Monthly Archives: February 2012

M*A*S*H

There are many types of invitations: wedding, baby shower, birthday party and even to a grand opening. But here in the Netherlands, you are sent an invitation to have a mammogram. Every woman who is 50 or older gets an invitation in the mail to have a screening. Everyone here has to have medical insurance—it is the law. But the government pays for all the mammograms for women age 50-75, no insurance company pays any bills when it comes to this screening. The good news is that 80% of the women who get this invitation, do get a mammogram.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to get this invitation. Well, not really. I mean, I knew that I was due to have a mammogram. But I have never had one in the Netherlands. All of my mammograms have all been at the same place, with American hands squishing me and the same machine flattening me for years. My imagination started to do weird things, as I wondered if all mammograms were the same around the world. Did the Dutch have the same kind of machine that I was used to? Was the machine going to be powered by a windmill and the technician wear wooden shoes and a funny little white pointy hat from the 17th century? And really, what kind of idiot am I?  But it was the unknown…and that can be very scary. Oh, and one more thing—what if the technician did not speak English? What if I say “you are killing me and I think my breast is going to explode” and she does not understand me?

The mammogram place is located in a very large shopping mall in downtown Utrecht and the train station is attached to this mall. For a location, it is great as it on the bus and train lines, women cannot say that they cannot get to this place. I learned that Utrecht has three mobile mammogram units that go throughout the city…can you just imagine this machine on wheels? I found this to be impressive, as it gives everyone a chance to get screened.

I was in the elevator going up to the medical office, when I was shocked to see this sign for the office I was looking for: For early detection of cancer. While this sign is accurate, this is not a sign that would be America, they used the phrase Diagnostic Imagining. We can chalk that up to Dutch bluntness…and honesty.

The big difference in Dutch and American mammograms is the set up. You are brought to a dressing room, told to take off your bra and top and wait. The technician comes through the other door and leads you right into the screening room where the Darth Vader of machines awaits you. You do not get a robe or dressing gown, you walk into the room naked on top. So there I stood, half naked, confessing to the technician that I was an American with limited Dutch language skills, but I think she thought I was exaggerating. She soon learned that I had no clue what she was saying to me, but I was familiar with the drill and between her broken English, my embarrassing Dutch and her pushing, squeezing and molding me like a bendable toy…we got it done. The machine was just like the one in America except this one seemed more modern. She had a screen in front of her and she could see right away if the “photograph” came out clear. And it hurt just the same. My breasts were moved around like a pile of bread dough on the kitchen counter. Whenever I have a mammogram, I hum this song in my head: the Hokey Pokey. It kind of calms me to think of “put your left boob in and squish it all around, and you do the hokey pokey…”—you get the idea.

It was done very quickly and I was told to get dressed and go to the waiting room. The technician then came out to tell me that I would be getting a letter in two weeks and that I was free to go.

It was kind of surreal to leave after having a mammogram and know that I could buy a pair of shoes, a dvd, a watch or a croissant—all of these shops were seconds from the medical office. Instead, we went to a café and had coffee to celebrate my first Dutch mammogram.

Wait until I tell you about Dutch pap smears….

Recommended reading:  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. A good read.

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THE OSCAR

By now, everyone has an opinion on the Academy Award nominations. I would guess that most people have seen many of the nominated films and performances or they are determined to go to the theatre before February 26 and see just one more film. I love this time of year, not because of winter, but because there are so many great films to enjoy.

I have seen 8 of the 9 films nominated for Best Film, and would see the last one if it would only get to the Netherlands. And I have seen many of the fabulous performances by men and women. But I am not 100% happy. There were some glaring omissions to the list of nominations and I found that to be confusing and frustrating. I will just share a few close to my heart.

Tilda Swinton starred in We need to talk about Kevin. This is a very painful movie to watch, but very much worth the view. I don’t know many actors who could have done what Swinton had done with this role. Her character was so realistic…so sad and heartbreaking at times. I wanted to reach across the screen and shake her and say “wake up”! She never underplayed or over played the role and for that she should have been one of the five nominated women this year.

Jim Broadbent played Dennis Thatcher in the Iron Lady and he has been under rated in this film. But he had a huge challenge with this role and he did it beautifully. Meryl Streep could not have pulled off her magnificent performance if she did not have Broadbent. He held his own with her and then some.

The category that shocked me the most was Best Animated Feature. How is it possible to have two fabulous films NOT even be nominated?! I am talking about The Adventures of Tin Tin and Arthur’s Christmas. These are my two favorite animated films of the year and I am completely baffled by the snubs. Both were different kinds of animation process, but both were creative, energetic and completely entertaining. And I thought they were both were very original.

I am sure that there are many other films or actors that you feel were ignored. Please vent by telling us what bothered you about these nominations. I would love to hear from you. But no matter what, I have really loved many of the films that are nominated. The power and magic of a good film was evident this year: a black and white film about movie making and  finding your true self, the magical world of a train station and the authentic story of women and race that still confounds people. “Did this really happen in America?” has been asked over and over again, and the answer is still the same: open your eyes and you will know it is true. Films make us the see the truth even when we say we don’t want to look. It is with a story, costumes, music and actors: but there is also truth.

Recommended viewing: if you have not seen Albert Nobbs, I urge you to go to the theatre. Wonderful performances by Glenn Close,  Janet McTeer and the entire cast.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

TO BE SUNG UNDERWATER by Tom McNeal

Judith’s parents have separated and after trying to live with her “free spirit” mother in Vermont, Judith decides to move to Nebraska to be with her father. He offers her more stability and normalcy, which is what she wants. In this small town, she meets Willy, who is a carpenter and a young man who is clearly crazy about Judith. They have a love affair that leads to the promised dreams of marriage. But Willy wants to live in Nebraska and Judith (and her father) have plans for her that do not involve going to college in Nebraska.

Twenty years later, Judith is living in southern California, married and a mother. She has not seen Willy since the day she left for college and he is always on her mind. She has doubts about her marriage and about what she wants, and these doubts impact everything. What has happened to Willy and could she contact him? And would he want to hear from her? Does Judith even know what she wants?

This book was an absolute pleasure to read. The writing is just perfect, I mean, this is a perfect novel. Tom McNeal has created a female character that is three dimensional and authentic. In fact all of the characters are very well developed and the plot keeps you engaged throughout to the very surprising and emotional end. There are many surprises and  beautifully written passages that makes this is a novel you will not forget.

Bottom line:  I loved this book and I think you will too.

Recommended reading: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber. I read this book when it was first published a few years ago and simply loved it. I just found out that the fabulous actor Viola Davis has optioned this book so that she can do the film and, naturally, play the lead character. What glorious news this is! This historical novel will make a great film and with Viola Davis involved, you know it will be something special.

SHINE

When I found Judy Garland, I found two women. There were two Judy’s: the one who made movies and the one who sang. Now I know that Judy sang in practically every movie she made and it was clear she had a fabulous voice. But there was also the other Judy and I discovered that other woman one day when I was going through my parent’s albums and I came across a two record set (that was pretty unusual at this time) called Judy at Carnegie Hall. This album introduced me to Judy the performer, the singer and the entertainer. I used to wait until I was alone in the house, and I would crank up the volume and sing with Judy and then wait for the adoring rush of applause from the Carnegie Hall audience.

When I went away to college, I took that album with me. I never asked for it, I just took it…a very rebellious act for someone like me. I could not imagine my life without this concert. The album was based on one concert in 1961 and I didn’t start playing it until the early 1970’s. Even when one of the records got damaged, a piece got broken off, I would still play the record and just start the needle later on the disc.

I have seen all of her movies and some of them, multiple times. She was beautiful, vulnerable and funny. In the Carnegie concert, which has always been considered one of the best in music history, she is astounding in her range and at times, her simplicity. I now have this concert on cd and it really does still hold up. It is pure Judy.

I did not discover Judy Garland until after she died. She died in 1969 at the age of 47. I was not familiar with all of her movies or her tremendous vocal talent, until she was gone.

I write this as the news of Whitney Houston’s death is shocking the world. I looked at her videos today, I heard her songs and I remembered. I remember her fame and success. I remember driving with the radio on and not being able to escape Whitney Houston—if I wanted to. She was everywhere. She was perfect for music videos. She was so beautiful and wore fabulous clothes. She had so much energy and seemed to love singing. She had a power in her voice that we had not heard before. She had a talent that the biggest cynic in the world could not deny. I thought she was wonderful and a one in a million performer. And she is gone at the age of 48.

Yesterday we introduced our children to Whitney. We showed them her videos, they saw her sing the national anthem, they saw the evening news and they heard us tell stories about this famous singer. That is basically all we can do, is remember her for what she gave us. And she gave us great entertainment.

I am tremendously sad with her passing. I wish she was going to be around for a lot longer. More than anything else, I wanted her to be happy and healthy. Even if she never sang again, I wanted her to be okay. But my wishes were not enough. I will play her music and I will remember her bright smile and talent. And I will be grateful that she was in our lives for a brief time, just like Judy was. I can only see them now as gifts that we were given, and fortunately, we  can continue to enjoy them. And I would guess that neither Judy or Whitney would want us to stop listening.

FROZEN RIVER

Here are just a few tidbits about life in the Netherlands.

Today, a woman rode by on her bicycle with a child in the back seat. That is a very common thing here, but what made me laugh out loud and almost snap my neck, was the little girl. She was completely asleep and obviously strapped in. Her head was rolling back and forth and her arms were hanging at her sides. This girl was being driven over snow, ice and any other bumps in the road, and she had no clue.

As I have said before there are American fast food places in the Netherlands. There are numerous Burger Kings, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway and McDonald’s. To celebrate McDonald’s presence in this country, they have added two special items to their menu. For a limited time, they will have a cheeseburger with Dutch mustard and Gouda cheese. And there will be an appletart McFlurry—which will be like having an apple pie in your ice cream.

Ice skating is HUGE here and I continue to be amazed at is popularity. Two nights ago on the 8pm news, the top story was the crisis in Syria and then they spent 10 minutes covering the thickness of the ice and skating. The country is excited about the possibility of the Elfstedentocht. This is a skating race that covers 200 kilometers (124 miles) and 11 towns and the last time it happened was 1997. The ice has to be 15 centimeters thick throughout all of the towns, as there will be thousands of skaters on the ice at the same time. So we have to have very low temperatures for many days in order for the ice to freeze enough. This is a major event here and it brings in lots of money. It can mean almost 100 million euros for these towns. Last night, on the 8pm news, there was the breaking news that the race will NOT go on this year as the ice is not thick enough in all locations. This story went on for 30 minutes and they expanded the news to squeeze in other stories in about 8 minutes. Do you get an idea of how popular this sport is? Remember, this announcement came at the top of the hour, and they had to discuss ice, safety and ice for half an hour. And I am disappointed as it would have been fun to see the country so excited and caught up in the race…but there is always next year.

Final thought—for a country so consumed by ice, it is interesting to note that they are not fans of ice in drinks. In restaurants you are lucky to get two dinky ice cubes in your glass. What the Dutch love is the ice you can skate on and that is all the ice that matters.

Recommended reading: this book has nothing to do with ice skating, but if you are looking for a good read to snuggle up with, then this is the one. The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. Elise is 19 years old, Jewish and living in Vienna—in 1938. In order to be safe she must leave her beloved family and move to England. She will be a housemaid at this grand house called Tyneford, which is on the coast of England. This is a wonderful story filled with war, class and romance.

ICE CASTLES, PART TWO

After writing the previous post, it snowed about 2-3 inches. And most of the waterways across the country are now frozen. The hot news in the Netherlands was the weather, you would have thought there had been a blizzard. This old New Englander had to laugh when almost all transportation came to a stop. Flights were delayed, trains could not run and many things were cancelled. The good news was that people could ice skate and children were having lots of fun with the snow. Last night, it was pretty cold with a record low of -22 (-6 F).

Here are photographs of the outdoor Dutch life on February 4, 2012, in our town.  You will see lots of ducks, the neighborhood heron, skaters and empty bike racks. It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. All of these pictures were taken within minutes of our home.

ICE CASTLES

When I was young and living in England, I would have to walk the length of the main street to reach the school. I remember two things about those early morning walks:  the fog and the cold. The fog was sometimes so thick that I literally could not see my feet as I walked. And in winter, I was looking out for Jack Frost. I was told to keep my eye out for him, as he arrived during the night. I have no idea what I was looking for, but there were clues to his arrival. It was very cold and there was an icy frost everywhere. If you have been watching the news you have heard about the horrible winter conditions all over Europe. Jack Frost has made a very big and dangerous appearance.

This week the Netherlands is having its first blast of cold weather, but it is nothing like what some countries are dealing with. Winters are not so bad here, with very little snow and the temperature does not get too low. Compared to living in Massachusetts, the weather here is almost balmy at times. There, the cold would come from Canada or from the mid-west. But here, the freeze is coming from Siberia. That is a hard thing to adjust to. When I feel the cold and wind I now think of Siberia—very strange.

So how cold is cold? Last night the temperature was -11 Celsius (about 12 degrees) and today it will be between -4 to -7 (about 14-19 degrees). This is big news here. Naturally, the wind chill factor makes us believe we ARE in Siberia. I think that Americans, who know so little about Dutch life, think that it is so cold here that people are ice skating to work and school each day. That is simply not the case. If this weather forecast is accurate, people will be able to skate by the weekend and for some, it will be the first time in a long time, that they have been able to skate outdoors.

The buzz around town right now is all about the waterways freezing and getting the skates sharpened. Ice skating began here about a thousand years ago. By the 1600’s, the Dutch were speed skating from town to town—it was a great way to get around as there were so many waterways. And it was a great source of fun for all ages.

There are no mountains or hills in the Netherlands. When I say this country is flat, it is beyond flat. Here are the “highs”:  climbing the Domtoren, inhaling “smoke” and driving over a speed bump. It makes sense that there is no skiing here, so the Dutch have to leave the country to ski, and they do. There are plenty of countries within driving distance that have great skiing. The big winter sport here is ice skating and the Dutch take it very seriously. They say that children learn to walk and skate at around the same time.

This week we had our first snow of winter, it looks like a tin of baby powder exploded. It is just a dusting, but it is an event here. Because there is so little snow there are not too many snow plows. Each city has some that take care of the main roads, but all other streets are not touched at all. Neither are the sidewalks. It is rare to see anyone with a snow shovel, even if there were a few inches of snow. People just walk or ride over the snow or ice. But this week, people are focused on how low the temperatures will drop. There is a saying here, “We willen ijs vrij” and that means “we want ice time”. In some parts of the country, people are already skating. But here in Utrecht, the ice time may have to wait awhile.

Me? I will be warm and cozy with a cup of cocoa, enjoying the view. No one has ever mistaken me for Dorothy Hamill and they never will. And I know that I have just dated myself with the Hamill reference, but I don’t care…it is what it is.

Here is a painting that we saw a few weeks ago at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. It is called WINTER SCENE by Hendrick Avercamp and in the middle of the painting (left of the woman in the red dress) is the bare bottom of a woman bending over. At this time, people did not wear underwear, even when it was very cold. When we left the museum, I asked the children what was their favorite painting, and they both answered at the same time “the naked butt painting”. Mr. Avercamp would be so proud.

Recommended for your listening pleasure:  Joni Mitchell singing River.