Posted by: magpiefarm | October 11, 2010

Here and Today, There and Yesterday; Always Remember.

(Remember, if you want to see this in its original format, click on the title: “Here and today…”)

No, no, we are not back in The Netherlands.  This is an article Michael wrote for the Independent. Once you read it you will understand why I have posted it here.  -janice

Why I Am Here: Gratitude For A Fallen Soldier

by, Michael Hoberman

Margraten is a tiny town in Limburg, the skinny protruding southern section of the Netherlands that’s sandwiched between Belgium and Germany.  While it may very well have some claim to fame about which I don’t know, its chief attraction for American visitors is the United States military cemetery there, in which over eight thousand casualties of the final European battles are buried.   Facing the broad pool which marks the entrance to the cemetery are long white walls bearing the names of several hundred more American servicemen whose bodies were never recovered.  On a brisk but unusually sunny day this past April, my family and I borrowed a friend’s car and drove the two and a half hours from our home in Utrecht to visit the cemetery.  We didn’t know what to expect.  We were carrying a couple of old photographs, a letter written by a complete stranger to someone else we barely knew, and a yellowed piece of paper that indicated the exact coordinates for one of the eight thousand burial plots.  The man whose grave we were looking for had lived all his life in the hills that we call home.

"Each for his hown memorial earned praise that will never die and with it the grandest of all sepulchres not that in which his mortal bones are laid but a home in the minds of men."

Detail of a stunning wall map mosaic.

Why did we go?  We were motivated by gratitude.  I’d followed a complicated path to get there, though.  All my life, I’ve never fired or even held a weapon.  I’ve never advocated any war, and I am sure that I haven’t been in a fist-fight since second grade.  For all of my blessed, easy life, I’ve held to a belief that the world’s problems are always made worse by piling violence on top of violence.  Years ago, when certain loudmouth politicians were advocating war in Kuwait and then a few years later in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, I remember saying to several friends, “I could never advocate a war unless I myself were willing to fight in it or send one of my children to fight in it.”  As far as I’m concerned, none of the above wars came close to meeting that condition.

"Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves."

At the same time, the skeptical part of me has held off from advocating anything like pure pacifism.  It’s not just that I have a dark enough view of humanity that I can’t imagine we’ll ever be free of murderous thugs like Hitler unless we’re willing to kill them.  In the last few years, I’ve also had occasion to reflect on the simple truth that, had it not been for certain people who were willing to fight the Hitlers of the world, or send their children out to do it, I would not be here.  It’s a very simple fact.  My family owes its existence today to the governments and armed forces of three countries—the United States, Great Britain, and Israel, and—more important—to the millions of people whose names we will never know who, for all kinds of reasons, were either compelled or willing to die indescribably miserable deaths in our behalf.

Glistening just below the pools surface, stand a formation of warm and ruddy water plants.

First, Israel.  My cousin Pepi Livingstone, who is now eighty seven years old, is the only member of her immediate family to have survived the Holocaust, and she survived it because the Zionist youth group in her birth country of Czechoslovakia sponsored her participation, at age fourteen, in the famous kindertransport, in which thousands of young Jews were shipped out of danger in the years leading up to Hitler’s implementation of the Final Solution.  She spent the war years in England, married a Canadian air force pilot and never did end up settling in Israel. All the same, the fact remains: had it not been for the Zionist movement, she’d never have gotten the visa she needed to get out of Czechoslovakia in time.  Earlier this summer, when I visited her at her home in London, Ontario, she showed me pictures of her grandparents (my great-grandparents), her parents, and her siblings, all taken in the years before the war.  Those people were all killed, and she lived.  It was both the idea and reality of a Jewish state that had made this possible, and not a day passes that Pepi doesn’t think about and feel gratitude for this fact.

Where to begin?

Second, Great Britain.  My mother, who was herself born in Israel (then still Palestine, under the British Mandate) was more fortunate.  Her parents had left Europe in the 1920s, well before things began to look desperate.  No one in her immediate family was lost in World War II, and the reason for this is that the British Army, thanks in part to the contributions of the famous “Jewish Brigade” (a unit that recruited thousands of Jews from all over the world but particularly those of them who had recently settled in Palestine) defeated the Nazis in North Africa, preventing any German invasion of the Middle East proper.  Of course, when my mother was growing up, few members of her family felt a great deal of gratitude for the British; my relatives were busy trying to carve out a new country, and the Brits, like the Arabs, were obstacles in their path to Israeli independence, even if they had rescued them from the fate of the Jews of Europe.  The facts are incontrovertible, though.  Without a strong British presence in Palestine until the defeat of the Germans, those grandparents of mine, along with my mother, and several hundred thousand other Jews who settled in the country that is now Israel would not have made it.

The American connection is the one that I think of the most, for the simple reason that I have lived here all my life.  My father’s family, like my mother’s, was spared the fate of our Czech ancestors because they had come here from Russia way back in the 1880s.  As an American and as an American Jew, my dad probably didn’t think twice about enlisting in the military during World War II.  I can’t help but think that the war would have felt necessary from his point of view.  He was fortunate not to have been sent overseas, but thousands of Jews did face combat, both in Europe and in the Pacific Theater.  I have a ninety-one year old step-uncle who, in a letter he recently wrote me about his war experiences, told me something about how it felt to be a Jewish American fighting in Europe in 1945.  “My division liberated the death camp Maulthausen,” Victor told me, “and I saw horrors, especially horrible to a Jew.”  I don’t entertain the slightest doubt that these men, Jew and Gentile alike, were fighting a war that needed to be fought, and I don’t forget that their having done so is the reason that I am here today.

Which brings me back to Margraten and the reasons why my family went there in April.  Besides my own general debt of gratitude for those who fought and died on my behalf, it was a local connection, a Buckland connection, which had set us on that particular path.  Almost ever since we moved here in 1996, we’ve bought our firewood from Floyd Parker, who lives up on East Buckland Road, a mile or so from our place on the flats by the Deerfield River.  In anticipation of our trip to Holland this past winter, where I was going to be teaching a couple of American studies courses at Utrecht University, I contacted Floyd to arrange for our annual firewood purchase ahead of time; we always have him deliver green wood in April for burning the following winter, and I knew we’d be gone then.  Floyd (who is himself a World War II vet) asked me where we were going to be and I told him.  We happened at the time to be standing on Bridge Street, just outside the Foxtown, and Floyd’s wife Lurena, who was there as well, heard our conversation.

“My brother is buried over there, over in Holland,” Lurena told me.  “He was killed when he was nineteen years old, and Floyd and I have never been over there to visit his grave . . . ”  I didn’t let her finish the sentence.  All of the excitement, anticipation, and joy I was feeling about our upcoming five month sojourn in the Netherlands suddenly attained a new level of meaning.  At the earliest opportunity, we would find our way to the cemetery in Margraten where PFC Albert “Buzz” Purinton, along with eight thousand other American soldiers, was buried back in 1945.

We knew very little when we set out to visit the cemetery.  I had with me two photos of Buzz, including a shot of him in uniform with a big friendly-looking dog which was taken in the field behind his family’s place in Charlemont when he was home on leave, shortly before he was killed in the Allied drive to push the Germans out of Holland in early 1945.  I had the piece of paper that gave us the necessary information to be able to find his grave among all those other graves.  I also had with me a long, typewritten letter that had been sent to the Purinton family by a Dutchman named Ralph Coenen.  On the drive down to the cemetery, I read that letter out loud to my family.

Ralph Coenen is a man about my age who is an officer in the Dutch army (in fact, he’s served a few tours of duty on the NATO force stationed in Afghanistan, but that’s another subject for someone else’s article).  All of his growing up years, he remembers having gone with his mother or grandmother to visit a particular grave at the American military cemetery in Margraten.  Whose grave?  Why?  As he got older, he found out.  Each American serviceman who was killed in the fight to liberate the Dutch from Nazi occupation was officially “adopted” by a Dutch family whose job it would be, for all the years to come, to tend to that man’s grave, bring flowers there from time to time, and keep in touch with the families back home.  Ralph’s letter was easily one of the most moving pieces of writing I’d read in years.

The letter was about gratitude.  It was about the debts we owe to people we’ve never met, and will never meet.  The letter reminded me that, no matter what my own beliefs might be, and no matter how free my own life has been of the kind of strife that blew the world apart between 1939 and 1945 and lead to the deaths of millions of innocent people, I ought at least to feel and express my appreciation for the acts of so many strangers who died to make my life and other lives possible.

When we finally found the cemetery, we walked silently past the pool and in among the graves to look for Buzz’s marker.  I kept thinking about Ralph’s words, about his own family’s dedication to memorializing this man that none of them ever knew.  I am not one to tear easily, but I cried freely while walking through that cemetery.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the picture that Lurena had loaned us, of her nineteen year-old brother and his dog sitting happily in the same Charlemont hills I can see from the front porch of my house every day.  I couldn’t stop imagining the awful carnage that was awaiting him.


Buzz's resting place.

A few days after our visit to Margraten, I wrote Floyd and Lurena about our time there, and I also sent an email to Ralph.  He wrote me right back, and offered more insight into what had just happened and why it was important.  “I understand you visited Albert’s grave at Margraten,” he wrote “and can fully appreciate, that by your presence—knowing Albert’s closest relatives and living in his childhood home—in a way you have come full circle. At the very least the Buckland community has, and it must be of great importance to the Purintons.”  Ralph gave further explanation for his family’s dedication to Buzz’s gravesite.  “The place is serene and silent; you will have experienced this yourself. It is up to us as Dutch, to keep it this way. In the oncoming years, this will take an extra effort as the generation that first laid the fallen soldiers to rest is gradually declining in numbers.  Please tell all Purintons,” he concluded, “that we are happy and honored to keep Albert with us. It is only his body as his spirit hovers freely, patiently awaiting— as we airborne infantrymen call it—the Last Link-Up.”

Posted by: magpiefarm | May 6, 2010

the guest blogger

Hi folks,

A fellow blogger interviewed me and you can find the post by hitting this link:

Posted by: magpiefarm | May 4, 2010

Queen’s Day!

Queen Beatrix

So the countdown is on; four more weeks here in the Netherlands, then three in Florence (!!) and back to Massachusetts.

(Awesome pic of) Queen Beatrix in a previous year.

Somewhere (recently) along the timeline of our five months stay here everything has gone from being laced with a sense of endless possibility to this now invasive feeling of anxiety at our impending departure.  The audio loop that accompanies this current state goes, “Acquire nothing, acquire nothing.”

Not bad advice from my subconscious considering we are allotted exactly 50 lbs for each piece of check-in luggage. Perhaps this sounds like no big deal but imagine us at home preparing for our departure from Massachusetts: Michael stands dutifully on the scale as I hand him each suitcase, adding a pillowcase here, removing a sneaker there until, like neurotic wrestlers at weigh-in, each make its class.  And even still, I was adjusting their contents up until walking out the door, grabbing and stuffing this or chucking that as my then fine tuned internal scale kept track.

Packing to come home will be a different story; everything has to come out even. Remainder: zero.  The apartment must be empty, the suitcases must weigh in and I, if you can imagine, will be hobbling onto the plane mid-June, like a many layered Heidi heading off to Grandfather’s, encumbered by last minute finds.

I imagine I might look like I did at the end of this past year’s bedroom and closet cleaning day.  You see, I have a policy with myself, if I haven’t worn it in two years, I must get rid of it.  So, this past year it wasn’t until I went down stairs and Della looked at me, spewed laughter (and some sort of beverage) and said, “What are you wearing?” that I owned up to the loophole I’d found.  It had started innocently enough.  When I began sorting, I came upon the flowered rayon shirt I got years ago but had not worn in . . . a while.  So I thought, heck, think I’ll wear it today, save it’s life, get it in under the wire and all that.  It felt . . .  merciful, almost philanthropic.  So then of course every time I came upon something else I had not worn in two years (but could not imagine living without),

I know you can barely see next in line, Prince Willem Alexander with Princess Maxima, but they just look so cute in this pic.

I simply put it on, until by the time I decided to stop for my tea break, I was wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt, a white canvas sailor shirt, punjobis, a tiered flowered skirt, leg warmers, three scarves, a felt hat and a shawl.

So, you can see why with even four whole weeks left, I am actively trying to move through the mental block that keeps accusing me of neurotically planning too far in advance.  And the whole of the Netherlands has lent me not an ounce of support on this front.  Did I mention that this past week was Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day?  What is Queen’s Day you ask?!  Queen’s Day is the national holiday celebrating the birthday of the queen.  Originally, it was celebrated on August 31, the birthday of Princess Wilhemina, later Queen Wilhemina.  The date changed to an April 30 celebration at the ascension of Queen Juliana.  Queen Beatrix, the current reign, opted to keep this date in honor of her mother.  When Prince Willem Alexander takes the throne will it be changed to April 27th, his birthdate (and a mere three days earlier)?  Will it be changed to Kings Day??  (It certainly hasn’t been an issue.  In fact, there hasn’t been a male heir to the Dutch throne since 1884.)

So nice of Queen Beatrix to continue the Queen’s Day celebration on the birthdate of her mother rather than move the festivities to January 31. That would not be good freemarket weather!

Sooo, that’s cool, you say, but what could Queen’s Day possibly have to do with your  packing challenge?   Well, I will answer– everything.  You see it all comes down to a little Queen’s Day tradition called “freemarket.” Freemarket is the one day in the whole year that the Dutch put out their household castoffs for sale, making Queen’s Day Holland’s nationwide . . . tagsale!  Do you understand what I am saying?  Let me help you paint a picture of what this looks like: ask your mind to do a quick recall of every tag sale you have driven past, stopped at or stumbled upon in the past 365 days. Now jam ever item of every one of them into one day and put them all into a ten acre section of Utrecht.  Except that it is actually going on in every city in Holland simultaneously.

And that’s not all of Queen’s Day (which really starts late afternoon on Thursday with Queens night), there are performers everywhere– music on every street corner, and tons of kids games and activities.  And, I forgot to mention, just about everyone wears at least one article of orange clothing!  This is because the Dutch monarchy is out of the House of Orange.  It is just a sea of orange. A very rowdy sea of orange.  As in, there was yelling and partying absolutely all night here in Utrecht.

Everybody is in on it!

Earlier however, we got to see

small town Queen’s Day as in the afternoon Michael and I went to Bassie’s open house in Kamerik.  At nightfall, following a procession, the towns kids floated lanterns with lit candles down the canal.  Then of course, the fireworks!  Sooo, sweet.

Of ALL the photos on this page, I only shot this one.

(Honestly, I think Kamerik and Shelburne Falls were twin cities separated at birth.)

Well, let me tell you, I got through most of the holiday unscathed, having only bought but a single pair of jeans (which I now, of course, don’t even like).  The purchase of the day actually goes to Della, who came home with a scale to facilitate preflight weigh-in!

Posted by: magpiefarm | April 21, 2010

Sculptural Landscape

From our day at the Keukenhof

I love the nature of public art here in Holland.  It’s not just that there are sculptures everywhere but its how one stumbles upon them.  I’ll be walking along a path that seems to be a neighborhood short cut and there it will be, a figure gently settled

Far right is one of my favorites, the man looking up and the dog focused on the earth.

into the landscape, a dog just hanging out, a family cuddling together, or (below right) a house balancing on a sphere.  Sure you’ll find them in the well travelled square of the city center, but rarely will it be a military man on horseback in full regalia.  More often, it is unexpected and refreshing like this presiding rabbit, below center.

On the left you can see a man, not on horseback but on pegasus-back, careening into the pond near our apartment.

On her birthday, these flowers were tucked into Anne Frank’s arms.  I love this second image below, of Konigin Wilhemena (Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria 1880-1962), queen of the Netherlands from 1890 to 1948.   She looks so very practical in her sensible winter wear. The third statue above, of the tremendous woman holding a torch, is in the square near the church tower and is, incidentally, enormous. To her right is the prominently placed figure my friend, Nancy told me to watch for.   This, her favorite is of a woman holding chickens.  Got to love it.

On one route I frequent, the street has a wide center lane that is peppered (ever 50 yards) with sculptures.  The third and fourth are front and back views of the same piece.

This is one of the things I love about sculpture, the way they change as you move around it.  The above collage is made of five different views of the same piece.

Above and below are images of the World War II Memorial at the United States Cemetery in Maastricht.  An incredibly moving daytrip.

Take a moment to circumnavigate a sculpture near you!

Posted by: magpiefarm | April 8, 2010

Finally, a bloomin’ post

So, guys, d’ya miss me?  Yes, I know, it has been a looooong time since I blogged. (You know, that is really a repulsive sounding word.  Doesn’t it sort of sound like it should be the verb for “to throw up in your mouth”?)

What a horrible start for my Holland Days Sauce comeback entry.  Let’s start over.

Hi everyone!  Yes, I missed you too!   In honor of Spring(!!!) I want to take you to the Keukenhof here in Holland.  The Keukenhof is acre after beautiful acre of bulb and tulip gardens.

We’d been to Keukenhof eight years ago and I certainly have my share of images from that trip so this seemed a perfect opportunity to try a photographic technique that my friend Andy Grant calls Gestural Photography (see his site: ).  Andy very intentionally gestures with the camera while shooting and the results are lovely and add a layer of emotion to the subject matter, impo.  Always generous in sharing his ideas and methods, Andy has been encouraging of others to give it a try.  I, like many, have my share of images taken from a car window on a bright autumn day with the resulting ribbons of blurred colors and I have always enjoyed this effect, but Andy has taken it to a new level.  So, after reading that Keukenhof is the most photographed place in Holland (and according to one source in the top ten in the world) it seemed the perfect opportunity to finally shoot with the intention to gesture.

I must admit, I never knew how great a learning curve there would be to Gestural photographing.  In fact, it took me half the day before I started getting any images that were worth keeping.  At first I blamed my camera as being significantly different than Andy’s and was almost ready to give up. When later in the day, the light was more subdued and I tried gesturing significantly faster, I got my first inkling of success.  Here are my images of Keukenhof.  Thanks, Andy!

Posted by: magpiefarm | March 15, 2010

The Paper Eating Mayor of Kamerik

As I am very busy these days, please welcome Bassie, my guest blogger for this week’s installment of Holland Days Sauce.

This is me missing my mom and dad

Hi there, everyone.  As Janice mentioned my name is Bassie (I am named after a famous clown here in Holland, kind of like your Bozo!)  and I live in Kamerik at the house Janice and Michael are sitting for the week.  You see my parents, Hilary and Ronald went away to Italy for the week to go skiing.  I miss them very much but I sure am in good hands.  Oh, did I mention I am a dog?

Its funny, my parents think Janice and Michael are doing them a bit of a favor watching the house, taking care of me and my buddy, Simba the cat and all. But I overheard Janice saying earlier to Michael that she probably would have paid them twenty bucks (euro bucks, that is) a day to rent me and Simba!  (I think she wants this kept a secret though, so– shhhh!)

Simba misses them too.

Like I said, I do miss my mom and dad but it’s going pretty well here with these guys.  I can already understand things that Janice says to me.  Like the many names she has for me already, anything from “Bassie Boo” to “Boo Boo or even just plain “Boo.”  I even know that “hunka munka” means, “Ok, pal, keep it moving.”  The thing about Janice is that she gets me.  A lot of people see me lying around and think I am a slouch or boring or incapable.  (Did I mention I cannot stand up on my own and have trouble walking?) But, heck, I say, what’s a little muscle loss and hip dysplasia. Let’s go!  Janice always knows when I am ready to go by the subtle little struggle I make to lift my

I just know there is paper these leaves somewhere!

shoulders. Then its in my doggy wheels and off we go.  Heck, the first day, we had already been for three walks before noon!  (Janice says she is finally considering taking Philippe’s advice and maybe gonna get doggy wheels for Lulu, her pupster at home.)

I just wish my mom had not warned Janice about my little quirks because I do so love to eat scraps of white paper on my walks. I’ve got a sort of internal paper radar that allows me to find pieces in leaf piles, under shrubbery, almost anywhere.  I think when Lang finds this out it will be Bros for Life.  I heard Janice and Michael mentioning that he used to love to eat paper when he was a baby.

Janice also calls me “Tough Guy” too, like when I scuffle my feet backwards after a peepee or today, for example, when I tried to eat this small child while on our morning walk, “OK, Tough Guy, knock it off.”

The first night they arrived, while my parents were still here, Janice made a nice big birthday dinner for Langston.  (When my mom and I went to pick them up earlier at their apartment and she heard it was Lang’s birthday, she scooted off to the side and called my dad who came home with a big box of birthday sweets!)  We all hung out for a bit before my parents headed off to to catch a few winks before their 2am departure and 11 hr drive to Italy!

Jeez, the next day Della made Lang another birthday dinner!  But, heck, it’s ok with me ‘cause fortunately my mom remembered to tell them I could have a few bits of people food.  Mac and cheese!  Mac and cheese! (I do miss Lang though I am happy for him.  He left yesterday morning to go to Spain on a class trip!  Felizidad, Lang Boy! )

I can tell Janice loves to play house.  She said that at home she is too busy playing another game; but I am

This handsome fellow comes to the canal in front of my house!

confused, I thought Survivor was a TV show?  Even her first day here she remedied the plastic wrap and foil drawer. I think I head her say she had wanted to ask Hilary (I am taking to calling her by her first name sometimes since I heard my boy, Lang calling his mom, “Janice”) if there were any projects she might do for her while they were off on vacation but I guess she thought better of putting anymore data in her brain as she was preparing to leave.

My parents ought to be lucky she is just doing odd jobs (I hear she is planning to fix the handle on the dishwasher too!) because I heard about one time years ago she was staying at her friend, Markie’s apartment in Berlin and painted several of her own short poems on Markie’s bedroom wall.  And on her bedroom door, “Du mußt dein Leben endern,”  a close approximation of the last line of a Rilke poem Markie loved.   All this, while Markie was at work! Fortunately, Janice told me, she loved it all.  She even loved the the fact that Janice had misspelled the word ändern (so that it read: endern), which added a new level of meaning to the phrase which translated reads, “You must change your life.”  Sort of turned it into, “You must end the thing in your life that is not working or end your life.”  I think it would be the equivalent of if the word “life” was misspelled so that it  contain the word “lie.”  Like “LieFE” or something.  (Did I mention I am pretty smart dog, and deep!!)

Me and my Doggy Dog, Mike

Well, back to ME!  I have been enjoying walking with Michael too.  Janice keeps correcting him, “Michael, don’t tug on the leash.” or “Michael, you cant just flop him down like that.” Or Michael, give him a second, he’s thirsty!” But honestly, It takes a lot more than stuff like that to bug me.  I actually feel pretty comfortable with Michael.  We have a lot in common, because as anyone who knows him will agree, he’s a pretty doggy guy!

I can tell already that Janice and my mom are gonna be Bras for Life!  They are both fun and silly

Hey! You can see my house right behind me and Janice.

and kind which is in addition to the fact that Janice now loves me too (I can tell by the way she gets right down there on the floor and knuffels me [that means cuddles!] and gives me gentle massages throughout the day, like my mom showed her.)  Janice says my mom reminds her of two of her friends that both have kids named Ruby!  One of the Rubys is a little girl and the other a doggy too.  Janice says that they are both gems, just like me (and our moms, too!)!

Well, I better go now ‘cause it is almost time for another walk!  Nice blogging at you!

xoxoBassie  (aka Boo or The Paper Eating Mayor of Kamerik!)

Posted by: magpiefarm | March 8, 2010

Graag Gedaan

If you are getting this post via email subscription, please click on the title of the post “Graag Gedaan”  (above left) to be taken to the actual blog page (which looks better).

NOTE: Since I have no images that have anything to do with this particular post I’m putting in some from the Annual Netherlands Baakers Convention that my friend, Hilary treated me and Della to after my birthday brunch (that she and Laura came to and which was lovely).  The samples were generous and unlimited!

So, I have been making the effort to learn a little Dutch (“Nederlands” to you non-fluent ones), but am still phenomenally lacking in not just vocab, but confidence.  The only phrase I have a solid handle on is “Ik spreek geen Nederlands” or “I do not speak any Dutch.”

The first person I spoke this to went on speaking to me in Dutch. (Huh?) So now I make sure to emphasize the word “geen.”  In other words, “I do not speak even one single word of Dutch.”  Still, they look at me funny.

Another phase that I am really attracted to is “Graag gedaan.”  It is a friendly little response that one can give a stranger in need.  As in, someone says a garbled string of phrases while pointing to the empty chair at your table and you look and can see that they have four people needing to sit and only three chairs at their table.  You push the chair their way until they take it and have said, “Dank U well.”  This is your signal to pull out the big guns and say, “Graag gedaan.”  In other words, “it is not a problem, glad to do it.”

I say “big guns” because “Graag gedaan” requires some vocal agility.  Notice the three “g’s” bobbing about in the phrase. (Do not worry about two sets of double “a’s”?  They are just to throw you off.) To approach this phrase, start by catching, then killing a fly (as humanely as possible [it is not advisable to take too much joy in this act]).  If you have a tongue depressor you might want to run get it.  (Don’t think about this part, just do it!) say, “Ahhh” and toss the fly to the back of your throat.  Now, try to dislodge the fly (this may take several tries).  Congratulations!  You just said, “graag,” the first part of the phrase!

You really ought not feel too shy about using this phrase, unlike me who when the opportunity arose in the previously outlined chair-borrowing situation, I panicked and gave a mute Carol Merrill/Vannah White gesture as much to say, “this lovely chair is, by all means, yours.”  I recommend you go for it!  Carry a small baggie of flies if need be; no one will think the worst of you for it.

As far as I can tell, the Dutch seem fairly forgiving and non-judgmental to me.  I could be wrong but, while I walk around monitoring peoples public approach to situations and categorizing each as “considerate” or “inconsiderate,” I do not much feel this happening toward me.  Yesterday, for example, Michael and I rode our bikes to a race in Zeist.  (One hour ride each way then a 3k loop.  Runners could go around as many times as we wanted up to 7.  I went around three times, while of course Michael completed his forth circuit before I came in from my third!)  As I was waiting for our friend Michel to come in a young girl was walking cross the finish line with a dog on a long leash.  No one seemed the least bit bothered by this and runners coming in just sort of hopped and

jumped to avoid the obstacle.  And during the race, which took place in the woods in a series of winding switch back turns, people were taking short cuts.  I was about to shout out “cheaters!” looking first to make eye contact with one of the other runners to confirm my outrage when I realized that no one else seemed to care!  It’s either that or poker faced outrage.  Anyway, it works for me, as I am pretty heavy on the faux pas, what with riding the wrong way down one way bike paths and all.

I will just say one last thing about “graag gadaan.”  The phrase it its own oxymoron (don’t you love that the word oxymoron contains the word moron).  It requires tremendous effort and much practice to say, ‘No problem, my pleasure, glad to do it.”  At this point, just saying it makes me a liar.

Posted by: magpiefarm | March 3, 2010

An fyi for subscribers,

For my email subscribers: If you double click on the title of a post, in this case, “An fyi for subscribers,” (next to the little avatar of my face) at the top of this (and any) post, you will go straight to the blog site.  The format at the actual site is better than what gets sent in the body of the email.  xoj

Posted by: magpiefarm | March 3, 2010

A Splash of Cologne

Went to Cologne Germany this past week with Langston for a couple of days.  Why Cologne?  Well Lang had a week off from school and it was the closest big city.

(Click images to enlarge.)

As well, I’d been there some 28 years ago and remember standing in front of the cathedral there like it was yesterday.  Ahhh, a cathedral, you say.  You’ve seen one you seen them all, you say.  Not so!  The Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and took over 600 years to build.  It’s just crazy wild gothic madness (and 537 steps from the top to the bottom, Lang and I can provide signed testimony upon request).

To get to Cologne, it only took two and a half hours by train from Utrecht.  Once there we went straight to the hostel and checked into the “Dragon” room (which means there were some hastily painted dragons on the walls).  OK fine.  Really the place was spotless (I was tempted to use the toilet bowl as a soup tureen) and lots of friendly people (including the good old Oregonians in the band, Musee Mechanique, whose guest list we are already on for Saturday’s show here in Utrecht).

We would have gone to see them that night but we already had tix for the Cologne Philharmonie to hear a Mahler piece.  I’d asked the woman at the box office if there was a dress code of sorts.  No, she insisted.  Really? I asked, jeans are ok?  Yes, anything is alright.  Soo, what we are wearing is fine?  Oh, yes, that is acceptable.  I guess I wish she’d understood by my line of questions that were were relative newbies at this sort of thing and had told us that one cannot be even 1 single minute late for the Philharmonie as they close the door and one must wait about an hour for the Pause.  Well, you guessed it.  [Yes, in fact you may substitute the word “one” in the previous sentence with the name “Janice” (and by association add “and Lang”).]  I am not sure whether it was our being late or the fact that we were, how shall I say it, wearing jeans that had the collective stink eye upon us.

Anyway, it was a wonderful concert and I was glad to have been seated at the end of the row so i could bestow right of way with a smile. Unfortunately, my learning curve on how to let someone pass involved a major casualty.  How was I to know there was a foot at the end of his tuxedoed leg?

Lets see, what else?

Ohhhh yes, the Chocolate Museum!  Though interesting and interactive it was exceedingly skimpy on the samples.  (It was here that Lang rebuked me for referring to the workers as Oompa Lompas.)

Don't mind if I do!

And, the Roman Germanic Museum with its huge, completely intact uncovered old Roman mosaic floor.  I loved the Roman glass as well.

The Cologne Sculpture Park

As there are no "waterclosets" anywhere within 5k of the sculpture park, the structure to the left that is nestled in the trees makes a good lookout tower in the event that anyone in your party needs to "use the facilities." If you look closely you can see Lang up there reading at his post.

The Zoo.  (I know we are bad people for going to the zoo.)

On our last day, Lang and I went to the synagogue.  It was an astounding building with huge round stained glass in blues, taupes, purples and pale yellows and staggering security.  A service was going on and in order to get in they interrogated and body searched us, took our passports, went through every inch of our luggage, and escorted us through a double locked security chamber.  It was worth it. I was completely moved in the service as I looked around at the elderly in the room, wondering about the facts of their lives and marveling at their courage to be there again in that country, in that city in that synagogue, meeting together in their practice.

I have a pretty clear understanding of the kinds of personal precautions a trauma survivor may take in order to avoid anything remotely resembling a repeat of the past.  Sometimes the lengths can be out of proportion with the actual potential for harm.  Other times they evidence the acquired wisdom of lessons learned.  Clearly this synagogue’s precautions were the latter, only instead of the trauma survivor being an individual, it was a whole people group.  And this group trauma clearly isn’t paranoia or  just a product of people’s memories of WWII, but also the result of current-day neo-Nazi stuff going on in Europe, as well as the fear of people targeting Jews in Europe (and everywhere else) because of the war between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our last stop, Kolumba, the museum of modern and religious art was one of the most beautifully curated museums I have ever seen.

Even the stairwell was lovely.

Then, one last race past the cathedral (where I saw a pick pocket huddled in a corner riffling through a newly acquired wallet),onto the train and home.

Posted by: magpiefarm | February 21, 2010

Pancakes and Pannekoeken

So it is official, Wednesday night is “Pancake Night.”  It is the evening we converge on our 18:00 Dutch class.  After our hour and a half lesson and

This picture is from "tomorrow" at the pannekoek huis. (How'd she do that?!)

the 30 minute bike ride home (this week in a cold drizzle) it is nearly 20:15 (in The Netherlands it is always mental math time!) by the time we get home.  The week before, we trudged through the sleet and snow to a little counter pizza place that was surprisingly yummy (though not cheap).  The surprising part of the “yummy” was that the pizza and lasagna were not made with gouda or edam cheeses.  I am cautious of eating foods from other ethnicities here because everything seems to be made with gouda or edam.  (Oh, yes, in order to properly pronounce “gouda” you must eat plenty of it and build up lots of phlegm, then as you are gathering up a hocker, slowly say “gouda.”  Start by pretending you are going to say, “Howdy there, Pardner,” but then just say, “Howda,” instead.)

Cheeses we know and love

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not dissing the cheese scene here, I am whey into it (especially the white goat cheese blocks I’ve been whittling away at).  Basically, I am on a cheesey slow drip, carving and nibbling on an almost hourly basis.   I recommend thin slices on “Digestives” which I, oddly enough, originally discovered on a low shelf at “The Barn” [the discount food store at home in western Mass that has dented cans and out of date foods (off of which I must peel the

The humble Digestive

unmistakeable orange label in order to sneak them past Langston) and which used to be called “Mix ‘n Match” and which I swore I would never call “The Barn” and where you must now hunt for truly good deals not like in the days of “Mix ‘n Match” when you could get three boxes of Newman’s Own Organic Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies for 99 cents (God rest his gorgeous sweet delicious philanthropic soul)].

If my household is any measure, I believe it is the name “Digestive” that did not go over well in the US.  It wasn’t until we were in London and I came home with cylinder after cylinder of “digestive” variations that my family took notice.  I have, however, learned not to push things on them.  Clothing for example.  I no longer come home and say, “Della, I got you a couple of shirts,” or “Lang, check out this beautiful sweater I got you!”  I know better now.  Most often they look at and reject my purchases (at times with scorn, at others with a sorry shake of the head).  What then almost always happens is that my

Note the goat cheese and pastrami pannekoek.

frugal self starts wearing the either cheese cakey blouse or the exceeeedingy long sleeved sweater for a week, maybe two, at which time it either goes missing from my shelf and can be spotted traipsing around the house or, I catch Della staring, not at me exactly but rather upon me [clearly formulating the fashion equivalent of a mental math problem: (shirt – Mom) + Della = Don’t mind if I do] followed by, “Can I try that on?” And poof, gone.

So, with say, digestives, all I do is walk in casually, very casually, with a plate of, say, three or four ginger, or better yet, chocolate bottom dipped digestives and a glass of milk.  Then just dip and nibble, dip and nibble and it is a done deal.

Anyway, so on the way home Wed evening, I stopped at the store to get baking powder which Michael was sure they would not have because he could not find the baking soda that I had requested the day before.  I taught him this amazing new method for finding things at the grocery store (men, please pay attention) it is called, the Janice Sorensen Ask Someone Method (or JSASkM).

How it works:  I found two packets that looked sort of baking powderish (people like it if you make

Notice the thatched roof.

the effort–but you can learn more about that in the JSASkM Training) and approached two young guys who were chatting (again, in my training you will learn who not to approach, i.e. people who seem harried or whose children appear to be, lets say, “low blood sugar,”).  Then, even when you know (in your heart of hearts) that they speak English (because almost everyone under the age of 65 does), it is always nice to open with, “Sprek U Engles?” [Or if they are over 65, “Goede avond” (good evening). You must have eaten plenty of goude cheese earlier in the day to facilitate the phlem factor.  (If you are in a hurry, just grab a quick coffee and pour in plenty of “coffee melk” basically, evaporated milk.  Yummy!)]

And it is a darn good thing I asked, as these fine young men saved my family from eating gummy fish flavored pancakes.  As it was, we had a fine first “Pancake Night,” despite Lang’s concern that we did not have maple syrup (at home we would be tapping our trees in a couple of weeks).  A firm believer in hot off the press pancakes, I had three pans going at once and the table sagging with condiments (please feel

Pancake Night Condiments. What? No maple syrup?!

free to look back to the “importance of having good condiments” portion of an earlier post).  See if you can figure them out: bijenhoning , pindakaas, extra abrikozen jam, peren/appels zonnestroop,biologische milde magere yogurt, vla, extra bosbessen jam and of course(!) nutella (as well as its lesser cousin, hazelnootpasta, which iscertain to make a showing each and every “Pancake Night” ‘til we depart, same jar).  Word of advice, if you ever happen upon a product called peren/appels zonnenstroop, do not be afraid, buy it!

Tomorrow, we will ride bikes to a pannekoek huis nestled in the forest where we will have a real Nederland breakfast, huge flat rounds with any kind of combination of sweet or savory yum you can imagine.  Eet smakelijk!

bad flippin' pic of a fine flipping job

Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming Fall JSASkM teacher trainings on “What to do when you are lost?”   In addition to addressing important questions such as: “Is it really ok to JSASkM even if I have a map?” and “Won’t they think I am stupid?” there will be opportunities for role playing.  AND coming soon: JSASkM for women! (you know who you are!)

!!!!!!!!!!   See the article from today’s New York Times about Utrecht!  !!!!!!!!!!!!!

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