The bus has not accelerated for a minute and yet everything seems smaller. The gas station with the gigantic neon lighting, which was as big as America. The farms lasted indefinitely, up to the Wad and possibly beyond. The pier stretched so deep into the sea that you felt like you were in England.
A week ago, I was back in northern Friesland, where I grew up. In your youth, everything is great and not just because you yourself barely passed your mother’s hips. I remember my father’s footsteps, always a mile ahead of mine. A dog was the size of a cow. The poplars were pointing in the sky, the dike was an impregnable fortress where the water would always remain behind. Before growing up, I didn’t know a bigger city than Groningen.
(A chronic illness, I knew, was an illness that could only be treated in the Groningen medical center, an illness that the brilliant minds of this metropolis could handle …)
Returning to the places of your childhood is a perilous undertaking. When I returned to Groningen, ten years after canceling my university enrollment, the city turned out to be much smaller than I thought. The faculty, my student house, the cafe where I worked, I remembered them as long bike rides – it all turned out to be within walking distance.
So, a quarter of a century later, I was back in Holwerd. The meadows now contain fields of flowers, no doubt to increase biodiversity. A concept that was only talked about in natural stores at the time. Holwerd is no longer the black hole where nothing was. The stately homes have been refurbished, there is even a hotel where you can also eat decently.
(Forget it, the doctor’s house and the old school have long since been bought by people from the Randstad who took over the entire village street with the added value of their Amsterdam house.)
My parental home was thrown to the ground, the poplars were cut down. There is now something that most resembles a bungalow. Leeuwarden airbase fighter jets still fly over the country, which still arouses fear at the time. Now because I saw those bombs go off too close.
Did everything get smaller? I walk the same seven mile strides as my father. Villages I thought were hours away are less than ten minutes away. Only space, it has remained the same. Nowhere is the sky wider, the space larger than in the north of Friesland. Space is infinitely large. What I couldn’t dream of then turns out to be easier than ever: you get back to Amsterdam in just two hours.
“Food expert. Unapologetic bacon maven. Beer enthusiast. Pop cultureaholic. General travel scholar. Total internet buff.”