Widow AL Snijders: 'We had a great party for two years'

That seventh June 2021 AL Snijders got up a bit earlier than usual because he had to write a piece. Ineke Swanebert had brought him coffee and a bowl of muesli. When she returned to his study half an hour later, he was bent over behind his desk. At first she thought he was asleep. With great difficulty she moved his large body from the desk chair to the floor, a wet washcloth on his forehead. Ten minutes later the doctor came. “It was only when he said: ‘Ma’am, he passed away’ that it really dawned on me.”

It was the abrupt end of a love that had lasted just over two years. In her diary last spring Swaneelt (78) reports on this. The diary covers only two months, from April 4 to June 7. Simply because she only decided to record things on Easter Monday 2021. “I was overflowing with happiness. I wanted to immortalize that, as you do with photographs. Catching in language. Because you want it true. And only when it is there is it true.”

When Ineke Swanevelt met Peter Müller – as Snijders was actually called – she was 75 and he 81. Snijders – renowned for his Very Short Stories (ZKVs) – had been widowed fourteen months earlier, after a 52-year union. Swanevelt had been widow of Hans since 2016, with whom she had been together for 43 years. Until 2018 she had never heard of AL Snijders. Until she heard him read a column on the radio. She became intrigued by the sound of his voice. “He spoke in such fun, hesitant, yet striking sentences…”

She asked friends if they had ever heard of these Cutters. Oh yes, he turned out to be quite well-known, including his columns on the radio and his ZKV’s in the VPRO guide† Shortly afterwards, when she heard him say on the radio that he would be performing that afternoon at the Red Cinema in Amsterdam, Swanebert did not hesitate for a moment. “Childishly nervous,” she bought a ticket. Afterwards she was just madly in love. “Even though I didn’t realize it at the time. The last time I was in love – with Hans – was fifty years ago.”

That afternoon she watched breathlessly as Snijders read a number of his Very Short Stories. „I heard that you could subscribe to those ZKVs via a so-called grass list. Afterwards I spoke to him and asked if I could also be on the list. I expected him to say: ‘send an email to the publisher’. But he said: ‘Yeah, give me your email address’. I dropped my pencil out of nerves. I stooped as fast as he could, whereupon he said: ‘Boy, you are so nimble’. ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘but I am already 75’. To which he said: ‘Oh, then you are six years younger than me’. As if there was already a little alliance between us.”

After that, intensive e-mail contact quickly developed. So intensively, that she stuck a piece of paper on her computer that read: „Control yourself, Ineke! “My mind told me it was an idiot to dream about this man. Women my age are grandmothers. But the next moment I emailed: ‘Can I come and have a cup of coffee?’.”

It became a cup of coffee with a long aftertaste; two months later she moved in with him.

Is a late love very different from when you are forty?

“It is more intense, precisely because we were older. As Peter said: we both had such a long past that you could only get to know a grain of it. As a result, we had an infinite amount of things to tell each other. We walked on a beach on which we constantly saw beautiful pebbles. We were constantly making new discoveries. One day we were in a restaurant when Peter said: ‘I have to confess something: I have a fear of catering. Would you like to pay with my card in a minute?’ Horeca fear, I had never heard of it. But he really had it. If he ordered steak and got fish, he didn’t dare say anything about it. Even calling ‘waiter’ was difficult for him. A kind of genuine shyness. He was always amazed when I just asked someone for directions on the street. ‘That Ineke dares anything.’ He just didn’t. He didn’t dare.”

After half a year they decided to get married. It was their third marriage for both. “But I loved it so much. Marriage is a kind of eternity crown after all. You are glued together. We didn’t do rings. We gave each other a watch, with an inscription.”

How did your environment react?

“Variable. My circle was unanimously positive. It was different in his environment.”

His children saw nothing in your relationship.

“You should ask them that. It’s not up to me to say anything about that.”

What did he add to you?

“His enormous erudition. He revealed to me as a guide what literature is. What Poems Are, and Greek Philosophy. He read to me every day. You could divide the day into slices. A large part was spent on eroticism, another large part on eating, drinking and walking. And a very large part in literature and music. While we were having breakfast, he would read from Strindberg’s letters, or poems by Frank Koenegracht. We spent an hour in our dressing gowns talking about poetry. That was pure luck. I had never experienced anything like this with anyone.”

Your book is called Last Spring. Did you also count on a summer?

“Hopefully anyway. And on a winter and a spring. Although we were both well aware that we were living in stoppage time. That it was a grace of fate that we went through this together. With the constant realization that the man with the scythe was sneaking a peek at you from a corner.

Hans was sixteen years older than me. I was his carer for the last eight years. We had a good time together, but most of all we had become good friends. Brother and sister. Peter had been through something similar. Suddenly we had slammed the informal care door behind us and had become lovers. For the first time in my life I felt completely free and carefree.”

For the first time in my life I felt completely free and carefree

Once there was a threat of rupture. Swanebert asked Snijders something. He half looked up from his newspaper and answered: ‘What now?’. “I thought that was a crucial moment. A man who reacts like this is someone you shouldn’t want to stay with. Here something from his past was projected onto me. I left for Amsterdam and only told him a few days later what was bothering me. At first he thought it was exaggerated. Yet he understood. At our age, you shouldn’t try to change each other. A little direction here and there is sufficient. Once, when I put wooden spoons in the dishwasher, he yelled, ‘Well, I can see you don’t know much about wood. Wood is not allowed in the dishwasher’. Those kinds of little things.”

Eroticism plays a major role in the book. You often describe that you love each other, with the abbreviation KGB (cum in bed). Why does that come back every few pages?

“Because it was an essential part of our relationship. I don’t make it explicit anywhere. I’ve reduced it to what I call ‘love hieroglyphics’.”

You describe a scene about ‘the naked hairdresser’. You cut his hair naked, he sits naked in the barber chair.

Radiant: „That is to show what a playful elderly duo we were. ‘Customer and hairdresser in a nudist hair salon’, there is something very funny about that. Are you shocked then?”

Oh, no. But why should I as a reader know that? There’s something exhibitionistic about it, as if you’re flirting with it.

“Again, it was an important part of the day. It would only be weird if I hid that away.”

They talked a lot about their past relationships. Swaneelt once had a relationship with Godfried Bomans. She met him in the late sixties when Bomans opened a restaurant in Bennebroek. Swanevelt was then 23, Bomans 53.

Bomans was very different from Snijders, she emphasizes. “Godfried was a Catholic bastard. I once sat with him in a restaurant in Bloemendaal, in front of the window. Suddenly he shouted: ‘Bend over!’. For a woman came running: his own wife. She saw us. But I said, ‘Come on, I’m not going to bend down at all, I’m just going to sit twice as high.’ Mrs Bomans was of course very displeased. “Do you know this is my husband?” Bomans himself reacted smugly, cowardly. When he left I picked up the phone and called his house. ‘Mrs Bomans, we just met. I would like to discuss this further, because this is a wonderful situation.’ An hour later I rang the bell with them. That was of course a strange display: a 23-year-old girl rings the doorbell of a married couple in their fifties. Godfried asked a little anxiously: ‘Do you want me to stay with you?’ ‘Stay with it? Naturally. It’s fucking about you and me!’ He sat timidly, sniffing at his pipe. I suggested to Mrs. Bomans to end the relationship, if she apparently suffered that way. But when Godfried escorted me to the door, he said: ‘Hello sweetheart, see you soon’. We continued to see each other until he passed away five years later.”

Due to the age difference of six years, Snijders assumed that Swanevelt would survive him. They both found the prospect of being left alone unbearable. But they were both still healthy, so maybe that would be years away.

Necrology AL Snijders: Cheerful cross-thinker

Although that strange slip of the tongue in an interview with a local TV station a week before his death may have been an omen in retrospect. He was asked how long he thought he could continue writing. “I’m going to die until I drop.”

His sudden death was an unprecedented shock to Swaneelt. The difference in mourning after the death of her previous husband is large. “Hans was old and in need of help. He preferred not to live anymore. With Peter, I experience grief as a battle. I keep trying to remind myself that we had a great party for two years. An incredible gift. That comforts me.”

Now that that gift has suddenly been taken from you, wouldn’t you rather never have received it?

Ferm: “No, certainly not. Grief is the toll you pay for love. I never wanted to miss that love. When Peter had just died I thought: ‘I don’t have a goal anymore. For whom would I still want to make life as fun as possible?’ Until I realized: I have to make it as fun as possible for myself. That is a slow process. This book is a guideline for me.”

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