Europe was fabulous. It exceeded all my expectations and was a wonderful time of being with my husband and indulging our joint nerdiness. Our inner music nerds were treated to the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels, a Bach organ recital in Haarlem, an outdoor production of Carmen in Bruges, and Mozart’s Requiem in Paris’s La Madeleine church. Our inner art nerds went crazy over the Italian paintings in the Lourve, sculptures in the Rodin Museum, and stunning architecture all around us. And our inner dessert freaks indulged in crepes, waffles, flan, and ice-cream, all the while walking it off through the lovely cities of Holland, Belgium, and northern France.
But none of my inner nerds were as happy as my inner history nerd. Oh, she was in heaven. Sheer heaven. History engulfed us from all sides everywhere we went, from the Bayeux Tapestry of the late 1000’s to the memorials of World War II, and most eras in between. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss, and something else. A realization that while I’ve always loved European history from across the ocean, seeing it up close was a whole new experience.
I noticed this first in the Anne Frank House. The house is a museum of sorts (no photos allowed–sorry, Damsels readers!), but it’s also the house where Anne and her family hid for two years. She walked every inch of those upper floors, never leaving for fear of being captured, which of course she eventually was. I read her diary, like many teen girls, and tried to imagine what it must have been like. I’ve seen stage and film adaptations of her story and done research on other aspects of the Dutch Resistance Movement for an article in Faces magazine. Reading about something and seeing pictures, though, isn’t the same as walking over the same floors, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that is what you’re doing. How easy to fall back into the emotional response you give to videos and articles–moving, but not overwhelmed. It’s a drawback to the information that’s so readily available to us all the time, I suppose. But a sob definitely caught in my throat as we stepped through the hole in the ground-floor wall, the bookcase propped open, and took the stairs Anne herself climbed. We had entered her world and left ours behind.
We had a similar experience the following day visiting Corrie Ten Boom’s house in nearby Haarlem. Corrie had a false wall in her bedroom that kept six Jews safe after she and her family were arrested by the Nazis. I’ve read Corrie’s book The Hiding Place and seen a film version of it, but stepping behind that false wall and into “The Hiding Place” was, again, a different sort of experience. I could feel a small amount of the terror those six people must have felt sixty-five years ago, standing still and silent in darkness as Nazis searched the house.
My list of moments like that could go on and on–reminding myself the Bayeux Tapestry is nearly 1,000 years old, photographing the remains of Port Winston off the coast of Normandy, reading a hospital charter in Bruges from the fourteenth century and examining the primitive medical instruments and comforting religious art used to treat the bodies and souls of patients. History, preserved as close as can be to how it was “back then.” Knowing I was seeing the “real thing,” while at the same time not quite believing it.
So, honey, when are we going back?