An American Couple in Delft
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Space is always an issue here. The Netherlands is a small country. (The Netherlands ARE a small country? The Netherlands are small countries? Plural nouns and singular verbs are an issue, too, but for another time.) The population here is more than 16 million people and the land area is about 13,000 square miles. By way of comparison, New Jersey’s population is about 8.6 million and its area is about 8,700 square miles if you count water area, and about 7,400 square miles if you don’t. Since there are almost twice as many people here as in New Jersey, and the area is almost twice as large, the densities are about the same. New Jersey is the most densely populated of the United States, so you can see that we’re really packed in here. The part of the country where we live, roughly bounded by, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam is called Randstad. It’s only 20% of the land area but it contains 45% of the population. So before, when I said we’re really packed in, what I meant was, we’re REALLY packed in.

Being packed in on a macro level directly relates to being packed in on a micro level. Take our bathroom, for example. The Dutch, overall, are tall people. It’s not uncommon to see men of 6 feet 6 inches and women of six feet. This isn’t to say everyone is tall because everyone isn’t, but there are lots of tall people here. I am not tall by any stretch of the imagination. By American standards, I am Mr. Average at 5 feet 9 and a half inches. Yet our Dutch bathroom comfortably holds three quarters of a person of my size. When I stand at the sink to shave, one foot is almost in the tub and the toilet bowl is rubbing the back of my knees. There’s a small shelf above the sink to hold things like razor, shaving cream, after shave, toothbrushes, dental floss, and some of Lynn’s make-up goodies. But when one lifts something to use it, the inanimate items that remain, unobserved by the naked human eye, scramble to claim the newly freed up space. This becomes apparent when one goes to replace the item and there is no longer any room where it once was so that putting the item back on the shelf causes an avalanche as one tries to squeeze it in.

But it’s not just our bathroom that’s tight on space. The other night we went to the local movie theater. You may remember from a previous dispatch that I described central Delft as being very old. The new church is from around 1520 or so making it much newer than the old church from around 1390. Our apartment was built in 1536. Not every building here is that old, but it’s clearly a very old town. You can imagine, then, that this movie theater is not going to be a 2,000 seat multiplex with stadium seating, and you would be correct. We bought our tickets and were told that our theater was to the left but we should go upstairs because, although we were there at the appointed time, the theater was not yet ready and there was no more room to stand in front of our theater. After about ten minutes, the doors opened, and the people from the previous show left. Then, the kids who sold popcorn and soda shut down the concession stand, grabbed some trash cans and brooms and set off to clean the theater. Finally we could enter. We noticed that we had assigned seats on row eight and wondered if that might be too close to the screen. Seats seemed to be assigned in some order, not at random. The first thing we noticed was that the screen was about 20 feet wide and I thought that there are some people who have screens in their living rooms that big. We moved to row eight. If it was too close to the screen, we didn’t have much room to play around with; there are ten rows in this theater with about ten seats per row. The order of seating seemed to be from back to front because it was packed in the back where we were but pretty empty toward the front. We went to a 5 p.m. show and it wasn’t too crowded so we moved to seats where there was mercifully more room.

After about an hour, in the middle of a scene, the film seemed come out of the projector. I thought there was a problem and that was it for the night. The lights came up but nobody behaved as though anything was wrong and some of the people in the theater got up to get popcorn and soda. Or maybe wine or beer as they sell that, too. This was a scheduled "technically required intermission." We realized that the projection rooms at the old AMC and Regal theaters at home were probably as big as this theater. The projection room here was, I’ll bet, smaller than our bathroom and the projector itself couldn’t handle film of more than an hour in duration. Now it made sense why we had to wait to get in the theater. The place was so small that it could only handle four employees who did multiple jobs from concession stands, to cleaning crew, to projectionist. Then there is the unaccounted for time that it takes to move these people around and to mount multiple reels of film. See? If you stop to think, things can start to make sense. And it’s all because space is always an issue.


2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008