Monthly Archives: October 2011

THE TOWN, PART ONE

You have lived in the same town all of your life. In fact, you live in the home you were born in. The school is just around the corner, the shops are all close together and easy to get to, and the synagogue is two blocks away from your home.

The shops and houses are narrow and tall. There is a market square where you can see most of the townspeople. People know each other by name. It is a town that people stay in and sometimes live in for all their lives. Young people may dream about living somewhere else, but they really couldn’t imagine anywhere else but this small town.

Most times, in small towns and villages, life is pretty predictable and quiet. People come to expect the sameness of life. The routines are rarely disturbed and when they are, it is noticed by everyone in one way or another.

First there are little stories in the newspaper, there are rumors among families throughout the country, the radio starts reporting shocking news about a possible war. There are posters on the streets that were never there before. Women who were used to mending socks, were now sewing on yellow stars. Children were warned about where they could play outdoors and the synagogue’s doors were locked. There were whispers when there were never any before.

Fear was hanging as a dark cloud over this town and this fear became bigger and bigger. When war brutally entered this town, the people wondered if life would ever be normal again.

Every Jewish citizen was taken from this town. Men, women and children were kidnapped from their homes and businesses and most would never see their town again. They were taken to a Dutch camp run by the German army. From there they were taken to Auschwitz, Sobibor and other concentration camps. Half the people who were taken from this town were killed or died in camp. After the war, the other half moved to the new state of Israel or to another country. Only a very few came back to their hometown.

The town would never be the same. This town lost almost 200 of its Jewish citizens. The synagogue was destroyed but was still standing. The town lost not only their neighbors, but their trust in humanity. How do you move forward and how do you live a life worth living? You do it by remembering. This town not only saved the synagogue, they remembered the names of those who had died.

I want to tell you their story. I want to say thank you to a remarkable town in the eastern part of the Netherlands, near the German border. I want to tell you about the town of Borculo. The story is worthy of more than one post. More to come…

Jane’s Boekentips

My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young

This is a novel about class, love and war.

Riley Purefoy is a young boy who meets the wealthy and artistic Waveney family and as he grows up, he falls in love with Nadine, their daughter.

World War I has just started and Riley impulsively enlists. This act shifts the book, in many ways, into war. The central characters are not only Riley and Nadine, with their on and off again romance. But also Peter Locke, Riley’s hard drinking commanding officer, and his wife Julia and his cousin Rose. We see how war impacts the women as much as the men.

The battle scenes in France are vivid and brutal. Rose is a nurse in England treating soldiers with severe injuries and she is also on the front line of innovative surgeries. Julia believes she has no identity without her husband by her side and becomes emotionally unstable. And Nadine, who does not understand the severity of Riley’s injuries, and believes that she is no longer loved by Riley, volunteers to be a nurse in France. As usual, in a good drama, it is all about the failure to communicate.

The strength of this book, in my opinion, is the emotional and physical struggles of Riley and other men while in hospital. These men believe they can no longer love or be loved. Young writes very honest and raw scenes and dialogue that gives us such a perfect sense of place and time. She does an impressive job of balancing the emotions of these characters, whether they are on a battlefield, a London street or a country estate.

You can add this book to your growing list of great World War I novels. Here are some great novels based during WWI…these are all very good reads, no matter what time in history they take place.

Recommended  WWI reading:

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Deafening by Frances Itani

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal

Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon

Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

A duty to the dead by Charles Todd (first in a
series)

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (first in a series)

THE HELP

There are some famous film festivals: Sundance, Telluride, Tribeca and Venice. Festivals that celebrate new films and get everyone excited about movie making. I recently went to a film festival and it was NOT like any of the famous ones you have heard about.

In the Netherlands, for the fifth year in a row, there is one day a year where they show five films that have not yet opened in this country. On one Sunday, you can see five films in a row, from 10:30 in the morning until 11:15 at night. There are only a few selected cities that do this, so it is very exciting and it generates quite the buzz. You need to buy your tickets ahead of time, as it sells out every year. The ticket guarantees you a reserved seat, so you are in the same seat the entire day. They give short breaks and two meal breaks.

The films were:  THE HELP, THE IDES OF MARCH, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, LA PIEL QUE HABITO (Spanish film) and DRIVE. Truthfully, the minute I heard that THE HELP was one of the films, I was ready to buy my ticket. I have been waiting and waiting to see this film, but it is not scheduled to come here until January. You read that correctly, January! Most American films arrive here within a month or even sooner after its U.S. release, but the late date of THE HELP is a huge mystery to me. I have heard from many friends who have seen the movie and want to talk about it with me, and my frustration was growing. So you can imagine my excitement about seeing this movie in October.

We had to go to Rotterdam and that is only a 30 minute drive. A really nice theatre that seats 500 people and it was naturally sold out. We were curious about the kind of people who would attend this event, movie HOS just like us? The average age was about 40 and above, but there were plenty of young people too. More women than men, but still quite a few men. We overheard many women say that they were there for THE HELP. That thrilled me to hear this as I wondered if the delay in its opening was because they did not think the Dutch would be interested in the movie’s story. By the way, THE HELP, the book, is translated into Dutch and is a bestseller.

If there was a theme to the films I would say they showed the dark side of humanity. They did not show humans at their best or even their funniest. It was strange to watch THE IDES OF MARCH  with a Dutch audience…to have this entire film take place during the Ohio presidential primary, was just a little weird. But the Dutch are so aware of America, in every single aspect, that they seemed to “get it”. But it did not get any weirder than watching an Spanish film with Dutch subtitles. I thought this would give me a chance to take a nap, but my curiosity got the best of me. I really tried to follow the story line of a plastic surgeon with a little too much power in his scalpel, but it was a challenge. But because it was a Pedro Almodovar film, it was very visual and that meant I saw way too many naked hairy butts. On the other hand, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, is heart wrenching and very tough. Tilda Swinton should be nominated for an Oscar for this very raw performance, but I am not sure the Academy will pay attention to this film. This film created the most discussion for us. DRIVE was very well done, but so beyond violent that I thought that Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch had a baby and named it DRIVE. All I can say is that night, I dreamed of blood. Lots of blood.

So what about THE HELP?  This was the first movie of the festival and we watched the first 20 minutes and the film abruptly stopped. The lights came up and we were told that there was a technical problem. We waited and waited. It was then announced that while they worked on the problem that they would show THE IDES OF MARCH. All of the films were digital except THE HELP. It was on reels and one of the two machines had broken down. Why was it not digital? I am guessing that because this film is not scheduled until January, this copy was sent before it was made digital with Dutch subtitles. Throughout the day we kept getting updates on THE HELP and every time we were a little hopeful, we would be told that there was a good chance it would not be shown at all.

Many women said that they only came for THE HELP. Some came by train from other cities and were pretty distressed. As for myself, and my level of maturity, when we heard that it was NOT going to be shown….my eyes immediately filled up with tears and I sat in stunned silence. I could not believe this was happening to me and the other 499 people.

So what did we get for this horrible development? A free bag of popcorn and a ticket for one free movie in the future. The staff were very apologetic and patient with us. Many people were talking about how much they wanted to see THE HELP and I wanted to say “but I am an American, it hurts me more than you!” But I stopped myself from making a scene. Making a scene was not going to gain me anything other than a visit from security.

For those who know me, you know how much I love films. And for those who know me from this blog, hello! Look at these titles and you know I love the movies. I know that I will see THE HELP someday soon, and I have many more films to see in my future. But for this American living in a another country, it is more important to me NOW to see the movies I want to see. Seeing these movies tells me that my life has not changed so much, that I can still watch my favorite TV shows (which I can) and films and read the books I want to read. That is why I had a slight little melt down in the theatre. I am here, and loving it. But I still want the shallow pleasures of life, like a good movie.

BAD BEHAVIOUR

Recently a television station asked its viewers what were their biggest concerns. The number one concern, for the second month in a row, was how poorly people treated each other. Comments were about how the level of civility has diminished in this country. Specific examples were given about the quality of customer service in retail and how strangers treat each other.

I have struggled for a long time about writing on this subject, but once I heard about this poll, I knew I had to share my views. I really do love living in the Netherlands and there is quite a long list of reasons why this is a great place to live. I won’t bore you with the beauty of this country, the history, the culture and the generally liberal philosophy of its leaders and citizens. And I really like the people. I can say without any doubt that the people I have met are very warm and friendly. My new family members have been extraordinarily gracious in their acceptance of me. Of the people who live in our apartment building, every single one has been welcoming and kind. Some even gave me cards congratulating me on moving to the Netherlands. I have been very impressed with the employees of all the stores and restaurants that I have been in, all have been very professional, friendly and patient with my obvious lack of Dutch language skills.

So here is the but…there is a problem. I have been shocked at the behavior of shoppers in the grocery stores. In all my years of shopping in America (and believe me, Americans can be rude) I have never seen such pushiness and rudeness. In the grocery store, people are in a rush to get their items. God help you, if you are standing in the way of the butter they want. I have had the front of a grocery cart imbedded into my butt. It is now to the point that if I don’t have a fender bender with my butt, then I would start to wonder if the store had closed. Shoppers rarely say excuse me or even apologize. If you look at them, they will sometimes say “pardon”. I do not shop after work hours, I am there usually in the morning and I wonder why everyone is acting like they have only five minutes to pay for their stuff, load up the bike and pedal their way home like Miss Gulch in the The Wizard of Oz.

I was raised with manners and being polite is very important to me, and I am always surprised when people are not as polite as me. In this country, there is something called Dutch directness. This directness can be kind of refreshing, I am still sometimes taken aback by it, but I see how this can be a good thing. There is a big difference in being direct and being rude.

Here are some helpful tips for anyone, in any country:

*if you are coming towards a door at the same time as someone else, hold the door open for them. NO matter what their age or sex.

*if someone is blocking your way to the Stroopwafels (delicious Dutch cookies) then either say “pardon” or just stand there and wait, don’t stick your hand into the air and almost poke  out an American eye.

*if you are in a crowded grocery store, and you are in a rush, it is NOT helpful to run your cart into the rear end of the person in front of you. This may turn into a road rage incident in the cheese section, and it would not be pretty.

*when were you told that your child is exceptionally cute when she is running and screaming in a store? Because the rest of us have somehow missed the charm of a four year old staging an Olympic event in aisles 5-7.

Dare I say it? Treat people the way you want to be treated. Greet someone the way you want to be greeted. Let the other person go first, so that next time, they will let you go first.

Smile at a stranger because, really, that is the only thing you can give them. You don’t know them and you will likely never see them again, so why not give them a smile?

It is nice to be in a country that is refreshingly honest, it really is. But if this television poll is accurate, then there are people out there who don’t like rudeness in public. So are they changing their behavior? If they do, then that will be noticed by others, and so on and so on.

I have to admit that I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. People’s faces have lit up when I have told them I am an American and they have all had nice things to say. There has been a genuine warmth to the way they speak to me. But there are others, like annoying flies at a barbecue, that you just want to waive away. You are having a great time at the barbecue, and if there weren’t those flies, the day would be perfect. That is how I feel about living here. It is a really nice place to live, but I may need to get a bigger fly swatter.

Recommended writer: I have met many writers and they have all been very nice and kind. But there is one woman who is absolutely the nicest author and one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met. She was obviously raised with manners. If you have not read her before, get one of her books, just because she is so genuinely kind and also a great writer: Suzanne Strempek Shea. I would love to be in the grocery store with her.

THE EGG AND I

I could never have imagined that one of the many unique aspects about living in the Netherlands would be eggs. I have written about the many challenges of grocery shopping and the different way that the Dutch approach food. The only reason that it is considered different is because it is not how Americans do it.

Eggs are a very simple and yet brilliant food. Everyone in the world knows about eggs, I would imagine. But I did not realize that two countries have unusual ways of dealing with eggs.

In America, eggs are in the refrigerator section of the store, along with the dairy products. When eggs are brought home, they are usually kept cold. That is the way it has always been done, and I never questioned this practice.

But here, the eggs are not in the cooler of the store. I have seen eggs in the produce section and in the baking section.  Just sitting there on a regular store shelf. When eggs are purchased, they are kept in the kitchen, but not in the refrigerator. You would only keep them cold if you were going on a trip, and not using them right away.

You cannot buy a dozen eggs in the Netherlands. You can buy six eggs or ten eggs, but not a dozen. I still think I am getting a dozen eggs and cannot get my mind around the fact that there are only ten in the carton. By the way, you can even buy a carton of four eggs or even twenty.

The absolute best thing about Dutch eggs is that they are fabulous. They are brown eggs and the yolk is a very bright yellow and they taste wonderful. I have noticed that the egg shell is tougher than I am used to, but I am told that it is because of what the chicken eats. I don’t really care, I just know that they are organic, free range, and brown fantastic eggs. There are white eggs available, but most of the eggs sold are brown.

Every single egg has been stamped with a code, that tells us what farm it came from and how the hens are housed. Leave it to the Dutch to have even their eggs tattooed.

By the way, I want to make a note about the title of this post. The Egg and I is a wonderful movie made in 1947. It stars Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and they are both very funny in this adventure of city folks moving to the country to start an egg business. Trivia: this movie introduced Ma and Pa Kettle, and they were so popular in the film that they got their own series of films. The Egg and I  is on dvd and is a lot of fun.