7th August, 2016
I stayed up very late on Thursday, actually until the beginning of Friday morning writing in a blue tower in the hotel in Amsterdam, finishing my London impressions. By some miracle the bedroom on the third floor of the hotel, had a writing desk, and lamp, in a bow window, that was shaped like a turret.
There were six panes of glass on three sides with views down to the canal running silently beneath and across the water, to the black and white buildings, the stone towers and copper domes on the far side. While Julian lay sleeping in the room behind me, the blue velvet curtains at my back closed, I worked on with the window open listening to the sounds of the night — bicycle bells, a car revving, people’s voices muffled… I was very tired and having difficulty deciding what to include, what to skim over and what to cut from the London entry but the nightlife unfolding in the blue light spurred me on.
My original intention to write for five minutes, rapidly, and to resist the editing process has failed. Instead I have slipped into an essay-like form in some entries, going back to university and my studies in art history and quoting from books, which is something I said I would not do. As a result the writing seems less like a journal and more like a travel/art history blog or even writing with pictures. And I can’t judge whether that’s okay. I’m too close to the project. The main problem however is that, once I get going, the writing process takes over and I end up watching helplessly as my hand holding the pen follows my wilful mind. Another annoying aspect of making a record in the midst of a tour is that I end up writing, after the event, about the past when actually journalling in the moment can sometimes be more interesting and potent.
So this morning I will write for five minutes, in the pause while Cleo changes out of her light clothing into something warmer because she’s decided it’s going to be cold. The weather forecast for today is bad. More cloud and rain.
So what am I thinking? The holiday in Amsterdam has already rolled away into the past, sadly, and I haven’t yet managed to write about it, although I made lots of tiny notes on more hotel notepad at the Van Gogh museum in writing so cramped and crabbed it’s hard to read now and then I lost one double-sided page, so that’s gone, but I’ve made a promise to myself that I will record something of that easy, liberal and very cultured city on the canals and I will write about Van Gogh at some point, I have to.
But right now I am sitting on a paved terrace in a rural landscape at a Bed and Breakfast, Wandhorst in Gaanderen, two hours south east of Amsterdam and thirty minutes from the German border. We arrived here last night at 7.30pm and as we turned into the narrow leafy lane a line of grey and white geese walked out, one behind the other, over a hump in the ground to a pool below, like illustrations from English children’s author and illustrator Sarah Garland.
The scene rolling out in front of me is green clipped lawn, sloping down to cultivated farmland. Everything is bright green. Even the wooden posts that support the electric fence they are lichen green and wrapping round the small field on two sides there are trees, beech and elder, and on the walkway to the house there is a weeping birch that overhangs a path of white and gold pebbles. When you walk through the stones, laid so thick the action feels more like wading, they make a satisfying crunching sound. The field on my right is a Vincent Van Gogh cornfield, with birds soaring in the sky above the corn. Beyond that the trees recede in wavy lines and spiralling curves into the distance.
It’s feels good breathing here, in and out, long slow breaths inhaling the smell which is rural — herbivorous and cow. The air seems saturated with life-giving oxygen and moisture that derives not just from weather but from the transpiration process where water passing through the roots of plants changes to vapour.
It is very, very quiet and still, the silence punctuated occasionally by the peaceful and reassuring sound of a pigeon cooing in the overhang above this terrace. Last night I fell into a deep sleep that continued all the way through to morning and when I awoke I felt regenerated and excited. Shortly we will drive to Hummelo to visit the garden of the very great designer Piet Oudolf.