Being abroad a lot, one can easily forget his roots. Recently, an enormous building had been opened in the centre of Groningen, my idyllic hometown in the north of the Netherlands. Located on its upper floor, there’s a fine cafe which offers spectacular views over the city and beyond.
The average Italian or a Frenchman would be lyrical about the scenery. Romantic thinkers like them would be lost for words when trying to describe the aesthetics of the view.
From above, the Frenchman would perhaps notice the melancholy of Dutch weather, and the Italian would be besieging an adherent with a monologue on the town’s architectural elegance. And they’d both surely daydream how Caspar David Friedrich or van Gogh would colorize these urban landscapes. For them, aestheticism clearly comes first.
With a similar attitude, I was sitting in the cafe the other day, taking in the view and gazing over the city, giving my mind some rest while inhaling some renewed inspiration.
The spot was ideal. My table adjoined a large window, looking out across the southern part of the city. As seen from there, the panorama was a colourful blend of red, pantile roofs and gothic church towers, contrasting against a backdrop of modern apartment blocks and offices. The finishing touch were darkened clouds that hovered above pastures far beyond the city’s bounds.
But in a populous country like the Netherlands, in a popular outlook bar like this, on a perfect spot like mine, personal space and integrity are brushed aside. From the corner of my eye, I could see that a company of middle aged Dutch women had finished slurping black coffee. Moreover, they were marching in a fast tempo towards my table.
The curious company came standing right behind my chair. Some of them were even leaning over me, and started making remarks about the view. Within seconds, I was trapped and surrounded, and forced to listen closely. But their comments were of a different kind than my hypothesis about the Italian or Frenchman.
They initially exchanged some neutral facts about the city. Then, one lady (while breathing in my neck) questioned the others how the outside windows are cleaned at such heights. That clearly created uproar in the group. Thus, all possible ways of cleaning were discussed thoroughly. Does the cleaning company use a hydraulic hoist or is it all automatized?
Without conclusion, the subject changed, as one of the ladies spotted an enormous grey building in the distance. Her comment evoked a lively discussion about its function either. Was it the tax office, or the telephone company? Another uproar amongst the practical-minded women followed.
An elderly lady with short grey hair then summed up all the names of all possible places she could reminisce. Her local shopping centre. Her previous bank. A carpet shop where she had bought a carpet. I silently wondered whether they noticed any of the panoramic beauty that presented itself to them.
The answer was no. They returned to discussing which cleaning company might be responsible for this building. Also the presumed expenses were addressed, as if it were a business meeting. After some more practical remarks, they ran out of topics and the babble died down.
The group shuffled on, leaving me with an entirely different perspective on my hometown’s skyline; Inasmuch as the Italian and Frenchman would picture the world through the artist’s eye, these women have mastered the art of looking through the Dutch eye.
In five minutes, this group of household women reminded me of a world view I had almost forgotten, but which is intractably inherent to my Dutch ethnicity; First comes practical functionality. And after that, if there’s time, daydreaming and romanticizing is allowed.
However, an inevitable wisdom hides within this practical philosophy. Although the women were staring a little blind on the methods of cleaning, expenses and city facts, they denuded something of undeniable value: that maintaining things may not always be aesthetic and exciting, and sometimes even boring and dull, but surely unmissable.
Indeed, the magnificent building would look dreadful without adequate cleaning and maintenance. The breathtaking panorama wouldn’t even be visible, simply because of unwashed windows.
The Dutch Eye also applies to other areas of life. When not maintained attentively, the brightest flower would die, the most romantic love relationship would dissolve, and the dearest friendship would fade out.
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