Friday, December 28, 2007

The Short Harbor

I've always kind of liked this building on the "Korte Haven," Short Harbor, in Schiedam. It cast such a clear reflection in the water on "Tweede Kerst Dag," Second Christmas Day. Yes, the Dutch have two official Christmas days. All the rumor about many Europeans having a lot of vacation is true. Six or more weeks a year isn't uncommon.

Big or Saint John's Church

Here's another shot of the Schiedam Christmas tree, with the "Grote of Sint Janskerk," the Big or Saint John's Church, in the background. The church has a lovely wooden organ with a beautifully carved mast (I think that's what it's called.) According to rumor, the organist plays passionately while drunk. All rumor, although I have walked passed while the church is locked, and heard an organist playing what seemed like "madly," although perhaps she was practicing, something any good musician is known to do a lot of.

The New Church

This is the "Nieuwe Kerk," or New Church, in Delft. It's called new since it's newer than the "Oud," or Old, church, which is from the 12th century. The New Church dates from the 15th. Of course, not all of it is that old. It's been rebuilt after fire, sections were added, etc, over the centuries. It stands right across from the old city hall building, which you can catch a glimpse of by scrolling down. Somewhere, hovering in about the middle of the square, is a statue of Grotius, the political thinker who was an early advocate of internationalism. I like the misty effect the light casts in the damp darkness. Humidity is high, and it's cold, but not freezing, creating lots of small water particles in the air, which gives off this interesting white, fading into black, luminescent glow.

Swans in Delft

On our way to a restaurant in Delft last night, I spotted two swans sleeping in a canal, beaks nuzzled into their wings. They're alert animals. When I walked up to the edge of the canal to photograph them, first one, then the other awoke, and swam right over to me. It was such a pretty, and graceful image. Once the second one reached me, they both started hissing, and I crossed the street. Swans can be aggressive, and they're strong, or so I've heard. I still don't know if the rumors are accurate, and I wasn't about to find out for myself. Of course they aren't bears, wolves, or large cats, but still. I'm a city girl. Animals scare me.

Delft Christmas Lights

Here's the Christmas tree in neighboring Delft, home to the political thinker, Grotius, and well-known for the white and blue porcelain, Delft's Blue. The wind-proof umbrella, and a cool car-bike hybrid were also designed at the Technical University in Delft. The building in the background is the old city hall.

Schiedam Christmas Lights

Christmas lights aren't quite as big in The Netherlands as they are in the United States. Here's the city Christmas tree in Schiedam, simple and austere, right across from the 13th century Protestant church. The building pictured is the old city hall, now a pricey restaurant, and a popular wedding location.

It gets dark around 4 o'clock here in the winter time. It's cold, overcast, and it rarely snows. Last week it snowed several days in a row, and the canals froze over, a rarity, but fun when it happens.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It's already Christmas in The Netherlands!

I went to a Protestant Church service at a 13th century church in the neighborhood, the Grote of St Jan Kerk (The Big or St John's Church), and sang Silent Night in Dutch. Most of the congregation seemed reticent to sing full notch, but I did my best. It was nice to get a chance to sing so heartily. I love singing.

Really, most of the people were mumbling. When it was time to say, "Amen," no one said anything. It was so bizarre. I don't understand this half-participation. It seems like a joy to me to be able to float in, sing a little, listen to the organ, float back out again.

Even the priestess (I'm not sure what it's called in a Protestant church) was pretty interesting. She said that when you find someone who needs your help, who's dependent on you, then you've found Jesus. It was a nice message. Something to take home. A few women in the back actually talked back at her few times, saying they didn't see something, and one woman laughed and clapped a bit, yelling out the songs at times. I don't understand. Why come, if you don't like it.

Most of the people will come again next Christmas. Not that I'm religious, but it does seem like something interesting to do every week, sing, listen to the organ a bit. I didn't grow up Protestant, so I don't have any of the baggage someone might have who had it forced upon them in her youth.

Half of the hymns I didn't know, which can be tricky when it's not your native language. When I knew the English version of a hymn, I could easily sing along. It was great to hear my voice again echoing off the program. It still sounds pretty good after years of neglect. Everyone should learn to sing. It's a great thing to do. To me, church is primarily a place to sing.

The pastor here is from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and I assume she must have a Ph.D, so she knows how to word things. I'd heard her mentioned once by someone from Pax Christi. Perhaps I'll become a church tourist, going around, listening to organists, singing songs.

One embarrassing thing. When it came time for the "collection," I realized that I didn't have any money, except what looked like a Polish Zlotky! They had three collections. I gave the Zlotky. Oh well. I didn't grow up in a church where they have a collection, and I went over there at the last minute. It slipped my mind altogether. It was enough for me to leave the house! :-)

Merry Christmas! The church clock bells are ringing again. Midnight mass? At two am? Is that possible? It sounds like the Catholic Church bells.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Marginal Art Existence

Since age 19 I've held a marginal relationship with art people, artists, the art world as such. I've floated in and out of art circles, resisted inclusion in them. I've hovered at the outskirts.

What am I saying here.

Sometimes I think it takes a skewed vision of the world to create or understand art. This is in part truth, in part myth. It also takes discipline, networking ability, personality, and business acumen to succeed in art. Among these are few people of outstanding genius. Of course genius takes courage. There's a quote on a wall at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to this effect. Any artist of merit needs a lot of courage and perseverance. You've got to plug away, even in the face of extreme self-loathing, if you're ever going to get anywhere.

Right now, I'm going through a period of isolation from the art world, and I'm considering dumping it all together. Too many egos. It's just me. I can't deal with egos asserting themselves over me, insisting on their intellectual and creative prowess in every contorted facial expression. Really, it's okay. Don't worry. 'Cause I'll be fine, even when things appear tentative for long stretches of time. As long as I keep writing, I'm a fine peach cobbler.

Back on track. I won't go into all of the personalities, genteel, arrogant, congenial. This a blog post, and should be of limited duration.

What it all boils down to is this. In April I took a writing workshop. I'd been on a great roll in my Amsterdam writing group, churning out story lines. It was great. I felt stimulated. Then an editor of a literary journal joined our group. I met his approval at first, but then one day, I brought in something that I'd written very quickly, no revision, a roll. This is always a hit or miss process for me. When I'm feeling right, I can sit down, and write something quickly. Somehow it just all fits together. My first published piece was written in this way. But this editor dude didn't like what I'd written. He was very snide about the whole thing, and he burst my creative bubble in the process. I went into a long writing slump that I haven't quite recovered from.

So in April I took a workshop in Amsterdam. It was a painful experience. One girl dominated the group, chattering on and on. Incidentally, a friend of that editor.

I'm not sure if I'll ever be a writer because the two things I want for are discipline and courage, so perhaps it's time to pack it in, and get a job doing whatever.

Problem is, I'm not too good at doing whatever, either.

Cut to the chase. Where is this gal headed to here?

Okay, here's the skinny. I had to write a story for the workshop, and couldn't get it going. About nineteen years ago I met this artist named Jack Goldstein. I visited his studio. He showed me his lightening paintings. I really liked him as a person. He was nice to me. Then, fifteen years later, I found out that he'd hung himself three days before my 34th birthday. So I started writing a story about him. I wanted to capture the essence of what I knew of him, which wasn't the impression that some people were giving. He alienated a lot of people with his outbursts and drug abuse. I wrote what I could, and stayed as true to his memory as I could. Even the girl in the workshop who talked incessantly, and developed a dislike of me when I asked her to talk less, couldn't say anything against what I'd written. My writing was vindicated, but it didn't get me out of the dark writer's block pit.

Writing certainly takes stamina. It was an emotionally exhausting task writing about Jack. I tried learning what I could about him. I put myself into it, and I got scared in the process. It's hard to imagine now, but I really was haunted by him. Maybe that's what it takes. I started to think that I had an obligation to his memory to write something about him. It became too much. In the end I started to imagine that he was here with me, that I was communing with the dead. It was pushing me over the edge. For several years it stuck with me, his suicide. I was upset about it. I wondered why people left him where he was. Why is it that certain people get abandoned. The world seems so heartless. I also wanted to explore what it was that lead him to that point. I wanted to go back and save him, a common impulse. There've been people I've wanted to save at different periods, but Jack was dead, and it was too late.

When I think about the story writing process, and the distance I've put between myself, and "it," I start to realize that all of my complaining, irritation, negativity, is just a distraction from doing something worth while. What else is bitterness but a degeneration of thought. When you're creating, doing something with your mind, you're succeeding in moving away from whatever obsessive thoughts muddle and trip you up into the dark pit.

I suppose. It could be true. It can be a difficult balance not to tip too far over into another form of mental instability. I've also gotten emotional satisfaction from my writing. There are no rules here.

Emotionally wrenching, stimulating, rewarding, whatever results. It's still better than irritation. I've been wondering which project to devote myself to, because it's true that I've got choices. It's got to happen soon.

I decided to put the project aside, and I haven't touched it since. I'm not sure if there's a better, less emotionally exhausting way of working. Maybe that's why I often stop writing my stories. It always ends up going too deep, and I stop.

I read a book called Jack Goldstein and the Cal Arts Mafia. In it Jack mentioned a gallerist, and it was funny. He said, all she ever did was drink coffee. All day long, she sat back her office drinking coffee. He was talking about all of the time he put into working, and this gallerist sat there drinking coffee. Sip, pour, sip, pour, gulp. What a placid existence.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

By the Rivers of Babylon

By the rivers of Babylon, there we
sat down, yea, we wept, when
we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the
willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us
away captive required of us a
song; and they that wasted us
required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of
How shall we sing the Lord's
song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let
my right hand forget her
If I do not remember thee, let my
tongue cleave to the roof of my
mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem
above my chief joy.

Psalm 137, King James Bible

This is excerpted by Harold Bloom in a review he wrote for The New York Review of Books of a new translation of the Psalms. This isn't the new translation, but a very old one from the 16th century by William Tyndale. It really is quite beautiful. I'd never really thought of the Bible as a literary work until I read Bloom's review.

I wish I had the time and fortitude to read and write all of the things that appeal to my interest. So many things pass me by, or I allow them to pass by, or I don't have the time and money to pick them up. I've often thought, I could spend my life in a library. They're such wonderful places. Of course, it would have to be an English library. Every now and then, I might want to read something in Dutch, or Swedish, (when I'm finally proficient), but I just love the cadences of the English language. It's music to me when I "hear," in my inner ear, a beautifully written line, and I'm such an emotional person, if it's beautiful enough, it will make me cry. Yes, the sound of language, the beauty of it, can move me to tears.

That's why I didn't become an English major in college. I was afraid of what all of that reading might do to my emotional well being. So I became a Political Science major, instead. This really was my reasoning. It was an attempt to stave off a slip into the depths.

It's funny, too, that we should slowly begin to cleave to the things that were available to us in our youths once there comes a time when there are so few things left to cleave to. I am aware of the modern psychological adage, rely on the self! You must find the strength within yourself! Do not allow yourself the illusion that you can rely upon anything outside of your own inner strength. Independence! Self Reliance! But I am not that tough. If I were, I would have "made it" by now. I'd be some tough person somewhere with a career, not allowing anyone, or anything get me down. Because there aren't too many circumstances that can crumble the self reliant.

As the Dutch are so fond of saying, "Hup, naar de volgende!" (Okay, onto to the next thing!) Hup here implies movement, springing up from whatever it was, as if our feet had springs on them. Because it is an option to bound through life, especially in the Western world, where there is so much wealth and opportunity, so much lack of misfortune, poverty, hunger. (But this has apparently become less true in the United States.)

After all, I shouldn't be one to complain, or to bemoan anything at all. What do I really have to complain about? When I'm feeling bold, I can approach people, ask how they're doing. When I'm feeling dejected, as if there's no point, anyway, because people don't like ME, I can walk past anyone, even women in whose faces I detect an interest. The glimmer of a beginning. If only I had been able to seize on all of these small opportunities. But no, I am almost always too afraid of what might happen. They might reject me. It's happened before. I make assumptions, discredit myself, put up a wall, and walk on, past the glint in some woman's eye, looking into my face for what I am also seeking, a friend, a companion.

I feel unworthy, and I walk around with a diatribe on a loop in my mind, telling me all the time how bad things are, repeating over and over everything that's gone wrong, all of the false turns, every slight, bad word, ill feeling people have directed toward me, or so I think. This way of thinking has been weighting me down for years. The monologue of the self, "You're not good enough, Emily!" "People don't like you!" And then it reflects back into blame. Because there are always enough people to blame for all manner of ill treatment.

Self reliant soul soul doesn't allow this to happen. Almost nothing can hamper the resilient. Even some of the worst experiences can be turned to one's advantage. Perhaps advantage is the wrong word. Even some of the worst experiences can be a kind of self education applied, stored, chalked up, woven in to the self's esteem.

Grand. I just saw an owl with prey in its claws, but it flew away before I could take record it with my camera. It could have been a falcon. I'm no bird expert. Some birds species are so adaptable, surviving urbanization, pollution, climate change. It's freezing cold today, and the sky is clear. There are also lovely blue and yellow jays out there flitting about.

I'll be sitting here still, on the banks of the Muse, pining for that place I once called home, bereft of all those people so far away, and of the opportunity I left behind.

At the end of High School, we had a party, and we could "choose" who we wanted to be. I went as Janus, the Roman god of gates, whose always looking two ways, backward and forward. He has two faces. It would seem that I am quite good at looking both ways, but is it possible to look at the present? To grasp at what's here, before me? Because if I continue looking deep into the past, while making leaps into a hypothetical future, I will continue to squander everything that's standing right before me, and then I'll be left with more regret. I can resolve to do a lot of things, but can I ever make a final resolution to seize the moment? Grasp and grab. Smile. Live for today. Yes, I can make that resolution, but tomorrow I will be stuck again, grappling with myself, lamenting what's over there, across the ocean, all of those far away things and people I can't see or touch, all of the smiles we will never share.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Union Violence

As a teenage college student in New York City, I worked in hotels to support myself. Several, though not all, of the hotels I worked in, were unionized. In some hotels, if a department was small, it wasn't required to join the union. The result was a few dollars less an hour than at other jobs, but the job itself was more pleasant. At union jobs, we paid so much in dues every year, that I used to wonder what the point was of the union. They must have taken a lot of the extra salary they negotiated for us right back into their own coffers.

While working in union hotels, I heard stories from a Latina who'd worked in the same job, supporting her children, for about twenty years, that when there was a strike, you had to strike, too, or the union people would harass you. They'd spit, yell, scold, scream. The strike fund was $100 for one week. After that, you were on your own financially.

It all seemed so bizarre at the time. I just needed money for school. I didn't care about strikes.

I never had to strike. My hotel career didn't last long.

(In The Netherlands you can't even get a job in a hotel if you don't go to school, and get a special kind of training, to work in one. Even if you come from another country where you worked in hotels for decades, they won't hire you here without a hotel school diploma. When I worked in hotels, only people in management had gone to college, and not necessarily to study about the hotel industry. I'll never get the Dutch system. You need special training to clean houses here. Funny that, going to school to learn how to handle a mop.)

Union violence is something that's starting to hit closer to home. My brother, who just got a job in a New York hotel, had his life threatened by a unionist several days ago. When he went to the police to report the threat, they treated him belligerently, sent him to several different precincts, refusing to take him seriously. My brother (college educated) didn't know much about unions or striking before he took the job. He's now learning a hard and undeserved lesson. I hope he will find another job soon. One where his life isn't being threatened.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Love Thy Neighbor

It's funny that I've been struggling with these concepts of aloneness, alienation, and questioning myself all along the way. I keep wondering, why should I care if someone is rude to me, doesn't want to say hi, isn't interested in neighborliness, or common courtesy. Why should I care if I feel excluded, slighted, constantly, wherever I go. Why should I bemoan a lack of substance, an emptiness in my regular adult human relationships. It's funny that I should come, after my rejection of religion, and in particular, Mormonism, to the concept of "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." Isn't this an infinitely outdated idea in an era of self-serving consumerism, where personal fulfillment and accomplishment, or the outward appearance thereof, have become the highest form of achievement?

And yet, it's true. All of the pieces started coming together for me. I had been skipping from article to article in an attempt to catch up on my New York Review of Books, unable to settle on anything, reading a paragraph here, another there, when I stumbled upon the article Auden and God. I was eager, for I have always loved the poet WH Auden. Reading his poems has always filled me with a deep sense of meaning, profundity of thought and feeling.

Auden was a much more religious, erudite, talented, thoughtful, worldly person than I. It doesn't really matter, though, does it, because that's not the point.

I ran out the door, looking forward to the Metro ride, and my read. The Metros were backed up, and delayed. When I stepped onto the Metro, four young Mormon missionaries were sitting there writing Christmas letters home. I thought of greeting them, "Hey, Elders!," and telling them that my brother served a mission in the Philippines, but, as is my usual state these days, I became too welled up with emotion to utter a word, so I just sat there, trying to concentrate on my reading, looking over at the Christmas letter one of the "Elders" was writing to his family, all stamped as it was with a "Merry Christmas!" stamp on red and green Christmas stationery. For the second year in a row, I will not be visiting my family "back home" for Christmas.

I'm still reading the article in bits and starts. I had to take my son to the speech therapist, where the woman was cheerfully gruff, once again, re-inforcing my feelings of isolation. Why can't anyone ever be genuine? She's not bad, but why the off-hand comments. All the time, always. There always has to be a snide undercurrent, not bluntly rude, but challenging. "Oh! You're still eating your lunch!" And then she walks away. I told her that we're always in such a hurry to get to her office on time that we don't have time for lunch. My children were hungry. Still, she can't resist throwing in a little jibe. This seems to be very common. Somehow, people often feel the need to cut you down to size from the get go, to emphasize how truly unworthy you are. It's become the universal that's replaced "Love Thy Neighbor," "Undercut Thy Neighbor."

I shouldn't have, but I did. I did what she'd done to me. I told her what I'd been thinking. I used her sarcastic comment about our hasty lunch as an opportunity to inform her that American is not a language. I also told her that when we're not living in The Netherlands anymore, my son won't have the need to loose his American twang, and that yes, it's true "American is a softer language than Dutch, and the culture is softer, too," although, that might be stretching the matter. At least if I'd been there, instead of here for the past nine years, I wouldn't be this alone.

I'm getting so worn down these days, which always throws be back to the question, why do I care that she, or anyone else makes a rude comment? Why do I care if people ignore me, or simply don't care? Just let it roll off, right? I really ought to study Buddhism.

After all, why would I want to love my neighbor? I've seen my neighbors. I've made attempts at be-friending some of them. Others, I'd really rather not have in my neighborhood. But of course, the point isn't the physical neighbors, it's the fact of seeing people regularly, walking past them, being in their midst, and the pure lack of contact, year after year, that is so bothersome.

As the article on Auden and God states: "human indifference, no matter how commonplace, is a moral failure, a refusal to love one's neighbor. And that commonplace failure has universal significance. As Auden noted, the gospels describe the commandments to love one's God and to love one's neighbor as "like" each other, and for Auden the moral significance of one's neighbor becomes clear when one thinks of him as created in the image of God."

Ach, there's such a tragic lack of love in this world, and religion is more commonly used to hate, to show fault, lack, in others, than to build a sense of "sisterly," or "brotherly" love, than anything else. Let's face it. Most of us have become secularists who shun religion as fervently as we would choose not to practice it, and those who do choose to practice, wag their fingers in turn. It's mutual finger waging. The church-goers believe fervently, and the non-church goers believe that the church goers are fervent fanatics. Surely, they couldn't believe in that, they all think, suspiciously, of the other!

I like Auden's concept of "being" Christian: "Auden referred to himself as a would be Christian, because, he said, even to call oneself a Christian would be an unchristian act of pride. "Christianity is a way, not a state, and a Christian is never something one is, only something one can pray to become."

One of my yoga teachers is fond of stating, "Don't think of what could be, but what is." She wants to encourage acceptance of the status quo. Stop trying to change things. Humpf. Sorry, yoga instructor, but I will keep on trying. It's in my nature. As my foster father, who I haven't spoken with in twenty years, always used to say about me, "You're a fighter, Emily." Yes, it's true. The struggle continues. I'll keep looking for the peaceable kingdom, even if, in doing so, I never find it.

Create it, you say. Ah yes, to have the strength within oneself to create my own miniature peaceable kingdom. Harmony at home. Within these few walls. Yes... It's true. I ought not to complain, because I don't have it so bad, after all.

I leave you with the WH Auden poem, Musee des Beaux Art, a poem about a Breugel painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus that hangs in a museum in Brussels of the same name:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Peter Greenaway

My attention divided between a Swedish radio broadcast, and my latest blogpost, still I go forward.

Yesterday I saw Peter Greenaway at the Rotterdam bookstore Donner. He was there to talk about film, painting, writing, visual imagery. A theater production of his premiers this week in Rotterdam, and he was there to promote, to discuss.

When asked to describe himself, he said that he disliked being dubbed a director, likening it to being the conductor of an orchestra, a somehow inferior artistic function. He said that he always called himself a television technition, stating that he'd started out as an editor, on that side of things, putting things together.

His eight-nine-year-old daughter sat on the floor coloring in five large gray circles with a professional drafting pencil onto a professional drafter's pad, thickly textured white paper. The dots became cakes of silvery black as she scribbled away, four dots in a square arrangement, and one on top, in the middle. Her dress was also covered in silvery white buttons around her midriff. She looks like him.

Once the pencil started working against her, (because after a while, caked on pencil starts flaking back at you as you draw), she drew a slight and uneven circle around the five large dots, and skipped off to her aged father sitting alone by then in an empty row of chairs. His pearly white prosthetic teeth chattered something back to her that I couldn't overhear. They were false teeth, and the skin was tanned leather, but the manner was surprisingly gentle, paternal.

Greenaway said that film could have been one of the greatest communicative mediums, could have been, he emphasized, if it weren't dominated by writing. The elite has its hold on the way things are done, and so writing, perceived as a superior art, will always have its unjustified hold on film.

You can't have a film without a script. He always has to write everything down for everyone, or they won't understand, but really, it is the visual language that should dominate, somehow superceeding the word.

We should really do away with words all together, let go their interpretive hold on us as people, and give ourselves over to pictures. Pictures go beyond words, and form a superior language, if only we could form them, doing away with words for once. Imagery should come to prevail over the word, leading us into a realm beyond the mere word-based reality we live in currently.

He went on to discuss the ground-breaking work he made with Rembrandt's Night Watch, projecting bright lights right onto the ordinarily dimly lit treasure. (I missed this production.) Rembrandt never made an ugly portrait of a woman, he said, although he did paint ugly women, but Vermeer is really his favorite painter. He "made" the landscape what it is. "Rembrandt is too Hollywood," he declared. "Who knows what we'll think of Rembrandt as a painter in fifty years," after all, he didn't have the status fifty years ago that he has today.

I guess it's also rather "Hollywood" that Rembrandt died an impoverished, broken man.

It made me wonder if Greenaway ever took the time to behold Rembrandt's etchings, some of the most marvelous objects I've ever seen in their intricate beauty.

Greenaway has plans to brightly lite other world masterpieces of paintings in the future. The Rijksmuseum (he kept saying "rice" museum) paved the way for such projects.

I read in a Dutch paper that his project in the Rijksmuseum, which attracted 6,000 visitors a day (or was it the Night Watch that attracted them?), didn't make a bit of sense, as stated by a writer, of all people. If only they'd made a collage, projecting their review someplace, perhaps the reviewer could have done justice to the Night Watch project, but then again, I didn't see it. It's odd.

Two of the singers were on hand to give us a taste of what's in store this week in the Rotterdam Schouwberg production, Rembrandt's Speigel. They sang about red, I believe, red is the color of blood, red is this, red is that, and then, shockingly, yellow, yellow is this, yellow is that, "yellow is the color of PISS." (hiss.) I wanted to add, "but only if you're pissing out excess vitamin supplements, in which case it's yellow. Otherwise, it can be colorless, I've noticed," but I guess this wouldn't have as much punch. I wonder what would happen if, instead of words, pictures came out of the singer's mouths. That would be truly profound.

I would never argue that visual art should or does have supremacy over the written word. It's a bizarre either/or dichtomous line of thinking that I don't understand. One could argue that imagery has long since become more influential than words, but of course, there's always a script somewhere, right? And, perhaps you might also add, it's become more influential with the hoards I imagine Greenaway disdains, like the masses of people who can so simply, so basely, be entertained by the dump synonymous with artistic degradation, Hollywood. Horror of horrors.

It made me wonder if bringing a child into the world at his age had so drained him of what little energy he has left to give that it had distorted his ability to process thought. Such bizarrely platitudinous pronouncements. Such a jumble of ideas so thinly expressed. I expected more.

And then, the production Rembrandt's Speigel (Rembrandt's Mirror) will be done in a language that he, Greenaway, doesn't understand! He's only been working here for 21 years, has a Dutch wife, and a child, and he still doesn't understand the language. Don't get me started. But then, he's a not-so-typical example of someone who's been shielded from ever being exposed to Dutch for 21 years out of courtesy of his stature. I'm sure no Dutch person would ever dare converse in her own language in his presence. If they had, after 21 years, the language would have rubbed off on him, but he's a great artist, so he can be excused. Funny that he called himself an honorary Dutchman.

When the composer of the music, Vincent van Warmerdam, got up after Greenaway and proclaimed that there are no theatrics in opera, I really started to wonder which zone I'd landed myself in. Had he ever seen an opera?

Greenaway also told a story about his Rotterdam-based Dutch producer, Kees Kasander. Kees approached him at the Rotterdam film festival years ago, and said, "Hey, do you want to go to Hollywood, and make films with Elizabeth Taylor on an airplane with sixty pigs, or what? I'll fund all of your films for you." And so he they did, years later, form a partnership. Greenaway was saved by the Dutch Kees from Hollywood pigs. Could the pig be a reference to Taylor's weight? I wonder. He didn't specify. Pigs should no longer be permitted as analogies for obese people. But then, Kees was mixing words and imagery there, an even greater crime than words themselves? I'm getting confused.

Greenaway's been living in Amsterdam for twelve years. He married Saskia, the brain behind a lot of the imagery in his films, and the woman to whom he deferred. "I don't know. You'd have to ask Saskia. She's produced so many images." Saskia was sitting behind me. The interviewer, a Dutch actor who'd appeared as a waiter in one of Greenaway's films, wanted to know what it was like for them to prepare for a production together. He said something like, "You wake up in the morning, sit at the breakfast table, and talk about the production...," to which the pompous Greenaway modestly blushed.

Years ago when I read Gore Vidal, he lamented the demise of the writer as a "star" in Hollywood film. Perhaps Greenaway is going down this path as well? Throw out the writers. Let's just paste together a bunch of clips. Who needs concept, after all. I was mistaken. I always thought that the basis of a great film was a great script. Who needs words, though. Words are moot. From now on, I'll carry around a set of flash cards with me, and point to them whenever I want to communicate anything. A picture is worth a thousands words? AWH! There she goes again with that word garbage thing a ma boob! Could I be possibly becoming Hollywood, too? Oh, dread greater than dread itself. Flash. Flash. Words disappear.


Nederland is voor mij geen matschappij.

The Netherlands is no society for me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Little Prayer

My favorite horoscope is on I know it's silly, but I read it a lot of months. It's my own version of hanging onto or dangling from a thread in my reliance on its predictive wisdom. I don't know why, but it often rings true. Perhaps this is a sign of my propensity to paranoid thinking, perhaps, perhaps. I confess. It's true. I'm vulnerable, and in need of some outer strength. Where's my guide? I admit it, too, I'm lacking any form of crutch. So the horoscope shuffles in as a substitute, as a lean-to, and I'm leanin' on it, baby. Some months it becomes a kind of mental topographical guide. I find myself using it as an advice tablet, and lawd knows, I could use it. All other sources having failed, it's my back-up. Back up. Back me up. Here's an excerpt. Sure, it could all be hogwash. Could be. Who knows:

Finally, Pluto is now challenging very strongly the lives of all born after March 17th. Quite simply you are being forced to stand up for your own belief in self and power and your own status. The only problem is you can become ruthless and create enemies when such a drive is around. Years of being retreatist or having been bullied may now be coming home to roost and you may want stand strong. This is understandable, but remember that you don’t want to repeat the behavior of those you have condemned in the past. If wise, this can be a time that combined with humility, your demand for a destined say in the world can be fulfilled.

On another note, I will be facing the Sinterklaas challenge this afternoon. An entire room full of the "in" family. My heart is already racing. Send me your blessings. I may just need them...

Thanks be to those who remain my supportive friends. I know you're out there.


Monday, December 3, 2007


I'm reading an article in The New York Review of Books about Philip Roth's new novel Exit Ghost. It discusses Roth's character Zuckerman:

The amplification of reality is to Zuckerman one of literature's great consolations, and the will to amplify a mark of human vitality.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Pantheon

The clock in The Pantheon in Paris is now working thanks to a group of clock repairing bandits. Yes, there's actually a group in France that goes around stealthily repairing things the government neglects. They call themselves Untergunther. They break into monuments, and set to work nights. When I saw the headline, my stomach dropped. At first I thought someone had damaged the Pantheon, but they'd fixed the clock! Gotta love it.

Long and Languid Vacation

In The Netherlands, there are actually groups of people in government who can't figure out why Moroccans, Turks, and other immigrant groups go back to their "home" countries on long vacations. They even have houses there! Outrage! It's a heated discussion here, and people waste a lot of breath over it.

It seems pretty easy to figure out why people would want to keep in touch with their roots, but a lot of Dutch people find it irksome when, after someone comes to live here, and gets somewhat established, that he would want to keep up his language, traditions, and to continue visiting wherever he came from. It seems as if they'd like to lock us all up here permanently, and keep us from ever uttering a word in anything but Dutch, or going on vacation to where our relatives are.

It's a discussion that totally baffles me. I don't understand why anyone in government or anywhere else cares why I, or anyone, would go on a long vacation to visit family, and friends, but it upsets the Dutch. In fact, they're in outrage over it. How something as harmless as a vacation should upset anyone else is beyond me.

This post is repetitive.... Why. I ask, why? The obsurdity of the debate begs repetition of the question, why.

Yesterday in the most reputed Dutch newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, there was actually a review of a book that studies this "problem." The author researched Irish people who emigrated to the United States, and found out that they actually kept in touch with their home country. It was the same with Italians, Chinese, and even, Dutch people! They wrote letters, kept up their languages, lived in communities together. The Dutch scratch their heads over all of this, but it seems too obvious to me. I can't imagine someone writing a book about it. What a worthy research problem. I could have told them so myself.

Years ago I was about to embark on a two month holiday to the United States with my son, when one of my mother-in-law's friends expressed bafflement at how long I was going to be away. She was astonished, "two months!"

It's the same over and over in the papers and government, bafflement by people who can't believe that people who come here could actually go to visit their families for so long. Surely, it's not good for integration. A person who's become "theirs," after all, should stay here, immersing herself in the Dutch language and culture in ever increasing intensity, without a thought "backwards."

I've said it many times before: The Dutch should be happy that anyone comes here at all, and we can go wherever the hell we want to go on vacation! Thank you!

Here's a great story. My sister knew a white Dutch guy who was on the dole in The Netherlands because he was "disabled." He spent six months or so every year in Salt Lake City, came back to collect, and then went to Salt Lake again, and worked under the table doing something. He was white, and he was born here. He probably has a perfect accent. Maybe Parliament should have a debate about him! Not two, but six months, and he doesn't even have a job to pay for it.

It's funny that the question of how "we" can make people feel comfortable and welcome never enters into the debate. It's always about how to make people feel as shitty, undervalued and insecure as possible. I guess that kind of psychology works for the Dutch. Put someone else down, so you can bring yourself up. It's a massive stroking of the self. They feel threatened by all of the "new comers," so they're doing their best to make the new comers feel as inferior, and unwelcome as possible. Maybe it's a natural group process, squeeze out the new guy, and see if he can survive here while being squeezed. It's a test of our endurance, and long suffering ability.

I think that these people are just jealous that we immigrants have houses, friends, and family in nice places, and can go on long, cheap vacations to people who treat us well, and care about us. They're so envious of us, it leads them to heated debate, up into Parliament. Maybe the debate is also another way of them shouting, "What's a matter, aren't we good enough for you?"

Answer: No.

After all, I'm sure they'd all like to grow up speaking two languages, and having a meaningful relationship with a cool place outside of cold, uncaring, brutal Holland.

Better start planning my next two month vacation back home. Yes, home.