Everybody in Hague is tonight jolly, drinking beer and partying! Netherlands (NL) the team we (Sylvia, Danny and me) are supporting just won over Mexico, proceeding to the quarterfinals of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. We are in such high spirits—we forget to carry the bottle of wine Danny had prepared, as we head out to Lucia’s for dinner.
The roads leading to Chinatown (where Lucia lives), located in Hague’s city centre, are thin and twisted with smooth corners, perfect for Hague’s little cafés and restaurants with intimate patios. On our way there, we walk past the Dutch Parliament Buildings. They really do look like the university Harry Potter should have attended after Hogwarts. Adjacent paths are romantic and decorated by red flowers.
Two three-meters high Chinese gates decorated by sculptured dragons welcome us into Chinatown. “Wow!” I marvel because it does feel like I am in China—or what’s up with the numerous red balloon Chinese lanterns and Chinese people all over? Danny says, “You can actually get anything Chinese here, specialized beauty things like Chinese manicure, even acupuncture – you should try it once.” This is the place that suffered impoverishment after the Second World War; and it was only after a 1970s revamp that Chinese people increasingly settled here.
But tonight it’s not the Chinese but Italians from Sicily—sweet Lucia and her full-of-life Papa—hosting us in Chinatown. Just like me, Lucia’s Dad is in NL for the first time. We first met a few days ago in Eindoven (province of North Brabant in the south of the NL), when the Danny and Lucia (adorable couple) tagged him along to a Sauti Sol concert. Tonight is his last day in NL before he goes back to Sicily. To celebrate that, he has prepared an Italian dinner for us all. Lucia has also invited her Australian friend and colleague, Sarah and her French fiancée, Pierre.
I am starving … Apart from bread, nearly everything I am about to eat is foreign or has been prepared in a foreign way. Lucia is kind enough to explain it all to me …
There is a yummy starter (not pictured) that looks like ham but is made from beef: Carpaccio, done with Bresaola and Rucola (rocket) and parmesan cheese (Parmiggiano a scaglie)— all seasoned with “a special kind of vinegar”: Aceto Balsamico. Peas cooked with onions, ham and butter make the side dish: Piselli al Burro in Italian. And the mother of them all is the bigass meat loaf that behaves like a multi-flavored lollipop; with every dig, I discover something new inside – cheese, ham then boiled eggs. This is “something we do in Sicily,” Lucia says of the sliced minced meat: Polpettone (In Italian polpetta means meatball so Polpettone literally means grande Polpetta).
It’s a pity that at this juncture of my gastronomical and reading journey, hadn’t got to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Part of Eat, Pray, Love. Now that I’ve completed the book, I know that her Italian experience in Sicily that drove me hungry at first read has got nothing on my Sicilian dinner in NL. As we savour the dinner, we are having conversations about our countries: Australia, Kenya, Sweden, NL, Italy, France and Germany and others we’ve been to. We discuss our varied perspectives of art, public relations, the dying form of physical print magazine issues and new age social media marketing, the latter driving us into a heated debate that is quelled by another bottle of the “very very strong” Sicilian Nero D’avola red wine, typical of Sicily, Lucia explains.
Lucia’s Dad only speaks fluent Italian and French and just a little English. But thankfully nearly every other person speaks bits and pieces of French and Italian to accommodate him. That situation makes me realize how broken and bad my French has become, but I can still comprehend (see what I did there?) conversations going around like the Cherries for desert.
As the night ends, we take pictures and exchange contacts. Lucia’s Dad presents Sylvia and me with two A4 Sized photos (each) of Italy’s red hot and simmering Mount Etna, 2001 eruption. And just like that, I discover that Lucia’s Dad – Michele Sipala is one of the few photographers who got a chance to capture the volcano’s Strombolian eruption in action. Photo caption: from left Danny, Sylvia, Yours Truly and Lucia’s Dad.
I ate the most. And probably drank the most. By dinner’s end, I am tipsy nicely. I don’t want to even think of having to go back to Amsterdam. But as Sylvia and I settle in the train back, I can’t help but nap blissfully in certain realizations—dinner at Lucia’s ends up being my best home-cooked meal during my entire stay in NL, and my first real Italian. I also just had my first global gathering. Italian dinner in Hague’s Chinatown, hosted by Sicilian Italians and attended by globe-trotting professionals: a French, an Australian, a Swede and Kenyans.
We arrive in Amsterdam at about 3:45 a.m.
On a different day when Danny is in Amsterdam to fix his mac, NL is playing against Costa Rica at 2014 World Cup semi finals. While in NL I am always missing Danny’s calls because I am always out shopping or at a gig and he always misses mine because, well … he works at ICC. Ahem. “Do you realize we just had our first phone conversation in NL, today?” We laugh when he calls me, later meet and end up doing a lot of things including taking pictures with Dam Square’s Grim Reapers and at Rembrandt Square’s 3D Sculptures. We also enjoy some deathly sugar-free Espresso by a random café’s patio before taking a boat ride (where we see a boat full of orange-dressed people – super cool!) around the city.
Later in the evening, we are met by Joe, Danny’s Kenyan friend from Finland, who is visiting Amsterdam for a few days before proceeding to Berlin. They haven’t seen each other since high school days and I am super glad to witness that reunion. We enjoy Joe’s tales of cold Helsinki and there being only about five black people and generally about 20 people along any Finnish street, after which we discuss The Great Gatsby film and book; Finland, Germany, NL and Kenya in relation to careers in ICT and Law. I’ve been to nearly all touristy spots and museums, so I draft a list of Must-Dos in Amsterdam for Joe + Danny practically appoints me as Joe’s guide while here. I don’t mind.
It’s suddenly evening and World Cup time. But all pubs and bars are full and they won’t let in more people, so we start to walk down the streets along Leidseplein Square in search of space. Attendants and owners of establishments act like we are on Kenya’s famed business-minded River Road street, beckoning and begging us to “Come in! We’ve got space and a TV and good food.” We finally find a spot where I enjoy huge Argentine ribs – probably the largest pack I’ve ever seen or eaten.
NL is kind of under-performing and now everyone is crossing fingers hoping we don’t get to penalties. My cousin Alicia in Costa Rica sends a message saying, “Costa Rica guys are going crazy”. But NL people are really going insane; a lot of people have stormed out of premises and others, especially women are crying. Others have taken into drinking more beer. When NL finally wins, even I am relieved. The penalties brought a lot of tension and agitation. Leidseplein Square transforms into a rowdy orange party zone. As we walk home, people are beer drinking, singing and dancing. I can decipher the patriotic serenity that comes with your country trumping another at World Cup; it feels so good; but I can’t imagine how it would feel to lose. I would feel so whack going to bed.
BONUS: A few days after returning to Kenya, I receive a message from Elliot Christian saying, “In your video of Amsterdam at Leidseplein Square, it’s my group of friends in the middle with people on shoulders.”
I cherish every orange I wore; yell I made at football; and drinks we poured for Holland while sharing the 2014 World Cup moment in NL with the Dutch and my friends. P.S, check out Part I World Cup 2014 from Holland: Going Dutch of this blog post. Look out for more from my Travel Tales.