Hague Journal

The Peace Palace


Friends, I’m writing you from Salzburg, where I’m doing my annual job at the festival. (Jobs, actually.) I don’t propose to scribble you a Salzburg journal — later. I’d like to do a Hague journal. I spent some time in that Dutch city not long ago.

Why? Was I indicted for war crimes? No, much as some readers have suggested it over the years. Some of us National Review types were there, in advance of an NR cruise — which is another story, or journal.

Before leaving New York, I had lunch at my favorite barbecue place. It later occurred to me: from Harlem to Haarlem.

Speaking of double a’s: They’re all over Holland, on signs. Holland is a double-voweled country.

(Beethoven was of Dutch ancestry, by the way — note the double e.)

I arrive at the airport in Amsterdam, and I think, “Man, are they tall.” Even the girls look down on you, many of them. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world — surpassing even tall East Africans.

Tony Daniels — a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple — once told me something. There was an article in a Dutch newspaper, which described him as “short of stature.” He is not — he is quite normal, for most places. But he must appear short to Dutchmen.

The airport in Amsterdam, as you know, is called “Schiphol” (meaning “Ship Hole”). The “sch” sound in Dutch is one of the most amazing sounds in language — some impossible scrapy thing. Of course, many sounds are impossible until you learn to imitate them. And then they’re not impossible at all.

On the way from Amsterdam to The Hague, I thought of a line from Mark Helprin’s recent novel, In Sunlight and in Shadow: Holland has “a mild, waterlogged landscape.” So true, so well put.

Kind of funny to see modern windmills in Holland — those sleek, silver things. Because you think of Holland as the home of the old, Rembrandt-style windmills.

At least the tulips don’t change. (Or do they?)

Our hotel has a restaurant, and its name is Pearl — clever. Capitalizingly clever. When Vermeer painted that girl — the one with the pearl earring — I wonder if he could guess that she would be one of the most famous and best-loved girls in the world.

I have not seen so many bicyclers since my last visit to Stanford University. In either place — The Hague or Stanford — you’re liable to be run over at any second. They don’t just whiz by. They threaten.

Here in The Hague, almost no bicycler wears a helmet. Which is interesting. Hasn’t the EU ruled on this, as on the lesser details of life?

Suddenly, I’m being yelled at, by two young Dutchmen. It turns out I’m walking in the bike lane. (They too are on foot.) Their tone is sharp and nasty. As they continue down the street, they scowl, mutter, and shake their heads.

I think, “Zealous sons-of-guns.” (That’s a Bowdlerized version of what I think.) Their outburst was so unnecessary.

Later I think, “Would they have taken the same tone with, say, a group of young Muslim men? Hmmm?” To borrow a phrase from Fred Barnes: Not likely.

The Peace Palace is really one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. It was paid for by Andrew Carnegie. I got to know it a little bit — in a scholarly way — when I wrote a history of the Nobel Peace Prize. The palace figures in the early history of the prize.

A lot of international peace-ism is silly — some of it isn’t — but the building is beautiful, regardless.

I try to visit the palace — to go inside — but I’m told that visiting hours are quite limited. This is not a place for tourism. “It’s a working palace,” says a guard.

I’m sort of tickled by that phrase: “a working palace.”

As longtime readers know, I have a tradition in foreign capitals, and other cities: When I pass a Cuban embassy or consulate, I flip it off. I raise my bird.

This is a tradition I continue in The Hague.

There is a Domino’s Pizza here. I smile as I pass it. Domino’s started in my little ol’ hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its founder is Tom Monaghan, a greatly inspiring story: an orphan who made good.

Even the Left would be inspired by it if they could get over his opposition to abortion, which, of course, they can’t.

Our group takes a bus tour, and our guide mentions the Battle of Waterloo: It was a glorious Dutch victory. As one of us remarks, sotto voce, Wellington had nothing to do with it!

We have a look at Parliament. Our guide points out that security is relaxed. There is little political violence in Holland — although a Dutch politician, a right-winger with extreme views, was assassinated in 2002. The gunman was “a normal Dutch guy” (by which our guide means, I’m sure, a non-Muslim).

I can’t help thinking, with a burn, “Pim Fortuyn was certainly less extreme than the normal guy who killed him.”