Archive for April, 2010

Queen’s Day, 2010

Friday, April 30th, 2010

April is a very good time to move to the Netherlands. Not only is spring beautiful here, but you’re in time for all of the April and May holidays. (Easter, Queen’s Day, Ascension Day and Pentecost / WhitMonday are all legal holidays.) Today is Queen’s Day, Koninginnedag, in the Netherlands, the official celebration though not the actual day of Queen Beatrix’s birthday. (I think it was actually the birthday of her grandmother Wilhelmina.) In Eindhoven, it is a day of music, flea marketing, and above all a sea of retina-burning orange. There are stages all over the Centrum playing a variety of music; we can hear it in the apartment with the windows closed. All along the WIllemstraat, Wilhelminaplein and the Bergen are stands selling second-hand goods – it’s the only day of the year you can set up a stall without a special license. And as for the orange – well, look for yourself.

back on the water

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

On Tuesday I was reminded about one of my very favorite things about the Netherlands. Granted, there’s some stiff competition: cool weather, clean air (crystal clear, relative to Taiwan), daffodils (no, not tulips – you see daffodils in vast swathes beside the road, but only a few tulips here and there. They’re either less hardy or more expensive.), restaurant menus I can (mostly) read….

There are some unfavorite things as well, like having someone tell you he can’t come to a meeting because 4:30 is too late in the day, or having someone reargue all sides of an issue you thought was finally closed, or having all the shops closed by the time I leave work every day (which, come to think of it, makes sense of people wanting to leave early!!).

But back to favorites: I think my very favorite thing of all is the part where people ask me to come row and race with them. You have no idea how gratifying this is, after many years of “Who else can we get to fill our quad? Not Paula, she’s too little.” It’s funny; you’d think that would be more of a problem here int he Netherlands where people are taller, but it really isn’t. Maybe people just take height more for granted here and don’t think much about it.

So I’ve been asked to race in a quad in November; stroke is L, who won the Skiffhead (very big race!) in the Master A category this year, R in three is extremely powerful, M in two seat is stroke’s doubles part (they did well this year in the Tweehead and the Skøll Cup). And me. Yikes!

Generally, stroke seat sets the pace that everyone else follows, so you want a strong rowing with good technique and good timing there. The middle seats are the ‘engine room’ of the boat, and since the frontmost rowers have most effect on the set, you want a good technical rower there to keep the boat level. So no one expects me to be the powerhouse of the boat, but on the other hand those are only minor distinctions – every rower in the boat needs to be contributing to the overall power, timing and thus speed of the boat. So I have from now to November to build up my strength and endurance to where I can keep up with the other three, and to get my technique back to where it used to be (or better, of course).

I went out in a single yesterday, with M & L, also in singles, and a coach (the wife of Ted’s Dutch rowing partner). It was great! Nice weather – the worst problem was the setting sun in our eyes. I’d never worked with this woman as a coach before, and she was even better than I expected; I knew she was very knowledgeable, but there’s a difference between knowing what the problems are and being able to communicate them in a way that will help the rower to fix them. Also, for an adult rower, or at least this particular one, it’s important to pay attention to what the rower knows and can feel herself, and she did that. So now I have a couple of things to work on myself (being on the water about 10 times in two years is not particularly good for your technique, though at least I had the erg to train on) and I’ll meeet with her again in a week or two.

a nearly perfect day

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

It’s a glorious spring day here, just about warm enough to sit in the sun with a jacket on, with a blue sky that belies any volcanic ash cloud except for a hint of gray at the horizon. This morning I went rowing – to give you some idea I’ve written at least three poems sparked by rowing on this particular Dutch canal in spring. And I saw two lots of ducklings!

Then I spoke to my husband, then I walked north to explore a street I was told had real butchers and an organic supermarket, then realized that the Woensel Markt was at the end of that street. I’d been meaning to check it out. There’s a market in the city centrum right near my flat, but it’s on Tuesdays, a work day for me. The Woensel market is on Saturdays, so I’d been wanting to go. Picture a modern version of the market in the medieval town in every medieval-ish fantasy story. Then triple it; there seemed to be five or ten stalls of each kind of thing and it probably covered nearly an acre, or maybe it just seemed that big. There are stalls for vegetables, flowers (it’s the Netherlands, flowers are not optional), fabric, clothing, and a few of electronics and other odd stuff. Also stalls selling frites (french fries, only they call them Belgian here) or snacks (krokets and sausage rolls) I didn’t buy much there, but I did get a nice chunk of beef at the butcher and I’m looking forward to roast beef tomorrow.

After putting the groceries away, I went back out and found that Esprit does have jeans that fit me (except “cropped” jeans here are full length on me!), and then sat at an outdoor cafe drinking mint tea (which they make here by putting a bunch of fresh mint leaves in a glass and pouring hot water over it) and caprese salad (which doesn’t go well with mint tea but was very tasty) and reading email, until I realized I was being an idiot and sat and watched people walk by.

And now I’m listening to a new (to me) Archie Fisher album and contemplating if I want to make pasta or if popcorn is enough food, after the salad.

I’m missing Ted, and worried that he won’t be able to fly out here on a planned business trip next weekend because of all the air flight backups. But except that his company would have been nice at the cafe and to come home to or with, I can’t really think of a nicer way to spend a day.

walk to the markt

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Sorry if anyone saw the annoying GoDaddy site here yesterday; they didn’t both to tell me my registration was expiring until it did. It’s fixed now. Apologies in advance if you see it again in two years!!

Anyone who has been reading here for years will understand the irony when I say that I saw popcorn for sale in two places today – and one of them is the local supermarket we used to shop in most. It was with the grains, not the snack foods, but you’d still think I’d have seen it.

Today I walked up a street that was reputed to have a couple of butcher and an organics-food supermarket, and then realized that the north side of the city’s open-air market (the Woensel Markt) was at the end of the street. It turns out to be much bigger than the one in the Centrum (I think – I haven’t been to that one in a while) with probably an acre of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish, flowers, clothing, fabric, and a few stalls of odds and ends. I didn’t buy much there, being fairly well stocked on groceries, but I did get a nice chunk of beef at the butchers that I’ll roast tomorrow. That will be tender and tasty regardless of the quality of the beef, since I intend to cook it at low temperature for 6 hours or so; the test of the butcher will really be when I buy steaks there. But I have a couple from the supermarket, so I didn’t get any this time.

Google Maps says 3.6 km; I think I should be allowed to add that to the 7 km I rowed this morning!


Friday, April 16th, 2010

Nobody does spring like the Netherlands! I drive home down very ordinary streets, lined with houses and stores and offices. But there are trees all along there, and bushes and flowers, and right now they’re all rioting with bloom. There are dogwoods and forsythia, what I think are cherry trees, and swathes of daffodils all along the roadside in every color from white through cream, butter and bright yellow. There are trees with tiny green flowerets and trees with white blossoms, bushes with deep pink flowers and white and yellow ones. The pale blue skies and the slanting light are a joy after Taiwan’s gray skies, flat light and haze.

On one street, the flowering branches overhead are tiny and white, arching over the road. It’s an ordinary street with some fairly ugly houses and a wall along it, but I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed trees! Not desert sagebrush and saguaro, and not tropical jungle trees and scrub, but singly-spaced tall and graceful trees, with straight trunks and branches starting high up.

I’m rowing on Saturday, so I’m looking forward to spring on the canal. In fact, spring here always makes me write about it – this is from 2007:

The weather forecast said drizzly and grey
A foul sort of day for a row.
But regattas are looming and I need to train,
So there was no choice but to go.

The boathouse was lively, the docks both were full
(The Dutch pay small heed to the rain)
I took off my coat, and carried my oars
And prepared to go out once again.

My slender light single was ready, as ever
Eager to taste of the spray.
And so we set out on the water this morning
Expecting small joy from the day.

But the wind wasn’t bad on the sheltered canal,
And the air not as cold as I’d thought,
And as I looked around to avoid other boats,
There was Spring in the glimpses I caught.

The grasses and leaves were beginning to show
A green haze behind winter trees
There in the distance were dogwoods in bloom,
And new life in the scent on the breeze.

I’m slow on the uptake, but even I grasp
What a privileged and glorious thing
It is to be here and able to row
On a Holland canal in the Spring!

what I can hear from my new apartment

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

– sirens (maybe once or twice a day)
– distant shouting (only once, when I had the windows open – I think there might have been a game in the nearby stadium
– church bells (from here – sorry, website is in Dutch, but it has pictures). I can only faintly hear it, unless the windows are open, in which case it’s a pleasant sound.
– traffic (but not very loud, and again only with windows open)

This is as opposed to the Taiwan apartment, whose soundscape featured:
– fireworks (all too often)
-singing from the temple nearby
– announcements from political trucks
– traffic
– any conversations anyone had in the space in front of our elevator, and some held in the next apartment
– every flush from the people upstairs (sounded like a waterfall over our bed).
– airplanes (the smaller local airport is right across the river)

As you might guess, I’m enjoying the quiet. Wish I could add the sound of Ted’s voice, but otherwise it’s nice.

Edited to add: I spoke too soon – apparently the party just hadn’t ststarted yet. Now I’m getting really loud music – recorded, and it keeps switching, so I’d guess it’s one of my neighbors rather than a bar, but I can’t really tell. Good thing I always keep earplugs around.

the essentials

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Some people have the knack of making a place looking homey in a very short time, without spending much money. I, on the other hand, have the much less useful knack of spending gobs of money (in a very short time) and just making the place look cluttered. Lived-in, yeah, that’s it. And I still don’t have a dish to put my new soap in or a rack for the wine I bought today. On the other hand, at least I have the useful things covered, not to mention a pretty clear set of indicators of my priorities: wine to drink and vacuum corks to seal it, pretzels to eat and a container to keep them fresh, nicely scented soap to wash with, an iPhone to play with call people on, speakers to plug my iPod into and so I can hear music, a bathmat to keep my feet warm after showering, a big mug (well, big by local standards, normal in the US) to drink tea out of. Desk supplies so I can write things and file paperwork, herbs and a big pot to cook with, things to wash up with after cooking.

And some tealights to go in the several candle-holders here, so I can at least pretend I’m good at the ornamental side of things.

the new place

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Here’s a slightly fuzzy video of my new place in the Netherlands if anyone wants to see it. (It’s taken with an iPod, so the quality isn’t perfect and it’s a little shaky. Still, pretty impressive considering the size of an iPod Nano.)

tourist hordes

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I think I can now say officially that I have been to the National Palace Museum one too many times. It’s an amazing museum, and I wanted to visit one more time before leaving, but I forgot two important facts about museums and weekdays: school trips and tour groups. I think the latter were mostly groups from China, because they were *pushy*; I got shoved around and stepped on multiple times. People in Taiwan will crowd in, cut you off, or randomly stop right in front of you, but they do not generally stampede over you.

The museum’s best-known treasure, the jadeite cabbage, has been moved out to a walkthrough gallery in the center atrium, and there was a constant dense parade of people by it. I’d have skipped that, because I’ve seen it several times, but I wanted to see what was in with it. There was the meat-shaped stone, but I couldn’t get close enough to see what the other objects were.

I think it’s great that China / Taiwan relationships are good enough now that Chinese tourists can come here to see items from their history. It’s good for the Chinese economy. I just wish there hadn’t been quite so many tour groups between me and those objects!