Meeting old friends again: How I spent my virtual Dutch vacation

What do you do if you spent some time living in the Netherlands as a trailing husband, while your wife worked in a high powered job? Now back in the US, columnist Joe Weeg takes a virtual visit to his favourite haunts.

Lockdown. It used to be a term that I’d hear back when I was a criminal prosecutor and trying to talk to a witness.

‘Sorry, sir, you can’t see the prisoner because he’s in lockdown.’

Of course, he’s in lockdown. He’s a bad guy. All my witnesses are bad guys. Why couldn’t I ever have a priest as a witness? Or at least Mother Teresa?

And now I am in pandemic lockdown . . . a coronavirus prisoner in Iowa.

I, loving all things Dutch, have not a canal or a bicycle or a windmill in sight.

Nope. Nothing. Zilch.

But then I started getting emails. Dutch emails. And I started following the links. So I took my laptop to a yet-to-be-plowed Iowa cornfield and travelled across the Atlantic.

Old friends

Ah, here’s my old friend the Mauritshuis. Home of the Girl with the Pearl Earring and the Goldfinch. They are offering something called Mauritshuis at Home‘. Well, I’m at home. Let’s see what they’ve got. Mmmm . . .  I choose Old art, new stories‘.

And they are new stories. The narrator is examining a painting by Van Haecht of Apelles the artist and Alexander the Great. The narrator tells us that the painting depicts the story of Alexander the Great saying to a painter that the portrait he painted of Alexander’s mistress is even more beautiful than his mistress. So Alexander suggests a swap of painting for Alexander’s mistress.

I tell this wonderful story to my wife. She wonders why I find it so wonderful and suggests that I should try sleeping in the other room.

Or that small painting I’ve walked past many a time by Joachim Wtewael, which shows Venus having sex with Mars and the brouhaha that causes in paradise. My goodness. This painting, meant to be viewed alone, was not shown publicly until 1987 because it was “so racy,” according to the narrator.

I love that. The idea of a bunch of teenagers gawking at this painting out in the barn during the early 1600’s seems like something Norman Rockwell should have painted.

Conference table

And here’s an email from the Nederlands Dans Theater. A video entitled’The Statement’ by Crystal Pite. Lord help me, the stage consists of a long conference table just like every conference table I ever sat around as a lawyer. The only prop in sight. I’m already hooked.

The dancers dance around and on and under the table. A morality play of right and wrong and responsibility. A dance not performed to music but to the spoken word. And the dancers even more rawly evoke the emotion of those words.

I’m in love with this piece. Serious and powerful.

But next time I’m in lockdown for a pandemic, I wonder if they could dance on a lighter note. Maybe something about the morality and responsibility of eating oliebollen (a delicious fried oil ball, aka a Dutch donut). Why not?


Thank goodness for Dutch flowers. Off to the Keukenhof I go, where thousands and thousands of tulips and other flowers are planted every year. Tons of videos at their site from which to choose. Okay, how about ‘Gardener Daan shows his favourite spots’.

One of Daan’s favorite spots is the Mill Forest, which, believe it or not, contains a mill in a forest. But did you know that among the beautiful flowers and the windmill in the Mill Forest are old rusty cars? Yup, old rusty cars. The contrast between the abandoned vehicles and the colorful daffodils and perennials and ferns make me smile. Wonderful!

And I can’t wait to tell my Iowa farmer friends. Many still park their junk cars in some ravine on their back field. Little did they know that if they just planted a daffodil here and there, they could be one step closer to the magnificence of the Keukenhof.


Time to stretch my computer legs. I look up my old gym, Absolutely Fit, located next to the harbor in Scheveningen. Sure enough, they have a weekend workout all set for my pleasure. Henriette Priester, the co-owner with her husband Rik, is demonstrating on video a squat as part of a complete weekend routine in your home.

My goodness. I thought a lockdown meant . . . locked down . . . on your couch . . . with fries. But no. Here’s Henriette, the mother who mothers everyone in the gym, telling me I need to do squats. Really?

‘But mom . . .’ as my kids used to say.

I dutifully set the computer down and do squats. Not really. But a great idea!

Well, it’s getting dark. Time to leave the corn field. But I think about the scariness of the coronavirus pandemic. The fear of people getting sick and dying. Of loved ones in a hospital with no one able to visit. Of the heroic actions of doctors and nurses and grocery store clerks. And how this virus circled the globe with a strangling fear in seemingly seconds.

But then I think about all these wonderful folks in all these museums and theaters and gyms putting together videos and stories and emails encouraging hope. That is the take away from my virtual vacation. Good people doing good things during hard times.

However, I still think there should be an oliebollen video.

This post was first published on blog Joe’s Neighbourhood.

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