Spread before was us a carpet of colours, 30 hectares of it. Broken only by large well-trodden interweaving lawns and pathways, each leading to ever widening delights and wonder, wherever we looked. Spring, despite the fitful tantrums of the weather-gods, had definitely arrived. The few remaining snowdrops had yielded to the daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths which, in turn, had passed on the floral baton to the tulips. Countless tulips, in every imaginable colour, shape and size, bloomed in ineluctable glory under a clear blue sky framed by the emerging green foliage and pastel shades of cherry blossoms.
As we slowly made our way to the warmth of the orchid house of the Keukenhof garden, intoxicated by the beauty around us, we felt grateful just to be alive; to be able to witness and participate in this annual ritual of rebirth and regeneration, natures' reassuring rite of passage.
But even among all this blossoming of hope, I could not but help wonder how gut – wrenchingly sad it would be if I , my wife, our daughters, or anyone else were to be shut out from this enchanting world, imprisoned within the walls of prejudice, surviving under constantly looming shadows of misery and death.
In Amsterdam during the Easter holidays with the family, I could never really stop alternately pedalling between a mixed sense of disquiet and an ever present promise of revival. It stalked us as we explored on rented bicycles the charming web of canals. It peered down at us from the many bridges as our hired canal boat crisscrossed under them surrounded by the elegantly gabled facades of the canal houses.
It lurked in the plaintively averted gaze of Vermeer's milkmaid, in the accusingly confrontational glares from Rembrandt's night watchers in the Rijksmuseum and in the everyday normality and vibrancy of the potato eaters in the Van Gough museum next door.
I knew where the disquiet was coming from – 236 /237 Prinsengracht – which was, from the outside, yet another three-storeyed canal house, no different from the so many others, dotted along the more than hundred kilometre of canals that weave Amsterdam's identity.
We had walked past this unremarkable building during our touristy perambulation earlier, making a mental note of the long, serpentine queue, slowly slithering towards the narrow entrance, knowing that, we too, will queue up to get inside before we leave Amsterdam.
And then finally we stood in the hushed solemnity of its inner sanctum! A girl – just a few years older than my daughter is now – lived here. She did not have any choice. She did not dare venture out. She could not look out of the windows nor wash or squeal with playful laughter during the day. For two years and more, she was incarcerated – with her own family and another, with her dreams, her books and her beloved Kitty – in a secret annexe hidden behind a bookcase.
Shut out from the changing seasons, from school, from friends, from growing up, like all children are entitled to without fear or hatred. Only briefly reassured by the quarterly chiming from the bell tower across the road, living in perpetual shadow of capture, indignity, concentration camp and death. All of which eventually, almost predictably followed notwithstanding the kindness of their loyal, gentile friends.
Yet despite this, she left us a legacy – her diary – where she poured out her adolescent thoughts, joys, her fears, frustration, anger, compassion and hopes. It was a legacy that her father, Otto – the only member of her family who survived the holocaust bequeathed to perpetuity by making this cursed house of unhappy memories into a sensitively recreated museum, the Anne Frank Huis, lest we forget.
I struggled to fight back my tears in front of a life-size black and white photograph of Otto, back after the war, standing in the empty attic of the annexe and staring vacantly in front of him.
Later that night, after dinner, I left the hotel on my own. I walked at pace past Rembrandtplien towards Amsterdam Central.
The brisk walk, the ever pressing throng of diverse tourists and revellers seeking to lose themselves in the thrill of their primitive urges, comforted me. I sought diversion inside the dark warmth of the coffee shops.
A glimpse at the menu, whiffs of the odd reefer, a few space cakes and memories from visits past, fortified me. Illuminated by the psychedelic sparklers spewing vapours of red mist inside me, I reluctantly turned back from the brink of forbidden pleasures, leaving the many facetious and kinky museum shaped tourist traps behind me and made for the pleasing domesticity of our hotel suite, which I knew, beckoned.