Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Life In Holland


I spent time in the Hague, Amsterdam and Delft and was impressed in many ways. They have maintained their farm land and grow a lot of what they consume. While some of the cities are large (Hague, 500,000 and Amsterdam, 800,000 inhabitants) there is little that I could see of the ghastly suburban sprawl that blights North America. Every kilometer or so there is a compact village or small town surrounded by farm land – or to a lesser extent – forest. The downside of all the farming, I was told is that it is heavily chemical. The crime that is agribusiness seems to predominate.

Offsetting this, is the widespread use of allotment or community gardens. Some of them are huge, one at over 250 meters long and 50 wide. There was one area that looked like a very large allotment, but as well as gardens had actual cabins, some of them looking to be 16 by 20 feet, erected on the land, all of this surrounded by trees and canals. All the allotments seem to have garden sheds and green houses and perhaps some people use these sheds as summer cabins too.

The people are the friendliest, tallest and healthiest people I have seen anywhere. Stop and look at a street map and someone will come over and ask if they can help. Even the bureaucrats and customs officials seem kindly. Went to a street festival in Delft, thousands of people, many young, drinking wine and beer in the streets, listening to the live music or just hanging out. Saw two cops, both about 19 years old to cover this crowd. Everyone happy, no one hassling.

I did an obese count in the ten days in Holland, exactly 10 obese people, and one was obviously an American. This is after seeing thousands of people on the streets, at mass public events, riding bikes or on public transit. Some reasons for this – people don't eat much junk food, bikes are the norm – by the hundreds of thousands. Most families seem to have only one car – when they have a car – and you commonly see families biking together to places.

Housing – Most are row houses made of brick with tile roofs and all have back gardens. They last forever, unlike new housing in Canada. Row housing means more people per hectare, unlike our idiot suburbs. Furthermore, they developed a type of housing ideally suited to the climate at least 700 years ago and even new dwellings are based upon that format – three story row houses with steeply pitched roofs – what else in a cold, rainy climate? Absolutely no three car garage, vinyl sided 5000 sq ft snout houses anywhere! Nor something as dumb as an ersatz ranch house or S. California pseudo adobe in a climate that does not suit them.

We also kept count of the number of people looking like they were homeless, beggars, druggies and the obviously insane. Three homeless, two beggars, no druggies, three crazies in ten days. Told this to a Dutch person and she said, “That is a lot!” and I retorted, “You'd see more than that in an hour in Vancouver!” When asked about the relative lack of the dispossessed on the streets, I was told that the poor are given housing and there is little reason to be homeless, drug addicts have safe injection sites and a number of other programs to help them. Nor were the insane ignored. When I asked her about the high cost of public transit and the poor – it costs about $5 to take a tram or bus – was told the poor and anyone over 60 gets to ride at a highly reduced rate, making transit affordable. For people who are not poor and need to use public transit on a frequent basis, a fare card brings the per-ride cost down. By the way, the trains and trams are fabulous. Who needs a car when there is a tram every 10 minutes?

Like in Vancouver, the youth seem racially integrated, Black, Asian, Latino and Euro-Dutch all hanging out together. Of course, there is a strong party of xenophobes here – the name escapes me – but the thing is, in all countries about one third of the population operate on hatred and fear. Some places like Holland, France with the FN, England with UKIP, this hatred takes a nationalist xenophobic form. In Canada the hateful third are neocons and target native people, trade unions, feminists, environmentalists, more than they do immigrants.

Holland has a strong Socialist Party – one that still believes in socialism, unlike the phony socialist parties elsewhere. It grew out of some kind of Maoist agglomeration some years ago and is democratic socialist in nature. There is an Anarchist Movement here too, though not as strong as one might expect given the history of the movement, the Provos and Kabouters. There is Vrije Bond (VB) with 180 members and groups in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Gent, Nijmegen. http://www.vrijebond.org/english/history-of-the-vrije-bond-2/ It grew out of the OVB - syndicalist movement of the 1950s. The group still functions along the lines of anarcho-syndicalism, part of the movement functioning as a syndicalist union. An Autonomist group in the Hague is linked to VB. There are several anarchist book shops and I visited one in Amsterdam, Het Fort Van Sjakoo, which had a very extensive collection of anarchist and ultra left materials in half a dozen languages.

Did I go to a green coffee house in Amsterdam? No, though I passed some. It is weird enough for me to deal with wall-to-wall people everywhere, as well as trams, buses, cars and bikes, everyone peddling at top speed. (I had a fear of being hit by a bike or tram – how embarrassing) Furthermore, in a medieval city, where the streets wind round and round and change their names every two blocks,. I would quickly get lost if stoned. An adventure when I was 20, too freaky at seventy.

Undoubtedly Holland has negative aspects, just like any person or group of people. I wasn't there long enough to find that shadow side, but compared to other places I have seen, it looked pretty darn good. Lots we could learn from in Canada – like most countries a place now run by incompetent fools and sociopaths. How long Holland will buck this trend? Maybe that's why the US Corporate State is against doing anything about climate change. Drown them damned Dutchmen with their commie ideas like decent public transit and homes for the poor!

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