Monthly Archives: September 2013

CLUELESS

This will be a very short post and I must say, that the title is just perfect for the way I am feeling. I have a bad cold and am not feeling too great right now.  A cold in America feels just the same as a cold In The Netherlands. There is one big difference: the medicines. In America you can find shelves on top of shelves of cold remedies, it is an embarrassment of riches. Here, there are plenty of choices, but not as many as in the USA and not all the same brands. There is a possibility that Americans might medicate more than the Dutch…could that be true? Oh yes, I really do think so.

So I am set up with boxes of tissues, cough syrup, aspirin and lozenges (that I get from America) and I just had a good bowl of Dutch soup.  I will live to write another blog, whether that is good news or not.

The real reason for me being clueless is that I started my first class of the semester this week. This is the second level of Dutch and it is much harder than the first class. The teacher, who I adore, only speaks Dutch and nothing else. So imagine having the Dutch language explained to you in Dutch, getting directions in Dutch and answering questions in Dutch. There is no wiggle room with English, Dutch or nothing. Only at the end of the class, after three hours of Dutch, could I ask the teacher a homework question in English.

The students seem very nice and likely as confused as I am, or maybe a little less. I did not hear all the countries represented, but we have people from the Ukraine, Brazil, India, Czech Republic ,England, Cuba and many more.  We all know that we are in this together and that we have to improve our Dutch skills.  Now, the challenge for me is to do homework with a very cloudy head, as I sniff, cough and sneeze all over the textbook. American germs on a Dutch book.

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THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

In 1965 a novel was published called STONER by John Williams. Williams was a professor at the University of Denver and not known in the publishing world. The book got a rave review from the New Yorker magazine, but it only sold 2,000 copies. It was out of print in a year. At the time of publication, the book was hailed as a classic and a masterpiece, but it did not matter, hardly anyone read the book.
STONER is a simple story about a young man, in 1910, who leaves farm life and goes to college. William Stoner becomes a teacher at the university where he studied and his life always revolved around the academic life. Some people called Stoner a very ordinary man, some even thought he was invisible. This is not a story filled with lots of action or cliffhangers, and yet it is very compelling for just being a story about a teacher.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s the book was an underground hit. Old copies were passed around from reader to reader, and it gained many fans, but no new copies were printed. It wasn’t until 2006 that it was republished and it was publicized as a classic. It became a hit in England and then it got translated in other languages, including Dutch.
In the last year, I would go into bookstores and see STONER on the bestseller table. Over and over again, I would see this book and wonder what was the story of this book? First, I assumed it was a Dutch book but then I realized it was written by an American writer. In 2013, the book was in the top 5 bestseller list for three months in The Netherlands. And then it went to #1 for 5 weeks in a row. Now I was really intrigued, so I placed a reserve at the library. I had to wait awhile to get an English copy, but there were plenty of Dutch editions, but that was not going to help me. So far, 125,000 copies of STONER have been sold in The Netherlands, all translated into Dutch.
All I can tell you is that this book is worth all the excitement and certainly all the praise. I truly loved this book and I want to make sure everyone knows about this surprising novel. The writing is simple, clear and spare. How does such a simple plot become a page turner? It is all about the talent of the writer and Williams created a brilliant character and story.
Extra book news: Last year I wrote about THE DINNER by Herman Koch. This is a Dutch book (Het Diner)that has become an international best seller. In fact, it has made history as it is now translated in 33 languages—the most ever for a Dutch book. There was a Dutch film that was recently released here and it was just announced that there will be an American production based on this book, directed by superb actress Cate Blanchett.

RATATOUILLE

The Rotterdam police force is the first in the world to use rats to catch criminals. This is not a joke, it is a true and weird story. Apparently, rats have an amazing talent for smelling out certain odors, they are even better than dogs. The rats are specifically being trained to sniff gunpowder. They will be brought to a crime scene and they will be able to identify gunpowder on the hands of the alleged shooter. If I was a bad guy, and a police officer came towards me with one or two rats, I would confess in a New York second.

There are currently five rats being trained in Rotterdam and they have all been named after famous detectives: Derrick (a German TV detective), Magnum, Poirot, Johnson and Johnston (the British TV show Walking the Dead). If this project is a hit, I am sure they will have a lot more detective names to choose from. The police believe that the rat training could expand into smelling drugs, money, bodies, blood and explosives. The potential for these specially trained rats is quite impressive.

I can just see these rats going out on a case. I imagine them wearing little vests and caps, that would identify them as police rats. You would not want to mistake them for a an ordinary street rat or even a criminal rat, they would have to have some form of identification. I am not sure if these rats would need to be on a leash or if they can freely walk around a crime scene. But there they would be, sniffing around and then making a beeline for the alleged criminal. It likely does not take long for a rat to identify the gunpowder, but what if a rat really takes his sweet time? The police would either have a quick confession or they may have to get some smelling salts, but at the end of the day the rats are high fiving each other and the police are bursting with pride.

When this story reaches Hollywood, you know that there will be a television show about these rat sniffers. It could be called CSI: Ratterdam. Well, you heard it here first.

Recommended viewing: not every movie I see has to be a possible Oscar nominee. I just saw a fun movie that is certainly not perfect, but it was enjoyable. THE HOT FLASHES stars Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Virginia Madsen, Camryn Manheim and Daryl Hannah.

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith
This is the first of a new mystery series starring a private detective who is beautifully realized by Galbraith. PI Strike is a multi- dimensional character and readers will find him very compelling. Strike is not a successful detective and his business is about to go under. But suddenly he gets a case and it will either save him or kill him. Strike is a former military man who is now a civilian because he got his leg shot off. This information just adds so much to the story as we have a hero who is physically or emotionally flawed.
This British mystery is very good and keeps the reader interested, but I think that the great success with this book is the author’s gift of creating believable characters and realistic dialogue. I would guess that this British series will be a welcome addition to the mystery genre and that Galbraith has potential to be a very successful writer.
P.S. Robert Galbraith is not a real name, the true author of this book is J.K. Rowling. This is an impressive piece of writing.
WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE by Maria Semple
Wow and triple wow. This is one of the most unique books I have read in a long time. It is creative, original, funny and completely entertaining. Put this book down under a pure pleasure to read.
The novel is straight forward, with one narrator. There are many voices in this story, including Bernadette, her husband, her daughter, her hated neighbors, a school principal, and a psychiatrist. The story is told through emails, faxes, documents and the first- hand account of an eighth grader.
I really don’t want to give too much away, but you just have to dive in to this story and see how long it takes for you to smile or laugh. Semple’s gift at satire is obvious, and she knows how to find humor in almost anything—working for Microsoft, the politics of middle school, the pros and cons of living in Seattle, parenting teenagers, etc. It all comes together so beautifully in this one book. This novel is one of the best reviewed books of the year and now I know why. Please give it a chance.
 I just saw a wonderful film on dvd: 42. This is the story of Jackie Robinson’s first year playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. This has a great cast and it is not just about baseball.

THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING

 

I grew up in a world where it felt like everyone smoked. On television, there were not only cigarette commercials but there was smoking on almost every show, including the daytime soap operas. It was not unusual to see actors light up in a casual way and there was no significance to them smoking. Years later, when an actor smoked it was because the character they were playing was a “bad guy”.  But before then, beloved characters/actors smoked cigarettes, pipes and cigars. I clearly remember Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. smoking whenever they were on tv and especially when they were singing. It would have been weird to see them without a cigarette.

My parents both smoked (they both quit when I was in college) and it was just a normal thing to have ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters on the coffee table. It was normal for my parents to use the cigarette lighter in the car while they were driving. I still remember the sound of my father’s lighter, as he flicked it open and that smell…some things you never forget.

It didn’t seem to be a big deal to smoke around your children, as a matter of fact, at a party we would be surrounded by smoke. It was not a big deal to drive in your car with the kids in the back seat, with the windows closed and there is mom or dad smoking. No big deal.

But through the years, we learned that second hand smoke is a very big deal and there have been many changes in the media world. There has been a lot of education given to parents about how unhealthy it is for a child to be around smoke. When I lived in Massachusetts, I would see a child in the safety seat and the parent smoking, with all the windows up. They were worried enough to strap their child securely enough into the seat, but not worried about the smoke?

Here, in The Netherlands, no smoking is allowed inside a public space. In a restaurant, you cannot smoke inside, but you can smoke outside. This country has thousands of outdoor cafes and that is where you can freely smoke. Many times I have sat outside enjoying a cup of coffee and forgotten that the person next to me can light up, and trust me, they do. It is their legal right to do so and if it bothers me, I have to go inside or leave. I accept that. The Dutch legal age to purchase cigarettes is 16, and that will change in 2014 to 18. But I continue to be shocked when I see parents smoke in front of their children, as that smoke is going right into their small lungs.

Recently, we went to a German amusement park and there was a lot of smoking there. There were trash cans everywhere, the place was kept very clean. And on top of each can was an ashtray and now I know why. At times it felt like we were the only nonsmokers in the whole park. But what truly shocked me was to see parents smoking in the presence of their children. I don’t think I ever saw a parent even make an effort to turn away as they blew out their smoke, they just kept on smoking and the children completely ignored the smoke. This is what they have grown up with and so it was not strange to them. Germany has the same law as the Dutch: no smoking inside buildings. But it really did not make a difference, as almost everything in this park is outside. It made me realize how clueless I am when it comes to smoking. There are people all over the world who obviously do not believe that there is any harm in smoking in front of their children. They do not believe the medical community and that is their right as a smoker. But when it comes to a child, who protects them? Parents will only buy toys that have been tested, they try to get their child to eat healthy food, they make them wear a seat belt or sit in a car seat, they make sure that they look both ways when they cross the street, they remind them to not talk to strangers, and yet….they blow smoke in their face.  What am I missing?

Recommended viewing: there is a wonderful old (1971) movie called COLD TURKEY. It is about a town who is desperate for money and so they decide to have the entire town quit smoking. It has a great cast and it is written and directed by Norman Lear. I hope you can find it on dvd, I am not sure if it is even available. A very funny movie.