Scheveningen, 20 September 2009

Here I am again by one of the shores of Den Haag. Notice my Dutch improvement? In my last note I called it “The Hague.” I had never experienced the feeling of being at a place where you cannot speak the language. The past week since I moved here – I am indeed celebrating one whole week today; funny how time flies – I have gone through a quasi cultural shock. First, my utter incapacity to pronounce the names of the streets in a Dutch as opposed to German way, my difficulty in remembering them, my illiteracy when it comes to reading signs (yes, the Dutch here have no English translations on their signs; so the Peace Palace when you’re on the road trying to find your way there is Vredespaleis etc) and labels at the supermarket.

After a 3 miles bike ride and the help of tram 1’s lines I made my way to Scheveningen. Apparently this is either the largest or the most popular beach of Den Haag – I have yet to decipher which of the two it really is. When I first set eyes at the shore, one though came to mind: this is just like Atlantic City minus the boardwalk and the casinos! In a second sight I am able to detect many more differences between the two. Less restaurants and bars, less commercialization overall, less dirt. I kind of like that. The weather has been optimal these days which has gathered large crowds at the shore areas.

I am determined to figure out where exactly it is that you surf in this city. I see sailing boats and some kite boarding (sounds like a new plan ahead?) but no surfers and no good waves. It’s a Sunday today so you see families with parents, grandparents, children, and dogs going up and down the shore. People smile here, they walk slowly, they ride their bike to work in a suit, and the cars will wait for the pedestrian or the biker to cross the road. I get the feeling that this city is like a complete suburbia minus the pretentiousness. And this wind, ah this wind, which I surely will despise in the winter, in this weather gives you a sense of liberty, a sense that you can get on your bike and ride it to the horizon. As I was coming here today I cycled to the Peace Palace through an area that resembled so much of Central Park. I feel that this is the first city in Europe, maybe along with Paris and Berlin, that gives you the full impression of fall. Yellow, red, pink leaves falling on you as you cycle under the trees, the crunching noise the leaves make as you step on them with your feet or bicycle wheels, I always loved the fall.

“Real life” starts on Monday. John Bellinger’s lecture tomorrow, yet another PhD proposal presentation to the University’s dean this time. I got myself a permission to go back to Athens for a few days to vote. No, it is not an excuse to go back; I need to catch some of you before reaching quick conclusions! And this time my leave shall not be indefinite as my time off may not exceed 7 to 10 days. O tempora, O mores!

Scheveningen, 20 September 2009

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Kijkduin, September 19 2009

I am sitting on a bench by the shore of The Hague with barely a jacket on looking at a relatively small sun setting. A flock of seagulls has gathered around begging for food and the waves at the shore are becoming fiercer. I did not know seagulls liked French fries so much that they would even fight over one. Strange how all creatures are good at adapting. Darwin has proved after all that those who do not adapt tend to face extinction; sounds about right.

So here I am, on a bench, in a different country, again. On my bike ride from what I call “home” in this city to the beach, I asked for directions. The two Dutch men I kindly stopped on the road smiled and asked me “which beach, because we have too many beaches here!” I smiled and replied “any!” even though I was condescendingly laughing inside thinking that I come from a country that has many more beaches yet no one would ask you “which one” if you posed that question. After about a 3 mile bike ride I finally made it. The last 10 days of what I like to call the “new era” of my life – the title makes me feel better than to think of it as a transitional period; sort of reminds me of transitional societies and that never brings good images to mind – have been relatively rough. Now everything seems to have somewhat fallen into place with some exceptions still missing. Yet coming here this evening brings a peace of mind I always tend to seek. I don’t know if it is the water that makes it feel more like home, the openness of the setting that gives you a sense of infinity or merely the fact that I like catching pretty mental snapshots.

I wish I had taken my camera along with my laptop today. The scenery, albeit in Europe reminds you a lot of the US East Coast. Long sand shore, darker waters, waves splashing; not the view you get in the Mediterranean. This one seagull seems to be a pro in catching those fries in the air. I have counted seven in a row thus far. It seems to know well the game of “quick catch” and domination to the rest of the flock by taking the central spot and chasing down any of the rest trying to claim it. But I was talking about the scenery. Before I moved here I found out on the internet – what a marvelous creation – that you can surf on the beaches here. I can now attest to this fact. I couldn’t be happier that I can finally gear up and ride some waves on European soil. I had started to miss that a lot. I should probably head down the beach and wander a bit, then get my bike and ride it back home. This city has actually started to grow in me.

Kijkduin, September 19 2009

Bugun Pazar/Λίγα Γαρούφαλλα/Today is Sunday

Mornings by nature tend to intesify the inescapable expectations. “And me, filled with your absence, loaded with the impatience of the great voyages”.

TODAY IS SUNDAY

Today is Sunday.

For the first time they took me out into the sun today.

And for the first time in my life I was aghast

that the sky is so far away

and so blue

and so vast

I stood there without a motion.

Then I sat on the ground with respectful devotion

leaning against the white wall.

Who cares about the waves with which I yearn to roll

Or about strife or freedom or my wife right now.

The soil, the sun and me…

I feel joyful and how.

NAZIM HIKMET

Translated by Talat Sait Halman. (Literature East & West, March 1973)

P.S. I will not attempt to print the original in Turkish or the liberal transformation of the poem into a song in Greek. Privileged are the few who can understand the original, and us more than few who can relate to the lyrics of the song. Sometimes, some of the those belonging to our human race are capable of making beautiful things.