Dutch Treat

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All over Willemstad stand monuments to important historical figures, bearing inscriptions in Dutch. Unless I can find them in my minimal guidebook or can make a wild, deductive translation, their significance escapes me. Therein lies my only gripe. Without bilingual historical plaques I’m ever forced to seek the kindness of strangers, who will, I know by now, respond in perfect English. And where are the walking tours? CuraÇao’s tourist literature disingenuously promises a regular supply. But each time I call I find none are scheduled this day, they’re not in English that day, and anyway, the woman who gives them is in Holland right now.

There are vast riches to be mined in every part of the city: the bustling commercial center of Punda; the old Jewish neighborhood of Scharloo, with its many sleeping, half-derelict mansions; and the agreeably seedy back streets of Otrabanda, a neighborhood favored by architects, artists, and the down-on-their-luck, not to mention regular working folk. What is this building? I ask a policeman. What is that one? I inquire at an art gallery. What about the disintegrating lookalike Tara, alone on an abandoned block in Otrabanda? Everything is torn down around it, and a tree grows from the roof. Here I find no one to ask.

There is a plan afoot right now to put the historic section of Willemstad on the World Heritage List, which means United Nations recognition and funding and other help on a large scale. I wish the Monument Conservation people the best of luck in this. When I return—and I mean to—I’d like to find Tara all fixed up and gleaming and with a plaque out front revealing who once lived there.

—Carla Davidson TO PLAN A TRIP