Little Europes

Overseas countries and territories (OCT) and Outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union (by Alexrk2, via Wikipedia)

On a wide cobbled space on the sea front they found a guard of red-coated militia drawn up to receive them, and a crowd—attracted by their arrival—which in dress and manner differed little from a crowd in a seaport at home save that it contained fewer women and a great number of negroes.

The words above describe the arrival of a ship full of slaves – white slaves – to Bridgetown, the capital of the British colony Barbados, in late 1600′s. These lines are from one of my favourite books, “Captain Blood: His Odyssey”, a novel by Rafael Sabatini. “Home” refers to England, and today, crowds in most European seaports differ even less from the crowds in Bridgetown, Papeete or Paramaribo, as the ports of mainland Europe are rather diversified by the influx of immigrants from the (former) colonies. The colonial empires that were so dominant in the past 5 centuries are gone, most of the colonies have gained independence years, or even centuries ago. But a few remain attached to the “mother-country”, either too small to be able to stand on their own or too valuable as a honey-moon destination to be let go. Most of these bits and peaces of Europe scattered around the globe are French, as France has had the most difficulties ditching the notion of it being destined to rule the world (most French still cherish the thought that one day, the world will call upon them). But quite a few are British, some are Dutch, and even Norway has “colonies” in the southern seas.

For the most part though the so-called Outermost regions and Overseas countries and territories of the EU are either a rock in the ocean, like the famous Saint Helena where Napoleon was banned to, or a tropical paradise, making a living of newly weds and smuggling. The effect of these “little Europes” is rather unique. You fly out of the frozen European winter for 10 or even 20 hours, and suddenly you’re on the French Riviera, but on the other side of the globe. The heat, the white-washed buildings, the magnolias – its as if you’ve driven to Nice or Marseille. Even the number plates on some of these islands have the EU flag. And, as immigrants from Aruba and Martinique are drawn to Europe, there is a steady trickle of white Europeans to the tropics, nowadays for the most part not buccaneers or white slaves, but retirees, searching for a better climate to warm their elderly bones.

So are the differences between Europe and “little Europes” really blurred? Are Reunion, Saba and the Cayman Islands as European as Bristol or Vilnus? Yes and no. Being “Europe” seems less and less about pure geography. Although by now, pretty much every colony that had a serious desire and capacity for independence has become independent, the political and economical ties of the remaining colonies with the “mother country” are too strong to endanger by such a radical move as a declaration of independence. Its not the whole story though. Slower changes are simmering under the surface. Semi-dormant independence movements exist in most French overseas territories. The Dutch Antilles have been dissolved, some becoming states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while others have become direct parts of the Netherlands. And regional ties are becoming more important than ties to the distant mainland Europe, as evidenced by the recent Samoa time zone change.

One thing is certain – these specks of Europe in tropical seas will remain a prized tourist destination, regardless of the geopolitics. Check out the map – Europe may be closer to you than you thought it is!

Curacao 9 Curacao 8 Curacao 7 Curacao 6 Curacao 5 Curacao 4 Curacao 3 Curacao 2 Curacao 1

All of the photos below were taken at Curaçao, a constituent country within The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is a member of the European Union. However, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten have the status of overseas countries and territories (OCTs) and are not part of the EU. Nevertheless, only one type of citizenship exists within the Kingdom (Dutch), and all Dutch citizens, including the Curaçaoans, are EU citizens. Got it? Me neither. But it somehow works.

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Dear John (not your real name)

Dear John (not your real real name)

We met randomly and got close fast. Very fast. And very close. Too close, actually. You got careless, distracted, and as you looked the other way – bam! smashed right into me! The crash was mild, and we both could drive away. All I had was a smashed rear light, or so I thought. A couple of days later I got a word from the insurance. Total loss. Not that fixing my car was impossible, on the contrary, it was not a very big deal. But apparently, repairing a 13-year old Renault Twingo costs more than it is worth. And so, thanks to you being so careless in switching lanes, dear John (not your real name), I was carless. And I had to wrestle with your insurance company to get properly compensated for my loss. I imagine you know quite well that dealing with insurance companies is no fun at all – the way you’re driving you probably have to deal with them regularly.

I am not resentful, dear John (not your real name). Since we’ve parted, I have been doing my best to look on the bright side of life. True, looking for a new car without wheels of my own has been a logistic nightmare at times. But it gave me the opportunity to call on my friends for help, so I got to hand out some “helped a friend in need” credits. And I was planning to get a new car anyway, one big enough to fit two child seats at the back, but you know how these things go – I would probably drag the idea around for months if it wasn’t for you, dear John (not your real name). Most importantly, I got the book value for my car, which I would never get if I had to sell it, not in the state it was and with the mileage it had. So I guess what I’m trying to say, dear John (not your real name), is thank you for being so careless. But please don’t do it again. Once is enough.

That’s my new car – the Ford Focus Station Wagon, anno 2004. Yes, I am so cool I can ride in one of these, and still be cool. Well, OK, this one is from Wikipedia. Mine is blue. Much cooler. And it has cruise control.

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To my fellow Dutch cyclists

A unique case of a cycling path in the Middle East (or does it prove once again that Israel is a European country?)

A unique case of a cycling path in the Middle East (or does it prove once again that Israel is a European country?)

My fellow Dutch cyclists, we live in a cycling paradise. It may rain and storm here, and at times we may feel a bit stressed, but compared to any other place on Earth, our country is a cycling Valhalla. Just think of it – there are whole continents out there without a single kilometre of a proper bicycle path! And we here are so used to it, we don’t even realize how privileged we are. I think that, since we are so well-off, we have a responsibility – we have to be worthy of this extraordinary privilege. We have a standard of cycling behaviour to keep up. We must serve as a beacon of light to the world, as a shining example to all those oppressed and threatened cyclists elsewhere, to demonstrate them that there is a better (cycling) world they, too, can hope and aspire for. Therefore, I would like to ask you to attend to a few points that would make our cycling experience more blessed and make peaceful coexistence with other road users easier to achieve.

  1. Use a proper light. Its winter time, and it is seriously dark out there. So many cyclists do not realize how poorly visible they are from a car, especially in bad weather. A simple, constant light is best – try to avoid those flickering torches, as they are absolutely blinding.
  2. Have a bell and use it (when needed). Especially you, the sports cyclists – the added weight of the bell is about 10 grams, much less than that beer belly you’re lumping along. And to you, Amsterdam cyclists – lighten up, its the taxi’s that are out to get you, not the pedestrians, and the taxi’s won’t hear you even if you blow a ship’s horn.
  3. Ditch the headphones. If you don’t hear my bell its bad enough. But if you don’t hear that bus coming, its a disaster. And no, you won’t hear it coming. I mean, your music is so loud, I almost don’t hear it coming. Want to listen to music on your commute? Take the train.
  4. Don’t use the whole road/cycling path. And no, I am not only talking to the teenagers riding 3 abreast on their way to school. I am talking to you, families with children – it’s great you teach them to cycle, but for God’s sake ride between your child and the traffic! And especially to you, senior citizens – yes, you’ve built this country from scratch and all, but now you have to share it with other people, too.
  5. Mind the cars. Its basic physics – the average car is 10 times heavier than you and 5 times faster. It means it hase 250(!) times more kinetic energy than you. And it has crumple zones. You don’t, and no, if you have boobs, they don’t count either. The car is just bigger, faster and stronger. It will win the wrestling match. Even if you were right (and I am reminding this to myself here most of all).
  6. Have breaks. If you ride a fixie with no brakes, you don’t look cool, you look stupid. Because most chances are you have no idea what you’re doing, unless you’re a real indoor racer. And let’s be honest here – you’re not.
  7. Don’t use your phone. Is it really necessary to WhatsApp and pedal at the same time? Would you like the truck driver to chat on his mobile while taking the same corner you do? So why are you doing this? I’d say the upcoming traffic will have more impact on your life than the latest status update on Facebook.

All of these points are common sense. I’m sure you know it all without me having to remind you. And failing to meet these points is a traffic rules violation that can be, and often is, fined. But the most important point I want you to remember is that cycling is fun. We do it because we enjoy it. Really, we do, because otherwise we’d drive or take the bus, or use some other smelly tin box. Relax, smile, and enjoy the ride. You’re in a better position to enjoy it than anyone else in the world.

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