Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leiden in a Jar

Because I am not good in taking photographs, when I travel alone I use to write about places. I like to do it on a train, on a bus, on a ferry, sometimes on a plane. Writing on a bike might be uncomfortable, but I am gradually getting experienced to it. Parks, stations, cobblestoned squares, cemeteries are also good places to write while standing still.
Finally I decided to put some of this stuff on pixel. It is a kind of therapy and I am not going to change anything of what I wrote. It is all about spontaneous sensations, mistakes included.

On its road to Leiden the train from Utrecht does not have any hurry.
When I came to these Lowlands I knew I was going to live in one of the cities which stands on that densely urbanized ring called Randstad Holland. What I ignored is that the ring surrounds an area widely referred as "The Green Heart". This heart is shaped with everything you wish to see on a postcard from the Netherlands. Black spotted white cows. Sheep. Wooden windmills. Those tulip fields.
The tiny town of Gouda is supposed to be the core of the green heart having its own reputation for cheese as a precious extra ingredient. Gouda is fifteen minutes by train from Utrecht and, I guess, no more than a hour by bike. And yet I still have to decide when and if going there. My impression seeing Gouda's surroundings by the train window on my way to Rotterdam or Den Haag is never that good.
At the opposite the small towns and villages which appear along the railway line just before Leiden are amazing. Looking at the back door gardens with their flowered trees, their bunches of blond children jumping around while a couple of kayaks are drying in the sun on a hut rooftop you wish to get the same bourgeoisie once in your life.
The Dutchmen who live in places like these are wealthy, but not in a vulgar way. Apparently they have been able to fix up their lives in one of the best possible ways. Perhaps they are bored, but there are worse tragedies than that one. All around their detached houses the sun is shining, peaceful water is flowing and a gentle breathe of an upcoming summer is spreading.

Once in Leiden it's easy to get distracted. Here it's all about aestheticism. The whole town seems to have been built for giving pleasure to its inhabitants in their free time. You can hardly find an annoying detail while here. On the walls there are poems of Verlaine and Rembrandt silhouettes. Choreographic windmills still stand on the angles of the former bastions now converted into a green paradise for strollers. The people spend their time sitting outdoors drinking tea or beers at nice cafes or canoing in the canals being careful to don't hit the swans with their paddles.
And even the canals in Leiden are different from the ones of any other Dutch town I visited so far. Utrecht canals are mostly brown resembling the colour of rust. Amsterdam canals cover a wide spectrum of colours from green to indigo, passing through the same shade of a stout beer. In Leiden most of the canals are narrow water paths with nymphaea leaves and flowers on both sides. They really looks like countryside creeks and it's hard to imagine a busy golden age where they were essential for trading.

Being romantic and quiet, Leiden holds a kind of aristocratic appeal. Behind the perfectly restored facades of the city centre you can see shelves full of books, ancient maps, bronze modeled heads of well-read men. Latin written mottoes stand on the thresholds. This town was and is a good place for learning. Here culture rhymes with study and theories may turn into discoveries having an impact on everyday's life. The main spot of the city looks to be an old circle shaped fortress which crowns a hill just in front of an old orphanage. From the walls of the tower you can see Leiden on each direction. Inside the walls a gang of local kids is playing football trying to hit the accidental tourist now and then.

I wonder how should have been studying here for a short while. In Leiden there is no trace of Utrecht's struggle for a debaucherous nightlife. Perhaps I am not a good observer and I just have to blame the enchantment this town has given me for my lack of accuracy. I like so much what I see around me. Nice girls reading on the grass with white skirts and a first delicate sun tan on their naked shoulders. Young couples hugging each other half slept on the shores of a canal. In Leiden even my envy for them is forgotten. I just want to lie down on this lawn eating apricots and plums. My left hand almost refuses to hold this pen. I could stay here all day long if I haven't already bought my ticket to Delft. There, then.

1 comment:

Smartipants said...

You have a lovely writing style. I just found your blog through Goodreads and I must say, I feel inspired to get on a bike and go write about Broek en Waterland. Cheers!