After a ten kilometre walk through misty valleys and sunny woodsides, crossing a frosty landscape covered in rime, we sat down in a (or the) village pub in St. Geertruid for a bit of lunch.
On the pavement across the narrow two-lane road through the village a stylized huntsman in bronze was leaning his gun over a kind of shoulder-height gallows, pointing up towards some imaginary clay pigeon. About two yards to his right stood a display under a little roof, showing a map with the natural beauty spots of the region.
Wedged between the hunter and the display was a huge Christmas tree, undecorated but unmistakeably there for the season, spanning the full width of the tiled sidewalk. All the time that we were sat at the café window, not a single pedestrian attempted to use the pavement on that side of the road; they preferred to stay on our side, even hikers who popped up beside the church and had to cross the road.
When we asked the cook, who came to our table for the usual authentic chat, where she was from, it turned out that her grandfather was from E.'s home town. The cook grabbed a chair and lowered her sturdy frame, sensing the opportunity for a real conversation, rather than is everything okay for you. E. found out what the cook's surname was, and how it was spelled. With double s, and the grandfather used to be a hairdresser.
Common memories of Valkenburg, the home town, were exchanged, and experiences across the generations of leaving the province to go and live far away in the urban West were shared. The cook, Georgine, was born up there when her father had settled in the West and never spoke the Limburg dialect, while E. was raised in the South and learned the standard Dutch as a second language, not leaving the southern province until she was eighteen.
As the bus we had hoped to catch whizzed past the pub window, Georgine told us that when she was younger she had lived in The Hague, which happens to be my home town. Again memories were shared; in keeping with the winter season, it turned out that Georgine also remembered the huge fires that were lit at every road crossing on New Year's Eve in The Hague.
The morning walk on the first of January usually revealed huge craters in the road, caused by the tireless revellers, who used to tip everything they could find into the flames. Even invalid's wheelchairs would be carried to the fire. At some intersections the heat was enough to melt the copper tram overhead lines. We recalled how we used to flee the city to avoid the rowdy celebrations, only to return home on the day after to find someone's burnt-out Volkswagen parked outside our front door. Season's Greetings, The Hague style.