Monthly Archives: September 2012

A FACE IN THE CROWD

By now, we all are pretty familiar with the photograph of the alleged gunman at the Colorado movie theatre. His face has been all over the television and the Internet. In fact, it has felt like you could not avoid this man’s mug shot.

Here in The Netherlands, photographs of people who have been arrested are not made public. The faces of criminals are not put on TV or online.  It goes even further: a person who not only has been arrested, but has been found guilty and sentenced to jail time, will not be seen by the public. On television news when they are reporting on a trial, the face of the accused will be blocked out. The Dutch never see the bad guys.

The next level of this policy is that the last name of the person who has been accused, arrested and found guilty remains a secret. The public knows the person as George B…only the last letter of his name, and nothing more. The only time when the name is released is when this person has died.

Let me give you an example of how different this is from American life. In 2002, a Dutch politician was killed instantly in a parking lot. His name was Pim Fortuyn and he was known for his controversial views about immigrants. He was killed by a man named Volkert van der G. The Dutch don’t know his full name and he is just referred to by his last initial. However, now you can find his full name online. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He could get an early release in 2014. The public have never seen his full face, they only saw his face with a black bar across it.

Other countries have this privacy policy, the Dutch are not the only ones. But it is so dramatically different from how things are done in the United States. Names and faces are put out on display and we are just used to it…this is the way things are done.  I am not sure what the right or wrong way is, but I do remember that the family members of the Aurora, Colorado victims asked the press and others to not keep saying the shooter’s name. They said they would rather hear their son’s name, their wife’s name, and their daughter’s name…the ones who were shot.

I am thinking of the man who tried to kill Ronald Reagan. I am thinking of the man who killed John Lennon. I am thinking of lots of people right now, but I am not going to say their names. We have heard them enough by now. Just for this one day….

 

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IN COLD BLOOD

This is a brief personal story about being creative with what you have. When I have a cold or a bout of allergies, I will sometimes get a nosebleed. Most times they are pretty short and not too dramatic. But the other day, I had a nosebleed  that was what you would call, high maintenance. I was going through many tissues and it was getting a little boring and messy.

So what to do? A tampon was thrust into my hand. As I studied it, I was worried that it was too big for my nose. But it slid in and stopped the bleeding. I had put this in towards the end of the nosebleed, so I did not think it would last much longer. So I sat with this tampon in my nose for about  five minutes and I then realized that something was tickling me. The string had gotten loose and I now had this blue string hanging in front of my mouth.

Did I mention that this all happened while eating breakfast? Try eating granola (the milk was already poured) with a tampon in your nose and a string dangling in front of your lips. I can tell you it is very hard to drink coffee without dipping the tampon and string into the coffee cup.

I decided to remove the tampon and saw that the nosebleed was done. But I thought I should be safe and put it back in for a few more minutes. Do you know what happens to a tampon when it is wet? The same thing that happens when a book gets wet—it expands. I basically had to chisel my way back into my nose. I thought of putting some olive oil on it to smoothly get back inside, but thought that would not be nice for my nose. So I gave up and waited to see if it was safe to keep my nose cavity free.

The Dutch are experts at pushing back water. Their fame has rubbed off on me, as I now have conquered my nose without using tissues. Next time, I am cutting off the string before the tampon goes into my nose, otherwise, it looks like I had an accident while flossing. No matter what, I will only use a tampon in the privacy of my own home. I would not recommend using this method in a public place, string or no string.

Just call me MacGyver.

THE FOUR SEASONS

There is no question that the most beautiful time to visit New England is the fall. It is a challenge to describe the trees and the changing colors of the leaves. But people visit the New England states for that very reason, just to see the leaves. There is some urgency because you must get to the leaves before they drop to the ground. My favorite two states, Massachusetts and Vermont, have an abundance of colors that make you just pause and stare.

When I lived in Massachusetts, I was familiar with certain trees in my neighborhood, trees that framed my drive to work and trees that surrounded the building that I worked. I knew the “early risers”, those were the trees that changed colors before the other trees. Those were the high achievers. There were trees that the sun loved and they seemed to have a spotlight on them. Their colors were sharper and brighter, like they were chosen to shine. But the trees that I remember the most fondly are the ones that surrounded the library where I worked. I would stand at a tall window and just gaze at the beauty in front of me. When I was stressed or just in need of  a break, the window is where I went to remind me that all was well in the world. The reds, yellows, oranges, greens and browns were all waving at me from their post.

I have been asked many times if The Netherlands has four seasons…do the Dutch have the fall that New England does? Yes, there are four seasons here, but they are not like the seasons in Massachusetts. Basically, the seasons are all milder than in the NE states. The winters are not as cold or snowy (a lot less drama), the spring has flowers blooming and lots of showers, the summers are not too hot or humid, and autumn can be beautiful, but it does not have the wow factor of what I used to know. For one thing, this country is completely, 100%, totally FLAT. There are no mountains or hills full of trees. There are trees and the leaves do change colors and then fall to the ground. But there are two big differences from here and there:  the colors are not as dramatic and there are less trees. The Netherlands is a very green country, no matter where you live you are minutes away from a farm and wide open spaces of grass, water and livestock. And there are forests and woods here with lots of trees, but as you drive around you would easily say “this sure isn’t Vermont.”

Today is grey and rainy. There is not a large amount of rain here, but it is frequent. You can wake up to a gorgeous blue sky and it will rain at noon and then be beautiful all over again within a few hours. Or it can be like today, where it will get gloomier as the day goes on. I think that this is a country that cannot make up its mind. Is it going to be rainy or sunny? Do not assume anything here, because as soon as you fold up the umbrella, you will need to pop it open again. The leaves have not changed yet, but they will and then they will drop. In America, raking leaves is like a part time job for homeowners, as it is very time consuming. It is common to see people raking their yards and putting out bags and bags of leaves to be picked up by the city. Or to smell the leaves being burned in someone’s backyard.

What this tells me is that each country has their gifts and that the glory of nature comes in many forms. New England has its mountains and leaves and The Netherlands has sloten and dikes… tulips that blanket the green. And the skies that I love so much. As in Massachusetts, fall is apple season. Here, there are apple orchards and many apple pies are being made. In just this week, things have already changed. Jackets are being worn, the sleeves are a little longer and a hot cup of tea becomes an essential part of the day. You hold that cup in your hands and say “it sure is nippy today.”

There is beauty all around the world…you all know that. But at this time of year, I remember what was my familiar and hold on to the new views in my life. It is all good.

Recommended reading: TIGERS IN RED WEATHER by Liza Klaussmann. Good family drama and, as they say, a real page turner. 

DROP DEAD

The Dutch love sweets and all types of chocolate. Luckily here, you can get chocolate from Belgium, Germany and Switzerland at any shop.By the way, the Dutch make fabulous chocolate too. But the one item that turns the windmills of a Dutchie’s heart is black licorice. Otherwise known as DROP. This is not the black licorice that is in America. This is a very special type made with ammonium chloride and it is pretty salty.

Yes, I did say salty. There is a phrase for this– dubbelzout, which means double the salt. The other countries that embrace this kind of drop are in Scandinavia and Germany. Also, the citizens of Iceland love this licorice especially if it also has pepper in it. Why these countries? No one really knows, but people guess it is because these are countries near the sea…so they already love salt water and salty air. Why not the licorice too?

The Dutch eat more black licorice than any other people in the world. On average, one person eats 5 lbs a year of the drop. Drops come in many shapes, such as squares, ovals, cubes, dogs, and the most popular, coins. You can basically go into any store in The Netherlands and buy a bag of drop. There are also open bins of the stuff, and you can bag your own.

In Utrecht, there is a tiny shop called Drop Inn, and it is dedicated to selling drops. Last year, I had only been here a short time, and I wandered into this charming little shop. I had no clue about the relationship between the Dutch and black licorice. I could only stand in that store for two minutes before I had to get out. The smell of drop makes me want to gag or run to the nearest Snickers and inhale some chocolate. Not only do I not enjoy the taste, but the smell makes me long for sea sickness. But I know that I am in the minority around here, as the sales for drop are sky high.

It has long been believed that drop has medicinal powers. Some people eat drop to soothe their sore throats. But most people just love the taste. People are passionate about the Dutch black licorice and they have family members mail it to them if they are not living in The Netherlands. They cannot exist without their little black coins.

It is just one more thing that I can put on my list that I have learned about the Dutch. They love gingerbread, herring, green pea soup, chocolate or cheese on their breakfast bread and salty black licorice. They are a daring group, these Dutch. You don’t have to love drop to love the Dutch….thank god.

black licorice: kitty cats and beehives

Recommended reading: I have just read one of my favorite books of the year—GILLESPIE AND I by Jane Harris. This takes place in Scotland in 1888 and it details the friendship between a spinster and a family who is  falling apart. To say that this is a page turner is an understatement. Harris is just brilliant in creating a novel that simply flies. I had been eagerly awaiting this book, as I was a huge fan of her first book, THE OBSERVATIONS. I know you will thoroughly enjoy GILLESPIE AND I. Warning: you will most definitely want to talk to someone who has read this book, so makes sure that others are reading this too!

ELECTION

A few years ago, the late Senator Ted Kennedy called my voice mail. He wanted to remind me to vote that week for him and for other politicians that he had endorsed. This call (a recorded message) was not just made to me, but to all Democrats in the state of Massachusetts. During election season, you can expect to see hundreds of television commercials for political candidates and to get many phone calls weeks before the election. It is not unusual to see political ads during every commercial break of a tv show. And then there are the fliers you get in the mail, some of them big and glossy, some are just simple post cards, but they end up filling your recycling bin. Politics in America is big business and it is all about getting the word out, in any way you can. I remember the relief I felt the day of an election, just knowing that I would not have to see, hear or read another ad.

What I have just described to you does not happen in the Netherlands. There are no TV ads like in the USA. Each political party can make a commercial that will air at a specific time and a block of ads from all the parties will be shown at one time. The money for these ads comes from the government, and only a small amount comes from the private sector. Some candidates will purchase extra air time for more ads to run during regular programing. But  the ads are not a big part of the campaign. There are no phone calls. No bright and cheerful fliers in the mail. Instead, big wooden signs are put on street corners, and there the candidates or parties put their poster on the board. Eventually the board is filled with a variety of posters, that are not that big. When you are driving by in your dinkie car or on your bicycle, you cannot read these posters unless you actually stop and look up. It makes me think that is this the way they must have done the political season years ago, before the mass media took over. A man rides his horse drawn wagon past a wooden billboard with hand written signs nailed to it. He says “whoa” and sets about reading about the candidates. Life has not changed too much here.

Televised debates are very popular here and many voters make their decision based on these. The debates are only for those that are head of the larger parties. The one thing that really stands out here compared to America, is the absence of negative campaigning. You are not allowed to attack candidates, personally or professionally. It is expected that everyone will be civil to each other and quite frankly, I have never seen anything like it.

I am not going to even try to explain the Dutch government. You will have to google this subject as it is too complex and ultimately, frustrating to write about. But I will tell you how people vote here, it is slightly a little different from America…and yet, some things will sound familiar.

The Dutch have a multi-party system and there are 20 parties on the ballot. That means that several parties must form a coalition government. On the ballot there are 837 names and you can vote for only ONE person. ONE.

You must be 18 years old to vote. Non Dutch people can vote in municipal elections, as long as they are legal residents. Everyone living in The Netherlands should be a registered resident and therefore, do not have to register to vote. Residents get a card in the mail and that is what you bring to the voting station. 13 million people received their “voting pass” in the mail within the last few weeks.

There are multiple voting stations…at churches, schools, libraries, and even railway stations. But the wonderful thing is that you do not have to vote at a specific location, you can vote at any station in your municipality. Living in the Utrecht area means that you can choose from 140 voting stations.

For a short time, the elections used computers, but they were not well received. They went back to paper and a red pencil. Results are usually known soon after the stations are closed at 21:00 (10pm).

One of the most interesting things about the multi-party system are the types of parties. Some examples:  Green Party, Animal Party, Proud of the Netherlands, 50PLUS (for those over 50 years of age) and my absolute favorite:  the Pirate Party. This is a party dedicated to repealing Dutch copyright law. I laughed so hard when I first heard the name, as I imagined men with eye patches and wooden legs asking for your vote…”argh!”  I was kind of disappointed to find out that there were no ships, rum or Johnny Depp involved.

The election is Wednesday, September 12. If the pirates prevail, I will let you know.

Here are photos of the wooden sign and of the ballot that was mailed to voters. It gives you a sense of how big the paper is and how much information is on it.

For your viewing pleasure: ELECTION starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.

Dutch Elections 12 September 2012.

List of parties and candidates to choose from.

Names and addresses of voting locations in the municipality of Utrecht.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman

This will be a short review, but not because it is a bad book, but because I cannot say too much. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a mystery, but not a traditional mystery. It is a thriller that will literally have you at the edge of your seat. You might even be biting some fingernails.

This debut novel is a massive hit all over the world. There are over 30 translations of it and it is a best seller and a critical hit. The movie will be produced by Ridley Scott and will star Nicole Kidman. When you pick up this book, wear some gloves…as this book is really hot.

So what is it about? All I will say is that it is a modern day story about a London woman who wakes up each day not knowing who she is or where she is. She does not recognize anyone. She has had an injury that has given her amnesia. She has one day to be told about her life, and then by the next morning, she has forgotten everything.

This the kind of book you want to read when you don’t have that much to do, because you want the world to be placed on hold until you finish it. While reading the last 40 pages of the book, I had to assist (I used that word loosely) in a DIY project and it about drove me crazy. I just wanted to get back to the book and find out who was who, what was what and why?

By the way, if any of you are living in the Utrecht area in June 2013, this book, Before I Go To Sleep, will be discussed at Book Circle. The first English book discussion group sponsored by the Utrecht Library (Bibliotheek Utrecht) and led by moi.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman is quite a different story. After the first world war has ended, Tom is going to be a keeper of a lighthouse on a small island off of Perth, Australia. This island only has a lighthouse and a small cottage and supplies are brought every three months. He marries Isobel and she miscarries three times. One day a row boat washes ashore with a dead man and a baby inside. Tom and Isobel bring the baby into their lives and they raise her as their own.

Everyone believes that the baby girl, Lucy, is their child until the lie is exposed. The book builds into a very explosive end and it really does make you wonder what you would do in a similar situation. The writing is clear and dramatic and Stedman gives a story that you will want to share with friends. This is a great choice for a group to discuss, by the way.

Bonus read: THE COVE by Ron Rash. This is fabulous novel that takes place in North Carolina close to the end of WWI. A brother and sister, Hank and Laurel, live in the cove which has long been considered to be cursed. Lauren has a visible birthmark and the townspeople believe she is a witch. Into their secluded life comes a man who does not speak and cannot read or write. He changes their lives completely.

Rash writes a clear and careful story that is filled with fear, hate and love. The characters are so realistic and beautifully created.  The ending is shocking and brilliant. THE COVE should be on someone’s top ten list.