Saturday, 15 February 2014

Groningen: City of Love?

I highly doubt the guidebooks would be quick to point to Groningen as a "Romantic City Destination" ... and I would agree. However, today is Valentine's Day, and even cold, northern cities can bring out their best for such occasions.

On my walk to class this morning the two markets of Groningen, the Grote Markt and Vismarkt, were awash with blooms for Valentine's Day. Roses by the ton and bright flowers in creative bunches spilled out of the market stalls, destined to surprise someone. Rather nice to see such a display of brightness first thing in the morning, and I do love freshly cut flowers.

I've never had much time (or patience) for Valentine's Day, having always written it off as a "Hallmark Holiday" (Hallmark, as in the makers of greeting cards.) Today, I rather surprised myself, and I do hope you'll forgive my lapse into sentiment.

I spent the most enjoyable evening with a group of people I'd never met before at a film event, watching one of my favourite films, Before Sunrise. (And I would implore you see it at once!) It's a film about two young people who meet on a train headed to Vienna. It's classic '90s in most ways, but Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy give outstanding performances. The entire film moves along through dialogue; it is incredible engaging and such a sweet story. It is a modern look at love, perhaps, and we had a great discussion afterwards about it.

A couple who has been married for 47 years led this group discussion, and they talked about the changing views of love. Someone asked them about romance in marriage...doesn't it just fade away? I think we young twenty somethings look at the idea of over forty years of marriage as remarkable in this day and age. It is almost hard to believe - will we find ourselves in similar positions in forty years time? This couple were so charming in their answers, which revolved around working at a marriage, having faith and trust, and friendship. It struck a chord with me, because it was a very honest answer. Marriage may not be perfect (nothing is, of course) but it can be good, and that is perhaps something we hadn't considered.

I walked home in the late night drizzle, suddenly with eyes looking outward, rather than in. It didn't matter a tuppence that I was walking by myself; I didn't mind in the least. Groningen was all at once teeming with life. All around me couples were walking along hand in hand, deep in conversation with one another. Lovers were tumbling from the doorways of cafes and ristorantes; a young man cycled past with his girl on the back of the bike, her bright pink suitcase rumbling along after. Two men walked across the markt companionably; a pair of sixteen year olds cycled along the road, hand in hand; two ladies walked past me, eyes only for each other; an older couple walked slowly along the wet pavement, each in their best coat; a man gave a lady a rose.

The city was alive with peace and happiness. It was like something had come over the entire place - there was a sense of calm, and everywhere I looked there were soft smiles and tender touches. It was a most beautiful thing, and I felt so buoyed by the pleasant evening and the feeling of peace around me.

Love and friendship do exist - I saw that in the streets of my new city tonight. Perhaps having a day to celebrate that isn't so bad, Hallmark cards aside. I think, though I haven't spent the day in the "traditional" way, it has been a wonderful Valentine's Day. It has been full of friendship and laughter, good deeds, and a hopeful insight into the love filled streets of Groningen.

I hope you all have had a similarly wonderful day!