• Atazia Hadjirouseva

Aad van Grondelle

The streets are bare this early late-August morning, though the bike racks are still stacked full from the evening before. The mid-morning rain hovers in the air, blending with the lingering summer warmth. A post-heat wave cool down. During these last couple months, since July 1st, the measurements for the hospitality industry in the Netherlands changed to allow restaurants and bars to accommodate a maximum of 100 guests (excluding staff) with the 1.5 metre rule in place. Pumping a dab of hand sanitiser into your hand as you self-report any symptoms experienced within the last few days as the new etiquette, while signing your name and phone number on the list provided - please.

I look up to see Aad arriving at the same time as me, searching for a place to lock up his bike. He greets me with a hearty and welcoming good morning grin, arriving earlier than usual today for our conversation. Aad kindly fixes me a coffee inside of Sijf, the establishment where he works as a bedrijfsleider. He takes a few moments to multitask slightly between communicating with his colleagues to ensure that everything is set for the day, before settling in to our discussion. We situate ourselves by the window, glancing out towards the Oude Binnenweg; one of the hotspot locations in the city of Rotterdam.

"What I don't understand completely is that the equipment is good, they all wear the masks in the area that you are told to wear a mask, but then they're just jumping onto the terrace without reading the signs or the boards - which is what we request. Which is what I don't understand. It's like a free zone here for a lot of people. It's like a 'we're on the terrace so we can do everything' kind of mentality. But we follow the rules, we follow the law. A few bars didn't, and they were shut down. It is difficult, you know. We are a place that has a lot of spaces inside in our establishment, and outside the terrace is small, but we need the terrace now and we're also going to need the terrace in the winter. So we have to explore making it comfortable for customers outside. Because in the winter we are having more guests than in the summer, and also the temperature is also always our enemy in the big city because when it's more than 25 degrees the people go outside. They go to the countryside. They go to the beaches. The best weather for us, is this weather" he notions outside. "Cloudy, little chance of rain, so all the people and the tourists go to the city. They're allowed to come in, but inside and also outside they need to keep the 1.5 metre distance. Normally we have about 150 people inside, but now at most we can have about 70. And we have the terrace, which in the winter we need to make comfortable. Meaning, more heaters, more covering, and hoping that when the winter really starts it will be December or January - when it will really be getting cold. But still, it's a challenge for us. But so is it for every man who runs his own shop. We have the big breweries right now, like Heineken, Amstel, thinking with us. Planning with us on how to go on with this situation." We're shortly interrupted, Aad acknowledging with a wink in his eye how breakfast in the most important meal of the day as mine is being brought over.

Although this morning is dreary looking, the rest of the month of August had not been. There had been an intense heat wave during the past two weeks, and the rest of the summer was charmingly warm - as most Dutch summers have been these last few years. As I thought on this, I asked if he believed that people have perhaps forgotten the situation in midst of the inviting temperatures. "How can you forget it? Every day you're reminded. At least, I am because I have to deal with it everyday. There is not a second that I forget it. What I do wonder is - how many people in your area do you know who have had or have COVID-19? How many people? How many people out of your friends or family have died from COVID? For most, likely nobody at the moment. So it's too far away from peoples minds right now. It doesn't occur to anyone I know. My Dad had COVID and he is 83, and he recovered. Which is great, it's really good. But aside from my father there is no one in my social group that has been sick or is sick. Yet then you hear of the latest case of, for example, a 65-year old man who did catch the virus and did not recover. I'm not only busy with the knowledge of the virus because of my work, but because of my own health. After all, I am technically in the risk group - I'm 62, and I had a stroke 6 years ago. I usually just go out to do the essentials - I'm here, or out to do the groceries and so. But two weeks ago I was sick, I don't know if it was corona or not, but I then had a 25-year old man helping me by doing my groceries for me. After I was feeling better, I came back into the city, which is such a hectic place to be right now which gives you a lot of grief - there's so many people here despite the circumstances. So although I consider myself as an empathetic person, I don't understand how people can just forget about it. During the lockdown, I had my son at home. I co-parent, so one week I would have my son at home with me and would have to give the lessons and do the school work with him at home. Which, he's a seven-year old boy, having a hard time sitting still at home - not having much interest in learning, and would rather be playing outside. Then the next week I was busy with the business logistics for here; the things we needed to purchase, implementing the changes, etc. Overall, I missed being here. Now we work longer hours per day, with less personnel. Because yes, we are busy again, and especially with this weather. But we need to look ahead to September and October, when everyone is back from vacation and as the weather changes. As well as what the new rules might be for these months.”

Aad [@vangrondelleaad] is employed by Restaurant Bar Sijf, however the opinions he expresses in his interview are not associated with and do not reflect the opinions of Restaurant Bar Sijf.

This interview has been translated into an English adaptation of its original version, which was recorded in both Dutch and English. Therefore, the story may not be completely accurate to how it was originally told. photography by Atazia Hadjirouseva [@atazia.pavlina]