Indians don’t ice skate. In fact, Indians don’t do much of anything in the way of sports, and true to my heritage, I’ve been lousy at anything that involves moving, running, jumping or holding a ball. I have no balance, was always the last kid picked for my netball team and I have those spindly Indian ankles that seem to twist on anything higher than the court heel.
But when I came here more than 20 years ago, a colleague insisted that I try to overcome the shortcomings of my genes and my own self censoring cultural prejudices and give ice skating a go. Everyone in Holland ice skates, she told me, and if I was going to make a life here, I should at least give it a go.
So I enrolled myself for skating lessons - a duty made considerably less tedious by the presence of two young, rather nice looking, male instructors. On my third lesson, they were both standing on either side of me when I fell. By my third lesson, mind you, it was not my first fall - Lesson Number 2 was particularly memorable because it was conducted during some kind of Arctic gale that had turned right at the North Pole and hit Amsterdam front and centre. The more hopeless novices in the group (myself among them of course) had been blown about like toy cars on the deck of a listing ship, and there were more than a few spectacular collisions.
The fall I took with my two handsome instructors next to me was a little ladylike thing, legs crossed primly as I fell on the ice on my overpadded bum. But it resulted in a broken leg with enough complications to keep me hospitalized for nearly a month. Twenty years later, my ankle is criscrossed with surgery scars and my two year limp has left its legacy: when if I’m wearing heels on a concrete floor you can hear the distinctive morse code of my footsteps.
So you may understand dear reader why I’m just too plain chicken to get back on those skates.
I’ve not had too much cause to regret the fact that any kind of winter sports activity will forever be a closed door to me - that is until we have a week like we’ve just had. A hard overnight freeze followed by days of very un Dutch sunshine. On the first glorious day about a week ago, this entire nation breathed an almost audible collective sigh of pleasure, every able bodied Dutch person grabbed their skates and walked out on their jobs and responsible lives for the joy of “natuur skaatsen“. Seeing as this country is pretty much composed of water - in this weather, the whole place becomes a natural skating rink.
I’ve been here for most of my adult life, but it’s still a rare and precious thing to see the canals of Amsterdam freeze and watch almost the entire population of the city pour onto those roads of ice. Everyone was there this last weekend - strolling or skating, setting up stalls to sell soup or hot wine, taking dogs on leashes, and toddlers in prams for a walk on the ice. It was an old Breugel painting come to life, with almost nothing changed except people’s clothes.
The national anticipation for the 11 Cities Race built up to a crescendo with people in an agony to see if the ice would thicken enough for this most beloved of national races to take place, but alas, the thaw started yesterday and The Netherlands will have to wait and see if next year will give us the kind of ice needed for the race.
This time of year makes any Dutch Indian simmer in a stew of regret of lost chances, unsuitable genes and weak ankles. The jealousy I felt watching the Dutch glide by on the silent lakes and not so silent frozen canals is only just beginning to fade. But just as my desire to join the Dutch on the ice was overtaking my fear, and I was coming to the idea that maybe I should give skating lessons another go, I met up with a friend yesterday who had her arm in a sling. She told me the difficulties of trying to cope with a full time job, and a young child at home with a sprained and painful right hand - the legacy of a little fall she took pirouetting on the canals on the weekend.
Ok - so next winter, I’ll just stick to taking my camera on the ice.