Monday, June 18, 2007

ALKMAAR! THE FIRST STATION IN HOLLAND! by Aisha ( to be continued)

If you have a short time for Holland, do not go to Amsterdam- you will see Europe, go to ALKMAAR to see genuine Holland!
Those words written by NEWSWEEK, and quoted for us by Martin, the president of Tango a la carte, cannot be more true.
We are in the most prototypical, charming Dutch town. Only 100 inhabitants, very human size, but it has it all: intertwining channels with arched bridges, brick houses of different colours and shades, cobbled stone streets, mostly pedestrian and plenty of bicycles everywhere… not just bicycles in a still stand, but bicycles in action, because in Holland, once you are born, you climb a bicycle and you do not separate from it till you die!

An afternoon in Alkmaar. Sipping GOOD coffee or freshly squeezed orange juice ,because that is how they serve it to you, to our agreeable surprise, weather constantly changing- the spectacle can include a short shower and wonderful sunshine within 5 minutes. Weather is the most talked about subject-NICO, our Cicerone in Alkmaar, explains. We have warned him on our first day that we would bombard him with thousands of questions, since it is our first time in Holland, and we will explore it as deeply as we can. WE love our FIRST TIMES! With our fresh eyes and minds we embrace every aspect of life here…

On that Alkmaar afternoon the time seems to stop. Or rather, to transfer us to the other century, the times of GIRL OF THE PEARL, the times of Johannes VERMEER, which immediately comes as a very strong impression for me as I observe the images around. Strangely enough I read this book in Catalan, a language I dominated and used for every day life, in my chapter of life in Balearic Islands, Ibiza. I have imagined the town like Alkmaar, as a place where Vermeer could have met his Girl with a Pearl. Perfect Dutch town…

We are sitting in Grand Café de Vestibule with our guardian angel Nico, listening to the soft music of this town: seagulls around the cafe tables, clacking of the high hills in a pavement, church bell talling exactly every hour, and the noises of bicycles passing by. The sun is shining and illuminating the facades of red brick houses. Delightful! There is nothing modern in this 750 year old town or in disharmony with the past, every detail refers to the past or it is strongly related to it. Glorious past, by all means! As Victor writes in his Spanish chapter, a popular proverb has it:

God created the world
But Holland was made by the Dutch

Nico, who was born to be an actor, or definitely an artist of some kind, is a layer and … a politician! Thanks to that we can explore the inside of the TOWN HALL in Alkmaar- his working place! It is our excursion to the past.Just the exterior of the building evokes respect and awe- a jewel of architecture is 500 years old and is still shining with its powerful beauty.
We submerge in the ‘ guts ‘ of its interior. Nico shows us the debate room, reunion room and other special spaces, interconnected by the modern corridors and offices. The restoration of 1920 has preserved the original charm and discretely added the useful modern touches. We sit in a debate room, with grand pictures of Musqueteers- like guards of past times on the walls, wooden celling and stained glass in the windows. From the windows of a small charming baroque-like room, you can see the church and a main street. I feel like in a film! This is a big film set around us!
The church is not really a church. Enormous gothic space you can rent for a concert, an exhibition or… a milonga! ( Only 3000 Euros a day!)
On Saturday, on our way to ‘ work ‘ ( festival tango workshops) we saw an unusual procession: coffins carriers indicated a funeral, but they were walking to the music of the drums, and next images were directly intriguing: big wooden sculptures of tigers, brightly painted- precedence Indonesia maybe ….The strange procession was entering the church. Only afterwards, Nico had explained that it was a marketing question: on the exposition in the church you could admire and buy… a coffin! My beautiful Indonesian tiger was but a wooden box for the body! What an imagination! I think I like the Dutch sense of life and death!

We are staying in a romantic guest apartment in Lindenlaan.

Lientje LeerdeLotje Lopen
Langs de Lange Lindenlaan

Nico and Ans are in the organizing board of the Festival, but they are wanderful hosts as well. Full of energy and ageless. And fun to be with. In their youthfull spirit they have decided they are mature enough to get married ( after 25 years of experimenting life together!) As their wedding is going to be VERY UNUSUAL with a lot of IMAGINATION ( Nico revealed us some of the secrets) we can only regret we are going to be in Lappland on the 29th of June!

It does not feel like being in the center of the town, but it is! A little back garden, and a park prolonging it, makes us feel like ... in the jungle! The high trees seems to come up towards the garden and stop just to make enough place for the table.

Every day we walk to the town center- either to the Theatre or different venues of the Festival, or the famous ALKMAAR CHEESE MARKET ( Friday) or just a stroll around the cannals and bridges. On our way- we greet the symbol of Holland- a tipical windmill.
But the fun ceremony of Alkmaar in undoubtedly CHEESE MARKET. We found out about it by internet, before we have arrive and we had asked to be taken to that market. Our surprise was totall: thousands of suns shone on that rainy day. And I mean it: enormous market square was covered by thousands round yellow objects that only later I could identify as cheese...
We happened to be NOT ONLY THE VIEWERS but the ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS OF THE CHEESE ACTION. Victor was inmediatlely evaluated as a talentful cheese carrier and was put to WORK. Between him and the other carrier they had a load of 100 kg of cheese. Besides, he recalled afterwards, it is not a usual walking, it is a kind of run, when you have to sincronize the legs with your companion, otherwise you loose stability. Now we know, what for all those TANGO EXERCISES ARE. The tango dancers make EXCELLENT CHEESE CARRIERS! Besides, very handsome.

What we cannot imagine is winter here- therefore we found our Alkmaar mill in its winter robe. Not bad to have a look at!

Everything is withing a walking distance in Alkmaar. Or, withing a cycling distance.

Perfect, human size of a town.
We will definitely appreciate it more when we pass to Amsterdam, which, by the way, is not such a big city either, it has less than 1 mln inhabitants. Next time we are here we would wish our tango bicicles to explore Alkmaar and the area.
Our ideas about Holland are rather limited, as Victor wrote in his chapter: van Gogh, Rembrandt, Philips, Shell, beer Heineken, the Dutch cows, that is Dutch-Argentinean in the Argentinean Pampa, the magic futboll team of 74- with Cruyf, Neskens, Reep, Van der Kerkof ( that is Victor' s list, I was hardly born back then), Haya. And recently- princess Maxima. I hope after our tango travel Alkmaar- Amsterdam-Eindhoven we would add much more to this list.

ALKMAAR has it all. And it has tango - its festival has been organized 9 times already! Always in a best Dutch way ( best price for organisation, best location, best teatre, best attendence ( number allowing personalisation), best quality of dancers, of people, of enthusiasm and seriousness in a right proportion, and the best... weather! In ALKMAAR EVEN THE WEATHER IS A LA CARTE! I still wander how they maintained the sunny intervals for the open air events...

But there is a proof-a perfect Sunday afternoon, Hof van Alkmaar ( Hof van Sonoy) in its summer bloom, cabaret and milonga open air. That is what inspired Cees ( the name I got intrigued with when I first saw it written down, but its pronunciation turn out to be pure lyrics...) to FINALLY ask me for a tanda of di Sarli tangos... No more organisation pressure on his shoulders, he was softly embracing me and making me float around the dacing floor. What a bliss! MADE IN ALKMAAR, too!

The very proper and elegant tango board A la Carte, can get slightly crazy influenced by all the argentinity around and the perfect weather. It is, however, not unpleasant to be carried by handsome men dressed in white, especially with the hats on. This tango figuere requires 5 participants and it is called Argentinean Princess, after Maxima. We have heard the rumours, that she DOES dance tango after all...

The festival had a very original event: DINNER PARTY HOMAGE TO CARLOS GARDEL. The dinner was excellent- our dear old friend pink salmon, with great choice of argentinean or chilenean wines and Carlos Gardel s spirit was present in a ceremony of giving a fire to his cigarette, attached to his picture. A ritual was held by an Uruguayan poet, but I was the one chosen to lit Carlitos cigarette! All all the wine we have drunk to his honour!

El escenario y las cervezas con el quesito compartimos con otra pareja de argentina: Noelia y Pablo. Les conocemos de Buenos Aires, pero teniamos que hacer miles de quilometros para tomar la cerveza juntos. Para ellos era la ultima estacion en Europa antes de volver a casa, para nosotros quedan quasi 4 meses aun!

And here are some of our discoveries of DUTCH REALITY BITES:
- Monday morning, about 11 am. Going out to get el Pais, the Spanish newspaper we use to buy while in Europe. The whole town of Alkmaar looks pretty dead. All shops closed. We were wandering about the strange phenomena- maybe a national holiday? We stop a passer by and ask what kind of a day is today? Is it a holiday? He answers: No, it’s Monday! As it was still enigmatic for us, Victor asked straight forward: So what? Then he explained like to the school children, that on Mondays life starts later- all the shops open at 1 pm! People have to recover after a weekend! I think HOLLAND IS THE MOST CIVILISED place in Europe!
- Walking on the streets you can look directly into people’ s houses. The windows perfectly expose the house interior and its inhabitants in their daily routine. The curtains are or are not there, and nothing impedes the curious eyes from looking inside.Today, as discussing the issue looking into one of the houses, we had its inhabitants waving their hands to us, as if saying ‘ hallo, we are here!’ . Just like a reality show on TV!

*our own photos will appear on this page when we get them developed ( after a birthday accident in Sweden we are digitalless, turned old - fashioned and therefore need patience)

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