Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Onze Laatste Maaltijd in Rotterdam

The Arab-inspired lighting inside the Bazar restaurant in Rotterdam.
Refreshed from an afternoon nap, I find Rotterdam exactly as I left it: peaceful, chilly and with a layer of ice or snow covering everything outside of the large windows of No. 59a Witte de Withstraat.

It is the evening of Saturday 11th February and after a day of wandering around Amsterdam everyone has retired to their rooms prior to this evening’s meal. Pia and I wait patiently as Julian, who is ‘being mother’, makes tea in a saucepan on the small stove in the corner of the room.

As it dawns on Julian that there is the opportunity to watch the first half of the rugby match between Italy and England on TV, Pia suddenly does a death-defying backflip over the sofa, forward rolls out of the door, jumps over the banisters and hides in her room – all without spilling a drop of her tea, or a crumb of her biscuit. Obviously she’s not much of a rugby fan.

By the time we leave 59a, Julian is wondering why he bothered watching the match as England head in at half-time losing 12-6. Interestingly, he uses the collective pronoun ‘we’ throughout the match trying to include me in his misery. Does he not know that I’m Irish?

Bazar restaurant, Rotterdam.
After collecting most of the students together in the hallway, minus the usual quartet of girls, we ice-skate over the road and head up the slight incline of Witte de Withstraat a little way. In a matter of minutes we reach a fascinating Middle Eastern restaurant called ‘Bazar’.

The silence of the street is immediately shattered as you enter the building. It is apparent that the streets of Rotterdam are so quiet because everybody is in this restaurant. The arabesque lights hanging from the ceiling, coupled with the rowdy hubbub of noise from all quarters lends an air of authenticity to the place as we are led to our table for twenty-four people.

The meal provides us all with a great chance to start reflecting on what is essentially a very short trip, but one that seems to have had a profound impact on all of the students. All the talk is about the welcoming nature of the Dutch students, about the friendliness of the general public and how relaxed the pace of life seems in Rotterdam – especially when compared to what they’re used to in London.

It is apparent that escaping their bubbles, their west London comfort zones, has come as a great relief. An experience that reassures everyone that there is life outside of Zones 2 and 3 of the Transport for London tube map, and that there is an existence away from college, or Hammersmith, or the UK. Philosophising aside, it has quite simply been a fantastic few days.

We are brought out of our reminiscences of the recent past with the arrival of the food. It is a mixture of the different Bizar Bazar platters – meat, fish and vegetarian, and thankfully for my students all halal. Luckily for me, a meat platter is placed directly in front of me and after an Islamic blessing of the table, we dig in. The meat platter includes a mixed grill shish kebab with lamb, chicken and turkey, a Persian style stew of lamb, all served with rice, fried potatoes, yoghurt, sauces and salad. 

The food is wholesome, flavoursome and moreish, although the size of the portions leaves most people sated, that is with one exception. An Iraqi student, that same one who has spent the last three days greeting everyone she passes on the streets, succeeds in demolishing everything put before her. And most of everyone else’s leftovers too! 

Naturally, after eating and digesting, the students want to escape back to the house or go exploring, away from the ‘grown-ups’. We inform them that we’ve generously extended their curfew by 45 minutes for good behaviour, before plotting our next move.
De Witte Aap, Rotterdam.

After a brief conference in the nippy night air, Julian, Jas, Pia and I all walk back down the street to De Witte Aap (The White Monkey) bar. It’s a small place, but we wrestle our way to a seat and raise a toast to a great trip. Time moves on and Ilse joins us just in time for the bar to go through Transformers-style metamorphosis, with the seats turning into a DJ booth and the seating area becoming a dancing podium – exit Pia in a similarly dramatic fashion to earlier.

With Pia gone, Julian starts to dance in the style of Bruce Grobbelaar and the rest of us join in, except for Jas, who’s obvious far too cool or far too old to do so.

The curfew approaches, so we turn into pumpkins and roll uphill to 59a having said our final goodbyes to Ilse. To our astonishment, all of the students are accounted for and have managed to return to the house with ten minutes to spare. 

Tomorrow we leave Rotterdam, but it appears that nobody wants to and no one is in a rush to get to sleep any time soon.

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