Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys

Being ‘here’ instead of ‘there’

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1498742_10201490149035710_1237995288_oI frequently find myself saying ‘here’ when I really mean ‘there’. As in, ‘That’s not unusual here’ or ‘We like to eat Marmite over here’. And I realised that this is the first time in my life that my ‘here’ is not the UK. I’ve visited other countries, but I’ve never lived anywhere outside of Britain and it’s taking some getting used to.

In fact, there’s been a lot of adjusting over the last two months. It’s strange really to think that we have only been here two months. It feels like a lot longer. I don’t mean in the sense that time has been dragging. I think it has more to do with having so many new experiences. I remember by first semester at university felt so much longer than any subsequent semesters, because I was in a new place, meeting new people.

The biggest adjustment, I think, has simply been the slow sinking in that I’m in another country. Sometimes I forget, until I leave the house and hear people speaking Dutch.

Not being able to understand the language has certainly been a disorientating experience – though sometimes I actually quite like it. The other day I caught a train to Tilburg. Usually I struggle to read in public places because I can’t filter out the conversations around me. But because I couldn’t understand anyone on the train, I was able to blissfully ignore them and read my book for two hours. However, I am starting to get a little sick of having to say ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch’ when people start talking to me, so I’ve registered for Dutch lessons and I’m determined to learn the language.

It might seem obvious, but I’ve really been surprised by just how different this country is. I thought moving to Amsterdam would be an adventure, but I suppose I thought my life would continue much as it had. Instead I’ve been completely thrown out of context. Not in any specific way that I can point to, but the frame of reference is gone. Everything, down to the way street signs look, is different.

One aspect of the Netherlands that most intrigued me before I moved here, is its flatness. What will it feel like, I wondered, to be in such a flat place? A few weekends ago we cycled out to the small town of Muiden. It was a beautiful, clear day. The air was cold, but the sun was shining. As we cycled through stretches of green fields and open water it occurred to me that it wasn’t so much the landscape as the skyscape that stood out to me. In a way, the flatness of the land obliterates the land itself, leaving the sky and its big bellied clouds to loom down over everything. The land shrinks to a thin band on the horizon and the eyes are drawn to a world of blue, white, and grey.

The flatness of the landscape can also bring on some strange optical illusions. On the train back from Tilburg I decided to look out of the window, instead of burying myself in my book. Flat fields, stretching impossibly far out into the horizon, flashed passed. Then, all of a sudden, a hill. For a brief second I found myself genuinely wondering whether it wasn’t a hill and whether the train was in fact tilting, like one of those Virgin Pendolino trains. It was as though my brain was so used to flatness that it couldn’t quite understand the concept of a hill.

It will definitely be interesting, when I next visit the UK (even the thought that I will be a visitor in my own country is strange), to see how it feels to be ‘there’. But for now, I am ‘here’ and I think I like it.

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Author: Naomi Racz

I am a nature writer, with a particular interest in urban nature. I also write about social media and work in communications with an NGO.

7 thoughts on “Being ‘here’ instead of ‘there’

  1. I know how it is when a period of time seems so long because so many things have happened!
    I have been to the Netherlands many times but never lived there (I almost did that however!). It is a lovely place and the language is wonderful. Maybe I feel like that because I have met so many great people there 🙂 So go you! Let us know of your progress 🙂

    • It is a lovely place and the longer I spend here the more I come to appreciate its unique beauty. Still miss Nottingham though – hope all is well across the North Sea!

  2. Looks like the actual modern country would still be familar to Cuyp and Ruisdael and all those other painters, loads of sky and not much land. You could put a frame around that photo and pass it off as the seventeenth century, well, after photoshopping out the pylons you could…

    • Yes, you can definitely see why the Golden Age painters painted the landscape the way they did. I read an interesting blog post recently arguing that the pylons are, in a way, a modern day version of windmills, so perhaps if they were around today the Dutch masters would be painting pylons!

      • That’s a good point about the amount of sky and the rich tradition of Dutch artists – in Cornwall the St Ives school took off in the early 20th century with artists citing the amount and quality of light as reasons why it was such a good place for so much visual art: being on a peninsula surrounded by open sea with no land for hundreds of miles gives the impression of ‘more’ light and I wonder if the same could be said for the Netherlands with the high sky:land ratio?

        Love the observations on ‘flatness’ – I’m looking forward to hearing more about ‘there’ from ‘here’!

      • Yes, I remember reading that somewhere about the Cornish artists – it certainly makes sense that with fewer physical obstructions between the sun and the land there would be more light! An interesting comparison though – maybe one for a future blog post!

  3. Pingback: Spring is here and so am I | Blacktop Rain

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