a weekend trip to see an old friend in the northern Dutch city.
Up the winding stair littered with garbage, exposed wires, and dirt, you'll find an old friend's room. A television is on a large table adjacent to the wall, posters attached to the back of the door, and one of those large white sinks that has been viciously attacked by calcium deposits, dried toothpaste, and a slight rust.
Welcome to Groningen.
I kid. There are two windows on the opposite side of the room. They both look out into the street, each house roughly the same as the next, and a consensus that no building (besides the church) should be taller than three or four stories.
I've hopped into the room to grab a lighter and a spliff I bought earlier from a coffee shop. Groningen has several but I bought it from the best. Only the best for the best. I walk through the kitchen where, coincidentally, the shower is also located. The dishes have piled up, but I forget that and head straight through the chaos to find one more staircase. It winds, too. At the top I find a rooftop or porch of sorts. My friend has cracked open a beer. I shiver. It's cold.
The sky is gray but lit lightly by the orange hue of the sunset. The church rings in the distance.
"Crazy that this is the second time here," I say as I light the spliff. The sky's coloring turns a tinge richer.
My friend nods.
"And what--fifth time in six years to Holland?"
This time I nod.
I’ve often found Holland to be a sanctuary of sorts. In comparison to a daily life in the rough, odorous, and exhausting streets of New York, Holland is clean, pleasant, and easy digestible. It will rarely shock your senses. Yet what the country provides is a familiarity that comes with homogeneity, successful progressive ideology, and a robustly elegant infrastructure. In fact, riding the trains and trams is usually something I look forward to each and every time I visit.
Holland has been the subject of a vacation each of the past 6 years, save one. I go to spend time with a childhood friend of mine, and he studies in the college town of Groningen. In years past, he has lived in a house boat on one of the canals that runs through the city. A memorable sight is watching the boat across the canal suddenly tugged to another part of town. Your neighbor vanishes without leaving a trace.
The people are extremely friendly, as you probably know. The Dutch can be arrogant, but they do not do so without reason—most of the time. They’re extremely real, which I find attractive in the current PC climate here in the states.
However, frequently the country gets a bad reputation, mostly for its decision to legalize nearly everything. In Amsterdam, coffee shops and dispensaries are closing down due to excess demand. In the past, new shops have sprung up to meet the unserviced demand, but the city’s government, concerned with their global reputation as stoners, has put a ban on new coffee shops opening. This has impacted the current coffee shops open, which are now flooded with new demand that their supply chain cannot meet. In fact, many coffee shops still source their bud from a friend down the block who grows it in their backyard. Add this to the surprising success of right-wing Wilders in the country’s election earlier this year, and the climate of Holland is not quite what it had been previous visits.
Nevertheless, in Groningen, time can stand still. A small, quiet college town with a farmer’s market in the town square, it rarely changes. And this, I believe, is certainly for the better.
PS—if you go, the best coffee shop is called The Clown.