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.