Monthly Archives: May 2011

THE A-TEAM

I got a big surprise awhile ago. Late one morning, I realized that I had a tooth missing. There was a hole in my mouth, which was a shock in itself. But it then dawned on me that it was a crown that was missing. So where was it and how did it leave my mouth? I could only assume that I swallowed it. That was a very expensive swallow.

This meant that I had to see a dentist. A Dutch dentist. A dentist that would be a complete stranger to me. In America I had the same dentist for many years and the idea that different hands would be inside my mouth, was very unsettling. But I knew this day would come when I would have new doctors and dentists, and I would just have to face the music. 

The dentist’s building looked like an old farm house and it probably was, at some point. But inside, the space was very modern and spacious. The staff knew that I was an American and they couldn’t have been friendlier. The dentist was young, handsome and very cheerful. As he was checking out my mouth, he told me that he grew up on American television in the 1980’s. He got a big smile on his face as he talked about his favorite show: The A-Team. I did not have the heart to tell him that it was not one of my favorite shows, but I was able to talk to him about American culture and how the Dutch seem so interested in anything American.  And that was it. An appointment was made for the crown to be replaced.

This week I went back to the dentist to start the crown process. I now knew that the staff spoke English, they knew what they were doing and that they were nice. The night before I went back, I had a terrible thought. What if Dutch dentists did not believe in novacaine? The people here are known for being very tough…but how tough is tough? I suddenly realized how ridiculous I was being, I think I was flashing on the middle ages where one dentist toured the country in a canal boat yanking out teeth with a homemade hammer and rusty pliers. 

This time the visit was longer and more complicated. So the dentist and I talked about The A-Team, Miami Vice, Knight Rider and Baywatch. Don’t ever doubt the power of television in the world. Here I was with my feet pointed at the ceiling, my head almost hitting the floor, my mouth wide open with all sorts of stuff inside, and we are talking about Don Johnson and David Hasselhoff. 

I can reassure all of you readers that Dutch dentistry is up to date and has all the fancy tools and toys American dentists have. And yes, I got two shots of novacaine. I have three weeks before I have to talk about 1980’s television again. But he was a little boy back then, and I was watching Dallas and Cagney and Lacey. No matter what, we can always  talk about Mr. T. 

I looked up bestsellers from the 1980’s and here are four titles that I personally enjoyed:

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

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Jane’s Boekentips

22 BRITANNIA ROAD by Amanda Hodgkinson

After reading so many World War II novels I now feel that I need the bar to be raised. I need a novel to give me something different, something that is unique as a plot or that the writing is so superior that I cannot wait to pick up the book. Well, this has happened with 22 Britannia Road. This is a debut novel that is powerful, moving and brings another dimension to the thousands of stories about the second world war that we have read or heard about.

Janusz and Silvana are a young married couple with a young son living in Poland at the start of the war. Janusz goes into the military which eventually leads him to the RAF in England. Silvana is not so lucky. She escapes Warsaw with her son and ends up living in the forests of Poland. After the war, Janusz finds his wife and son in a refugee camp and brings them to England, to their new home in Ipswich. 

How does a family, that has been apart for six years, come together? This is a story about finding and creating a home and a family. Imagine a glass pitcher breaking and having to put the pieces back together. You may be able to glue it, but it will never be the same and it will always be fragile.

Hodgkinson does an impressive job in her debut. There are so many emotional threads to this story and each one is thoughtfully and brilliantly written. This is a story about the ones who survived the war and as we know, they all have a story to tell. The question is, will they?

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Just a few tidbits for you all….

I wanted to give you an update on the CIRCLE OF FRIENDS post. The day after I posted that story, I was at the winkel (grocery store). I was squeezing some fruit when I heard “Jane!”

And there was a friend of a friend who I had met a few weeks ago and actually had a fabulous lunch at her home. We stood there and had a great conversation and then we both went off in different directions. It wasn’t until I got home that I truly realized what had happened and it made me smile. Oh yeah, I was smiling.

From 1982-1997, Americans were used to seeing a series of commercials for Dunkin Donuts starring Fred the Baker. We would see this little guy get up before dawn and say in a monotone voice “time to make the donuts.” This phrase became part of pop culture and was used as a way of saying that it was time to do something, not necessarily the making of donuts. 

Okay, I am now living with three Dutch people, they like to be called Nederlanders, by the way. Each morning I make all of the breakfasts and lunches—and every one of them is different. On this one day, with my eyes barely open, I shuffled down the hall to the kitchen and  said “time to make the donuts” as any good American would do. I heard this gasp behind me and there were two children looking at me with awe and glee. “You are going to make donuts?!!” They thought they had won the golden ticket with me. This cute and charming American could actually make donuts. What a bonus, this was more than they dreamed of. I had to break the news to them and explain what that saying meant and that there would be no donuts for breakfast. This is just a friendly warning to anyone traveling to another country, be careful what you say. People may have expectations that you simply cannot meet. I am many things, but I am not a donut maker.

I also wanted to share some news about this blog. There is going to be a new feature called Jane’s Boekentips which means Jane’s Booktips. I will doing book reviews and I am very excited to getting back to what I love. These will mainly be books that are published inEngland andAmerica. And hopefully they will be translated in Dutch someday.

Time to read a book….

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

I have been to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island,Tower of London and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have something new to add to my list:  Ikea.

The sky was blue and filled with big puffy clouds. The Dutch clouds are famous for one very good reason—there are so many of them and they are so big. Imagine that cotton candy and marshmallows had children—those children would be Dutch clouds. This was a perfect day for a nice long drive and that meant visiting Ikea at the end of the day. All Dutch roads lead to Ikea.

I had never been to an Ikea in America. There was not one near my home and it sounded too complicated to go. Drive for a few hours, wait in line to get into the parking lot, find a space, and then fight the crowds…for what? For blonde furniture you have to put together like Legos and Tinker Toys? No thanks.

But then I moved to the Netherlands. At the customs desk at the airport, they don’t ask you how long you will be staying, they ask when you plan to visit Ikea. The Dutch take Ikea very seriously. 

It seems to me that every Dutch home has been built by Ikea. Go into any child’s room and it has toy boxes, beds and closets from Ikea. The kitchens are filled with Ikea utensils, containers and dishes. And the living rooms have couches, chairs, bookshelves and lamps from Ikea. When you visit someone’s home for the first time, all you hear is “Ikea. Ikea.”

I am confessing to you that I have drunk the kool-aid. The wooden shoe fits. I love Ikea. And I don’t even like shopping.

Everything is practical. The Dutch have limited space and they appreciate that Ikea furniture  will fit in a house, apartment or houseboat. The Dutch are also known for their frugality and the Ikea prices are impressive. Ikea offers two things that make it fun—the unexpected stuff that you didn’t know you needed until you saw it at the store and a restaurant.  I had heard about their meatballs and they are quite good. Imagine a Swedish cafeteria in the Netherlands with a very diverse group of customers.  It looks like a cafeteria in the United Nations and that is a good thing.

And here is the brilliant business move on Ikea’s part—when you are at the register, you face a mini grocery store where you can buy the meatballs (frozen) that you just ate. And then to top it off, you can get a hot dog for one euro and an ice cream for fifty cents. There is also a play area for young children called the “ballenbak”. There are thousands of colorful balls for kids to dive into, games, and many activities to keep them occupied. Parents get a beeper so that they can be contacted at any time. But there is also the greatest bribe in the history of shopping:  that famous ice cream cone. Good behavior can be rewarded and that ice cream at the exit door is simply a brilliant idea.

The last thing I saw of my Ikea visit was the loading area. People are now fortified with Ikea food and drink and they push their small or big carts out to their cars. Remember that Dutch cars are pretty dinkie. I mean a Yaris is considered a family car. So here is a typical Dutch dad with a cart load of boxes (all furniture comes in boxes) and he is determined to get them into the back of the car. The Queen should give a medal to the person who best packs his Ikea products in the car and still can take his children home too. It would be called the Ikea Inpak Award. Just think about stuffing bookshelves, patio chairs, sheets, a wok and two bags of meatballs into a golf cart. And then put the family in there too.

Here is the thing: Ikea has you for life. You will go back. As you unpack your car, as you lay out the pieces to a bookshelf on the living room floor, and as you cook the meatballs…you are already planning your next visit. Me? I have already started my list.

Recommended reading: The Used World by Haven Kimmel

Friday night knitting club by Kate Jacobs

Sima’s undergarments for women by Llana Stanger-Ross

WORDS AND MUSIC

I just finished a fabulous book by one of my favorite mystery writers—Kate Atkinson. She has written numerous books, but is probably most famous for her “Jackson Brodie”series. Her latest, Started early, Took my Dog, continues the story of former private investigator Brodie and his unique style of stumbling into another multi layered mystery.

Atkinson is simply a perfect storyteller, weaving many characters and putting it all together into these great British stories. I am a purist about reading series fiction in the order that they were published. Here are the titles of the first three Brodie books: Case Histories, One good turn, and When will there be good news. Read these titles first and then treat yourself to her latest. You will be glad you picked up an Atkinson book.

My favorite CD right now, believe it or not, is by a Dutch singer. Before you think I am singing along in Dutch, just know that this CD is in English. The CD is called Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor and the artist is Caro Emerald. What can I say? Her music is very addicting. If you are home, you have to play this while you are making dinner or if you just want to sit on the terrace. If you are driving, you want the windows down and this CD cranked up as high as your ears can take it. 

Caro Emerald was #1 on the Dutch album chart for 30 weeks, and it beat Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This was the biggest selling CD in the Netherlands in 2010. So I am not alone in my adoration of this music. 

Here is the good news and bad news: Caro Emerald is really hot in Europe but her CD is not available in America, YET.  You can find her online if you want and you can just wish that someone gets really smart and gets this CD across the ocean. If you want to dip your toe in the Dutch music canal, then try these two songs:  STUCK and A NIGHT LIKE THIS. I love, love, love this CD. I hope you do too. And to my American friends, there are no wooden shoes, tulips, wheels of cheese or windmills on this CD, but it is a great Dutch treat.

PEARL HARBOR

When I was young I asked my father if he had ever been in a war. He told me that he had been in the Navy during World War II. That didn’t surprise me because he had been working for the Navy as a designer of communication missiles for aircraft carriers since forever. He then told me that he joined the Navy close to the end of the war and that he had never seen any conflict. I remember being so disappointed. He talked about Pearl Harbor, and that perked me up. I hoped that he was going to tell me dramatic heroic stories. But no, he was stationed there  three years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. “Daddy, don’t you have anything exciting to tell about being in the Navy?” Alas, he did not. Oh how naïve I was. 

He later went to college (thanks to the GI Bill) and became an engineer. Something that farm boys rarely could dream about—getting a college diploma. But he knew about war and loss. His younger brother, Billy, died in a Korean POW camp. My father never made war service romantic and exciting. Because he knew how lucky he was to not have been in battle and he also knew what it was to face the death of a brother.

Last week, on May 4, the Netherlands had their Remembrance Day. This is the day to remember those who died in World War II and those who died since WWII in any kind of war or conflict. At 8pm on that night the entire country had two minutes of silence. It was another reminder that war is not romantic, fun or even a grand adventure. It was interesting for me to watch this ceremony for the first time. I knew that this country was occupied for five years by the Nazis. This was a country that, during WWII, had camps run by the Nazis that interned Jews, gypsies, the mentally and physically ill, and those in the resistance. This was a country who lost thousands of its citizens to hunger. And this is a country that had 140,000 Jewish citizens at the start of the war, and at the end of the war, 104,000 Jews were dead. 

I believe it is important to talk about the past and especially with those who have first hand accounts to share. I am researching a play I will eventually write about World War II and the camps in the Netherlands. I have already been left numbed and speechless by what I have found, and yet this is just the beginning of the project. To be here, in a country that has been bombed and ravaged by war, is a lot to take in. 

But as I talk to people who remember, I remember the uncle that I never met. I remember a father who lived to tell his own stories. Everyone has stories to tell, we just have to be ready to listen. And we must always remember those that we have lost.

 Recommended reading:  The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

On an early morning, I sat on my terrace to watch and hear the world. What I heard was not very significant. The sounds of the tree branches and leaves rustling in the breeze, construction work being done a few blocks away, and the ever constant sound of bicycles driving by. It was wonderful.

I saw a woman pushing a stroller and holding a leash attached to a bulldog. She was talking to the baby and the baby was making noises in return. The fun thing was to watch the baby’s legs kick up and down as he/she “talked”. The woman stopped the stroller and was leaning in and talking to the baby. The baby squealed and laughed. And the bulldog’s tail started to wag and wag.

Coming towards the threesome was a woman walking her dog, and I have no idea what kind of dog it was, I just know what is wasn’t. The two women greeted each other and acted as if they knew each other. And the two dogs sniffed each other from head to paws, and both tails were now going like windshield wipers on a stormy day. They never growled or got aggressive with each other. The dogs seemed to be as happy as the two women. 

After a few minutes, the women said goodbye to each other and continued to talk as they walked away. The dogs gave each other one last sniff and lick and their farewells were complete. 

What struck me about this short and simple exchange was that it could have happened anywhere. This scene, of friends greeting each other on a street, is very common in any country and any language. Dogs checking out other dogs is a very normal thing to do. And babies in strollers, babies laughing and babies being adored….that is the way life should be. 

The realization for me is that because I am a new to this country, my circle of friends is small. That is a big adjustment for someone who used to see people I knew practically everywhere I went. So the chance of me running into someone I know, in the Netherlands, is very slim. But someday I will be one of those women, who greets a friend out of the blue. It will take time and a much better understanding of the Dutch language.

But this is what I know for sure: making new friends in a new land, does not mean that I have forgotten my friends across the ocean. That would be just impossible. It is one of the hardest aspects of moving to another country, to leave your friends and family. I am grateful for the Internet and email, as it is the best way to communicate with friends all over the world.  

Before I left America, someone told me it is not the amount of goodbyes that you have to say, it is about the hellos you will now be saying to all your new friends. I just want it all. I want the new friends, without losing the old. I don’t think I am asking too much. And as I have learned, anything is possible. 

 Recommended reading:  Fiction Class by Susan Breen

 Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My most excellent year by Steve Kluger

THE QUEEN

Americans love to wave their flags. They love to hang the American flag outside of their homes, they love to have the image of the flag on cars and even on t shirts. In America, there are flag poles everywhere, the flag is flying over schools, fire stations, city halls and town offices and numerous businesses have super size flags over their stores. If this is what life is like on a typical day in America, you can imagine how much red, white and blue you will see on the fourth of July.

But here in the Netherlands, you would have to conduct a search party to find a flag. The national flag does not fly over public buildings or schools and you rarely see a flag decal on a car. 

That does not mean the Dutch are not proud of their country, but I don’t think that they think flag waving is necessary on a daily basis. What I see more as a show of national pride is the color orange. It feels like I have seen more orange in my short time here than in my entire life. Orange is the Dutch color of choice when showing pride or love of country. This country puts out their flags for very special days and I just experienced one of the biggest ones of the year.

The Netherlands was bursting with orange on Saturday, April 30 as it was Queen’s Day. It is the official celebration of the birthday of Queen Beatrix (even though her birthday is January 31 ). Each April 30 this country of 17 million citizens celebrates itself by wearing orange.  It is like a giant fair day, and the main activity is to sell old toys and household goods. People save their items all year, just waiting for this day for the big sale. Parks, public streets, parking lots are open for people to set up their tables. People sell their used items in small and big ways. Towns have their own celebrations, like parades, concerts, street parties, contests and simply dressing up. They have wonderful outdoor activities and lots of fun for  children. And there are orange shirts, balloons, streamers, and many wild and crazy people wearing orange wigs. Lots of orange painted people drinking Heineken. This is their fourth of July. And on this day, the Dutch red, white and blue flags are waving everywhere.

On Queen’s Day, most of  the royals visit a few towns each year. What impressed me about the visit I saw on TV was the number of royal family members who came out for this day and the informal way that they met and greeted the people. This is not a queen who just shakes hands and moves on to the next hand. She took her time and was very approachable. This was like nothing I had ever seen before and I have to admit that this sentimental fool, was very moved by the royals friendliness and genuine interest in the people.

Why the color orange, you ask? It is the last name of the royal family: Oranje. Remember William of Orange? There is even a special tart (cake) called Tompouce that has orange icing.  It is a traditional Dutch tart with vanilla pudding inside and for this big day, the icing is orange instead of the usual pink.

Final bit of trivia—why is Queen’s Day on April 30 when that is not her real birthday? The mother of Beatrix, Queen Juliana, was born on April 30. When she died, Beatrix decided to keep April 30 as Queen’s Day in honor of her mother and because the weather is so much nicer at the end of April than the end of January. Always practical, the Dutch are.

P.S. I admit I wore orange. Enough said.