Perhaps I have an overactive, romantic imagination? So often, when driving our little car or riding my trusty bicycle, along a small road, generally through one of the many forests in NL, I feel somewhat transported back through the ages. I could link this directly to the history of art lessons that I took for my high school years as these scenes speak to me directly of some of those old Masters paintings that I recall studying.
Currently, my work clients reside in the beautiful town of Bloemendaal, some 20-30 minutes drive away from our home, or about a 40 minutes cycle. I choose to take the forest road route, instead of the motorway past Haarlem. This forest road goes from the affluent suburb of Aerdenhout where properties are large, houses even larger, with cars to match, through to Overveen. An equally affluent suburb/area/town boasting many grand old homes, some with their own clay tennis courts. From Overveen, I get to Bloemendaal which is, without doubt, the most expensive town to live in in the whole country. It is old, gracious and steeped in history, all of which I find utterly charming!
My mind runs amok as I pass tall, narrow townhouses, beautifully painted with fresco type walls. Others are more seriously small bricked with smart front doors and leaded windows. Still others are large, multi gabled and very grand looking. There are even a few that make me think of haunted houses or tales of the brothers Grimm…
It is mostly in the forest drive between these beautiful towns that my mind enjoys the most adventure. I allow myself to be transported back a few centuries to the times of ox carts and peasants, trudging through boggy fields and lanes in their wooden clogs. Going about their business of farming and daily lives of needing to reach their destinations, whatever and wherever they may have been, I hazard a guess that it was typically not much further than the next village.
The tree lined road is so typical of Dutch scenery with their precision in planting straight rows of trees or hedges. The forests are very well managed and they are a credit to this nation who pride themselves on numerous areas of natural forestation, habitation for wildlife and green lungs for the purity of the air.
(I learned something of the Dutch art of forestation when reading a fascinating book by Annie Proulx titled “Barkskins” – a most enlightening read on the early settlers of “The New World”, America.)
Apart from the pristine rows of trees lining the roadside and the more haphazard forests, the pastoral scenery of small fields, littered with large dappled sheep or lazy cows, all lying so bucolically between canals and grand mansions of old, makes me see so clearly those masterful Masters paintings that hang in the many museums that literally litter, very richly, this tiny country.
The grand mansions, often country houses of the wealthy Amsterdam city traders and explorers from The Golden Age of Discovery, are still beautifully preserved, many of which have been converted into either retirement homes, care homes for the handicapped or luxury apartments for the wealthy families. These were often large parcels of land that the wealthy used as a means of escaping the overcrowded, smelly, noisy city hustle and bustle. They would move out, entire households, complete with servants, animals and trunks of clothing, to their coastal holiday homes. These mansions often had tea houses located within walking distance for their entertainment, many of which are now quaint monuments to a bygone era of luxury and privilege. These “buitenplaatsen”, literally translated to “outside places” are charming public places for wandering and reflecting on a bygone age.
It is I who feel privileged as I travel this somewhat fantastical stretch of road to serve as a carer to another sort of ancient, one centurion lady of remarkable DNA: not a pill in sight, hardly a reading spectacle, only a rollator for stability and a chair lift for easier movement between the floors of her home.
This amazing woman, who claims nothing more than good genes for her longevity, is still as actively involved in the world around her as she ever was as wife and mother to her five children. She prefers to read novels, thrillers, romances and family sagas in their original English text; she watches British series, German thrillers and French dramas, all without any Dutch subtitles; she only gave up knitting her intricate sweaters because she feels that it tires her eyes as she has not ever been able to knit by feel only; she reads the newspaper daily; selects her daily outfit from her few high quality garments, which she claims to have had for many decades and sees no reason to purchase any new items; never fails to put her mobile phone into her handbag to take it downstairs with her, where she places it at the table where her diary sits, all engagements recorded.
Her way of doing things may, at times, seem ancient to me, but I hasten to remind myself that this dear lady has been taking care of herself for a century and that I need to tread gently with any practical changes that I, as a carer, need to make. After all, her methods have afforded her a very long and full life!