MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 8: Views of the Apocalypse (from the Netherlands)

“Move to Europe!”, they said. “It’ll be an adventure!”, they said. “Think of all the places you can travel to!” (I know you’re not supposed to end with a preposition, but whatever. It’s the end of the world and all that.) But now, the world has shut down, the city outside is silent (but for the screeching outside of these trash birds better known as “seagulls”), and I am stuck in a 320 sq. ft. box, rollin’ in that sweet, sweet postdoc money. Livin’ the dream. Alone with my plants. And my thoughts….. Pandemic date: Day 25. These are the sweatpants-clad voyages of a lone postdoc abroad in the Netherlands during the Apocalypse…..

The lap of luxury

My dearest reader, I write this to you from the comfort of my cheap Ikea chair with a modest view of sunshine through my one window. Please, for the sake of your own sanity, do everything in your power to suppress the deep feelings of jealousy that are currently arising within you as you look upon the lavishness of my lifestyle. You too can live like this one day. Just become a postdoc….

But first. An introduction. Hello. My name is Kelsey. At least, that’s what they called me in the Before Times…. I’m a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University in a small town called, shockingly, Leiden, in the Netherlands. I’m an alumnus of the MagAO-X group, and I have been asked to entertain you beautiful people for a few minutes with what will hopefully be an interesting blog post with pretty pictures of the Netherlands, but will more likely be an accidental and disturbing look into the dissolving psyche of a caged extrovert. Shall we continue? Let’s go!

I have now been isolated at home for 25 days, and honestly, my plants and I have barely noticed a change in our daily routine. We have the same conversations as usual. Finn Ficus is so funny. He really cracks me up. What a jokester that one is. And Roger. Sweet, observant Roger. He keeps watch over the world outside from his perch on the windowsill. He alerts us if anyone comes within 1.5 meters of our fortress (that’s the distance required by Dutch law that we must maintain between people). We spend our days just laughing and laughing and laughing…… what a truly wonderful time to be alive! I discovered this week that Roger is ALSO a ficus! Who knew?! I’ve only been staring at him for a year….

Meet Finn and Roger. Finn is the big fella in the pot. Roger is the little dude in the glass jar. He’s into hydroponics and all that jazz. Why doesn’t Roger have an “F” name you might ask? It’s because Plant Mom didn’t realize he was a ficus until a year later….. Plant Mom is not a botanist.

Sometimes Roger and Finn let me go outside and stretch my legs a bit. And when I do, I take my fairly crappy camera phone with me and pretend to be a photographer. Don’t adjust your TV, the following pictures, as the one above, will be in black and white. Because….it’s deep, and artsy, and retro, ok? Stop judging me, Finn! I can see you looking at me over there…..

As far as places to be quarantined go, the Netherlands is a really beautiful place to be.** (** Note: This is assuming spring time conditions. Winters here include: insanely high winds, constant rain, random bursts of heavy hail, often a magical combination of two or more of these phenomena, and all experienced from the comfort of your very open and unprotected bike. Also, aggressive birds. But they’re out year-round.) So for your viewing pleasure, here’s a few pictures I have taken around Leiden over the past 3.5 weeks.

It’s the Netherlands. Of course we’re starting this off with a windmill! I love this country so much. I’ve been here 15 months, and I still don’t get tired of all the beautiful canals and windmills and flower fields here. Want to learn more about how the Dutch are re-purposing these lovely historic contraptions? See the following instructional video:
I’ve been trying to get out of the house (and out of the city) to run nearly every day during this quarantine (especially when Roger and Finn get too chatty). Always maintaining a safe distance from others. If you go out to one of the many huge and lovely parks outside the city at the right time (and don’t mind slightly non-ideal weather conditions that keep the more faint of heart inside), you can find long stretches of path like this. Beautiful. And a little creepy.
Everybody here is doing their part to social distance. Including this adorable little guy who was having the time of his life alone in a giant pond (or is it little lake? I’m a desert dweller. I don’t really know the difference….)
There are two remaining historical ports of entry back into the city. This is the one closest to my house called the Zijlpoort. Running through it back into the city always feels quite appropriately post-apocalyptic. It feels like I’m running back into my fortress. So far, there have never been any zombies on my tail upon re-entry. At least, not that I have noticed….
This is the other remaining port: the Morspoort. A really beautiful landmark here. If you look at the bridge, you will see a little symbol of two crossed keys. This is Leiden’s city crest. I have also not witnessed any zombies at this port just yet.
The beautiful canal that runs by my tiny house. If you look along the water’s edge, you’ll see couples spaced out along the canal. Doing a solid job of maintaining that 1.5 meter distance. Also, it is now illegal to gather in groups of more than three people. So, you get tiny three people clusters every so often out in the sunshine. All well-spaced. People are, for the most part, doing a surprisingly good job of distancing here. Goed zo, Nederlanders!
Now for my favorites: My creepy pictures. This is an old abandoned flour factory near my house. It’s supposed to become fancy, post-industrial , snazzy, upscale apartments one day. For now, it’s a decrepit, abandoned creepy concrete building that makes my dark little soul smile. Feels appropriate these days.
Favorite creepy picture #2. Every so often, they dredge the canals here as it appears to be a national pastime to throw things into the canals, thereby making them real tetanus traps. The first day of our quarantine in Leiden, they decided to do this, and they pulled out a bike and a shopping cart near a park I like to run in. Well done, Netherlands. Made it feel extra post-apocalyptic that day.
Since we’re an astronomy blog, I had to show you fine people a picture of our lovely Oude Sterrewacht (Old Observatory) here in Leiden. The observatory is located in a beautiful bio park along the outer canal and is always a must-see for visitors to our department.
And as always, the best is saved for last. I end this ramble with a message of hope expressed in visual form: an image of blessed toilet paper. We have spurts of hoarding here (or as it is called in Dutch “hamsteren” – I am not kidding. Look it up. It is absolutely my favorite Dutch word.), but the blessed paper rolls always return, flooding the shelves with hope of a brighter tomorrow.

And so, dear reader, I end my blog post. It wasn’t much, but hopefully it was something to distract you from your own personal monotony. I hope you have enjoyed our random little walk through Leiden and some of my favorite spots. Unfortunately Finn and Roger are telling me that my screen time is up for the day, so I will leave you now (but I’m gonna sneak my laptop into my bedroom and watch some Netflix now. Come at me, Finn! I dare you!) So this is me signing off. Stay safe. Stay sane. And for the love of god, don’t hoard toilet paper.

With love,
The one formerly known as Kelsey

Your song of the day: The Windmills of Your Mind by Noel Harrison