1. MY COUNTRYSIDE
I was born at the most beautiful time of year, the midst of May, in one of the most beautiful places on earth: Wormerveer. Right where the village originated, close to the Wormer ferry, where once stood the first humble fishermen’s cottages, collectively called ‘my village of Zaan’ by Philips the Fair in 1503. The hamlet Zaan or Saenen would later be named Wormerveer, after that same ferry (Dutch: veer).
Whenever I walked out of our alley as a boy, I would reach the village road, officially known as Noordeinde (North End). A wind would be blowing on most days, but I never noticed it. Wind was a given thing, inseparable from creation itself. Across the street our lawn ran up to the water’s edge. The rigid leaves of the elms would always be rustling over my head.
No wind – now that was a rarity I would notice. It would turn the atmosphere into something strangely moving, the sky high and clear, the trees without a sound, their shadows deeper than usual and embracing me with coolness and a sense of safety.
Beyond the shining green of the grass, the Zaan stretched like a mirror and seemed to light up as well. We called it ‘blikkeren (= to glitter)’, and this repeated glittering was such a characteristic of the water of the Zaan, that it was noted by many strangers who visited the region, as I was told later. It seems warmer and more alive than that of any other water I have seen elsewhere. It is like a jubilation of controlled joy, the modest cheering of someone who has found lasting happiness, be it in heaven or on earth. Comprehend this if you can – it is the living truth raised to a higher level.