Monday, November 21, 2016

The Run Around, Good Style

“What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in the process of becoming and perishing and never really is.”

Jesus.  The answer came to me directly. There, a messiah. I just solved the ancient riddle of the Greek philosophers.

Recently I met a friend after many years.  I was quite pleased she reached out, asking me to set a date for coffee.  In fact when I moved to Amsterdam I expected that this would happen often, tried to initiate contact but most often it didn’t manifest.  So instead of meeting old tenuous connections from my past I attended tango, yoga, etc. to form new connections and routines. Now three years down the road, my friend, unemployed, has time and sent me a message.

What did I know about her, I mused, from all those years ago? She was still petite, vivacious, her black eyes sparkled. I am living in a small apartment in the city center, actively pursuing my interests which have nothing to do with forming a relationship of any sort. Fleeing attachment, I’ve been thinking about my oasis, a little patch of calm, as a gift of grace.  She, on the other hand, not having had a long term relationship was still actively looking for the true love of her life while squatting in 27 square meters of studio.

I remember, years ago in Paris, I lived in a chamber de bonne on the top floor of the American Church.  There were three of us, au pairs, housed in a row of small rooms along the top floor. We each had a sink and a closet, mine was without doors. Next to me an entrepreneur organized his resale business, he trolled garbage bins for saleable items and housed them next to the elevator for short periods. He’d lugged up a complete spiral staircase once, with those gravel encrusted cement pedal steps. He’d done this in the middle of the night one Parisian spring month before his plans for conquering Russia consolidated. At the end of the row lived a divorcee. She was American, had been married to a Frenchman, and was co-parenting a teenager.  Whispers about domestic violence in her past (the church was secured) and her quiet zen like countenance embraced her; she was kind and sometimes invited me to drink tea in her room, sitting on the floor. I believe Marie Kondo, organizational angel of great tidings and seeker of holistic appreciation, would have approved of her lifestyle.  We each had 9 square meters of space and I was drowning in mine, my stuff tumbled out of the closet despite numerous attempts to organize it. The divorcee seemed to have sussed out a supreme minimal lifestyle, a few decorative cardboard boxes served as furniture and decor.

Keeping this type of reduction in mind, I use and purge continually. While the realization that nine square meters would be a gut wrenching challenge, I happen to be blooming in 30 odd square meters. But then I had the twenty year relationship, the trips around the world, the garden, the hassles of home repair, the bouts of marital discord. I sat and looked at the lovely woman across the table from me, describe a series of terrible employment engagements, low professional ambition, swimming around the same menial job pool for the last twenty years, and realized she had never gotten the chance to break out of the student life situation, and there she stayed. As she spoke I realized she was still in her mind a student, young and open to showing whomever entered her atmosphere the warmth of her heart. Why would I want her to feel any different or curtail her dreams? She could always establish a new starting line, after all we all reconsider the map after discovering a path yet untaken.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Do You See the Light?

“Different glasses.” I was back at the bank, and trying to read the terms of the account I was busy opening after much deliberation and three visits, two quite unsuccessful, to the bank.

“Pinhole glasses.” I explained.

“You can buy them at”

The young man was swift.  

“What about those bullet holes?” I asked him about the front windows.

“Are there bullet holes in the windows?” He asked, “I once came to work and the whole side of my office wall had been eaten away by bullets.”

Obviously a common occurrence at the bank. Perhaps it all came down to disgruntled ex-employees.  Perhaps not.

“You are not going to invest in the stock market then?” He asked.

The man was the playful type.  Last time he’d talked to me about investing in the stock market. “I don’t have the choice of where to put old age money, they take it out of my salary every month, and I have nothing to say about it. And the way it’s going I will get less than what they promise. You are lucky; you can choose.”

“No,” I replied, “I bought a post code lottery ticket instead.”

“Quite right.” He agreed.

It’s kind of a recognition I sense, a bit like when African Americans who are strangers to each other greet each other on the street just to witness to each other that they are both there. 

The tall blond sided up to me at rehearsal. In the canteen she had had that slightly vacant look about her.  But somehow she had recognized something in me and so she came right next to me and looked in straight in the eye and sang the second soprano line with me. No score, no hesitation, no nervousness. Ah, I immediately saw, she was also a bit brighter than the mill.  She’d been waiting an hour to arrive at that moment, and she would have been just as good at the second soprano line 55 minutes ago.

“Radio,” the short woman with the butch haircut was looking at me. “You should try to write for the radio. The BBC is always looking for talent.”  This was after she mentioned her partner just left for home, Oregon.  I paused in mid thought.  I had been suffering through Plato all week, and his leading questions on Coursera.  I just wanted to listen to some poetry, the mediocre kind, and while I was there I noted that the bar menu was extremely economical.  A gin and tonic for five euro? Nacho chips for two?

I had never been to the poetry reading venue, and I hated the bike ride to get there, a part of Amsterdam that had marketed the river view now wedged between two sets of god awful looking modern apartment complexes. At least they had to look at each other.  I had cursed as best as possible as I pedaled through the wind and rain. The next day I pumped my bike tires, suspecting that this might ameliorate cycling effort.

I left the bank feeling that I had somehow achieved a milestone abandoning money to a potential grey period.  I looked forward to seeing my accountant smile. The radio pusher at the poetry reading gazed up at me, “I am sorry about the election.” She said.  We shared a mournful silence.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scholars of Virtue

“I am amazed,” she said, “at how Americans can smooth out the wrinkles of failure.” The Dutch woman read aloud an acceptance message of the election of the new American president, written by an American acquaintance who did not support the Republican candidate.  The statement equated a closing of ranks. “This turning of disappointment into positivity is typical American for me.” Lemons = lemonade, and is not a very Dutch drink.

Are we scholars of virtue? Riots were breaking out in California. “But the majority of the elected government of the United States is now Republican,” several mentioned on occasion, “this is terrifying.” Ah, the virtue of Republican causes: liberal gun rights, limited family planning, safeguarding of borders, what did I miss?

“Good news!” a friend wrote. “A Muslim woman was elected in Minnesota.”

I fail to see this as good news. A woman with ideas and education elected is brilliant, as would be a man with ideas and education, head gear or no head gear.  That whole deal is about the image, as if images were the ideal, and then I begin to consider that image was a large issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think the lowered taxes would be great.” An acquaintance said scrolling through the Republican Candidate’s Manifesto on his smartphone. The man earns more than average, and thought the proposal of lowered taxes would apply to him. He may be right there. Or not.

Every once in a while I get that “back whiff” of Europe, that quick glimpse that identifies what is European around me to my American born person. I rarely see it anymore, having lived 28 years outside America. It’s a strange exotic scent, it’s a micro-ness, a compact line of recycle bins for already thoroughly washed items feeling.  It’s a rapid sighting while biking to work of the murky canal, the yellow leaves falling from the trees. It’s says “Here is cultivation, not the Wild West.”

“300%,” a friend complained, “My Obamacare went up 300%.”

The same acquaintance making remarks about the turning of lemons to lemonade, calculated. “So and so said that their employees who worked in America received healthcare subsidized by the company and yet employees had to pay 500 dollars a month premium out of their own pocket with a 2500 dollar maximum risk.” She paused. “I pay 150 Euros a month and the risk is 385 per year.”

However, the other night, pushing my ageing dog in a child’s stroller through the tunnel under the central station, blue and white tiled with the maritime history of the Netherlands, I realized that the mural is all about pushy white men, travelling abroad, committing crimes against humanity in the name of God, gathering the wealth and power, transporting it back to home and closing ranks.  What color or shape is virtue to history?




Monday, October 31, 2016

Betting on the Ponies

He said, "It will cost thirty euros a year."

I was examining the documentation I had printed off the internet while in a friend's kitchen. "That's without BTW. The actual price is 36 Euros a year."

My friend sighed. "When investment funds come knocking, it means they need money."

"So," I began to calculate, "If I deposited 650 Euros into a fund account, that is supposed to make a return of 5.42 % in a year, their mega dream publicity, then I will supposedly just maybe make most of the 35 Euros to cover the annual charge to manage the funds, and okay I realize that calculating the acruement of the money is more complex than what I simply defacto added up for a 12 month period. I mean I'd need to throw in a r and an n and a plus plus and some parentheses, a line and an x take it to the 2.  Back to basics: I can take money out or deposit money in and it will cost me 0.20% or is that 20 cents on the euro? So in fact to deposit 650 Euros I will have to actually deposit more likely 780 and then 36 Euros charge to manage my money? A deposit of 650 Euro will most likely cost me 816 Euro for the potential to earn 5.42% on 650, then watch it sink and float around the ocean of hypotheticharts? Do people sign on the line in astonishment after a weak cup of coffee and a near two hour waste of their time in a cell used by the banking investment specialists, for all the good intentions of the deficient in a few areas investors?"

My friend sighed, "Why are you considering this?"

"I am not considering this, I am merely curious about this phenomena." I went back to my calculations, after all the bank employee had suggested it, like I knew he would, when I specifically asked about another pension plan.

He said, "You can withdraw money anytime, but it will take two days to clear."

Ah, but he did not say I would not get 100% of the withdrawal, no, I was perhaps reading that I would get 80 cents per euro. "This is how they chip away at deposits. It seems to me that one is guaranteed to lose money."  I said to my friend. She shrugged as she stirred the pan on the stove. The man had indicated to me that a loss on 10,000 Euros, since I had asked about the challenge of financial devastation, would render the deposit to something like oh say 9,860 and then so on down the line, a slow bleed, so when do you want to take your money out, 80 cents on the euro, a quarter more or less of 36 Euros, and make a run for the hills?

My friend sighed. "Buy a lottery ticket."

Ponies. I had a friend once who regularly bet on the ponies.  I asked her if I gave her 20 dollars, would she place a bet for me?  She eyed me suspiciously.  We eyed each other suspiciously. I mean who was being honest?  She could place the bet on any pony and tell me I'd either won or lost.  She might pocket my money, all the winnings, she might be on the straight, she didn't want the responsibility of me gambling, losing or winning, she might want a percentage for the work.  She said I should come with her one day and place my own bet, which was the best answer.  I never did, too chicken, but a bank has the back up of well designed folders with diagrams, and small print about liability.

He said, "For 400 Euro, we will examine and select the best portfolio mix for you."

Instantly I imagined what that would be: A short look at my bank account statements and then the subsequent printing out of package 6D forms for the single middle aged lady. I mean, who are they kidding?  Something special for me? I looked over the information from the internet. It looked graphy, pie-y and official, it had the name of the investment manager on it, real personal.

Last year I followed some classes on Coursera on investments and it was plainly stated by the nice professor at Harvard that the only people who really do well with investments are institutions with big budgets and plenty, a mountain range, of dimes to spare. What next?  Well, next week I'll go back to the bank to look at mortgages their way. This should be most entertaining.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

All You Need to Know About Dialysis

Ah, the bank! I was waiting, I stood, for someone to come and collect me from downstairs and propel me upstairs to talk about Matters. An elderly gentleman with thin ankles, and a crooked face sat on the sleek grey couch. The couch faced a television screen that explained the name of the bank on the flat surface. The couch faced away from the view of the Dam, a place tourists pay money to visit.  Outside a mechanical organ chirped, boomed and clacked out popular songs.  The staff of the bank hid, whispering, in a corner away from the windows.

“I have a bad back,” said the old man in a shapeless beige jacket. “I just have to sit down.” He said this to virtually no-one.  His not shaven in two days chin looked up and around for someone to address.

Exactly, such a company policy of making the bank feel a second home should invite lonely senior citizens to come in and have a cup of coffee and a chat.

The old man was served a cup of coffee.  Milk and sugar, please.  The slender bank employee was accosted by stories of what the doctor said, and what ailments were under treatment.

Exactly, no potential customer would be turned away. Come on in and have a hot drink, and specifically a conversation about medical advice and complications and there you go, away you go from the bank feeling so much better.

Later I was led upstairs in airless cubical.  I came out none the wiser, come back in a few days.  I began to sense that perhaps I should have come for an oracle reading.

I keep thinking, by next week I will be put together: getting a haircut, this support hose comes off my left leg, a facial, the rest of my moustache permanently removed, excel sheets filled out, banking issues tackled, bills paid….You know the race after the falling apartness of ageing, and maintaining some level of attractiveness so that the nurses at the old folks home will want to peel me an apple because I don’t have goat hair growing on my chin.

While I was waiting for a soothsayer, I noticed that the bank was promoting the sale of a bed. There was certainly enough space to display a double bed, staff had been significantly reduced and reduced some more, counters to take business no longer existed, three computers meant for emergency internet banking faced the touristic view with no one behind them.  I examined the bed, half hearing the drone about dialysis next to me, it could be anyone’s bed for around 2,100 Euros.  Had the bank taken over this particular brand of exclusive sleeping facilities?  I wondered who wandered into a bank to buy a bed.

But then seriously, as there was nothing else to buy, I began to consider purchasing a bed. Not for me, I don’t need a bed, but for some space that needed a bed. Say, a room, someplace. I began to imagine the people who would sleep in such a bed and the mess they would make throwing their clothes around the bank floor and over needless chairs placed here and there for effect.  The headboard, an upholstered rectangle, was sold as “Dublin.” I began to imagine the designer assigned the task of inventing headboards to go with various European cities.  The headboard looked the color of “oatmeal” which is the name used to sell expensive and unexciting carpet. Why was Oatmeal “Dublin”? It could be anything, I decided firmly and went through my banking list again in my brain, remember three things I slowly inhaled: Transfusion, New Hips, and an Eye Exam.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Minus the Contempt

I  really couldn’t blame them, the housing market is booming in Amsterdam. They put the apartment up for sale, people went crazy for it, bid after bid, they upped the price 20% and launched it on the market for the second time.

“You know how it works now, don’t you?” a player in the field asked me, as if after two years I wasn’t clued in.

Normally you need to bid 20% above the asking price, sort of sneaky on the sly and act as if you’ve gotten away with something. The couple had merely short circuited the whole affair, jacked the price up, and said, “This is it. You pay it, you got it.”

No, really I couldn’t blame them. I stood on the parquet floor. It looked nice. “We really don’t need to sell.” They said, “We get a great rental price, what with our mortgage.”

“I really am in no rush to buy,” I said.  “I won’t come under my rent when I buy, with all the costs added up.”

We stood on the parquet floor.  It looked very nice.  The building was solid and built in 1912, with a grand entrance.  No doubt about it, I liked it. Two good radiators I noted, the old fashioned kind.

As I had been wandering around the Ex Pat Fair early this month, I stopped asked about a mortgage at one of the stands manned by a bank. The young man looked at me with contempt.  “When you’ve gotten so far,” he sneered, “we can make an appointment.”

I looked at the couple selling the apartment.  If it had been a better price, I would have bought it. The bathroom would need to be redone within five years and so would have the kitchen but I really didn’t blame them for really being, well, honest and then not honest.  I mean I could read the euro signs in their eyes, but not the contempt of the mortgage man.

What I would like most is to have a non-slimy conversation with someone about a mortgage, I mean I don’t expect to be friends, but just a decent conversation with the object of buying 35 square meters. It seems the whole affair is one louche, grubby exercise to get away with something as if a roof over one’s head is a type of extramarital affair.

I wondered about the matter for a few days after visiting the apartment. Who do I know, I mused, who owns property in the center of Amsterdam and needs to take a loss on an investment for the benefit of their tax return?

“What happens if you win?” A friend asked me, as I relayed my doubts.

I had no idea, I had never bought a lottery ticket before in my life. But I was thinking about buying the postcode lottery.

“I paid in every week, fifteen smackers, sometimes I won thirty, hundred.” Playing the numbers.  I didn’t feel like paying out for my lucky numbers on a weekly basis.

“If my husband hears me coming through the front door making a lot of noise, he always gets suspicious.” She explained, “He calls out, what have you picked up now? Emphasis on now, of course.” That would be on the nights before the weekly garbage pick-up.

“Have you heard about TofVuil?” A different friend asked, “It’s when you spot a great item on the street, take it home, give it a brush over and show the before and after shots on FB.”  Yeah well, that one is a no brainer. The question is: where to put it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Obligatory Leopard Print

For those of you who have pets, you will understand what I am talking about. You’re standing in front of a display of pet beds at the pet store, and the fabric choices are horrendous or you are contemplating some diverting object which is insanely lumpy and dopy looking.  This doesn’t bother your four footed friend, he or she takes to the paw print bed like a fish to water and is instantly intrigued by the feathered wobbly snake with the zebra pattern.  It’s as if they know, once you bring the object home, it’s for them.  It’s perfectly marketed.  I sometimes wonder how the product people know this and how they test their products and with what assortment of animal testers, perhaps “Boomer,” “Socrates” and “Little Timmie.”  I honestly believe my cat, Brunhilde, would take just as easily to a bed made of warm fleece fabric which is not leopard print, but say, a demure lilac print, think Liberty Print or a wine colored William Morris concoction that would blend in with my living room furnishings, as she takes to paw print.  Maybe Liberty can develop a lovely pet bed, warm and state of the art fabrics that is also a wash or wipe down item for those unhappy cleansing of digestive track in bed moments.  Your snoozing pets would become honest, incorporated furnishings. Your friends would walk into your home and think, “What a lovely décor, the peach and sage on beige theme is soft and comforting, and the orange tabby looks just perfect on his tame tangerine, gold and black twisted piped laminated cat bedding on the radiator.”  By the way Liberty print dog beds do exist, but they don't look liquid-proof.

At times bicycle racks make me feel like a domesticated pet.  It’s as if the bike rack says, “Here I am, useful and perfect to hold your bicycle.  You have no choice, I am it.  Apply me immediately.” Bicycle racks are generally very unattractive and not very practical, I mean really; it’s hard to scoot you and your bike under a two tiered rack, and I am short, and it’s impossible to set the bike on the upper rack, because I am too short.  Then there are the ones that barely have any space to squeeze in a set your bike in the row, even if you didn’t have a basket on the front. I was contemplating bike racks again while in the metro this week. In the metro hooks are available to stabilize a bike.  Why can’t people just set up these hooks in public places instead of the dysfunctional bike racks?  A lovely statue of something, abstract or dictator, with hooks in diverse spots for bikes. An art hub for bikes.

We are all conditioned to accept certain realities, but what if reality is altered?  Last month I tried to sign in for a social event in Amsterdam, and found out I was too late. I was informed of the next opportunity by the organization. Normally I would not have been very taken with the idea, and, to be honest, it was the location of the event that caught my attention. I had been in the building once on Open Monument Day and few possibilities existed that would welcome me back through the front doors.  To whit, the building is just a block or two away from me and I pass it often. I inspected the invitation, a bit pricey, but it included dinner and a speech.  I decided, come hell or high water, I wanted to dine in the illustrious building and be a fly on the wall. I found myself seated at a table with a high level corporate in charge.  On the paper explaining who was present I was listed as “soprano” and therefore made up the artistic section of the entire event. I was the odd woman out, the event was for female business professionals, and I was not entirely pleased to be listed as “soprano” but never mind, it was an ice-breaker type of introduction to all the other activities I undertake.

I liked the corporate woman in charge of leading our table, she was the hardnosed and driven type who didn’t desire begging artists next to her at a dining table. I was sitting next to her (note: I had purposely loitered across the room waiting for my table to fill and took the last seat) and when she talked to me her eyelids fluttered nervously. I surreptitiously took over her job of leading the table discussion, just to make her relax a little.  I enjoy the corporate world, I work part time in it, and I find it a comfortable fit. Who would have known?  After all I was raised in, and for the most part of my life rotated around a world very far from global or multinational concerns.  A week later, after mulling it over, I made a decision to join this league of women, perhaps I am warming up to the high necked leopard print that comes with the territory.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Going East

Promised is promised: Goes the saying, I saw this mantra pop up in my mind’s eye like a SOLD! sale sign as I stared at the public transportation link telling me all about the bus schedule. My friend, the organizer, had chirped, “There’s a bus every thirty minutes.” Yes, a bus departed every thirty minutes.  “Forty minutes!” I exclaimed aloud in dismay. The journey would take more than a half an hour.

I glanced outside over the rooftops of Amsterdam. September had been a long summer extension, unheard of in native terms in the Netherlands, but now, on the brink of October, the rain had moved back in. I glanced at the time. I would have to swiftly pack up from the office, bike home, take the dog for a wet walk, make a sandwich and rush off to the bus terminal. September had also given a lot of people a low grade cold or flu that hung on for weeks. I didn’t feel too well, but not ill enough to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs.

Sighing, I made myself a bologna sandwich and promised myself that I would finish the tail end of a book while in the bus. Correction, I like to look out the windows during a long bus ride, I would finish the book at the terminal, sitting in the bus waiting for the bus driver to start the engine.  I might just manage this challenge. Duo Obligato In Cartorium.

Every so often I board a bus to visit a friend or attend concert in some village north of Amsterdam. I have been assimilating to these bus trips north, usually short, and in this case curiosity was leading me on a longer trip due northwest to a place called East Houses. I gazed once more at the flat land in astonishment, it doesn’t look anything like the countryside of Gouda. It still feels alien and cold.  Looking out the windows I wondered again when this landscape would be more like home. How many years will it take?

We passed Edam.  Random thought: I’ve gone so far north I just passed Edam! Wouldn’t it be a good joke to write a book about Edam, after the books on Gouda? I fantasized on just how big Edam was in comparison to Gouda, what kind of buildings would I be able to describe?

Doubtless the whole concoction of the evening’s activities, considering how weak I was feeling, was not a terribly exciting prospect. I descended the bus on the side of the near deserted road, a small highway, and crossed over the tarmac to the village’s main street.  I slowly looked around as I trod over the neat red bricks, obviously recently laid and a color of new red brick I rarely have encountered.  I began to worry that the old brick red color would no longer be manufactured and we would all have to embrace this new softer red that said, “I am not really a brick, I am a concept of a brick.” A man followed me, in the bus he had looked as uncertain as I felt in the bus, there was no mistaking his intention, he too was heading towards the church for the musical concert featuring modern classical style compositions played on organ with the assistance of electronic recordings. Aside from a fellow in a baggy beige jacket taking money out of a modern brick wall, no other pedestrians showed themselves in the village, it was way past Dutch dinner time. I paused to ascertain the presence a senior citizen set out on the patio of an old folks’ home, in between the rain showers, a woman in a care service apron served him a cup of coffee in a thick cup that held more cup than coffee. Probably an old sea salt not able to stay indoors for long and listen to old whiskered women whimpering.

The man followed me, we both followed the direction of the church steeple. Suddenly I recognized the flags of a supermarket parking lot. The time was 19:36.  Would a supermarket in small Dutch village off of a local highway be open at 19:36? We neared the parking lot, I peeked around the corner.  The suspense was killing me.  In the old days, the supermarket would have been closed at 17:55, floor wiped, doors locked, and bumpkin employees snarling at you from the other side of the glass door. I ditched the man following me to the concert and ducked into the supermarket. It was still open. No one was present besides the cashier and the bar code checker. The cashier looked alarmed, the bar code checker followed me about the store.  I inspected the selection of canned beans, my dog is on a canned bean diet, and canned beans handily hide little pills that the vet hands out for little pesky problems.  I finally located a jar of white canned beans. There, I solved my little problem that was awaiting me at home. I bought some medium sized matches too and a green banana for the bus ride back.

I resumed my walk towards the church.  “Have fun!” the ticket seller said at the door as he handed me a program. Inside the church, as outside the church, was the 16th century church. Churches are one of my favorite haunts, and this one enchanted me, right away the bus ride, the rain, the bologna sandwich, the heavy jar of canned beans in my bag all melted away off my shoulders as I assessed the fun I would have at the concert.

First of all the church was not in regular service anymore as a church. “Once a month,” someone whispered, “a pastor comes to lead a service.” I made a beeline for the book sale table. 1 Euro a book, for the church upkeep. I bought something written by James Baldwin. Satisfied that I had read all the titles twice and missed nothing, I looked around at the decoration of the church. Huge black funeral boards hung about the place, depicting family coats of arms, and along one wall a massive ornate black and white tomb took hold of my interest.  I walked around the back of the pulpit and admired the flooring stones, half eaten by salt. I entered the pulpit cage and admired the old milk cans tucked in the corners. I judged the juxtaposition of the wiring with the antique features, and thought about grabbing the bell rope tied to one side of the building.

The concert started. But there was so much more to inspect!  Everyone was sitting, I sat twisting and turning in my seat thinking of what else there was to admire, and pass by again to admire some more. I made a list in my head what to visit again in the intermission.  I could go round and round. The electronic music started, and I felt my mind being taken into a male universe where this example of a composition was considered witty and funny.  The program was entitled "The Fun Cabinet." I tried to discover what was witty and funny about what I was hearing, I tried to get into the complexity of an electronic recording as serious music which should make the audience guffaw and slap their knees in joy and jolly notions. Suppose, I mentioned to myself, rocking across the straw seat of my church chair, craning my neck at a black and gold funeral board, that this was simply a film track? The organ began to talk to the film track, giving us all a different perspective on the matter.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Do I like myself on goodreads?

I noticed on my Goodreads account that so far this year I have merely favored three books with a rating of five stars, as opposed to last year’s total of 14 books earning five stars.  I wonder if I am on rocky ground.  In a fit of enthusiasm I entered our new book A Sample of Gouda on the site and am waiting for Every Person Reviews.  Fearing critics may be as harsh as myself, I ask myself “Do I like myself on goodreads?”  My criteria for giving five stars to a book has to do with many things, such as is the moon in Jupiter, or did I have to clean up excessive hairball regurgitation this week and what I mean by this is, what is the novelty of the item to my eyes? What pleasure does it bring me? Generally I see on goodreads that books, famous books, less famous books, quixotic books, boring books, all of them tend to hang around the three stars rating.  That I may expect-fear-observe that our book be rated on average three stars would, all in all, be a good thing.  I feel that kind of relief overcome me that people who worry about whether they are having enough sex to be like everybody else feel when they realize they make the cut, and everything pans out socially okay, in theory: I am therefore reasonably attractive, and people may like me. And my book. Our book, photographs by Vinita Salomé.

Average, I repeat to myself, realizing that in the four previous years I tended to average rating ten books (out of the 40 or 50 I read annually) a year as five star stuff.  The boxes of books littering the corners my apartment have been unpacked, the volumes roughly shelved in a vague system of order as per continent (fiction) and then nonfiction (general). A great deal of items have been disposed of, yet still there is a remainder of books I haven’t read and before I chuck more, I mean to read or attempt to read them. The simple autobiography of George Washington Carver, for example, in which I waded through twenty pages before deciding that I would happily read a more academic work on the historical figure; the enormous Complete New History of Scotland whose mandatory sentences, chunky, of the bronze age era were so poorly formulated that I quickly came to the conclusion that I would gladly read a more precise subject within the topic of Scotland; the relating of early settler experiences in North America which were so racist, self-righteous and downright antagonist that I would prefer a more modern depiction of life other than the war path or be confronted with the Pseudo Make America Great Again Club.  I had expected that I would enjoy the book on Scotland and the book on early eyewitness accounts of America, thus I was slightly disappointed that I with such great clarity of mind resigned them into the “resell” corner of my closet near the front door.  No five stars.  I didn’t review them, as I didn’t finish them, and, in all fairness, it is also why I am not so fond of checking the “uninteresting” box or category on goodreads.

Obviously I started my little Read In Entirety My Haphazardly Collected Library project by reading the more interesting items, and now I am digging around the dregs and give out less stars, although I do hold some hope for the book on the Vikings, or the one on the Holy Grail, or the one on Gregory of Tours, and rereading Vanity Fair, a book I haven’t picked up since I was thirteen.  Not so sure about the Letters of Pliny.  Does any of this sound like five star material?

The book I picked up out of the trash across the street, just to note that there were several boxes of books set out as trash and that I did not pick my way through cucumber peelings to access the books, unsoiled, has appealed to me most of the last five books I have read.  Short stories by Martin Hart, written in Dutch, that remind me of Gouda.  Apparently his works have been widely translated and are popular abroad.  In the book I am reading he describes rural Dutch life: water, bikes, barns, church services, brown cafes, and so forth.  I touched upon such matters for the texts of our book A Sample of Gouda but with my own twist to the topics.

Popularity, the angst we all have about this topic is itself story making material. Acquaintances have been kindly trying to get our book promoted by way of a presentation at a social club I joined upon moving to Amsterdam.  The season has just started up, and having gone to the first meeting at the social club, publicity for the next event was revealed to feature two bloggers with businesses in Amsterdam.  Genuinely I was happy for the ladies who will be presenting because I am sure that they will pull in a good audience and, for the first time, a moderator will be attending.   It’s just that the event organizer looks at me with some queasiness every time I see her as if she thinks I expect her to ask me to speak.  I admire the organizer’s choice because she chose a topic that has a wide appeal, food.  And people like to read restaurant reviews, for they like to eat.   I certainly don’t expect her to invite us, although I would be honored, and in the meantime I am happy to report that we have gotten two thumbs up reviews in the media for the book, which is not for everyone, as one reviewer said, “this is not the top ten items to see list” type of book about the Netherlands. 

As I sat there looking at the promotion of the two bloggers that will be presenting I asked myself once again what the heck should one blog about? It’s true the few food blogs I wrote were picked up and circulated by other people in mainstream media and gained more readers, but funnily enough the one titled The Richness of Life is Not Material, Even a Child Understands This, has been the most popular blogs I ever wrote.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Dissection of a Service

Halfway through the church service in the Begijnhof I felt a bit like analyzing the program. I looked down. I looked up.  I looked all around. Why not? I asked myself. So be it: an analysis of the Sunday Service last week as per the program.

The program said: Call to Worship and Approach to God

Considering the approach, a yellow brick road perhaps, the question departed from within, “But wasn’t God already present?”  Is God present when I am not present? Is God removed from bonding? Is God as such, to my mind and body, an extension or process of proprioception?  Is God that far away? Am I in the wrong place?

Yet the answer soon came, further down on the paper:

The program said (congregation replies in bold)

The God of heaven has made a home on earth;

Christ dwells among us and is one with us.

The highest in all creation lives among the least;

Christ journeys with the rejected and welcomes the weary.

Come now all who wander in the wilderness

And be led by God your liberator.

Come now all who seek

And be filled with good things.


Communion was imminent; guilt implied (if not already sustained). I never get the wilderness part and I don’t like camping enough to even consider hiking someplace remote. Dire sin aside, first up Hymn 128 “How shall I sing that majesty?”

First verse (text J. Mason):

How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?

That’s not the wilderness?

The program said: Prayer

During this section I began to ruminate on what I could possibly say about myself to someone I know who didn’t particularly understand my needs. I could feel myself get a little irritated. I started to understand that this was also a form of prayer, this surmising of hostility with equal hostility. The congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer.  I know it by heart. Suddenly I wanted to learn a different poem by heart.  I always do this, I think I never learn poems by heart but it is not true, I memorize lyrics to songs all the time.  I just don’t recit them much without singing.  What poem could I learn by heart?  Maybe I should take a poll of my friends on FB.

Or I could simply choose something on my own.  Like a big girl, no primary ground clearance needed.

The program said:  The word of God

Presentation to the Sunday School and Junior Church, and introduction to today’s Scripture theme

A small group of just barely rolling into the teen years boys were presented with the Authentic Youth Bible, the teal colored version. Authentic Youth Bible?  I looked it up.  The Authentic Youth Bible features: 164 pages of additional Bible study material, 24 colour topic based inserts covering subjects such as relationships, peer pressure and trusting God, 275 'Insights' help explain the meaning and context of key passages, translation specifically designed to be read and understood easily, suitable to be used across all denominations.

I eyed the volume, from afar safe within my pew, with suspicion.  I have always been suspicious of Sunday School. I never attended Sunday School or read youth bibles, authentic or not. By the way what does the non-authentic youth bible have to say? Somehow deep inside I feel I should read a children’s Bible and make up for lost time, and implant grade A bare bones under my insecure skin. 

The program said: First Lesson Philemon 1-21 (New Testament)

Right off the bat, the English pronunciation of Philemon threw me.  Mainly because I only know the French version from having sung a duet out of Gounod’s “Baucis et Philemon,” a very under represented opera. What, I wondered, was the King James version of this text, because so far, not so good with the deliverance of goods.

I looked it up and realized that the word “bowels” in the King James was more than once replaced by “heart” in the modern version.

The program said: Music in worship “Now Beseech we” by D. Buxtehude.

Buxtehude pretty much set down a great spicy argument among old men into music.

The program said: Second Lesson Luke 14: 25 – 27

The ending came about as, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Again, I just had to look up the King James version, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

I personally feel there is a great difference between the two.  I feel more prone to bowels and bear than heart and carry. Just putting in my two cents here.

The program said: Sermon

It all boiled down to How to Liberate from Slavery? Apply the Christian fantasy of the body and blood of Christ.

And then it was time for Communion. After a month of deliberation and by consensus of the congregation, the children were allowed to take communion for the first time. They opted for the alcoholic wine in mini beakers and happily chinked each other in front of the altar.

To end it all we sang a rousing rendition of “God the Father of Creation” and left the premises for the tourists to view the building.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Email of the Week

Emails are the best.  We were being told this at the mini seminar, send them. People appreciate emails. We, small business entrepreneurs, were being told this, they will thank you. Content is King, send the email.

I decided to write an email of the week. It’s my new thing, and I won’t call it a blog post. Nope, it’s now an email of the week, an incognito electronic missal randomly aimed at the public via a blog. Am I so hopeless at advertising?

When I was a student I used to review and consider jobs advertised in the newspapers. A month in the north of the Netherlands as a lab rat.  All expenses paid, and a salary.  It seemed suspect. First off, who would want to spend a month or even two months in the north of Holland being observed roaming about in a medical facility in the dead of winter? I imagined that participants would have to wear white shoes, or in any case white shoes were involved in the experience. The ads would indicate that you need to be in such and such a shape. Despite being poor, I never wrote in for an interview. I would fantasize about staying in a medical facility in the north of the Netherlands reading books and eating canteen meals.  Most of all I wondered who would be there; hobos, or wrecks of people who signed up for experiment after experiment, making a living from being a medical lab rat pumped full of substances and monitored as they experienced violent reactions to cocktails of medications. Did I want to join them? Exit the world? Play Russian roulette with my organs?

Content is king we were told at the strategic meeting of how to launch a successful internet business.  You must not talk about yourself, everyone does, and instead you must deliver your expertise.

What expertise?  If I talked about vocal expertise, everyone (i.e. all the singers I know) would jump on me and pontificate their own ideas. Same with the use of self, and frankly I’ve long given up on caring to spout some gospel truth on the art of singing. I sing now better than ever in my life and I’ve learned a lot.  Amen. So….

I once mentioned, way back then, as a joke, that a friend of mine might want to earn some money being a lab rat. “Are you out of your mind?” She replied shocked. Obviously that person did not share my fascination with Spartan surroundings and institutionalized meals. I don’t know how to justify this but in some ways that cheap plastic, plywood, glue smelling environment is desperately comforting to me, an un-sturdy oasis or a delicious void.

“What are they going to do?”

I couldn’t remember. I’d read the papers the hospital sent three months ago. And here I was sitting drinking coffee with colleagues this week while I modeled a giant sticker across my upper arm.  Underneath the sticker four degrees of substances were busy doing something to my skin. I’d been approached by a medical research team because I’d been operated on less than a year ago.  When I went back for the final control a few days later I was told what was happening. Three of the four patches spots were rather irritated.  The research team examined my arm.  “Your skin is highly sensitive and your scar tissue is dense.”

“Are you going to develop a cream for scar tissue?”

“The research is for scar prevention and this is the tip of the iceberg. First we need to understand what makes different people scar differently.” They measured skin moisture for quite a while using hand held machines.

Sounded like this was going to be years in the making. “Have you been part of a research project?” I asked one of the researchers.

“I am one of a set of identical twins.  I’ve been followed since birth.”

She had some fascinating things to say. Loads of content. The morning was all quite cozy and enjoyable. I eyed their white shoes with a great deal of satisfaction while they took some blood.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dog Hair Cancer

She was picking the dog hair off of my black sweat jacket. We were sitting at the tram stop on the Overtoom.  Our conversation, begun in English, slipped about in Dutch. I recognized her as the small stooped Asian woman who was with me in the hair drying space at the gym merely ten minutes before we met again at the tram stop. She didn’t recognize me.  I’m guessing she was from Indonesia and her Dutch was rather difficult to understand. “You have to be careful, “ she plucked some hair off of my shoulder, her eyes gigantic behind her spectacles, “my brother died of dog hair.  Cancer.” She clucked.

I asked myself, looking at my bloated stomach in the mirror, what would make me happy. Some years ago, around 15 to be exact I tackled the problems of my metabolism.  I was overweight and the only thing that would make me less overweight was exercise and healthy eating habits. I began by eating everything I wanted, only in the form of three meals and two snacks a day. The more you eat, the better your metabolism. I exercised regularly and tried not to overstrain my muscles to enable me to go out and do something fun again the next day. A gentle variety of sporty activities is excellent for your metabolism.  Between the ages of 35 and 45 I didn’t gain weight, I even lost a fair amount bit by bit gram by gram.

These days my stomach, flat-ish in the morning, was nearly doubled in size in the evening. Cortisone. That problem that women develop especially around middle age.  I asked myself, what would make me happy. My answer had everything to do with the symptoms of my unhappiness and not about the causes. Okay, time to organize a bit more, after all I was at the end of paying lawyer invoices.  I could very soon reassign my resources and time management.

I looked in the kitchen cupboards. Oatmeal and one portion of rice noodles. These last two months have been a…well…bitch. I began to fantasize about the new state of the art Tupperware containers I would purchase and in my mind I wheeled a grocery cart around the Asian supermarket and the European supermarket aisle by aisle planning what I would buy to fully stock my cupboards. Why not stock enough dried foods and supplies to last until December?  That would make me happy.  That became my big plan. I felt happy thinking about my plan. Lots of healthy choices, that was the ticket, not that scrounge up another meal from the dregs in the fridge feeling.

This week on my workday out of the office I decided to check my happiness levels, as part of my new program Head off Cortisone Bloating.

7:30 Wake up. Happy to wake up at 7:30. Check

9:30 Yoga lesson.  Was I feeling rushed and pressed getting to the yoga lesson? Was I feeling obliged to tack another yoga lesson onto my week’s agenda to deal with my stress levels, ringing ears? Was I being obsessive? No. I was happy to be there on the yoga mat. It felt more volunteer than obligation to deal with me and my stress levels. Check.

11:00 ING Bank. Did I want to be there?  Yes and no. Since January I’ve been trying to arrange a business account.  ING sent the letter three times to my old address.  Now I was finally able to pick up the last piece to manage the account. Was I feeling stressed?  Did I want to punch the I’m-not-allowed-to-be-cranky-person-who-was-assigned-meet-and-greet-customers-at-the-door-but-I-don’t-want-to-hear-your-problem-won’t-let-you-talk-to-anyone-go-use-the-computer Customer Service Rep?  Yes. I took a deep breath, after all this time I was there assured that I would get the info I needed. Penciled check, kinda not stressed but still aggravated, historically aggravated I would say.

11:30 Supermarket.  Still waiting for payment. Ten Euros budget. Five of which will have to feed the dog. Stressed? Nope. All I needed was a 39 cent container of yoghurt, otherwise I could manage another two days with x,y and z in the fridge. Check. I might get paid this week.

13:00 Warm up, singing. Stressed? Not about voice, in prime condition. How much did I need to warm up? Did I have time to take the dog to the park? Park ride 15 minutes away, need to drop dog back off and leave for coaching lesson at 14:35. Hmmmm, check kind of worried.

13:18 Put dog in bike basket. Stressed? Nice weather, she liked the park last time we went in May. Bit of a treat for her.  Dog stands in bushes and is generally uncooperative. Well, I get points for trying. Slightly stressed because she’s not happy to be at the park. She liked the warm breezy bike ride more.

14:15 Back home. Dog asleep in basket. Lie on floor, do some Alexander Technique relaxation moves.  How stressed am I at that moment? Not very, next up coaching lesson.

15:00 Great hour working with coach. Met my own ineptitude but excited about correcting things. Stressed?  Slightly.  Why am I learning two opera roles? Did I really think about this carefully?

16:30 Sign divorce papers at lawyer’s office. Stress level: near zero. Happiness factor definitely present.

17:30 Back home for dinner. Two pieces of toast, the last of the salami, a tomato and some yoghurt. Stressed? A little hyper actually.

19:00 Head to the train station.  Need to charge fare card. Still money in account. Stressed? No.

20:00 Haarlem, teaching. Was I happy to be there teaching? Yes.  Was I stressed? No.

23:00 Back home. Stressed? Hmm…..a bit…am I prepared enough for tomorrow? Stress level? Slight.

Bloated belly? Better than the previous day.  Conclusion: not a bad idea this stress monitoring habit.