“What do you mean you said I would be there on the 14th? I have the Symposium on Badass Women I’m chairing with Angela Merkel, Serena Williams, and Greta Thurnberg later today, you expect me to just immediately fly to Manila to negotiate the biggest deal in our company’s Southeast Asia portfolio tomorrow? … I’m on the A12 motorway near Gouda heading to The Hague as we speak… No, no, that’s why I scheduled it for the 18th? My 8’s looks like 4’s? How did you even get this jo —-” Moooooooo!

The call dropped simultaneously with the explosion of the airbag. Everything was fuzzy for a little bit. Then a knocking sound coming from the window. “Je hebt mijn koe geslagen!.” You rolled down the window. “What? I don’t speak Dutch.” “I said, you hit my cow!” “What cow?” “That one!” as I pointed to the moaning bovine on the road. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see her.” “You didn’t see her?” “I’m…I’m sorry.” I took a pause, breathed in deep. I saw the small cut on your forehead. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I think so.” “Ok, wait here one moment.” I closed my eyes and starting rubbing my hands together rapidly. You watched in incredulity as I walked over to the cow, performed some reiki, and she got right up. A quick look and a not-so-subtle snort in your direction, and she was off back to the pasture none the worse for wear. “Let’s get you over to my office and fix that cut up.”

After I pushed your car off the road, we headed across a field towards what looked like a small warehouse. “Welkom to my cheese farm.” “You’re a cheese farmer?” “Well, yes, among other things. I produce the traditional Dutch gouda from a recipe I learned from the former proprietor of this farm.” “Oh, I love gouda cheese.” “Not goo-da, how-da, ok?” “Right, got it.” “Ok, why don’t you take a seat here and I’ll clean that cut up.” “I have to get to The Hague tonight for a very important event and my rental car is destroyed, can you call me a cab?” “Who needs a cab, I’ll take you there myself. Now, hold still, this might sting a little.” It did.

“Ok, follow me, and I’ll take you to The Hague.” “But the road is in the other direction.” “We’re not taking the road”, I said, as I pointed to my houseboat docked nearby. “But its only about another 45 mins drive from here!” “Well, I don’t have a car, and you don’t have a car, so we take the scenic route.” You stepped on my barge; it was cozy, clean and uncluttered. We floated down the Gouwe til it ran into the Hollandse IJessel, and followed along that. As we approached Gouderak and Moordrecht, I said “Here, take the wheel, its your turn.” “I’ve never driven a boat before, maybe you should keep going.” “You hit my cow remember, you owe me! It’s easy, I’ll help you.” You took the wheel, and once you had your bearings, took a look around. It was beautiful here.

“You did a great job, Captain! May I relieve you as we reach the end of the Hollandse IJssel?” “Ay Ay!.” We headed west on the Nieuwe Maas. “Up ahead you can see the skyline of Rotterdam, one of our most modern and metropolitan cities. And over there is the Erasmusbrug, which we call the Swan.”

At the delta of the Nieuwe Maas and the Oude Maas we continued west along the Het Scheur past Rozenburg and Maassluis where it becomes the Nieuwe Waterweg. As we passed Hook of Holland, I said “We’re now approaching the North Sea. If we head southwest we would find the English Channel and the coasts of the UK and France. Perhaps another time. We will head north and to the east to Den Haag.” Which we did, docking in Visserhaven. “Ok, where is your event at?” “Its in the downtown area near the Binnenhof.” “Well, here’s your bike, lets get going.” We crossed through the Scheveningse Bosjes along the Scheveningseweg until we arrived in the Centrum district. “Here we are, I’ll drop you off here, but may I ask to take you to dinner tonight after your talk?” “That sounds nice, give me your number and I’ll call you when we finish.” “Ok, I will go wait over at the Magic Coffeeshop nearby.” “Whats so magic about the coffee?” “Well, its not the coffee.”

After the symposium, we walked to the nearby Tapisco for some tapas. The waiter came and and I rattled off some Dutch that was incomprehensible to you. “I hope you like cheese.” “Well, I’ve been travelling all day across the waterways of Holland with a cheese farmer, so what do you think?”, you said with a wry smile. “Is your husband intimidated by you jetsetting around the world and giving talks with international female luminaries?” “I don’t think I would have gotten where I am if I had a husband. Are you intimidated that your travelling partner gives talks with international female luminaries?” “Intrigued, yes. Intimidated, no.” The waiter came back with our drinks. “Are you familiar with Trappist beer? There are only 13 monasteries around the world that produce it, five of which are in Holland. I ordered you La Trappe Witte, the only white Trappist ale produced anywhere. For myself I have a Tripel, but I’d say you should have an Enkel or Dubbel before you try the Tripel.” “Why, do you think I’d be Tripel sheets to the wind?” I let out a small chuckle. The beauty and the brains were eminent, but this wit….” The waiter returned with our tapas. “Ok, so starting here on the left, we have some almonds and olives, bread with olive oil, fuentillezjos quesa, queso de cabra añejo, and queijo Sâo Jorge, which is a Spanish sheep cheese, Spanish goat cheese, and Portuguese cow cheese. And here we have some mushrooms with macadamia nuts, and here, my favorite, patatas bravas. If you still have room maybe we can share a crema Catalana for dessert. Enjoy!”

After dinner we rode our bikes back to my barge. You were flying out for Manila the day after tomorrow, so I asked you if we could spend your last day here together. “Ok, make yourself at home, the cabin is yours Captain.” “Where will you sleep?” “Someone’s got to take us to Amsterdam!” While you slept, I took us up the west coast and through a mouthful of canals. Too bad you were sleeping. There was an observation I wanted to make to you about the canals; the one thing I’d want you to know about the Dutch if you learned nothing else. As your American football coach Vince Lombardi had said: “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” And who has done more than the Dutch, blessed with a land sinking into the sea and constantly flooded by some of Europe’s major rivers. Blessed, not cursed, because out of that situation were born innovative land reclamation projects that inspired and unified the nation. We didn’t just make the best out of what we had, we did that, and then we made more of it. Well, it was a very good day, no dwelling on missed opportunities. I docked us at Westpoort, and nodded off at the wheel, and began to dream.

I woke you in the morning with a plate of eggs, fruit, and my signature gouda. “I think you’re ready to try it.” “Don’t get me wrong the cheese is fantastic, but these eggs are incredible!” “It’s my mother’s recipe, maybe someday I can teach you.” “I’d like that.” “You know, I’ve really enjoyed your company. I know its only been a day, I know you tried to kill my cow, but I’d like to thank you for allowing me to accompany you on your travels.” “I’d like to thank you for being a gentleman. And a damn good travelling partner too!” “Well, when you’re done eating you can shower and change. I picked up some clothes for you, I hope they fit.”

I decided to ditch the bikes for this trip. We’d take the metro instead. First stop, the Rijksmuseum. “Dutch artists can boast about their legacy as much as any in Europe. Here we will see Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh, all Dutch!” “Van Gogh, he was the one who cut off his ear for the woman he loved, right?” “Yes, quite strange, no? When I think of a beautiful woman, maybe even one such as yourself, I want to experience her in full. I need my two eyes to drink in her beauty, my nose to become intoxicated with her perfume, all my ten fingers to explore the contours of her body, my taste to, well, of course, taste her, and both of my ears to make sure I don’t miss when she assigns me new chores!”

We left Rijksmuseum and walked over to Vondelpark. “This is a beautiful city, and really, such a beautiful country.” “We Dutch get overshadowed by some of the bigger European powers, but we have so much to offer. I’m glad you see that.” We walked by some tulips, every color of the rainbow. “If you had come a little later, in the spring, I would have taken you to Keukenhof, where we could see millions of the beautiful flowers in bloom. But here, perhaps these will suffice.” I picked and handed you one of every color.

We walked through Amsterdam, hand in hand. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said. We had an early dinner at Hearth, then rode the metro back to my boat. There was a silence as we boarded. Maybe neither one of us knew what to say. I looked at you. You looked back. I grabbed your hand and I leaned forward and you leaned forward too. We kissed. Nothing could be more perfect. I led you back to the cabin, and slowly undressed you. This was something worth savoring. I laid you on the bed, kissed you again, first your mouth, your cheek, your beautiful neck. I whispered in your ear, “Ever hear the story of the Dutch boy who plugged the leak?” And you felt me. And I felt you.

Fijne Valentijnsdag.

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