A castle in my neighbourhood

Long ago, a few very wealthy people luxuriated in this castle and a disproportionate number of others made sure that they did. And still others toiled to ensure continuity. In this castle, after the materially wealthy ones and the intellectually wealthy one (Descartes) had moved out, folks not unlike you and me moved in.

People on bicycles, or perhaps in cars arrived and parked between the splendid green lawns and the castle walls. They went in, hung up their coats, placed their wet umbrellas in a bucket, greeted their colleagues to then sit behind desks in tapestry-covered rooms. Workers with a regular 9 to 5 job, they got down to administrative work, typewriters and later computers tick tick- a ticking. The castle’s maintenance, and that of the buildings around it, the salaries of the administrative staff, and the upkeep of 80,000 meters of land were paid for by folks – not unlike you and me.





But that too changed, and the castle’s doors were closed to all. I had wandered around it sometimes and around the buildings skirting the luminous green grass and into the forested patches that separated them. I never saw any people.  But they live in those buildings that surround the castle, even to this day. They are autistic and mentally challenged people. And the administrators who have now left were the ones who had worked for the care of these people, from inside the castle’s walls.

And the toil that had made this possible was of folks – not unlike you and me.

And today the castle doors are open again.

For folks not unlike you and me.




In the ‘Descartes Hall’ of the castle, stories come alive. There was a time when the property was fenced and there was a time when psychiatric patients left the grounds, sometimes accompanied by a chaperone, to go shopping in the vicinity. They made music, had pets, and worked in the garden. They played games and had parties. They went for walks, and felt, like I do today, the sun filtering through the trees. They saw the artworks that nature makes, and breathed the air of changing seasons.




Tomorrow the castle’s doors will be closed again. It’s been sold by the state to a property developer, who has hired architects. The architects say that the developer has great respect for monuments. Once a castle, always a castle. And it, and the buildings and the grounds around it will only grow in status as a ‘medical-social-park’: a magnet for innovation as homes for living ‘vitally, independently -in-care’,  and protected homes for those re-integrating after hospitalization will flourish on its grounds. There will also be homes for the elderly in close proximity to health care, and for those who believe in holistic living. There is no special mention of the autistic and the mentally challenged in the plans presented.

And perhaps folks, not unlike you and me, will arrive on bicycles and in cars and park between a splendid green lawn and the castle walls and go in, hang up their coats, place their wet umbrellas in a bucket, greet their colleagues to then sit in rooms with tapestry covered walls and tick tick tick away.

And perhaps all this will be made possible through the toil of folks – not unlike you and me.

This is the story of Endegeest, a castle in my neighbourhood.







August Times

It’s summertime, and if you’re not a tourist yourself, you could be bumping into one.

Unlikely in Oegstgeest though.

Countryside walks in and around this village are one way to take in the tourist experience without feeling hemmed in by thousands more. This is what I offer friends and family who visit.

While I am giving a running commentary of what I think might interest them, the visitors sometimes say and do things that make me stop in my tracks.

“Now we’ll see ducks, and the windmill will come into view”, I say. “Here it is – built in 1789 to pump water out of this land. Today it’s not turning, but it does sometimes”.

“But there aren’t any sails” says my friend Angela.

“What sails?” I ask, and think to myself ….windmills and sails??? What exactly is she talking about.

Yes windmills do have sails. I saw them the next day on another one that did happen to be turning. True I don’t exactly have the head of an engineer, but to think of it, it’s not rocket science. It’s as simple as Angela put it:

“The sails catch the wind and help the blades to turn.”

Of course. Yes of course. I’d just never noticed them before.

And Angela’s gaze was not just upwards. She bent down to pluck a leaf. “Mint”, she said, crushing it. “Mmmm I love the smell.”


Indeed – mint. Lots and lots and lots of it along this path I have tread a thousand times.




Later that evening, in a quiet and private moment, Angela’s eyes fall upon a picture on the birthday calendar hanging on the door of the toilet at home. She shows me later. ‘Water munt’ (water mint) says the caption under the picture of the plant. It was what we’d just seen on our walk. The month on the calendar is, of course, August.


Every now and then, I get a message via Facebook, email or App from a friend or acquaintance – sometimes from a classmate of so long ago that I can barely remember anything about them. They tell me that they plan to visit the Netherlands (Amsterdam is sort of synonymous with the Netherlands for some), and they ask me what they can do in the four or five days that they plan to visit. And each time, I ask the same question:

“What is that you like to do, see, experience when you travel?”

So far nobody has replied that they want to go on a countryside walk in and around Oegstgeest.

If they manage to tear themselves away from the myriad things to do, see and experience in Amsterdam, I take them on a countryside walk, a bicycle ride to the beach or a boat ride on quiet waters near home.

And it happens that the traveler, who meets every day with a welcoming spirit, whose senses are open; who lets the experience of being out of home overcome her, brings another perspective to the ones for whom the everydayness of trodden paths has taken over.

Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme

Dreams could come at least 50% true, and songs too, apparently. That’s what I found when I read the recipe on the label of the packet of black spaghetti. Black, because it gets it’s colour from ink fish. I needed sage and rosemary to bring this black spaghetti to life. And the song that started to play in my head is one I grew up with – “are you going to Scaborough Fair…. parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” in the harmonious voices and the gentle music of Simon and Garfunkel.

I remembered too, the herb garden – no Scaborough Fair but more like the commons of Oegstgeest – the village in which I live. It’s a little strip of land, on the edge of the shopping centre that I discovered quite by chance when I first moved here three years ago. Here, a board says in Dutch, and I translate:

“Pluck a leaf, flower or seedling, at ease

Of different herbs according to your wish

Go about it in a sustainable way

So that you leave something behind for others”

When I first discovered the herb garden, I found its location in the heart of the commercial centre of the village fascinating. What could be the message, I thought, that the makers of this garden want to give to us, the residents of the village? That, before you enter into shops and supermarkets overflowing with everything you may or may not need, there’s a spot – modest in comparison – where you could stop to indulge in another way of shopping. Or picking. However you see it, take your pick.

At that time I was impressed by the garden’s location. But I soon realised a few things about the village. That it’s full of volunteers whose aim it is to contribute towards improving the quality of life. That the initiatives are many and diverse. And that the herb garden is beautiful for it’s own sake. It has no other function besides offering, in a sustainable way, folks the possibility of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme should they need it for a meal or two. It stands there as a reminder – a thing of beauty – that hopefully will last forever, while busy shoppers in the background continue to do what they came there to do.

Mission Possible

I’m hardly ever in front of my house, but on this day, I was. And before I knew it, a voice greeted me and asked if I’d like to volunteer to go around the neighbourhood collecting money for ‘foundation for the child’. And before I knew it, I had signed up with name, telephone number and email id, and a promise to go around with a collection box for a week. For a cause I knew almost nothing about. And that was that. I’d agreed to stand on the ‘other side of the door’ of my neighbour’s homes – the outside – in the shoes of the folks who ring my bell on many an evening. It often leads to irritation or a patient kind of tolerance, or sometimes, I’d go so far as to say – a feeling of here they come again. The changers of the world. Collecting change for cancer research, heart research, children, animals, environment, causes, causes, causes. Being the change they want to see in the world.

On the radio, an expert was asked why there was so much attention in the Dutch media for hurricane Harvey in America, when the people of Eastern India, Mumbai and Bangladesh were suffering a lot more at the same time. The expert’s reply was that the tendency to identify with ‘one of your own kind’ is much stronger in the human heart than to identify with someone who is not considered so. Dutch- American bhai bhai. Dutch Indian/Bangladeshi – not.

Now I am standing outside a door having rung the bell, collection box upright in hand before me, identity badge visible.

The door opens.

“Would you like to make a contribution to the foundation for the child?” I ask in my best Dutch.

He smiles. “That doesn’t ring any bells”.

In the background, there’s the little head of a child bobbing up and down. “She’s Italian, she’s Italian”, he says in Italian. He’s as excited as a little puppy that has sniffed what it loves best. Iv’e just returned from summer holidays in Sanremo/Italy. My spaghetti string dress shows my arms, shoulders and neck that have turned golden brown.

“Well it’s for Dutch kids who are not fortunate enough to live with their parents”, I reply – delivering my lines slowly and clearly. The money enables them to participate in clubs, music lessons, swimming lessons….that sort of thing. And when they’re older, it’s used to hire coaches to guide them with study and life choices”.

Sure he wants to contribute and pops back in to look for his wallet.


And now I am a bird, sitting on a nearby tree, watching and hearing myself doing something with no idea about why I’m doing it. Waarom, daarom.

With every step I take and every bell I ring, I get into the rhythm and the rhyme.

“…well….Dutch kids, Dutch kids, Dutch kids….” I hear myself say. The box get’s heavier, and I have to let my right arm drop every now and then to give my wrist a rest. There’s a storm brewing. A hard wind blows. Summer is edging towards autumn. I have a mission. It’s possible.

“Thank you for your support, thank you for your support, thank you for your support”.