Monthly Archives: July 2012

IN DARKNESS

When I was young, there were two options for seeing a movie on the big screen. You could go to a drive in theatre or go to a theatre where you actually had your own seat. I don’t care if you are a child or adult, there is no denying the magical experience of seeing a movie on the big screen.

When you went to the drive in, you could pack enough stuff to look like the family was going on a camping trip. Families would make their own popcorn and put it in brown grocery bags. Everyone had their own can of soda. There were pillows, blankets and the children were usually in their pajamas. If it was a warm night, you could be in a deck chair outside the car or you could lay on the top of the car’s hood. As long as you had the speaker on high, so everyone could hear the movie.

One of the fun things about going to the drive in as a kid, was the playground that was underneath the screen. There, before the movie started, you could play and scream and use up a lot of energy, which made the parents very happy. But when the time was right, it was everyone back to their theatres or bedrooms on wheels. It was time for the dancing hot dog and singing box of popcorn. For the parents, it was a cheap way to get out of the house and not have to hire a babysitter. You could load up the car and pay by the car load, sometimes it was $5.00 per car, and if you brought your own snacks and if the kids fell asleep quickly, you could kinda, sorta have a romantic evening under the stars.

I remember actually being pretty savvy at a young age about the prices at the refreshment stand. We would go to the store and get candy and we always wanted the one that would last us the longest. So the best choice was Sugar Babies or Bit O Honey. Those gave us the biggest bang for our buck and kept our dentist in his comfortable lifestyle.

When I was 16 years old, I got my first “real job”. That meant that I had a payroll slip and got paid by check. Before then I had a booming business as a babysitter…I was booked every week and was making a whopping 50 cents an hour. But when I turned 16, I could legally work at a real job and I had my driver’s license. This was the time for me to upgrade my income, I would now be making $1.60 an hour. I heard that the Drive-in was hiring and I thought it would be perfect for me. My first clue that this was not going to be a glamorous job in the movies? The job interview took place in the bathroom as that was the only place for privacy in the building. I had a light blue uniform and it was a DRESS, for god’s sake. My job was to work the counter serving popcorn, hot dogs, and pouring sodas. We were invaded during the intermission (remember, there were two movies) with mobs of desperate people looking for nourishment. After the rush and the second feature had started I had to clean the bathrooms, which was as close to disgusting as can be. I remember holding my breath as I walked in so that I could not breathe in the fumes. And then my job got a lot more interesting, I was given a new assignment.

Instead of doing the bathrooms, they had a task for me that they thought I would do well at. I was given a flashlight and was told to go out to the cars and see if there was any hanky panky going on. If I did see anything, I was to knock on the window and tell them to stop. I was a 16 year old high school girl who did not really know how to define hanky panky, but I had a general idea of what they were talking about. Needless to say, I was horrified and I tried to give back the flashlight. But the manager really wanted me to do it, so I went out into the night. I walked between cars and kept my eyes focused in front of me. I did not see anything or hear anything. As I was getting towards the back of the lot, where there was a good chance some shenanigans would take place, I walked faster and kept looking straight forward. I then heard my name being called and stopped because I thought the manager was calling me back to home base. But instead there was a head leaning out of the back seat window of a car that I had just passed, a friend from school who was with her boyfriend, and she was wondering what I was doing. She said it looked like I had lost something, which made sense as I looked like I was from CSI searching for clues. I knew her well enough to tell her the truth and she laughed and laughed. She said that I would have to do a lot of knocking if I was really going to do my job, and I told her that I had no intention of looking into any windows. It was at that moment that I made up my mind, so I went back to the snack bar and told the manager that I would rather clean bathrooms then do the patrol. I told her that she was sending a 16 year old into dangerous territory and that my parents would not want me peeking into car windows. The manager just sighed and agreed to take back the flashlight and muttered “this was a stupid idea anyway.”

So I stayed safely at the counter and in the bathrooms, until I realized that working at the drive in was putting a damper on my social life, as I had to work every Friday night and I wanted to go to the football games. So I quit and gave up that big paycheck and happily turned in my blue dress.

From then on, I went to the drive in as a customer. I remember it was the summer of JAWS and we figured that the shark was the same size as the car we were sitting in. As much as I was into the movie, I kept looking for a flashlight walking among the cars. But alas, no one knocked.

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THE READER

This is the 100th post of this blog. It is simply amazing to me that there have been so many words written, as I really thought it would be a temporary thing. It was going to help me adjust to this new and strange life. The blog was also a great way for me to share with my friends in America. But I discovered there was a lot to talk about. This blog has had over 15,700 hits and it just keeps rolling along. This is what blows me away: in the last week, people from 29 countries have come to this blog, whether on purpose or by accident, I will never know.

I am fully aware that many people find the blog because they were looking for something else. Some may stay and read the blog and some may run for their lives. But it is so funny to see the consistent “accidental” searches that lead someone to the blog and the ones that are purposely looking for information about a certain subject.

Here are some examples: in the post for FEVER PITCH I wrote about how crazy this country was about the European Football Championships. At the end of the blog I posted a photo of Gene Wilder and some oompa loompas, as they are orange. Since that posting, there have been at least two hits a day from all over the world that are specifically searching the two words—oompa loompa. Who knew how popular they were? And can you imagine how disappointed they were to find that post?

The most popular searches that come up almost every single day are about the prostitutes in Utrecht, urinating in public and Indiana Jones. I wrote a post about going to an unusual restaurant that had a bridge I had to cross. I compared it to the bridge in the film INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and since then, people have been typing in that film title and getting my dining adventure. If I wanted to increase the amount of hits for the blog, all I would have to do is write more about the red light district or about public urnination. Even better, what if Indy came to Utrecht to visit a prostitute on one of the houseboats and then he relieved himself in a canal? Now that might triple my popularity.

I think that my decision to use film titles for the posts, has accidentally drawn some readers to this site. I enjoy being creative with the titles and finding just the right match, and maybe it will lead people to look up the actual movie. But just know that using a movie title does not necessarily mean that I am a fan of the film, the title is just perfect for the story.

The blog has helped me learn about The Netherlands and sometimes it makes me even more curious about something, as I know I want to write about a subject. There are helpful people here who will suggest that what they are talking about would make a fantastic subject for the blog. Our kids are helping me put together a list of Dutch dirty words. Well, they are not dirty really, they just sound dirty. And when they see my shocked face, that leads them into gales of laughter. Remember my favorite word from last year? Bouwvakker. Say that out loud and you get the idea. So there is something for you to look forward to…words that sound dirty.

All in all, I can easily say that the Dutch are very kind and friendly. They are very warm towards Americans and that is a good thing for me. There are actual Dutch people who read the blog and I think they are amused at what I get amused by…so far I don’t believe I have insulted anyone.

So I hope you keep reading and coming back for more. To all the dear readers of this blog, I say thank you very much or dankjewel (this is pronounced dankyouvel). The oompa loompas and I are most grateful…oops, I think I did it again.

For a special treat, here is the beautiful city of Utrecht. How absolutely gorgeous is this city?!

Vismarkt Oudegracht Utrecht

Oudegracht Utrecht

Recommended reading and viewing: THE READER by Bernhard Schlink is a short but powerful novel. Rarely does a film enhance a book, but I think the film based on this book is wonderful. Kate Winslet is simply stunning in this.

JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH

This is  a story about what the Dutch do with a pole. This is not a story about me going pole dancing in Amsterdam or Utrecht. Trust me, if I could pole dance, there would be videos posted. I would be a world-wide sensation for what I could do with a pole. But again, this story is not about me.

I recently saw something on TV that I had to share with all of you. It is called Fierljeppen and it means slootje jumping. Just to review: sloten are man-made bodies of water that are long and not too wide and not too narrow. You can see sloten throughout this country and I am not exaggerating, they are everywhere. There are even two across from our house. If you had an aerial view of the farms, you would see green grass, cows and sloten. And in cities, people (like me, when I first got here) mistake sloten for canals.

Fierljeppen is a sport where one person jumps over a sloot or any body of water with a pole. These jumpers have to be in excellent shape, as this is not an easy task. The pole is in the middle of the sloot, it has a flat plate on the bottom so it doesn’t sink into the mud. It is 8-13 meters long (26-42 feet). The jumper runs at full speed to the edge of the sloot and leaps onto the pole. You then have 5 seconds to climb the pole to the top and  lean towards the other side, and as the pole bends, you jump off into a pile of sand. That is the sport in a nutshell.

This kind of jumping started as a very practical thing to do and not a sport at all. Farmers needed to get to the other side of the field and they came up with this brilliant idea—just jump over the water. Then it became a competitive sport and has been a big hit with tourists. Fierljeppen mainly happens in Friesland, this is a province in northern Netherlands. It is the only province (out of 12) that has its own official language. This area is known for its cattle, horses, and sloot jumping. This province has 195 windmills and there are 1200 in the entire country. Friesland is where the famous ice skating race, Elfstedentocht, takes place.

I know what you are all wondering…is this going to be an Olympic event? Uh, no. I am guessing that this is not yet an international sport and will take time to grow in its appeal. But I can tell you that there are annual Dutch championships and the current champion is Bart Helmholt. He leaped 21.51 meters (68 feet) in 2011. I am providing you a photograph so you can see that I am not making this up.

Fierljeppen in Utrecht

Bas Helmholt

Recommended viewing: this is an oldie but goodie—AMELIE on DVD. Just saw it again and remembered how creative, charming and fun this movie is. There are so many great French films out there. If you have not seen this new film, INTOUCHABLES, please do. THE ARTIST just came out on DVD. Here are two more on DVD, that are on my favorites list: THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE and LA VIE EN ROSE.  O lala!

THE ROAD

On a Friday afternoon, I sat on the terrace with some paper work. It was a bright sunny day, and not too hot. In fact, it felt just perfect. There was a slight breeze as I could see the tree branches moving just enough. Surrounding the two “sloten” across from me, are tall wild weeds that are about six feet tall. You cannot even see the water at all, but the weeds were swaying back and forth. I could not see or hear the ducks, but I knew they would be coming back later in the day. I looked for the neighborhood heron, but it was either hiding in the weeds or off on an adventure. All around me, there  was not much noise and really, not much going on. A good opportunity to get some work done. My head was focused on the table in front of me, and soon I realized that I had been wrong. There were sounds of the street and each time I heard something, I would have to look up. It basically became of a game of me trying to guess what the sound was.

There is a distinctive sound between two kinds of bicycles, the new or newer bikes barely make any sound at all. It is like they are riding over clouds. But an older bike has a shake, rattle and roll sound. You can clearly hear the chain as it goes over any little bump.

While I was writing, I could hear children playing down the street at the playground. This is constant source of background noise, kids on swings or playing football are not going to whisper, and I am used to their voices. But then it got quiet, and I heard boys talking. I saw three boys on their bikes, riding down the middle of the road in conversation. The third boy said something (in Dutch, of course) and he turned his bike and looked back. There came a fourth boy pedaling at a very slow speed and he had a popsicle in his hand. His friend waited for him, which I thought was very nice of him, and then they went the rest of the way side by side.

The Dutch love to talk while they ride, you are always hearing snippets of conversations as they go by the house. On this day, two teenage girls were riding perfectly side by side, and enjoying an animated conversation. They passed a mother, with two children on her bike, and she was listening to her older child  who was in the back seat and her baby, in the front, was singing.

You may remember that we live opposite the honden toilet, I call it the poop park. It is a great location, as we get to see all sorts of dogs and their leash friends. When it is quiet, I can hear paws hitting the pavement and guess how big the dog is before I look up. All the dogs know where they are going, and once they see that magical plot of grass, they are pulling their leash to get there. No matter what size of dog, they are all determined to get to their happy place. Once there, the people are on their cell phones, texting or actually talking to other people. I always know when they are talking to their dogs, because their voices are higher. I have seen big tall macho men sound like Mickey Mouse as they congratulate their dog on a successful trip.

Right before I went into the house, I had my favorite moment. I saw a man riding down the street. He was obviously in no rush and was just taking his time. I could see a woman behind him, and I thought she was following him too closely and needed to give him some space. But as they got closer I saw that they were riding together on a tandem bicycle. They were quite old, their legs were perfectly in sinc with each other and they were taking their time. People walking by and other bikers all looked at this couple and it seemed like we all just took a moment. This couple did not talk and their bike did not make any sound. It felt like the street just stopped. The moment felt very calm and peaceful. After they went by, I got up, as I knew that I was not going to top that.

Here is the view from our terrace. On the right side, you can see one of the sloten with the high weeds/grass. This is a rare moment where the street is free from bicycles, people and dogs. But you can see some dinkie Dutch cars.

Recommended reading: one of the best “road” novels is THE MEMORY OF RUNNING by Ron McLarty. A great story about a man who literally rides his bike from Rhode Island to California. I just found out that McLarty has a new novel, THE DROPPER.  He is a wonderful writer and it is always good news when he has a new book published.

Jane’s Boekentips

THE GRIEF OF OTHERS by Leah Hager Cohen and SHELTER by Frances Greenslade

Secrets and lies are fabulous in the literary world. You cannot have good drama without a big secret. Secrets are basically a requirement in writing novels, films or plays. A decision has to be made about the secret, it has to be maintained, cultivated and then there is the big reveal. When the secret is revealed how does it impact the characters and the plot?

In THE GRIEF OF OTHERS by Leah Hager Cohen, there is a big secret. But really, everyone is this New York family has a secret to keep. John and Ricky have experienced the loss of their baby, he only lived a few days after being born. They have two older children, Paul is 13 and Biscuit is 11. This family seems okay from the outside, but they are not. No one is talking to each other and that makes it easier to lie.

This is a family drama that is really an ensemble of people who are lost and there does not feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Once one secret is revealed, then the other secrets start to come out. How much can one family handle? Can the parents learn from their children? And can people that you love be forgiven?

This novel is a wonderful piece of writing. Cohen creates character that are authentic and very human. The story allows us as readers to see the world through each character’s perspective and that makes us have a greater understanding of the struggles they are facing. This lets you in to a home and you can actually see and feel the reality of loss and fear.  This is a great read that you will want to pass on to a friend.

SHELTER by Frances Greenslade

I really don’t know why, but I have always been drawn to Canadian writers. I do like stories about roughing it in the outdoors (this is something that I would never do in real life) and there are plenty of Canadian writers who cannot help but write about the snow, the woods, mountains and the wild, wildlife. I also find Canadian writers to be precise writers, they don’t tend to go on and on with descriptions or complicated plot lines. They get to the point of the story.

Greenslade meets all of my expectations of a great Canadian storyteller. Maggie and Jenny live with their parents in a broken down house with no running water or electricity, and they are doing okay until tragedy strikes. The girls lives change and they must adapt to a mother who is distracted and no longer focused on her daughters. For financial reasons, the girls stay with family friends in town and wait for their mother to return. But she does not come back. Maggie is always thinking about her missing mother and Jenny has embraced her new “town life”.

SHELTER is about making homes where you can, and always being prepared to create your own house or home. Maggie knows how to build a shelter in the woods, but she cannot be in a home with her mother and sister. They are living under different roofs. This book is elegant and brief, and yet it really says so much. I look forward to next work of Frances Greenslade.