W’s brother and sister-in-law have a beachhouse near Hoek van Holland. It’s a strange landscape there… beautiful of you keep your eyes fixed to the beautiful parts (the sea, the dunes),

incredibly industrial and not at all beautiful if you don’t.

I like that place because it’s real. At least for where it is. Holland has 16 1/2 million people in a space smaller than the size of Nova Scotia and in the space that those 16 1/2 million people don’t occupy it produces more dairy and produce than it needs, exporting the surplus to the rest of the EU (and farther afield). Pretty impressive for a country at 52 degrees north.

The main reason for that lies right behind the dunes that buck up against W’s brothers beachhouse.


So many, set side by side, inches from each other, that when you stand on the dike and look over the tops of them, they’re all you can see for miles.

There are so many, so densely packed that there’s a special colour for them demarcated on my map.

It’s the light purple that covers 3/4 of the landscape. The people who want to live there, or sunbathe there, or bike there or have an autoshop there all squeezed in between.

The other not-so-pretty view is to the left of the beachhouse;

the cranes and concrete docks of Europoort, Europe’s largest port, and one of the busiest in the world. In Holland. See above re population density.

Europoort stretches about 20 km from the entrance to the harbour inland nearly to Rotterdam. And while it may be fascinating – romantic, even – to watch ships from around the world dot the horizon in front of the beachhouse, and turn into the harbour a few hundred yards away, engines full throttle reverse to finally slow down after a journey halfway (or more) around the world, all one has to do is climb another dike to see the less romantic (though just as fascinating) workings of loading and unloading supertankers full of stuff we evidently need.

The water at the beachhouse is not clear. Not by a long shot. It makes me sad that L will grow up running through murky waves instead of the crystal clear Ontario lakes that I grew up on, but when I visit the beachhouse there’s a directness there typical of Dutch culture in general that says to me: this is the price of wealth. Of dense population. Of the economy that keeps us all in school for free until we get a good education. Of living “comfortably”. Of consumption.

The luxury of a place like Canada is that it has the space to hide the evidence. What do you prefer to live with – honesty, or a white lie?, I ask myself. And the truth is, I just don’t know.

Keeping the eyes fixed on the beautiful parts is always an option, but I’m not sure I want to.