I spoke to my sister-in-law in America last night and she reported having just thought of me while flipping through a sportswear catalog. Among the image laden pages of must-haves was a pair of sleek thermal running pants for extreme climates. She figured I was probably in need of such an item, poor thing, in the miserable weather of Holland. Yet, to her surprise and my pleasure, I reported that we’ve made two trips to the beach this week, and I most likely won’t be needing any such running pants until at least Wednesday, when the weather is supposed to take a turn for the worse.
Den Haag is a 20 minute bicycle ride from the North Sea. The coastline stretches in both directions with kilometers of open beachfront, some just off the well trodden paths of beach towns and others via walking or cycling-only access through the sand dunes.
Every spring, a whole village of beachfront restaurants are erected along the shore for the summer season, and then deconstructed by the end of the season. These are not wheel-away-at-night patat (french fries) stands, but full-fledged restaurants with decks, glassed in walls, padded furniture, roofs, electricity, thematic designs and palpable sound systems to fine tune an ambiance that differentiates it from the neighboring restaurant. These are not only labor intensive to set up, but the restaurateurs pay hefty fees to rent the beachfront.
The summer weather in Holland was so bad this year that most Dutch claim the season was skipped in this country. The city of Scheveningen must have felt sorry for their beach renters, a Dutch friend informed me, as they extended the restaurant leases until the end of October. And what a good decision it was; last weekend every restaurant was busy and every square meter of beach occupied by a broad spectrum of humans ranging from pale white to foreign-vacation tanned.
I walked with two new friends I had met in a yoga/meditation course and the shore of the North sea on a warm Saturday afternoon seemed the perfect setting to discuss what we had learned. We had all experienced the value of regularly doing the meditation and breathing techniques, but we also felt annoyed by having to do “one more thing,” regardless of how much it improved our daily lives. As we discussed how our meditations were coming along, we navigated our way through the jellyfish that washed up on shore. Although no longer alive, their amber tentacles moved gracefully to the gentle rhythm of the waves. They did not have the tell-tale blue lines on the round part of their bodies that indicate they are poisonous, but their presence was enough to keep 95% of the population out of the sea.
Although we were equally engaged and participating in the conversation, our eyes were still scanning the ground for jellyfish. Soon we made the prudent decision to walk on the dry sand of the beach, thus allowing our gazes to be more all-encompassing, our thoughts more present for contemplation.
As our gazes lifted upward our conversation did flow more easily. But as we proceeded on our journey, I noticed the beach goers on their towels had somehow transitioned from scantily clad to wholly unclad. As we casually ambled forward through the bobbing penises, sagging breasts and occasional sunburnt child, I was determined to focus on the conversation at hand. But soon, the change in landscape penetrated our thoughts.
As we passed naked families sitting together under the hot sun, my friend shared a conversation she’d had with friends just a few nights before about the vast differences in freedom of conversation between mothers and daughters around the topic of sex. The three of us shared in common having almost never talked to our mothers about sex. On the other hand, one of her friends had reported that mom talked openly to her about her sexual experiences down to which toys she liked for such occasions.
In Holland, land of sexual freedom, legal prostitution and drugs, it makes sense that family views on the topic of sex could be much more liberal. If I had thought about the topic before, I might have naturally come to the same conclusion. .
I sometimes have difficulty with the general zen principle of staying in the moment, but my child is like my zen master. Besides the anticipation of dessert after dinner, he seems to live fully in the moment, engaged in play, in laughter, in taking in the opportunities around him. When with him, I too am in the moment. Yes, I can digress back into history and think of holding him as an infant, or think in a general sense about his future educational needs, but for the most part, I think of him as a four and a half year old, no younger, no older. But, former topic at hand, how will this country of liberal indifference influence his sexual upbringing? Of course, parents play a large role, but contemporary society also holds a powerful set of cards in how our children will think. But, keeping my little zen boy in mind, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.