Well, I won’t lie about it: of course I was relieved when the train pulled in at Rotterdam Centraal station. My heart always beats faster whenever I come back home to this cynical city, with its towering buildings, its futuristic – and sometimes ridiculous – projects, a mishmash of styles. There’s always some sort of construction work going on, reshuffling things, as if we haven’t quite found an identity for our city yet, all these years after the bombardment of Rotterdam in 1940. The work is never done – the people are never completely satisfied.
That’s why it wasn’t long (I hadn’t even unpacked my bag) before a new feeling of restlessness swept over me. A nagging, discontented feeling that something was missing. Was it nostalgia?
I tried to shake it off and flung myself wholeheartedly into the daily grind: shopping, boring post, the familiar household chores, but nothing helped in the slightest. The security of routine, which had felt so familiar before Crossing Border, frightened me.
So I put on my jacket and went into town. I felt anonymous. Strolling through the ‘old familiar’, I thought of the new people I had met: the inspiring and natural company of The Chronicles that I had been part of for a few days. What would they be doing now? Would they also be struggling to get used to the regularity of daily life again?
I pictured Alice, my unrivalled translator, walking beside me. I showed her my ‘home’. We drifted over the Erasmus Bridge, inspected the security at the Kunsthal, went for a beer on the Binnenweg and had a good laugh at Santa Claus, the giant sculpture by Paul McCarthy, posing pompously in the central square – more commonly referred to by his nickname, the Butt Plug Gnome.
What was her favourite Dutch word?* I wondered? And: would she ever listen to De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig?
Crossing Border passed in a whirlwind. Too quickly to ask the questions that are now rushing through my head. So quickly that you might wonder if it really happened at all. For the first time in years, I felt at ease in unfamiliar company. And, full of confidence as I am, I immediately wonder if I didn’t just imagine it. Have I really turned into a sentimental scented candle?
But back in my study, surrounded by playing cards, magic tricks and other research material for my new book, I open up my laptop. I see the new names in my inbox and then I know for sure: the hermit caught a glimpse of the world and can’t stop looking.
Tartuffe is sitting on my lap, purring. He doesn’t really understand. When I make a pen disappear, he looks up. Then he stretches again. He’s seen this trick too many times before.
We have to get back to work, he tells me with a whiny meow. A new book is waiting for us, a new adventure. On paper. Inside in the warmth.
He’s right. The work is never done.
But this time it’ll be different, this time it’ll be magical.
*Translator’s note: One of my favourite Dutch words has always been ‘hagelslag’: chocolate sprinkles used as a sandwich topping, especially at breakfast.