The smell of an invisible fireplace welcomes me as I enter Bistrot Madame van Dam. The entire bar turns to greet me with warm smiles as I close the door. There are 4 patrons and the bartender, I presume Madame van Dam. None are younger than 60. I find a seat at the bar and take in my surroundings. I’m in an old bookstore. I wonder briefly if it was made to look this way to entice travelers like myself, but then I’m positive it was a bookstore at one point. There are books everywhere; behind the bar, on top of the bar, on the stairs leading to a loft which I guess is also overflowing with more books. The wood that makes up the place is rich and worn. I immediately feel as though I could stay here forever.
I’m in The Netherlands in the town of Heerlen. After an unexpected schedule change, in what was proving to be a trying week, my work brought me here for the evening. Madame van Dam’s is a little bistro and I was instantly drawn to it. There are no cars outside, only bicycles. It seems as though this is the most popular means of transportation around here and I love it.
Inside the bistro I order a glass of Bordeaux and set to writing. The light is dim, but there is a small candle nearby that I decide will do. In my brief research prior to my unexpected arrival I learn that approximately 70% of the people in this country speak good conversational English. Good conversational English can mean many things. In Madame van Dame’s it gets me a glass of wine and a contenting seat at the bar.
As I write I’m surrounded by the groups conversation spoken in the unfamiliar language of Dutch. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve become accustomed to the sounds of Deutsch (or German). The most beautiful music settles between the spaces of the words I don’t understand and it’s lovely. I mean to ask what it is but get lost in my wine and my written words. At one point I look up and notice that one woman is holding a book with Barack Obama on the cover and realize this is what their conversation has been about. I can’t help but smile to myself.
I order another glass of Bordeaux and get further lost in my written words, the sound of the spoken words I don’t understand and the contenting atmosphere that Madame van Dame has provides me.
My visit to Heerlen was unexpected and initially thought as poorly planed, but sitting in Madame van Dams I can’t help but feel I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. This probably has greater meaning, but for now I only want to think about the week, this bistro. I’m the only person who is not a regular in this bistro, I’m certainly the youngest, and I’m definitely the only American but I’m comfortable and content. Perhaps it’s that I’ve become accustom to walking into bistros, cafes, and restaurants alone. Maybe it was the welcoming warmth of the fire and the smiles. Whatever it was it struck a chord in my soul and was a pleasant surprise in an unexpected week.