In 2001 I moved to Gouda. ”Gouda?” Dutch people asked me, turning up their noses. I had lived all over the world, and I wanted to avoid ending my life in a modern suburb near Rotterdam. We bought a small house on the Lange Noodgodsstraat. “Its funny to see you living here.” Visiting friends said. The house, a former shop, stood in the city center on the so-called ”Emergency God Street, the Long One as Opposed to the Short One” along with a few other former shops one of which had been a milliner’s store. The milliner’s store had not changed; the milliner had drifted into a retirement home but the store was still represented by a few dusty hats and a soft hued, romantic painting of the owner displayed in the dirt streaked windows. In some ways the defunct milliner’s shop represented Gouda, religious women in hats, hard economic times, forgotten moth eaten glory, the backwoods or backwaters of the Netherlands.
The street was named after a medieval chapel in which seafarers could pray before leaving for the wider world or after returning from a voyage. The chapel no longer exists. Perhaps the street was my Emergency Street, my marriage fell apart after 13 years on the Noodgodsstraat, my home became a battle ground. I fled to Amsterdam. Although I stood many times with my nose pressed to the glass, I was never able to enter the hat shop.