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Going Dutch

Canals and trams, art and sport, gardens and bistros and the constant rain ... S. DINAKAR records his impressions of Amsterdam.


The soul of Amsterdam is in the labyrinth of canals that crisscross the city.

IN the land of Van Gogh, the cricketing picture was hazy, with the skies painted in dark grey for most part.

That Holland is blessed with brush strokes of sheer genius was as clear as a sunflower — one of Gogh's favourite themes — on a sun-lit day though.

Romantic city

The many-layered canvas of life, bristling with colours of varying shades, grabbed attention in the Dutch capital, even while rain cut into the Videocon tri-series. A charmingly romantic city, with a rhythm and a flow of its own, a slice of life might only be a step away in the vibrant Amsterdam of over 7,00,000 people and 140 ethnic groups.

In the labyrinth of the canals — that snake their way around the city, their paths often criss-crossing — resides the soul of Amsterdam; a modern metropolis with an ancient heartbeat. And where do these waterways — some of them melting into each other — begin and end? Not all questions have an answer, only adding to the mystique. After sunset, these canals reflect the glittering lights of buildings that are centuries old but still holding firm — a unique blend of splendour and survival.

The ubiquitous trams, frequent and dependable, represent the city's other lifeline, travelling through bustling market places and quiet suburbs, on wide roads, and narrow lanes. Their tracks, often joining and then branching out in different directions, tell a tale of their own; people meet and then part ways, moment flies away, memories remain.

Amsterdam is sprinkled with bistros, and watching the trams pass by from a cafe, or seeing a flock of pigeons take flight into evening's orange hue, or listening to a young guitarist seeking an audience and a few Euros, can soothe the senses.

Then there are the omnipresent cyclists, competing with sleek cars, and seldom losing out — in spirit at least. An executive of the top rung could be pedalling his way to office indicating the simple Dutch mind-set.

The giant windmills dotting the green countryside, elegant clock towers lettered in gold that stand sentinel over sparkling towns of brick roads and red tiled houses, imposing castles that have withstood the test of time, resilient dykes symbolising the continuing struggle of a low-lying land, expansive harbours with brave ships that have endured several storms, underground railway tunnels opening into a scatter of lights.... these are vignettes of a distinctly Dutch variety.

Passionate about sport

In a place driven by tourism, the sprawling gardens, the busy flower markets — crowded despite August being off-season for tulips — the souvenir shops, and a buoyant theatre scene, kept alive by a throbbing student community, do lure the visitors.

In sports, it is Orange and football that forces passions to rise to a crest in the land of Ajax and Johan Cryuff, while hockey has a sizable following. In fact, a welter of astro-turfs (seldom short of youngsters attempting to hone their skills) surrounded the VRA ground at Amstelveen, where the Videocon tri-series was staged. Under the huge shadow of the Olympics, cricket (with only a marginal presence in Holland) suffered, although, fans of sub-continental origin, some flying thousands of miles, thronged the venue.

Despite the disappointment triggered by inclement weather, a carnival atmosphere prevailed, and the sheer joy of being together, put smiles on the visages of the flag-waving Indians and the Pakistanis, who were friends first, and supporters of rival teams next.

Meanwhile, the Dutch made an honest attempt to comprehend cricket, although a local photographer was not quite convinced why a run-out dismissal in the final over of the summit clash was not credited to bowler Shoiab Akhtar!

For the cricketers, a career is a journey, every stop throwing up a fresh story, of victory and defeat, laughter and tears, delight and anguish.

For Sourav Ganguly's men, the tri-series ended in much frustration. With inclement weather disrupting the practice sessions as well, they, however, finally discovered some rare time; otherwise the seasons becoming increasingly hectic.

Rare time in the rain ... Kumble and Irfan Pathan on a sightseeing trip.

Spellbinding works

Ganguly relaxed on a boat, an umbrella protecting him from a steady drizzle, while the photographers clicked away, vice-captain Rahul Dravid could finally take his wife out for a walk in the evenings, and Sachin Tendulkar, despite being bothered by a tennis elbow, sported a warm smile as he met friends in the evening.

Some of the cricketers did pay a visit to the Van Gogh museum. Gogh's works are spellbinding, none more than the "Starry Night", that has large yellow and white stars set against a blue sky, staring down on a sleepy village.

That Gogh completed this priceless work of art, while staring at death in an asylum at Saint Re'my, is astonishing; such clarity of vision, even when his mind was being ravaged by the turmoil within.

Celebrating life

Gogh focussed on peasant workers in his early paintings — in their daily struggle he saw a triumph — and his works capture the essence of the farming community, which might have been poor, but led a life that was rich and full.

There are some other brilliant works — motes of enlightened light do bounce off the paintings — such as the gifted Edouard Manet's thought-provoking impressions of the sea.

With images that are myriad and timeless, the Gogh museum encapsulates the city's motif — Amsterdam celebrates the dance of life. Much like a Van Gogh Sunflower.

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