Yet another language I set my teeth in, this time Russian is on the menu. I have never thought in words, I never consciously set out to be defined by a language. I was formed arguably by my mother tongue Dutch, but from the outset, the local dialect was closer to German, and often we watched German children shows like Die Sendung mit der Maus and even Sesame Street we often watched on German television. The formation of language was constantly tempted by destraction and challenged by contradiction.
I grew up in a small town in the south of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburg, called Papenhoven. Although it is part of the Netherlands, this strip of the Netherlands is barely 5 miles wide, bordering to Germany on the east and to Belgium on the west. Our house was located a few hundred metres from the Meuse river, which formed the border with Belgium, and when I looked from my bedroom window on the attic, I saw along the corn fields, the rooftops of a Belgian village whose name I never knew. To cross the border we had to cycle a few kilometres south where a small ferry crossed the river from early morning untill early evening. On the Belgium side there was a cafe with a terrace at the top of the dike, which in summer was filled with bicyclists and motorists touring the countryside. About one kilometer to the east on the Dutch side the Queen Juliana canal carried dozens of barges coming from or going to the industrial areas in northern France and Belgium. Culturally and historically, Limburg has mostly been part of an area that lies southward, starting with Charlemaign whose court residence lay just across the border in the German town of Aachen, and later of the Belgian Netherlands under Spanish occupation untill 1815. The integration into the northern provinces never fully succeeded and even now the main social and economic focus is anything but northward.
Later I went to the Gymnasium, learning among others 4 years of obligatory English, French, German, Latin and Greek, in Sittard, a small city that edged the Dutch German border. When I would cycle with my older brother we unsuspiciously meandered along the Dutch, German, Dutch and Belgian roads again. In addition to this geographical influence, my father was the head of a European distribution company, and the occasions that we drove to one or the other border in order to drop off a import or export permit were regular, and this all apart from the yearly European vacations that form such an evident childhood experience, I don’t even want to mention it.
Certainly, with the flood of popular American culture that is present in a country like Netherlands, the influence of English is not to be overlooked, but it had not my foremost attention. But, when I met moved to New York, this changed as it is to change now. Is it the geography of my mind that predestined me along this path, the introduction to the struggle between existentialism and fenomenology, I read at the age of seventeen? Why was I captivated by that introductionary work in the first place? The truth is that language was always in question, that no language ever set itself as a fundamental construction of understanding. Language and words were shadows cast before me, shadows that with the years accumulating grew dimmer and dimmer, despite my quest to firmly establish myself in them, to appropriate this tool and battle the forgetfullness that had come in its place. But alas, what may a scribent help in battle?