Monthly Archives: April 2011

ROYAL WEDDING

When Charles and Diana married, I took the day off from work and got up at 4am. I am a child of an American father and British mother and lived in England in my early years. I love England.

Now I live a little closer to England (just an hour flight to London) and the big day is approaching. I see William today and I flash on him as a little boy with the same smile as his mother. It reminds me of how time has marched on for all of us.

For me, the good news is that there is a one hour time difference between the Netherlands and England. I will not have to get up at 4am to watch the wedding, but my mother, who lives in California, will be getting up at 1am.

This country also has a royal family, although there is a lot less drama and scandal with the Dutch royals. Beatrix is the much loved and respected Queen.

There is a philosophy in the Netherlands that you must not be too proud or arrogant. If you are a Dutch star in sports or entertainment, you should not flaunt your success. It is very bad form to be boastful about yourself or your achievements. When I think of the Dutch royal family, that philosophy is alive and well. The Dutch citizens seem to admire the royals because they don’t seem “too full of themselves”.

The next in line to the Queen is Prince Willem Alexander. After the queen, his wife, Princess Maxima, who is from Argentina, is the most popular member of the royal family. She is smart, articulate, gracious and beautiful. They have three daughters, who all attend public schools.

But this week is all about William and Kate, I keep trying to imagine Diana as the mother of the groom. She would have been so beautiful and proud.

It is refreshing to have the world watching a happy occasion, instead of some horrible tragedy. For one day, people all around the world can watch pomp and circumstance. Maybe it is much ado about nothing, on the other hand, it is a lovely distraction for just a little while. Put on the kettle, make yourself a cup tea and join me in some fun. On the day of the wedding, no matter what time it is in your home, we will be watching it together.

Recommended reading: Remembering the Bones by Frances Itani

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MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

Two unusual things happened this week, you can call them a miracle or simply an amazing moment.

As I was reading on our terrace, I saw a city truck come into the neighborhood and drive onto the sidewalk. I could not figure out what he was going to do….until his truck started to spray the ground. He was washing the sidewalk. Not only was water spraying out, but it looked like it was steamy hot. He went up and around all of the sidewalks in the neighborhood, and never went on the streets, unless he had to. This man’s focus was only on sidewalks. He then drove near the sloot (a body of water, like a dinkie stream) and put a hose into the water. He was filling up the large tank in the back of the truck. Once he was done, he moved on to another area.

I have never seen American sidewalks washed before. The Dutch are known for being very clean, but this was just beyond what I imagined. This is not just about having a Dutch Swifter in every room, this is a city that washes its sidewalks. 

We had to drive an hour to the town of Doetinchem to see the next miracle. There was a  sign outside a restaurant that boldly said Always second cup of coffee/tea/cappuccino for FREE.

If you don’t know why I am so excited about this, please read the DINER post, it will explain it all to you. The fact that the restaurant had these signs out tells you how unusual an offer this is in the Netherlands. We did not go into the restaurant. We just stared at it for awhile, took the photo, and then went home knowing that refills are possible in the Netherlands. 

What a wonderful feeling to know that the sidewalks are clean and that there is a free refill in my future. This country could grow on me.

STORMY WEATHER

One of my favorite World War II novels is Those who save us by Jenna Blum. It has a very compelling story, it is full of unforgettable images and it is simply beautifully written. This is a book that I have been talking about for years, as I wanted to make sure that everyone I know has read this book. Jenna’s second novel is Stormchasers and it is completely different from her previous novel, and I love that it is. A writer needs to stir things up for herself and her readers, and she has done a great job with this modern story about a brother and sister. Recently, I was in a bookstore and found Jenna’s book on display in the new section. It was published in America in May of 2010 but it just arrived in the Netherlands. Those who save us was a hit here in the Netherlands, and Stormchasers should be too.

This is an example of international publishing today. Once a book comes out in the U. S., there is a delay in coming overseas. There are many reasons for this, but one important one is that it needs to be translated. And it gets a new cover and a new Dutch title, obviously. 

But it is also true with British and American books…they don’t come out the same day, even though no translation is needed. And sometimes they even change the title. As an example, I just read an absolutely wonderful British novel called Mr. Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons. In America, the book is called Mr. Rosenblum dreams in English. The contents of the book are exactly the same. And no matter what the title, this is simply a charming, funny, poignant story about a man who desperately wants to fit in to the British life after getting out ofGermany in the late 1930’s. Mr. Rosenblum wants to blend in and not stand out, he wants to be like British wall paper and just be part of his new world. The main thrust of the story is that Jack Rosenblum, eight years after the second world war, has a dream to build a golf course inDorset and truly become an English gentleman. But he has a very bumpy journey in having his dream come true. 

So here are two wonderful writers to check out: Jenna Blum and Natasha Solomons. Both are very different, but the main thing is that they are both great storytellers. And that is what a good book is all about…a great story. Go ahead, treat yourself to a good read.

P.S. Jenna Blum came to the Netherlands this week for a very brief book tour. For those of you who know me, you know that I have been a fan of hers for a few years and am lucky enough to know her. I was even luckier today as I got to see her while she visited a bookstore. She was as gracious and classy as ever and so grateful for the positive reception she got. There are people who are great doctors, there are talented pianists and painters, there are brilliant scholars, and then there are great writers. Jenna fits into this category. If you have not read her two novels, I urge you to do so.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

Before I moved here, my friends wanted to know about the food. Some didn’t have a clue and some had heard that it was not very good. After all, I wasn’t moving to France or Italy, right? This was the Netherlands and it was famous for cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. But what about meals, what do the Dutch eat exactly?

Most of the meals are similar to what Americans eat, except they are smaller portions and seem healthier. The grocery stores look like the American ones, except they are not as massive. The frozen food section is much smaller: there are frozen pizzas and dinners, but the variety is a lot less. As an example, in my former American store there was an entire aisle of ice cream…I would say about 30 shelves of ice cream, at minimum. Here there are maybe 5 shelves at the most.  

In America there are hundreds of cereals to choose from and here, there are just a few and they are mainly American products with new names. Cereal is not very popular here, they prefer toast with jam or Nutella or peanut butter or sprinkles. They seem to love chocolate for breakfast.

Nutella, which is sold in the U.S., is a chocolate nut spread that is eaten on bread, mainly toast. You can also butter a piece of toast and layer it with sprinkles. These are larger sprinkles than what Americans put on their ice creams (they look like ants on steroids), and they come in a variety of flavors, but the most popular is chocolate.  Today I went to a small store and saw 8 shelves of only sprinkles.  They come in dark and milk chocolate, vanilla, fruity pink, mocha and even gingerbread.  This is a sprinkle loving country.

The Dutch don’t eat large breakfasts and if they do, it must be a holiday or some kind of event. They don’t eat French toast, waffles or pancakes to start their day (they do have their own pancakes and they are eaten for dinner). Breakfast is a very simple fare.

However, the Dutch love omelets and they are eaten for lunch and dinner. Omelets are pretty standard for most menus in this country, just not at breakfast time. Why is that?  Because it is very unusual to find any place open for breakfast. Eating breakfast out is just not done. In America we have breakfast meetings and we find it is a good way to visit with a friend. Here, McDonald’s and Burger King serve breakfast. And if you are traveling the roads, you will find some places serving breakfast at the rest stops. 

In America, it is common to go out for Saturday or Sunday breakfast with the family. And there are numerous places that are open at 6am, that serve coffee, bagels, and sometimes a full breakfast. I am guessing that the belief here is that going out is just not necessary or financially smart, when you have perfectly good food at home.

The Dutch love coffee and tea and they drink plenty of it. But there are not thousands of travel cups here filled with a morning jolt. You don’t see drivers stuffing their faces with  donuts or trying to sip their Dunkin Donuts super size ice coffee. And you won’t see bicycle riders eating and drinking their breakfast. Bikes do not have cup holders for hot drinks.  I have seen riders smoke, talk on a cell phone, lick an ice cream cone and even carry a pizza, but I have never seen them eat a muffin and drink a café latte while pedaling to work. 

So what have I learned about breakfast in the Netherlands? They eat at home, they don’t eat that much and they enjoy some sweetness in the morning. What a nice way to start the day.  Whether they are getting on a bike, a train or driving a dinkie car…when you see them in the morning, you know that they have had their first meal of the day, thank you very much.

Recommended reading:  Breakfast with Scot by Michael Downing

                                            Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

                                           Bachelor brothers bed and breakfast by Bill Richardson

DOG DAY AFTERNOON

I live across from a dog toilet. Let me preface this by saying that I live in a suburb of Utrecht and the neighborhood is beautiful. It is very green with lots of trees and grass. And there are “sloten” (pronounced sloaten) everywhere-they are narrow bodies of water and I will discuss them in a later post-it is really a nice, quiet area with attached homes and apartments.

We live on a corner and on one side is a sloot (pronounced sloat) where ducks happily live. On the other side is a large grass area that is designated as a dog toilet. I am not joking, there are signs stating this. I call it the poop park.

There are many dogs in this neighborhood and they are walked a few times a day. Everyone knows about this special area and as they walk their dogs, they always end up at this spot.

The city maintains this poop park by coming by two times a week and cleaning it. It looks like it gets vacuumed, actually. The machine looks like a sit down mower, but it has a special attachment-a long hose that goes over the poop and sucks it up. When I finally got to see this man and machine in action, I was quite impressed. He was a very thorough fellow.

These dog toilets are throughout the Netherlands and it certainly seems to make sense.

In America, we walk dogs with a plastic bag in our pocket, but here, you don’t have to have a bag, as long as you are on the correct grass. The residents know that there are two types of grass:  poop free and feel free to poop. I have been upset to see dogs doing their business on the regular grass and the owner does not pick it up. There is no reason for this, as there is a toilet area for the dogs. The dogs may not know this, but the owners do. It makes me wonder how they conduct themselves out in public.

I love the idea of this dog toilet. It is recognition that this country has an abundance of dogs and not a lot of free, open space.  But it also shows how clean, smart and practical the Dutch are.

I have just seen two cats in this neighborhood and I wonder if they use this grass area. Cats believe they are so much smarter than dogs, so they obviously would read the sign. But would they step onto this grass? Of course they would. Because they can and they know how much it will irritate the dogs. 

It is all about the little things in life…where your dog poops is an important thing and it just makes you ask “isn’t life grand?”

 Recommended reading:  Year of the dog by Shelby Hearon

                                            Nose down, eyes up by Merrill Markoe

                                           Art of racing in the rain by Garth Stein

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

I recently visited the second biggest city in the Netherlands:  Rotterdam. This has many claims to its fame, but the biggest ones are that it has the third largest port in the world, it is considered the gateway to Europe, it was the only Dutch city bombed in World War II and it is world renowned for its architecture.

The German army invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. Hitler thought he would be done with this small country in one day, but he was surprised with the resistance that his army received. So four days later, Rotterdam was bombed. And with it, a promise from the Germans to bomb more cities and towns. The heart of Rotterdam was completely destroyed, about 40% of the city was leveled.  Nearly 1,000 people were killed and 85,000 were now homeless. The Dutch surrendered after this bombing and the Netherlands was occupied for the next five years by the Nazis. 

After the war, the city had to rebuild and that is how the modern skyline was created. You will now see very modern designs and it has become one of the centers of European modern architecture. 

I am sharing some photographs to show you its beauty and uniqueness to other towns and cities in this country.  Amsterdam was not bombed, so that its skyline is nothing like Rotterdam’s. Me? I prefer the old buildings, but I certainly appreciate what they did to rebuild their city. And some of the new buildings are jaw dropping amazing. 

I took a 75 minute boat tour of the port and most of the photographs were taken while on this tour. About 15 feet in front of us were two men in a very serious discussion, that began before we left the dock. They were both in suits, and looked out of place on a boat tour. As the boat moved, other men slowly came up front and they were focused  on one of the men in suits, they were very deferential and respectful to this man. Each man would pull out his cell phone and have his photograph taken with him. I have no idea what country they were from, but I am sure they were not Dutch or American, I just couldn’t recognize the language. Now there are ten men standing at the front of the boat and all are enthralled with this man. At one point this man just stood leaning against the railing, like he was at a photo shoot, and the others took his picture. Who was this man? I have no idea. But none of the men cared about the narrated tour, the port or the skyline…their focus was on this man. I was almost tempted to go up to him and ask to have my picture taken with him too…now that would have thrown him a little. I thought I could do my Kate Winslet Titanic impression for him, but decided that it may have been too much excitement for one day. 

 Recommended reading:  The Zookeeper’s wife  by Diane Ackerman

                                            Night Watch by Sarah Waters

                                           My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young

 PS  some of you guessed correctly—the titles for all of the posts are movie titles.