Once upon a time, there was a person who was afraid of the cold. She was the Strandmeisje.
She was brought up in a coastal area of a country where summers were long and temperatures high. Come May and the Strandmeisje was already laying on the beach, an activity which she would committedly perform until mid-September.
Everything was done at the beach. Eating meals, reading and listening to music, meeting friends, playing tennis, falling in love, long walks by the water, important conversations, even studying for exams. She trained herself to do everything under the most excruciating sun, for the sole reason she was convinced she couldn’t live without it. The sun was as vital for her as the oxygen that maintains all beings alive. And she knew she had to store her fuel for the cold months so she could resist them. Missing out on beach days was simply not an option.
There was something else. The Strandmeisje couldn’t stand looking at the mirror during the winter months. She believed her pale skin would make her look like Yeti, as opposed to her radiant caramel summer colour. Not being tanned was too much for her ego to stand. She would therefore devotedly hate the cold season. She also used to indulge in alcoholic beverages of different sorts during winter time. This technique failed, very often, in good results.
One day, the Strandmeisje realized all she had done in her life was staring at the ocean, and she left the coastal area of her southern land. She headed up north and settled herself in a place which felt like the centre of the world. Somewhere which brought a lot of young people together, people like her, people unlike her, natives, and creatures from different areas of the globe. That was the most relaxed place she had ever lived in. For example, she could ride her bike everywhere – even wearing a mini-skirt. Nobody would give it a second look. And it was startling because, up until then, she had firmly believed only the sun could make people relax. But the natives looked happy, and most of them seemed to appreciate the cold temperatures.
One spring afternoon, our girl went to the park, and while searching for a lost frisbee, she got acquainted with a boy who had come from further north, had travelled through tropical lands, and had recently come back home. It was funny how, even if his skin was as pale as milk – very unlike the surfer-boys from her southern land -, she still found him handsome. He was the Bosjongen.
The Bosjongen liked fresh air. “Oh, het is lekker fris”, he’d say, with the greatest smile on his face, breathing deeply, vigorously pedalling his bike. The cold air energized him. And she pedalled alongside, not quite understanding what he meant, but enjoying that shared satisfaction of his, as if by osmosis it could also become her own.
Come autumn and the Strandmeisje lost some of her vitality, like a wilting plant. Observing this, her companion took her for a walk in the same park where they had met. The landscape was different now, and they walked in silence for a while, listening to the soft bustle of the surrounding nature. “Look around. What do you see?”. She stared at him, unsure of what he meant. Very slowly, he placed his hands on her eyes. She saw dark. “Describe what you see”, he said, while freeing her sight. “There are trees. A lot of them. They are huge and leafy, and the branches multiply themselves into all these funny shapes. Some trees have birds sitting on them. Blackbirds, who fly back and forth, alone or in little groups. And it’s so colourful everywhere”. Her voice had a surprised tone. Even though she had gone through autumns for more than 25 years in her life, she asked herself if she had ever really observed them before. The people of the beach avoided anything unrelated to the sun and the ocean and the hot temperatures. They dreaded every circumstance which served as an obstacle to a bikini. All her life she had done this. The colours of autumn appeared now as if absolutely new to her – the yellows, reddish, orange, and greenish leaves. Could that be that she was inside of a painting?
“There is no bad weather, just poor clothing”, she had heard the natives say, and the Bosjongen seemed to be the living proof of that. Weather conditions would never be an obstacle to him. He would put his raincoat on in case of rain, he had special boots for the snow, and also instruments to deal with unexpected circumstances. Joining him in his long walks in the forest was a revelation for the Strandmeisje. Together they would walk and walk and walk, to a point in which she became so warm, just the way she used to when the sun was bathing her. From then, everything looked so vivid and so peaceful at the same time, and the entire world felt just right. Whenever they found a tea house on their way, they would stop for a warm beverage with a delicacy on the side, and they would chat, and the Bosjongen would whisper in her hear “mijn Strandmeisje”. Those moments, she realized, warmed her heart up one thousand times more effectively than any of the alcoholic formulas she tried in the past.
Led by example, the Strandmeisje started waking up early, as well. With no beach to distract her, she picked up a long lost habit of hers and started writing in the mornings. As she was writing about the centre of the world, and about how – unexpectedly – she felt more at home in the land of the low temperatures than she had ever felt in the warmth of the southern coast, she progressively felt she had found the way back to herself.
The cold outside didn’t matter anymore when she was writing. As long as there were hot beverages at cosy tea houses, and the center of the world remained *for her* the center of the world, and the Bosjongen was by her side, the lack of sun was of little importance. And then summer came. The Strandmeisje kept on writing. At times she found herself secretly hoping cooler temperatures to quickly come back so that she could focus better in her stories. And she realized that, for the first time, she hadn’t wished her life away during the colder period. In fact she had learned to appreciate the seasons for what they are, as well as boys with pale skin, and even her own colorless cutis had become bearable. And she decided to write a story about it. It started like this:
“Once upon a time there was a person who was afraid of the cold. She was the Strand Meisje.”