Anik See


De Canadese Anik See woont en schrijft in Amsterdam. Ze publiceerde de verhalenbundel postcard and other stories (Freehand Books, 2009), de essaybundel Saudade (Coach House Books, 2008) en A Fork in the Road (Macmillan, 2000), het verslag van haar fietstochten door Azië, het Midden-Oosten en Noord- en Zuid-Amerika, waarin ze ook haar liefde voor de lokale keuken beschrijft. Ze publiceerde bekroonde fictie en non-fictie in anthologieën en verschillende kranten en tijdschriften zoals Brick, Prairie Fire, the Fiddlehead, Geist, grain, The National Post, Toronto Life en was als redacteur verbonden aan Outpost Magazine. Ze verbleef als writer in residence in New York, Banff, Iceland, Norway en Minnesota. Daar vatte ze de liefde op voor typografie en oude boekdrukkunst en gaf verschillende jaren politieke en culturele teksten uit van ondergewaardeerde auteurs, met gebruik van een oude drukpers. Haar drukwerk en typografie werd genomineerd tijdens de Alcuin Society's Book Design Awards in 2005 en 2008 en werd tentoongesteld in Canada, Japan en tijdens de boekenbeurzen van Frankfurt en Leipzig in het kader van de ‘mooiste boeken ter wereld'. In Nederland werkt ze als schrijfster en als producer voor Radio Nederland Wereldomroep.



October 2011
Vollezele, Belgium

Dear Marja,

Two writers living in the same country, but with different nationalities, going to the same place. You, Dutch, living in Utrecht; me, Canadian, living in Amsterdam, your hometown. I wonder if we saw the same differences in Dutch and Belgian cultures while we were in Vollezele, or in Brussels.

When I go overseas and people find out that I'm Canadian, they always remark on the bilingualism of Canada, how unique it is. But in truth, I know few Canadians who are genuinely bilingual in French and English. Three, to be exact, and one of them is an Australian who moved to Canada when she was 35 and didn't know a word of French before then. So when I'm somewhere else, I try to offset the reality (or, depending on how you look at it, perpetuate the myth) of my homeland by attempting to learn the niceties of a language. The pleases and thank-yous, the hellos and goodbyes. But at a café in Brussels close to the apartment you stayed in, there was a waitress who switched gracefully and without hesitation between Flemish, French, Italian, Spanish and English. She flummoxed me. I would start in Dutch, say the next thing in French, and finish the sentence in English, even though I know enough of each of those languages to be able to order lunch in them. She just laughed. But I heard so much variety in language everywhere in Belgium, this swerving back and forth between more than just Flemish and French: Arabic, German and Portuguese too.

And the landscape. You come from a place that is flatter than flat, and Belgium feels like the Alps in places, in comparison. Holland's flatness can be beautiful, but the eye always finds the horizon at the same spot - there is little chance of it being anywhere else. And so, there's a relief that passes over one when one sees the first rise in land after crossing the border into Belgium. But maybe it's different for you. I knew someone once who grew up in the prairies of Canada, which are flatter than flat for thousands of kilometers, and who felt claustrophobic whenever she was faced with a hill or valley, let alone a mountain. Suddenly possibility was less obvious to her.

I struck out on foot or bike nearly every day to explore the landscape around Vollezele. It's just my nature, perhaps, coming from an impossibly large country with a small population. I like to see where I'm staying. It clears my head.
For some reason, I'd had the impression that Belgium was less densely populated than Holland, but that illusion was quickly shattered. While the hills and valleys in Pajottenland (the "Tuscany of the north", claimed a tourist brochure I found in the kitchen of the villa at Vollezele) were colonized by spacious sugar beet, potato and corn farms, and the lack of modern-day noise was delicious, I came across no truly wild spaces, except at Vollezele itself, where the forest behind the villa disintegrated from a majestic stand of beeches into a wonderful mess of bramble, alder and general undergrowth that made travel difficult (but worth it). And it struck me that while Holland's every square inch is also accounted for, its rural spaces were not so densely populated, and that one certainly didn't encounter random strips of suburban housing scattered throughout them, without villages to attach themselves to, as I did near Vollezele. There were hiking trails signed everywhere, though, which crossed between or through private land, and that was further confirmation of how closely tied to their soil Belgians seem to be. It appeared that everyone had at least an apple (or pear, or plum) tree in their backyard, if not a full-blown orchard or vegetable garden that could feed a whole family and then some. And chickens, if not sheep, goats, donkeys, horses and/or cows. And that connection with the land showed in the food: how delicious it was, the care that people took in making it. The laissez-faire attitude of the day's structure, where food (and the enjoyment of it) seemed to trump all else.

I wonder what you felt, what you thought, whether the differences were more nuanced for you, or less. Regardless, I know that it was a fruitful period and place for both of us, and in these times, one can't ask for more than that.

Bon chance, wel thuis, and keep in touch.


Villa Hellebosch
26.09.11 > 10.10.11

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