June 2020 in Ohrid

In memory of Peter Steneker (1951-2019)

Month of crossings and changes

Den Doolaard died on June 26, 1994, in the Dutch village of Hoenderloo, where he lived the last 40 years of his life. He was entombed several days later and his eternal abode was marked only by a naturally shaped river stone.

We could acknowledge this tombstone simplicity as a sign of equality with the modesty of his living, but also as a counterbalance to the untamed greedy nature of his urge to attain the ideal of freedom. Equally, he embraced both personal and collective freedom as two closely related and interdependent values, just as he accepted cognition as an integral part of the process of liberation.

Can one attain the ideal of freedom without getting rid of the darkness of ignorance, prejudice, delusion, fear? In this regard, his departure from the Netherlands in 1928 and the pursuit of a wandering life should be seen as a sort of an “escape from the ugly concrete buildings of the West” and an attempt for a more comprehensive discovery of the invisible side behind the horizon.

Starting an ascension in the literary scene as from 1931 with his novel De druivenplukkers (The grape pickers), that was later followed by a dozen other successful publications in the Netherlands, in spite of his physical absence, A. den Doolaard remains one of the renowned Dutch writers of all time. He was also an athlete, an accountant, a freelancer,  a hired labourer, a journalist, a photographer, a wanderer and, aboven all,  a passionate Macedonia-lover. He had emphasised his commitment to Macedonia through his literary work, that he had long and widely expressed as his “second homeland.”

In doing so, well aware of all the contradictions and ambiguous renaming, he always called it by its historically given name: Macedonia!

In June 1931 he traveled to the Balkans for the first time, first to Belgrade, later he visited the south. After his first meeting with Lake Ohrid, Den Doolaard had repeatedly returned to the blue water that ripples between the high mountain ranges and a small city that was “een verrukkelijke mengeling van gebruiken en eeuwen”. A lovely mixture of traditions and centuries of customised existence, indeed. Wooden barges, quietly cutting the water, churches hiding on their dusty, cobweb-covered walls, medieval frescoes modern history was hardly aware of – the balanced and relaxed life of the locals.  Plus an abundance of ancient tradition gave impulse to his legendary work for Ohrid.

The novel De bruiloft der zeven zigeuners (The wedding of the seven gypsies) was published almost 90 years ago, in the year 1939 it had several reprints. The interest in it in the Netherlands has not diminished at all. In the issue of June 6, 2019, the Dutch women’s weekly Libelle published an eight-page article entitled Magisch Macedonië inviting readers to visit Macedonia where the emphasis as expected is given to the Lake Ohrid region. Surely, no Dutch author will ever be able to write about the beauty of Macedonia without mentioning A. den Doolard and his famous novel on Ohrid. Also, publicist Karin Kuijpers begins her article with a reminder of the “first Dutch promoter of Macedonia” and De bruiloft der zeven zigeuners.

Obviously, the main reason for the continuing popularity of A. den Doolaard with the generations and in particular his novel about Ohrid, they are likely to be discovered in the intensified activities in the tourism branche. As A. den Doolaard himself had written, “mensen komen en gaan, maar hun gedachten blijven waaien rond de aardbol als een onzichtbare wind”.

Accordingly, his thoughts expressed in the novel about Ohrid, they continue to wave the spirits of his readers, prompting many new trips of the younger Dutch generations to the high Macedonian mountains, where Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa are shining in blue. The same lakes that in Den Doolaards early youth compellingly stared at him from his father’s atlas. Both attractive and seductive, as the eyes of his first pubertal love, whose eyes resembled the flower Myosotis.

Nevertheless, Macedonia and Ohrid in particular, they highly appreciated A. den Doolaard’s affection and he was honored with diversity: first a memorial in the Dutch Park in Ohrid, followed by translations, lectures, exhibitions …

On June 19, 2011, in the Cultural and Information Center “Cultura 365” in Ohrid, the exhibition “110 years since the birth of A. den Doolaard” was opened. It remained there and took the form of a permanent museum exhibition; original editions of his books are on display here.

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