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Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Did I Find the Sally Ann?

My first real view of the Hague, or Den Haag, as it's known in Dutch was from the Central Station.  It was more modern than the classy brick edifice of Amsterdam's equivalent, lots of glass, concrete and the ubiquitous colours of blue and yellow, on signposts and time tables, ticket kiosks.  As I came downstairs into the main concourse from the bus platform, I was confronted with what amounted to the morning rush hour, which was a thin crowd boarding outbound trains, most probably for the commercial district to the north east that was spread out among the airport.  The Hague is a much smaller city even than Amsterdam, which at three quarters of a million people is smaller still than Toronto, but with its unbelievable density and swelled tourist population always seemed a much larger place than it was.  So considering that many professionals who live in the Hague work in the city, the outpouring of citizens to other municipalities for work is slight.  Union Station at eight thirty in the morning is an absolute madhouse compared to what I was seeing just now.  My first priority was to find where the Canadian Embassy was.  To do that, I'd need a phone book.  Internet cafes, provided I could locate one, would cost me money I couldn't spare.  But mobile phones had recently become the ultimate vogue, to the extent of replacing home telephones, so coming across a payphone, and hence the Gouden Gids was a rare prospect. Not having a map was also a bit of a drawback.  By now, I could navigate Amsterdam with little worry, but this was altogether removed.  Eventually, I referenced the Embassy's address, and attempted to find my way there by means of devolving my location from the maps at tram stops.  This was made a trifle hard by the inconvenience of the designers not putting a "you are here" or its Dutch equivalent on the map itself, so this prospect took me sometime.

Bouncing around the district that has many nations representative presence I saw countless different embassies, but for the life of me couldn't come across my own.  It wasn't until that mysterious period of time between late afternoon and early evening when I finally came across it, by means of a side street that contained about ten numbered addresses.  My country's flag, ostensibly displayed from the rooftop was flying at half mast.Pierre Elloitt Trudeau had passed away.  I presented myself to the gate, and was allowed to pass into the courtyard, and into the severely white manse.    Some sort of functionary was dispatched to speak with me.  I told her that I was a Canadian who hadn't the means to return home.  I don't think I divulged the details of the Pinocchio like way in which I came to be in this state, but I imagine they get frequent visitors like me.  As it was, the office was about to close for the day, so there was nothing they would be able to do in the meantime.  I should return tomorrow, I was advised.  Did I have a place to stay?  Well, fuck, no, I was broke.

Well, that, or words to that effect.  Sophie, the dark haired woman of an accent I couldn't quite place, then gave me the business card of the Salvation Army, and informed me that they may have a place set aside for just such an emergency.  It was then that I was shown the door.  With the address of the "Leiger des Heils" in my possession, I set out to now find them.  It was coming on to that settling period of day, when a natural wistfulness for a couch and evening television descends on the world, and along with it the hopeful glow of electric lights beaconing from well warmed homes to shelter those fortunates for another chilly evening.  Having none of that, I had to press on.

While I did, I thought about the Dutch name for the institution I was trying to find.  Apparently the words translate more or less directly, but to me it always sounded like a pretty cool name for a motorcycle club, coming to my mind as "Legion of Hell."  Which in any respect would be a departure from their current mandate.

It was that I walked back to central station, and was able to get direction from a porter, who was really quite helpful in getting me towards the right tram to take.  Here's where I broke the law.  Again.  A lot of Dutch public transit works on the honor system, relying on the traveler to validate their own ticket, purchased ahead of time, using a machine provided.  If you have no intention of doing this, there is little to stop you from hopping on except for a Russian Roulette system of roving inspectors who will board trams at random and issue fines for not paying a fare.  Determination borne of necessity meant that I took the risk to ride a main line tram from the station to the sea coast, to walk that would have taken nearly two hours, but my luck held and no inspectors boarded.  In future, I would learn that their appearances are quite infrequent, like the Thought Police of Orwell, the mere suggestion that they exist is attempting to act as the basis of deterrent.  The system is widely flaunted by tourists and locals alike.

The destination of the coast was just the first leg, and it was so that I did have to walk along the edge of a wildly grassy series of dunes down the road that led to what I hoped without trace of irony would be a salvation.  When I saw it, it was golden.  My feet had ground for too long on tarmac and cobbles, weighed down with my pack for the better part of two days.  I`d had nothing to eat, little to drink and almost no sleep. The building, set in a lee between two small hills had lights pointing out into the descending darkness, dappled with the moisture of the sea air, leading it to assume a cloudy, dreamlike silhouette.  I pushed myself forward the last few steps and into the soothing warmth of their reception.  I had made it this far, and felt that bit of success, but I had no idea how much further I`d have to go.

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