NoHo Fo’ Sho: Travels With Tzen
by Andrew Brokos | Published: Jun 05, '12
I enjoyed meeting all of the other Team Online members at the PCA this year, but Richard “Tzen1” Veenman was one of my favorites. As you might imagine, these grinders were not the most extroverted bunch. It generally fell either to Adrienne “talonchick” Rowsome, the only woman among us, or to Richard to play the role of social director and event organizer for our little group. Richard is a confident and gregarious fellow who carries fun with him wherever he goes, so I was eager to meet up with him and his girlriend when my girlfriend and I visited his home country of the Netherlands.
Zandvoort Aan Zee
A short train ride from Amsterdam brought us to Zandvoort aan Zee, Richard’s hometown. As the closest seaside to the city, it is known colloquially as Amsterdam Beach. Apologies: though Zandvoort was beautiful, I somehow managed to take not a single photo there. Richard was too entertaining.
Though a booming resort in the summer months, Zaandvoort boasts a year-round population of less than 20,000, and Richard seemed to know all of them. He routinely waved, nodded, or paused to chat with people of all ages as he paraded us proudly through the little town.
“We are coming up now on downtown,” he explained, “so don’t blink.” Sure enough, the downtown consisted of less than two blocks of quaint little shops and cafes. Beyond that was a large bar and restaurant whose owner greeted Richard with a backslapping hug.
“This is the bar where I got started playing poker,” he told us. “There used to be like thirty of us who would come here and play on Friday nights.” He described the owner as a second father to him, a man with whom he and his friends still vacation annually.
It was too early for alcohol, so we walked down to the beach and took seats on a comfortable sofa on the outside of a huge cafe. Between the terrace and the cavernous indoors, the cafe could probably accommodate two hundred, but today we were the only customers. The waiter was nowhere to be found, so Richard went inside to order our coffees. “It’s a little sleepy in the off-season,” he apologized.
After our coffee, we walked to his girlfriend’s house, where we borrowed her parents’ minivan so that she could drive us to Richard’s house. Sadly we spoke no Dutch and she didn’t seem too confident in English, so she more or less played the role of chauffeur and we didn’t get to know her very well, though she seemed nice.
It was easy to see that Richard enjoyed small-town living and had no plans of leaving. As he showed us around his house, he explained his plans to buy the ground floor (currently he owned only the top half) when his elderly neighbor passed away. When we came to a largely empty room currently used only for storage, he told us it would be for a baby someday.
It was also easy to see why. He had a large house in a quaint and quiet neighborhood. When the weather was nice, he could spend whole days at the beach and be assured of running into friends wherever he sat. He knew everyone and seemed to have dozens of the sort of close relationships that come only from having known someone for his entire life. If he ever got bored, all the culture and amenities of a major European capital were just a quick train ride away.
In short, Richard’s deep roots in Zandvoort were a stark contrast to Emily and my own nomadic life. After 18 years in the Baltimore area, I lived for 4 years in Chicago, 5 years in Boston, and now for the last 3 I’ve been without a permanent home at all. Part of me envied him his routines, his many convenient friends, and his sense of place.
Then again, there are clear advantages to our lifestyle as well. While I may not be able to walk around the corner to a bar and expect to find a friend there, I’m lucky enough to have friends scattered around the world. I’ve got a couch to crash on in Paris, Madrid, Hannover, Baltimore, Boston, Madison, Boise, Dartmouth, and probably a few other places I’ve forgotten. On this trip alone I have met or will meet other friends in Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Switzerland. There are others I’m eager to meet in San Francisco, Portugal, Hungary, Thailand, Malaysia, and Malawi. Sometimes it’s frustrating that my closest friends are so spread out, but it has its advantages as well.
Case in point: after a walking tour of Zandvoort, Richard and his girlfriend were eager to show us more of their country. They drove us to Volendam, a picturesque old fishing village that’s very popular with tourists, and then took us to dinner in Haarlem, which is sort of like a quainter version of Amsterdam.
Volendam was pretty but, as I mentioned, more than a little touristy. We played our part, taking some iconic pictures of tiny Dutch houses and antiquated fishing vessels, but Richard was egging us on. “Look guys there is lots of good shopping here,” he said, pointing at each store as we passed it. “Clogs, tulips, windmills, clogs, tulips, windmills, clogs, tulips, pancakes, clogs.” I rebuffed his attempts to get me to purchase a photograph of myself dressed in traditional Dutch clothing – there were at least half a dozen opportunities to do so – but did consent to a picture with an oversized plastic crab.
His girlfriend was appalled that we’d not yet tried kibbeling, a traditional Dutch snack of fried cod. I bought some for both of us, and while it tasted good, it didn’t seem terribly different from the freshly fried fish widely available in New England.
We walked through the little downtown and out along a dyke as Richard explained how exactly the dykes worked and just how integral they were to the very existence of the Netherlands. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that the Dutch are masters of maritime engineering and have managed to bend the water to their will in some pretty impressive ways.
Our beautiful afternoon gave way to rain just as we got back to the car, which was convenient for the rest of us but a shame for Richard’s girlfriend, who had to battle both the elements and rush hour traffic to get us to Haarlem. After a drink and some croquettes (Richard was appalled that I’d first tried them in Madrid and insisted that Dutch ones would be better, though I tasted no difference whatsoever) in a beer hall and a sushi dinner which Richard insisted on buying, we had a few minutes to walk around Haarlem. It was dark, so we didn’t see too much, but the city’s main church was lit up magnificently: