Today I am in the city of Utrecht. A hop, skip and a jump from home – a flight to Amsterdam, followed by a short hop on a train. I suppose that’s more of a jump and a hop, isn’t it? The image shows the canal, the part of the city where I had dinner this evening with some friends. The old canal dates back to Medieval times, when it served as a moat to protect the Dutch against us foreigners.


A certain quality of the Dutch comes across very clearly the moment you arrive. The people are friendly, cheerful and efficient, while the streets, buildings and interiors are clean, sturdy and well made, like the Dutch psyche. There seems to be a complete absence of any tone of romantic moodiness (van Gogh was a notable exception).

I am struck by the contrast between this place and almost all places I have visited in more equatorial climes, where the blood seems to run far hotter in peoples’ veins. I remember once, after coming back home from a visit to Sicily, remarking to a Sicilian colleague in New York how friendly everyone had seemed. “Yes,” he replied with a rueful look, “Sicilians are either the friendliest people in the world – or exactly the opposite.” As he spoke, I could almost hear the ominous and melancholy strains of Nino Rota’s theme for The Godfather.

You don’t seem to get much of that here. The Netherlands is a place you could raise your kids safely, and keep a house without fear of crime or other disaster. But it doesn’t seem like the sort of place where you’d want to rent that candle-lit garret walk-up, drown your heart’s dark torment in absynthe, and compose mad feverish odes to the agonies and ecstasies of Love Unrequited.

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