After spending the first six weeks in the Netherlands with my husband’s brother’s family (see last post), we moved to my in-laws’ traditional Dutch flat while they went on vacation to the Belgian countryside.
Located on the ground floor of a four-story brick apartment building, their flat has the absolute luxury of a back yard. Not one for a patch of grass, my mother-n-law created a beautifully sculpted garden–best described as what a miniature Versailles might look like if conceived by the Dutch– pathways and circles of brick surrounded by thoughtful plantings that bloom in a cyclical pattern, a “forest” area with a trellised entry, a bench at one side for contemplation.
On the street side, semi-transparent curtains in the tall windows cordon off the outside world, while letting passersby catch a glimpse of the bright tulips on the dining room table. Each kamer has something elegant and something quaint–a post modern couch in the same room as a painting of a Dutch city, sculpted glass tables next to a floral couch.
The neighborhood is sparkling clean, well organized and decidedly old Dutch. Men and women are dressed in semi-fashionable suits, dresses and overcoats on their way to the bakery. Within a three minute walk one can go to the local baker, butcher, florist or cheese store. The shop owners are professionally curt and smile sparingly. A small, vocal child in their midst evokes not one smile, but a downward crinkling at the edges of their mouths. The upscale boutiques in the neighborhood speak to a much older demographic with price tags and styles in the windows informing me there is no need to even enter the store.
On the other hand, the neighbors are friendly and very in tune with what everyone else is doing. A few days after Arie Jan got his job, the doorbell rang, and a nice woman handed us a bouquet of flowers, offering congratulations all around. It became abundantly clear that although my in-laws were on vacation, they were still posting regular emails on our progress from the Belgian countryside to their extended network.
There is this sense, when you stay in someone’s home in their absence, that you are getting to know them better. You are interacting with their space, sitting in their chairs, sleeping in their beds. But what it really comes down to is when you cook in someone’s home. There, you get a sense of what life must be like. This house has the kitchen of a ship’s cabin–a very tiny, extremely – space that is more of a half butt kitchen, then a one butt kitchen. Yet, instead of looking out of a porthole onto the choppy sea, you are looking into Henny’s divinely sculpted garden through a glass door. I found myself lingering there on more than one occasion, taking the garden into my senses. In the bleak and cold of morning, the garden appeared serious and well ordered. When the sun shone into the garden on a windy day, it displayed it’s wild side. Ezra was also intrigued by the garden and more than once, we ran along its tiny paths and through the “forest,” playing a variety of games that usually involved running from monsters, shooting monsters with bows and arrows, or feeding baby monsters lots of cookies before gently returning them to their mommy monsters.
Despite the tiny size, Ezra was drawn to the kitchen. Perhaps it was the view of the garden. Or, perhaps he was tapping into that universal desire to hang out in the kitchen while someone is cooking. A small white table against the wall has a folding panel that is usually down to maximize space. Yet, whenever I started cooking, Ezra would pull the wooden support levers into position and extend the table, minimizing my work space to cut, chop, stir and season.
Ezra is now extremely comfortable in grandma and grandpa’s house. Perhaps too comfortable. Barriers that naturally exist when you visit grandparents, no running and screaming in the house, for instance, had been broken down during our stay. Ezra had developed his own relationship with the house that was independent of its true owners. A Lego set, 720 pieces strong, had been a regular fixture strewn across the living room floor while they were away. On the other hand, grandma and grandpa now have a standing afternoon playdate with Ezra once a week after school. This might not have worked for our little man if we hadn’t stayed there.
When it was nearing time for my in-laws to return, we were uncertain of where we would stay next. The housing that comes with my new job is not available until April 1st, and we had already stayed with all the family members who live in Den Haag. It is also hard to find a place to rent for three weeks, unless it is a vacation rental, which might set us back close to $2,000–a high price to pay when you are just starting new jobs.
Our network of friends and family came up with different ideas. A neighboring church had an unfurnished space we could rent. We went and looked at it, and it felt like a temporary office building, the toilet and shower shared with others who used a neighboring office, an uninviting kitchen. At the same time, we got an email from a family friend who lives in Scheveningen, a beautiful ocean town 10 minutes away by car, or a half hour by bike.
We went the next day to see his flat. Flat is not the right word for it. He lives on the top floor of a tall, modern building next to the sea with 360 degree views over the ocean and city. Light hard wood floors, glass walls, contemporary art on the walls, and a few functional, well designed pieces of furniture create a look of contemporary living in an expansive penthouse. Um, yes. Please. Thank you.
Coming up next: Penthouse in Schevingingen