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Holland Park Press

A Touch of Melancholy

31 May 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

The other day, in the centre of Arnhem, I ran into footballer Theo Janssen. He was wearing sunglasses but even so I recognised him; his tattoos gave him away.
It was a Tuesday morning and the city centre was deserted; two men were walking around somewhat at a loss: Theo Janssen and I. This is what a writer and a footballer have in common: you work for three hours and, well, what do you do for the rest of the day?

So we passed each other twice; it is not a very big city. The second time I said, ‘Hi,’ by which time Theo had put his sunglasses on his head. ‘Hi,’ Theo answered.

I suspect that Theo wanted to be seen in his home town. For years he played for the local football club Vitesse, a rather inconspicuous existence at a middle-of-the-road club in the provinces.

Theo is a late developer; three years ago he transferred to FC Twente and recently he was named best footballer of the Dutch Premier League, whereupon he was offered a contract with League champions Ajax.

He had signed it the day before. I watched Theo walk on. Every now and then he stopped, fiddled with his sunglasses, and looked around to check whether he had been spotted. He looked somewhat the way he does when he takes a corner.

During my short encounter with Theo it seemed as if we were spectators in our own city.

By coincidence I had another similar meeting recently. I collected Toshi from the station; twenty-six years ago he had been my guide in Tokyo. Now, twenty-six years later, he was in Europe on business so he decided to say hello.

He had asked the customs officer at Schiphol airport if she knew me, the writer. I am not making this up but she did. We ate asparagus in a restaurant with views over the city. ‘Asparagus is very expensive in Japan,’ Toshi remarked. Oh dear, I thought, he’ll be getting the impression that I am not only famous but also rich.

Toshi asked if I knew Miyaichi, Feyenoord’s Japanese left winger. Yes, I had seen him on TV. ‘He is on loan from Arsenal,’ I said. ‘He is a friend of my son’s,’ Toshi answered.

Then we went to have a look around the city by taxi. It may sound strange, sightseeing in your own town, but that’s my day job: being a spectator – this time, though, by taxi.

This week I also went to lunch in the army barracks situated near Arnhem. It is an enormous complex surrounded by woods and sixteen years ago it was my home base.

Since my departure I have been declining all invitations but Henk, now a lieutenant-colonel, was retiring, so this time I went.

As a surprise, five former colleagues had been invited. One by one they joined us, men who had become characters in my debut novel, King of Tuzla: Lex, Eddy, Harold and Verbeek. I was greeted as if hugging was an Olympic sport.

‘I nearly stayed in the army to become the fattest general ever,’ I remarked.

After sixteen years we simply continued where we had left off. During my time in the army I was already a spectator and I realised again you can’t be a spectator in the workplace. However, being a spectator is my job as a writer.

I hope Theo doesn’t end up being a spectator at Ajax but I think there is little chance he will write a novel. Go on, Theo, score a goal from a beautiful free kick in next year’s Champions League final!

‘I thought you had already moved to London,’ someone said to me recently. ‘No, I am still saying goodbye to Arnhem for everything, because of twenty-two odd characters in a novel, for example. But for as long as my old mother lives in this city, I love to stay.’

‘You can always give in to melancholy later,’ I said to myself and to Theo.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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