Archive for October, 2009

In the bathroom, Oct. 16

The international office of Leiden University resides in the old house of the Counts of Holland, a sort of miniature fairy-tale castle (complete with turrets, battlements and dungeons) which subsequently served as the town prison. The inevitable jokes aside (about administration as a form of torture, etc.) I find something uplifting about this fact: the old inner partitions have been hollowed out; only the façade remains; iron bars replaced by enormous panes of glass. As if the very site of history could be transformed, with time, into something useful, hollow, innocent (transparent).

I have this thought from across the street, sitting in a bruin café whose mounted photographs attest to its continued existence in 1960, 1920, 1910. In this last picture the burghers of the houses surrounding the square have come out to pose in the street; some of the boys wear knee-length britches; one has wooden shoes. It is easy to imagine them pushing open the door of the coffeeshop with its warped, antique panes, or standing around the bar counter with its peeling (green) paint and countless knots, reading the Volkskrant with greater ease than I am today as I try to decipher the sense of an article on “the modern relevance of the holocaust.”

In the bathroom I am overcome by a sudden sense of peace and security – a baffling sensation until I realize that the curved walls of the narrow room, its sliding door, and the distant hum of conversation perfectly recall the feel of lavatories in certain (old) trains. “Nothing so soothing as the transitory,” I think. But what am I here in Holland if not transient? Then I realized: security comes from either total rooted– or total rootlessness, from the château or the high-speed train. Whereas I am somewhere between these two: here, but not for long. (But aren’t we all?)

I’ve erased all my previous blog entries, which I wrote –after all– before “coming here.” But tomorrow this current writing will be before the “there” à venir: every writing is passed. Alongside the desire for some sort of total, historical journal –pages upon pages documenting what I was and what I’ve become– lies another: not mounting pages but one page, continually erased and rewritten: the illusion of a fresh start. Illusory because we cannot, of course, erase history; we can’t even redeem it; but perhaps (like these classrooms in old dungeons) we can learn to live with/in it.




October 18, 2009 at 12:19 am Leave a comment


Bennett Carpenter
Leiden, Netherlands

Random musings about literature, art, politics and (occasionally) my life as a graduate student in sunny Holland. Click on the pic for more about me.


October 2009
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