Monthly Archives: January 2014

NEIGHBORS

Many of my friends have been curious about Dutch names. Some of the names are pretty unusual to the ears of Americans and some sound pretty “normal”. But what one person thinks is normal another person thinks is very strange. Here, there are plenty of traditional Dutch names but there are a lot of British and American names too.

It was just in the news about the most popular baby names in The Netherlands in 2013. One hundred and sixty eight thousand babies were born here last year.

The most popular girls names are: Tess, Sophie and Julia. The top three for boys is: Sem, Levi and Bram.

Here are some unusual names and this would be the case in any country, there are always people wanting to be different and creative. For boys: Ridley-Scott, Alpacino, Lexus, Provider and Blessing. For girls there is Tiger-Lily, Queen-Chanelly and Pepper-Seven. Don’t even ask, I have no explanation for these.

There are so many Dutch names that I cannot even pronounce, but mainly my Dutch friends have pretty easy names for me to say: Annelies, Bianca, Monique, Sandra and Marjon. These are some popular baby names that are more traditional for this country: Anouk, Marieke, Fleur, Merel, Bart, Jeroen, Teun, Daan and Henk.

So there you go, what is hip and hot in Dutch culture today. I still think my favorite first name is Rembrandt.

On another subject, today I had my second Dutch mammogram. I wrote about my experiences two years ago, and not much has really changed. The machine is the same, the posing and pushing and pulling is the same and the technicians seem to be the same. But this time I know a little more Dutch.

I explained to the technician, in Dutch, that I was an American and that I spoke very little Dutch. She nodded and then I stepped up to the machine and she talked to me in Dutch, but very slowly. And I did understand her. As she was explaining things to me, I briefly answered in Dutch and each time I did, she praised me. Then I was in this weird hokey pokey position and I really believed that my breast was going to snap off, and she is talking about the language and I said “moeilijk! Moeilijk!” and she said “yes, it is moeilijk! You speak very well.”  Moeilijk means difficult…I am not sure if I was talking about the language or the exam at that point. My theory is that under extreme pressure, Dutch words come out of me and they can be interpreted anyway you want.

One more thing about this day: the waiting room had about 25 chairs and they were almost full. There was circle of men visiting with each other like old friends (this place only does mammograms) and there were all these women talking with each other. Each time another woman came in they greeted each other with big smiles and seemed surprised. I found out that the letters about your mammogram (they are called invitations here) are mailed by your post code. When I got mine I had to change the date, so these people were not in my postcode. But all the others in the waiting room all lived in the same neighborhood, so it was like a block party without any food or drink. It was very interesting to see these neighbors either waiting for a mammogram or husbands waiting for their wives.

All I can say is that it is never dull here…..

Recommended viewing: The second season of The Blechtley Circle is airing in the UK right now. I really loved this series and was happy to see that it had returned. The second series will air in USA in April on PBS.

ABOUT A BOY

Not everyone can say this, but I loved high school. It was a place where I made many new friends and had lots of new opportunities. I liked my teachers, liked most of my classes and loved all the after school activities that were typical for a high school. I got involved with many clubs and student government and doing that just allowed me to make more friends. But my experience in the theatre department was the most satisfying and the most fun.

In my senior year, we did MY FAIR LADY and I was cast as Mrs. Higgins—the mother of Professor Henry Higgins. Higgins was played by G, and it was his biggest role so far. He and I had known each other all through high school and were good school friends. We were not best friends and we really did not see each other outside of school, but we clicked in school. We had lots of laughs in each of the shows we did and MY FAIR LADY was going to be our last show before graduation. It was a big hit and was loads of fun.

I was also on the decorating committee for the senior prom. Our job was to transform the gym into the theme of “Knights In White Satin”. I worked for hours with colored tissue paper and heard friends talking about going the prom. I personally never thought of going, but the more I worked on it, the more I wanted to go. I viewed it as this big party and not so much a night for couples. One night I was talking to G on the phone and the prom came up. I said that it would be much better to go with someone who was a friend where there were no other expectations or pressures. Knowing how subtle that was NOT, G said that if there was anyone he would go with, it would be me. But, he said, I just cannot do it. I cannot be someone that I am not, and going to the prom would be really weird for me. I did not push this idea further and it turned out that I went to the prom with someone else and had a great time.

G and I were two of the three graduation speakers. I remember that his speech was filled with his dry humor and mine was pretty serious. That was the last time I saw him….that graduation night. I don’t remember what he told me his plans were or if he had any. He was very bright and funny, and I assumed he went to college, but now I don’t know. I went away to school and then moved from California to Massachusetts. I never even heard a thing about him until one day I heard from my mother that G’s obituary was in the local paper, this was the early 1980’s.

G died of AIDS. He was an activist for HIV and AIDS and apparently he had continued to live in the same town. There are so many things that I don’t know about his life or his death. I am writing about him because I just saw the film DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and I thought of the friends that I had lost to AIDS and G was the first. The film is based on a true story about one man who had AIDS and who fought the medical community and government to get the medications he needed to live.

My memories of G are of him wearing his costume and looking so handsome while singing on stage. Of him making me laugh in class or of him standing up in front of hundreds of people to say goodbye to high school. I do not know what pain he went through in the years to come. I do not know how he was treated by his neighbors or friends. But to know that he was fighting to help people makes me know that his heart was still the same. He was a boy when I knew him, just a teenager. I never knew him as a grown man facing the biggest battle of his life.

One final memory…in our junior year, G and I were in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. In the wedding scene, he and I danced together. Between us, we had four left feet, but we giggled and never gave up. Whenever we finished rehearsing that scene, we would stand there and just grin. We knew we looked silly, but we didn’t care. Less than ten years later, he was gone.

Recommended reading: THE GOLDEN EGG by Donna Leon. How I love this mystery series!

JANE’S BOEKENTIPS

This is my 200th post for the blog. WordPress tells me that in 2013 people from 104 countries, at some point, found my blog. I have NO idea who they are, but they are all welcome here.  I thought it was perfect that this post was all about books. Perfect books for winter. I have been on a lucky streak, I have enjoyed all of these books so much. They may not all appeal to you, but perhaps one or two will.  Except for one, I have read all of these writer’s books and was so happy to read their new book. Even though Deborah Moggach has been writing for quite a while, I have never read her before and now I am a fan.

SONGS OF WILLOW FROST by Jamie Ford

If you enjoyed Ford’s first novel, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, then you will certainly enjoy this one. This novel takes place in Depression era Seattle. Twelve year old William lives in an orphanage, but he believes that his mother is still alive. He thinks he has spotted her on the big screen, and that she is a Chinese American actress and singer. The novel tells us his mother’s story and also William’s, with the backdrop of the Depression and the years right before.

TOMORROW THERE WILL BE APRICOTS by Jessica Soffer

Fourteen year old Lorca cuts herself and has an unhappy home life. She is determined to make her chef mother happy so she is looking for the recipe of an obscure Iraqi dish that her mother once loved. This is how Lorca meets Victoria, an elderly widow who teaches her how to cook. The two become friends and find an unspoken bond.  I loved this book for so many reasons. This friendship is so well realized and it is painful and beautiful at the same time.

THE SILVER STAR by Jeannette Walls

It is 1970 and two sisters, Bean and Liz, are left alone as their mother decides to find herself once again. The girls, age 12 and 15, take a bus to rural Virginia to stay with their uncle. This is their mother’s hometown and they find out many things about the family. But they also have a new stable life. Bean is the center of this story and readers will be charmed by her.  Fans of Walls previous books, will be happy to have a new story to enjoy. This was a fast read for me.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL by Deborah Moggach

Moggach has written many novels, including THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and TULIP FEVER, and I confess that I have not read her before.  This book was so much fun to read and you can already see that a film will be made.  Retired actor Buffy inherits a bed and breakfast in Wales. He leaves London and decides to run the bed and breakfast and have a theme—a place for divorced people to stay and recover and maybe learn something as well.  The novel has an original group of characters and is just a lot of fun to read.

THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Molly is aging out of the foster care system in Connecticut. She has to do some community service and this leads her to Vivian, an elderly woman who needs help sorting through her old papers. The book goes back and forth to modern day Molly and to the amazing life that Vivian led as a young girl on an orphan train. Trains that went from New York City to the Midwest, filled with children who needed homes. This is so gripping and so entertaining.

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Twenty two years ago, a ten year old British girl was on her way to a holiday in Belgium. Before she got on the ferry, she threw a plastic bottle into the sea and while that it is not to be encouraged, this bottle was special. It had a message inside.

Right before Christmas, a Dutch couple were walking their dog on the beach in Zeeland. Apparently the dog has long been fascinated with playing with plastic bottles and he was the one who spotted the bottle. The note, written by Zoe, said that she was on her way to a holiday and wanted to share that she liked ballet, playing the flute and the piano. She also said she had a hamster named Sparkle.

The couple sent the note to England, to the address that was on the note. Luckily, Zoe’s parents still lived there and took the note to their daughter. Needless to say, she was surprised and very happy. She has begun emailing the couple and they have sent her photographs of the area where the bottle was found. She hopes to visit The Netherlands someday.

So there is your happy story of the new year. You just never know..

Recommended reading: I have so many books to talk about, but here is the one that I just finished: THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline. I could not put this book down, in fact I finished it at 1am.