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deus ex machina 15

So most days she would wander about town, always with a novel by Querido – a sort of Dutch Zola – in her indispensable – a repository for cheese rinds, pieces of dry bread and apple cores. She would rummage in this bag, which she called her Entrepôt-dok, or free port – without the least ceremony, wherever she might be, and put the first piece of food which came to hand in her mouth. We continued to meet in Vondelpark, almost always at two in the afternoon, and after an hour’s skating which was as intoxicating, if not more so, as an hour at a ball in an aristocratic salon, intoxicating because of the delicious sensation that the closeness of her body caused me in the heat of that unrivalled exercise, which speeds up the circulation without affecting the nerves and which, by its very nature, allows for such graceful and artistic movement; after an hour’s healthy exercise, she would usually agree to my accompanying her as far as Nieuwmarkt, the picturesque fish market which was close to her home. We would then cross the oldest, most crowded and beautiful part of the city, where the canals become entwined and the bridges become still more numerous beneath the shadow of legendary towers which rise from the water, crowned by intricate bell-towers. There, more than in any other place, the crooked, irregular houses assume the appearance of an armada of floating, festooned galleons, many of them half submerged. It would have been impossible for me to go into that quarter alone, for I distrusted its Venetian seductiveness, and could never enjoy it on my own. With Camilla, who never lost the trail of this maze, I could watch unhindered the strange lifestyle of that amphibious population, packed into a scene which, in spite of its reality, seemed the work of fantasy and, far from peering eyes, it remained hidden in the memory along with the characters of a fantastic, unreal fairytale. I find it hard to express the pleasure of those walks, as we wandered like two small children, sucking oranges and pausing, enraptured, at each step.

At other times we would walk almost to the other side of

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