Monthly Archives: May 2012

SKYFALL

I am dumbstruck. Words just escape me and if you know me in any way, you know that that is a rare thing. I continue to be in awe, absolute awe, of what I see of the sky. The supervisor in charge of the Dutch skies has been working overtime to put on a show.

The other week there was a small amount of rain, dark clouds and then around dinner time the sun started to pooch out. As the sun was trying to push through the gray clouds, a strong wind came through and as it blew around for over an hour, the light came back to the sky. When it got close to sunset, clouds started to move across the sky like I have never seen before. They were moving at a pace that did not seem scientifically possible, they were dancing across the sky like they had to go to another show. The colors, the speed and the sun all made this a spectacular event.

Here are some photographs of this magical moment, and I hope you can appreciate what we were experiencing. These were all taken from our terrace, how lucky are we! The Dutch don’t really get excited by this, they have seen this all their lives. But for me, I am like a kid looking at the Magic Kingdom for the first time.

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SPIDERMAN

It was a warm spring day. The kind of day that makes you feel that summer is right around the corner. This is the time when neighbors come out of hibernation and start sprucing up their yards. Across the street a woman was power washing her brick terrace and dogs were visiting the poop park… you could tell how happy they were to be on freshly cut grass. Unfortunately, we were looking at our neighborhood through some pretty dirty windows.

We don’t have the kind of windows that I had in America, the kind that can be flipped inside and out and you never have to leave the inside of your house to wash both sides of the glass. They have those kind of windows here, but we don’t have them in our home. Our windows swing open and we are not on the ground floor. Trust me when I say that washing the windows is a complicated procedure and each room has different challenges. In order to wash some of  the outside glass, you have to step out of the window, lean over the ledge, do the hokey pokey and hope your wet rag can reach that big ugly glob of bird poop before you fall to your untimely, and yet dramatic, early death. In other words, you need Spiderman with a squeegy.

We spied a man cleaning windows at the building next door. Individual home owners hire window washers and we have been waiting to pounce on the guy that did this neighborhood. Today he was working nearby and we thought that this was our lucky day. My partner went out to talk to this man and while I waited alone inside the house to hear what his price would be…a man leaped over our terrace and said “hello!” I about dropped my book and said a startled hello back. Needless to say, I did not expect the man to show up so quickly. He started to speak Dutch to me, and I tried to cut him off by saying that I was an American and did not speak Dutch-yet. He immediately switched gears and spoke perfect English. He had a tall ladder that I had not seen leaning against our terrace, I did not want to imply that he actually climbed up the wall with his webbed feet and hands.

In a Dutch direct moment, he asked for a cup of coffee with cream and sugar. He was so charming, how could we say no? We gave him coffee in an American mug and we offered him a refill. But he was all set, and after he had his caffeine fix, he was raring to go.

We have decided that this is our guy…he is our bilingual Spidey.

Movie buzz—I have recently seen two wonderful films: Hysteria and the French movie Intouchables. Both very different, but very worthwhile and entertaining.

Book buzz– I am currently reading The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. This is a great book to read while someone is washing your windows.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach

and

THE FAMILY FANG by Kevin Wilson

If there were two new novelists that I would like to meet, it would be Chad Harbach and Kevin Wilson. Just because I would like to say thank you. They have both written highly entertaining stories that also really make you think about the big stuff in life…like family, failure, baseball and art. Baseball?

While THE ART OF FIELDING is not considered a true baseball book, it does have a baseball theme. Normally, I would not be drawn to a baseball story, but dramatically, baseball as a sport works really well on the page. This first novel is about five people living on the campus of a small mid-western college and their connection begins with baseball.

Henry becomes the star shortstop and Mike is the team captain and Henry’s mentor. In one eventful game, all of these characters lives will change, for better or worse. There is Owen, Henry’s roommate and teammate, who reads in the dugout and does not share the team’s passion for baseball. Guert Affenlight is the college president who stumbles into an affair that is not only dangerous, but a game changer. Finally, there is Pella, Guert’s daughter who runs away from her marriage to find some kind of solace with her father.

Harbach does a great job of giving each character their time to evolve and also creates some wonderful baseball scenes. I know it is easy to say, but you really don’t have to even like baseball to love this book. A good choice to read this summer.

THE FAMILY FANG is quirky, dark and funny. Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists who like to create scenes and then watch  the  chaos develop. Since their children were young, the family of four has participated in these “artistic events”. But Annie and Buster are adults now, and want nothing to do with their past lives. Annie is a successful indie film actress and Buster is a struggling writer. They both have a crisis and come home to their parents out of desperation, they have no other place to go.

But Caleb and Camille are not warm and fuzzy parents and this is when the mystery begins. The book also goes back in time to Annie and Buster as children, who never really knew what was real or what was being set up by their parents for the sake of art.

At times this book is funny and yet it is also sad to see the adult children trying to make sense of the way they were raised and how they have turned out. Wilson has done a brilliant job of keeping us completely enthralled with these characters and wondering what did happen and what is going to happen. The ending will be a shock as it is like nothing you would have expected. The pages flew when I read this book, and as much as I loved it, I was sorry to have it end. I want more Fangs!

Media Alert!

In America, on June 5, there will be an Adele special. They will show the Royal Albert Hall concert that I wrote about previously, and new interviews with Matt Lauer.

Also, there is a fantastic documentary airing on American TV—Being Elmo. It is also on dvd. This film is not just about being a puppeteer, but it is about following your dream and having parents who believe in you. A great film for all ages.

THE WEDDING PLANNER

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the entire world to legalize same-sex marriages. Let me just say this again, eleven years ago, the Dutch national government voted in a 3-1 margin, to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

Since then, nine other countries have also voted to legalize same-sex marriages. Those countries are: Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina.

In the Netherlands, there are about 75,000 civil marriages each year and about 1400 of them are for same-sex couples.

Recently, President Barack Obama made headlines all around the world, for his statement supporting same-sex marriage. This was historic for many reasons, never before had a sitting American president given gay marriage an endorsement. However important this announcement is, it does not change any laws. I view it as diving into the pool, now we have to swim and finish the race, and that will take a little longer. Right now, there are six states that allow same-sex marriages, but the federal government does not recognize gay married couples. As an example, a married Dutch gay couple visiting the United States, are not recognized as a legal couple. And a couple married in Massachusetts are not recognized as married in Texas.

But in this country and the other nine countries, there are no limits to where you can be married. You can get married in Madrid or in Valencia…you can get married anywhere in Spain. You can get married in Amsterdam, Maastricht or here in Utrecht…anywhere in the Netherlands. This law means that no matter what region you live in, you can get married, if you are part of a same-sex couple.

I say thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much. Now let us get working on the second part of the race. We got on the diving board and got into the water, now the real work begins. But it is also a time to celebrate and smile. Full equality just got a little closer to reality.

THE COLOR OF MONEY

When you ask a non-Dutch person what they think of when they think of this country, they usually say tulips. Tulips are tops on people’s minds. We have just seen the end of the spring tulip season. It does not last too long, but tourists come from all over the world to look and photograph these flowers.

I am not a good enough writer to write about tulips. The best way that I can describe their beauty, is just to share photographs we took this past week. Half the fields are empty, as those tulips have been picked. The ones you see here, were photographed 5 days ago, and they are all gone by now.

All I can tell you, is that the feeling I had as a kid standing at the Grand Canyon equals the moment of awe when I looked at the colorful fields. You just cannot believe the colors are real, but they really are. I hope someday that you can see for yourself how wonderful a simple flower can be when it is standing next to a thousand friends. Enjoy, everybody.

These perfect little rows recently held thousands of tulips. Now this land will be used to grow chicory.

FLUSHED AWAY

Last year I wrote about the Queen’s birthday and what a big deal it is here https://janeduttonutrecht.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/the-queen/ It is a national holiday and it is one of the rare moments where you see the national flag flying.

The Queen and the entire royal family visit two towns on this holiday. This year they visited Rhenen and Veenendaal, both towns in the province of Utrecht. The visits are on television and I was able to watch the first visit of the day. It looked like all the citizens of Rhenen came out to meet the royals. The visit lasted an hour and a half and there were many handshakes and smiles.

There was one event that kind of blew my mind….I actually said “I don’t think I ever thought this happened in The Netherlands.” What I saw was toilet throwing. The challenge was how far can you throw a toilet. I wondered if this was a Dutch tradition that I had missed in my year here? Oh no, I was told, toilet throwing is something that only takes place in the town of Achterberg near Rhenen. This activity is just for the town of Rhenen on Queens Day, not the whole country.

So on this Queen’s Day, they had a section set up for the challenge. The male royals were invited to toss the toilet. Lined up were five white toilets and one orange one (the national color of The Netherlands). Naturally, if you are given a choice of toilets to throw you would choose the brightest and boldest toilet, and that seemed to be the preferred one to throw. You cannot be serious or sad if you are throwing a toilet. Something happens when you lift one up and then throw it as far as you can…it puts a smile on your face. The competitors were smiling and laughing as everyone seemed to be having a great time. It may look funny, but who cares? How many times in your life do you see a toilet flying by? The winner of this non Olympic event was Prince Willem Alexander, who will succeed his mother and will someday sit on the throne (ha ha). He won a trophy with a miniature toilet on top—he must be very proud.

It was a glorious day, with blue skies and a bright sun. The royal family stepped out and made people very happy. This has been a difficult year for the royals. The Queen’s son, Prince Friso, was injured in a skiing accident and has been in a coma for a few months. I think it was good for all of us here to have a light hearted day and a little toilet throwing was just the ticket.

I knew that I could not write this post unless I had proof. These photos were taken from our television…I am telling you this so that you would not assume that I was actually at the toilet race. I was not ducking toilets, I was safe at home.

Prince Bernhard, son of Princess Margriet.

Prince Willem Alexander, son of Queen Beatrix