August 4, 2019. Our first time back in Vrouwenpolder in over eight years, and we’re here to pitch a tent for the weekend. This charming village, or dorpje is located in Zeeland, Netherlands and is surrounded by double-digit-hector farms. It is typically populated by hordes of well-fed tourists from Germany, a smattering of Hollanders and a few strays from Belgium during summer. The first day was pleasant enough, as we sat waiting for our sandwiches at a little boutique that also served lunch. We enjoyed free entertainment as we watched a spirited team of locals preparing a side street for the village’s annual Horse and Rings event. This was a spectacle of no small dimension, as a huge farm vehicle arrived, dumping a pile of dirt the size of a house, a 2-story duplex that is, onto the red-bricked street. The team then levelled it along the plus 100-meter route so as to provide proper footing for the horses whose mounts would later attempt to adroitly snatch rings from posts planted along the path, as they galloped by while wielding a two-meter length pole. The ghost of King Arthur was no doubt well pleased.
Our lunch arrived just as Lieve’s cell phone rang. It was Chantel, who Lieve employs for occasional market research projects, calling from Brussels. Lieve had been displeased with Chantel’s performance and attitude during the past week, and in French let her know all about it. A high decibel tirade soon filled the village air, causing turned heads and raised brows from startled onlookers of this oh-so-nice-and-orderly-and-behaved Dutch/German-only linguistic milieu. I noticed that a few of the street’s bricks had cracked from the verbal deluge, and well as a sudden fracture appearing in the cup I was drinking my coffee from. Assaulting words. Verbs that cut like a serrated knife. Nouns that sledgehammered arrogance into bits and pieces. And adjectives that pulverized the cheap-china of false pride. When Lieve finally hung up, I said “smaakelijk!”
Our camp site was located on a 24-hector spread called Twistvliet, about a kilometre from the village’s center. The owner, a farmer, horseman and master carpenter of prodigious energy, rents beautifully crafted all-wood bungalows as well as spaces used for camping tents. The main building, where the breakfast buffet is enjoyed, is magnificent with its raw-wood high ceiling, huge reinforced joists and old-world charm and warmth. In this interior, I half-expected someone from a Vermeer or Frans Hals painting to saunter in. Every item, every detail, every corner, is cared for and in great taste. A large half-covered patio area, which can accommodate hundreds, lends an aspect of relaxed airy outdoor charm with its wooden furniture and abundant flowered table settings. A lovable lounging Saint Bernard, whose multi-generational uncle might’ve been seen in the 1947 film The Bishops Wife, greets newcomers and newly acquired friends with a wagging tail.
We have an inflatable Quonset-style tent that assumes final shape after three half-circle support tubes or ribs are quickly pumped full of air. The next day, we discovered that two ribs had a slow leak, (caused by an untightened air-cap) giving the tent an outward appearance of dilapidated disfigurement, as if from having been on an all-night alcoholic bender. During the second night, at around half-past ten, loud voices pierced the night air. For anyone who has never camped out in a tent, sounds that come from a hundred meters away can seem to be coming from right outside one’s tent. I quickly sprang from my inflatable sleeping mattress and deflated pre-sleep musings and proceeded barefoot into the darkness, towards the laugh-laced non-stop chatter. Walking briskly on the moist grass, I was afraid at any moment of tripping over something unseen. I arrived at loud-chatter-central and asked in a friendly, though guarded low voice to the group of Stuttgart Eight if they could please dial it down just a bit while using a two-handed hand gesture for the purpose that I learned from Lieve. Thanking them kindly, if not profusely, I pirouetted back. Amazingly, they complied and everyone got ready for a good night’s sleep. That mesmerizing, obedience-instilling hand gesture was the ticket. No sooner than one can say “nighty-night, sweet dreams” the sound of a tractor was heard from a nearby field. Or was it a kilometer away? Who-in-hell is working in the fields at this time? Was it the maniac from Dark Night of the Scarecrow? Could it be that guy who was working all day on any number of things on this vast estate? That Zeeland tornado? The guy who built this place? Yes. And he plowed with a resolute will that laughed at consideration for others. It had to be done. Now. The next day, I was thinking of giving him a hand gesture that only required one hand and one finger. But he’s such a kindly guy. And he offers free toilet paper too. And you don’t need 50 Eurocents for the community shower either. But, come to think of it, this place cost double of other campsites.
On an overcast Saturday, while I sat resting my three broken ribs, Lieve took photos of stunningly beautiful wildflowers of intense orange, blue-violet, white and magenta in a small field by the roadway some 50 meters from Twistvliet’s main building. The shots are sharp focus/soft focus and capture a wonderful and magical glass-like translucency and delicacy of flowers and insects that is not remotely as evident in real-time. A good camera, with the right lenses, held by a photographer with patience, love, sensitivity, and vision got the job done.
On Sunday morning, as we waited for the breakfast buffet to open, we met an engaging and friendly thirty-something German who had a PhD in philosophy. His strong-featured intelligent face was an apt countenance for a philosopher. Or an artist or poet. As he spoke, he kept pushing back his intense and wild curly black hair, which seemed to have a will and destiny of its own. He appeared gratified that someone would find his scholarly aspirations interesting and quickly fell into a soliloquy on the thrust of his philosophic reasoning, all of which were lost on both Lieve and me. I had wished to ask many questions of him, including philosophical influences on economic and political theories, but his wife came, maybe quietly steaming because of his long absence, and planted their young son in his arms. Thus distracted, he was soon gone, but not before leaving his email address and expounding on his association with noted Canadian philosopher 95-year-old Charles Taylor.
So, adding up deep, abstract and hopelessly inscrutable thoughts, deflated ribs, loud chatter and a tractor in the night, a cell phone tirade in French, flowers from a micro-universe called sublime, chronic back pain, prodigious joists, and horse riders engaged in an ancient sporting ritual, it was a memorable and well-spent weekend.