I’ve been in The Hague for more than 36 hours passively following others without any sense of where I am other than the inside of buildings, so on Thursday morning I venture out of the hotel to locate myself in the city. I would do this anyway, but when we first arrived Tieman from Crossing Border encouraged us to engage with the city, so this means I can wander off and still be A Good Girl.
Westwards on Wagenstraat an old woman in an oversized lilac coat and saggy black skirt walks up and says something in Dutch. I think she’s asking for directions and shrug helplessly. “I don’t understand,” I say. She asks me in English, “Do you love the Lord Jesus?” Her right hand points upwards, gesturing to heaven and the way she positions her index finger and thumb looks exactly like one of those medieval paintings were you can tell the figure is speaking by the hand gesture. It turns out to be a rhetorical question, though, because she immediately slopes off again before I can reply. Or maybe she’s decided I’m already damned.
Feeling overly melodramatic I turn to walk in the other direction, and take pictures with my phone of mundane objects – Nee/Ja signs on letterboxes, the window of a department store, a ‘no entry’ sign on a pseudo-gothic door. I am seduced by a sign that says ‘Multikulturel Kunst….’ the last part hidden by a man loitering outside. I cross over to it but feel shy because of the man standing there, so walk down the side street instead. A man walks towards me but then veers off at the last moment looking uncertain. Is he another evangelical who has decided I’m a lost cause? I look in through a window and a woman with long curly hair is in her underwear. My first thought is, it’s a bit cold to be wearing so little and maybe she should get a curtain, but then my brain wakes up and I realise that I am the only woman walking down this street. I’m feeling naïve at being caught out: after all, it’s not even mid-day. However it quickly becomes apparent that the men are far more embarrassed by my presence than anything I can feel, and the most distressing thing for me is when I reach the window at the far corner and a woman is posed inside but her bra and knickers don’t match.
Hotel Bar with sort-of Tartan carpet
There must be the god of literature taking revenge for my defence yesterday of text messaging and computers; it’s Thursday afternoon and I’m locked out of my hotel room in a short-sleeved dress, with nothing but a laptop and a mobile phone. The door is broken and none of the staff know how to get in. This is definitely my vision of hell, to be stuck somewhere without a book. My eyes are itching for Lanark.