Sunday, April 17, 2011

Haarlem Globetotter

I have just made a journey to Holland, from Scotland. This is the first time I’ve actually done this (other than to change planes at Schipol). I have been in Haarlem for a couple of days now shooting a documentary. I can see St Bavo’s Church – featured in Ruisdael’s astounding painting of the bleaching grounds (no reproduction can do this painting justice) – from my hotel window. 

My thoughts have once again returned to the unfinished novel, as this is the nearest I have yet gotten to tracing Alexander Seton’s first journey, which more or less begins Elias. He left Scotland in early 1602 for Holland, although it is not known where he landed. (Certainly not at Schipol!) We know that he was in the northern town of Enkhuizen by March, and then went on to Amsterdam.

Regardless of his itinerary, having had this story percolate for so long, one almost gets a sense of déjà-vu being here – even seeing road signs saying ‘Alkmaar’ and ‘Den Haag’ (both of which feature in the story) are enough to give me goosebumps. So – a period of actual research here seems to be in order. It would probably help get the damn thing finished at last. (A trip to Enkhuizen a few years ago was very helpful in this respect.) 

It also makes me think about why I find the Dutch landscape so evocative. Something as "mystical" as "past life experience"?!? Or have I simply been looking at paintings for so long that I feel I’ve been here before? (I’ve certainly “visited” St Bavo’s many times at the National Gallery in London, although Friday afternoon was my first physical visit.) And also why some stories, once they have us, never really let us go. I think these are the ones we are meant to write. I hope those prove to not be famous last words...

Jacob van Ruisdael, A View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds (1665)

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