Music of the Lowlands


I live on a former canal in a former potato-monger’s warehouse around the corner from the poor, unfortunate annex of the Franks. I arrived here on a freezing day of February of this year, the canal at the end of the road turned to thick ice. The year warmed, the summer arrived slowly and beautifully and I learned that my chosen home is the epicentre of drunken Dutch singing. I’ve written before about the Sunday karaoke in the bar facing my bedroom window. The endless procession of wine-filled, pot-bellied singers turns my usually hungover Sunday evenings into an odd carnival. The people of the Netherlands don’t appear to have an in-between setting when it comes to celebrating, it’s either an air of detachment or raucous wildness that borders on the unhinged. In Ireland we only have the latter, so i’m quite at home here.

It started with Queen’s Day back in April. Everyone wears orange. I do not mean that people wear an orange brooch or an amber hat on an otherwise ordinary outfit. I mean that everyone wears orange everything. The drinking starts early, the streets fill, roads cease to exist as they all turn into makeshift dancefloors. To put it succinctly, the world and their mothers get unmercifully shitfaced and sing songs of yesteryear. And when enough drink has been taken, you’ll get the odd classic like this thrown in…
On Friday morning of last week, I woke to the sound of heavy machinery and that horrendously irritating noise a truck makes when it’s reversing. Some large men were advancing in their attempt to construct an enormous stage about 20 feet from my window. I sadly couldn’t stay around all weekend to witness the ensuing mayhem, but I did see a man dressed as a cross between Woody the toy cowboy and Ruud Gullit take a piss against the front wall of the house, which was more amusing than I can accurately describe.
This weekend, it’s the Jordaan Festival,, a tribute to Dutch folk music and particularly the songs of Mr Johnny Jordaan.
There is something of the night about the Jordaan Festival, and I am entirely at a loss to say why. Walking to the shop earlier on a man barked at me. Like it was de rigeur to do this to a tracksuited woman at 9 pm of a Sunday evening. Several brazen looking youngfellas have been whizzing up and down the street on scooters for what feels like 24 hours. Woody Gullit showed up again and danced at the junction of the streets. Whilst dancing he made a shrieking sound not unlike a sound effect from The Shining. Somebody broke the metal carousel you have to walk through to get in to the supermarket and it’s now thrown haphazardly across some crates of courgettes. There is a very strange black skidmark on the footpath, which calls to mind District 9.
The songs will continue long into tonight. But it’s a very lovely thing to feel the heartbeat of a city, even if it’s noisy. The winter will be quiet enough and long enough, the music is welcome now.

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