Tuesday, July 14, 2009

North Sea, Red Hook

Mrs. Richards: I expect to be able to see the sea.
Basil Fawlty: You can see the sea. It's over there between the land and the sky.
MR: I would need a telescope to see that!
BF: Might I suggest you move to a hotel closer to the sea! Or preferably in it.
- Fawlty Towers

I just jogged to the sea, from a hotel that, according to the map, looked reasonably near to it - 5.8 km each way, which wouldn't include the various times I got lost in what were probably private residential complexes. The return trip was a walk, if that, culminating in the purchase of bread and water (what else?) at a supermarket. (The other possible end point of the run, the HEMA, was ruled out because it's too early for the HEMA to be open, and nothing is sadder than a closed shop full of cheap-chic Dutch housewares and pajama pants.) Because Dutch street names are impossible to remember (exception: Wassenaarseweg), I wrote down the streets that led towards the sea, finding only some of them, but impressing myself with a sense of direction that did ultimately get me to a beach. (I also followed the yellow-haired families on bicycles, figuring that was probably where they were headed.)

During the adventure, I of course was armed with soothingly English-language podcasts. On Fresh Air, Terri Gross was interviewing Joseph O'Neill, the author of Netherland. I'd been curious about the novel, plus it seemed appropriate. O'Neill was describing a scene from the book based on his own experience, and let's just say it sounded familiar to me as well: failing one's driving test at the Red Hook, Brooklyn site after driving around the block just fine, for reasons that are never quite established. While my second fail was definitively about hitting the curb while parking, the first...?

According to O'Neill, immigrants to NY who arrive after having driven "without incident" their whole adult lives in their home countries regularly fail at the Red Hook location. The answer, he explained, is to go take your test in the suburbs - Rita's suggestion, and, I've now learned in an unexpected way, a feasible one. Still, it was very, very strange to be in such an unfamiliar place - and the Netherlands really does not seem like anywhere I've ever been, at all - listening to someone hold forth at length about the utter humiliation of driving around that block in Red Hook and not getting a license out of it. On the very remote off-chance that the author of a book read publicly by Obama ever finds this post, I'll just add that they enjoy failing native New Yorkers there as well.


Jeff said...

Maybe you can try getting your license in London? When I saw pics of a 20-something woman jumping for joy in London after finally getting her license, I thought maybe it was you. It wasn't - it was Sienna Miller.

But maybe the test is easier there.

asg said...

But what were you expecting to see? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically...