Gevoel: ALSOF IK HEEL ERG BIOEI
(Translation: Feeling Like I’m Blooming Blossoming).
I’ve always been partial to my petals (I have been often described as “the girl with flowers in her hair”, and having a name like “Poppy Rose” definitely does have connotations of frolicking in fields filled with flowers). So when fabulous Frans made words about the potential of taking me to the flower markets, I leapt up with exultance and begged to set a day so as to go together.
The agreed-upon day bloomed with a 5.20am wake-up for a 6am pick by the great(est) uncle Frans (well, 5.42am. I’m glad I was up and Adam (why Adam? Where does this phrase come from? Well, according to Google it’s not actually “up and Adam” at all, but “up and at ‘em”. And its roots stem from the military as a command to get on our feet and hop to it) and sitting watching fervently out the window for him from 5.33am on).
You see, Frans helps out the little flower shop across the road from his home by going and purchasing all the petals and peonies every morning at 5am (I think for my slumbering benefit he let it be for an hour later – what a champ). A half hour commute, he gets to Aalsmeer where the markets are, forages around the flora and buys the best buds, then heads home to dispatch them off. He then he trots back across the road to his two-up dulcet dwelling, has a second breakfast (the first being at 4.55am with wife Wyna) then has a slappen (I.e., nap).
So Aalsmeer Flower Market is the largest flower auction in all of the earth. The actual building it all takes seed in is actually the biggest building by footprint in the world as well, at a size of 518,000m squared. More than 20million flowers are sold daily coming from more than 10 countries in Columbia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Europe and so on. It is said to be one of the most top notch experiences of seeing logistics in action, what with endless number of transportation trains carting containers of flowers all around the show. Tourists are able to witness the whirlwind from 7am to 11am from two elevated walkways that serve as galleries for observing the warehouse floor, and not actually bandying about the blooms themselves.
The bloemenveiling – flower auction – (how fab is it that in Dutch flowers are “bloemen”?) starts early in the AM each day, what with the flowers having arrived the previous evening at about 10pm to be cooled and sorted throughout the night. Two tremendous auction rooms are able to be observed by tourists through large soundproof windows as they are staged simultaneously, with a number of other out-of-bounds scattered throughout the set-up. The auction rooms are kind of like Uni lecture halls, with the buyers sitting in a tiered like formation as flowers and plants are pulled through on a stage-like platform at the front. Super-sized screens display the information for each train (the room Frans and I snuck into had four going at once, thus four screens) with the “clock” determining the price; the buyers press buttons to switch between screens on their laptops, with a big black one being for a buy.
And what do I mean by “the ‘clock’ determining the price”? Well the flower auction follows the Dutch auction system, whereby the price is set high and it drops until someone presses for the purchase. The key element is the round circle on the screen, which is referred to as the “clock”. A start price is set and the auctioneer drops the ball that moves down with the prices dropping at the same pace. The board is chocca full of info, with the most watched figure being the “prijs” or “price” per stem, which is displayed in euro.
So there’s your overview of the (daisy) chain of how it all works! Back to myself and great(est) uncle Frans.
He was like a giddy gleeful schoolboy (as was I) (well, school girl) as I climbed in his car for the break of day amongst the blossoms (for some reason this line elicited memories of Cat Steven’s Morning Has Broken, the year 2002 and doing a liturgical dance at Our Lady of Fatima church in Meadowbank with the Hollier sisters and Lucy Taylor from my class. I was in my white frilly cuffed three-quarter top from Urban Angel, and I thought as I was top notch as I twirled (Ok, held Lucy’s fingertips as she twirled– being the taller of us two I was in the role of “man” and facilitated the pretty moves) around the altar place as Father Browne looked on fondly (also a bit of a stretch of the truth; Father Browne seemed to dislike all the clergy and I highly doubt four pre-teen girls prancing about the place of prayer warmed his soul in the slightest). Isn’t it funny the memories that come up from the most arbitrary of activations?).
We drove along (back to Frans and I, to clarify; not sure where Lucy is now, she moved back to Australia soon after) kind of conversing in our mix and medley of Dutlish. (For those not catching on: Dutch plus English; initially I had the “Engtch” going on but “Dutlish” is far more delightful). Frans understands English being spoken and can sort of speak it, while in my time here I have actually managed to pick up some phrases and follow others chatting away in Netherlandic – but pronouncing it myself proves a challenge. (My throat is so sore from all these goes at doing “G”’s).
We listened to some Dutch tunes on the way, Frans whistling and singing along in bouts now and again just like my Opa does. My heart swelled when I saw he was in his staple socks and sandals; I don’t know what it is about the leather-buckle-sock-footwear combo but I find it so damn endearing.
We arrived at the market and parked up, donning our wet weather gear for the short sprint to the stairwell. Down, down, down we galumphed (the socks and sandals plodding at quite a pace) until we came to a massive warehouse space bustling like a beehive.
The next two hours or so were just top notch. I can see a lot of myself in oom Frans; that whole “pretend you’re meant to be somewhere and no one will question you” as well as the chatting charm had us well within the “no tourists please” boundaries, exploring a research room and setting up shop in an auction. You know how I said before about the whole tourists-watching-from-galleries-above-and-from-behind-sound-proof-windows? Well Frans and I were scurrying about the shop floor, cavorting around the carts, stroking the stems and sitting at an actual desk smack bang amidst the auction activity. (And we snuck through a side door at 6.10am, well before the opening hours for visitors of 7am. When we finally found our way through the labyrinth of stairs and floors and what not, we strode out into the glad-wrapping zone – where they cling film the sold containers for exporting overseas – waving out at all the workers like we were absolutely allowed to be there). (Must have been my appropriate attire – because of course I was wearing my daisy pants and flower headband; need to dress in theme mate).
And Frans was so gosh darn cute. What with all the hurriedly hurtling carts cavorting around cutting and foliage, he held onto my hand to cross the “roads”. It was just that protective, paternal presentiment and once again, my aorta was amplifying (later on I laughed as I thought about the fact that many around probably thought we were a couple at either end of the stage spectrum. Well let’s face it, it seems to be the Whatman way in relationships with either much older or younger partners – why not be the case for me also?).
I was in full bloom myself as I exclaimed out in excitement at the carts of gerberas in every conceivable colour. The vibrant vervains, the thriving thalictrums, the flourishing forget-me-nots; all perfectly petaled and strongly stemmed. I was in awe as I dallied about, only stopping to sneeze every so often (not used to the pollen, my senses were going silly – I really felt for the brother Michael and father Henio who have haywire hayfever even spring season). There’s a big business in bouquets (and wreaths, gardens, seedling and such lark); whoever knew?
Upon leaving the research room (where two women were conflating leaves and melding natures; the medleys of colours were gasp-inducing) (Frans told them all about me, from being a journalist/celebrant/yoga teacher/blogger/writer from New Zealand to all the countries I’d travelled to how I want to continue doing so for the rest of my life) we made our way a few floors up to one of the very main auction rooms that was only allowed entry for serious buyers. With a bright smile and cheery “halllooooooo!”, we sat bang smack in the middle of the going-ons and proceeded to peruse for a good forty minutes.
And my my, it was oh so much fun! I enjoyed watching Frans just as much if not more than the actual auction. He whispered to me what was happening (I caught onto most of what he was conversing) and answered my flurry of questioning as to who all were and what each information board meant. At one point the price of a single stem of syringas (ok, fine; I don’t know what type of plant they were. But an “s” name works for the alliteration and I liked the sound of the bud) stood at a 2.80 euro a stem, and we both exclaimed out in a loud, “Whoooooh!”. The gents to the right turned back to glare and we fetched ourselves a very irate expression from the pair. (“Shhhh!” Frans giggled with a finger to his lips. “We need to be quieter!”).
A large bell clanged signalling a break and the buyers got up in search of coffee and snacks. The very two gents who had served us the mean miens a mere moment beforehand walked by, whereupon Frans charmed them into convo (by telling them all about me, from being a journalist/celebrant/yoga teacher/blogger/writer from New Zealand to all the countries I’d travelled to how I want to continue doing so for the rest of my life). I yarned to one of the two for a wee while who told me a bit about the auction (can you believe that in the course of this very morning, a good 6400 carts would be put up for bidding in this one auction room alone?) and then about his own role in the tulip trade (my joke to go and press his buying button when his head was turned was met by a very stern and serious stare).
His name was Jeroen – one of my fav Dutch lad names – and the other chap in his company was his brother. The two owned four flower shops in Germany (Frische Holland Blumen by name) which had been under their proprietorship for 25 years. He told me of how one day his father called him to say he was leaving the family and would not return, with the business now being in the hands of the then-18-year-old Jeroen and his year-younger brother. “We either had the option to sell up or step up,” Jeroen said. “So we stepped up, taking on 30 staff and it’s been the hard graft ever since. But we love it.”
Fuck I love hearing people’s stories. I mean, five minutes prior I had just tossed them off as two wet blanket sad sacks who were intent on spoiling our joy. (Goes to show assumptions and first impressions should always be given an additional venture).
When the bell clanged again signalling the start-back-up, Frans mimed slurping a coffee and the two of us waved farewell to our two bulbing businessing buddies and headed on our way. After a fair while trying to find our way back to the carpark we reached the top level and stood in the rain as we tried to suss our location.
You see, in our eagerness to get all amongst the angelica, azaleas and aquilegias, neither of us had noted where we had parked the car. So in going back to it, and the carpark being an expansive ocean of similar autos (seriously though, why does everyone in Holland seem to go for the compact four-door black affair?) (in car I mean, not partner) we were quite at sea as to where ours was.
So we walked around in the rain for half an hour, Frans clicking “unlock” on his keys and us both keeping our eyes pared for the tell-tale disengaging disco. You’d think being in the wet, getting all the wetter, cold to the core and wandering along the lines of lorries and such lark that the patience would wear thin but not at all; I was totally in my element and laughing away as we roved up and down the white lines. We came across a man operating some machinery and Frans told him of our conundrum; said man donned his hard hat and fired up his forklift, driving around and around the carpark as Frans continued to click away until our car was uncovered (funnily enough, nowhere near where we were insisting it was) whereupon we had a fevered high five. (Reminded me of a few months ago when my little cousin Livvy came over from Australia for a week or so; I did the exact same thing in the Auckland Airport carpark, with us wandering about for a wee while as I clicked the keys hoping to recover the Rav. Seriously, so much of me I can see in Frans. I think I may have to take to wearing socks and sandals).
As he fired up the car and Dutch tunes I cleaned his glasses on my daisy pants (I think I made them so much more smeary but he gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up and determinedly donned them) as he rung Wyna to say we were on our way for a cup of coffee. When we reached their delightful domicile, Wyna wrapped me in a big hug and proceeded to take my drenched jacket and attire me in a mint green polar fleece (“Mine but it’s too small – you keep it,” she gifted later).
After a cup of tea (in those seriously smart cups I told of in a previous post) and a bowl of honeydew melon (they would not hear of me not having something to eat as they downed their appeltaart – “You are too small,” said Frans. “You need to eat up” – Frans took me across the road to see the flower shop he volunteered for (where he told all of the frantically busy workers all about me, from being a journalist/celebrant/yoga teacher/blogger/writer from New Zealand to all the countries I’d travelled to how I want to continue doing so for the rest of my life). We had a Skype with Opa (Frans and I both sitting on the floor to do so), I had a slappen on the couch (nap, if you don’t recall) and then it was time for lunch.
As I had slumbered Wyna has especially trotted off to the shops to get some salad items to rustle me up one for the midday meal. She was so cute, getting together some goat’s cheese (there had been some in my salad I had had when out for lunch the week before that I had tentatively tasted) and some smoked fish for my dinner later that evening (I had been under the impression I would be going back to Nieuwkoop after our morning tea, but Frans had asked me what I would like to have for dinner so I was all on board for an all-day hang out). We sat in the lounge and munched back our provisions (Frans continuing to try and give me cheese and lollies – “You need a bigger bottom”), having an apple each at the end (Frans found it most hilarious when upon skinning his, I ate all his peelings from his plate) and looking through old photos. It was so special, they gave me a photo of Opa from his early days (he was like a Dutch Ryan Gosling lookalike) and I came across a Christmas card he had written to then-little-tyke Frans and brother Robbie after he had moved to New Zealand.
I have a thing about seeing people’s handwriting and how it lends great insight as to their character. As I looked at the card (“looked” you see, not “read” – being in Dutch I was unable to understand of course) I was struck by the fact that I don’t think I have ever once seen Opa’s etchings. Babcia has always been the one to pen in our birthday cards and I don’t think there has ever been any reason for a note; I loved how beautifully tidy and cursive it was, not at all what I would have expected, and I felt a little pang at thinking of this lumbering lad of a broken-nosed Dutchman heading to the corner store in Waitoa to purchase the card, then him sitting down to write it to post home to his littlest brothers What a cutie.
The afternoon was spent going back to the house Opa and his lot grew up in (upon my request and Frans was only too willing; this time I videoed walking down the street and snuck over the fence to get a few snaps from the riverside. Also, Frans got charmingly chatting to the neighbour next door and we went in for a looksie of the property; you see, one of Opa’s brothers and his wife built a house upon the old Wortman vegetable patch, so it was yet another family affair back in time) and going to an archaeological park called Archeon (this well and truly ignited the little-wannabe-archaeologist in me; it was a big reserve of Holland through the ages from the very first settlers to those in Victorian times). (This totally took me back to 2002, year six and a trip to Howick Historical Village with Mt Carmel Primary School. We had to dress up as people from “the olden days”, so I wore my Pumpkin Patch petticoat as a skirt, a blanket as a shawl and a big straw hat (which was later used as “the tampon hat” in the hat parade at Baradene; you know those Aussie hats with dangly things well, dangling down to keep the flies out? Well me and mate Mia made one similar but with tampons as the dangly things. Suffice to say, we were unsuccessful in winning out the hat design competition). I had a pretty sizeable crush on one of the lads in my class – Samuel Ritchie – which everyone knew about, but unfortunately for me when dressed in attire of the 1900s he looked like a young boy while I took on the appearance of an elderly lady. I have never forgotten being told I looked like his mum; the sting was enough to make me take off the brooch I had pinning together my crocheted cardy). (Sorry. Tangents over. Back to the present). The park also had on display a boat from the Roman times that had been unearthed in Zwammerdam in the 70s – what with the Rhine being uneven in depth, the Romans used flat bottomed ships to transport that did not life dep in the water. I was enthralled; I mean I didn’t need any more reason to love the little village, yet here was another aspect to add to the list.
Wyna was cute – just like Frans as the flower market, as we crossed the carpark at Archeon (no cars at all navigating around it, I must point out), she clutched my elbow to ensure I didn’t run out and get hit and sheltered me from the falling spittle with her umbrella.
On reaching home I made the excuse of needing to go and get a postcard to send to Opa from the shop down the street. Frans made noises of coming too where I enthusiastically told him to stay behind; I think I hurt his feelings a little and I felt wretched. But reasons were well intended as he soon saw – I was actually off to get a little gift for the pair to thank them for their homely hospitality, and I couldn’t have him in company for the cavort (it was hilarious actually; the shopping centre I wanted to run to was to the right while the store they had told me to go to was to the left, and I had to do some commando type spy roll at ground level so as not to be seen by them going the “wrong way” out of the window”). I stumbled across a wonderful chic chocolate shop and bought them a large block spelling out, “I love you”, a plate full of chocolate windmill and tulips and a couple of apples to continue the laughs about me eating the skin. (I got barricaded with big cuddles upon presenting them – gettit? – with their wares).
Insertation: I was positively puzzled when I saw a fair few boxes of dog treats next to the door at their house. Why, there was no canine barking about! But all became clear when a little girl from down the road walked by with two bumbling puppies and Frans opened the door to feed them their daily doggie biscuits.
We had a wine (Frans, Wyna and I, not the little lass and her dogs) as we watched the tennis and I wrote (Wyna gifting me with her touch type pen when she saw I was whirring away with my thumbs and forefingers) and then had a lovely dinner (smoked fish salad with no dressing just for me as they ate their meat and potatoes, so cute). After doing the dishes Frans and I went for his nighty twenty-minute walk around the big block and then he dropped me back home in Nieuwkoop.
The day hammered home that I really am a Wortman through and through. Although I have always felt a connection to my Dutch side (“Little Dutch hippie,” Frans said of me) I always thought my personality and what not was more from the maternal. But being here amongst the troops I can clearly see where a lot of me comes from. (And how insanely fascinated by flora I am).
And I feel so so close to Opa, more so than I ever thought I would. I’m just full of this overwhelming love for him and I am so excited to get home and go over to show him all my photos and share all my stories from being here in his hometown. (He’ll get so sick of me sitting at the foot of his armchair commanding his attention and begging to play endless games of Rummikub).
Another insertation: Yvonne told me this fabulous story – that I already knew but had totally forgotten about – about Opa that totally sums him up. Once when on holiday in Australia Opa didn’t know anyone so he got a phone book, searched for a person with a Dutch last name, then called them up and they went for a beer and hung out for the evening. Like, how cool is that? And so “very Dutch”.
I don’t want to leave here. Holland seriously feels like home. I am putting serious plans into play with coming back here next year for a significant stint (after India, Nepal, Africa and potentially Egypt on the way). Frans has already insisted I come back as his lodger and told me to call Opa right now and tell him I’m not coming home (“Just go to Primark and get what you need!” he enthused). (Later on in the week he declared that when I come back in 2017 I simply must live with them and if they happen to have moved to an apartment by then he will get an extra room especially for me).
I said to Deb the other day that being here I feel like I’ve found the Poppy I was when I was a little girl. The one that I was all over before Ed took a good grip and overpowered some aspects of my personality. I didn’t realise it before; I thought I was just coming to see Europe, meet some family and then head home. But this has been the most insane of growth experiences and a ginormous journey into figuring out what I want and who I am.
And What (man) am I? A Wortman!