Although I’d traveled to Amsterdam in the late 70’s, while a student in Switzerland, I returned to The Netherlands in the early 90’s, this time to visit a friend in the little town of HeerHugowaard.
The town is named after “Lord” (“Heer” in Dutch) Hugo van Assendelft, who died in 1296.
It’s a small, quiet town (about 45,000 residents when I was there in the early 90’s), very walkable, not far from Amsterdam. My friend and I attended a concert in the capital one evening. Classical music. The concert hall was filled to capacity and everyone was dressed to the nines. Young people, old people. No one crunched on chips or unwrapped cellophane-covered lozenges during the performances. No one chatted. And it was too soon for texting, but I’m sure no one would have been doing that, either. It was a very genteel event.
However, Heerhugowaard is no utopia. Since 2004, there has been a coffee shopin the town; its appearance was met with fierce opposition. If you’re wondering why, it’s because “coffee shops” in The Netherlands are establishments where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities. Some inhabitants realize that the establishment is there to make sure the laws are respected and to make sure there is no cross pollination between soft and hard drugs. Still, others saw fit to throw stones at the place.
Of all the places in this month’s group, this was probably my least favorite. Nothing against Holland, of course. 🙂
Beth and I already had planned a week in Amsterdam; now we had a side trip to visit family friends in The Hague. We boarded a train from the Amsterdam station, and were met by the entire family: Paul, Catherine, Eileen, Patrick, and Matt. After nearly a week in a cramped, cold hotel room, Beth and I were grateful for a night with a real family, in a warm house, with a hot shower and a big dinner.
Their home was beautiful and the Hoyes could not have been more gracious. Mrs. Hoye showed us our room, and mentioned that Eileen was preparing a special meal. Beth whispered to me excitedly, “I can’t wait to eat! What do you think: roast beef, turkey maybe?” I shook my head and laughed. Whatever we were eating would be just fine. The previous night we’d tried an Indonesian rijstaffel, and our mouths were still burning.
We washed our hands and went downstairs to a pretty table set for seven people. Eileen was excited to display her culinary skills. She placed shallow bowls in front of us. Each bowl contained some kind of soup, a creamy base. Couldn’t be clam chowder, I thought. Could it? The Hoyes were American, but had lived in Lebanon before relocating to The Netherlands. We waited for our hosts to begin eating and took a spoonful. Oh my God. I was eating cold yogurt with spices. And what was this? A meatball? I looked up, hoping my face wasn’t registering the alarm I felt. Mrs. Hoye looked at Eileen with motherly pride, and cheerfully explained that Eileen had made a traditional Lebanese dish called Shish Barak.
Beth whispered to me that perhaps this was just the first course. Beth was used to first courses. But I knew. This was dinner. Yogurt soup with meatballs. We were good kids, raised to be polite and appreciative, and during that year we learned to eat what was put in front of us. So we did our best and hoped for dessert.
Later, as we lay side by side in the twin beds, Beth said, “I’ll always remember Shish Barak. But I would have preferred Shish Kebab.”