This is a guest post written by Kyle Lai
When I arrived at the train station in The Hague, the first thing I did was attempt to withdraw money from an ATM. It turns out I forgot to authorize my card for international use. Well, my hotel in Amsterdam was already paid for, as was my return train ticket. No map or GPS, but I had studied Google Maps before leaving the states and felt I could find my three planned destinations for the city: the Madurodam miniature park, the Mauritshuis art museum, and the North Sea. I span around in search of my bearings and backed into a bicycle lane. As cyclists swerved around me, a kindly man in a nice suit (a judge in the International Court, I pretended) offered to help find my way. I assured him that I knew where I was going and set off walking in the cold November rain. I need some time on my own. In Dante’s Inferno the punishment for gluttons is a cold incessant rain. I hadn’t understood that part before. A cold rain sounds refreshing. The weariness of Ciacco makes a little more sense now. This dampness induced misery deep in my bones.
The Madurodam is a magical place filled with 1:25 scale replicas of famous Dutch buildings. I wandered as a specter/spectator through the frozen lives of painted miniature figures. Speakers provided the sounds of jet engines for the miniature Schiphol airport and of crowds continually cheering for a football (soccer) match stuck in mid-kick. It may have been eerie except that live soccer isn’t much faster. The Madurodam café was open. My supply of Euros was dwindling, but I decided it was worth a few to warm my guts. I bought a teabag and tried to make tea. My hands shook, spilled tea on the table, and managed to convey precious little to my mouth. I rested there for a few minutes before leaving in embarrassment.
The next stop was The Mauritshuis. I looked at a bunch of stuff that I should have remembered, but I was dazzled by the possibility of spotting Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. I wasn’t the only one. Even though the place was empty enough for me to lick a Rubens, a Potter, and a van der Weyden; a crowd gathered around the famous Vermeer—no surprise there. I exhibited more patience than the time I walked by “Starry Night” and waited for my turn alone with the Girl. Her left eye and titular pearl glow with poisonous lead. Painting isn’t just picturing. It’s not flat. It’s the interplay of light and chemicals. I took a photo and texted it to my friend back home with the text “This is the girl who made Mona Lisa spit with envy.” And yeah, she looks quite a bit like Scarlett Johansson.
Thence north to the beach. The North Sea was grey and choppy, as was the sky. The sand was wet and desolate. The single set of footprints indicated that I was either alone or being carried by Jesus. I leaned against massive pylons of the Scheveningen pier and tried to look north toward the Arctic and imagine. Extreme latitudes are fascinating. It was a good six kilometers walk back to the train station and the rain was picking up. Budget rent a car could have solved this problem. Perhaps, in this city of judgment, God was punishing me for gluttony the previous day in Amsterdam. I thought about diving in front of a passing trolley. It would hurt, but at least I could relax.