Monthly Archives: April 2013

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

Orange is the color of the day. Orange is the only color that counts in The Netherlands right now. If you have a phobia about orange or simply just hate the color, you are in big trouble. On Tuesday, April 30, there will a big change in this country. There will be a king, not a queen. Orange is the official color of Holland and the royal family, so you can buy practically anything in orange. The city of Amsterdam, where the investiture will take place, is preparing for this very big party/celebration. They are expecting 800,000 people to come into the city on this one day, that is not including all the people who are already there.

prince-willem-alexander-maxima-beatrix

So what is the big deal? Queen Beatrix has abdicated, after 33 years of wearing the crown. In abdicating, she gives her 46 year old son, Willem-Alexander, the chance to be king. This seems to be a family tradition, of taking a retirement from being queen. Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948, Queen Juliana abdicated in 1980 and now Beatrix has left the building too.

There were three kings first: King Willem I, King Willem II and King Willem III. So guess what? Willem-Alexander does not want to be called number four. There will be no number after his name. He is known as Alex to all his friends and citizens. He will always have his official name, but he likes being known as Alex.

On April 30, which is already an annual holiday in The Netherlands, because it is the Queen’s birthday, she hands over the very heavy crown to her son. As in true Dutch fashion, there will not be a lot of pomp and circumstance, but a lot of partying. Compared to the formality of royal events in England, the Dutch are pretty low key. When I first heard this sentence: “the Queen has abdicated” I replied “oh, Charles must be so happy.” As I thought this was about Queen Elizabeth, but it was not to be. Charles will have to wait a few more years, but I did wonder how he reacted when he heard about Queen Beatrix.

The Dutch are known for their efficiency, so on Tuesday the Queen will officially abdicate at 10am and then there will be a King. At 10:30am, the new King, Beatrix, formerly known as the Queen (who will now be a princess) and the new Queen will appear on the balcony of the Royal Palace for some brief speeches. Later in the day, Willem-Alexander will have his investiture. Many dignitaries from around the world will be there, including royalty from all over. It is customary that no king or queen attend this ceremony, as they do not want to steal the spotlight from the new king. And as I said, there will be lots of celebrating with dances, boat parades and music…maybe a few beers will be drunk on that day.

By the way, the most popular Dutch royal is the soon to be queen, Maxima. She is down to earth, stylish and seems “very friendly.” Alex and Maxima have three daughters and their oldest, Amalia, will be the next queen. Imagine being nine years old and already knowing your career.

There will be 14 hours of television coverage. Lots of orange and lots of smiles. Let us all be safe and happy.

paleis_dam

This is the Royal Palace at the Dam. The balcony is right in the center. To the right is the church where the ceremony will take place. Just picture a few thousand people standing in that square on Tuesday, in a blur of orange.

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LOVE STORY

I am an American not living in the United States. I am going through the process to become a permanent resident of The Netherlands, but I will always be an American citizen. Not only am I proud of being an American, but I am fiercely proud of my state—Massachusetts. Since the horrible events at the Boston Marathon, I have been glued to the news and have been on an emotional roller coaster—just like so many others. I would just like to share a few thoughts on this past week.

Patriot’s Day (always the third Monday in April) is a state holiday and the day of the Boston Marathon. It is a day that I got off from work and it usually meant that I had the television on so that I could see the highlights of this annual event. But honestly, I did not find marathon running that exciting. So I usually read a book through most of the race. I did watch the end of the race, when the runners came through the finish line. Just to see all these amazing runners and the fans who have stood for hours to cheer on friends, family members and strangers is lots of fun. So to have this special day shockingly altered from what we know, is mind boggling.

The videos and photographs are very hard to look at and understand, and yet I could not stop looking. To see familiar streets and landmarks of Boston so bloodied and full of panic is simply very hard to take in. As soon as I heard this terrible news, I got online to check on my friends. Through email and Facebook, I was able to find out that everyone was safe. Some friends were at the race, but not in danger. But people needed to share and express their feelings and how frightened they were, and it was so good for me to hear from them. I needed to know their stories and to know they were safe.

Boston is famous for many things, but it is well known for being a sports town. The rivalry between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees is well known. I have a son who is now a Red Sox fan, even though he is Dutch and did not grow up in the culture of baseball (honkball). Thanks to me, he is not a fan of the Yankees. He hears the word Yankees and makes a noise. That is what a rivalry is all about and we smile and laugh about it. When I saw the video of fans in Yankee Stadium singing “Sweet Caroline” in support of Boston, I kind of lost it. It was a very emotional moment, as we know how unique that was in the world of baseball. But then, this was not about baseball, was it?

I was able to watch the memorial service live and was so grateful that I could feel a part of it. In my heart, I am still from Massachusetts. To see my governor, Deval Patrick, speak from his heart about this horrible week, was what I needed. And then to hear the perfect speech from my president, Barack Obama, was exactly what I wanted. It was a clarifying moment for me, because I did not feel there was an ocean between us.

On Friday, while the search for the suspect was holding the world’s attention, I was attached to my laptop. I knew I had to go on a day trip, and I had to leave the news behind. We were going to drive two hours to visit Uncle John in the hospital. I have only known this man for a little over two years and yet I feel like he has been family for many years. We were going to the “outback of Holland”, this is the affectionate term for going way out in the boonies. Indeed, it feels like a really long drive as there is not much to see. Lots of working farms, sheep, flat lands and only ONE working windmill dot this area. But it was good to see Uncle John and give him some cheer. He asked me, in his broken English, about Boston and I reassured him that none of my friends were hurt. He has three roommates and one of them caught my attention. The man was 91 years old and his wife of 66 years, who was also 91, was sitting by his bedside. He was having trouble with his speech and she leaned in and never took her eyes off his face. At one point, she left him alone and I stole glances at him. He looked out the window and he cried. He dried his eyes and sighed. And then he cried again. His wife came back and she sat again and looked at him…and he struggled to speak and then he cried loudly. She took his hand and just kept looking at him. It was a moment of purity and simplicity. This was knowing the person in your life and just holding on. On the drive home, through very dark and stormy skies, I thought of this couple and this whole painful week. Ultimately, we have to remember what is important and that is who we love and what we love. It comes down to our rituals, our points of pride and the people in our lives.
A wise little boy said “no more hurting people.” Let the hurting stop and let the loving begin…that is my wish.

P.S. For those regular readers, you know that I use a movie title for each blog post. Just my way of incorporating my love of films….When I knew I was going to write about this subject, I first thought of Marathon Man. But then I realized Love Story was better, as it represents what I was feeling. Ironically, the book and film take place in Boston and if you watched it right now, you could have a very campy party and have lots of fun making fun.

Recommended viewing: films that take place in Boston—The Departed, Fever Pitch, Gone baby gone, Good Will Hunting, Legally Blonde, Mystic River, Next stop, Wonderland, The Social Network and Ted. There is a long list of films that were either filmed in Boston or take place in Boston, please check them out. It is a fabulous city for many reasons.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

THE COMFORT OF LIES by Randy Susan Meyers

Three women, who are not related or even friends, have a bond that becomes tied and twisted into a fantastic novel.  Tia had an affair with a married man and after they broke up, she gave birth to their child, which she gave up for adoption. It is now five years later and Tia has not emotionally moved on from giving the baby away and the break up. Caroline is the adopted mother who is struggling to balance her career with motherhood and having a hard time admitting that maybe she does not have any maternal instincts. She loves her daughter, but is struggling to find joy in being a mother and her husband has no idea how unhappy she is. Juliette is the wife of Nathan, who is the man who had the affair with Tia and fathered Savannah. She becomes preoccupied with the idea that her husband, who has been forgiven for the affair, now has a daughter.

These characters are believable because they have fears and flaws. They are people who are vulnerable and have no idea what to do about it. They live life, it seems, at full speed. Only when the women start to meet each other and start confronting the hidden truths, do their lives slow down just enough so that they can take a closer look at themselves.

THE COMFORT OF LIES is an intimate story and readers will feel personally involved in the character’s lives. It is such a wonderful experience to read a book that is so well written and that such care is taken with each character. You will find yourself thinking about them and how the complications can be worked out. And here is the best news of all: the book has a terrific ending. How many times have you read a good story and been disappointed by the ending? How many times have you felt let down by the writer? In this novel, Randy Susan Meyers give us a thoughtful and realistic ending that is happily satisfying.

There is much comfort in covering up our feelings and not telling the truth. The truth can be very unsettling and it even makes you work even harder, on yourself. Being honest with yourself and with others is not always an easy process and yet, ultimately, it is a relief to unburden yourself. The lies we tell each other and ourselves can give us temporary comfort, but they don’t seem to last too long. That is why this book title is simply perfect for what faces all of the characters.

This is not only well written but a pure pleasure to read.

Recommended reading:  please read Randy Susan Meyers’s first novel, THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS. This was an outstanding debut for a novelist. Personally, I cannot wait for number three!

HAPPY FEET

UNICEF just announced the results of a study conducted to find out about the well-being of children from the 29 richest countries in the world. Their criteria were these areas:  material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, housing and environment.

Children from The Netherlands came out as number one in this survey. In the top, after the Dutch children, were Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden.  In the bottom third of this list was Canada, Germany, Portugal, Poland and the United States. Does this shock anyone? In this report, American children were ranked #26. The last country on the list was Romania.

This is being called the happiness report. How happy are children across the world? Are their basic needs being met? Are they safe, warm and well fed? Are they getting a good education? Do they have enough room in their homes for their family? Do they go on vacation? Do they get enough exercise and time outdoors? The list goes on and on and you can check the UNICEF web site to read the detailed report.

The Netherlands is the only country ranked among the top 5 countries in ALL dimensions of a child’s well-being. Children in each of these countries were asked if they were happy and 95% of the Dutch children said they were. I asked our children if they thought that this report was accurate to what they know of life here, and they thought it was. They said they were happy and that is always a good thing for a parent to hear. It does not say that a country or its people are perfect, far from it. And The Netherlands is not perfect. But something is working well here.

As I have written before, there seems to be a lot of family time here. I have seen a family of four, each riding their bikes, and all having a discussion as they wheel down the street. Remember that there are no school buses in this country, all children must bike or walk to school each day. And many are riding home for lunch as well. Primary schools close at noon on Wednesdays and that seems to allow for more time for children to be with their parents. That ties in with the fact that women in this country overwhelmingly work part time and they are likely to be home after school. Fathers can also take a Papadag (papa day), which means they stay home one day a week to be with the children. Dutch children get free medical care (and that includes prescriptions and dental, but not braces) until they are 18 years old.  There are many ways that you can look at your own family and see what causes happiness. But we all know that if a child is smiling, it is always a good thing. When they are happy, we are happy. I just wish that this joy, this sense of well-being, can be spread to children all over the world.

Hold the mayo—it is common practice to use mayonnaise on french fries in this country. You will get many stares if you use ketchup. A popular chain of “chip shops”, Manneken Pis, has announced a new flavor of mayonnaise. They are famous for offering a variety of flavors, but this is kind of unusual and yet, so very Dutch. You will now be able to get cannabis flavored mayo. It lacks the ingredients to make you high, but it will taste like cannabis. And you wonder why people are happy in this country? I think it is because nothing surprises them…you just have get back on your bike and smile.

 

 

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

What are the four most famous paintings in the western world?

  1. Mona Lisa
  2. The Last Supper
  3. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
  4. Night Watch

Rembrandt van Rijn’s Nachtwacht, as it is said in Dutch, has returned to its home at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The museum has been closed for ten years for major renovations, and it will be officially opened on April 13 by Queen Beatrix. The renovation cost 375 million euros, 100 million euros OVER budget. The early reviews for the museum are fantastic and they are not just for the art work, but for the building as well.

Night Watch was completed in 1642 at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age. It was removed in 1939 from the Rijksmuseum as there was justified fear that the Germans would steal it. The painting was taken out of its frame, the canvas was rolled into a cylinder and it was stored in a castle, north of Amsterdam. After the war, it was restored and returned to the museum.

Last week, the final painting was hung in the soon to be open museum. Vermeer’s The Milkmaid is now back in the Rijksmuseum. By the way, Night Watch is the only painting to be hanging in its original location. As much as people are excited to see over one million pieces of art, they are also eager to see how the museum has changed. They expect over two million visitors a year. Do you need any more reasons to visit this wonderful city?

If any of you were wondering about the name Rembrandt, as I was, it is not that common a name here in The Netherlands. However, there is a boy on our son’s hockey team whose first name is Rembrandt. He does not have a nickname or a shorter name, just Rembrandt. Imagine hearing his name being called out on an athletic field. Our son tells us that he is the only Rembrandt he knows.

The photo is of dairy products that all have an artistic flavor to them in honor of Dutch artists.

Milk Carton Dutch Artcopyright.ah.nl

Recommended viewing: just giving you a little British mystery scoop. Season 8 of FOYLE’S WAR has just started airing in the UK. I have loved this series for years, but now the war is over and things are different. It takes place in London, Foyle is retired and he has been asked to work for the government as they face the “Russian problem”. There is a new mystery series called BROADCHURCH that has become a big hit in the UK. It is almost over and my lips will be sealed when the murderer is revealed, so don’t ask me anything! This series is just so good and so much fun. It is about a small coastal town and how a murder affects its residents. David Tennant stars as the lead detective.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

I think I come from a place of gratitude. I am very grateful for many things in my life, and that includes the wonderful books that I am happy to read. To have read three fantastic books in a row is a good thing and something to celebrate. So here are three book reviews and even a bonus mini review. You cannot say there are not good writers or books out there, as there are so many that are just waiting to be read. And I always find it fun to read a new novelist, it is like being introduced to a new friend. Enjoy, everybody.

JULIET IN AUGUST by Dianne Warren

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. This novel is perfect.

I think that writing classes should use this novel as an example what great writing is all about. Just know that no matter what I say about this book, it is even better.

Juliet is not a person, but a small town with 1100 residents in Saskatchewan, Canada. In this part of western Canada is a desert, with lots and lots of sand. The town is fictional, but this area is real. It is a farming community that borders a desert. People are struggling financially and we see this played out in a day and a night in this small town.

In Juliet ,the people are real and ordinary. Nothing spectacular happens here, and that is okay. Because the storyteller gives us such a rich and caring view of these characters, that we don’t want to stop reading.

The writing is just beautiful and feels timeless. Warren takes such care with each perfectly drawn character that it feels like they are people we know or have known.  She gives the reader details that make the story so lifelike and lovely at the same time.

This is Dianne Warren’s first novel and this book was published in Canada with the title COOL WATER. I cannot  imagine what her next novel will be, but I know she now has a fan. I think you will love this too.

THE COLOUR OF MILK by Nell Leyshon

There is a lot of power in this short novel.  It has one of most unique voices in literature today, and because of that, it is a must read. Mary, is fifteen years old in 1830, and she is a farm girl who has been “sold” by her father to the vicar. That means that Mary works as a house maid and her father gets her salary. This is Mary’s story and she is funny, blunt and illiterate. She sees no need to read or write, as she is used to working with her hands and that is all she needs. But Mary is very bright and she quickly begins to learn.

Unfortunately, she also learns about human nature and that not all hearts are good. The reading of this story just flies. It is so eloquent and yet rough. Author Leyshon has created a character that you want to hear from, you want to take care of and you just wish the book was longer. This was a fabulous read.

THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton

Laurel thought she always had an ideal childhood. There was always one memory that troubled her and she wished that she could get more answers to that memory. But overall, her life had been relatively happy. She is a successful British actress and she is facing the death of her 90 year old mother. As her mother is dying, she shares things that make Laurel remember that scene from her childhood. She decides to find some answers before her mother dies.

This is not a mystery, in the traditional definition. But it is a family mystery as there are these dangling questions that lead Laurel into her mother’s life when she was a young woman living in London during the second world war.

Kate Morton has given us another strong and interesting story with many little cliffhangers along the way. Every family has secrets but how far do they go and how buried are they? All will be explained in the end.

Recommended reading: another terrific novel is NORTHWEST CORNER by John Burnham Schwartz. This is the story of a father and son and their fractured relationship and troubled past. The story is told from five different people and it is very well done.