Sometimes things are destined to remain a partial mystery. Just as a mediaeval mystic used the beautiful metaphor ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ to refer to God, I will probably forever refer to a mysterious object I recently bought as ‘The Orange Package’.
During the last years, for a period of about 20 weeks, split in two series of ten I spend some hours on friday afternoon in the charming village of Haren, just south of Groningen while my youngest daughter is rehearsing with the Vivaldi Strings. This is a youth ensemble lead by a brave and energetic violin teacher, who pushes the abilities of these children to a maximum which, ideally, occurs during a public performance in a small chapel in the town centre.
These one and a half hours during the rehearsals constitute, I realised, practically my only genuinely idle time during a normal week. Where office workers, and people working in institutions have long lunches and coffee-breaks, leave the office at 4, have all kinds of payed off-days; an independent just works …, during lunch, with or without a coffee, while trying to cook dinner at the same time, during the evening, the weekend … no breaks, no payed leave. So I decided to spend these precious hours in the best way I can, doing absolutely nothing relevant at all.
After dropping my daughter at the cultural centre I park my car in the underground car park, and, once surfaced, I walk leisurely towards a small shopping centre. Haren is a wealthy place, housing the upper-crust of Groningen society. And that is clearly visible. The street is filled with people wearing thick blue Loden-coats during the colder season, and colourful expensive casual clothing or light tweeds during the milder seasons. Hats in all shapes, sizes, and materials, but mostly tweeds, are a prominent feature. Crossing the street is a hasardous business, because the people there somehow never managed to acquire the driving skills that are essential to contribute to a safe living environment. So I run over, quickly observing the blank expressions behind the thick turtle-rimmed glasses of the people steering their Saabs with unpredictable speed and direction through the stream of bikes, motor-cycles and fellow pedestrians. The main street in Haren is a permanent demonstration of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Then I make my way through a small covered passage with typical shops, such as a tailor, a small, mediterranean looking man with a philosophical expression, and a specialised coffee-seller, an open shop-front that freely spreads a wonderful fragrance of freshly ground coffee through the Passage.
My first destination has been reached (my second destination is the public library, where I stay the remainder of the time, reading Dickens, or books about pottery and polymer clay figurines). A large shop with mainly biological foods, natural produce, cheese from small farms, olive oils, japanese sea-vegetables, vegetarian products etc etc. For me, the main attraction of this shop is that everything looks, tastes, and smells different. I always end up with a bag filled with bread, soy products, oils, chocolate, soap, floor-cleaner (that leaves a great smell of fresh linseed-oil for days) and things I can’t really identify, but which look great.
Like this orange package which caught my attention one friday afternoon.
It has a beautiful image of a turtle on it and is completely covered in writing. A little metal ring sticks out of the package. Kneading the package carefully reveals that the content must be something like a circular brush with very strong bristles. The shop-keeper told me it is a brush. Used for brushing vegetables in the macrobiotic kitchen. He proposed to open the package, but I refused. This package with its elegant typography and beautiful contrast between the black ink and orange paper will remain closed forever. Even if someone shows me a similar brush, the one inside this package will only have been seen by the factory workers in Japan that made it and wrapped it. It was a product in a shop, but I, by the power invested in me, elevated it to the status of cultural heritage. Ha ha!