Last weekend was the first time we were visiting Paris in winter. Since winters in this part of Europe have been relatively mild, we could walk around comfortably till late. Encouraged by fewer than usual tourists everywhere we went, we decided to give climbing the Eiffel Tower another shot. On our past visits to Paris we had been deterred by long queues at the ticket counter. This time there was no queue. The top of the tower was shrouded in clouds and looked quite surreal. It was as if the top half was never finished. When I craned my neck from the second floor viewing deck to look up at the tower, I was reminded of the postcards you find in the souvenir shops in Paris that show the tower in various stages of its construction. They were also an inspiration for this collage:
I am reading an English translation of Multatuli’s 1860 Dutch novel Max Havelaar. I stumbled upon it at the library and picked it up simply because I had walked passed the author’s statue near Singel several times. The novel is set in Indonesia but because the narrator is a coffee broker for a firm in Amsterdam, many places in Amsterdam often come up in the novel. It’s fascinating to wander through the streets and landmarks from a 19th century novel and know that they haven’t changed all that much. I have been here barely 3 years, but these days I find myself getting nostalgic about Multatuli’s 19th century Amsterdam.
The snow is not quite here yet, but it’s cold enough that the trees around the canals in Amsterdam have shed all their leaves. They look hauntingly beautiful in the dull winter light.
Every month I spend in Amsterdam, I find myself drifting away a little further from the India I knew. Yesterday was my third Diwali away from India and I couldn’t work myself up into any kind of celebratory mood. Talking to members of the family scattered across three continents didn’t make it any better. It was just another day in Amsterdam and I wanted to keep it that way. I did make a small concession – Lunchbox was being screened at the Amsterdam Film Week and I decided to catch it. Watching a Hindi movie with Dutch subtitles at a 100+ yr old theatre by Prinsengracht is a very surreal experience. The audience in the small theatre was largely Dutch. They followed it through the subtitles and got the humour but I wondered how much of the socio-cultural context would have come through. The strangest thing for me about watching Hindi movies in Amsterdam is what happens to me when I step out of the theatre. Back in India, the noise, the crowd, the chaos you see on screen is exactly what you find yourself blending into the moment you are out. Here it was just the relative quiet of the 400 yr old canal ring. The feeble winter sun was peeking out and the air was nippy. Fluffy clouds were languidly drifting across the sky. After the scenes of Mumbai’s streets and crowded local trains it all felt very dissonant.
After all the food they showed in the movie, it was quite natural that we’d order a mini feast from the Indian takeaway. I might not want to celebrate Diwali here, but I have no qualms about using it as an excuse for going a little overboard with the food. During the meal, the wife switched on the TV for a special program on Diwali. It featured cut scenes of local children of Indian origin staging a Ram Leela in their school (or community centre or whatever it was). The singing and chanting was in Hindi but the dialogues were in Dutch. I’d never thought I’d hear Indian deities referred to in such Dutch adjectives as groeter and sterker but then I’d never thought I’d ever be living here either.