An American Couple in Delft
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Winter of Our Hibernation

When I was a little kid, someone asked me if I were an animal, what kind of animal would I be. I thought long and hard over that and decided that I would be a bear. I still think so. This year I’ve had the opportunity to actually be a bear. This has been the winter of our hibernation.

Winters here are very dark. Being this far north, the sun rises very late and sets very early. At 8 a.m. at the darkest time of the year, there is no trace of an impending sunrise. Not only that, the clouds are very thick, gloomy, and persistent, so that when the sun starts to rise it’s still very dark. Someone we know referred to these as "get the rope" days. After a year of such extensive travel and terrific adventures like seeing the Sydney Opera House, the Roman Coliseum, being serenaded in London on my 60th birthday and, of course, sleeping on a bench in a police station and being pickpocketed in France, a little "down" time seemed in order.

We decided that this year we would stay home over the holidays. It was a good thing, too, because that week was a travel disaster in Europe and in some parts of the U.S. Delft is very serene at that time of year. Christmas isn’t the mad rush that it is back home. Stores are crowded and there are lots of people around but things move at a slower pace and people don’t seem as exhausted. At least that’s how it seemed to us.

Since there was no family around on Christmas Eve, we made a reservation at a restaurant in town, about a block away. We arrived for dinner at 7 p.m. and found only one of the other ten or so tables occupied. The staff consisted of the owner who is the chef, his assistant, and a hostess who doubled at the waitress. A food critic is something I will never be but here’s my assessment: five courses and everything was great. It also took two hours to serve and it was perhaps the most relaxed dinner we ever had. During the two hours, two other tables became occupied, the front door was locked to prevent walk-ins, and the hostess/waitress (who seemed to be the chef’s wife) went home and was replaced by the chef’s assistant.

Lynn likes to go to church on Christmas Eve so we went to the Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church built in 1510) which is just across the Markt (sic) Square from the restaurant. The service was in Dutch, of course, but there was a section of pews that offered headphones with an English language translation of the proceedings. I was surprised that most of the people in this section were native Chinese and other Asians from the Technical University of Delft; no other Americans were apparent but there were a few Brits. Some of the carols were familiar to us but there were quite a bit that were not. What really struck me was that here we were, listening to a service that was about 2000 years old and doing it in a church that was almost 500 years old. Other than the headphones, I wondered how much else was different about this church over the last 500 years.

New Year’s Eve is a great time to stay indoors in the Netherlands. People throw firecrackers everywhere, start bonfires next to old wooden buildings, and generally make the streets not to safe to walk. There’s also no ball falling from the top of Times Square at midnight because by the time that happens it’s 6 a.m. here and who cares? Fortunately this year, we had the Philadelphia Eagles with us on New Year’s Eve for a taste of home as they beat Atlanta and moved into the playoffs. The playoffs are all on TV here starting conveniently at midnight or 3 a.m. or so but a fan does what he has to do, right? We were there. On the morning they lost to New Orleans, we were back in bed at 5:30 a.m. As disappointing the end was, it had been a pretty decent year for them. And us.

So now we wait for spring, warmer weather, earlier sunrises, and a whole new set of things to do. It didn’t happen last year because of the cold, but maybe this year the flowers at Keukenhof will bloom on time.

See my pictures of Delft at the Christmas season

 

2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008