Monthly Archives: February 2013

THE HORSE WHISPERER

For the last few weeks, horse meat has been in the international news. I will go on record saying that I find the idea of eating horse meat pretty disgusting. But the bigger issue is not to eat or not to eat horses, it is how the meat has landed on people’s plates. The issue is honesty in advertising and packaging. If you are going to have horse meat or any other animal in a product then it needs to be clearly labeled. I guess there is nothing illegal about eating horse meat, but people must be informed about what they are putting into their mouths.

A steakhouse in Amsterdam has been open for 63 years and they have been serving horse steaks for years. The steaks are very popular and the restaurant has been quite successful. The only problem is that the customers never knew that they were eating horse meat. Supposedly, staff had to sign a contract promising not to tell. It wasn’t until this controversy that the owner finally admitted that he used horse meat. His defense was “ people enjoyed the food, business was good, why should I?”

My personal reaction to the idea of eating horses is based on the culture I grew up in and live in. I think of the horses in literature that I read as a child, like BLACK BEAUTY, THE BLACK STALLION and MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE. These were either race horses, pets or just running free. These were horses that were ridden, they had names, they got an apple and they nuzzled their feeder.

There are so many movies that have starred horses and here are just three that stand out to me: NATIONAL VELVET, SEABISCUIT and WAR HORSE. None of these horses were on anyone’s menu.

When you look at the history of television, there were horses everywhere. Naturally, horses were in all the cowboy shows. I remember the Palomino that Little Joe rode in BONANZA and  The Lone Ranger’s Silver. And how can we forget the famous talking horse, MR. ED? It was a bad show, but it wasn’t the horse’s fault.

Horses are majestic. They carry soldiers and Queens. Horses perform in parades and in rodeos.  Horses are even in the Olympics. You cannot possibly watch the riding competition and think “I cannot wait to have a steak tonight.”

I think that is why so many people are shocked by this news story…horses are not made to be eaten. But here in Europe, eating horse is not that unusual. But I will say it again, just be honest about what you are serving and selling. The best frozen meatballs in the world may also have horse meat in them…is nothing sacred anymore?!  Let the consumers know what they are ordering or buying. I do not want Trigger on my plate, thank you very much.

Recommended reading:  THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty. I absolutely love this writer and was so pleased to read her latest book. A really great read. It has been optioned for film and will star Elizabeth McGovern, of Downton Abbey fame.

 

 

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THE WORDS

We all know that you can have the most brilliant director and cast and still have a flawed or bad film. The bottom line is the script, it all depends on a great screenplay. Six out of the nine best films nominated for an Academy Award this year were books first. Today, many great scripts are based on a book.

Here is a list of books coming to a theatre near you this year. I am sure there are more coming at the end of the year, but these films will be here soon. Try to read the book first and no matter what, enjoy.

  • The wonderful wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (the film is OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia
  • Carrie by Stephen King (this is a remake)
  • Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  • Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
  • The Host by Stephenie Meyer

 

Recommended reading: THE DINNER by Herman Koch. I reviewed this Dutch book last year and it has now been published in the United States. It is currently in film production here in the Netherlands. This book was a huge success here, over half a million copies were sold.

PLACES OF THE HEART

This is a big week for me. I am celebrating a birthday and it is the two year anniversary of moving to The Netherlands. Moving here was a huge step for me, as you can imagine. One of the smartest things I did was to start this blog, as it was a way for me to express myself concerning the strange new life that I was living. It was also a great opportunity for me to share with my friends in the United States and the blog also introduced me to some new friends.

Here are just a few observations about what has stood out to me about living in The Netherlands…and this just scratches the surface.

The beauty of this land cannot be denied. I still act like a kid at Disneyland, looking all around with my jaw hanging open. To stand in a field of tulips, to count how many windmills you see in one day, and to watch cows and sheep grazing in the flattest land you have ever seen…that is my fortune. In New England, they say “wait a second and the weather will change again” and that is also true here. The weather changes so many times in a matter of hours, from bright sunshine, dark clouds, rain and then back to blue skies. But the Dutch skies are blow your mind fabulous…it really feels like nature is putting on a show.

The people are nicer and friendlier than I thought they would be. I did not know what to expect, but they were super nice from the start. They welcomed this American with a sincerity that I found surprising and touching. The Dutch are very direct people and I have discovered that that is not a bad thing, in fact, it is kind of refreshing.

The two hardest things about living here are pretty obvious: leaving all that I love in America and adjusting to the Dutch language. The language has been a huge challenge for me and something I am still grappling with. On the other hand, it has given me many moments of laughter as the words are just so strange and funny (to me). The good news is that almost all the Dutch speak English, but that still does not get me off the hook from learning the language!

A few weeks ago, I was in a café with three friends. Everyone was talking and I looked to my left and saw a man walk by our table. I literally gasped. The man was wearing wooden shoes (klompen). Not the kind you see in the tourist shops. These were big and dirty and had obviously been worn for a while.  I interrupted the conversation and said “look, look!” They looked at the man and looked at me. I exclaimed “he is wearing wooden shoes!”  Someone said “oh, he is just a farmer (boer) coming in for some coffee, I guess.”  For me, it was an official moment. The first windmill, the first canal, first wheel of cheese and my first image of a man really wearing wooden shoes, because he needed to or he just wanted to. He was not wearing those shoes for my benefit, not for any tourist show, he was actually wearing the shoes for himself. I loved that.

I could go on and on about life here, and that is why I have this blog…a place where I can go on and on. But as I live this week of memories, I can look back on the last two years with a smile. And yet, my eyes fill up very quickly because when you move towards something, that means you are leaving something or someone behind. I am so grateful for the Internet for being my link to my friends in America as they mean the world to me. Many people have been on this adventure with me, either physically or virtually, and that has made this transition so much easier.

So I continue to be a student. I am learning about this country, this culture and the people. I am learning how to order that one cup of coffee (koffie) that comes with NO refills.I am learning how to be a good parent. And I am learning that friendship does not mean standing in one place, under one sky. Friendship crosses across all boundaries and oceans and time zones and that is a great thing to remember every single day.

And now I am looking at the sky. When I started typing this, the sky (lucht) was clear blue and now…white clouds have quietly arrived. The show has begun.

What I am reading this week:  THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS by Chris Bohjalian.

 

WATERWORLD

My aunt Betty, who was British, used to say to her little dog: “would you like to spend some pennies?” The dog would then wag his tail and get very excited. This was not a dog who liked to go shopping, this was a dog who needed to visit the back yard and…wee. Spending your pennies is a very old British term about going to the bathroom, I think it’s origin comes from the first public toilets that cost a penny to use.

In this country, there is a little controversy about saving some pennies while you spend your pennies. To put it in a nutshell, it is all about peeing in the shower.

In the province of Drenthe, an official on the council for the municipality of Aa en Hunze, has announced that people should pee while showering. There is a project this year to increase sustainability and save water, so this official, Bert Wassink, thought he was being helpful to his community and even his country.

Mr. Wassink (you gotta love this name) said that peeing in the shower “saves lots of clean water and is good for the environment. If you combine showers and peeing, you save a lot of water and money, so why not?”

To put this in perspective, an average Dutch person uses 39 litres a day on showers and 36 litres of water flushing the toilet. The Dutch know all about water and there is a good argument for doing as Mr. Wassink suggests. But many people do not want to be told by a politician when and how they should urinate. The Dutch are independent people in any situation, and this just rubbed (without a sponge) them the wrong way. On the other hand, some people think that this is a great idea and they have been doing it for years. It is compelling argument that you can do two things at once, but others find this act simply disgusting.

I have written before on this blog about how men urinate in public here. Because there are so many canals and sloots, men can just stand outside and relieve themselves. In most cities there are also these sidewalk urinals that are just for men and not only do they not have a door but they are free. The Dutch have done everything possible to make it easier for men, especially, to find relief. Now we are discussing peeing while showering. Mr. Wassink is not saying to use the shower INSTEAD of the toilet, but if you are already under a waterfall…why not?

Mr. Wassink did admit that he practices what he preaches. I know many people who do this, and even I have taken a “double shower” on occasion. On those times, I have to admit that I enjoyed it and liked the fact that I could do two things at once. I wish my Aunt Betty was still around, as I would love to tell her that I am spending pennies while washing my hair.

Recommended viewing:  BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. All the buzz about this film are warranted and deserved.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

— MONOPOLY UPDATE: THE IRON HAS BEEN RETIRED AND A CAT IS NOW ON BOARD —

IN THE CASTLE OF THE FLYNNS by Michael Raleigh

Where have I been? Why did I not read this fabulous novel when it was first published in 2002? The good news is that I found this book and it does not make any difference that it is 10 years old.

IN THE CASTLE OF THE FLYNNS is the story of seven year old Danny and his extended family in 1954. Danny’s parents have been killed in a car accident and he is now an ”orphan” with lots of relatives. He lives with his grandparents and two uncles and has weekly visits with his other grandmother who lives nearby. This novel is about being an Irish Catholic boy in Chicago and having a large family who clearly love this little boy…but the relatives are not enough. There is a large hole in his life that slowly starts to heal. This book is about the world according to Danny.

Raleigh does a brilliant job of having a seven year old narrate this story, we see the streets of Chicago through his eyes. We walk and run the streets that he now makes his domain. We meet his relatives who are funny, troubled and full of love for Danny. Everyone is looking out for him, but they forget that he is right there…listening to all of the adult conversations. Danny goes through dresser drawers, hides under the table and snoops for any bit of information about his parents and all the crazy things that the grownups are doing.

This is a very funny book. It is also a sad story about grownups finding their way in life and not always succeeding. And there is Danny, a boy who mourns for his parents and yet is so fortunate to have this amazing group of flawed people in his life.

I really loved this book. I loved the voice of Danny and where this one year in his life went. I was sorry to reach the last page and I could not wait to tell my friends about this book. Put this book into your hands and start reading!

Big book news: four major writers have new books coming out this year.

  • Stephen King has written a sequel to one of his most popular books, THE SHINING. The new novel is called DOCTOR SLEEP.
  • Khaled Hosseini, author of THE KITE RUNNER and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, has AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED.
  • Jeannette Walls, who wrote THE GLASS CASTLE and HALF BROKE HORSES , has a new novel: THE SILVER STAR.
  • Kate Atkinson has a new book: LIFE AFTER LIFE. I also just found out that they have filmed a second season of CASE HISTORIES, based on Atkinson mysteries.

THE STORM

It came in the middle of the night. A giant monster attacked while everyone was sleeping. In the early hours of February 1, 1953, a storm destroyed a part of The Netherlands. It was a combination of many things that made this a perfect storm for disaster. There was a high spring tide, a massive windstorm and the water levels soon exceeded 18 feet (over 5 meters). The Netherlands is below sea level, and with this storm, the dikes (dijken) could not hold back the sea. The impacted areas of the country were in the southern part: Zeeland, Zuid-Holland and Brabant…all were flooded.

  • 1836 people died
  • Over 100,000 people lost their homes
  • 4500 buildings were destroyed
  • 200,000 acres of farmland devastated
  • 30,000 animals drowned

There was one small warning about the coming storm. People went to bed on January 31 without having a clue how their lives would change. The radio network did not operate after midnight and certainly not on the weekends, so there was no way to alert people. But no one had any clue at how severe this storm was. After the flooding started, the telephone and telegraph lines were down, and there was no communication between towns and residents who were in need. So a whole new network was created by those who were amateur radio operators and they were the ones that for ten days straight, got the word out about who needed to be rescued.

Sixty years ago this country suffered a tremendous loss. But the Dutch promised themselves that this would not happen again. Already there were plans in place to protect the land and this later became the Delta Works (Deltawerken) project. This storm was a turning point as decisions had to be made about how they would approach the project.  The Dutch asked themselves if they could really stop the sea and this immense project confirmed that they could. It is beyond impressive what was designed and built to stop the possibility of this kind of storm impacting The Netherlands again. I will write about the Delta Works in a later blog. This is now the time to remember those who died and those who survived.

Recommended viewing: THE STORM. A Dutch feature film that gives you a great sense of this terrible event.

flood photo 3

one dike broken in two by the powerful water

flood photo 2

flood photo 1