* An interesting adjunct to the Dutch tobacco laws is this: marijuana is technically illegal in
I’ve never been a girl scout but my sister made clear her reluctance to be the chief map-reader in a foreign city and my friend Michele has trouble finding her way off a rugby field. So I ended up clutching the guidebook and steering us through the streets of
We were on Utrechtsestraat one evening, looking for a place to have dinner, and because the street is lined on both sides with restaurants, we had to cross it several times to squash our noses up against the windows and stare at what the people inside were eating. Michele took such severe emotional strain each time we crossed (taking life and limb in our hands, and often causing racing cyclists to ding their bells crossly at us) that the fourth time we decided to do so, she said, ‘That’s it. I’m not crossing again. If you decide to eat on that side of the street, you can just bring me a takeaway.’
Hearing – and watching – it
Also in Utrechtsestraat is a record store called Concerto, and we were thrilled that same night to discover that a Tom Waits CD, Bad As Me, was being released there. A Tom Waits tribute band was installed on a tiny platform and the shop was crammed with fans. The band was absolutely amazing – the singer gave a very convincing Waits rendition, and I developed an immediate crush on the bear-like trombone-player, and would have thrown my panties at him if I hadn’t been wearing two pairs of tights over them, which made them hard to take off. We loved just coming across this fabulous impromptu concert on a random and freezing Wednesday night in the city centre.
My sister, my Dad and I did a little boat tour of the Naarden canals which, together with various battlements and casements, constitute the fort-village. It was our first day so we were still battling with the language, and the boatman had only a smattering of English, so mainly we just sat there and enjoyed the scenery while he kept up a non-stop Dutch narrative over (bizarrely) a powerful sound system (it was just a little boat, as you can see at right). An hour later, when it came time to dock, the boatman somehow misjudged things, and spent the next 20 minutes trying to park his boat. As we went fruitlessly backwards and forwards and *bump* and backwards and forwards and *bump* and backwards and forwards and so on, I felt like an embattled mom with children engaging in risky behaviour - my Dad was endangering his fingers by gamely trying to secure the boat to the embankment by way of a bungey chord, and my sister had a fit of the uncontrollable giggles. We’d had only about 2 hours sleep after a very long and uncomfortable flight, and this was a sure sign of overtiredness; when this used to happen to my actual kids I immediately sent them to bed because tears were sure to follow. Fortunately, the boatman finally got the boat docked and we got off before my Dad crushed his fingers or Bev burst into hysterical tears.
I was pleasantly surprised, during the first couple of days in Holland, to discover how close to Afrikaans written Dutch is – the sentence constructions differ slightly but so many of the words are either exactly the same or very similar that it’s really easy to translate. The spoken language is another matter – the accent is so unfamiliar that it sounds, well, utterly foreign.
But after a few days I realised something useful: if you speak Afrikaans with an English accent, you’re basically speaking Dutch. It is the one and only time in my entire life that my atrocious Afrikaans accent (which is really just Afrikaans words spoken with an English accent, and is a source of huge entertainment for my Afrikaans friends) has worked to my advantage, and I had many happy, completely understandable conversations with Dutch people in English-accented Afrikaans.
I’ve mentioned the fantastic food we had everywhere we went in