Position: 52°00’41.5″N 4°42’38.8″E
For the past eight years or so, I’ve been meeting weekly with three other chaps to solve all of the world’s problems. Our online chats last about an hour and long predated Covid copycat meetups. We have no agenda. We have some common experiences, like working in and around high tech, and we share an appreciation for sarcasm and disdain for all the tomfoolery that surrounds politics, society, economics, social engineering, and pretty much anything that deals with living on planet earth. Occasionally we write papers, post blogs, give presentations, and come up with world-changing ideas. We then pursue and define those ideas to the point of realizing we need a lot more people, time, and money to make something happen.
One of my interlocuters is Dutch. His name is Jan. Until a week ago I had never met Jan in real life (IRL). I only knew him as a quick wit with a slightly fuzzy, avuncular visage on my laptop. Jan joined our group about five years ago. Around the time we planned a team summit meeting (IRL), Covid came along and bollixed things up. Perhaps this is the year we will convene.
Meanwhile, I took advantage of the fact Jan lives in Holland and we finally met face to face last week in Gouda, the capital of cheese (sorry Wisconsin). As an added bonus he brought along his lovely wife Angela, and I was able to introduce them both to Carol.
We arranged to meet for lunch in Gouda’s magnificently preserved 17th century market square. In the middle of which sits Gouda’s imposing gothic stadhuis (town hall). Dark, dark red brick is the material of choice for the town’s buildings and pavements, not withstanding the architectural flourishes indicating periods of great wealth.
Arriving a few minutes early, we watched a crowd of (seemingly) children celebrating a wedding outside the stadhuis. The groomsmen, at the behest of the photographer, tossed a very nervous bride into the air. Then caught her again. Much laughter ensued.
At the restaurant, Jan and I had no trouble recognising each other. We shook hands and then embraced, making sure we were indeed offline.
Love and Travel
Something I appreciate about Jan and Angela is their love of travel. It is something we all share as a common value. We own Aleta, they own a traditional, towed caravan, spending several weeks each year traveling far and wide across Europe. When Carol and I explored Turkey’s hinterlands, one of my goals was to find places Jan had not visited. It wasn’t easy. For each find I got, Jan had three excellent alternatives just around the corner.
During lunch Carol and I learned how Angela and Jan had met over 50 years ago in Munich around the time of the Olympics. They fell madly in love, married, had kids, and never stopped adventuring. Angela told me the story of visiting relatives in Switzerland and hiking to cowherd’s huts thousands of metres up the mountains. Facilities were, shall we say, rudimentary, which only enhanced her experience. Jan’s five year long and ultimately successful battle with cancer still brings a look of relief to Angela’s face when they mention it. I have the impression their shared experiences have brought them continuously closer together over the years.
Historic Dutch market towns are all laid out in a similar way, Jan told me, inferring there is a great deal of similarity in their engaging quaintness. Or, put another way, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Canals work their way into towns from rivers, becoming roads for trading barges. They stop short a couple of blocks shy of the market square which, as the centre of commerce, is the centre of religion and social gatherings.
Today, pubs and restaurants ringing the market squares serve a similar function. The churches, from what I can tell, have all been turned into museums with costly entrance fees. Inevitably the broad, paved square looks oddly empty when it isn’t filled with stalls and patrons on market day. From our tour up the Staande Mastroute, I could see Jan had a point about the towns’ similarities.
Dog as my co-pilot
After we ate, we forked over large sums of money to see the curiously beautiful stained glass in the imposing Sint Janskerk. The repeated images of dogs symbolising loyalty were well worth the price of admission.
From God’s house, we went to Oudewater, not far from Gouda, where we found the Hexenwaag (witch’s scale). Turns out Oudewater was the equivalent of a national bureau of standards when it came to identifying witches. Women (it was mostly women) were sent there from far and wide to be weighed and confirmed, or not, as witches.
The logic of identifying witches was fully explained in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (q.v.), but in essence because witches had to be weightless to fly then measuring their weight (in proportion to their appearance) would determine their witchy-ness. Modern advertising’s misogynistic roots run deep.
We took a tour of the fens on our way back to Aleta where we bid our farewells and made promises to meet IRL again soon. As a side note, Jan tracks us on marinetraffic.com. Each week during our group calls he asks me about where we are and shares his experiences when he was in the same place. And while anyone can do that since our AIS location is a radio beacon, it is reassuring knowing we have a shore-based friend tracking us and keeping an eye on us.
Monty Python on Witches