Archive for March, 2007

getting ready to race

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Sorry I haven’t updated for a while. Most of what’s been going on is that we’ve been rowing a lot, in preparation for racing the weekend of April 7-8. Ted will be racing in both the Tweehead (doubles) and the Skiffhead (singles); I’ll be racing only in the Tweehead. This is all part of the Head of the River, which is such a hyooooge race that they had to divide it up. The fours and eights raced last weekend, then there’s the 2-week break until the single and doubles races. We don’t know if very many racers come from other countries, but this is the biggest regatta in the Netherlands.

We would have liked to make a quick visit to the US last week for Ted’s grandmother’s memorial service, but we’d have had to leave the morning after we learned of her passing, and the logistics were pretty difficult. (We checked into them.) I had four grandparents until I was in college, and felt privileged; Ted still had all four until the age of forty. Not many people get to say that, and even fewer can say they had four of the sort or grandparents anyone would feel lucky to have for that long. He’s a lucky boy.

We’re trying to figure out our travel plans for this summer now, and figuring out where we want to take all the visitors coming to stay with us in the next couple of months. It’s daunting. There’s so much to see: all the Dutch cities we still haven’t exhausted, the Keukenhof where the tulips bloom, Antwerp, Brussels, Bruge and further afield Paris, Prague, Venice, Scandinavia….. No wonder Europeans have so much vacation. It siltl won’t be enough.

Dutch reality TV is … a little different

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

There was reportedly a recent episode on the American show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in which even after using all three of her lifelines, a woman incorreclty guesed that an elephant is larger than the Moon. We’ve finally found a reality show that could be even more embarassing for participants to explain to their coworkers.

So Ted was flipping through the channels last night (because Ted is always flipping through the chanels both because he’s got the Y-linked channel-flipping gene and because his own freaky thing about looking for a challenge in everything means he’s always testing to see how quickly he can identify a show. I’m not makin this up. I really wish I were.) and he came upon a reality show that seemed to be based on porn stars. The first time around, there was something about a porn star bungie jumping. Which is a bit strange, but not all that far out of line with general reality show strangeness.

I should pause here to point out that we have only basic cable: a few standard Dutch channels, a couple BBC ones, a religious one, Discovery and so on. We don’t even have HBO, let alone any adult channels.

On his next round through all of the channels (because, of course, there might have been a commercial on that one perfect show the first time through) the show had moved on to a new segment and something caught his attention. Two somethings, rather; a pair of naked bare breasts. This time, they’d chosen a “normal Dutch man” to make a porn movie with a female actress. And they showed all of the filming; the man fondling the woman, the camera focusd on them, the two both entirely naked, and then the two of them actually having sex in a couple of different positions. (Yes, we kept watching for a few minutes. Mostly a combination of surprise and cultural education, I suppose.) The guy said something about it being “soft core” (in Dutch, but those words were in English, and the actress spoke only English), but apparently that only meant no genitalia were actually shown. However, there was no room for ambiguity.

Also, Eddie Murphy did a routine in his Saturday Night Live days in which he pointed out that since many people make ugly faces during sex, ugliness really ought to be no barrier to acquiring a partner. This man would certainly have benefited from that attitude. His coworkers may be calling him “Hamster-face” in future.

As best we could understand the Dutch, the man said afterwards that he’d found the experience more difficult than he’d expected. (What he actually said was “F**ckin’ moeilijk” (difficult), only the TV program didn’t bleep out the first word. Not surprising, considering they’d just shown the actuality.)

The whole thing was very bizarre, not to mention astonishingly un-sexy.

Once more, this was on just a normal TV chanel. I have no idea which but at the end a sign said BNN. I can only assume that stands for Butt-Nekkid Network.

London, the insanely detailed account

Monday, March 12th, 2007

I will omit retelling the tale of our canceled flight at length – they canceled it entirely, for a fog that lasted only an hour, and we had to rebook on a flight that nevening instead. Suffice it to say we lost an entire day. Of 40th-birthday vacation. In London. Yes, steam still rises from my ears when I tell the story.

I’m all the more ticked about this because I’d just booked a flight with the same airline back to London in May, when I meet my Mom there.

We did some errands during the day, trying to enjoy having in effect an extra ‘weekend’ day. The evening flight went without a hitch, and we took the Standsted Express to Liverpool Station. Perhaps it’s because the train goes there and not to Kings Cross, but I was disappointed to find no Chocolate Frogs or Pumpkin Pasties on the cart. We cabbed to our hotel, the Hotel Russell in Russell Square. Excellent location, very comfortable, extremely picturesque, prices outrageous by most standards but quite reasonable for London. Don’t eat there though: the prices for food are ridiculous. (It’s best in London to just not think about the exchange rate, anyway – but this was high even by local standards.) Good play to stay otherwise, though, and there are lots of restaurants nearby plus a cafe just across in the park which was perfect for breakfast.

We got two-zone bus-tube passes Friday and Saturday, which worked very well for what we want to do. The first day, we took the Tube to Westminster, then booked a boat ride to Greenwich (our passes got us £3 off the price). They narrate al the sites on the river on the way down, which is nice if you don’t know the city well.

At Greenwich, we started with the Royal Chapel and Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College. The latter, especially, is magnificent. They built it originally as a dining hall for Naval pensioners, but twenty years later when the painting was done, it was decided that it was too magnificent for them. (It was already a tourist attraction.) After those, we headed to the National Maritime Museum, beginning with the Queen’s House, where the museum’s art is shown. It’s a very lively art collection – all ships naval battles and shipwrecks, as you might expect. Our kind of place – we do much better with that than with modern art. (The last time we visited a museum of the latter, some of the art was quite literally not distinguishable from trash thrown on the floor.) The building itself was also quite nice; apparently James I was one of those who liked his queen, whomever else he might have liked more.

After that we hiked up a steep hill to the Naval Observatory, where ted was enthralled as I knew he’d be. We got to stand across the 0° meridian and to see all kinds of telescopes and star-charting instruments, as well as an exhibit on the development of the sextant and the accurate watch, the two intruments essential for figuring longitude. (I bought the book Longitude while we were there, so will have more knowledge on the subject henceforth.)

We finished with the Maritime Museum itself. We’d been discussing which boat to take home, but the museum was compelling enough to make us opt for the latest one. The parts on Antartic explorers were touching, when you’ve read a bit about all they went through; the barge of I-forget-which-king with 21 rowers and benches instead of sliding seats looked horrible to row for long, and there were exhibits on for lovers of O’Brian or Hornblower, or of the science of navigation, or of ecology – everything possible to do with the sea.

We got back in time to check and catch a bus head to Covent Garden for The Tempest. Patrick Stewart was, as expected, magnificent. He carried the play, though the actors playing Caliban and Ariel were wonderful as well. Miranda was patchy. She did a very convincing gawky 15-year-old, and her comedic timing was perfect – it was a much funnier play all around than I’d realized. I just didn’t find it all that believable when Ferdinand fell in love with her, or even vice versa, though at least the situation made it more believable on her part. The scenery was very minimalistic, but the first bit was fun. They play was done in 1930’s clothing, and we saw the shipwreck though the speaker-hole of an old marine radio that broadcasted the storm warnings first. This was an arctic island rather than a tropical one, and the Ariel was made up as more of an ice-spirit. He had three “goddesses” (as described in the program) to help him with eerie harmonies, though they were (fortunately) fairly unobtrusive except in the betrothal scene, which was dramatic if bizarre. I’m certain it wasn’t what Shakespeare had in mind, but not sure at all that he wouldn’t have liked it. The play had a dark feel, but he performance was faithful to the original in general – the only change I’ve spotted was transferring a speech from Prospero to Miranda – the one about teaching Caliban to speak, which does make sense to establish their former relationship. So that was really my present to myself, and I’m indebted to the person who told me about it.

Saturday was our busiest day. After breakfast, we headed out to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We got there about 20 minutes before it opened and I didn’t feel like standing around waiting, so instead we walked through Hyde Park (Hyde Park! Rotten Row! The Round Pond and the Long Water! It’s really preposterous how many London streets and landmarks are familiar to me – at least their names) to Kensginton palace. We saw rooms of Royals from William and Mary to Princess Margaret, the dress Queen Elizabeth II wore in France in 1952, and exhibits on just what went in to a court presentation and what the final outfit looked like. I’m not a big fan of Princess Diana, but there was an exhibit of photos of her that was really stunning, along with a few of her dresses. By the time we’d walked the kilometer-plus back to the V&A, I was feeling I’d seen enough period rooms and dresses to last a while, so we just took a quick look through the England 1500-1760 Hall and the Fashion exhibit, then paid a similar quick visit to the Science Museum because Ted loves it, but it was a zoo that day – a very noisy one.

We walked out to the other end of the park in hopes of having lunch at a place called Paxton’s Head, but unfortunately they’re renovating and it was closed until the end of the month so we picked up a quick lunch at Harrod’s instead. We folloed signs to the Food Court, but most of it was food to be taken home rather than eaten there. When I asked a uniformed staff person (they were everywhere – probably everyone does get lost and need to ask) if there was a sit-down restaurant and how to get there, he said, “Well, which one? We have 28.” We ended up at a sandwiches and light-food place near the ladies’ luxury clothing, where Ted had a sandwich on a bagel and I had a baked potato and a sense of homecoming – they don’t really do baked potatoes in the Netherlands.

We were tied y then but decided to tube just one stop past our hotel to the new British Library. Frankly, I was disappointed, at least with the outside. The building looks more like a train station (a very nice one, admittedly) than a great library; the library it reminds me of most is that one at ASU. On the other hand, the exhibit of its greatest treasures could never disappoint, and the best part was seeing how many people were absorbed in peering at each item. (Not too many for us to be able to see, fortunately.) After walking back to the hotel (with very sore feet by now) we consulted with the concierge about dinner ideas. He wasn’t able to offer much advice, but from a magazine he had I picked out Konstam at the Prince Albert, whose conceit is that most of their food is source from insde the M25, within the six zones of London. I’d agree with the reviews that the appetizers and desserts were better than the main courses. We both began with purple-and-yellow sprouting broccoli in a lemony sauce with some tasty but unidentifiable crunchy stuff with bits of nut and we’re not sure what else, but it was good. Ted had a venison and rabbit pie he wasn’t thrilled with; I had a roast chicken with potatoes and roasted chicory (because it amused me to leave the Netherlands and still be eating witlof) that was good but a bit heavy on the melted butter. He finished with gooseberry sorbet, and I with goat cheese and local honey. It’s a good combination; either can be overwhelming alone but they tone each other down.

On Sunday morning, we took a quick peek inside the British Museum’s Great Hall, before heading off to meet some online friends of mine at the Railway Tavern, near the Liverpool Street Station. My burger was overcooked and a bit tasteless, but it was a real burger without the funny taste Dutch ones have, and it was one more chance to have ale instead of the lager that’s all we can get in the Netherlands. About six people showed up to meet us, including one from Finland who’s working in London at the moment, and we talked about mutual acquaintances, books, rowing (one’s an Oxford cox!), and the differences between countries. The train back to Standsted let us get a look at a bit of the country outside London, since it was daylight this time, and we got back early enough in the evening to have time to eat and unpack without missing any sleep.

We did skip our workout this morning, though.

just back

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Sorry, I haven’t had time to work on the sound link below – we just got back from a quick trip to London for my 40th birthday (more on that trip later). But before I spend any time on it, can people please tell me if there’s anyone out there who *can’t* hear the audio file? No point in my working on it if it already works! Also, I think I’ve gotten it to quit playing by itself when you open the page – I find that very annoying, and hate to inflict it on anyone else. Now you should have to hit the play button to hear it.

Also, if it doesn’t work for you, let me know if you have a Mac or PC and what browser you use, please.

the sounds of Dutch

Monday, March 5th, 2007

(I think it works. Maybe.)

A while back, Ted’s parents told us that some of his relatives were interested in hearing what the Dutch language sounds like. I’m trying something new here, which is both a technical and a linguistic challenge. The link below is a sound file of me reading the summary of our latest Dutch lesson. This lesson taught us the past perfect tense (which is apparently what Dutch speakers most often use even where English speakers use the simple past tense). Verbs are given a ge- prefix, which can make them even harder to pronounce. So if this works, what you are hearing is me trying to pronounce Dutch. I make no claims as to whether it’s what the words in question are actually supposed to sound like. (Also, don’t be surprised if it takes me a few tries to get the audio file working properly.)

Here’s the original:

Het is sondagavond. Het weekend is al weer voorbij. Karin Koenen belt haar vriendin Carolien Vogel om te kletsen over het weekend. Karin is gisteren met haar moeder naar de stad geweest. Ze hebben gezellig met z’n tweeën gewinkeld. Karin heeft een gat in haar hand maar toch heeft ze niets gekocht: haar moeder heeft een jas gekocht en Kaarin heeft schoenen gekregen. Ze hebben ook nog koffie gedronken bij cafe Bommel. Heel tovallig is Carolien daar zaterdag ook geweest. Zij heeft s’morgens eerst de krant gelezen. Daarna heeft ze getennist en nog iets gedronken in cafe Bommel. Op weg nar huis heeft Karin boodschappen gedaan want s’avonds had ze een etentje thuis. Haar collega Jeff Wilson en zijn vrouw Alice hebben bij haar gegeten. Ze heeft een visschotel met gebakken aardappelen en salade gemaakt. Het was lekker én gezellig. Carolien heeft een heel sportief weekend gehad. Tennissen, skeeleren in het Vondelpark en wandelen met haar zus en haar nichtje. Dan moet Karin plotseling ophangen want ze krijgt nog een andere lijn. Dat is Henk.

And a translation – I’ll put it in grammatic English, rather than try to translatie word-for-word:

It is Sunday evening. The weekend is nearly over. Karin Koenen calls her friend Carlien Vogel to chat about their weekends. Karin went to the city with her mother yesterday. The two of them had a pleasant time shopping together. Karin has a hole in her hand (that is, can’t hold on to money) but didn’t buy anything. Her mother bought a coat for herself and got Karin a pair of shoes. They also drank some coffie at Cafe Bommel. Coincidentally, Carolien was also there on Saterday. First, she read the newspaper that morning. Then she played tennis and had something to drink at Cafe Bommel. On the way home (from shopping) Karin did her grocery shopping, because she had company for dinner that evening. Her colleague Jeff Wilson and his wife Alice ate with her. She made a fish dish with fried potatoes and salad. It was delicious, and a cozy evening. Meanwhile, Carolien had a sporty weekend. Tennis, rollerblading in Vondel Park and walking with her sister and niece. Then Karin has to hang up, because Hank calls on another line.

excursie tot Belgie

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

One of the nice things about a hobby like rowing is that it takes us to places we might not get to otherwise. Ted’s partner in the double Erik-Jan and his wife coach the juniors at our rowing club. Last weekend they invited us to drive down to the rowing facility in Belgium where they’d taken the juniors for a weekend camp. It’s a multi-sport facility located south of Antwerp that can support rowing, kayaking, and windsurfing, and also has several mountain bike trails. We drove there Saturday afternoon – it’s only about an hour and a half away.

LATER NOTE: IT turns out they’ve actually held the rowing World Cup, as well as some other big events like Junior World Championships at this site.

We got there without getting too lost. Erik-Jan warned us that the signs were hard to see, and we did miss the turn once, but ended up getting there earlier than we’d expected. It’s a very nice course: 2000m long, nice wide lanes, fully buoyed. Unfortunately it was windier than we’d have preferred, and frankly it got a little boring just going back and forth. It was nice not to have to keep worrying about how to pass other boats, but the scenery changes on our home canal, and I like that. Ted and Erik-Jan rowed about 12km in the double, then Ted got to try out the single he’ll be racing in this April. Erik-Jan let me row his mid-weight Empacher, since there were no lightweight boats around. Very nice boat, but of course it’s a bit big for me.

After rowing, it was still fairly early, so we decided to take a look around the nearby old city of Mechelin. (All those Regency romances in which a graceful frill of Mechelin lace drapes a languid wrist? This is where it’s from.) Funny thing: the name “Belgium” doesn’t do much for me, maybe because it’s a relatively recently independent country. But mention “Flanders”, the part of the country we were in, and I have historical associations ranging from medieval guilds to WWI. To my disappointment, we didn’t see any lace. However, there was a very nice old Cathedral with a truncated tower (which we did *not* get to climb, poor Rudder), and plenty of nice old buildings to look walk around and look at. One nice thing about this church was that it apparently wasn’t stripped during the Reformation, like the ones farther north, and so its treasures and also its ornamentation are still there. The piece that impressed us most was later, though; an 18th century carved piece, one of those raised seats all cathedrals seem to have (not sure who sat in them). This one was carved in the shape of plants and trees growing out of a rock, with incredible realistic detail (including a tiny snail on an outcropping in back, and the seat and steps up to it cleverly worked in to the statue.

We walked around some of the shops and the old town hall, stopped in a bakery, and then had a late lunch / early dinner in an old pub inexplicably named and themed after Lord Nelson. (Maybe he fought a battle off Belgium?) There was wood panelling on the walls, beams on the ceiling, and old ships’ wheels, compasses and other accoutrements displayed; we especially liked the oval table with a comfortable built-in bench surrounding it, like Nelson might have had in his own cabin. Our only regret was that we weren’t hungry enough to try a full meal from the menu.

We did get quite lost on the way home; what looked like an outer ring road around Antwerp turned out to be city driving rather than highway, and there were signs along the road except in the places where they were actually needed. One difference we noticed from the Netherlands is that though there were bike paths everywhere, they weren’t in constant use as they are here. The street signs were about as bad, though. We still need to see Antwerp itself, Brussels and Bruge, but will probably take the opportunity to do that along with our visitors over the next few months.