Saturday, May 3, 2008

That Night Has Opened My Eyes

“Night and day, day and night” Ella Fitzgerald sang from the Cole Porter's songbook. And even if the Queen of Jazz never wore the Dutch crown, she really caught the spirit of Holland once a year between April 29 and 30. Because there is no Koninginnedag without a Koninginnenacht. And if Amsterdam is the right place to celebrate the Queen’s Day, Utrecht might be the perfect location for spending the endless night before. In that occasion the whole Binnenstad becomes at the same time a stage for musicians and performers and a flea market where Dutchmen confirm their talent for trade selling and buying any sort of stuff. From old vinyl records to half broken armchairs passing through crinkled kitchen books and out-of-style leather jackets, everything finds its room on the pavements of Utrecht.
This 2008 made no exception. Little showers of rain during the early evening of April 29 have not stopped the local sellers. Equipped just with an orange umbrella and a box of Palm the brave Utrechter crowded the streets with their merchandises pouring beer in their throats and Euro cents in their tight pockets. As foreign journalists and curious observers in search of true Dutch experiences me and Vicky, my friend from KLM, decided to make the Queen’s night business ours. Having both no old clothes to sell we turned our attention to handmade finger food. That’s why we put a basket of shortbread cookies and a bowl of chocolate cake on a cupboard wrecked in the corner between Hopakker and Lijsterstraat.

Semel in anno licet insanire. Once a year it is possible to get crazy, a Latin motto says. It fits perfectly with Dutchmen mentality on Queen’s Day, but apparently not with their attitude in buying food baked by foreigners on Queen’s Night. In fact me and Vicky did not manage to sell anything for more than a half an hour. Despite all our efforts, nobody tried both the original Canadeese koekjes and the famous Italiaanse tart. All that we earned was doubtful glances and skeptical expressions from the passing people. The most educated Dutchmen said “Nei, dank” while the less mannered ones just turned their mouths into grimaces of disgust. We tried any kind of advertisement and special offer passing from 1 € for four shortbread cookies to the policy of one cookie for free and five more cookies for 1 € plus one slice of chocolate cake. No result. Orange dressed people kept on ignoring us. We wondered why, finding no logical explanations. In fact we were irresistible, as you may see above.*

As my colleague in bankruptcy wrote on her witty captain's diary "Most Dutch people tried as hard as possible to avoid eye contact and on the off-chance they had the misfortune of catching our eye, they wouldn’t slow down as they declined". Although me and Vicky were feeling exactly like Lucy Van Pelt behind her lemonade stand-looking psychiatric booth, we insisted in our trade. Finally a fluorescent post-adolescent guy decided that we did not want to poison him and tried our koekjes en tart verkoop. Our customer appreciated the finger food and gave us the first and last Euro of the night. “Good luck!” he waved us back with his mouth full of shortbread cookies and chocolate. I have the suspect that our only customer was American.

At least someone else appreciated our royal-minded bakery.
From left to right, the standard bearer of Germany, Spain and Austria (forget the ice-cream).

*My Dickensian Coal Miner Kid expression has not to be intended as sarcastic. I was simply coughing.

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