Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Holland?

The first question we always gets asked is, "Why did you move to Holland?" Because it has the same last name as me is a bit glib and unbelievable, although it is the reason I first became interested in the country as a child. My attraction eventually grew from egocentric in nature when I moved to Barcelona from my home town of Los Angeles.

Living in Europe, I had the opportunity to travel the country and meet the people, both as fellow expats in Spain and as a tourist traveling los paises bajos. The Dutch, I found, had a certain calmness that was a refreshing counter to the hysteria to which Americans often succumbed and the nervousness which seemed to have the Spanish constantly stressed. Their famous directness reminded me of how my friends and I communicated back home and they had great cheese.

This affinity for Holland was one of the common interests my missus and I shared way back when we met many years ago. A girl from Sevilla, she'd spent time in Groningen studying Dutch and after England, it was her favorite country. Over the course of our time traveling as a couple, we made a point to visit, once sharing a room with Chet Baker's ghost. Still, Barcelona "that great enchantress" as Robert Hughes called her, was our home. And why not? For a young couple there are few better places to be. A beautiful city near the beach surrounded by mountains makes it a great location; the buzzing streets and night life mean there are few dull moments.

The problem was, once we became parents last year, what made Barcelona so great became reminders of a past life. We could no longer spend or summer days under an umbrella taking turns swimming in the warm water, while getting cold beers from the chiringuito. Sundays weren't lounging on the couch day anymore and dinner was always to be eaten at home. Perhaps it's the American in me, but I always saw cities as the place to live before moving to the suburbs when the kids arrived anyway. It's the idea of having a garden, I think.

So once we decided that it was time to leave Barcelona, the question was where to next? The economic prospects of Spain didn't offer a very appetizing future. Even in the best of times, the salaries were low and the hours long, but with the crisis it had gotten worse. The educational system in Catalunya fell victim to nationalistic politics and the only time the people got angry was when they banned el botellon, which was when kids gathered to drink in public places because bars were too expensive.

When we thought about the states I remembered by little cousin saying, "I feel sick if I don't spend money," and why I'd left there in the first place. England, where my missus adored and I spent time as a boy, just seemed so grim. That's when we came up with Holland. Because like Lou Reed said, "I do believe, when you don't like things you leave for some place you've never gone before." Let the adventure begin.

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