I was catching up with the weekend newspapers this morning when a photo in the sports section of the NRC caught my eye. Unsurprisingly it was of these wintry conditions; a bunch of people on a frozen lake, some with brooms in their hands, and a scattering of round objects with what looked like handles, between their feet. It didn’t look like the Netherlands – the surrounding trees were wrong and the people were wearing what appeared to be woollen coats and ordinary shoes. No lycra, no skates – no, definitely not Holland.
Sure enough, they were Scots, preparing themselves for a bout of curling. I read the short article, the first half of which was devoted to the Dutch obsession of the Elfstedentocht and whether there will be one this year (the odds are against). It then went on to a brief description of curling for those not familiar with the sport. At one point the author Guus van Holland drifted into descriptive prose: ‘Mooi is het landschap, Breugheliaans. Dennebomen omringen de vlakte, daarachter bergen. Het is koud, de zon gaat onder – of is nauwelijks opgekomen’. (It’s beautiful this landscape, reminiscent of Breughel. Fir trees surround the lake and there are mountains behind. It’s cold, the sun is setting, or has scarcely risen).
In an instant I was there, on the shores of Loch Menteith, feeling the cold and the thinness of the watery sun. Guus had painted a picture and I crawled into it, grateful be transported, if only for two brief seconds, to another world. That’s what good prose does for me – it’s a literal ‘transport of delight’. The impact is in the detail. As it is in Breughel’s paintings.