You’ve got lots of old stuff in the Netherlands. Old ruins. Old churches. The oldest theme park in the world. The oldest stock exchange. Old people. In fact, you were building windmills here a good 400 years before my country was even discovered. By your very own Willem Janszoon, as it happens, who accidentally bumped into Australia in 1606, took one look at the desolate landscape and sailed off again. Not until the late 18th century did the Brits recognise its value as the world’s biggest jail. By which time, of course, you’d spent a jovial half-millennium swigging biertjes at De Vogelstruys, not that it was called that back then.
Cobblestones, too. They’re pretty old. And hence the attraction: Australia may have beaches, barbecues and one hell of a giant rock, but we just don’t have old cities. So cobblestones – far across the ocean and out of reach – remain just a symbol of storybook Europe. And of course, largely the inspiration behind the classic dialogue of In Bruges, in which Colin Farrell plays a hitman somewhat underwhelmed at being stuck in Belgium: “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t”. To which his gangster boss retorts: “How can a fairytale town not be somebody's fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing?”
I’ve been obsessed with places with cobblestones for years, and even now, I still can’t take them for granted. Even despite last week’s Incident, for which they were wholly to blame. It was 19.26 and I was in a mad hurry, doing what I do every weekday: dashing home after work to watch – you guessed it – Bondi Rescue. This is a solid half-hour each day when I watch an Australian show with an occasional Dutch voice-over, and call it ‘practising my Dutch’. Teetering precariously down Platielstraat in three-inch heels, and bang – down I went. Face first in front of three dozen shoppers, tourists and restaurant-goers.
I’d been foiled – not for the first time – by that lethal and particularly European combination of stilettos and cobblestones. And yet, even after said Incident, even after the irritation of trying to drag a wheelie suitcase over them, even after being kept awake all night by the clip-clop of other people stumbling noisily over the cobblestones downstairs – even then, I still love them. A symbol of my life in Europe.
Edwards (26), born and raised in Australia, worked as a translator/editor at the UM Language Centre; in October she will start her PhD research in Cambridge