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.