domenica, agosto 15, 2010

High social standards

Conscious now of doing a lot of things here for the last, or maybe the last, or the second last time, etc. More than half the time that's a cause for joy. But going to Amsterdam and having no idea when I'll go again, if ever (I've promised myself a few days exploring the Hague before we go and I have some ephemeral plans for spending a month kayaking the Netherlands' industrial waterways someday but who knows what the future will bring) actually really hurt.

Not least because the last time I went was the time I first discovered their lovely botanical gardens. Really small, the size of a postage stamp! Much smaller, I think, than the gardens they've abandoned here in Brussels for the Plantentuin in Meise. And yet they have so much good stuff there. It was a lovely combination of the uncanny Dutch genius for organizing space over time to the best effect, and of lots of butterflies and plants and things. And naturally me being high. Butterflies and lovely plants and being very high is a hell of a combination, I don't care how macho you are.

Speaking of being very high, all the marijuana is not even very high up on the list of things I'll miss about the Netherlands. However, it is sort of symptomatic of what I'll miss most about the Netherlands - a microcosm, if you will, or an ecological marker; in the same way that really awesome sex isn't the most important thing in a relationship, but it is a sign that you're doing something right, and not having any is probably fatal. And it's a marker, or a microcosm, of what seems to me like a sort of well-organized moral honesty that is really appealing.

Let me explain: last time I was in Amsterdam, I was with a bunch of visiting Canadians, one of whom remarked that the front curtains of people's houses were always open. So I told her something that could just be bullshit but which several Dutch people have told me: you always leave your curtains open so people can see that you're not doing anything wrong. And her response - natural from a Canadian perspective - was, well, what if you want to do something wrong?

But the thing about the Netherlands is, what is doing something wrong in a country that tolerates so much? When your most unpleasant, virulent right-wing, xenophobic intolerance is based on a conviction that the problem with foreigners is that they're not tolerant enough - when even the politicians who make it into the international press looking like white supremacist fascist zealots are still about twenty degrees more socially liberal than anything on the market in the Anglophone world - when you have not only legalized but commodified soft drugs - what would count as the sort of wrong behavior that you'd want to close your curtains and hide from the world? All it leaves is actual bad behaviour, because you've basically done away with the idea of 'naughty' being wrong, and there's a sort of honesty in that which is very, very appealing - as though they save moral energy/outrage for things that are actually worth it.

And here's the kicker. Belgians are tolerant too - tolerant to a fucking fault. They'll tolerate the most ham-brained stupidity from their institutions and from each other. They'll tolerate streets caked in dogshit, the horrible, horrible driving on and condition of their roads with the attendant high death rates, and all sorts of inexcusable inconveniences in their public life. The F-word thinks it's an unconscious national conspiracy to universally lower the bar of what is required in terms of being a responsible member of society. Maybe he's right. I don't care, I'm through analyzing; basically, fuck this fucking place; fuck its weather, fuck its landlords, fuck its city halls, fuck its utility companies, fuck its tax department, fuck its retard drivers, fuck all the old ladies who look the other way while their ugly little fucking dogs befoul the sidewalks, and fuck pretty much everything about Belgium that involves more than three of these fucking people congregating for a single purpose, which almost invariably involves the creation of some fucking Lord of the Flies-type pig fuckery.

My point is, not only are the Dutch tolerant - any lazy asshole can be tolerant - they're also sensible. To bring this all back to reefer, not only am I allowed to walk past a police officer sucking on it and smiling (which legally and theoretically I can also do in Belgium), but also that police officer is not going to react in some arbitrary fashion (police arbitrariness is actually enshrined in the drug laws here), and I will have purchased that reefer from an institution at least as much a part of the national taxation system as a bar. And then I can sit down and enjoy it on a clean public bench overlooking a biologically viable canal (Brussels' one river, the Senne, is almost completely covered over, biologically dead, and oh, by the way, apparently the sewage treatment plant they fired up THREE YEARS AGO has already gone offline again, so they're dumping their shit into it unadultered again, which is a major driver of North Sea pollution), and unless I'm in Rotterdam (which has compensatory charms) I'm not likely to step in any dog shit while I'm doing that.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not in love with the Dutch; particularly in the north they have these atrocious loud, strident voices that makes them sound like some unholy cross between a donkey and a rooster. And as the product of a middle-class English mother I instinctively find their complete lack of tact horrifying. And that whole Black Peter thing is beyond the fucking pale, man. But still. I find their social, moral efficient honesty just so damn refreshing and special and I'll miss it a lot.

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