I cannot quite remember precisely where it was. Perhaps not too far from Valkenswaard or Eersel. But the time was summer.
Some of us were staying in a farm out in the country, surrounded by green fields and dark groves. In early morning the grass was moist with dew, and in a paddock nearby the horses were vibrantly alive – one could see their breath and smell their warm wet coats as they cantered.
Earlier we had woken up in our sleeping bags, some of us to discover that the air mattress had leaked in the night and little separated us from the hard wooden boards of the hayloft. A quick wash at the pump was more invigorating than the coffee that followed, the ice cold water shocking one wide awake.
Please imagine seven naked ivory lads jumping around on wet concrete, furiously toweling ourselves off to get warm.
The first one to finish got to put the kettle on in what passed for a kitchen.
The others actually needed solid food. All I wanted for breakfast was strong coffee, a pipe of tobacco, and a good read. Where once the farm equipment had been stored, vehicles housed, and horses stalled, the landlord had dumped some old furniture that looked and smelled comfortingly fusty.
It was a very good place to make oneself comfortable and drink coffee, with the large doors open to watch the changing shadows under the trees outside as the sun rose higher.
That was yesterday, more or less. Well, a few decades ago.
I think that farm building still exists – the owners rented it out during summer, but themselves lived in a newer dwelling far closer to town, with central heating and hot running water.
They no longer farmed, they just kept a few horses, and rented out the old homestead during summer.
I cannot imagine any reason to tear it down, and as a source of untaxed income it must have great value.
The ‘farmer’ also supplied us with crates of beer at high price. Immensely attractive to my companions, who liked a bottle or two in the evening.
I would simply have coffee or tea, smoke my pipe, and occasionally interject a comment into their animated conversation, before returning to my book. Around eleven or twelve we would gradually filter out to brush teeth and piss behind a convenient tree before retiring for the night.
During summer in Brabant it is still quite warm even long after dark. We’d leave the large outside doors to the hayloft open for any cooling breeze, and then endure the assault of mosquitoes throughout the night.
BLOTE KONTEN VERTONING – NAKED TUCHUS THEATRE
During the two weeks that we stayed there, nominally to write a play – a collective literary masterpiece in coarsest dialect – the sister of one of the boys would come by on her bicycle with fresh food every two or three days. One very hot day she came up the pathway as we were flinging buckets of water at each other at the pump. We didn’t notice her until one of us bumped into her as she stood there silently watching. You’ve never seen such a flurry of shiny wet arses and soggy dangling parts scrambling to pull their blue jeans on again.
She happily giggled at our discomfiture, and tried to reassure us that she had not seen anything. Well, not anything ‘startling’. Nothing ‘out of the ordinary’, really, our private parts were quite pedestrian. There were no surprises there, other than the amount of hair.
“Werkelijk, I’ve seen Reinoud naked MANY times – mostly when mom was chasing him around to get him to bathe
”. This didn’t quite put us at ease, but we thoroughly enjoyed the furious blushing of her brother, whom heretofore we had considered a very clean young man.
Interesting……. You mean he used to be a filthy little brute?
Apparently, yes. Funky-smelling too.
Later I walked her over to the paddock where the three horses were grazing.
They came over for the carrots we brought, and allowed themselves to be stroked. Velvety, silken, and warm to the touch. With an elegant motion she got on the back of the meekest beast, and persuaded it to trot around the perimeter of the paddock.
I was very surprised. How did she do that, and how did she know how to ride?
She explained that you use your thighs and heels to guide the animal, and she rode often when she was smaller.
That was something about her which I didn’t know.
She was drenched with sweat when she dismounted. Hot horse body, hot summer day, and the effort of clenching her thighs to keep from sliding off. Could I throw a few buckets of water on her?
Rather a pity that she kept her clothes on during the process.
DE EGELANTIER – THE WILD ROSE
Later we had coffee together and smoked in the shade of the trees outside the farm building. She told me that Reinoud had always wanted to go into theatre.
The period when literati and notables joined chambers of rhetoric to poetize and write dramas had always fascinated him. And many fine stage pieces had been produced, from the output in prosperous Antwerpen in the fourteenth and fifteenth century to the splendor of the golden age north of the rivers in the sixteenth century and beyond. Some of our finest poets had been members – d’Eglantier in Amsterdam and Trou Moet Blycken in Haarlem continued the traditions of the many chambers that had existed in Antwerpen and Ghent before the Spanish terror. Nay, Roemer Visser, who had been a member of another rederijkerskamer in Amsterdam than d’Eglantier, had by himself nurtured the intellectual transplantation in his own house, where poets, playwrights, essayists, and painters – anybody of talent or education, in fact – had found a warm welcome and the comforting companionship of equals.
Vondel, Bredero, Visser…….. rederijkers, each and all.
She despaired of Reinoud ever succeeding as a playwright, though.
His obvious talent was biological science. No doubt he’d write witty little bits for the rest of his life in between bending over petri dishes and microscopes.
But she could see me writing plays. I had the temperament. One day, she was sure, she would read a review of something cleverly wicked that was getting me in trouble.
Hell, with my sharp pen I was bound to rile the public rabid, and would have to flee for my life.
For various reasons I have never gotten around to doing that.
Returning to California was a rather disruptive event, and there isn’t much of an audience for Dutch scribblings in the United States. Though I still write poems in that language, I have never shown them to anybody.
The Netherlandish tongue is far better for verse than English at times, but my sonnets are more private here than my rowdy mongrel-rhymes for beer-swilling fellow students ever were.
Besides, summers in San Francisco are not hot and fevered, but cold and foggy.
This climate is less suited for fierce lyric, better for thoughtful metres.
After she left we fixed dinner, then built a bonfire.
The expensive beer was passed around, and we sang vulgar songs in Flemish and Limburgian.
At one point I remarked to Reinoud that his sister was a charming young woman.
After a few seconds he agreed. “Yes. Yes, she is.
Sleep did not come very easy that night.
I kept thinking of warm eyes.
And soft hands.
THE PUTRID KENNINGS
We returned to Valkenswaard with several hundred pages of incredibly bad declamatory poetry, containing any number of odd locutions and inappropriate quotations in foreign languages. Como eleganza!
Alas, when during a more sober autumn we reread what we had wrought, we could not hammer a coherent tale out of it.
Some of it was truly appalling. Though nevertheless very “literate”.
Boruch Hashem the internet had not been invented yet.
Or we’d never outrun our youthful missteps.
They’d live for all time electronically.
Lousy inelegant haunting.
In rotten rhyme.
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Labels: Talk-story, Valkenswaard