Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Just a game


It’s just a game. Nothing more. Something to pass the time. Perhaps you can do it with your kids on long car trips. Or with your husband, when he looks across the table at you in that nice restaurant with his usual bored expression. Or maybe you know someone in the hospital, and you’ve exhausted all there is to say about the Hawkeyes or Cyclones. I’ve got a new conversational picker upper. Give it a whirl.

joes1Are you ready?

OK, on this tiny, narrow street in The Hague, there are two stores facing each other. The first one is a chandelier and dress shop named “Emma.” Bright, lavish and beguiling.

joes2Across from Emma’s is another type of store. Spare, simple and serene. All you can see in the window is the back of a violin, a book and flowers. That’s it.

The small sign identifies the shop as one owned by Josef Vedral — violin maker. Who is Josef Vedral? Well, lo and behold, Josef Vedral set up a violin workshop in The Hague in 1908 and became the violin maker to the stars. His two sons, Nicolaas and Josef Jr., continued in the business after his death.


Got it? Those are the true facts.

OK, here’s where it gets fun. You get to make up whatever you want with those given facts. Anything.

This one is easy. On one side of the street is Josef the violin maker, with a single violin, a book and a flower in his window. On the other side of the street is Emma, with a store window reflecting warmth, laughter and soft feminine apparel. It’s obvious — Nicolaas and Josef Jr. are the product of the tempestuous-but-passionate relationship, forged at the beginning of the 1900s, between Emma and Josef.

Of course, this is all baloney. But shouldn’t it be true? Shouldn’t the world be full of tempestuous relationships that culminate in high passion at the turn of the century? Shouldn’t love sweep away all propriety? Shouldn’t a twinkling chandelier always catch your eye?

You can play this make-believe game all day long, with any theme you desire, with any juxtaposition you want. Let’s say you’re feeling a little adrift today, a little at loose ends. OK, here’s two white-haired women taking a walk by the North Sea. Fact.

joes3But did you know that they married and buried partners? That their knees and hips have been cranky for awhile. That they are tired, bone tired in fact. That their conversation inevitably turns to lost love, forgetful children long grown and goals never achieved. And, as the wheels of their walkers turn in cadence, their shoulders periodically brush. And they inwardly smile at the gift of each other.

Pure baloney.

Are you getting the hang of it?

OK, one last one. How about the theme of violence? It’s a logical choice with 250 little girls kidnapped by terrorists in Nigeria, and a mentally ill person killing innocents in California. No problem. I have just the juxtaposition.

joes4There’s a nudist beach on the North Sea…

…and do you see that object at the back, up on the dune? It’s made out of poured concrete and tucked tightly into the sand. Abandoned nearly 70 years ago. No identifying signs. Empty. Overrun by dune grass.

You guessed it — a Nazi bunker. This bunker, built to push back the Allies from landing on this North Sea coast, was armed and manned and loaded with weapons. It bristled like a mean dog back in 1944. It doesn’t take much to imagine its teeth barred, spitting violence.

Along comes a group of nudists. Exposed. Open to the sun and sea. Nothing left to take from them. The quintessential pacifists. Gandhi without the robes.

joes5And as the nudist played in the sand, the soldiers questioned a world built on identifying and destroying those who were different from themselves — those who needed to die for purity’s sake. This disconnect was bound to happen as the soldiers took off their own clothes and discovered, you guessed it, they had the same parts as those on the beach. And before you knew it, the biblical swords were turned into plowshares. The children of the soldiers’ children cavorted on the beach. The bunker was absorbed into the dune to disappear forever. And today, only pale bottoms, not guns, are flashing in the sun. Violence has been defeated.

Of course, that’s also baloney.

Your turn to play. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at Joe can be reached by email at

One Comment

  1. Princess says:

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