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Thursday, June 24, 2010




My uncle in Holland has the collected diaries of Thomas Mann, and I am bemused by the fact that Mann would report daily on the weather and on his accomplishments of each day. There are other commentaries, references and memoranda that he includes in his diary entries, but the weather report and the record of his achievements in his writing and research are almost always there.

Well, the weather here in Noordwijk has been extremely variable since my arrival. It was initially very hot, then cold and windy, overcast and rainy weather followed, and now it is again sunny and hot. The dark overcast day, the wind and rain from the North Sea, I find conducive to the study and appreciation of Dutch culture, and I welcomed that gloom of rainy weather in my early wandering in Dutch cities.

But it all started last week in San Diego, on June 14, at Lindbergh field, where I went through the many motions of boarding the plane, clearing security, checking the luggage, and preparing psychologically for the thirteen hour trip. As I surveyed my environment, I was struck by the affluence of the people who were traveling alongside me, a radiance in their countenance, elegant clothing and luggage, polite children. The class divisions in America are increasingly evident and can be sought out in different locales where the identification becomes easy.


As the plane descended over Minneapolis I began to see the green that would accompany me to Holland and beyond. The green started there. I saw the Mississippi, unexpectedly narrow in those latitudes, winding its way through the city, and surrounded by trees on all sides. It was cool weather upon arrival, a contrast with the boiling hot and dry San Diego, and there was little to do at the airport for an hour. A class of young girls, about ten or eleven-year-olds, boarded the plane there. They were loud and boisterous, and ran about in the aisles. But it wasn't their rambunctiousness that struck me, rather their narcissism and arrogance, strange at their age. I had them all about me, behind me and to the side, and so I could overhear their conversation for several hours. Everything they said was self-referential, and they acted contemptuously towards the services provided, arrogantly dismissed the quality of the food, as if they were entitled to gourmet fare. They were modestly attired, which made me think it was probably a religious institution they hailed from, and they were all wearing the same colors. The plane inched its way over the desolate regions of Eastern Canada, a bumpy ride. A short night followed after we began to fly over the Atlantic. As the dawn began to clear ahead, I saw Dublin all lit up. I thought of my previous flights to Europe, the past of England and Ireland, and began to feel the emotional pull of the old world. The slow descent to Amsterdam began when we were still over Nottingham. It is remarkable to me how close England and Holland are, historically, culturally, and geographically in space and time. In no time at all, we were aiming at Amsterdam. The clouds parted over the North Sea just in time to see the dunes of South Holland, and then came the green again, a clearer green, the green of the polders and the waterways that determined the history of the Dutch. Early in this Dutch morning, I arrived at Schiphol airport.

Shiphol Airport, Amsterdam

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