September 19, 2003

Middelburg (Old Zealand)

From Antwerpen we went on a short side trip to Middelburg, the capital of the Dutch province of Zeeland, after which, of course, Kiwiland is called. It just does not look like anything in New Zealand.
Middelburg is a very small medieval port town that was bombed to bits by the Germans in 1940. It only has about 30,000 people, so you may think me of the masochist persuasion trying to find gay life there. But you would be surprised that we did (and that I am not a total Dr Masoch fan). There was a prominent gay pub, Café Goudwaard, on one of the main streets, not hidden away in some back alleyway like in many other small towns. Nope, a proud rainbow flag was flying, with a picture of a torso embossed on it, and it was right opposite the tax bureau where all the good Middelburghers come to pay their dues to the state. Unfortunately it only opened at 8pm so we could only get a glimpse from the outside, fairly standard pub stuff it seemed, but hey, if a tiny town can have a proud pub, why don't world centres such as Napier?
The locals are a very different gene pool compared to southern Europe, all such tall men, big chins and big bones. Must be all that bicycling into a stiff headwind off the North Sea!
Speaking of wind, 2003 is the anniversary of the terrible storm floods that hit Zeeland in 1953. The local museum mounted an excellent exhibition of photographs, press reports and video eyewitness accounts, and it struck me how some imagery could be construed and interpreted as quite gay friendly - considering how conservative Holland was in the early 1950s. There was a very tender picture of two young men huddling together in the straw after being pulled to safety from the storm waters and they were looking after their wet dog together. It was quite sweet considering the ordeal, and perhaps it was just my interpretation. 1800 people drowned in the freezing cold floods that February and my father recalled going to visit the area afterwards when the water was pumped out of the polders and a massive clean up could begin. Another striking photograph had this guy with a 50s quiff, brylcreem and all, not a hair out of place, when he was saved. An amazing style statement in a moment of lethal distress.
We really behaved like tourists and we must have looked the part when this window cleaner, his tight jeans wrapped around his arse, halfway up his ladder (which had us of course salivating like dogs), spotted us and started bantering about where we were from. He recommended we rename New Zealand as Fake Zealand since he called Zeeland the Real Zealand. When window cleaners can retort one-liners like that without missing a beat in (for him) a foreign language, I got hope again for the Dutch!

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