Friday, November 04, 2005

Reactionary travel-writing

NYT travel writer Bruce Bawer is nostalgic for the old Europe (as opposed to Old Europe) in which tradition was king and kebab stands unheard-of.

In Amsterdam, Bawer is put off by "the spectacle of street-corner drug peddlers (few of them Dutch) or scantily clad women (also non-Dutch) posing in crimson-flooded windows."

How is "Dutch" being defined? Did Bawer ask the drug peddlers and the scantily clad women for their papers? Were they not wearing clogs?

Bawer, it seems, prefers a town called Alkmaar:

Enhancing the quaint small-town feel was a huge street organ (a fading Dutch tradition); its proprietor shoved it up and down the pavement as it tooted "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye" and "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue." (I recalled this fondly the next day when, at a family-filled restaurant in Amsterdam, I went bug-eyed at the obscene rap lyrics blaring from loudspeakers.)

Walk into any "family-filled" jeans-and-sneakers store on lower Broadway in NYC and feel free to go bug-eyed there as well. But of course you wouldn't find "real" Americans in such a store, anyway.

I also love the feeling of safety. To live in Amsterdam these days is to be gloomily aware that the Netherlands is suffering from formidable, and deepening, urban problems; strolling around Alkmaar, you'd hardly know it.

Sort of like if you stay between 57th and 96th on the East Side, you'd hardly know anything else existed. How lovely!

It gets worse:

Yes, Alkmaar has immigrants (on a downtown street called Gedempte Nieuwesloot, you'll see kebab shops and signs in Arabic); but compared with multicultural Amsterdam, it feels unmistakably Dutch. Height is part of it: even in the Netherlands - where the people are the world's tallest - folks from this region are known for their stature.

Did Bawer just advise NYT readers to visit a town because people are tall there? (What happened to "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue"?) Maybe there are shorter people living in Alkmaar, but they all hide out during the day in attics.

The rising social tensions that already afflict the major Dutch urban areas, however, seem destined, sooner or later, to alter life in places like Alkmaar. Best, then, to catch this town's gentle pleasures while you can.

Right. Because the "tensions" afflicting the Netherlands are worrisome because they might make small-town life less charmingly authentic for American tourists.

A beautiful, charming, fantabulous Netherlands would be one in which tall and short, ethnically Dutch and ethnically everything else, could all share in both the "gentle pleasures" of small-town life and the wilder ones of the city. What Bawer is fawning over, a "real" Netherlands, is not even consistent with Dutch history, which had its clogs, sure, but also its Spinozas. It's some fantasy of his which really did not need to make it into the Times.


Homer Collyer said...

You nailed him. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I spent 3 months in the netherlands last year. These views are mild compared to what you hear from many dutch these days.

Phoebe said...

It makes sense they'd be mild relative to something--it's the travel section, after all.

codone said...

Europe clearly needs a "solution" to the "immigrant question".