Eight weeks is a long time. Eight weeks of no school, of three kids at home that need entertaining, eight weeks of no time left for anything more than the bare minimum. Especially if you decide to move house just before the summer holidays, so that on top of the kids there is another demanding entity: the new house. Luckily, there was relief in the middle. After three weeks of haze, beach, garden work and play, we boarded a flight. Destination: Europe.
The thing I most remember of those three weeks away is the smell. The smell of Europe. The smell of my parent’s garden in the early morning, just after we alighted from our plane, green, fragrant, flowery, and above all so fresh. Fresh on that first day, chilly to us, partly cloudy, and just over 20 degrees. The salty smell of the North sea, so different from the clammy waves at Sentosa, where grilled satay and fries predominate, and just as different from the smell of hot sand at Asia’s more deserted beaches. Which is again nothing like the smell of a Dutch dune baking in the sun.
The heat wave that settled steadily over Western Europe after that first cool day fooled me into believing Holland is, after all, a great place to live. Whilst poor daddy had to take off to work on the sunny terraces of London town, we played with grandparents, cousins, friends, at the beach, the dunes, in gardens. The next week, with daddy home, albeit slightly hung-over, we drove north, to Friesland, which again presented it’s own smells. The muddy, earthy smell of its lakes, the indescribable smell of wet sails flapping in the wind, and off course that of rows and rows of black and white Friesian cows, mooing in a barn.
After Friesland we travelled south again, to Portugal this time to visit the in-laws, who live in countryside surrounded by endless woods of pine and eucalyptus, a smell so strong, fresh and overwhelming I cannot imagine anyone in that area ever developing a cold. After fun in the pool and the woods it was time for the long journey home. Home began when we entered Schiphol airport, where half the children’s school was waiting to board the same plane.
I always thought I loved the tropics especially for its smells. For the heat that soothes my rheumatic pains also makes everything smell so much stronger, headier. Aren’t I, above all, a smell person? But when we entered our new house after three weeks of absence I cringed. Right now, for me, the tropics smell rotten, mouldy, like the house that has been covered with a thin layer of green, stinky nastiness.
Off course Europe in autumn and winter will not be as alluring as it has been the last few weeks. It will be cold, and wet. There is a reason that I left. I also know, and smell, that our tropical house has much improved with airing. Still. I will now say something I did not think I ever would: Sitting in my tropical garden I sometimes miss the smell of a Dutch flower garden. The freshness. The crispness. The cleanliness.
Luckily there is not much time for sentimentality. Of the eight long weeks there are still five days to go. And I need to go buy a dehumidifier, quickly.
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