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Word of the day: vroeger (formerly)

Yesterday I discussed GISTEREN (yesterday). GISTEREN is a small slice of VROEGER and VROEGER is a collection of all the yesterdays, of all the days gone by.


‘VROEGER was alles beter’ (in bygone days everything was better) is a universal misconception concocted (‘bekokstoofd’) by our brains which are not very well equipped to accept the direness of today. That’s why Paul McCartney once sung:

‘Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday, mmmmm’

Nearly forty years later the ex-Beatle produced a new collection of songs which he called ‘New’!
New is always now and fresh for a short feverish moment. Yesterday can only live on for a moment thanks to memory and imagination. We should be grateful for this painful gift. Yesterdays are figments of our imagination. Figments that represent moments that are gone together with so many loved ones.

Just now I got sad news that a friend of mine has passed on. Her name is Janneke and all her yesteryears only counted 53. When milestone ‘Yesterday’ came out she was five. Janneke did not believe in GISTEREN or VROEGER, she enjoyed VANDAAG here and now. Her name ‘Vonkeman’ gives a good impression of her character. ‘Vonkeman’ literally means ‘sparkle man’. And that’s exactly what she was: scintillating, flashing, sparkling. Janneke was an avid reader and literator. She was also an excellent and skilful writer. But I remember her most of all as a woman with a witty sense of humour.

Janneke has now moved to the foreign land of VROEGER. In the year of my birth, 1953, L.P. Hartley published ‘The Go-Between’ which begins with that memorable sentence: ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ ‘(VROEGER is een vreemd land: ze doen alles anders daar.)

VROEGER is a miraculous word in Dutch. The English lack such a word. They have to make do with several solutions for the phenomenon of pastness. ‘Used to’ for instance.

‘Vroeger sprak ik met Janneke over Dickens and Joyce’. (I used to discuss Dickens and Joyce with Janneke).

Samuel Beckett wrote a nostalgic play set in Dublin which he called ‘That time’ and it is all about VROEGER, the days of yore. Sometimes when I look at Buffy, the office dog, I am jealous, because the dog does not know VROEGER. And the dog has no sense of TOEKOMST (future) either. The dog is here and now. That’s all.

O no, I forgot. Janneke’s demise must have struck me dumb. There is this expression: ‘hij is niet van gisteren’ (he wasn’t born yesterday, there are no flies on him). Interesting.

You cannot turn this expression around and say: ‘hij is van gisteren’ (he was born yesterday). Funny, because it is from the biblebook Job and the original text is: ‘For we were born yesterday, and know nothing, because our days on earth are a shadow.’ In Dutch: ‘Wij zijn van gisteren en weten niets, want onze dagen op aarde zijn een schaduw.’

This famous text implies that we have only been around for a short time and know very little. And so it is. We think that we are clever dicks, know-alls because we have GISTEREN and VROEGER and MORGEN (tomorrow) and the TOEKOMST (future) at our disposal. All illusion, as Buffy knows. Living today means that there is a shadow hanging over us and we need a place to hide away. That’s really all there is to know. ‘Wij zijn van gisteren’: born yesterday!