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Holland Park Press

Eager Anticipation

17 November 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Looking forward to something is often better than the event itself. Take skating: it looks very enjoyable when watching it on TV. When you actually stand on the thin blades, you immediately feel the strain on your ankles. After a couple of laps you can no longer feel your legs from the knee down. Skating on natural ice also induces the first stages of frostbite.

When I was growing up, the Swiss Franz Krienbühl was one of the speed skaters. At least he showed that skating wasn’t easy. He was already 38 when he made his debut at the international speed skating championships. You were always relieved when he hit the finish line the right way round, yet he was the inventor of the modern skating suit.

Even contemporary skaters, for whom skating seems to come naturally, are apparently in a lot of pain. Their shoes fit so tightly that, after finishing a race, their feet are in danger of falling off.

It’s not only in sport that eager anticipation often heralds a disappointment. The same is true of food. I could dream about tomato soup. Seemingly an easy soup to prepare, but even in restaurants it often tastes too sweet, too salty or too bland.

Tinned tomato soup is the worst. The picture on the wrapper looks delicious, but in reality the soup tastes of thickening agent and you can play ping pong with the meatballs.

Sometimes just the smell of coffee can put me in a good mood, but when drinking a cup it is never quite right. In England it’s often too weak and in the Netherlands too strong; maybe I simply don’t like coffee and just enjoy the smell. The supreme form of anticipation: the smell of coffee.

We’re about to hit the festive season, another thing I eagerly anticipate.

The coffee smell of festivities is Saint Nicholas, which, in the Netherlands, is celebrated with present-giving on the evening of 5 December. Saint Nicholas is already in the country: last Saturday he arrived by steamer from Spain. If you aren’t familiar with this tradition, please read the column Santa Claus or Sinterklaas?

This year, Saint Nicholas had been given a makeover. What’s this? I wondered. He was considerably younger and didn’t look very much like a bishop. He walked too fast and his waving was a bit over the top, like that of female commoners who have just joined the royal family.

Saint Nicholas often disappoints – well, not the man himself (except of course this year), but because it is nicer to give than to receive. Besides, the celebration is much as it was twenty years ago, except that back then your father was still around. He could even act surprised when unwrapping presents he had bought himself.

The older you get, the more festivities become a reminder of how lovely it once was, but they didn’t tell you that when you were a child.

Anticipation is often the first sign of an impending disillusionment: Barack Obama, the eighth instalment of the X Factor, the European Football Cup (I’m getting this prediction in early), holidays, birthdays in general and your own in particular, the complete oeuvre of a world-famous author who I will not mention now. You’re bound to know one yourself.

The best things are often unexpected, without anticipation. You actually don’t feel like going to a meeting, but once there you come across some wonderful people and end up staying in a pub until closing time. Somewhat tipsy, you are forced to take the last train home in the company of the loveliest lady you met that evening.

There is also subsequent glee. This was brought about by a teacher who told us that we would look back on our schooldays as the happiest time of our life. Back then I thought: most certainly not. School was a sort of never-ending constipation; once out of school, life loosened up.

‘There is eager anticipation among Italians in the run up to Berlusconi’s resignation,’ I read in the paper last week. Will it really turn out for the better? Eager anticipation is a cousin of homesickness.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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