Mooi. Gezellig. Prachtig. Beetje Gek.

tulips_photo by Normann Szkop
The big screen and its cheery hieroglyph at the front of my section of seats shows the little airplane icon on a happy, secure and predictable downslope. The awful roaring contrail is replaced in this illustration with a fat dotted line, the kind you see on a cereal box.  Explosive decompression, stripped jackscrews, knife-wielding hijackers and other such mortality-trivia are safely hidden behind a cartoon. Throughout the longish flight over iceberg-littered glacial bays and rolling open ocean I feverishly remind myself that all is well, that the suspension of 90 tons of metal and wires and seat bolts and stiffening chicken piccata 6 miles up in the empty air is a physical inevitability and not a fragile miracle. As long as the plane keeps charging forward it is lifted on velocity itself, it doesn’t have time to fall. Unfortunately this inviolable rule of airfoil technology depends on crazily enormous steel wings that bounce and wobble like sonsabitches in the azure vacuum over Greenland. But the screen up front assuages and soothes, the funny dotted line and inert little airplane glyph a blankie of familiarity in the long tube of concussive, horror-dealing plausibilities.
Now the dotted line slopes downward in a cozy parabola of life and warmth.  The familiar and deeply beloved Earth is rising slowly to greet our machine. We’re headed in for a happy landing, in Holland of all places. A new life awaits,  The boiling English Channel is behind us and we’re coming in fast over a green, steeple-punctuated landscape as flat as a tabletop and peopled with flight-path cows that don’t even glance up as the screaming spaceship overhead applies air brakes and lurches uncomfortably into landing speed. It would seem we’re going to actually land in a cow paddy but the tarmac suddeny appears and we’re on the ground with a happy if unnerving jolt and the mantra ‘I’ll never fly again’ briefly reasserts its primacy in the promises-to-be-broken category.Then the thronged cavern of Customs, an Ellis Island mockup where hundreds of confused passengers are herded through rope mazes and a few young Dutch officials with badges and comically stern faces glare down unconvincingly from atop raised pedestals, a pouting gang of Benetton models. This one looks at my face, then the passpot, face-passport, face-passport, face-passport, the old trick, until I’m sure some little European guy in a Gendarme cap is going to appear and whisk me away. Passport is scrutinized and stamped and relief floods in.
 I and the other passengers herd-shuffle into the big brightly lit room with the baggage carousels, and then my retrieved suitcase is vivisected by more Dutch models, blush-cheeked and businesslike, then the mock-Samonsite is slammed shut with my underwear sticking out like a tongue. And there a wall of glass gives onto a crowd of waiting people and my new family are there, two of them, Karin and Marcel, and my adorable new girlfriend is there waving madly and through the surreal fog of jet lag I realize that’s Judie who I met in the club that night and I’m in her world now, I’m in Holland, this is her home and her world and I’m seeing her as if for the first time and her mad waving and jumping looks like nothing I’ve ever seen or imagined, like nothing I’ve ever felt.
 All the planning and daydreaming, the angst and sorrow of leaving my friends and quitting the band and bidding my family farewell in the carport in Phoenix, my saddened quiet little brother suddenly turning and running back into the house for reasons unknown. Goodbye, Patrick; goodbye! Now I see my Dutch love through the glass and the blood hurriedly rushes upward into my teetering, overburdened imagination, I lumber forward with my dumb suitcase and two-ton electronic typewriter, the ceremonially weighted glass door is pushed open with some effort and in the crowded concourse I set down my suitcase but keep a grip on the typewriter, dazedly grab my new girlfriend and touching her after all these hours of reality-tempering travel is a crazy workaday miracle. Can this be happening? Then the three Dutch kisses; not the two cheek-pecks of the exotic French which we’ve come to know from the movies, but three. They want to better the French. You get two pecks and think giddily ‘holy crap, this is real’ and then the third little peck, just to throw you off your pins, and you know you’re in for it.
On the drive home, in the back seat, 19-year-old Judie is leaning heavily against me, her arm intertwined in mine, head on my shoulder, the radio blaring strange pop music. I can’t stop looking at her and staring out the windows at a landscape that is a living daydream, vivid green and furry and flat to the horizon, the windmills near and far with their heroic vanes slanting in the light, amazing to see, steepled Olde World townscapes like movie paintings poking up in the near and middle and remote distance beneath an enormous blue verticality decorated with puff-ball clouds. Can an airplane do all this? Yes.  And the terror of the flight is commensurate with this bombast and wonder, the Wright Brothers my new best friends.  All the insane rocketry we strap ourselves to and pretend to trust – this is what all the fuss is about, these changeling moments of stunned dislocation. Spires and towers and high peaked roofs in mid-day silhouette decorate these receding fields and meadows, the little towns are cheek-by-jowl and are nearly joined, the flatiron landscape means you can take them all in at a glance, but what you see are steeples. You can bike from one town to the next with little effort and you will do so often, sometimes in freezing squalls of rain. Today the sun shines down with a forceful message, the boundless green dotted with cows, heads down.
Then off the A4 and onto the surface roads, lined with greenhouses, fluffy fields, occasional homes with penned goats and sheep, then the outsized Kweker houses with their acres of entrepreneurial glass behind them where are grown everything from petunias to palm trees, the region’s kingpins and employers. This is het Westland, agricultural nexus of Holland. Close your eyes and throw a rock and you will likely put a hole in a greenhouse. My bro-in-law Marcel is driving now in what I would come to know as typical Dutch fashion, negotiating the narrow little inter-town roads like the car’s ass is on fire, and only as we enter the neighborhoods do I come down somewhat from my reverie and realize I’m being threatened anew with explosive death and maiming. Then a quick right followed by a quick sharp left onto Wassenaarstraat, a screeching halt in front of Judie’s house, two and half floors tall, red brick and narrow. Through the large square huiskamer window an indistinct figure spins quickly away into the shadows and then out runs Riekie through the front door in an excited half-jog, my beautiful heartfelt future Dutch mom whom I am meeting for the first time, and she is wildly grinning and her arms are outstretched in a guileless loving welcome and she enfolds me like a long lost son, then holds me out from her to look at my face and her sunny expression, to my surprise, is ecstatic and teary, and I tear up and then a few others are gathering around me and I’m dazed and happy and already feeling the love of my new home, my new household, and I look down the row of houses and a few smiling neighbors have come to their doorsteps and are smiling grandly, one with her hands clasped. I look over and there is Judie again, like that night in the club, the serene, green-eyed beatific smile, a settled smile of contentment to match my own.