Nostalgia

All of yesterday I walked down memory lane. I arrived in Amsterdam around 6 AM after a long trip that started at 1PM in Gisenyi, a three hour ride up, down and around a thousand hills to Kigali, a long wait at the airport, a 35 minute flight to Entebbe, an hour refueling wait and then the long run to Holland. With about 4 hours of sleep I entered the cold and clammy air of the polder where Schiphol is located in a bit of a daze. It’s home and not home anymore.

S. picked me up, and brought me to her lovely house, that, although right under coming and going planes, looks our over a large lake. I had a real breakfast, real coffee and outlets to recharge all my batteries. At the end of the morning I took the train to Leiden to meet with some of the women with whom I started my studies in Leiden in 1970. It was a slightly delayed reunion after 45 years. My trip to Rwanda has made my participation possible.

The experience of walking from the station (entirely unrecognizable) to the (still unchanged) center of the city is hard to describe. There was the restaurant where I last saw my first husband, some 6 or 7 years ago; both he and the restaurant are gone. The roads that crossed here are gone, both literally and figuratively.

There were dreams and plans and hopes and then everything slipped away, making room for new dreams and plans and hopes, some realized, some abandoned, some adjusted to new realities. For me this meant: a different husband, a different country/continent and language, a different profession and a different application of what I studied here. At one point this was a place where I had expected to live forever – how different everything turned out.

I am used to being a tourist at home, or rather at old my homes, and so this was no different. I ducked into my leather coat to handle the cold, noticing how no one wore gloves and many were lightly clad, as if it was a cool fall day. I have lost my ability to deal with the bone chilling cold that is not about low temperature but about wind and clamminess. I take New England snow storms over this anytime.

We met up with a few for lunch in a lovely restaurant; more coffee but also yummy Dutch fare like a ‘broodje met kaas’ (brown bread with cheese) and ‘karnemelk’ (kind of like buttermilk). Afterwards we strolled to the old and ugly building of what used to be the male students’ society clubhouse with which we were merged in 1971. For that we had to leave our elegant old mansion on Leiden’s main canal, a shift that many never accepted.

When we entered the building, made of concrete slabs and enormous wooden beams, it smelled of stale beer, just like all these years ago when we first entered, shy and uncomfortable. The building itself, its large halls and committee rooms are made to withstand large crowds of beer drenched and rowdy twenty-somethings and lots of testosterone. Its indestructibility also makes it the biggest eyesore in the city that stands in sharp contrast to our most elegant women’s clubhouse that still sits so prince(sse)ly on the canal, no longer ours.

1 Response to “Nostalgia”


  1. 1 Herman Vriesendorp February 8, 2016 at 11:11 am

    A beautiful picture about Old and new in Leiden. same atmosphere as “Avec le temps (Leo Ferré) en La Bohème (Charles Aznavour)…


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