Sing It Like You Mean It

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Where I stayed
Francoise's House

Flag of Netherlands  , Zeeland,
Saturday, June 5, 2010

My mobile died during the night, so have no idea what time it is. There is sun, so it's morning.

The house is very quiet, so I’m thinking everyone is asleep. I close all the doors before putting the coffee on, but it’s a drip one so don’t really have to fear for the grinding espresso sounds of Lena’s or Mary B’s. The verandah has a lovely view of trees straight a head, so what better way to start my morning thatn drawing with said drink staring along said trees. It’s not long before my misconceptions of a house full of sleeping people is revealed. Françoise climbs over the small wall between the verandah and street, her hands full of delicious baked goods for every occasion, or just one.

Breakfast is on the verandah, Francoise rearranging the furniture while I was in the shower. We sit and continue what I had begun, facing the street and watching the different wild life pass. Some men walk dogs. Some dogs walk men. Some man carry garbage to the recycling point. No recycling carries men.

Francoise talks to some who pass by, morning chitchat about weather and choir and walking and perhaps dogs. The best bit about our spot is we don’t even need to get up to meet people.

Femka is off to horse riding, apparently obsessed with the beasts. Françoise mentions her colection of trophies and ribbons, none of which are in the house. If the were allowed it would be a question of which do you put up, for they surely would not all fit? They recently purchased a small motorcycle – a nippy little wonder that on travel 30km with one speed, perfect for getting to and from horse riding in the cold winter months.

It’s perfect weather for walking, so Francoise leads the way around the canal, which follows one big loop of the city. The sky is blue and the sunshine has the houses reflecting off the water in full colour, rippling ever so slightly or full distortion with the passing of a boat or bird. Francoise mentions the almost poetic distortion created in the water – it’s better than television watching the houses bend.

The grass is thick and green with the trees sprouting new leaves and filling their canopies. Francoise’s favourtie is nearby – with a lovely perfume. I learnt the Swedish word for smelling a lovely aroma is Dofta, due to one such spring song titled Dofta Dofta. There really isn’t an English word for it. Smell in English is either neutral or negative. That smells – when you think about it you think of stinky feet or something. But Dofta on provokes thoughts of wonderful enjoyable smells wafting in the breeze. That’s poetic Swedish for you.

Across a sunny road and a there’s a white building to the left of us. Passing I see there is a graveyard attached to the back of it – rows of grey with differing decoration to the corners. This is the Jewish cemetery, the black lettering confirming the map in my pocket. The gates are locked; this is not to be entered on such a beautiful day. It was restored only recently after vandals came in late one night and knocked down and crumbled many of the stone. The gates are now locked; this is not to be entered on such a beautiful day. All the stones are the same thickness, and implied similarity with all Jewish people, the detailing of the corners showing that while they are one people, each person still has their own personality and thoughts.

What is Netherlands without a windmill or two? Middleburg has one towards the south west of the city – or bottom left of the page on the map, whether this is southwest or not is anyone’s guess – but is sadly closed for viewing, people focusing on other parts of tourism this weekend.

Francoise recalls her earlier meetings with mum and dad when they traveled before having kids. We talk of family life and relationships, as things have recently changed with Francoise, and she s finding those immediately around her dealing with it in a very different way that she expected. She in mum share common thoughts and understandings on these things. I think she can see how much I miss everyone.

We hide our faces amongst the blossom of a nearby flower, inhaling its aroma and covering our noses in pollen, laughing. A nearby tree is also about to be in bloom, in green blossom just beginning amongst the leaves. This is Francoise’s favourite tree, but she does not know the English name for it. Back at home later on we discover this is a lime tree, which does not make any sense at all.

Eventually we turn from the canal and make our way up through the city. Heading for the public library we cross as Francoise points out the old water gate, which was used to change the water level of the canal for bigger and smaller boats. The real reason for heading to the other side is revealed as the existence of shade, as the day is already heating quite nicely. Through streets we eventually come across the weekend market near the station side of the city. Books, knick-knacks and more are here – like a smaller version of what you may find in Camberwell. Flipping through the books I know I will not be able to read any of them, but I come across an aged brown paper hand made cover, about to fall apart in my hands. Inside the pages too are brown and fading, but amongst them are songs. Appearing to be hymns, Francoise reveals it is a youth church hymnbook, singing a few, knowing it is older than she is. Young church members would travel in troupes and try to enlist more youngsters to join them on their pilgrimage, singing songs and telling stories of wonder and awe. I wonder if this is what Jehovah’s Witness has become in Melbourne, dividing itself from the other part of another church that simply formed into Christmas carolers. Two sides of one story in religion and song. This is most likely not true, but the thought makes me smile. After our talks of family I have been thinking about Oma and Opa a lot, they having not seen their home country since leaving, starting again somewhere else. I think it would be nice for them to have a piece of it with them, and this may do the trick. Both old and new, it could tell them more than I would know about the ideas of home.

As part of the weekend festivities all the galleries will be open, apparently not a common occurrence in a smaller town. There is one near the market with some wonderful pieces inside, so Françoise and I head in a see the full extent of the collection. Works on the wall have amazing colours; one artist providing what looks like the cubist ideal of more than one view at once, the farm and landscapes appearing as a horizon view and one from above. I’m reminded of Aboriginal paintings existing as actual maps of the land, knowing where to find water, food and more based on these collections of colour dots.

Another artist creates the most scattered of lines, viewers identifying a hand, and foot, a bird, a shark, all connected with one long stroke. This line cuts through the top layer of colour, revealing a second or sometimes collection of colours beneath the surface. We share a complimentary coffee in the sunny and green gallery garden, soaking in the sun and the brew cools. The gallery is made up of a collection of a few houses along a corner, many rooms containing different genres and mediums with sculptures throughout, bleeding into the garden courtyard and hiding amongst the plants.

Every guidebook you find on Middelburg conveys a small town of peace and quiet, sunshine and relaxing. Jason picked a weekend where this is not eh case. This weekend musical sorts will be moving in from all over Holland to take part in the Choir festival. Groups of between five and twenty wear corresponding colours as they move together down the streets. Francoise’s friend is down from somewhere else in Holland to perform, timetabled amongst the others in one of the dozens of churches operating as performance spaces today. The best performance space I find is an alleyway behind one of the smaller churches. Fifteen girls all crowd around one another in a mismatched collection, practicing together before they perform. The walls are close and the sounds echoes just a little, carrying up into the air and onto the rooftops. Absolute magic.

Francoise sees her friend standing on the stage amongst her choir. They sound amazing, and I stay for a song, but I have a city to see, so leave them to it. Middelburg rests almost like an island, sitting inside a moat-like canal, so I feel safe enough knowing I won’t get too lost. And the town isn’t big enough to not deal with the idea of ending up on the other side. Away we go, sans map.

Heading out I notice a sign for the tower to be claimed and the city to be viewed from. The girl behind the counter is not that enthused with it at all "But if you’re a tourist you should do it…." Part of me doesn’t want to do it anymore, and after scaling it my initial fears are confirmed. While a lovely view, it does feel like a very simple tourist thing to do, something that costs more than its worth. Oh well.

The Main church sits at one end of the Main Square, which is currently full of all manner of tents and stages for choirs to perform. The fruit market at the other end tempts me with a large box of grapes, the guy behind speaking with an American accent in his English. Watermelon is nearly here. Nearly. Sadly the main church is off limits today, a main dressed in a wicked three piece with a ruffle shirt lets everyone in a number of languages that there is a wedding on today, and we’re not invited. This line is repeated to everyone that approaches the closed wooden doors; he must get tired of it eventually.

The choirs taking centre stage in the square range from kids choir sinning we re the world to larger older groups varying ages covering The Police and more. The last I see is a group led by a man channeling the movements of James Brown, but putting them to the sounds Zulu chants and hymns. Very different. Moving away from the square I come across another of the windup piano musical boxes of doom with the wooden girls ringing bells as hey hang from the sides, the two men with coin cans shaking in time to the music as they talk to passers by. They don’t even need to commit concentration to it; I think they could do it in their sleep.

I walk the streets for a few hours, before picking up the rest of the loop Françoise and I began this morning. There are no front yards to the houses along one side. With a running start they could jump from their first floor window, clear the road and the strip of grass and hit the water feet first. I’m not sure if I would be the first try it, but I can picture it.

I’m lying in the park when I get a call from Francoise. Not that you have to come home now but I’m just letting you know the house is now free. Well, I’m here. But the house is free. I’ll be there soon. We both look through photo albums thanks to facebook, watching the changing colours of Kelly’s hair and the various family events I’ve missed since being away.

There is a movie playing at the local cinema, one that is more known for its smaller arthouse films. The autobiography of Zambian/British model Waris Deri has been made into a movie, and we both find it very good, myself thankful it was in English, but knowing the book and being able to carry the story while the subtitles dealt with Waris’ native tongue. The cinema itself is small and old school, to the point of having a PAUSE still come up while they change reels of film. We are two of about seven people in there; it’s a quiet night tonight.

We walk through the night talking about the film, both in relation to the book and on its own. As we pass through the old streets of the dark city atop each doorway is a name. Some say beekeeper, some bookkeeper, one in particular is a golden something which I cannot remember. These houses are old enough that you can go to the public archives and trace a line through history to see who has lived and owned the house. The line goes back hundreds of years. I don’t even know who was living in my house last year. It gives the town a thicker history; it really is a town full of stories and names because of things like this.

There is a cat outside my window howling at nothing in particular, or at least nothing I can see. I wonder which house he lives in.
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