Saturday the 25th
We made our way to Noordwijk aan Zee, the home of my father’s mother, with a small detour via the airport to collect dad and his suitcase which had made the 15,000 km flight in good shape. He was wearing the new set of spectacles I had helped him choose the weekend before my departure, and I was surprised to see how much he fiddled with his accessory. I have worn corrective glasses since I was eight years of age, but my visual impairment is a hereditary right granted by both my mother and father. After ten years of clear vision thanks to laser eye surgery, my tired and overworked father had to be fitted for glasses once more, and would not stop twirling the frames between his thumb and forefinger like a spinning top.
Despite being newly deaf and blind, my grandma was in great condition and very pleased to accommodate us. We were greeted with coffee and cake, as we had come to expect since our visit last year, and an animated recount of her recent cycling endeavours behind the grainy silhouette of a more visually capable companion. It was impressive, if not very concerning, that she could still bike around the country when on holidays or navigate the town wherein she has lived for decades. She could no longer read her magnified magazines or hear the news notifications on television, but she would still frequent her favourite seaside cafe on two wheels without missing the narrow shortcut which an unknowing passer-by would overlook.
We caught up on the last year, with grandma interjecting “oh leuk” at any given interval. Having consumed an amount of coffee and cake that could only be deemed acceptable at grandma’s house, we left for the strip on the seaside. By chance, we had arrived in Noordwijk aan Zee in time for the 150th anniversary of the Badplaats. In English, “The Bathing-Place” is the name given to the restaurant-lined esplanade and meeting centre which is the hub of the province. People flocked to the seaside to view the airforce display, interact with the fire brigade, and listen to the band as it trumpeted folk music. It was an important moment for the residents of Noordwijk and an eventful afternoon for this normally quiet town. While in the vicinity, dad and I could not miss the opportunity to eat some fresh herring seasoned with diced white onion and crunchy beef croquettes. This tradition could not be complete without an envelope of badchocolade, a delicacy of chocolate coated hazelnuts which resembled the surface of a bubble bath.
Having done some further research about the celebrations surrounding the homestead of my grandmother, I came to find that the area was a coastal resort believed to have had a purifying effect. In 1866, going to the beach was a chic occasion for only the wealthy and prosperous, and the act of going for a swim was an entirely private affair. With the innovation of the steam train which mobilised the populous to the sea, and the subsequent construction of luxury villas in which to spend the weekend, a day by the water became a common affair. Having spent four of seven summer days over last semester break at the thirty-degree beach only twenty minutes from my home, I remain a little apprehensive of this so-called “coastal resort”.
A delightful jingle resonated through the streets as we strolled home from the beach-side celebrations. The sound grew with increasing speed and soon we could see the source: a mobile music box the size of a small caravan rolling down the street. Children from the surrounding houses dragged their coin-toting fathers to the display and revelled in the final notes of the tune which rung from the glockenspiel. Life-sized figurines moved their stiff limbs back and forth as if conducting the folkloric music and dancing to the beat. Upon closer inspection, the mechanics of the machine were similar to that of a music box wherein an indented script, mobilised by a turning cog, is used to strum the keys in passing. It was an old invention, but not one that went unappreciated by the residents, whom found cause for celebration in the 150th anniversary of the establishment of a beach pavilion, in the small and humble town of Noordwijk.
Fast food, particularly junk food, often pertains a level of consistency when summarised as the cuisine of a single nationality. In becoming part of the fast-food family, these national cuisines loose their integrity for the love of fat and salt and sugar. Such I found was the case when we ordered a variety of share plates, in the company of my grandma and uncle, at their go-to take-out restaurant. An evening out in Australia is popularly spent at a joint serving pizza or sushi. In the Netherlands, the cuisine frequented in this event is Chinese. With three assemblages of modern eats scattered around the turntable, I struggled to find any differentiation between beef and chicken, between capsicum and pineapple, between red and green curry. Everything was coated in a goopy glaze which made monotonous the true flavours of the ingredients in each dish. Everything was fatty and salty or sweet and I could not but help feel I may as well be dining at my local shopping centre food court. Call it a cultural experience? I would dispute that and concede it was no favourable dinner.