I have a problem.
Every Saturday, I’m woken up by a man screaming. About fish.
He started a little past 9 this morning. “PAN HARING! HOLLANDSE NIEUWE HARING! KRIJG JE HARRING! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRINGGGGG!”
I don’t know his name but we’ve taken to calling him “Herring Man.” He operates a popular stand once a week at the market near our apartment in the center of Leiden. Tourists, locals and every seagull within ten square miles all love him and his salty wares. Then again, they don’t have to live near him. When he’s not answering questions or dishing out fish, he’s yelling at the top of his lungs.
This guy has the steel vocal cords of an opera singer. He can and will scream all Saturday morning and well into the afternoon. His throat never tires. His booming siren’s call carries through half the market and down our street like the bulls in Pamplona. Our TV, the stereo….they’re no match for the awesome might of Herring Man’s endless sales pitch.
Granted, he has the right to yell all day, every day but here’s the thing: Herring Man doesn’t need to and none of the other vendors scream. Patrons come from miles around to visit his stand. It’s the most popular spot at the market. Every Saturday, at any given minute, you’ll find a half-dozen tourists taking photos of one another trying to down a herring without gagging.
Now the Dutch looooooove herring, here in Leiden more than, perhaps, any other place in the Netherlands. During the Eighty Years War in the 16th century, the Spanish tried and failed to capture the city. The unsinkable rebels of Leiden managed to fight them off while holed up in a stone fort. They held out for months with little food. The tale is, indeed, epic. To reward the rebels for their efforts, Prince William of Orange rewarded Leiden with a ton of bread and, you guessed it, herring, in addition to its very own university. Every October, the city celebrates the victory with a giant carnival. On the 3rd, thousands of Leiden citizens get up at the crack of dawn to gather in the center of town to chow down on herring. No, really.
So who am I stand to stand between Herring Man and a matter of deeply-held civic pride (and a brilliant business scheme) — me, an expat new to this country? Even if I have to flee my apartment every Saturday and despite the fact that the entire block reeks of fish for a few days following Herring Man’s weekly scream-a-thon?
As we speak, I’m sitting at a coffeeshop on the edge of the market, my head filled with visions of filing complaints at City Hall or paying off a gang of seagulls to trash the herring stand. Maybe I need to lighten up and roll with it. Or maybe I need to set up my own operation next door that sells the only thing the Dutch love more than these fish- dance music. I could drown out Herring Man’s yelling with thunderous electronica and British breakbeats. Or, perhaps, I could set up my own herring stand outside his house every Sunday….
Hmmmmm…..a plan is forming….