“Who is Gina Pronk?”, you’re probably wondering. That is what I also wondered for a long time.
1. The Book
When in Australia, I had bought a little book in a second-hand bookshop: a Dutch novel printed in 1961 whose yellowed pages carry the smell of time. I wrote about this story in my post The Surfing End. The first thing you see as you open the book is a dedication that lies peacefully there since the 13th of April 1961. It says “With the best wishes for the future”.
While there, I thought it’d be cool to find out more about this book once I’d be back in Holland. “How did it get to the other end of the world?”. There were all the ingredients for an exciting venture into a marginal past.
2. The Quest
The book dedication had a location in it: Landsmeer, a little village north of Amsterdam, so that’s where the quest began. Fortunately I wasn’t alone, my quest companion being Amber, a young Dutch opera singer: the soundtrack to solve our mystery was already sorted. Unfortunately, we moved in total uncertainty: even the name in the signature was something we were not sure about. Try to read it in the picture above. Gina Rink? Gina Pink?
We reached what seemed to be the oldest bar in town and asked for information. They pointed us towards the house of Mr. BRINK. The guy opened us the door but alas, he was just the one who bougth Mr. Brink’s house. He invited us in and dug up the number of the real Brink, with the best wishes for our quest, but still we were not convinced about the name “Brink”: the letter at the beginning seems all but a B.
The enlightment struck when we passed in front of the local hospice: “They must know something that will help us!”. A few ladies were indulging in the sun, and as we showed the book, two of them simultaneously discloed the obscure name beyond any shadow of doubt: “Ja, Gina PRONK!”.
3. The Breakthrough
The hints we then collected went far beyond our expectations: the ladies remembered Gina and told us a lot about her. She lived with her mother and Mr. Pronk, who actually wasn’t her real father. She had two children and she had been part of a musical association called “Amicitia”. This latter information turned out to be the breakthrough: few clicks on Google and I found the association’s website, and in it an archive PDF that described the role of Gina in 1956.
I explained our research in one small email to the managers of the association, hoping that someone would be able to help us through. You can’t imagine the excitement when I got a reply the next day: the mail explained that Gina had unfortunately passed away, but for some reason the lady at Amicitia still had the number of one of her daughters!
I forwarded the number to Amber, who was able tot talk to her some time later. She listened to our story in excitement, learning that the book had literally traveled all around the globe, and she assured us that she would call us back to arrange a meeting for coffee.
We finally met a few weeks later, and I gave her the book. It was a moment of great commotion. As incredible as it has been, I won’t go into the details of our meeting, it would be too long.
Once again, the beauty of the adventure wasn’t the chased result but the quest itself. Starting out the old way: getting out and talking to people. We discovered the town Landsmeer, which despite sitting next to one of Europe’s most bustling capitals, was able to retain its people for all these years.
The feeling that stuck longer, the one that kept me warm for a few more days, came from seeing how friendly and helpful people had been in our quest.
Maybe Northern Europe’s heart is not as cold as its rain.