I’m currently working at the office of a client and the building they reside in reminds me a lot of the high school attended. It has details you hardly see in modern buildings. The materials are elegant and robust at the same time. The floors have little dents where people put their feet when going up and down the stairs since it was built, in 1910. Originally a school, now it houses many small businesses.
My own school was built in 1923 in the style of the Amsterdamse School. The school has been extended several times over the century, but the main building is still houses students, about a hundred metres from the house I was born in. Together with ’t Klooster, it is a landmark of the village I grew up in.
It’s that time of year when one half of the country is skiing and the other half is partying at home. And when I say partying, I mean hardcore partying. It’s carnival.
Yesterday, we were already treated to a traffic jam around Cologne, a city where carnival is the main event of the year. As I’ve never witnessed Germans celebrating carnival before, I can now disclose to you that some of them drive their cars on the highway wearing paint on their cheeks.
I grew up with carnival. Despite it being mainly celebrated below the rivers in The Netherlands, the northern provinces have places where they celebrate it too. I really loved it as a kid. Especially when I was allowed to join the big parade in my village, as part of the wind orchestra. I remember mostly cold fingers and very tired lips (playing oboe).
Some years it would be too cold for my oboe to play outside. One year I walked the parade together with my mother. Snow was predicted, but there was no snow at all. I grabbed my old skateboard and put our ancient sled on top of it. We wrote a silly reference to the snow on cardboard, we put on some silly clothes and wigs, grabbed a bottle containing an alcoholic drink to keep us warm (I must have been older than sixteen, the legal drinking age) , and together we had a great time. We even won a price.
This year, due to yet another februari storm, most of the big parades were cancelled. That doesn’t mean the end of carnival though. Parades are only a part of the celebration. I therefore wasn’t surprised to see many people at Utrecht CS dressed up in costumes.
I don’t celebrate carnival any more. Every now and then I happen to be in my birth place, to celebrate my parents’ birthdays (both of them have their birthdays around this) and I watch the parade for a bit. It is still a big parade and the organisers added more celebrations around the parade during the years, like they do in the south. It is the biggest event of the village and I’m glad I was able to enjoy it while I lived there. Every normal person needs to be able to act silly once in a while.
The first time I came across a public piano was when I arrived at St Pancras, London, in 2012. It was the first time I went to London by train instead of plane, to visit the Olympic games. When I entered the shopping area, I was welcomed with piano tunes from a skilled fellow traveler. It couldn’t have been a better welcome to a city that was hosting the olympic games.
Now, years later, the public piano has become a common object in public spaces in The Netherlands as well. Whenever I’m travelling to Utrecht, people are playing the one in the train station. I think the public piano is one of the best social inventions of the zeroes. Whenever someone is playing, it attracts others.
It’s mostly amateurs who kill some spare time, but sometimes artists use it to give public performances. And every time I pass someone playing really well I wish I learned to play the piano when I was young.
I’m not sure about you, but I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I’m always searching for new things to do, set myself new challenges, experiment in new fields. The drawback is that I still have this feeling I haven’t accomplished anything, have not enough experience in any field to call myself an expert in anything. Mentally I’m still in my twenties, no longer a kid, but not yet an adult.
And then I had conversations with the kids of my friends last night. I say kids, but they are all officially adults. Three of them are students in the same city I went to university (and lived for over twenty years). One of them even joined the same student association the Man and I were members of for many years (and where we fell in love). During the conversations I heard myself tell stories about the old days, give advice on not taking any choice regarding which master to choose too seriously (you can always change course during the many years that follow uni), and give them insider knowledge on which places to go to for midnight snacks.
When I went to bed last night, I concluded that I can no longer deny the truth: I’m an adult.
I have been toying with the idea to learn how to sketch using watercolour, but have been postponing execution. So I took the opportunity of a week in France to put myself in an uncomfortable situation. I brought my sketchbook and watercolour box to France and left my story notebook at home. After my friends left to go skiing, I dared to unveil a white page in my sketchbook and start sketching. I chose the landscape I could see through the window.
Things I learned:
- the small brush in the box is too small for the size of the sketch;
- I tend to use too much colour;
- I need to better learn how to add depth;
- Daughter is not as patient to let me finish my sketch, therefore the trees were added in a bit of a rush;
- I matured: I have tamed my inner perfectionist and am even willing to share something that is obviously the work of an amateur.
On to the next sketch.
I’m sipping my morning tea at a very large table. I look out the window while writing (yes, to a certain degree I can type without looking at the screen and keyboard). I see mountains, covered in snow. My writing location is a small village. Core business of this village is hosting lots of people who like to ski. Ski lifts, the ones with open seats, go up, carrying skiers in all sorts of colours to the top of the slope.
I’m here together with Man, Daughter and friends. We rented a house in this village, that during summertime only resides about 350 people. I’m not here for skiing. I’m here because I and the Man said yes to our friends when they asked us if we’d like to join them on their skiing trip. We both want to give Daughter lots of experiences therefore a winter holiday, playing in the snow, is something we don’t want to say no to. And lets be honest, we like playing in the snow just as much, especially with an almost four year old.
But sitting here, enjoying the view, I also feel uncomfortable. Current outside temperature is 6˚C. Yesterday, when we stopped for lunch at the highway driving towards our destination, it was 14˚C and even the polluted air next to the highway scented of spring. What should be the middle of Alpine winter, feels more like the beginning of spring. Back home, we have experienced the longest autumn I can remember. The birds in our garden are not as desparate for food as last winter and some plants already show some green leaves.
While I finish my tea, I wonder: what will winter be like for Daughter? Will we make winter holiday a ritual for her, so she can learn how to ski (as her parents didn’t get a chance to)? Or will winter holidays be soon a ritual of the past in Europe?
I have already accepted that the knowledge I gained about what normal is for a season in Europe is useless. I have accepted to just go with whatever is presented in front of me. So today, I accept that I’m looking at white mounains, take a final sip of my tea, Daughter is playing outside in the snow with Man, my friends went up the mountain to ski and the air outside is scented with spring.