Sunday, April 08, 2007

2. Leerdam-Rhenoy

The Linge at Acquoy

2 Leerdam-Rhenoy
Leerdam, April 5--

Two thirds of the trip from Amsterdam went right according to schedule: a fast comfortable train to Utrecht; a slower perfectly acceptable train to Geldermalsen. Then stood we -- Dutch is influencing the sentence structure, I see -- under a nice old iron-stanchioned roof awaiting the third train, the one to Leerdam.

Well. If a train is going to be late, I thought, best it's the last of the series. Ultimately, though, the handsome old ladies and elegant young one waiting with us began to look concerned, as if something absolutely unheard-of were gathering to infllct doom and uncertainty on their hitherto well-regulated Dutch lives; and then one of those incomprehensible bodiless metallic voices squawked from an unseen loudspeaker: our train had apparently vanished.

Not to worry: there is a buurtbus, a free jitney that scuttles from village to village. We clambered aboard with our clumsy backpacks, mine particularly enormous, and filled the remaining empty seats, and drove half an hour from one cluster of neat brick homes to the next, back and forth on narrow asphalt roads, many on dykes, occasionally slowing to pass a tractor or a truck or to negotiate a tight dog-leg around a pair of sluisen, the huge locks by which the Dutch can, when they want, flood this entire countryside in order to save another area downstream -- or to drown thousands of occupying troops, as I believe was done to the Spanish in the war of independence centuries ago.

So we arrived late at the Hotel Lucullus, where Hans and Anneke awaited to join us on the first day of the Walk.
A quick snack, a quick look at our rooms, and off we set on the Lingepad, the Linge Footpath. The entire country is crisscrossed with these ramble-paths, marked with discreet stripes of red and white on lamp-posts, gates, or buildings, and described in a series of guidebooks with background information, photos, and detailed navigation instructions -- all in Dutch, of course. A fine way to begin familiarity with the language.

Leerdam itself was quickly crossed. Like so many provincial Dutch cities it is tightly compressed, the buildings in orderly settings but not necessarily compulsive grids. Out our breakfast-room window, on the front wall of the hotel whose ground floor is a bar-restaurant, the main street curves slightly, lacking sidewalks but protecting pedestrians behind lighted bollards, a tall weeping birch behind a hedge on one corner, elms -- still bare of leaves -- here and there, and of course little carts, or barrows, or boxes, filled with bedding plants: pansies, ivies, the occasional miniature cypress neatly trimmed in a topiary, for the Dutch are fond of styling their plants.

Then we crossed the Linge. It would be misleading to call the Linge a wild river; it does not rush or crash about. But it meanders in great loops and gentle oxbows, where most of the watercourses in this country, even the mighty Rhine and Waal, are contained within perfectly straight banks, almost like the broad canals that link them. The Linge is still a natural river, and our path most often follows its banks.

We walk on grass, on sand, on gravel; occasionally on brick or even asphalt when we hit a town. Along the way we meet an occasional farmer, out gathering wood, or moving some agricultural necessity from one place to another. Out the train window, on the journey down from Amsterdam, I had marvelled and the urban equivalents of these occupations: great piles of sands, stones, scrap, neatly sequestered from one another. Mankind is obsessed with sorting these things out, accumulating them in heaps, adding to them, withdrawing from them, re-thinking the entire process, moving A from X to Y, and Z from B to C, all to no apparent purpose, but with serious purpose.

In the countryside these things are accomplished at a much more humane pace, I think; but then I grew up in the country, and the urban pace makes me nervous. We walk on, the six of us, conversing, stopping for a frog or a birdsong or a sudden flowering, identifying trees by the roughness of their bark, alert to sunlight and shadow.

In Asperen, a fine town with an improbably fine white palace of a Gemeentehuis or city hall, we stop at a bakery for a snack: "pizza-bread" and a cup of tea. There's an imposing fort here, a redoubt actually, containing within it a compelling maze of corridors and hiding-places, but time presses and we walk on, mentally reserving it for another day.

On through the town of Acquoy, whose rather squat brick bell-tower nevertheless leans alarmingly as it guards a sleepy cemetery one of whose inhabitants is appropriately named Cornelia Pisa -- who was named in reference to the other a historical mystery still to be investigated. And then on through the village; through a pasture; finally along a busy road (but on a parallel bicycle path) a few hundred meters to the town of Rhenoy, to catch a buurtbus back to Leerdam and dinner.

This bus seemed to be driven a bit more erratically than the one we took from Geldermalsen, and Thérèse explained today just why: they are run by the "gemeente" or township and driven by volunteers; and this driiver was being trained by an elderly lady sitting near the driver's seat. She spoke encouragingly to him from time to time, but winced visibly at crucial moments. The driver, on the other hand, talked about the power and sporty handling of the little jitney-bus, and mentioned what fun it was to drive -- which made her wince the more.

But we arrived safely, and had a sound if unexciting dinner (guinea hen), and said goodbye to Hans and Anneke, and so to bed.

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