Thursday, April 19, 2007

14 Liberation Day

Liberation Day at Oranjepark, Apeldoorn
other photos:
Leerdam-Buren Photos
Buren-Ochten Photos
Ochten-Wyler Photos

Apeldoorn, Netherlands, April 17--

It is Liberation Day in this city in the heart of Gelderland, near the center of The Netherlands. On this day, April 17, in 1945, Canadian troops arrived from Deventer, a few miles to the northeast, to reassure the town that the hard winter was finally over, the occupiers routed.

At lunch -- a salad at the Café de Paris in front of the old town hall -- we noticed a large man drive up in an army jeep. The Radhuisplein, like much of central Apeldoorn, is a pedestrian zone, so this was odd. He parked self-confidently in front of the terrace with its tables and wicker chairs, turned off the engine, swung his legs around and strode into the café, leaving the keys in the ignition.

After dinner at home we drove down to the Oranjepark, a beautiful expanse of lawn and trees with a large pond, a graceful fountain, and a soberly elegant bandstand. Quite a throng had already assembled, and we were just in time to see a contingent of runners arrive: they'd run all the way from Deventer, carrying the torch of Freedom. The Apeldoornse Doedelzkkers played their bagpipes to welcome the runners, and the torch was handed to the Burgmeester, who used it to light a more considerable flame.

Schoolchildren stepped forward, two by two, to read poems they'd written for the occasion, their voices clear and steady, their messages optimistic and certain. I was surprised that while mention was made of the dead -- especially the large number massacred in nearby Hoog Soeren, in retaliation for resistance, I think -- most of this ceremony referred not to war and oppression but to freedom. There seemed to be a serious optimism in the air, and a commitment to constant renewal of liberty.

Toward the end of the ceremony a large number of balloons were released, red, white, and blue (for those are the Dutch colors as well as the English, French, and American). Wishes written on scraps of paper tied to these balloons were sent aloft. Some -- maybe one out of five -- were caught in the high branches of nearby elms, but most flew quickly aloft and out of sight; and so it is with our wishes, we hope.

We walked on to the Orpheus Theater, a community auditorium Lindsey and I had never visited, though we've visited Apeldoorn many times. It was the monthly Cultureelavond, and the hall was quite full. The hostess, an acquaintance of Anneke's -- she'd been a few nights previously to a tai chi evening the woman had put on -- seemed professional, relaxed, a comfortable interviewer.

The acts were local and quite varied. First we heard a short interview with a nervous young man who was producing a cabaret theater later in the month, and then we saw two excerpts from the show: a love-duet between soprano and tenor, neither really comfortable with their body microphones; and a long dance scene with perhaps eighteen strong, energetic young women turning cartwheels, doing the splits, and kicking up their heels in a lusty can-can.

Came next a local architect of considerable importance whose slide show led us through the recent architecture in Apeldoorn, revealing details expressing a degree of design integration -- not quite successfully, in my opinion; while I'm beginning to be convinced that high design in postmodern buildings can take its place easily in historical communities (The Hague is a persuasive example) I'm not sure this is being achieved here.

One of his points was particularly distressing: that we should take a look at buildings that reach their fiftieth year and decide whether they have any value left -- whether they have any architectural value for their community. If not, the implication was, away with them. He was dismissive, for example, of the time and money being spent to restore the railroad station, quite a nice, modest, workmanlike building that serves its purpose nicely. That whole part of town is being developed, with a postmodern row of condominiums facing the station, "Apeldoorn's new front yard," the advertisments suggest. The old station will perhaps be a bit incongruous in this setting, but it demonstrates a continuity with the past, and I think community awareness of such continuity is important.

But no one asked my opinion; the architect was politely applauded, and the next act came on, a series of short dances by adult students in one of the city's dance schools. Some people hereabouts play soccer in spare time; some knit or sew; many ride their bikes out into the countryside; some learn to dance -- folk dance; ballroom dancing; modern dance. This was modern, and set to world music, and serious and rhythmic, and clearly amateur.

I was reminded of one of the values of that collection of local paintings in the Hotel 't Spijker in Beek: good paintings were hung alongside mediocre ones, for the value of artistic or cultural expression lies not only in its degree of excellence, but also in its participation in a community of expression. ("Mieux vaux se mettre à quelquechose de médiocre," says the motto hanging in Hans and Anneke's bathroom, "que de rêver éternellement à perfection": better to set yourself seriously to some ordinary thing than to dream eternally of perfection.")

And then it was intermission, and we had had enough liberty and community culture for one evening, and we walked out into the cool, clear night, the sky a dark but striking blue around us.

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