Monday, July 19, 2010

Greetings from: DELFT

The Dutch football team comes home today to their second-place parade. They’re to float by along the Herengracht, which is the canal right outside our hotel. Even at 10 in the morning, people stake out their spots with orange towels and streamers. So to avoid the Orange fever, Matthew and I retreat to someplace a little more blue and white. Delft, for instance.

We pull into the Hague first, and in the basement of the train station, the bike rental guy becomes annoyed with our touristy ways (“You need the deposit in cash? You don’t take credit cards?”). Despite some confusion, we exit, saddled with two perfectly functional bikes. Our cheaper bikes only have pedal brakes, which makes me feel like I’m in sixth-grade. I never realized how onerous pedal brakes are, especially when one initially tries to get momentum going. I wobbled across the bike lane and into the paths of oncoming trams.

Once in Delft, it feels as if we step into a Vermeer painting, although Vermeer wisely left out The Body Shoppe in his cityscapes. It seems, thus far, that the non-Amsterdam cities have all the charm and history of Amsterdam, and none of the sleaze. Inside of sweet marijuana smoke blowing out of every doorway, you have delicately-glazed ceramics and antique tiles -- an addiction just as costly. In the Turkish shoarma shops we pass, the TVs show the chaos in Amsterdam itself. From the air, the mass of people look like a terrible choice of orange shag carpet, separated by brown-green stripes.

On the way back from Delft, we get lost in the tangle of bike paths heading to the Hague. Instead of the direct route we took earlier, we on side paths, past a grid of vacation houses bursting with garden colors. We dart through the suburbs of Rijkwid, past a shopping mall the size of a football stadium, and arrive back at the Hague, late enough so that the foreign dignitaries and government bureaucrats have loosened their ties, taken off their jackets to lounge at sidewalk cafes, ordering beer after beer after beer. The Hague seems like the grown-up version of Amsterdam -- a little stodgier, a little more world-weary. But not without its own wicked sense of humor: at the World Peace Flame (near the Peace Palace), we noticed that someone had broken off the US representative of the “rocks of the world” display, and that Serbia and Montenegro had been removed entirely.

And if we had missed the party in Amsterdam, the remnants still remain: long beer cans crowding the base of trees, wine and champagne bottles like budding streetlights, the road paved with flattened aluminum cans, cheers in Dutch that sound like We’re number two! We’re number two!

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