Monster and Pernis

Schrijver en essayist Matthew Stadler woont en werkt tijdelijk in Rotterdam. Op scherpzinnige wijze observeert hij tweewekelijks de maasstad. Vandaag deel 8: Geen Rotterdam maar Monster, Pernis (en Gaag).

As an English-speaking visitor to the Netherlands, two names on the Dutch map have always fascinated me—"Monster" and "Pernis." Now that I live in Rotterdam, I have been able to visit them both. I prefer Monster. Both can be reached easily by bicycle.

My trips to Monster began last summer when the shock of temperatures higher than 20 degrees drove me from the small room I keep in Rotterdam to seek refuge in the cool ocean breezes of the North Sea. Hoek van Holland is closer, but how could I resist Monster? It was near enough, 30 kilometers, via the often zig-zagging bike paths that lace the green fields of the Delfland. I stopped in Gaag for lunch.

The English-speaking visitor to the Netherlands naturally prefers Monster or Pernis to Gaag, no matter how scenic and restful this bucolic South Holland village may be. In the mouth of a Dutchman, the name "Gaag" seems to roll off the tongue (actually, it flutters; and, to be precise, it flutters off the back of the tongue), while the English-speaking mouth only produces the ugly word "gag." But Gaag is a truly pretty name, which no English-speaker would ever guess or be comfortable pronouncing.

Lunch in Gaag was delicious, if premature. I'd been on my bike for less than 30 minutes. But there was pressure on the other end. After eating lunch, one likes to bike far enough to arrive with a reasonable hope of being hungry for dinner. And on this pretty summer day, there was not much left of Holland between Gaag and Monster. So, like a good Dutch traveler, I stopped a half-hour after setting out and ate a proper lunch.

I have become comfortable with the compacted distances of the Netherlands. I notice an intriguing corollary between the landscape and the prevailing style of Dutch conversation. Both are chock-full of fascinating, small diversions. To go from beginning to end can take hours, yet often it doesn't get you anywhere, really. But neither is it boring or tedious. There's pleasure in the journey itself. The Dutch conversationalist is like a cat, turning in lazy circles on its way toward a nap.

I napped after lunch in Gaag. I like a little jenever with my meal, and of course the right liqueur with dessert, and a digestive to settle the stomach. By the time I'd finished, I was sleepy and the sun was still high. So, I found a shady knoll in the grass by the banks of the river Gaag and slept there until near dusk when a policeman woke me.

The life of a bucolic South Holland village on a summer afternoon is truly without event. Gaag has its shopping street, and a nearby golf course that diverts the more energetic visitors, leaving vast stretches—including the pretty parkway bordering this eponymous river—nearly deserted and silent. I would have woken (and soldiered on toward the sea) much earlier had the scene not been so entirely empty and restful.

The policeman told me I could not camp in Gaag, and I assured him that I was on my way to Monster, where I'd found a primitive beach yurt managed by Germans and had rented it for four days. There was just enough light left in the sky to make my bike ride to the sea pleasant and relaxing. The yurt, it turned out, was perfect—spare and cozy and set in the dunes. I stayed there many times last summer, and will go again when the heat returns this year.

As with "Monster" (and unlike "Gaag") "Pernis" is delightful in the mouth of an English speaker. And that's really all I have to say about Pernis.