31 August 2006

sounds of Holland

back in the center of the town I visited last time, I'm sitting next to my fourth-floor hotelroom window. The air is warm but still a little chill, and the sounds of the square below drift up to me here. There's the rattle of bicycles and the punctuating clang of a bell, the occasional motor scooter, but mostly the lazy summertime sound of the outdoor cafe across the street. The unfamiliar sounds of Dutch voices blend with the laughter into a hum that could be anywhere- reverberating off the brick walls around us and floating into the thinly overcast sky.

An outdoor concert is playing in the square, obviously someone that has followers, so I can just barely hear those who are singing along with the band. They're singing in English now, adding to the universality of this moment, as long as my eyes are closed. When I open them though, I see the dim bulk of the same church I looked at last time, the white lights that outline the windows of the building above the cafe, and the streams of bicycles, their red tail lights glowing in the evening.

Earlier today I was in our Dutch office, after the usual long day of flying, driving, and intense work. I got an email from my brother that contained photos of my young nephew playing on the beach on Cape Cod with the rest of my family, and for just a moment I felt terribly lost here in this sea of yet another strange language, intertwined Dutch highways, and carefully cultivated forests. Why am I here when my whole family is there in those familiar, loved places? Right now I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's, but sometimes that soul-delay of travel makes for the occasional forlorn moment.

After listening to all the cheery-sounding but completely incomprehensible Dutch conversations, I also found a new kind of solace in hearing Icelandic. There's something soothingly predictable about it to me now- I may be far from fluent in my comprehension but at least I KNOW I will be able to figure out what's going on. I am curious what it will be like when I go somewhere English-speaking after this. What luxury to have all the linguistic tools you need at your disposal without having to plan what you say long in advance!

Ship sighting: I did see a few on the canals on the way here- some very Important-looking equipment being towed, a few flat cargo-bearing boats, and another one that looked like a dredger. Canal boats are such a different design- squat lozenge-y, and genteel.


Sirry said...

Did you know that the Dutch language is actually easier than Icelandic. It's closer to English. There much less grammar and there are some of the same words. The pronounciation just sounds extremely foreign until one day it clicks. It took me only about a year to become fluent, but that is because I already knew English, German, French and Icelandic, with some Swedish. That's how I describe Dutch, a melting of all of those.

Have fun in Holland :D

Sarah said...

"that soul-delay of travel" is one of the main reasons I have been unable to uproot myself from the relative environs of my family. I've never heard it expressed so clearly before...

-Sarah :O)

ECS said...

Sirrý- I can tell that it wouldn't be too hard if I were to set my mind to it, but after waking up so early, being whizzed around the country, having to work for hours, and then getting those photos, the last thing on my mind was understandign the language :-) I tried to point out the similarities between Dutch and Icelandic to a few Dutch people and they all looked at me like I had an extra head or something. As for the written language, I figured out that on the menus outside restaurants, you take off the ge- before words and suddenly everything jumps out. Seems like all the preparation terms (peeled, grilled, stuffed) have the ge- at the beginning.

Sarah- it's actually a term from William Gibson in Pattern Recognition. There´s a lovely description of your soul being spun out on a fine thread and whizzing along behind you. When you get to your destination it has to reel back in and catch up with you. It's definitely one of the best explanations of jet lag I've read in a while.

tsduff said...

Love the travel "soul-delay" explanation. So beautifully put. You amaze me... already been through a day at work, travel, living... whilst I am still trying to shake the cobwebs from my head (don't know why the coffee hasn't kicked in at all). Your mention of the ties of family at home hit a nerve with me. I have always held family as my most dear possession... although it is funny because now we are spread out all over heck and gone... Albania, Oregon, Southern Calfornia, Northern California, Wyoming...and Mom is gone even further away. Somehow being so far away physically from loved ones is mentally more difficult than if they just live a few hundred miles away like my Dad... although I don't see him much either. I do envy your travels though... seems to be what I long for these days more than just living & working here at home. I love your way of describing all you experience.