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« Dear William | Home | How is Holland? »

An hour on Gulper Mountain

column Sunday 15 August 2004 Nearly every year we spend a few days in South-Limburg (the southeast province of The Netherlands), and it always is a treat to be there. The landscape is never boring and keeps surprising us. This year, again, we are in Limburg and stay in our very own trusted little hotel where the living is good. At night time, after dinner, we always go for a walk, because the meals in this hotel are good but rich, so we need to walk and climb, for our village in Limburg has many steep roads and hiking trails.


Oh, those summer nights in Limburg; the smell of cut grass, cows that curiously approach us when we walk by. They look at me with dreamy eyes when I tell them how beautiful they are. They have horns, and their colors are an unusual grey and beige.  While deeply gazing into the eyes of a grey cow, it suddenly comes to me that just a few hours ago I had enjoyed a slice of one of their species, accompanied by a delicious sauce. Feeling slightly guilty we continue and the cows walk alongside us in their meadow until a fence forces them to stop. We walk past small laborer’s cottages and farms with barking dogs. We watch the sunset – her red-golden color holds the promise of another beautiful day. This part of the world is precious, the freshly cut grass is the most exquisite perfume, and the peace and quiet an immense enjoyment. Even the car with the loud boom boxes that tears by us at break-neck speed cannot spoil our evening – it’s going so fast that we hardly notice it. Except for the calling of a bird the silence quickly returns. Ah, South-Limburg.. Trusted and well-known to us, yet every time new and breathtaking. Incredible, how one can so deeply bond to such a precious part of The Netherlands.

Our hotel is a family-owned hotel. The service is good, the views are beautiful, and it is fun to meet the various types of guests. The talkers, the quiet ones, the clowns, and sometimes the complainers. Like the couple that sits at a table next to ours. He talks off and on, she stays quiet. Later on, we make some small talk with them and it turns out that everything, including breakfast and dinner, is not to their liking. These are not small hotel people, they do not appreciate the fatherly attitude of the hotel owner, who tries to entertain his guests and make them feel at home to the best of his abilities. Their room won’t do either; the last guests smoked and the odor still lingers in the room. That is a nuisance, I do agree. But I find it rather surprising that they find the environment unexciting and the forest incomparable with their own forest in the province of Drenthe. Although they say they live in Drenthe, I can hear that they did not grow up there - their speech sounds too Western. They tell me that they were born and raised in the city of Rotterdam but that Drenthe is now their paradise. All is wonderful there, but here absolutely nothing is worthwhile, and after two days they leave.

Later that day we meet a lady who also hails from Rotterdam. Like we, she and her son sit on a small bench on Gulper Mountain, enjoying the views. We talk and she tells us about her life. She is well into her eighties and has lived in Gulpen for a long time now. As a young woman she went on vacation in Limburg, fell in love with a Limburger and married him. Thirteen children they had, but her son has to jog her memory how many sons and how many daughters there were. “My memory is getting so bad”, she worries. But when she starts the same story for the third time I understand that there are more issues than just a deteriorating memory. I let her talk about her rich life. No, it had not been easy – raising thirteen kids is a heavy task. But they all turned out well, she says again, and she is very happy about that. She is intensely satisfied and radiates that to the fullest. It is wonderful to meet such a woman, her happiness, her satisfaction, her positive view on life gives me energy. And so we sit, spending an hour on Gulper Mountain. Behind us is the roadside sculpture of the Virgin Mary, in front of us the beautiful view of the valley and the little town. And she keeps telling us her story, over and over, with the same intense satisfaction.  It is miraculous to hear someone talk who is so incredibly happy. When her son says it’s time to leave she becomes sad for she had wanted to tell us so much more, but I don’t think her sadness will last long. Perhaps she will have forgotten us by the time she and her son have reached the bottom of the mountain. But I know that I will long remember this hour on Gulper Mountain with her, her stories, and above all her satisfaction.  

Text: Dini Commandeur, Translation: Maria O’Neill  Summer 2004


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