Friday, November 30, 2007

Concert Michael's Church, Munich

It's pouring rain today, and our kitchen ceiling is leaking, damaging the ceiling repair I had done several years ago. I'm looking at hotels and apartments in Prague, and getting a slight zing, even with the drip in the background. Ah. Drip away.

Meanwhile, a shaky clip of a concert I attended in Munich recently...

Running Around

Today I did a lot of walking around. I don't own a car, and peddling my bike has become impossible. It's not the best bike. Even the back tire, so thick it can withstand tacks—it's guaranteed not to go flat!—is flat. We must have biked through glass shards, or extra long nails. It should have repelled those tacks I saw on the ground.

I bought a three-year insurance policy, unaware that the bike wasn't going to last that long. It's a reasonably-priced Dutch bike. I was determined to get all I could out of it. My full money's worth. In the process, I've damaged my right knee. Actually it was already weak, but it's gotten progressively worse.

I got into the habit of wearing running shoes everywhere, but since my trip to Munich, I've started wearing fashionable boots. With all of the walking I do, it isn't a wise decision, even if it does make me more socially palatable.

Maybe what I need to do is to spend even more money on some socially acceptable running shoes! I could invest in a "hip" pair, and look good enough to attract other parents at my kids' Dutch school! Wow. Why didn't I think of that before.

As you might be aware, it's advisable to walk 10,000 steps each day to promote longevity. That's about five miles. If you do so, you're supposed to need a new pair of running shoes every six months.

Oh what a mistake fashionable boots are. Sure, I look good, but I'm paying the price. My feet hurt, and I have to place my weight on my right leg to compensate for my left knee, in order to walk up and down stairs.

But hey, more Dutch people might say "hi!" to me! Where have my priorities gone, and what was I ever thinking? I'd become such a practical loner.

But enough! I'd already vowed to knock off the sob story routine. I had one friend at the school playground, and now I'm going to have two soon! Another mother has be-friended me now.

My first new friend is an extremely nice, accepting, interesting person, and her daughter is my daughter's best friend. We don't meet everyday on the battlefield, uh playground, but when we do, it's nice. This morning her three-year-old son invited me for a cup of coffee, which was very sweet!

In total, I've walked about three hours today running errands in fashionista boots, bringing little people here and there. In the past month, I've spent about two weeks confined to the house with sick little ones, so it's either run all over the place, or sit inside.

This is my third post of the day. Two of them were transcriptions. This is also possibly my last post in November, which marks the end of the "post everyday month." Now it's time to catch up on studying Swedish. I also hope to make it to yoga class before all of my yearly lessons expire! :-)

Guidelines for Care

Today, I got an invitation in the mail from Ypsilon, a Dutch organization for family members of people with Schizophrenia. It was an invitation for the Christmas evening with drinks and snacks. I don't go to their monthly activities or meetings, but perhaps I ought to...

On the inside of the invitation was this list (I've translated it from the Dutch):

Guidelines for Good Medical and Community Care for People with Schizophrenia or Psychosis:

1. Involvement of parents, family members, and those closely involved with treatment and guidance, in deliberation with the patient, when possible.
2. Continued ambulant care that's arranged before discharge from the clinic. Attention to possible dual-diagnosis. No discharge without an observation plan and agreement in care plan/care agreement on paper.
3. Support in self-care, house-keeping, budgeting, debt advice, via care plan/care agreement. (inclusive SSI and insurance.)
4. The right to a safe and individually suited living arrangement with modern facilities in an environment where safety and human dignity are guaranteed.
5. Prescribed medications offered in the form preferred by the patient, pills or injection. Realization of hospitable and pleasant (brunch) policlinicals within own location—potentially with an expert volunteer—to ensure medication intake.
6. Good attention to physical health. Yearly medical screening for heart and artery illnesses, and diabetes; half-yearly dental check-up, and encouragement of physical activity.
7. The offering of and guidance toward constructive daily activities, work, or study, including transportation, if necessary. Opening of day programs on Sundays to break the "empty Sunday" routine.
8. Offering of psycho-education. Liberman modules and cognitive behavioral therapy to support functioning in society.
9. Attention to life questions, depression, suicidal thoughts, and absence of meaning in life, possibly by a spiritual care-giver.
10. Attention to the development and maintenance of social contacts and relations, and for vacation possibilities.

Ypsilon 2007

Malamud Quote

The world is full of invisible people stalking people they don't know. More homeless strangers than ever before. God since the time of man should have made it his business to call out names: Jacob meet Ishmael. I am not my brother's brother. Who says?

pg 25, The Tenant

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bringing in the reigns

Okay. My negativity about the Dutch is getting out of control. It isn't good for my health, or life expectancy to carry on this way. I've been on the edge here for far too long, but there must be some way of not allowing it to further chip away at my psyche.

I suppose immigrant groups face similar challenges in the United States. I just finished reading an article about Asian American communities in California. It's funny, though. The key word there is "community." I know plenty of people in the United States who were quite capable of succeeding there no matter what their background or skin color. It seems a lot easier to establish a secure life in the United States, but perhaps I'm wrong.

I'm sure there are plenty of Americans very happy to be here. I've met Americans who almost stop speaking English once they get here, even with their kids, and they certainly wouldn't speak English "on the streets."

The author of the piece on Asian Americans made the same point. There are people who do all they can to shed their identity, and want to "blend in" as much as possible. And there are those who hold on to their language and traditions. I don't see why it should be such an either/or proposition. I think it's mainly the pressure from "outside," or the population of the "host" country that immigrants feel so much pressure from to change their ways. It must seem a natural expectation from most natives to expect people who come to "their" country to adapt and assimilate as much as possible, to change completely, in fact.

One of my favorite Dutch writers, who died last year, Henk van Woerden, who wrote the wonderful book A Mouth Full of Glass, and taught at the University of Michigan said, "You don't know what you're asking of a person" when you expect them to make such a radical change in who they are in "integrating."

I had no notion of what would be expected of me in coming here, the invisible pressures I would face to bend my identity in order to be accepted. Well, I didn't do it. I haven't given up my language. I am who I am, even if in being that I've often felt that I am "an island in a sea" of hostile, indifferent, oblivious Dutch people. A stranger in a strange land, though I am no stranger. Somehow, whatever I do, I just don't fit here.

In the past few weeks there seems to be a small change taking place. I think a few more of the parents at my children's school are actually starting to wonder what it is about me, and we'll see. The nice people might finally triumph over all of the nastiness I've experienced. It looks like I might be accepted, after all. Wow. I guess if you make yourself into a fixture for long enough, people will take notice.

Again, there are a few golden individuals who've stuck their necks out for me, and I must concede, and be thankful to them. There's one mother who's particularly helpful and friendly, and a few of my yoga teachers are also quite nice. There might be hope; there might just be some light on the horizon.

A French woman once approached me on the school playground, and to9ld me that I really ought to speak Dutch with my kids while we're at school. But I'm perfectly capable of going back and forth between languages. If someone wants to speak Dutch, I can, but when it comes to my kids, I speak English all the time. The speech therapist even backed me up in this decision, saying that it was "consequent," as they call it, bi-lingualism.

Once, waiting for my bags at Schipol, I spoke with a Dutch woman who had moved to Rhode Island with her husband, and had a family there. She told me that once her kids went to school, that she met people, and that everything was fine. I guess it's just taking longer with me. It's happening now, after four years of school. What a long wait. I think Americans are probably more open on the whole, but I was born there.

Old European societies might represent more of a bulwark for outsiders than the United States.

I also read an article that negative and positive experiences of the day are processed during various phases of sleep. If you short change yourself on sleep, you'll end up short changing yourself on processing the positive experiences, since that happens later in sleep. Depressed people also have too much "active," REM sleep, and are therefore more prone to fatigue. Negativity, depression, fatigue, more negativity. It's a snowball effect. I wonder how many years I'm taking off my life by staying here.

Maybe if I studied Buddhism I could learn not to allow all of these things to eat at me so much. Buddhist are good at that. I went to see a Tibetan Buddhist speak in Rotterdam. Even after being driven out of his homeland, he was still able to laugh, and experience positivity most of the time, it seemed. It can't be found in a pill. Let it role off you. If only I were a rubber band.

Someone came by and fixed our water heater. It's getting warmer in here already.

Some people simply belong in the comfort zone of their own cultures. Maybe I'm one of those people. It's been time to "go back" for a long time, but I don't know how to do that, either.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The "American" Language

It's true. The Dutch think they know everything. They even think they know English better than we Americans, and they also think that "American" is a language, an inferior cousin to the English language.

It's a bizarre state of affairs. In the United States we don't refer to the Mexican, Puerto Rican or Columbian languages. We also don't refer to the Australian language, the Canadian language, the New Zealand language. No. These are all either Spanish or English. We recognize that there are differences in accent, usage, punctuation, but it always goes without saying that people in Australia speak English, and people in Mexico speak Spanish, unless they speak a tribal language, which we recognize as distinct.

In the United States we speak English. We know that our version of English differs some from folks in England, but still, we can converse, read each other's books, and watch each other's films.

That's why I never get it when a Dutch person tells me or my children we speak "American." There's no sense in correcting them, because they'll always brush you off with a "whatever, you know what I mean," and they'll continue on with whatever they were doing as if you hadn't said a thing. Because Dutch people are always right, and they always know better. They're Dutch, and you're American, and therefore inherently inferior. They also learned English English, so their English is also better. They think they can translate Dutch into English, but I can always tell when one of these people has translated anything, because it grates my ears.

Several weeks ago I was faced with the unpleasant experience of conversing with one of my son's teachers. The one who is so mean and impatient, he stews about her at times when he's not in class. She wanted to impress upon me the urgency of his problems in speaking Dutch. He's introduced the "th" sound into their most sacred of tongues, and urgently needed speech therapy. Though I spoke to her in perfect Dutch, she still asked me if I could understand her, and then she said, "Should we speak Engli, uh, American?"

(She's also one of the teachers responsible for the art project her students completed last year: 100 dollar bills with the words "The Bogus United States of America." I saw it, and said, "Well, I guess they don't like Americans here very much," and walked away, so I suppose she's taking out her ire on my son by making his 3rd grade experience as miserable as she can. She's going to change her manner soon, or else.)

We were at the speech therapist today. I thought she was enlightened. She's a speech therapist, after all, with an education in language, but I started to wonder when she kept repeating herself to me like a parrot, "Dutch is a what harder language," she said, "unlike American." I bit my tongue. It's no use telling these people anything.

Sometimes I wonder if they think this way because of the distinction they make between Dutch and Belgian. They'll say that a person in The Netherlands speaks "Nederlands," and a person in Belgian Flanders speaks "Flaams." But "Flaams" is still "Nederlands," something that even the snootiest of the snooty Dutch will concede. (They're a proud and arrogant people, but the softer Belgians are still "one of them," "in their camp," "on their team," etc.)

Next time anyone is stupid enough to tell me that I speak "American," I'm really going to have to call them out. Then again, maybe it's not worth it. The Dutch are highly skilled in brushing people off as though they're nothing, I've learned.

It's taken me quite a long time to realize it, but they actually really do see me as their inferior. Everyone, except for about three people. It seems like almost a universal. Perhaps it's something you can never really shed. I realized it when suddenly the word "FOB," popped into my head this evening.

Fob is actually an acronym for "Fresh off the Boat," and was used as a derogatory term referring to Europeans who just landed in America over a century ago. It's become antiquated as most educated Americans have learned to treat people from other cultures as intelligent equals.

It's odd that in the day of mass migration, of large numbers of people working, marrying, and moving across continents that people should still maintain such provincial attitudes toward people with an accent, another language, etc, but the Dutch manage to hold on to these attitudes with an ever tightening grip. I wonder if it will ever be possible to be treated as anything other than a "fob" by the masses of Dutch on automatic pilot, constantly putting you into the "foreign," or "lesser" pile as soon as you open your mouth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Malamud Quote

This from a Bernard Malmud book I'm reading, The Tenant, about a writer struggling to finish a novel, while fighting eviction from his apartment in New York. My copy is from The Slegte in Rotterdam, and is from 1972...

Without looking up at the window at his side, the writer imagined the wintery day beyond, crystal bright, lit cold beauty, glad of his existence, but without desire to be in or of it, breathe its stinging glow into his half-retired lungs, live it. This sort of pull and push he had long ago quelled in the self, else he would never have seriously written.

Irrational Dislike

I've met two men and one woman over the past six months who've expressed a total and irrational dislike of a nation of peoples.

The first, an older Irishman working for a Dutch bank, hated the English absolutely. The second hated the French, their language, everything about them. The third disliked Americans as a group.

This past Friday I met a very nice man, he was really quite reasonable, who suddenly changed when it came to "the French." He turned his head in disgust, and looked away, as if he couldn't bear to hear it, when I told him, "I always love it in France. It's wonderful there! People are always nice. It's such a beautiful place!"

His wife laughed, shook her head, and warned me, "He hates France, the language, everything."

It seemed unreasonable to hate France. You're bound to encounter weird, shower stall-like toilets in France, but I think they're working on this one over there.

Otherwise, the French have always been fine, to absolutely lovely whenever we've been there. They're almost always courteous, quite often charming people. I think it would be fun to be capable of rattling off a few sentences in fluent French.

Once in a bakery in Aix-en-Provence, I tried ordering nut bread. The woman hesitated, looked at my son, and headed for the ice cream machine. Thankfully my husband wasn't too far away, although I'm sure my son would have liked an ice cream. Nut bread is a delicious luxury. They also sell bread with chunks of lard, which is probably tasty, if you're not vegetarian.

Somehow I was always able to charm the French, and vice-versa. A few times I was even congratulated on the streets while pregnant, or while walking around with my lovely little son. He was an infant or had big blond curly locks at the time, and had a natural ability to charm, at least the French, who seem capable of being charmed.

I have a better understanding of the Irishman's irrational dislike of the English, merely from my basic understanding of the Irish-English conflict.

I haven't spent nearly as much time in England as I have in France, but the English were always perfectly nice, too. I flew into Stansted, went to my hotel, wandered around London, met some nice people for drinks. People everywhere seemed just fine to me. We also went to Bath, Cambridge, Oxford, London another time. All nice places, all nice people. No complaints. There was this strange waitress in a bar when we missed the boat who warned us, "Children suck everything out of you." Otherwise, seamless journeys through England.

Of course, being a tourist, and living someplace are two entirely different experiences.

I ought to keep better tabs of the positive experiences I've had here, of course. It's true. It's too true. They're there. I do have a few quite nice, budding friendships with some wonderful Dutch people, none of whom are native to South Holland. But let's not get glib.

I also have to admit to riding on the train many times uneventfully.

This all harks back to posting everyday, and being subject to time constant, mood, and wavering judgement. If I had any Dutch readers out there, I'm sure they've evaporated.

I've have plenty of encounters with perfectly nice, polite Dutch people in grocery stores, health food stores, pharmacies, etc, etc, all of the time, for years. There are some stores, like the Bijenkorf and other department stores, that I find dismal, but generally, most people in most shops are friendly, congenial, open. I concede. There's a great bakery here I love going to. I was able to tame a nasty woman in another bakery by not going back there for about a year. The bicycle shops are another story. There's a shop that sells delicious chocolates, but the people working there are hopeless. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they are forced to work overtime without any compensation. After hours they don't get paid, but they have to stay to clean up.

Over the weekend I had a friendly chat with an Australian woman who finds America, and New Yorkers in particular, the worst, most dreadful people of all. Not personally, but as a general rule. We had a nice, warm talk. No bad feelings at all.

It isn't these brief, often pleasant encounters with with people in shops that matter. In this regard, I'm sure being a tourist here is perfect.

The staff at the Boijmans van Beunigen is also always superb. They've gotten to know me by face, and will even permit me to take photos, just as they tell other people that it's not allowed. Becoming a regular has its privileges.

I shouldn't get too wrapped up in this everything is black and terrible routine. Of course. Of course. I have some friends and contacts here and there.

It's odd living on the same street for nine years, and not succeeding in becoming friendly with anyone. There are a few people who will say hello, but that's all. Most of them won't even do that. It seems quite prudish, and unneighborly of them.

I guess when you're faced with store personnel, it's their job to keep you as a customer. Also, I'm quite friendly. When people are nice, I'm nice, too. I'm often friendly, which puts people in a good mood, I think.

Relations with store personnel has nothing to do with substance.

I've encountered people for years at a time, for example, at the schools, and not even succeeded in getting a nod. It seems quite normal to me as an American to start out on the right foot. You create a pleasant, congenial atmosphere with people you see regularly by smiling, and saying, "hi!" I'm more than willing to do the same. But it seems to me that there are vast seas of Dutch people who wouldn't agree with such niceties, and have done away with them altogether. Niceties are an inefficient waste of time to them, it would appear. I've even met people at the school, talked to them briefly, but the next time I see them, they walk right past me, as if they don't know me from Job. Even if I say "hi," or begin looking in their direction, they still keep on walking, looking straight ahead. A few of them have scoffed, or looked at me as if I were a cretin from outer space. It's scary. They're scary.

But, as I've said, to give credit to the few genuine people I've met in the past nine years, they're out there. It can take a long time, a lot of patience, loneliness, pain, and suffering, before they actually cross your path.

Of course I've met enough people who are happy to be here above anyplace else, so it all depends on your experience, your take on it, the people you meet, etc., etc. Getting over "culture shock," can be a long process indeed. When I tell people about my experience they say that it isn't right I don't feel at home here, and that something serious has to be done to rectify my feelings.

That's all for now...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Burhnam Boiler circa 1983

In more mundane news, our water boiler broke after 23 years last Thursday. It's been a chilly few days at home. Yesterday I made crab cakes in the oven, a pumpkin pie, and roles. It got pretty toasty in here. I also did a few loads of wash. The drier also warms things up. Our son slept in his sleeping bag last night with three duveés (dekbeds) on top of that, and our daughter wouldn't get out of bed this morning to attend school. I told her it was warmer at school, but she wasn't convinced. That's logic for a five-year-old.

Two years ago it broke down, and we left it broken for about four months. Mercifully, it was a hot summer. It got so hot in the attic, it warmed up the water in the tank, and we could all shower. We also spent a few weeks at a campsite in The Hoge Veluwe. There wasn't any electricity there except to light up the bathrooms, so we couldn't charge our phones, but the warm water was plentiful. I recall it also getting up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), which is pretty damn hot anyplace. One afternoon we made the mistake of leaving the roof flap open on our tent, and went on a day trip to the Kröller-Müller. That was the day it poured rain. We had a portable radio, but of course, noise must be kept to a minimum in a "nature camping," so we hadn't bothered with the weather report. For a nature camping, it was much too crowded.

Sometimes I like to think that it's a kind of survival training, or a preparation for something. I'm ready, whatever it is. I lived for four months without a water heater. I'm a survivalist. I could live anywhere.

Then there was the year my daughter was born, 2002. The economy was bad. We lived on 700 euros a month, a great salary in parts of the world, but not in The Netherlands. I learned to make delicious Indian food, economical, and scrumptous. I also took trips to the Rotterdam market by Metro with five euros in my pocket. Of course, I couldn't pay the fare, but I could buy enough fruits and vegetables for a family. I'm a survivalist. We own a house, and so, were ineligible for government assistance. Of course, that was a recession time.

This evening we swung by the Karwei, a housewares store, and picked up a space heater. I could double up on sweaters, and live through the week until we get a new water heater, but it's too cold for everyone else. It's still in the high 40s during the day outside. I'll be happy to see that boiler go.

Incidentally, I love the term "water bubbler," for the American "drinking fountain." It's such a funny term, water bubbler. I first encountered the term water bubbler in the Edward Gorey book, The Shrinking of Treehorn. In it, Treehorn starts shrinking, and none of the adults around him notice. He becomes too small to reach the water bubbler. If you ever get a chance to read it, or any other Gorey books, do. They're brilliantly written and illustrated.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dutch Trains

The Dutch have this great public transport system. You can get just about anyplace by train, tram, bus, metro. Sure, there can be delays, maintenance periods, during which buses are put into place, or you are forced to go hours out of your way to get to your destination. It's happened to me many times. I've arrived hours later.

What typifies the train riders' experience most in The Netherlands isn't the poor service, delays, or the general filth of the trains. This would all be bearable if it weren't for the grotesque behavior of fellow passengers.

Most recently I was on my way home at night from a writer's meeting in Amsterdam when two women stepped onto the train, and sat opposite me. I was reading, and the car was nearly entirely empty. Still, this didn't deter them from sitting directly across from me only to begin a loud and meaningless conversation.

The Dutch aren't known for speaking quietly out of respect for their fellow citizens. They make loud telephone calls on trains, yell, speak loudly. You are of no concern to them. There are rules on the trains to speak quietly, but no one follows them.

When I put on my IPod, and turned up my music, one of the women started laughing at me, mocking my music. I was listening to English Madrigals, something she, a woman in her 50s, found worth mockery. She then began talking even louder, interspersed with faces, singing, laughter. It was appalling and undignified for a woman her age, but dignity is something that was far from her thoughts. I cranked up my music even louder. When they finally got out in Delft, she stood up, turned her large, square, and totally flat rear end toward me, and farted in my face.

This is an all too common experience on the trains. In an empty car, people will sit all around you, and begin loud conversation. I think it must encourage them even more to to raise their voices when they see a young woman quietly reading. The Dutch will do whatever they can within the law to make your life here as miserable as possible.

One rainy afternoon, I was headed home from my Dutch as a Second Language class in Amsterdam. This was years ago. I was on a waiting list for over a year for a class in Schiedam, and I was unaware that the train fare was going to cost hundreds of Guldens (the Dutch money before the Euro) per month, so I decided to take classes at the University of Amsterdam, and what a delight it was. Thankfully, I spent about two months neglecting to stamp my ticket (I had a wallet full of tickets, which I "forgot" to stamp. A nice conductor will stamp it for you with a warning).

The trains used to be free in The Netherlands, and they still should be, it's such an ungodly experience riding them. Al Gore gave the Dutch government some kind of special award for its train service. Obviously, he doesn't know what it's like to ride with the Dutch.

At any rate, I was sitting again in an empty car. A young man and his girlfriend came and sat right across from me. (On Dutch trains the seats are arranged in fours, two pairs of seats facing each other.) I was trying to study, but again, these people weren't deterred. They were talking as loudly as possible. I bent over the table, plugging my ears. He started speaking even louder. I kept reading with my ears plugged. As I was looking down, he started pounding his hand on the table. I ignored him. He kept whacking the table.

Sadly, this is all too common behavior for the pathetically ill-mannered Dutch.

Aside from the first two months of my class in Amsterdam, I always pay for my train rides. If you fail to pay, and they catch you, you can face steep fines. It costs 13 Euros round trip to Amsterdam with a 40% discount card, a 50 minute ride. My wallet is usually stuffed with tickets. When they come to check my ticket, they usually wave me off as I reach for my discount card, which I always have. There was a day when I forgot my discount card in another jacket pocket. It doubled as a re-loadable Metro card until it started malfunctioning. I had used it for a Metro ride that day in Rotterdam, forgetting it in a pocket.

The middle-aged female train conductor with a bleached blond hairdo fried at the ends was unsympathetic. She confiscated my ticket, and told me to buy a full priced ticket for the ride back. How forgiving of her. If she'd made me pay the fine, I could have at least written a letter to the NS (the Dutch train company), and gotten my money back, but she wanted to be sure I faced the full penalty.

Of course, any one of the people sitting across from me could have offered to allow me to ride on their discount card. You're allowed to take up to three people with you. I didn't think to ask. They didn't offer. Dutch people never help.

I spent years taking my two young children on the trains while they were still young enough to sit in a stroller, and people never offered to help me on or off the train, up or down long flights of stairs. Of course, there was the odd occasion. Usually, when someone does offer to help, it's an elderly woman, or a foreign man with dark skin. White, tall, hearty Dutchmen are want to help anyone. They're too busy pushing their way past you to be bothered.

My husband once asked one of these prize specimens to put out his cigarette as we stood with our infant sleeping in her pram in the doorway of the train. Her pram was too large to fit into the car were the seats were. This man's response to my husband was to punch him in the face with a large ring on, throwing his glasses on the floor. Blood was streaming down my husband's face. My son, then about 3.5, stood by screaming. Thankfully, there were actually people around who helped us to throw this guy off the train, or who knows where we'd be today.

I've often thought, in my nine years here, that it's a land of bandits.

Joyfully popping natural anti-depressants, I continue on my way, a citizen of the bad lands of Holland.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sinterklaas is in het land...

Last Saturday, while I was safely tucked away in my hotel in Munich, little boys and girls all over The Netherlands were working themselves up for the arrival from Spain by boat of Sinterklaas and his black-faced minions, the Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes.

There are a lot of different stories surrounding the evolution of Sinterklaas. One of them is that we have the Dutch to thank for "our" Santa Claus, which is derivative of the old Dutch Sint Klaas that Dutch settlers brought over with them to New Amsterdam, now New York.

They traded New Amsterdam for Suriname, a prudent decision. Otherwise, who can tell what the world, and more specifically, New York, my former home, would look like today.

The Dutch have done their best to sanitize Sinterklaas and his Piets. There are tales that say he was a real, and charitable person, living around 2-300 AD, who gave away all of his considerable wealth to aid the poor, or to distressed young women without a dowry.

People like to claim that the Piets get their black faces from going down the chimney, but the fact remains that the Piets come out of a time when the Dutch were heavily involved in the slave trade, happily obliging market demand for slaves by transporting them to where they could be sold.

In modern day "tradition," the Piets are depicted as bumbling, stupid, deceitful, but happy blacks, actually whites in black face, and Sinterklaas as their old and feeble, but kindly master on a white horse. The Piets do all of the work, while Sinterklaas rests. There's even a song children are taught to sing in schools about the Piets with the line, "although I'm black as soot, I mean well, because I'm from Sinterklaas," (al ben ik zwart als roet Ik meen het toch goed Want ik kom van Sinterklaas Sinterklaas). It's true. We were given a CD with that song on it produced by The Netherland's most luxurious department store, the Bijenkorf. It's keeping alive the tradition of teaching all Dutch children that dark skinned people are inferior, you might say. After all, "neger," or "nigger" is still an acceptable and everyday word in the Dutch language.

The Dutch are known for their bluntness. It's perfectly acceptable to insult people directly, a tradition my mother-in-law holds dear, but which I have difficulty with. According to The Netherlands expert Ian Buruma, this is a long-standing feature of Dutch culture, too. You're allowed to insult, say pretty much whatever you want, and no one's supposed to take it seriously. They call it "freedom of speech," or "vrijheid van menings uiting." We in the US like to call them "fighting words," or "words with the intent to incite violence." It's all in the subtleties of interpretation, I suppose. Insults, or free speech. Who can judge. My skin has only grown thinner in my nine years here.

We weren't led to believe that Santa Claus was a real person growing up. Our parents and culture didn't make it into a big ruse for children until they were old and wise enough to figure it out for themselves. Adults in The Netherlands go to great length not to reveal to children that Sinterklaas and the Piets are actually her parents (or mothers) going out shopping, and leaving things in her shoes at night.

This year I've tried to economize by cutting it down to small pieces of chocolate, fruit, or nuts in their shoes, but they'd really rather have bigger presents everyday. Our kids already have more clothes and toys than they need, and I'm personally overwhelmed by all of it, but that's another story. I'm all for "buy nothing" holidays, but most children seem to have a need to be enchanted and amused by presents, so I'd be spoiling all the fun. Besides, I'd have to explain to my children why Sinterklaas comes to all of the other children's houses, and not to ours. It's already becoming a problem with the little chocolates. Other kids get coloring books. That's just what we need in our house. Another coloring book.

Children are expected to put on a little show. They "set their shoes" every night by the door with something for the Sint's horse, a carrot, some water, or hay, and then they have to sing a song. In the morning, they go down to check their shoes. It's all very exciting. Our eight-year-old is less enthusiastic as last year. Perhaps he's beginning to catch on.

December 5th is "pakjes avond," or "present evening," a day that I have come to dread. Everyone, even children, are expected to sit in a circle of chairs, as, one by one, each gift is meticulously unwrapped. This can take hours. There's no music, and nothing to eat. If one of the kids gets up out of turn, he gets yelled at. Really, each present is supposed to come with a rhymn, usually involving a lesson of some kind, but my family here has dispensed with that tradition. Instead, my mother-in-law is fond of putting "rue" on my gifts, which is what bad children got in their shoes, a bundle of sticks to beat them with.

Everything is given anonymously. It's common to give inexpensive, "funny" gifts. Lots more stuff to add to the clutter at home.

Originally, it was a holiday exclusively for children, which would be fine with me, but all of the adults have joined in in recent years, which means presents for the entire family. In the United States we draw names to keep costs down. I'm not too sure about the famed Dutch frugality anymore. Of course, the past several years I have gotten dish towels, and even paper napkins. Oh well. If I don't go, I won't see or talk to any of my Dutch family for at least another several months, if not a year, if not years.

What you're supposed to do is write a list of things you want from Sint, and put it in your shoe this first night he's in The Netherlands. Adults don't set their shoes, but they do pass around lists of things they want every year. I'm expected to write up a list, something I try to avoid. My policy is, you buy yourself something; I buy myself something, then we're even. We don't have to shop for each other. But of course, this is unacceptable. I have to play along, so this year, my husband took over the list task. This year, I decided to come up with some real gifts they might consider.

Sinterklaas is all about joke gifts, too. I just thought of a great joke gift from my sister-in-law, who I saw about 1.5 years ago for the last time, when she actually came to my son's birthday party at the Efteling, the Dutch equivalent of Disney. Here's the gift: A large framed portrait of the close-up she took of my pimple at the Sinterklaas party two years ago at my in-laws house.

I wonder if we'll be eating anything other than fish sandwiches.

Friday, November 23, 2007


The older I get, the more I come to realize that being average is actually superior.

The older I get, the happier I am with mundanity.
--Mama Mojo today

You may have noticed this quote on Google's homepage today:

The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time.
- George Bernard Shaw

You're invited, but I'm going to ignore you.

Have you ever been invited someplace. You got a warm invitation from the host. You go happily. You prepare your wardrobe carefully. You feel good. You're confident of your place. It seems like the right thing to do. You're convinced, but of course, there's always a twinge of doubt, because you can never be 100% sure about anything you're doing. Still. You take your chances, and you go only to be disappointed. The host ignores you. You try talking to people, but most of them are cold and uninterested. You don't really connect with anyone. The spark isn't there. The clothes you picked out so carefully turn out to be all wrong for the crowd, and the occasion. You walk in the door glittering, but within an hour, you realize that you're out of place. You spend most of the evening wandering around alone. People are together all around you in groups. They are intimate with each other. You thought you too were an intimate, but when you introduce yourself to people, try to make connections, it doesn't work. People aren't buying even the most genuine things about you. They look at you suspiciously. Your conversation can't hold them. They're already engaged in conversation with someone else, and shortly thereafter, they've walked away from you, leaving you there standing. Once again you're left grasping, and on your own. Still, you were invited by the host. You were warmly received when you walked through the door, so you linger, even though you've been feeling uncomfortable for hours, you linger, because you think, "I belong, don't I?" You get invited the next night, and dutifully, you go. It's become your duty now. You made a commitment to the host. You've already agreed, so you have to go, but really, you've had it already with lingering around on your own an entire evening long. You'd be better off doing something completely on your own, rather than hanging there, waiting, hanging on to little snippets of conversation, waiting to be included for a moment, and it does happen. You are included here and there, briefly. What you're thirsty for is a long, meaningful, and involved conversation. You've become so starved, your words begin coming out in uncertain halts. Your sentences are half formed. Your ideas, split. Still, you can understand. The host is busy. He's invited lots of people, and you're only one person. You should be able to fend for yourself, to take advantage of the opportunity. You know there are enough people you could approach. You've seen some of them looking at you, and it's all your job. You have to approach them. The host has nearly totally abandoned you, and your social skills are waning, undermined. Gradually, you begin once again to realize the futility of social contact. There are plenty of people to talk to; there's enough to say, but once you've said it, you'll never see that person again. It will never lead to anything, anyway.

My Clog...

The clog to the left is the one I made for my five-year-old daughter at school. The photo is a bit blurry, taken with my husband's phone. I already posted on this. I know you were dying to see a photo of it! :-)

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Yesterday morning I decided to attend the annual Thanksgiving service at the St Pieterskerk in Leiden, or Leyden, in English. It's a beautiful church with an incredibly tall wooden ceiling, and thick stone columns. Rembrandt's parents are buried there. There's a plaque on the outside of the church giving that detail. He was born and educated in Leiden, which was, and has been for a long time, one of the more sophisticated cities in The Netherlands. It definitely has the feel of "learning." Many notables throughout history have studied at the University of Leiden, including John Adams.

I was admitted to the Literature Studies program (Literatuurwetenschap), but lacked funding. Oh well. Perhaps then I'd be too educated for my own good. Sigh.

The Netherlands has a reputation, now dwindling, for being an open, accepting society. People throughout history have come here in search of political asylum. Of course, that's true of many countries today, but The Netherlands has this feature as a long-standing tradition going back to 1500, or so. Spinoza was a product of Portueges Jews who fled Portugal to make their home in Amsterdam, most of whose descendants tragically perished in WWII.

The earliest Pilgrims were among those who sought refuge here in the early 1600s. They set sail from Rotterdam Delfshaven in 1620, after having spent most of twelve years in Leiden.

During the Thanksgiving service, I learned that the Pilgrims got their idea for Thanksgiving from the Dutch holiday 3 October (never heard of it), when people from Leiden celebrate liberation from the Spaniards with a herring and white bread feast. The principle was the same, even if the food is quite different. Lots of people getting together to eat and give thanks.

They also exported the Dutch idea for civil marriage, as an alternative for people who didn't wish to marry under a specific church.

The Pilgrims left Leiden to preserve the integrity of their group, and to escape mounting pressure from various factions, and because they weren't economically successful in Leiden. They also felt that the culture here was too liberal, and was having a bad influence on their children. So they set sail for the New World.

There's also the Pelgrimskerk in Rotterdam's Delfshaven, which is where they left from to go back to England, only to embark once again for the promised land, a journey that would cost half of them their lives, both on ship, and once they got there. They created lore with the Mayflower, and Plymouth Rock.

The Pilgrim's were a quietly religious folk in search of solitude, and the freedom to practice simple ways, not to be confused with the Puritans, a more dogmatic group.

It's been rumored that some of my English ancestors were among the very earliest of settlers to the United States, but I didn't see any Harris's on the list of those who boarded the Mayflower in 1620.

It was a nice, very American service, something that I wouldn't tolerate if I still lived in the US. Lots of Americanism, a message from the President (written by a speech writer, of course), speeches, singing. We stood for the "presenting of the colors." "The colors" is the flag, a term I hadn't heard in decades. There were scouts, a high school band, a youth choir, little kids dressed as Pilgrims. It reminded me of where I came from, and what I left behind "a long time ago," music, singing in the choir, squeaky clean living. The band played Simple Gifts, which is a Shaker hymn, and "Fanfare." We sang America the Beautiful, at which point I became so chocked up, I couldn't sing along, although I do so love to sing.

Interesting that the word "sojourner" came up in the service. The Pilgrims were sojourners. I've identified myself as a sojourner, however enmired I've become, I always think in terms of moving on, somehow. Of course, that's my perception.

I spent some time walking around the church. Most of the people were in groups, and some of them seemed to be tourists. A lot of the crowd also seemed to be wealthy Hague/Wassenaar American expats whose children go to the American school (a mere 20,000 a year tuition for primary school). I recognized one man from the Democrats Abroad, and he seemed to recognize me, too. I went to a Democrats meeting once in a house on the Grachten Gordel in Amsterdam, the most expensive place to live here, and the woman, wearing a diamond at least several carrots, apologized for the furnishings. Ah, the trials we face.) I'm not very at home in that crowd.

On the train ride over I sat next to two American women who have roots here. They were trying to read a Dutch newspaper. There was some news on the cover they were interested in, so I offered to translate for them. They told me that their husband/father was born and raised here until age 15. He's become frustrated in recent years trying to speak Dutch on visits. No one will oblige him. They all reply in English. They also told me that they'd noticed a change in attitude in general, much less tolerance, a lot more intolerance of "outsiders." I told them that I felt shut out from the culture, even though I've lived here for nine years, speak the language, and have a Dutch passport.

This is becoming a rambling post.

I managed to make a tofu turkey. It turned out well, and tastes remarkably like turkey. I'll have to experiment with tofu more often. If you mush it up, and press it between a weight, you come up with a nice texture. You can also add different seasonings to the mush.

I also made fresh cranberry sauce using orange juice, a little strawberry syrup, and loads of sugar, and candied sweet potatoes, loads of butter and sugar. Yams are impossible to find in The Netherlands. My husband cooked a piece of turkey, but he also loved the tofu turkey. I was surprised that my daughter really liked the tofu turkey. Unfortunately, our son wouldn't touch it. It was filled with a stuffing of dark brown bread, mushrooms, dried apricots, dried currents, walnuts, rosemary, parsley, oregano, vegetable broth, an egg, miso, soy sauce, orange juice, sesame oil, olive oil, mustard. I also basted it with a quick mix of miso, soy sauce, mustard, and orange juice. It wasn't hard to make at all. It was good to make the effort toward a family togetherness meal. We should do it more often.

This weekend I'm planning on baking some pumpkin pie, which is a custard pie, also apart of a traditional Thanksgiving feast. I could manage it yesterday. My favorite recipe uses fresh pumpkin, or yellow squash, a pat in the pan butter crust, and either créme fraiche, or reduced fat creme. Delicious.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tomorrow is...

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. Millions of Americans will be flying "home," going to friends and family to eat turkey dinner. It's the busiest travel day of the year in the US.

I've been back to the US once for Thanksgiving in my nine years here, I think, although I'm not very good at keeping track of these things, and I stopped keeping a journal shortly after moving here. The entries became so repetitive, it was painful. I once read an article in The New York Review of Books that said pilgrim women didn't keep too many journals. The article went on to state something like, they were too horrified by what they saw to write anything down. Stunned into silence.

I went back that year to say "goodbye" to my brother who was leaving on a two year Mormon mission in the Philippines. He speaks Ilokano and Tagalog fluently now. The only Filippino I've ever met lived nearby me in the dorms at Hunter. She went home every weekend to her father's house in New Jersey, and he'd give her enough food for the entire week to take back with her.

My family will be divided between Utah and New York. My sister in New York has made a tradition out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. She'll share it with our father, and one of our three brothers. My mother and older sister usually go to my aunt's house. One of my brothers will accompany them. One will stay at his place. Our aunt's house usually has several tables full of people.

My aunt's husband is a cowboy who rides in rodeos. Once, back when I was a troubled teen, I made the statement that I didn't like cowboys, which confirmed my uncle's dislike of me. Actually, this uncle is a high school counselor who also rides in rodeos. We went there one Thanksgiving, and my cousin took me to the neighbor's house to play cards, where we both got drunk. Later on, I was given all the blame for leading her astray. I was the bad one, but she took me to the house. She's a professor of political science in California now, and the pride of her parents. They still don't like me.

A few years ago my husband's cousin went on a trip to the US with her mother. One of their days in New York was Thanksgiving. I told them, "Everything's going to be closed. Why don't you go to my sister's for Thanksgiving dinner?" This cousin is a dairy vegetarian, so my sister went out of her way to make her something vegetarian. Thanksgiving dinner is a solid day of cooking, and usually involves more cooks pitching in dishes. She and her mother never thanked my sister for the dinner. She had a website of her trip with all sorts of snide comments about Americans, their twangy accent, and terrible photographs of chain linked fences, and graffitti. Typical. Each day of her trip was a tooth in a poorly drawn mouth. The only reference she made to Thanksgiving day was their ride on the "tram," (actually, it's the Subway) to Queens. Maybe that's her Dutch way of giving thanks?

Once, I went to visit her mother for a night. She lives in North Holland, nearly two hours away. I took my kids. She criticised me the entire time, didn't cook any dinner or offer us anything except bread and cheese, and tried to sell me an old, pilled up sweater of her daughter's, so that I could "help her." Ten Euros for a worn out sweater. What a bargain. I told her no thanks. My husband says that Northern Dutch women are just like that. After we got back here, she called to say that the bread mix I'd given her was delicious.

I was considering making a tofu turkey tomorrow with stuffing. It looks like a great recipe. My husband is the only person in the house who eats meat, so I'll have to buy him a turkey breast, and make that. Then here's pumpkin pie. I usually make it out of fresh pumpkins, and yams. I actually have some of those. They're a rarity here, but they had a lot of them at the market in Rotterdam a few weeks ago, and we haven't eaten them yet. I consider myself lucky.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Falling Behind in Swedish

I bought two packages of lebkuchen at the airport in Munich. Lebkuchen is a delicious Bavarian cookie with bits of ginger. My father used to make it at Christmas time every year, and hang it on the tree. At Christmas time in Munich, you can go to the Kriskindlmarkt, and buy ornamative lebkuchen with lovely designs on them, and different personalized messages. It looked like they sold them at the train station, but I tried going to the Virtualienmarkt on Sunday to get some, because I thought they'd be fresher. The woman who sold me my train ticket to the airport told me that the market was open in Sunday, so I shot over there. Shops aren't open in Munich on Sunday. It's a Catholic city. I knew this, but I believed her. Of course, all the stands were closed, so I walked around in the sun some more taking terribly grainy, worthlessly small photographs with my cell phone.

When I got back from Munich, I gave the cookies to my kids. They didn't like them, so I ate an entire pack. They weren't as tasty as some that I sampled at a bakery around the corner from my hotel, but still, they were delicious. I just couldn't stop eating them. The other pack can be for my husband.

Once in my twenties in New York City, I made a big batch of lebkuchen using a recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I brought them to a German friend at Hunter College. She was very happy to have them, and thanked me many times. I wish her well. She's in India now, trying to get back to Germany with her son.

Following the edict to post everyday, but neglecting my Swedish homework.

I'll have to make a fresh batch of lebkuchen soon. I still have The Joy of Cooking. You can actually buy the wafers they use for the bottom of cookies at the HEMA.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ha ha, klompjes avond

(Scroll down for English)

Ha ha. Back in The Netherlands, en ik worstel met mijzelf. Ik wil niet weer in dat dip vallen van negitivitiet over de Hollanders, dus ik probeer het vol te houden. De sfeer van vreugde die ik genoten heb in Munchin wil ik bij me houden, zelfs overdragen hier naartoe. Ik wil het niet loslaten. Ik ga niet meer in mijn zielige hoek zitten. Ik ga daar gewoon niet meer blijven. Niet.

Vandaag heb ik een heel mooi klomp gemaakt voor mijn dochtertje op school. Een Sinterklaas klomp, dus. Ik heb geen foto gemaakt, omdat mijn toestel nu stuk is. Maar hij is dus best mooi gelukt. Ik berijd nooit voor. Ik wist er ook niet van dat vanavond "klompjes" avond was op school.

Vorige jaar wist ik er ook niets van een surprise af voor mijn zoon, maar ik heb er toch iets moois van gemaakt. Ik ben vanavond pas achter gekomen dat ik ook een gedicht bij moest schrijven. Een jaar later krijg ik dat te horen. Ik had toch zijn naam keurig en mooi op getekent, en I love you in het Engels, dus dat was ook echt iets voor hem. Niemand anders had dat, en die andere kinderen kunnen dat ook niet lezen, dus van daar dat hij niets van gemerkt heeft dat hij als enige geen gedicht kreeg. Dat heb ik mooi gefixt. Hij wist niet hoe Sint wist dat hij Engels kon praaten. Dit jaar zag ik dat iemand mijn ontwerp gebruikt heeft voor een doos op school, dus dat was wel funny.

Over de klompen weer: Ze hadden wat kleine houten klompen. Dat vindt zij schattig, want dan is het net een baby klomp. Klein is lief. Eerst heb ik 'em paars geverfd met inkt verf op water basis. Daarna, heb ik mooi zijd-achtige roze draad in lijntjes gelijmd om de klomp heen, ons de beurt met goud draadjes. Tussen de draaden heb ik donker roze glitter op gelijmd. Bovendien, heb ik een vlecht van de draaden gemaakt, en dat op het binnen randje van de klomp gelijmed met een "tassel," die daar achter hangt. Zo sierlijk is het. Echt super chique. Ik heb mijn best gedaan. Ik wist niet van te voren wat ik zou maken, maar het is toch mooi gelukt. Veel mensen zijn langs gekomen om te zeggen hoe mooi mijn klomp gewoorden is. Ik hoop dat zij zich goed genoeg voelt om morgen naar school te gaan, dan kan ze de klomp bewonderen.

Okay. I hope my Dutch is okay. I know that I make mistakes, and that words are misspelled, but it's fun to do, sometimes.

Here's a little translation for my English speaking audience:

I'm going to attempt to hold onto the good feeling I have left over from Munich. I'm going forth, and I'm not going to allow myself to hang back in a corner sulking over the Dutch, the country, or anything else about what I don't like here. I'm going to carry the new look on people I gained from being in Munich to The Netherlands, and I'm going to attempt to turn things around here.

Secondly, tonight was clog decorating evening at school. I decorated a clog for my daughter. It's a tradition for young children in conjunction with the Sinterklaas festivities, which I'll have to get into later, in another post....

Last year I had to make a "surprise" for my son. When I got to the school, I didn't even know what that was. Turns out, it's a container for a present, elaborately decorated. People came prepared with all sorts of things, but I just made due with what the school made available, and came up with a great abstract box with pipe cleaners springing out from inside. I found out tonight that I was supposed to write a poem, and put it in with the present. A year later someone tells me. Thankfully, wrote his name, and I love you, all over the box, so I guess that was in place of the poem. He wondered how Sinterklaas knew he speaks English. It's a cardinal sin in The Netherlands to let on to a child that Sint and Piet (his black faced painted helpers) don't really exist, so I have to play along. The kids enjoy it.

On to the clog again...

The clog turned out just beautifully. I don't have a photo, since my camera is broken, but I'm happy with myself, and she'll be very happy, too. First, I stained it purple, then I glued pink satin string, alternating with gold string, all the way around the clog in lines. It starts out straight, and then become diagonal. In between the glittering thread, I glued dark pink glitter. I also made a braid of the strong, and glued it onto the inner rim of the clog, allowing the end to hang down in the back as a tassel. The effect is so graceful, chic even, it reminds me of a Lalique egg, with cheaper materials, of course. A number of people came by to tell me how well it turned out, including the teacher. It was fun to do.

I didn't even know it was tonight, so I hadn't prepared, like many of the other parents had.

Sometimes, it's better to do things spontaneously, than to plot them out. You can end up surprising yourself as you go by your own inventiveness. With a few basic materials, something can be made out of nothing. It's ad hoc. It's whimsy. It's going forth into the creative unknown.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Munich is Amazing

I could write a book about how amazing Munich is. It's such a beautiful city. I have to go back. There's so much to see, and the people there are remarkably courteous. I was truly astounded on the way from the airport at how silent the train was. Not a peep. It's a rule that people be quiet on the trains and Metros (U-Bahn, S-Bahn), and they actually follow the rule very conscientously. How refreshing.

A couple of times I asked for directions, and some of the people actually walked me to where I needed to go. Last night I was looking at my map after getting out on the wrong side of Central Station (Hauptbahnhof), and a woman walked me all the way to my hotel, and then invited me to a concert at an Evangelical church in central Munich. Munich people get five stars from me for attitude.

The city also offers endless cultural opportunities. Simply walking around and looking at all of the beautiful buildings is a treat. You don't even have to go in anyplace.

Yesterday I decided to make a trip to the Alte (Old) Pinakotek, and I was totally blown away by their collection of paintings. Lucas Cranach. Albrecht Dürer. Weyden. Holbein. Rembrandt. Too numerous to mention. I took 278 photos, of course, it's nearly impossible to take good photos of paintings like that, but I was enthralled, and couldn't help myself. Mideavil and Renaissance art really does have everything I need, I must say. It achieves so much, and is so rewarding to look at. I was there for five hours when they kicked me out.

Today I spent the whole day walking around.

First I went to a concert in the St. Michael Kirche, which is a Jesuit church in the old center of Munich. The church was packed when I got there. Standing room only, and the music. I couldn't help myself. It was so beautiful, so moving, I sobbed. Hayden. Of course, I sobbed discretely, but I sobbed, none-the-less. Afterward, the Bishop asked us all to thank the orchestra, choir, and organist, for "deses grösses muziek," "this big music." But, big in the sense of depth, importance, magnitude. The German word for "big" has all of these connotations.

Afterward, I walked to the Frauen Kirche, which just re-opened after undergoing a long rennovation. They were holding a service, so I had to be respectful. It was my second Eurcharist of the day. They don't do wine in Munich. All those people drinking from the same cup. Too unsanitary. So I got a nice little round wafer, and that was it. The body, without the blood.

After that I headed to the English Garden, making a stop at the Residenz underway. It was such beautiful weather, I decided to skip entering the Residenz, which is a Palace. I was running out of time, and wanted to see more of the city. Last time I was in Munich we visited several palaces, so I decided to go on an exploration walk instead.

Outside of the Residenz, I decided to take a few self portraits, and ended up dropping my camera on the concrete. What a shame. So many photos yet to take, and my camera was broken. I had to make due with my telephone, which takes low res photos. All the more reason to go back.

Did I mention that I love the German language? I could understand a lot of what people said. Almost everything, but I couldn't say much back. People there are so spontaneous. It's a wonderful place. Cheers!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lederhosen, Drindles, etc.

I'm a little pressed for time here. I bought an hour internet connection, and I don't want to go over my hour, or have to pay more than is necessary. I think I have a half an hour left, and my mind is a bit blank. I've been in Munich for a day and a half. Today, I feel like I wafted around the old center. Then, my friend called me to meet up. I had dinner with his family. They're nice people. Still, it feels a little bit like flitting around, flitting, fluttering, but not enough flutter. I was supposed to meet up with a friend from high school who I haven't seen in 20 years, but I don't know what happened to him.

It's an old cliché of Munich that people wear lederhosen and dirndles. So far, I haven't seen any. There's the odd man in a loden coat, or with a felt hat with a feather in it, which is also typically Bavarian. Mostly, the Bavarians seem to have shed their traditional garb for the modern clothes everyone else with money wears in the world. It's a bit boring, the uniformity in dress. The range of fashion has become so limited. No more colorful, flamboyant garb of old.

There are a lot of shops selling lederhosen and drindles for all ages. You can also purchase traditional footwear. It isn't cheap. An outfit would probably run you about 300 Euro. I don't think I'll ever go for one.

I am wearing the German sweater I bought at the Rotterdam market a week ago. Funnily enough, I'm pretty certain it's a traditional Bavarian sweater. Of course it's logical, but I was mistaken for a German journalist in a gallery today. I wondered if it was the sweater.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Michaels Church, Munich

First day in Munich were snow flurries. I'm in a flurry myself. A friend's opening was a success. There's lots to see. I thought I might need a better, more fashionable pair of shoes to wear to the opening, but it wasn't necessary. In the art world, jeans and a T-shirt are always acceptable attire. Funny enough, I've dressed nicely here, but when I'm back in Rotterdam, I can't be bothered. I dress down all the time.

Munich people are friendly and helpful. They are always glad to show you the way, and they're generally courteous. I guess when you live in a city that's as successful and rich as Munich, you can afford to be nice.

I spent the morning trying to get going. The beer is pure, no funny ingredients, or additives allowed here, and I only drank one of them, but I still woke up with a headache that hasn't gone away with two painkillers. Maybe it's the shoes, or the cold, or the flat pillow I slept on last night. Tonight I'm in the Marriott, which should be kinder on my neck. The pillows are big and fluffy.

After walking around all night Thursday in a new pair of boots that were pinching my toes, I was still able to exchange them for a bigger pair. The soles are solid rubber. All I did was wash them off with soap, and the sales lady didn't notice. How exciting.

This morning I walked into a church in the old center of Munich called the St. Michaels Church. It was almost totally rebuilt after the war. Much of Munich was rebuilt from the rubble back into it's original, pre-war state. It's a lovely city. There was an organist playing, and I sat down and listened. Organ music makes me so emotional. I love listening to it. It brings up the depth of my sorrow. When it stops, the mood passes away with it. My mood changes with the music, following its depth. A big old church is a wonderful place to sit and think.

Sunday morning they're having a concert there. I think I'll go to it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here's a Job for the Qualified Few...

Here's something you didn't know, and have probably never thought about: Having been committed to a mental hospital is a job qualification. I got a letter today in the mail from an organization I belong to here for family members of someone who has suffered from psychosis and/or schizophrenia. They're throwing the net out within the organization for a qualified person. The job they're offering is for someone who can work as a go between in a day program for psychiatric clients.

Here's the job description. I translated it from the Dutch:

You've been committed to a locked unit. Preferably, you've been court committed. Through this, you can function as an example for clients, and function as a bridge between clients and psychiatric staff. In addition, we expect that you have a High School diploma, and a university thought and work level. In addition to the above mentioned, it's also important that you possess sufficient social skill to function in a complex work situation. You can withstand stress, are critical, and have a sense of humor.

Of course, you have to speak Dutch fluently, too.

In short, they're looking for a remarkably qualified person. It's not surprising, but it was interesting to discover that having been court committed is a job qualification. It's amazing. There probably aren't too many people out there who are that unique.

If you happen across this post, and you fit this description, the job is at GGZ van Noord-Holland.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Little Known Facts

Epigram by Callimachus,
310-240 BCE

Cleombrotus and Ambracian said "Goodbye, sun"
and jumped straight down to Hades from a high wall.
He'd seen no evil worth dying for. He'd simply taken in
the whole of Plato's treatise on the soul.
—Translated by Edmund Keeley

Taxiing from a sick child to another just finishing school, I stood, backed up into a nook between the door, and the Metro seats, having picked up an article on Tolstoy once again in the New York Review of Books, I noticed this passage.

With little time to spare between errands, my bowels tightened their grip on me. I would only be gone four days, and the flight was also only an hour, but I would be gone, and I wasn't so sure it was necessary for me to leave my embedded situation here even for that long. Who would I meet. What will we talk about. Will I feel ill. Will my feet tire of scouring the little known city. Do I have the right clothes and shoes. Should I bother with jewelry. Should I even be going at all? After all, I haven't seen most of my family members in close to two years.

Will my knees collapse after walking around in even the smallest heel. Is my body made for navigating a city for four days on my own. How will I manage. I already felt dizzy a few times today, but it's probably nothing. None-the-less, my suitcase is packed. I didn't over pack too badly this time, but I gave myself some selection. Of course, I have the suitcase all to myself this time, and don't have to share. Still, I think I'm only taking a few things too many. I wasn't sure about my running shoes, but I guess I'll wear them, and bring a better looking less comfortable pair for dinner. Running shoes aren't the greatest fashion statement, but they're kind to my feet, knees, and back.

I asked everyone's opinion here on which handbag to take. My daughter sided with the big brown leather one with a rounded shape, and a short strap, and my son with the pleated Turkish Gucci. I'd like to remain loyal to both of them and take both.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Change Your Life Today

“Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

Simone de Beauvoir

Okay, so I've known for a long time that I can't live in The Netherlands for much longer. It's the mantra I've repeated to myself for years. I can never tell if it's gotten better or worse. I used to wake up every morning in a panic. For years, I woke up panicking every morning. Flight syndrome. Is this another one of my posts that I will wind up regretting in a few days? I wanted to write about Max Weber, the Protestant work ethic, and how it has a stranglehold on Dutch society. Why is it that I can't bring myself to like it here? I've tried so many different things. I've taken advantage of a lot this country has to offer, but I still feel spurned.

It's a race against the clock now. Even though, for some reason, Blogger has the date all wrong, my Tuesday post says it was posted on Monday, I still have to get this out. I put myself under this obligation to "post everyday in November." It's the "post everyday month." Of course, who the hell cares, right? I'm not obliged to follow anyone's edict. I'm not sure that I even like blogging much anymore. It's not going to get me out of The Netherlands.

Once, years ago, I was talking to a friend in New York about moving to Europe. He laughed and said, "Then you'd be moving to a place with a bunch of people who are more like you than you are." I just kind of winced at the time. Europe seemed like such a better place, but it hasn't proven itself to be in the nine years I've been here. (It's a great place to take a vacation, I won't deny that.) The people are more Calvinist than Calvin for one thing. What you have marks your quality as a person. I think I'd feel more at home on an Indian Reservation in the American Southwest, or in China. I've often thought that about China. At least then I'd have a clear demarcation line. I'd know where I stood. I'd know from the get go that I was an outsider. But my great grandmother was born in Utrecht. I'm Dutch, but I'm not to any of "them." After moving here I understand why they all left. I should have known better, and never "come back" to a place my ancestors were wise enough to leave. My great grandmother's father had a good job in Utrecht. He was a typesetter. Still, he left with his family, and never set foot in his birth country again, and neither did she.

Yesterday there was an article in the newspaper about how the Dutch government is considering making DNA tests mandatory for immigrant children and partners of non-Westerners. There's so much paranoia going on here, it's remarkable. How they could actually make it mandatory for anyone to hand over her DNA is beyond me. Speaking of civil rights violations. They also want to ensure that foreigners coming into the country to marry a bonafide Dutch swear their alliegiance to Dutch society over any other society. It won't be long before they start discussing procdures to plant chips into our brains.

Most people don't realize it, but The Netherlands is the most policed country in Europe. There are cameras everywhere.

I'm a believer that these anti-foreign attitudes translate over to all people from other places, not only people with dark skin. I feel it all the time, and I'm not alone. I often wonder where this society is headed. It's like the chill before the storm, in my eyes.

In the United States I heard African Americans say, "all whites are racists. Even if they say they aren't, they are, by definition." Sometimes I think the same about the Dutch. They're all xenophobic. However much they deny it, and claim open-mindedness, they're all a bunch of xenophobes. Of course, I don't know many actual Dutch. Perhaps I'll be proven wrong someday if I'm stuck here for another nine years, I might actually succeed in building friendships with a few Dutch people, and they'll prove me wrong. It hasn't happened so far. I'm still waiting. I've been snubbed too many times to make any more overtures to anymore flesh and blood Dutch, so I'll just sit back, and keep safe for now.

I've been on the train to Germany and Belgium when they've checked passports of all the dark people, but of no white people. I agonized over my decision to bring both of my passports, and they didn't even check me. I could probably travel through Europe by train without any ID, I'm so white. They wouldn't suspect me of being an illegal. Of course, I'd have to keep my mouth shut. In fact, we're required by Dutch law to carry ID with us at all times. So my passport's getting a little dirty these days sitting in my purse. I could get a Dutch ID card, but then I'd have to pay about 40 Euros, something I'd refuse to do. I'd rather have a dirty passport.

Trala. I made the deadline. Another day. Another post. Even if it is a vitriolic one. Perhaps one of these days I'll write more on Max Weber. I'll be in Munich soon, so perhaps I'll become inspired by my surroundings. If I recall correctly, he was born there. Of course, Fassbinder was also from Munich.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Quiet Blogger

I wonder if there's a pinnacle to be reached in blogging. Some afternoons, I get so wrapped up in a post, I throw everything else aside, and dive into writing, linking, editing. It doesn't take up all of my time by far, but it preoccupies me at times. When I look back at some of my posts, I wonder if I'd be better off not making some of my thoughts public. I'm at the mercy of my daily whims here. Everything is so off the cuff. I'm not sure if there's a greater good to blogging. A few people read my blog, and for them, I am grateful. Of course, I've alerted few people I know to the fact that I have a blog. So much for self-promotion.

I'm not sure what all of those widgets are for, anyway. I added myself to Technorati, and some other places I've forgotten the names of. Then I went to make some changes in the html, and ended up erasing whatever I'd done. Afterward, I tried adding those widgets on again, but I couldn't figure out where I'd gotten them from, exactly, found some others, but ended up putting them at the very top of my blog, instead of in a more inconspicuous place. The two widgets I have now rate traffic, and so far, I haven't got much. I also added a "ping," which apparently publishes my entries onto another site, so that people can go there and find them. So far, there's a delay of at least a few days in that.

I also visit sites that have long lists of links to sites they like, and I can't figure out how to do that, either. I loose patience trying. Perhaps it's a gradual process. Eventually, I'll build up to a richer blog, complete with links, sundry widgets, and much, much more.

At times I find myself wondering if I'm doing the "right" thing by creating this blog, wondering where I'm headed to, if I wouldn't be better off investing my energies in some other activity, such as gainful employment.

One of my readers made the astute suggestion that I use the blog to build novel material. An excellent suggestion. I might then just be bearing myself even more "bare," I'm afraid, but I'm allowing the thought to slosh around in my head. Perhaps it will take on some form as I move along in time.

I have to admit that I'm not sure what I would do if I knew that hundreds or thousands of people were going to be reading my entries. I prefer the idea of writing into the ether, knowing that a few might be reading, but that my blog mostly goes unnoticed. It's a much safer place to develop whatever it is I'm developing here, if anything at all. I can quietly go about my business.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Stalker on Facebook

Snap. It's funny how time rushes by in a snap.

Twenty years ago I was on a Public Access Television program in New York. It was a talk show run by a spoiled guy whose daddy has some radio stations in the South. I was working as a hostess at Le Parker Meridien Hotel on 56th Street. The host across the lobby, at the less formal restaurant, (Where I once sent Paul Simon, because he wasn't wearing a tie! I know. I know...), was a musician and singer named Alexander Robinson. He had a band with a guy named Frederick. They wanted me to play in their video, so I showed up with a Dolce and Gabbana skirt, and a bunch of other clothes. It turned out I was to play a street urchin. A very well dressed street urchin in Alphabet City in the days when squatters still existed in the East Village, and it was still possible to get a large studio for $500 a month. So I was in the video, and it was on Friday Night Videos, or something. As another part of the promotion, I was also on the talk show. I have no idea what happened to Alexander or Frederick, or the video. I can't remember the name of the song, either, but I think it was "Little Sister." I don't recall the name of the show, or what I said, nothing. Rest assured, we were all wearing clothes, it wasn't Midnight Blue, Robin Byrd, or any of those nude talk shows. Thank you.

After the talk show, the host of the show started calling me. He called periodically. After a while of calling I decided to meet him with a girlfriend of his, another young woman, whose mother had been a successful model in her heyday. My boyfriend had just moved away, and I needed to meet new people. We sat next to Keanu Reeves at a preppy/stuck up bar on the Upper Eastside. This was right when the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure came out, a film that I have never seen. I didn't know who the hell he was, so I told him that he should be an actor. It was good advice. Somehow, I could just tell.

I also went with the same girl, and the public access tv host to a Morrissey concert. He was a huge fan, and I had been a fan of The Smiths in high school, so it sounded like fun. We also went to a movie together on another occasion. Somehow, I also went with him to his parents apartment, which was impressive, and is probably worth a ton of money now. He's probably still living there.

He was a strange person, very sweaty, and he had the annerving habit of breathing heavily, sweating, and moving too close, which made me decide it was best never to see him again. His breathy calls and pleas to go out with me didn't stop. I was busy working and going to school, and I had met a new boyfriend. But this guy never stopped calling me. I ended up taping a conversation I had with him, just in case I needed it for any reason. The details are all very foggy. Eventually, he started calling me using another name. It was all so bizarre. He sent me perfume from Tiffany's, and other presents, signed using his new name.

A guy I was working with at Penguin told me that he was probably just "misunderstood." But I guess that's easy to say when you've never had a heavy breather call you whose name suddenly changes.

Of course, I've moved several times since, and he lost track of me. Until now. Yesterday he requested to "become my friend" on Facebook. I couldn't believe it. He actually tracked me down on Facebook. My stalker. After twenty years. Some people never give up. One day, I wouldn't be surprised, I'll open my door here, and he'll be standing there. He's coming closer to tracking me down again. Looks like it's time to move.

Theater, Anyone?

I just might dare. I might I might I might. I might just take a basic theater course IN DUTCH! A few weeks ago I attended a course, Latent Talent, but hubby was working his butt off to pay our bills, and it conflicted with my writing group in Amsterdam, so I missed the first two courses. Laying in bed last night, I really started to regret it. It was so much fun! We did all sorts of improvisational exercises. I laughed, and felt energized. People were enthusiastic, and NICE! :-) All my grumbling about the Dutch populace not wanting to be my friend. Boo hoo. Woe is me. And then I pass up a golden opportunity.

It's confession time now. As a teenager in New York I took several courses in Avant Garde theater at The New School for Public Research, and had a passion for Sam Beckett, Pinter, Mamet, Joe Orton, Capek's RUR, and on and on. We saw many off Broadway performances of Beckett plays. It was riveting stuff. I really should have taken the plunge then.

Another confession. While working as a restaurant hostess at the Parker Meridien hotel on 57th between 6th and 7th, I was approached by Tom Hanks' talent agent, Simon Maslow (Among others). Oh it was so long ago. These things just don't matter anymore. He gave me his card, and told me to call him. It took me a while, but I finally did call. Have I written about this before? Sorry if I have... Anyway, he told me that if I didn't know I was an actress by then, I wasn't an actress.

Now on to the next phase. After transferring to Hunter College, I started out by writing a few theater reviews. My first theater review was of a production of Tennessee William's Camino Real. The director was Kevin O'Connor, who would die of cancer not too long afterward, but I interviewed him on my mini cassette recorder, and I still have the tapes somewhere. His claim to fame was that he'd worked personally with Samuel Beckett in Paris, and with Vaclav Havel in Prague. I was enthralled.

Not too long after that, I started a Performing Arts rag at school, Spot. Those were my years spent as a budding journalist. Thaddeus Harden was one of my photographers. Funny, that. I'm not name dropping, just telling a story.

Before Kevin O'Connor got very ill, I went to see "By and for Havel," two plays, one by Havel, and the other by Beckett for Havel. Those were golden times. Ah, I'm so nostalgic, but moving on, moving right along.

Everyone says I LOOK young, and some even say that I AM young, so I guess it isn't too late for me. I can still have fun. I am in need of a new impulse.

Of course, I could just keep on wavering, wavering, back and forth, should I, shouldn't I. Then there's the money, but it might be fun, and on and on...