Half past ten on a Saturday morning. I'm on my way to the mill on the Noordendijk to fetch flour. It's cloudy and the streets are wet, but it doesn't rain. Very soon it may. The trees on the Groenedijk and those in nearby Merwesteijnpark are changing colour and dropping their leaves. Autumn has inevitably come. There's hardly anyone on the streets, it looks like Dordrecht was hastely evacuated apart from one or two lost souls. Quite a contrast with yesterday when we were still clinging to the late summer, outdoors at the Villa Augustus, watching the gardeners quietly going about their work.
I cycle past my old school on the Groenedijk. It is surrounded by scaffolding and wrapped in blue rags. It looks like some restoration is on its way. It's quite a wonder the building is still there. A few hundred yards further down the fairly new building of the technical college has completely disappeared. New houses are being built in its place. Small dwellings looking rather dull. I remember the old building which still bore marks from the war, large red crosses that indicated its use as a temporary hospital. It was right across the road from my primary school in the Bankastraat, the future some of my classmates were looking forward to. You had to finish grammarschool to be admitted. My father had a modest position as a civil servant which meant I was sent to the secondary modern. No questions asked. It meant a long road towards university: after the secondary modern (mulo in Holland) two years havo (a kind of minor A-level course), then teacher training college and finally a bachelors and a masters in history from Utrecht University, after which I took a course in American studies at the University of Minnesota. Going there proved to be the most important decision I ever made because it was in Minneapolis I got to know Stella.
Though there is hardly any wind the mill is working slowly in a proud way, a silent but powerful monument. The last of the scores of windmills on the Dordrecht town walls, painted by artists like Albert Cuyp and Van Goyen. They determined the skyline which is now dominated and ruined by highrise buildings on the river banks both at Zwijndrecht and on this side. To reach the mill I have to lift my bike over a concrete ridge which reminds one that the Noordendijk is the main dike protecting the island from both river and sea. When the moment is there this bit of concrete will decide between disaster or salvation.
I lock my bike, a sensible habit even though there is no one to be seen, and enter the mill. There are just one or two customers in the shop inside. Ik buy flour, sunflower seed and stroopwafels. These are for my Greek family that dote on them. They are the main reason for my luggage to be uncomfortably heavy every time I fly to Salonica. While I strap my shopping bag to the bike I think of my fiftieth birthday which we celebrated in the mill in 2001 and particularly of the people present that have died meanwhile. Before I left the house I heard someone on the radio saying we were all becoming older and older and that therefore we shouldn't retire at 65. I don't believe a word of it. He may have been talking about my parents' generation, but when I look at mine and count on my fingers the many friends and relatives that died young, I need at least a second pair of hands. While I cycle back towards home it begins to rain softly. It's one of the rare moments that my mood seems in perfect harmony with the weather.