Cutting beneath an overpass to get back to Centraal Station in Amsterdam last week, I saw for the first time these letters. Coming back is not the same as staying. For a moment, I experienced that prickly joy that comes after realizing I read something with medium-sized words and understood it without help. Then the words sunk in. Maybe it’s just where things have been lately, and I know I’m not the only person to walk back to a train station— but the phrase rattled around my head for days.
My sister came to visit for four days, earning the coveted tied-first-place award for our most-frequent visitor (currently shared with my uncle). She went home yesterday. Going to Schiphol Departures and leaving by yourself is a sad way to start the day. (It’s almost cruel that you have to pass by Arrivals on the way out of the airport.) It’s fun when someone comes to visit who’s been here before, because there’s far less pressure to “Show Them Holland.” She’s already seen the highlights of Delft and was ready to rattle off her preferred list of establishments where we should procure food and drink (sandwiches from Il Tartufo, beers from ‘t Klooster, chocolate from De Lelie).
She remembers how to ride a bicycle.
On a day-trip to Amsterdam, we spent the better part of the afternoon at the Verzetsmuseum. It’s directly across from the zoo and tells the story of the Dutch Resistance (and in some cases lack of resistance) during WWII, mostly through personal stories. Things are well-captioned in English, but lack of Dutch will keep you from reading posters, letters, newspapers in the exhibits. We wandered engrossed through the maze-like space while a class of young teens zipped all around us, flirting and filling in the blanks on their papers and seeming ironically oblivious to the fact that many of the people whose stories we were reading were probably their age.
It’s a good thing we didn’t have long touristy walks or bike rides on our minds, because Amsterdam and Delft were freezing and windy. I don’t usually mind Dutch weather, and I am at my end-point with the cold. I hate the idea that I have to go to the grocery store and the gym today. My sister came at exactly the same time two years ago—and in those photos, we are walking around with our jackets draped over our arms because the weather was so springy. This March, we passed cafe after cafe where tables with flowers and shakers and fleece blankets had been set optimistically in clusters on the pavement. They stood almost unequivocally empty.
So we tried to appreciate all the (indoor) opportunities for hot tea and latte macchiatos and warm Chocomel. We sat and talked and talked. She got a haircut, and we got our feet munched by fish at Delft’s Fish Relax Spa. (The first thirty seconds feel really weird, and you laugh a lot, and then it’s fun.) We went out with friends, and discovered that while ‘t Klooster has started serving burgers, they don’t do so on Wednesdays.
This weekend is Easter. We’ll celebrate at our church in the morning, and then in the evening have some friends over for a potluck. One thing I’ve realized, when you’re an expat, is that it’s good to fill your home. Because it can be a long time before you return to the airport, to meet a friend or family. They go back, but your experience goes on.
Terugkomen is niet hetzelfde als blijven.
After all, it finally struck me, the words are in Dutch— they aren’t meant for tourists. They’re meant for residents.