wrong flavor of ice cream on my cone or a butcher who can’t explain the provenance of a cut of meat. But some are more serious, like when a throw-away punchline gets mangled and misinterpreted as a slight. In eight short weeks, I’ve suffered a lifetime’s worth of linguistic awkwardness and caused all sorts of unintended offense.

Just how far have the Dutch gone to accommodate us? Trainers at our new gym have detailed the intricacies of Olympic weightlifting in English; friends have switched avoided Dutch for hours at a time (and flawlessly, despite the liquid cheer they’d consumed) to keep us from feeling left out of conversations. In our experience, those who claim to speak only gebrekkig Engels suffer less from a lack of aptitude than a surplus of modesty.

The obvious solution to our problem -- just to speak more Dutch -- isn’t quite as easy to implement as it seems. Ironically, Hollanders’ excellent English complicates things more than anything else. Even when at our bravest and best prepared, Matt and I will be betrayed by shoddy pronunciation or too-long a pause, at which point our interlocutors glide seamlessly into English. It is rare that we cross back into Dutch from there.

It should be mentioned that the Dutch never admit to feeling imposed upon. The butcher, checkout girl, and bike salesman, all with no way to know we’re anything other than tourists, address us in English because they think that we want them to. (Sometimes they are right.)

I’ve found that I can only get practice by wedging an awkward preamble into the opening lines of a conversation, in which I acknowledge the circumstances (I’m American but live here now; I don’t know much Dutch but am interested to learn) and humbly request patience. But as well as this strategy works at restaurants or bars (where there are several opportunities to speak to the same person), it proves inefficient for cursory exchanges at the checkout counter, and downright irresponsible anytime large sums of money change hands.

{ … }

When I called the gemeente, the chance to “press three for English” offered me an unexpected reprieve from my anxiety. My thumb jerked towards the touchpad before the automated message could finish; I was overjoyed that an English speaker would greet me at the other end of the line.

After a minute, the line clicked and the operator started in:

    “Goedemiddag. Gemeente Delft. Hoe kan ik u helpen?”

Foolishly, Dutch was the last thing I’d expected to hear. But it was an easy phrase, one I’d heard in almost every shop I’d visited: “Good afternoon. How can I help you?” I had a parry prepared:

    Goedemiddag. Mag ik een vraag in het Engels stellen?”

“Afternoon. May I ask a question in English?” I’d looked up the idiom and rehearsed the line several times before making the call. I spoke quickly and assuredly, the tricky, guttural g delivered with adequate friction; I’d remembered to drop the unstressed n at the end of the final verb.

The operator’s response took the wind out of me:

    Ja, maar uw Nederlands klinkt goed.”

“Yes, but your Dutch seems fine.” I was ensnared by a trap my own diligence had laid. We’d started in Dutch and in Dutch we were to continue.  No matter how recklessly I bulldozed the rules of grammar, how many false cognates I employed, or diphthongs I mangled, the operator insisted I keep speaking in Dutch. With each successive clause, I dug my linguistic grave deeper and deeper. When words failed me completely, my penance was to repeat a Dutch translation of whatever English phrase the operator supplied for me.

Finally it came time to hang up. I lowered my head onto the desk in front of me, in part to hide my face -- I was sweating and flushed with embarrassment -- and in part out of pure exhaustion. When I finally raised my head, I was relieved to find I was still all alone in our break room. And for all the nerves I felt on my walk there, I was overcome with pride as I walked back to my desk.

What had I accomplished in seventeen minutes on the phone? Objectively, not much.

I’d explained that I had moved from New York to The Netherlands and needed to make an appointment to register my new address. I’d told the operator I had a fiancé, laboriously spelled out each of our names, and gave her our cell phone numbers, one carefully-spoken digit at a time. I asked for an appointment for the following Wednesday at 9:20 in the morning, and recorded the code that the automated system would ask for upon our arrival. At the end of the conversation, I thanked the operator and wished her a pleasant rest of the day.

All very simple, admittedly, but I had proven that I could manage in an absolute emergency.  I had learned a few new crucial words, how the Dutch talk about clock time, and, crucially, the pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet -- all of which has served me well since.

{ … }

Those were special circumstances, though. Besides the prodigious inefficiency of the exchange (it would have taken two minutes in English, tops) and the operator’s boundless patience, the conversation drew upon a store of fearlessness I find hard to conjure up consistently.

For all the forays Matt and I make in Dutch, we typically make equally as many retreats into English. It has been hard to internalize the fact that no one is tracking our errors or wants to chide us for them. It will be even more difficult to insist that people we already know stop speaking to us in English.

There are plenty of obstacles, plus lots of time, positioned between us and competency, much less fluency.

But although Matt and I have different mindsets towards learning the language (mine being the predictable enthusiasm of a linguist, his a more begrudging acceptance), we both recognize its practical advantages. We will no longer fear picking up the phone; I’ll feel assured that the person cutting my hair knows exactly what to do. Signing a contract won’t be any scarier than it already is. (The exchange between Ursula and Ariel from The Little Mermaid comes to mind.) A routine physical will be, well, routine.

One day, we will speak English not by default, but by choice. And on trips home to the US, the Dutch we can trot out on command will be the evidence of our time here.

The good news is that our plan to pursue formal lessons is starting to taking shape. Just this week we reached out to a local language school that offers lessons for expats subsidized by the city.

But until then, we’re rehearsing a ritual we last performed as children: memorizing simple things, like the pronunciation of our new address (trust me, it’s hard) and phone number and how to spell our names.

And, of course, that all-important phrase: “Hallo, spreekt u Engels?”

_____

*There are myriad reasons for this -- compulsory language courses in school work in tandem with access to subtitled British and American television, and the ubiquity of American pop culture. A long history of immigration and geographic proximity help, too. English, I found out, is even an official language of the city of Amsterdam.

On where and why

Predictably, the omens were frequent and clear -- but we’d not been fated to notice them.

Only once we’d touched down in Holland did we realize that, in the months leading up to our move, we had been bombarded with the same questions, each off in its own way:

So, when are you moving to Amsterdam?

Where exactly is your job?

Where did you say you were living again?

We can’t blame our friends and family for never having heard of Delft. Understandably, mention of Den Haag conjured up caricatures of war criminals and little else. Even close friends, who’d known about the job for months, still used Amsterdam as synecdoche for The Netherlands.

Looking back, our responses developed into refrains:

Delft is tiny but charming -- you know the blue and white tile? Girl With a Pearl Earring…

It’s funny, the office is flanked by Europol and a war tribunal. But, really, The Hague is very stately and elegant. Think of Washington, D.C…

Amsterdam’s not far -- an hour by train at most. We’ll go on weekends, for sure. It’s not technically legal, but...no, we hadn’t yet...

The New Yorkers understood right away. No matter how committed they were to city life, somewhere deep down they cursed too-low wages, too-high rent and humid summer days spent in sweat-soaked shirts. They’d all felt the pang at the Thruway turning into the Deegan on Sunday drives home in autumn.

But over all the goodbye dinners and farewell drinks, we never heard a critical word about the choice to live in a city that, for two days a week, knows no better than to sleep.

{ ... }

Delft absolutely and totally captured us on the first day of July, the final day of our second trip to Holland. We were there to find an apartment, a tall task given the horde of students who would storm the city along with us in August. It was a frantic two days -- a blur of tepid reactions and questions and offers all fed through an interpreter -- until success! (Or so we thought.)

We had three hours before our train to Schiphol. Remembering a tip from the a café owner we'd befriended, we walked from just north of town, through the old center, and east to the Delftse Hout. Within the hour we were in line at the farmstand of Hoeve Biesland, a doosje of strawberries in hand. The land around us had morphed, then changed itself again -- and all within a few kilometers. It tugged at something in both of us. We wanted to be back there, and fast.

August 2015, view of the Delft skyline (you can just make out the Nieuwe Kerk) from on the Delftse Hout.  

August 2015, view of the Delft skyline (you can just make out the Nieuwe Kerk) from on the Delftse Hout.  

Six weeks later, we were. As if to test our fondness for our new home, we spent much of our first two weeks here nowhere near Delft. On our grand tour of The Netherlands, we roamed street markets in Rotterdam, partied our way through Amsterdam Pride, took in experimental theatre in Utrecht, and toured the moneyed neighborhoods of Den Haag.

Centraal Station, Rotterdam, by night. 

Centraal Station, Rotterdam, by night. 

Each city, we agreed, had its merits. Amsterdam was a sight to behold, from the architecture of the canal houses to the physics that kept the city upright and dry. Rotterdam’s grit reminded us of home. That Utrecht came across as vibrant and cultured, our first Dutch friends assured us, was no fluke.

The dunes at Meijendel feel a world away from carnivalesque atmosphere of Scheveningen. (The actual distance is closer to two kilometers.)

The dunes at Meijendel feel a world away from carnivalesque atmosphere of Scheveningen. (The actual distance is closer to two kilometers.)

Delft’s virtue, we decided that night at de Kurk, was in its size: large and sophisticated enough to offer at least one good example of everything you can imagine, and small enough to make it easy to become regulars there. (There’s no describing how powerful an antidote to loneliness it is to, in a new place, bump into an acquaintance while in line for ice cream, or hear a knowing goedemorgen at the cafe.) Life in a small city builds in the pretense to get out and explore. We saw so much of The Netherlands in our first days precisely because we learned to navigate Delft so quickly.

 { … }

Our only stumbling block has been explaining to the move to people here. We make our arguments passionately, articulately, and frequently, yet are met with near universal confusion. In the eyes of the people here, we are “mad” to have left New York, and should be committed for settling in Delft over Den Haag or, especially, Amsterdam. These hyperbolic reactions (apart from doing little to reassure two people having just upended their lives) tend to paint the city as a rural backwater lacking running water or electricity.

The response from those who live outside of Delft -- Ryan’s colleagues, in particular -- often slips past confusion and into outright derision. In Delft itself, though, the questions are posed in a humbler tone, as if to say, “Aw, shucks, we’re not so great here.” (Where the former comments lack tact, the latter only make Delft seem more inviting.)  

The thread that ties all these conversations together is some basis, shaped by experience or rumor or both, for loving New York.  The city at Christmas; holidays spent overindulging in shops and restaurants; fascination at hipster culture in Brooklyn; the buses and trains that ferry revelers home at all hours -- they touch on themes somehow both tired and timeless.

In short, they love exactly what we did about the place. Our years in New York are dotted with fond memories of 30 Rock and window shopping.  There were nights full of delicious food and drink that ended, after too much of each, in treacherous treks up subway steps.

But New York extracts its price, too, and this is what our European friends can acknowledge, but not understand. They know nothing of the cars that were broken into, nor of scheming landlords, nor toxic rivers and traffic and twenty-dollar cocktails. Nothing of money, friends, and (worst of all) love lost -- all to the fruitless quest for something better, newer, and more exciting.

Only one line resonates with anyone who learns where we’re from.

“New York had sapped us dry.”

Delft may do the same, in time, or something different or something worse. But for now, it is doing the opposite. And so, for the moment, we are thankful.

Welkom in Nederland

Our first post here has been too long in the making, really, but a crucial packing mistake (a computer charger accidentally shipped with our belongings) combined with the need to cheaply furnish a new apartment meant that our computer’s primary use has been searching Marktplaats (a Dutch hybrid of eBay and Craigslist) for gently used furniture.

That said, Matt has already earned himself a reputation in the local vintage furniture community — we’ll have a post up that details his finds soon.

Already six weeks have ticked by, but the inspiration for this post came about two weeks into our time here. 

View (hardly) of Oude Jan from the Prinsenhof during a torrential downpour. This is the type of weather for a visit to de Kurk.

View (hardly) of Oude Jan from the Prinsenhof during a torrential downpour. This is the type of weather for a visit to de Kurk.

On a sleepy weekday evening, we walked to Proeflokaal de Kurk for a few drinks. De Kurk, located on the wide, eastern side of the Kromstraat, before the bars and restaurants give way to private homes and the street narrows to a lane, is the type of bar that beckons you in on a rainy night. It boasts high tables set behind a front bay window; long, worn wooden benches and candlesticks entombed beneath pyramids of hardened wax. It’s a place to sip a drink while gazing at the poor souls rushing to get out of the rain and the cold. 

But we were there, naturally, on a sunny day in midsummer, when twilight lingers well past 10 o’clock, so most of the charm of the place was lost on us. We’ll have to give it another try in winter.

Not only was the bar low on atmosphere, but Matt and I, having spent every moment of the first two weeks together, were struggling for conversation fodder. So I produced a small notebook and pen and decided we should quiz each other: on our first impressions; what we loved about Holland and the Dutch; what vexed us about them. 

That conversation was meant to provide the skeleton of this first post, but since we’ve let some time slip by since then, our next posts will record both opinions from that night at de Kurk, as well as what’s changed about them in the intervening the month since.

Check back soon.