Friday, December 5, 2008

'Tis the Season... to Write Poetry

Sinterklaas receiving his honorary degree from Roosevelt Academy, November 2006

Last year, at about this time, I went to my last French class of the semester. The teacher had arranged for a little Christmas celebration, so we ate some candy, sang “Petit Papa Noel” (4 or 5 times if I remember correctly), and wrote Christmas poems. Most people wrote 2 or 3 rhymed couplets, but after four or five minutes and a few “Attendez! Attendez!”s, I finished this composition:

Venez, tout le monde, et célébrez,
Parce que le Noël est arrivée
Nous ne faisons pas les études
Nous pouvons laissez les habitudes
N’importe pas en quoi on croit
Maintenant, on pense aux trois rois.
Nous cherchons un sapin de Noël
Pendant que la niege tombe du ciel.
Après, nous chantons de belles chansons
Nous rions et nous dansons
Toute la famille est en attendance
Et, si on a de la chance
On mangera une bûche de Noël
Très délicieux, et douce comme du miel.
Ouvrez, alors, tous vos cadeaux
Et buvez de la champagne et pas de l’eau.

But this year, I take Dutch. Tomorrow is one of the last classes, so we’re having a little Sinterklaas party – Sinterklaas being the Dutch Saint Nick. We drew names and got a present for someone, and we have to write a little gedicht, a short poem, to go with it.

And I am struggling.

I get two lines to start, because the gedichten usually begin this way:

Sint en Piet zaten te bedenken
Wat ze ______ nu eens zouden schenken.

But what comes after that, I don’t know.

Making it all the more difficult is the subtle clever way you are expected to hint at the present you got.

So I think this may be the new test for fluency: if you can throw together a Christmas poem in a given language within a few minutes. I wonder if I can do it in Spanish?

Something to try over winter break.

One week till vacation!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter Break Reading List

What better place to keep track of it?

1. My Antonia by Willa Cather
2. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
3. Little Women, considering a Marxist perspective
4. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
5. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (in preparation for "Reading Lolita in Tehran" next semester, but then again not sure I really want to.)
6. Something wintry, i.e. A Christmas Carol
7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as recommended by S. Winter
8. Inevitably lots of shallow fun, such as early Betsy-Tacy books, and the ridiculous S.A.S.S series...

Yes. Vacation is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Armchair Travel

I'm not a big chick-lit kind of girl. From time to time, I pick one up for a little fun. But in most cases, if I wander past Meg Cabot, I get annoyed. The writing is artificial and the plot is Disney with a bit of "Adult content" thrown in. Everything is contrived and overworked and unrealistic.
Every once in a while, though, I come across a more bearable one. I think the thing that makes these books more enjoyable is when the offer some little multi-cultural twist. Frangipani succeeded because it's a study of cultural and generational differences. (Though some would argue that this belongs in the group of books unpleasantly labeled "mum-lit", not chick.)

Coffee and Kung Fu made it only because of this. In most ways, it's your typical young-woman-in-the-big-city-with-a-boring-dead-end-job. Her grandpa is the only one who understands her. And she's dating a guy who's obviously a jerk.

But she's a missionary kid and she grew up in the Phillipines, and despite the books title, she's really more of a perfectly-prepared-jasmine-tea-served-ceremonially kind of girl.

And the ending - I trust none of you are really going to run out and read the book - is satisfying, because the girl dumps her stuff on her parents, buys two plane tickets with the money her grandpa leaves her, and jets off to Hong Kong, expecting the barista guy she hardly knows to follow her in a few days. Which we all know he will.

But that's not the point. The point is, she goes somewhere to be happy. So despite the love lesson that is necessary in every chick-lit novel, I find this one to be a bit more realistic. I guess it's just closer to home for this reader.

I finished the book, finished my tea, and rushed off to school to finish the draft of the analysis section of my IRP. As you can probably guess, it isn't going that well. No one really wants to read about people stopping caring about consequences and rushing off to do something exciting and gutsy when they have to put on their coat, walk across a common room with gluey floors from last night's birthday party, and sit in a computer lab that is hospital-like in its whiteness.

I'd much rather fly to Hong Kong.

And then you'd all be reading about something more interesting than my ventures into chick-lit reading.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Elections, Expat-style

A lot of people around here are sick of hearing about the U.S. elections. But more of them aren't. Since RA specializes in social sciences, and Middelburg is home not only to RA but also to the Roosevelt Study Center, an unrelated research center, and the new Middelburg Center for Transatlantic Studies, news about the election has been a pretty big deal here.

So RA and the Study Center got together to organize an All-Night American Election Party, complete with pub quiz, youtube spoof videos, CNN coverage on a big screen, live music, DJs, and let's not forget, Hertog Jan beer for only 1.80/glass.

It was a happening event, to say the least, but we went two hours late and missed the fun pub quizzes, etc. Instead, we caught my housemate, Romy Uitdehaag of 4y-d, performing Pink's "Dear Mr. President"; an RA band featuring a saxophone solo by Dr. Herman Lelieveldt, and entertaining MC work by an exchange student from Nebraska.

Unsurprisingly, Obama won the mock vote. I was a little surprised that McCain actually received as many as 4 votes, considering the audience.

The place was overwhelmingly Obama-y. Everyone had hats, pins, posters, shirts, you name it. My friend told me I had to put on my pins, like the ones my mother sent to my friend Joy, and I had to explain that my mom didn't love me enough to send me a "My mama loves Obama" pin.

But my mama did send me an "Obama chick" t-shirt, so I wore that, and paired it with a PDX pin. I figure a Portland pin, aka "Little Beirut", is more or less synonymous with "Obama supporter". No one knew what it was, but a bartender asked about it and liked it.

Joy and I realized that, since I'm American and she's Kenyan, put together we make Obama.

At 2, the crowd decided they would rather listen to music than CNN, so they muted the television and the DJ spun some retro stuff, and my friends and I decided to head back to Liana's place and watch there. We ate popcorn and I knit and everyone was in a different state of semi-sleep, waking up to talk about the silly holograms and the new percentages and statistics pouring in. At about five, we were confident enough to go home and sleep, knowing we'd wake up smiling.

The next day, I'm looking over post-election coverage. I remember the morning after the 2004 elections. Everything was gray, like Portland had put on a black veil of mourning. My mom and I went out for coffee and the barista said, "I feel like blacks are still sitting on the back of the bus." I'm never going to forget that.

In English class that day I wrote a poem about it, but today, I'm blogging. That, and regularly checking the news to find out about the Oregon results, and scrolling through facebook to look at people's post-election statuses. A high school friend "is on the streets of Chicago celebrating". Two people are waking up knowing that it's not a dream. I'm watching footage of the celebrations in the streets and semi-wishing I was there.

But on the other hand, I'm even more happy to be here. Pretty soon, I might stop emphasizing the half-Czech part of me so much. I have more reason to be proud of being American than I ever have since leaving the states.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Time for one of those procrastinatory updates.

I got back from Edinburgh on Wednesday. My flight arrived at about 6 and I felt very relaxed and rejuvenated, although I had a little anxiety for the return to school without any vacation until the semester ends. It is going to be high-stress.

But the funny thing was taking the train back to Middelburg. I noticed, after a few stops, that I wasn't exactly happy or excited to see the familiar NS yellow and blue or take the train again, but I felt a strange variety of comfort.

It was the realization that I am so completely comfortable with using the NS trains that hit me then. I move effortlessly from ticket machines to timetables to platform to train. I can't even remember when I last asked a conductor for something - probably not since I went to Haarlem last summer.

It's getting more and more homey here. Which is going to make things more and more tricky.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Scottish Blend

One thing I love about traveling is discovering new tea & coffee traditions. At the moment I'm in Edinburgh, Scotland, visiting a dear old friend and neighbor who's studying here for the semester.

My flight arrived at about 12.30 today and it's been a rush of excitement and fun, without pause. It's strange to travel somewhere and have someone to meet me; that usually only happens at home. But she met me at the airport and we haven't been able to shut up since.

Which meant that instead of spending a lot of time out exploring the city, we spent a lot of it inside cafes.

We planned to take a coffee to go to the park, but the weather was exactly the kind that is best appreciated from indoors, with a warm drink. So we took our coffee to stay at Elephant House Cafe - the cafe where J.K. Rowling apparently wrote large segments of Harry Potter. So it was only appropriate that I see it, as a budding writer (I hope).

We shared a table with a friendly man, who we had a short conversation with before returning to our unending stream of catch-up.

Then we walked to the park, taking a couple of pictures and till talking, finally stopping again at a Swedish-style place. We shared a giant pot of Daybreak tea, a nice blend of Darjeeling and Ceylon and something else, until the leaves had sat in too long and turned the tea a little dark. Also, a cardamom bun for me, and more chitter-chatter.

It's so strange to be somewhere the speak English. I open my mouth and catch myself just before my customary "mag ik een..." comes out, then manage to switch to English.

I don't know why I was so down on the UK (does Ireland count as the UK? I'm very unclear about that...). I love it. I loved Dublin and so far Edinburgh is great. The most remarkable thing to me is the overwhelming friendliness of the people, like the man in the Elephant House Cafe this afternoon and the guard at the National Gallery in Dublin in March.

I have a fun idea, though; I think I'll try to hit Wales and Northern Ireland before ever setting foot in England. Wouldn't that be funny?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Woody Guthrie

Last week I received a friendly email from a former teacher. He somehow remembered that I like Woody Guthrie - something I never remember mentioning but no matter - and thought I might be interested in a lecture-like presentation that would be given on October 20th at RA.

Woody Guthrie's music is the kind I used to always take for granted. I was just used to hearing it. I listened to his songs as a kid and we sang classics like "Roll On Columbia" and "This Land is Your Land" in school. Last summer I came across a CD of his music and sort of rediscovered him.

So last night I went to see Will Kaufman put Guthrie's music in context. There was a lot of information I knew, but also a lot of things I hadn't quite put together, as well as facts that were completely new to me. I did not know that "This Land is Your Land" had been written as a direct response to "God Bless America", cranked out by the pop song writers on what Guthrie referred to as Tin Can Alley - a song which fostered political inactivity.

The lecture was fascinating because of its relativity to current events that are going on stateside, but the most interesting part was the performance itself. It wasn't a lecture. Kaufman periodically performed songs not only by Guthrie but by some of his contemporaries and other politically active singers who had influenced him.

Even when he wasn't singing, Kaufman was not reduced to dry, factual speech. There was a theatrical element, as he spoke with a twang and recited quotes of Guthrie and his son Arlo, or adapted an authoritative voice to convey Franklin Roosevelt, and so on.

It was a very lively and interesting performance, enhanced by the strong academic approach to the subject of Woody Guthrie. There was something very strange and almost ironic to listen to Woody Guthrie classics and hear about events in American history while surrounded by the historic Dutch artifacts in the Burgerzaal...

Monday, October 20, 2008

It ain't over til it's over, but it's over

Well, that's it then.

No more setting two different alarms for 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning to make sure I don't miss anything.

No more plodding into the dark common room for toast or cereal or to bake apples.

No more baseball-induced naps mid-class.

Now I can focus on my IRP and my creative writing, and work on getting my grades up, or at least keeping them from falling any lower.

Now I can finally get around to blogging about some of those topics I've had bouncing around in my head for weeks, if not months.

Now I can finally focus on finishing Atonement. Catching up my journal. Watching some of those movies I've been wanting to see.

I might even find the time to get my hair cut before my trip to Scotland next week.

But I don't want any of that. All I want, is to see the Red Sox in the World Series.

They may have changed their name, but they'll always be the Devil Rays to me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Fall break is just coming to an end, and the weather has turned appropriately autumnal since we last had classes.

I am much more in awe of the colors and light than I remember ever being in the past. Maybe it is the bus rides I periodically take across the Zeeuwse countryside on my way to and from work. Maybe it is the incredible weather we're having, with the sun shining every day and highlighting the oranges and reds. It's the perfect light, still warding off winter grays, and it contrasts strangely with the new chills in the air.

The winter coat has made its first (and second, and third) appearance, my friends and I have made use of three-euro scarf sales on the market square, and I've begun knitting a sweater for myself.

But I'm still curious as to why I'm taking such notice of it this year - it can't simply be the sun. Perhaps it is because of the bus rides. Maybe it is because I am relatively certain that this is the last fall I will ever spend in Zeeland.

Maybe it's because of the Red Sox and the playoffs, taking me back to fall of 1999 in Massachusetts, when all of our friends and family wanted to visit to see the colors. In Portland, you don't have the reds and yellows and oranges in the same intensity - it is the land of the evergreen.

Here, though, the colors are reminiscent of those in New England. There are more than brightening memories as a result of the trees, as I am increasingly curious to know where I will be the next time fall rolls around. Though no way near as vibrant as the Massachusetts trees, these ones certainly send me back - as well as forward.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Baseball Prejudice

Tuesdays are creative writing days - the class, I mean; I'm not disciplined enough to do it mid-week on my own unless I'm on vacation.

After trading computers and doing some peer editing for each other, we told the class what the author had done to depict character. The girl who read mine began, "Well, it's about an exchange student... I think?" She looked at me for confirmation.

Instructor took this chance to tease, "He's not a baseball fan, is he?!"

Of course I knew he was only joking. But really! I mentioned Willie Mays in one assignment and used the memory of my brother and I playing catch to describe my street for the "Setting" assignment. That's all.

Try telling a diehard baseball fan not to write about baseball in October. That's like asking her not to think about baseball in October. Now, say it to a sleep-deprived diehard Oregonian Red Sox fan less than 12 hours after she's watched fellow Oregonian Jed Lowrie drive in the game-winning, walk-off, series-clinching run in Game 4 of the ALDS.

But I just blushed the color of the letters on my "El Guapo" T-shirt, semi-laughed, and told Instructor not to worry, I've been trying really hard to stay away from such an USA-centric topic.

Now I'm thinking about how Instructor assures us that we can write science fiction or fantasy if we want and encourages us not to be afraid to swear or write about sex. Apparently, baseball is the only taboo subject here.

Yet, aside from that, I love both the course and the teacher. The assignments are all great because they really force you to think about how you can most use language to your advantage. We read two short stories per week and spend time writing and editing and revising and discussing. I know I am going to gain so much from it.

I just wish it was offered in the spring semester.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Baseball Playoffs, Amsterdam Time

Photo by my father

Every so often, my perfect baseball planning backfires on me horrendously.

Sort of like it did last night.

I went to bed at 9, so I could get up at 1.30, watch the game, and go back to bed around 5 for another 2-3 hours of sleep before school and work. I wasn't going to miss Game 3, and the Red Sox advancing, and all of that good stuff.

So I did just that.

Silly Gracie. She knows better, really she does. She knows that Red Sox playoff games so rarely last the traditional 3 hours of regular season games.

The game finished at about 7 a.m. my time, so I showered, got my stuff together, and at 8 headed out for a cup of coffee before class.

At 8.40, some acquaintances came in, and we shared our stories about mid-term week. Marty, a Canadian, did not seem as surprised as his two German friends when I said I had been up since 1.30. "I know, I do that sometimes for hockey, when you gotta get up at 2 or 3 for a game... it's tough."

I have found a like soul.

But then I remembered, hockey. What's the time limit for that?

I couldn't resist pointing out how rarely a hockey game ends up lasting more than five hours.

Not that I would change what I did. I mean, it would have been better if the Sox had won and I wouldn't have to figure out how to do the same thing tomorrow, with a midterm thrown into the mix. But it was a great game. Sox got robbed in some places, blew it in others, and Josh Beckett wasn't at the top of his game. But he wasn't at his worst either, Jacoby made more playoff history, and we weren't as defeatist as we could have been.

Here's hoping tomorrow goes better - for both me, and the Red Sox.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I always say April and October are my favorite months, and there's a few simple reasons for that. For one, my birthday is in April. It's springtime, usually just beginning to get warm. There are flowers, things are pretty. And baseball season begins.

And October I love because it's the beginning of winter - when you still like the sound of winter, when you can begin to wear layers and warm socks and corduroy pants again. The trees turn pretty colors. And then there's the baseball playoffs.

This year is a little uncomfortable, though, as the Red Sox are officially one of baseball's most hated teams. It's been growing for a while now, but now that the Yankees haven't made the postseason, the Red Sox seem to have taken their place as Team Undesirable.

I don't really like being hated. And I disagree with what some people say about the Sox having some of the most obnoxious fans in baseball, though I suppose I wouldn't know since I didn't see any Sox games since they won their 2nd championship - but I've always thought Mariner's fans more obnoxious than those of Boston: at least we aren't of the fair-weather variety.

Well, obnoxious or no, we're in, and I'm up at 4 a.m. to follow Game 1 of the Boston - Los Angeles ALDS. A plus of the playoffs is that I become so much more organized with my studies when I know I have 3-4 hours to devote to baseball every day or two, often at inconvenient times. Last night, I did some homework, then went to bed at 9. When the game ends around 7.30, I'll shower, then study until it's time for class.

For Game 2, which is on Friday in the US, but Saturday morning here, I'll probably get up at 3.30, then go back to sleep after the game for a couple of hours before heading to work.

I'm just hoping the Sox go all the way - not only for the obvious reasons, but because my grades just might improve as a result. And I'll get a lot of knitting done in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


A picturesque view of a Leiden canal

I can't believe it, but this is my third and final year at RA. I'll be graduating this coming June.

It really doesn't seem like it's been that long since I finished high school, so it's kind of annoying to realize that I need to start thinking and planning for next year. Didn't I just finish applying for colleges and exchange programs and the like?

Until recently, I wasn't even considering doing a masters, at least not immediately after finishing my bachelors degree. I like taking breaks in between school (middle school, my gap year, etc.)

Less than a year ago, though, I did some internet surfing and came across the Book and Digital Media Studies masters program at Leiden University, and suddenly began considering further education as an option. Here was a program perfect for my situation: one year, so not a big commitment; still in the Netherlands, so I would have a little more time to explore and learn the language (I couldn't stand to leave, having lived here for three years, without being at least fairly proficient in Dutch); and not too focused for my diversified interests, but really suited to several of them. The program leads to careers in library science, publishing, or positions as antiquarians or curators in special collections.

That got me thinking. Whereas previously I had only dimly considered applying for an internship with the Portland Beavers or teaching English as a foreign language in the Czech Republic, I suddenly find myself spending free time - or procrastination time - searching high and low for similarly appealing programs.

So far, no luck. I tend to choose schools largely by location, and after looking thoroughly in Portland, the Czech Republic, and the Boston area, as well as minimally in Italy and Central America, I have found nothing as appealing as the Leiden program. Emerson College has an interesting combination masters in children's literature and writing, but it is two years, long, and not any where near as handy and broad as the Leiden program.

Besides, I already love Leiden. I am also a fan of Haarlem, which is only twenty minutes from Leiden by train, and I am not at all displeased at the idea of living in either of these cities for a year. "Excited" and "thrilled" might be better ways to describe my feelings on the possibility.

Picture: a cute - and fragrant - house in Leiden

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tilburg Tour of Portland

Over a week ago, I went to Tilburg for a day to go on the Tilburg Tour of Portland, a tour of Portland that actually takes place in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

I thought the best way to show you all the experience would be by posting several pictures with captions, but I'll leave a few comments at the bottom as well.

On the banks of the Willamette River, you can see the Burnside Bridge down thataways.

Saturday Market

Food Cart Row

The Big Pink of Tilburg, and Broadway... rather different than the Portland versions!

The Benson fountains, Tilburg-style

Here are all the strip clubs! That's Mary's on the right!


Probably my favorite Portland place: Powell's City of Books!

This is the Virginia Cafe, in its new location

The Fox building, which definitely has some similar qualities

If I told you this was really Pioneer Place, you might believe me. But it isn't, not really!

Our guide shows off the watermark from Portland floods

A few remarks:
It was definitely a fun tour. I was the only American on the trip, and the only person who had ever been to Portland, besides the guide. It was a lot of fun, though. HE thought he even remembered seeing my parents/grandparents on the Portland Tour of Tilburg. "I remember some people saying, 'oh, yeah, we should tell her to go...' but I assumed that wouldn't happen," he said.

I was pretty surprised to see how similar the two cities were. Even though there were some drastic differences, it was interesting to see how you could pick out the similarities. Once or twice, I didn't know what building he was talking about, but it definitely looked like a building you might see in Portland. And I loved the trash can as a water fountain and all of the bikes parked at the central station as the zoobomb bike pile by Powell's.

After the tour, which I can really only say was fun and interesting and a little bit surreal, I was interviewed by a couple of people who were excited to find out that I was a real true Portlander. This is one of the articles - in Dutch, though, sorry!

When the group broke up, I stopped for coffee at a place thrillingly similar to a Portland cafe. Order at the counter, have a chocolate muffin, spread out at a table, read and write a bit... they even had a couch. I think that is the first time I have seen a couch in a cafe in the Netherlands.

I went back to Middelburg just a little sad to go back to reality - wishing we had a cafe like that one where I could study, missing some parts of Portland, and thinking about a good wander through Powell's. But also, the tour made me pretty happy to be here in the Netherlands right now. I was even nicely resigned to traveling alone - because the truth is, no matter how much complain, I am a bit selfish and it's always nice to be able to do exactly what I want, no compromises.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

BoSox Birthday

Last night I set my alarm for 5, planning to get up and watch most of the Sox game on the archive option. Yeah, well, try getting a 21-year old university student out of bed at 5. I slept until 7, rudely awakened by the snooze every so often. I got up with enough time to spare to "skim" yesterday's games (which had ended only a few hours before).

A heartbreaking loss, let me say. Still no berth! It's getting a little worrisome. Nevertheless, I was into it enough that I could not consider wearing anything that did not have some BoSox representation (I went with the shirt I'm wearing enthusiastically in the photo above). With my Boston shirt AND commuter mug (Thanks Mom!) it wasn't too hard to accept the loss and go to Dutch class.

Sitting at the table, I got out a pen and paper. "Dutch, Week 5(a)," I wrote. Let's see... yesterday was... the 22nd? So: "Tuesday 23 September 2008".

An uncontrollable grin spread across my face. It figures that today began so baseball-y. It's been 9 years since I first went to Fenway Park and fell in love with the Boston Red Sox.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Walk

Just a note to let you all know that the Tilburg Tour of Portland post is coming!

The main reason it is not already up on the screen for you to read is because on my way home from the train station, I was intercepted by some friends on their way to Vlissingen to see the film War Child. One of my best friends was the organizer of the event and was holding a discussion with the director and a representative of War Child Netherlands after the film. Anyway, it wasn't that hard for me to convince me.

The film is very good and I think worth seeing, if you are interested.

The Tilburg Tour of Portland was also very interesting and worth doing. But more on that later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Tomorrow I'll be going to Tilburg to take the Tilburg Tour of Portland, alone.


All of my attempts at friend (and even very slight acquaintances) convincing failed miserably. The two people who seemed like they might actually be interested had class and other school-related things, so I'm on my own. Again.

I'm getting sick of it, to be honest.

I'm just hoping this is no Harlemse Honkbalweek Repeat. I don't think it will be though; the tour itself will probably be a pretty small intimate affair and I'm sure I will talk to some of my fellow guidees. I hope.

Then I can report back to you guys - where have you gone? At least my family used to read this blog, but now I'm wondering who does...

The Sox beat the Rays and are finally back in the lead in the AL East - although the Rays are also in that spot. I guess we can share for 24 hours or so, but we'll want it to ourselves soon.

That's a happy thought for while I'm wandering around Tilburg ALONE post-tour.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


I'm not much of a dreamer.

Well, I am a dreamer, but of the day variety more than the nighttime kind.

I very rarely have dreams that I remember the next day. Not when I was homeschooled, not during my gap year, not when I was exchange in France, and not here, in the Netherlands. I don't know that I have ever actually dreamed in a foreign language, at least not until well after I spoke it. And everyone says that that is when you realize you speak the language.

So when my creative writing instructor told us that we would have to buy three different notebooks - the aforementioned jotter, and a field journal to take out and make observations - I was a little worried about the dream journal we were supposed to keep.

He assured us that he would not read our dreams. I almost wish he would, because I won't have many and I know that when he flips through the journal to see that there is some content, he will find that there is very little.

But the first few mornings after that class, I woke up every morning having had dreams.

Mostly about cookies.

Also, very vague, and the descriptions very short and boring. "People came to work and discussed how the cookies at the ijsvogel are so much better than the individual packaged cookies you get other places". Who cares? Not much of a story embedded there, if you ask me.

But since that first week, the dreams have died. I can't remember them. I try to give myself time in the morning - hit snooze, and let the dream come back to you... wake up by writing about your dream... what's the first thing that pops into your mind...

And I have nothing.

I fear my instructor will skim through my dream journal at the midterm checkup and see only two pages and maybe glimpses of words like "Christmas", "licorice", and "fleece and fleece zippers workshop". (The latter would work into a story quite well, but I've reserved it for my novel.) My participation grade might be quite low on this count.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Making Marks

Today in Creative Writing, we got off-topic. Let's just say my instructor can get caught up in a discussion/argument as easily as any of us, and thought it important to try to convince us to write in our books.

Most of us were shocked; I was unsure. Some books I do mark in, without feeling. I avoid highlighting textbooks, do so when it is just too hard to follow without highlighting, which makes me pay more attention, or when it is too interesting to read without getting distracted, in which case I highlight so that I will come back and find it again later.

I suppose the latter is why my instructor wants us to do the same. "You will never be great writers if you don't mark up your books!" he says, enthusiastically, while my neighbors shudder with horror. "I know why you don't want to mark them, it's because you want to SELL it later on!" he barks, but good-humoredly.

"No! It's the principle of the thing," says one. "It's sacrilege!" says another. "I might as well burn my books!" "Don't you think it's distracting when you want to re-read it?!"

"NO! No, no, no, no, no, no no no no no no no no NO!" he says.

I'm not sure why I feel so uncomfortable. I am, after all, the one who wrote in the school paper: "My sister and I shared a copy of Harry Potter 7 this summer, and instead of calmly taking turns, my sister ripped each chapter from the book as she finished it and passed it directly to me, so that I was only one chapter behind."

But Dad always said, never leave a book on the ground! Take care of your books! Treat them with respect! Books are important! Never harm a book!

I'm not sure, but I think "Don't write/draw in your books" was included with those as well.

I don't really see the connection between great writers and making marks in books, I must confess. Usually, when a sentence or phrase or passage is especially interesting or moving or affects me in some way, I set down the book for a moment, and think. Sometimes all I think is "wow", over and over in my head. Other times I actually say the "wow" out loud. And other times I reflect on the words, or the metaphor or the personification or the unusual use of anaphora.

If I'm really touched, I jot it down in the little notebook I carry with me at all times - or the 'jotter', as my instructor calls it. (We are all required to have one and I was thrilled when he announced this, because I have carried a 'jotter' around with me for pretty much ever.)

Surely that is nearly as effective as marking? It won't be there when I reread the book, years later, but I don't think that's the part that he thinks is valuable to a budding writer - rather, the part where you stop and think and reflect.

So I am still undecided on the marking bit. (Oof, all of this British I'm reading is getting to my English. I write like an Englishman and speak like a Canadian. What is happening to me?) Part of me thinks my European classmates just take greater care with their books because they are so expensive here; another part thinks, for some reason, that I should not write in the margins of great published works. It's very tricky.

Kind of like writing three startling opening sentences. When I try for startling, I end up with strange. Like, "The night that Elizabeth Arrow saw a ghost was the night that she quit eating ice cream after dinner."

Is it strange? Yes. Does it draw the reader in? Perhaps. But is it startling? Meh... Not really.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rained in

It is raining. Outside, the sky is drippy and gray and the cobblestones are glistening and the cars are beady. The light is kind of pretty, on the other hand... but I still don't want to leave my room.

Nice contrast to the picture above, right?

Often, when it rains, I think of other places I've lived. I think about Portland, and I think about the Dominican Republic, and I think about what the weather is like in those places. Then my thoughts stretch and I remember other things from these homes.

Today, I'm thinking about Portland and how incredible it is, the same way I have been thinking about Portland over the past few weeks. I've come across a few quotes that especially bring this home. For example, Anthony Bourdain, who says in the introduction of the Pacific Northwest episode of his show, "No Reservations": "I know what the Pacific Northwest is about. It’s about… OBSESSION."

When I heard that, I thought... Ah. Yes. I then told my friend Joy, who looked at me and ticked off her fingers as she listed, "food, coffee, baseball, books, languages... yes."

Which links in nicely with what my friend Anand said about some Portlanders he has met at his new school, Full Sail, in Florida. According to him, we Portlanders are all the same, and all we think/talk about is "Coffee... food... coffee... tea.... food... Bob Schneider... food..."

Rain is, of course, a well-known Portland characteristic. I should be more used to it. I am more used to it, I think then some of the other people I know here... like the ones from Florida and Kenya and such. But I deal with it.

Although lately, it reminds me of Haarlemse Honkbalweek, and a thought I had during one of the numerous rainouts.

I was watching the pathetically small grounds crew attempting to prepare the field after a 5 minute shower led to a 40-minute postponement because the field was so thoroughly soaked, and remembering the way I had once become quiet interested in the job baseball groundskeepers do. I think it started in Seattle, where the grounds crew dropped their rakes and hoses halfway through tidying up the field in-between innings and performed an entire, elaborate dance routine for the entertainment of the crowd.

That's when I realized that actually, a career in baseball groundskeeping might not be such a bad way to go. I could work at Fenway Park, and see every home game for free. I could probably even get to know a lot of the players. I was looking for a career option that could in some way include baseball.

And so, when it came time to begin looking at colleges, I adapted a baseball strategy. I began by looking through a college book at every college in the state of Massachusetts. I highlighted the schools that had a wide range of majors including cultural studies, particularly of the Latin American or Slavic varieties, literature and comparative literature, linguistics, French, Spanish, Czech, or Creative Writing and English.

I went a step further and also earmarked the schools that offered programs in soil technology and agriculture.

Unsurprisingly, few schools actually had some combination of the Humanities courses I listed first and the science courses I mentioned second. So I shed the grounds keeping dream (which wasn't too hard to part with) and ended up studying literature and linguistics at the Roosevelt Academy in the Netherlands (with a detour through the Dominican Republic).

Surprisingly, this has only furthered my baseball education. I've seen baseball all over the world: in the U.S., I've seen everything from A-ball to the big leagues in California, the Midwest, Boston, and the Pacific Northwest (I've seen the only major and most minor league teams from my home region). In the Dominican Republic, I saw pick-up games, warm-ups at the Chicago White Sox Dominican facility (pictured), and watched the Dominican team from the Dominican Republic in the inaugural baseball classic. I saw Las Grandes Ligas from an entirely different perspective - teams favored due to the number of Dominicans on the roster rather than any geographical affiliation. And now, in Nederland, I've seen a bit of honkbal.

Which brings me back to Honkbalweek.

To be a groundskeeper in the Netherlands! The awful weather of Honkbalweek 2008 brought back those groundskeeping aspirations. What a challenge to "keep ground" here! Imagine attempting to shorten rain postponements in a country as wet as this one. Here, where baseball is so obscure compared to other major sports, where fields don't have tarps that cover the entire infield, but only the basepaths... what room for improvement!

I am definitely re-adding "groundskeeper" to an ongoing list I have, entitled "Jobs & Activities & Callings that I Am Interested In."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tea Time

School has started, and I have many more important things to do than write a blog entry.

But with school comes procrastination, and blogs are the perfect tool for that.

I am sitting here with a pot of lapsang tea to help me through this possibly late night. I love tea. My parents, especially my father, practically force fed it to me once I was in high school. When I was up late doing homework (whether it was a history essay I had waited until the last minute to start or the regular, unmerited punishment that was daily chemistry homework), Dad brought me a cup of tea. When I got up in the morning, Dad set a cup of tea at my place at the breakfast table. When the family watched a movie on a weekend, Dad brought out the teapot and cups for everyone.

Often, he would ask, "Grace, do you want a cup of tea?" I would usually say no, because I didn't like to drink a lot of liquid before the 45-minute bus ride to school. But, 5 minutes later, a cup of tea inevitably appeared in front of my place at the table.

In the morning, Dad put the tea on to boil first thing when he got up. He puttered around a bit, before the water came to a boil, then poured it into the teapot to steep. He usually set the timer, but not always, before he got in the shower.

Which usually meant I had to come running downstairs or Mom had to jump up and get to the teapot, unless we wanted overbrewed tea that morning.

Another funny tea habit of my fathers: boiling water appears to be his comfort habit. As soon as one pot's boiled and poured into the pot, he refills the kettle and starts another pot boiling.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Coffee Culture Comparison

Working in a cafe in the Netherlands has led me to several observations about the differences between cafes and coffee culture in Europe and the U.S. - specifically differences between the Pacific Northwest's dedicated coffee diehards and the Netherlands more simple (it seems) maintenance of tradition.

One of the most notable differences between coffee consumption in the Netherlands and Stumptown is the way it's taken.

In Portland, there are few codes of conduct. People drink coffee in groups, alone, with friends, with children, with whoever. They drink at counters or at tables, on couches or on the go. Each cafe or coffeehouse has a different approach to coffee drinking.

These different approaches can be annoying, for example when you don't know if you should claim a seat first and THEN order your drink, or if you should wait to sit until you have ordered - is one polite and the other pushy? Are you waited on or do you order at the bar? (Usually it is the latter, but not always.)

In the Netherlands - or at least in Middelburg - coffee is traditionally a social activity. You don't see many people sitting by themselves. The exception to this is old men and women taking their morning coffee and reading the paper, but even this usually turns into a social event when they see friends and talk with the waiters, other customers, etc. Also, they only drink alone in the morning - you never see them in the afternoon.

I have never seen a couch in a cafe in the Netherlands, and very few people get coffee to go. This would defeat the social aspect of a cup of coffee!

Luckily, I have been able to find a few cafes where I do not feel impolite or asocial when I sit alone with my journal or a book for an hour or so. Globalization at work, I guess. It's another one of those tricky things, where you like things the way you like them... but should you continue to like them that way at the expense of other cultures?

One Dutch coffee tradition that I am very happy to adopt: the cookie. Every time you order a cup of coffee - a gewoon koffie (also known as a lungo), a koffie verkeerd (a "wrong coffee", similar to our caffe latte), a cappucino, or some froofy drink with whipped cream, flavored syrup and decorative sprinkles - it comes with a little tea cookie on the saucer, at no extra cost. As my mother says, how civilized!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Dairy Diet

Working at an ice cream salon or gelateria usually results in a strange and somewhat unhealthy - though delicious - diet: one based largely on dairy products.

Two and a half years ago, I was employed at a gelateria where the owner actively encouraged all of us barista/scoopers to constantly taste the ice cream. He wanted to be sure we could advise customers on every aspect of his main product. Even my mom got in on the deal, happy to have a chance at one of her great job ideas: flavor consultant.

I don't remember which flavors she most liked (Mom? comment here!), but some of my favorites were cassis sorbetto with fior di latte gelato, lampone (raspberry) sorbetto with pistacchio gelato, and zabaglione gelato with just about any stone fruit sorbetto - peach, apricot, plum.

Of course, I only discovered these combinations by constantly eating the gelato.

In addition to the ice cream products, we were a cafe and sold a lot of coffee. We also drank a lot of coffee. In the 5 or so months that I worked there, I averaged 3-4 small lattes each day. That's 4 shots of espresso and 32-40 ounces of milk.

However, I actually lost weight at this job: I often had coffee and ice cream for lunch or dinner, and gelato, made from milk (as opposed to cream) is much less fatty than ice cream.

However, my current employer sells honest-to-goodness ice cream, made in Belgium, and in a huge array of tantalizingly tempting flavors such as French coffee (with coffee grounds and grand marnier), dark chocolate, caramel pecan, luikse siroop, peperkoek, and cinnamon. It is hard to remember that it is much, much more fattening than gelato, and as such... I am not losing so much weight at this job!

Living on the dairy diet is an extremely enjoyable - if slightly unhealthy - lifestyle. However, as long as you have some dairy-free sorbetto to get some fruit, and maybe eat a few vegetables when you aren't working, I have a hard time believing that it can really be all THAT bad.

I'm no expert, though, so don't trust me on that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Expat Patriotism

This morning I went out for coffee with a friend of mine, who graduated in June and is periodically back in Middelburg for a day or two while moving her things between her mother's home, her boyfriend's place, and her new place in Utrecht. After coffee, we did some wandering and shopping, as is usually the case with our meetings.

Van Leeuw, the multimedia store, was having a 3-for-15 sale of CDs, and miraculously, there were a lot of good choices - which is so rarely the case with such things. I had a hard time choosing from Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Woody Guthrie, Chris Isaak, and the Counting Crows, but in the end I settled on Wilson Pickett and Woody Guthrie, since they were both two-disc albums, and Chris Isaak, because I simply love him.

During our other wanderings, such as into the HEMA and the H&M to look at fun things like swimsuits (despite the overcast weather on a day I had been planning to go to the beach), we somehow got to talking about the 4th of July. She asked how I had celebrated.

Celebrate the 4th of July? Now that's something I would never have thought to do. I have had a little Thanksgiving celebration the last two years, but the 4th of July?

I shook my head. The 4th of July isn't very much fun now, I said. Especially since September 11th... to me, it's associated with the brand of Patriotism that supports President Bush and the war and the Patriot Act and those types of things. Basically, all it is, is fireworks and a barbecue - that is, if it isn't raining.

I just got home and put on my new Woody Guthrie CD. A few minutes later, I heard the familiar lyrics of "This Land is Your Land," and sang along. Now this is my kind of patriotism.

In very different news: The Gemeente Middelburg as chosen today to re-lay the cobblestones on my tree-lined street. There are jackhammers buzzing and bulldozers bulling (because I guess they aren't dozing) and men in bright orange vests walking back and forth in front of my window. Of all of the weekdays they could have chosen to do this, why did it have to be the weekday I didn't have to work?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Going Dutch

Now, how's that for an original title?

But it's the truth: Since Thursday, I have more or less gone Dutch. At least as far as language goes.

Since realizing on Wednesday just how much Dutch I can speak, I have been using it increasingly at work. Every day I learn two or three words to add to the vocabulary. I am also amazed at my grammar, which seems to be much better than I expected. The confusing word order of the Dutch language flows pretty easily for me now.

I talk to friends and bartenders at the club in Dutch (even with all of that loud music in the background). I regularly translate for friends. Serving ice cream to Dutch customers is an absolute cinch. Don't ask about the German ones, though, I can't even count past 5.

The beach behind my current place of employment

Out with the old, in with the new?

Not being able to count past 5 in German is not a big deal. This morning, however, I came the realization that I can't count to eleven in Spanish. I get to ten, and... blank.

In fact, most of my Spanish is slipping away. My brother, newly returned from Ecuador, tries to talk to me on the phone in Spanish and I have trouble understanding. My cousin messages me in Spanish and I reply in English. When I try to talk, or even write, in Spanish, almost every other word comes out in Dutch.

And yet, my French is not failing me the way that my Spanish is. Why is that?

I can think of two reasons for this.

The first is that I still use French a fair amount in the Netherlands. Instruction booklets often come in Dutch and French, not English. The international train to Belgium makes announcements first in Dutch, then in French (followed by German, then English). Less than a year ago, I was studying second-year French. I made a trip to Liege about 6 months ago and spoke French for 24 hours. I was temporarily promoted to waiter one day at work because we had French-speaking customers.

Could it just be all of the little refreshers and small opportunities I have to use French?

Or could it be the second reason, which I think is more interesting, if less likely: I began learning French long before I was 11, or whenever the threshold age for learning a second language is. I learned to count to ten in Spanish before then, too. I spent a little time in France and had been significantly exposed to the language by the time I started formal lessons in high school. Maybe it is just easier for me to differentiate French from other languages because I started learning it earlier.

After all, I spent all of last summer speaking fluent, rapid Spanish daily with my coworkers at the bakery where I worked, as well as with a visiting Mexican friend who lived across the street the whole summer.

Onze? Once? Any of you readers who currently has a lower language retrieval threshold for Spanish than I do, please tell me how to say 11...

Friday, July 11, 2008

HHW Videos

Be sure to check out my video clips form Haarlemse Honkbalweek. Most of them are available in the "My videos" section at the bottom of the column at right.

But just in case, here are the links so you can click straight through to youtube:

The Stadium Scene, pre-rainout
Between-inning Entertainment at Pim Mulierstadion
Ryoji Nakata, Fan Favorite

Pictures are available on my facebook. Maybe one day I will get around to posting them here...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Haarlemse Honkbalweek (Haarlem Baseball Week)

The Glass is Half Empty

Haarlemse Honkbalweek began with a tenth-inning loss to the Yankees at 5 a.m. my time. But I was going to Haarlem to see some real baseball, live. Including the national teams from both Cuba and Japan.

Things kept going wrong, though. I bought a ticket to Leiden instead of Haarlem. No biggie, but I missed my connection, and was late to meet my couchsurfing host. I asked a train employee where the bathroom was and she couldn’t tell that I was a girl.

I arrived at Pim Mulier Stadium, excited. A family was speaking Spanish; a Caribbean variety, I thought, but heard no Dominicanisms. Cuban? I wanted to ask where they were from but Dutch got in the way.

Gray clouds crowded overhead as the usher scanned me in. What was up with all of the Yankee merchandise? I only saw 2 Red Sox logos.

I watched as Japan and the Dutch Caribbean Team warmed up. The DCT apparently spoke some form of Dutch, but shouted “Arriba! Arriba!” for popups. The Japanese players surprised me with their small size. They crouched and squatted like Ichiro always does in right field at Safeco.

It started sprinkling. I thought how it would have been better if it had rained when I was in Dublin, or in Amsterdam, or on vacation in Italy with Dad, instead of during baseball week.

Wait a minute… I realized. It did rain on those trips: frequent showers countered the sunbreaks in Dublin, it drizzled constantly in Amsterdam, and in Italy, Dad and I were frequently caught in downpours. That’s not fair.

I pulled out a scorecard and tried to keep dry. I was wet, miserable, lonely. A rain delay lasted 20 minutes. I envied the Dutch and their ponchos, as well as their companions. I don’t mind being alone, but sometimes it seems so unfair that I have to do it so often, and have had to for so long.

Japan led 12-0, then 12-5, and then the rains came, driving the viewers below the scaffolding that supported the stands. While the others countered the storm with jokes, friends and conversation, I huddled up with Petite Anglaise. Little comfort compared to the warmth of company.

They called the game. Some fries provided temporary comfort. I waited, cold, wet, and alone, hoping it would clear before the Cuba-Chinese Taipei. but at 8 it was still raining. People were leaving, including the Spanish-speaking family; the game was canceled. I left.

The Glass is Half Full

On the other hand, I got to go to a home, have a cup of tea, and talk to someone. Couch surfing has more to offer than free accomodation.

I felt better after sleeping. I got up the next day determined to make it a good one.

I found a Vlaamsch Broodhuys, which cheered me up. I ate breakfast there, speaking only Dutch. It was raining, but who cared? Let it get it out of its system.

I cleverly bought a poncho and a small towel at HEMA. I went to the Grote Kerk. Big, white walls, and simple windows made me feel happy, peaceful, and relaxed.

At the stadium, I grabbed seats on the third base side, near home plate. Seeing the U.S. team warm up warmed me – nothing like good baseball to make me happy.

During the national anthems we felt raindrops. Then it poured. Only for three or four minutes, but it took the grounds crew half an hour to get the infield ready for play again.

Finally, “PLAY BALL!”

The USA beat the DCT 11-0 in 7 innings (because of a mercy rule). The game ended at 6, delaying the start of the Netherlands-Japan game to 7.30. It was sunny until game time, but suddenly I didn’t mind the weather.

Because the crowd was really into it. Fans were leading cheers on the dugout. Dutch music played between innings. It rained briefly, but not enough to stop the game. The sun came out again.

They announced that the Cuba-Chinese Taipei game would be replayed the next morning at 9.30. I could see it before going home!

The girl next to me asked where I was from, and we talked a little throughout the game. She asked why they had intentionally walked a player, making me thrilled to have someone to talk baseball with. I asked her if she rooted for a Dutch team, but she shook her head and said, “Only for Honkbalweek.”

The game was incredible. Percy Isenia, 1st baseman (or Eerste Honkman), scored in the second after hitting a double – the first extra-base hit I had seen, excepting a home run on Monday. The game was fast, not drawn-out like a T-ball game. The fastest pitch I noticed clocked in at 93 mph (thrown by Japan’s Hisashi Takeushi).

The Dutch scored on a solo home run by Roel Koolen in the 5th. In the 7th, they even turned a double play. In the 8th inning, I looked down to mark a hit by Takahirio Iwamoto and was shocked to see it was Japan’s first hit of the game. I had seen 7 innings of no-hit baseball! David Bergman had given up a walk, hit two, and committed an error, but no hits.

Iwamoto scored on another single, a sacrifice bunt, and a groundout. Talk about small ball.

The Dutch led 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Number 8, the first baseman Ryoji Nakata, led off to thunderous applause. For some reason, Nakata was a huge favorite with the Dutch crowd. I found their cheers annoying; it seemed they were poking fun of his size. Nakata is short and round and makes Mo Vaughn and David Ortiz look slim in comparison.

You won’t like him so much when he hits a home run to tie the game I barely had time to finish the thought, however, before Nakata drilled the ball down the right field line. It was only fair by three or four feet, but it was a home run by much, much more.

And then I saw that I was wrong: They still liked him! They were all standing and cheering and clapping for him!

That’s classy.

Either that, or they don’t care who wins.

Japan scored another run in the bottom of the ninth to win. I felt bad for the Dutch team but was happy. What a great game! And the next day I would come back to see Cuba! Gosh that would be awesome!

There’s No Half About It: The Glass is Completely Empty

On the way out, the players were milling around, some signing autographs. I wanted one! Then I remembered that I hadn’t brought my baseball. Maybe tomorrow…? But there would be no Dutch team then.

At the information booth, I asked if I could use my Monday ticket to go to the Cuba-Chinese Taipei makeup game. The lady shook her head. Okay, I said, and thought, no big deal. I’ll buy another ticket.

Then I thought to ask, “Are there still tickets available?” and for some cruel reason, the lady actually laughed as she shook her head no.

“I paid 13.50 for 6 innings of rained out baseball?” I stammered, panic clutching at me. She nodded, looking genuinely amused. “Even though I bought a ticket for Monday, I can’t go to the rainout…?”

“No,” she said, as if it was obvious, “You have to buy a ticket for Wednesday.”

“Yeah but… usually you get a coupon or something… you get to come to the make-up game…” She shook her head. “There’s nothing I can do?” I asked desperately. “No jobs… no work… I can’t volunteer, or anything…” I gasped, flailing about for any possible means of entry to the ballpark. The lady shook her head, again.

“Dank je wel,” I said, not meaning it. I went back outside and what little happiness remained within me dissolved into the crowd. No Cuba! They were the team I had most wanted to see!

Maybe I could come early tomorrow and ask the Cuban players to let me carry their bags or something… No way would Cubans let some girl be their porter. I would just be wasting money on train tickets. But… CUBA!!! When would I get the chance to see Cuba play again?

I called my host to find she was still not back from her concert. The blue skies had become black; lightning flashed. I tripped into the city center and found a restaurant/bar. I told the bartender, in Dutch, that I just wanted a drink, a cup of tea or such. He repeated my question back to me, correcting my improper pronunciation of “drink”. Another waiter said, in dismissive English , “A cup of tea? You can sit at the bar.” The bartender was nicer. I felt sort of comforted in his presence.

Still miserable, though.

They kicked me out at midnight. I wandered until a phone call informed me I could go to the house and get some sleep.

Wednesday morning was tauntingly, teasingly, cruelly clear and blue. It wasn’t fair! Why hadn’t I planned to come on Wednesday in the first place? Why did it have to rain on Monday? Why? Why? WHY?

The Glass is Refilled (with rain?)

I went back to the Vlaamsch Broodhuys and took some comfort in the friendly woman working there. She was amused at my indecision. “It’s harder to choose when you’re really hungry, isn’t it?” she said. I agreed, though hunger wasn’t the only problem, it was the tantalizing choices. I haven’t seen bread that good in ages.

The English-speaker who was working the morning before came in and I took some comfort in his accent. I thought he was American but couldn’t be sure. He spoke on and off in Dutch, pretty good Dutch. An Anglophone who tries. I like that.

I walked slowly up the shopping streets, no longer hungry, lugging two kilos of bread in a bag (half sliced, so I could freeze it, the other half unsliced to be eaten over the next few days/weeks). I saw cute shoes that I wanted and thought to save up for and buy in Middelburg (only 30 euros). I found a store with Tintin memorabilia in the window and thought to step in and look for a birthday present for my brother.

The clerk asked if I was looking for anything in particular, and led me to the Simpsons products. I explained that since The Simpsons, my brother, and myself all came from Portland… it wasn’t very original.

In the end, I bought a “I Y Captain Haddock” mug and a cute Thompson & Thomson bowl, mariner-themed with a thin blue line circling below the rim. The clerk informed me that those old styles were being discontinued, replaced with the cheaper (and less original, less cute, etc.) “I Y ___” products. Now I couldn’t feel guilty about buying an 11 euro bowl. I told her how we had these bowls when I was little, and it was sad they weren’t making them anymore.

Later I realized that neither would be very good presents for Simon. Oh well, I’ll take good care of them so I can have them when I finally move out of Bagijnhof.

Only after I left did I really recognize the fact that I had done every last bit of that conversation in Dutch.

Also the conversation in the bakery.

Oh my God.

I can speak Dutch.


I caught the train back to Middelburg, thinking if I couldn’t see some baseball I might as well get home and write, read, and maybe listen to the game in Dutch on internet radio.

Middelburg was wet and rainy. If the Netherlands wants to keep playing baseball, (and I want them to,) they should really consider investing in some domed stadiums.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Late night bike rides

Usually, on days I close at work, I ride home with a colleague who also lives in Middelburg. He's a nice guy and we have fun conversations, sometimes random but usually just talk about our (extremely different) backgrounds and varying interests (he's the outdoorsy type, while I'm the bookish type). Tonight I talked about how Americans embarrass me.

They come into the workplace from time to time, or I run into them somewhere, and while ocassionally it is nice to hear an American accent, most of the time it is unexciting or even annoying.

And it is such a hypocritical sentiment! Their accents sound twangy.... so I guess mine does, too. They talk to so loud. But then, so do I. What is it that makes me sometimes feel so, well... superior?

Maybe it's my decent knowledge of world - not to mention U.S. - geography. I'm happy to break the stereotype that Americans don't know geography, but unfortunately, that stereotype is there for a reason.

Totally different direction here: I'm learning Dutch. Every once in a while, something reminds me; tonight, it was a conversation some of my colleagues had as we were chatting over wine and other drinks after closing. They were talking about the good wine at this pub and the bad service at that one, and towards the end I realized that, yeah, I actually understood the majority of what they were saying.

And another, really different direction: I've been reading the Petite Anglaise blog, the topic of my thesis (as I will refer to it here; it is just so much more universally understood than "IRP"), and it's really very well written. I can actually see why she got a book deal.

Which is quite a relief, since I have to read 3-4 years' worth of daily blog entries, as well as a book that is based on/taken from/inspired by the blog itself. I printed out the first three months and read them on paper, and now I really understand just how interactive blogs are by the amount that I couldn't do when reading one on paper. All of the links - even the link that exposes the comments is disabled on a printout!

I'm excited to get the book and see what carries over from the blog to the book and what is totally missing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hup Hup Holland!


If you don't follow football (and by football, I mean soccer), you might not much care about this post. I'm not a big fan of football, and never could get into club play, but I do like international competition, such as the World Cup and the FIFA Euro Cup.

Which is currently happening in Austria and Switzerland.

The Netherlands, which seems to accept the name "Holland" for international football tournaments, is in a pool with France, Italy, and Romania - which left most Dutch people rather pessimistic about their chances. I figured I would root for Holland, but if neither Holland nor the Czech Republic made it I would just as happily root for France or Italy.

And then, lo and behold, Holland comes out and beats World Champion Italy, 3-0. I watched the game in House 4, on a huge screen, with 20 or so other students - Alex Whitcomb from Zimbabwe and myself being the only non-Dutch people in the room. After the victory, we sang Dutch football songs, karaoke style.

Faith was restored, but next, Holland had to play France. For this match, on Friday night,
Dilyana and I went to Cafe Brooklyn, where televisions were set up outside, beers were 1,50, and waiters and customers alike were decked out in orange. (I was too!)

And Holland won, 4-1! We were at the back of the crowd and couldn't see very well, but of course
you can tell when a team scores by all of the jumping Dutch people shouting "Hoera!" And singing that "de overkant is stil" - the opponents are silent - in the direction of five or so French fans dressed in bleu.

Afterwards, of course, we had to go out and celebrate.

Language Learning

Since starting work, I have felt much more submerged in the Dutch language. All of the quirks of learning a language by submersion and contact - as opposed to classroom study - are beginning to come back to me.

You learn so much by just listening. It's strange, because it seems like such a passive way of learning, as opposed to active study: opening books, copying down words, memorizing verb conjugations.

Yet somehow, in my experience it has always worked better to be submerged.

I learned three or four words in as many days of work simply by listening. Zeker is one; my coworkers say it often. After a day or two, I thought it must mean something like "sure", and I was right. Nodig is another example of the same; it means something like "need" and I learned it just from listening.

I've found this submerged approach is especially beneficial with Dutch, due to the ambiguity of the language. (I remember my psycholinguistics teacher, Dr. Sergey Avrutin, saying that something like 90% of words in the Dutch language have ambiguous meaning.) A dictionary definition doesn't help much without the context. By listening, rather than studying, I will soon figure out when to use what words.

I realize now just how much Dutch I have learned - much more than I thought. There are often four or five people working at once, so I take part in and hear a lot of Dutch conversation. The first few days, I was amazed at how much I understood. I get the general gist of most conversations; it's as if the sentences are spoken just a little too quickly and there are just a few too many unknown words for me to understand it entirely.

I recognize this level from my experiences in France and the Dominican Republic and it's incredibly reassuring: it's the level just before understanding. A little more vocabulary and a little more listening, and I'll arrive soon.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Quick Update

Well, now that I have a nice, spanking, brand-new blog, I might as well use it, right?!

It's June, I'm in Middelburg, and things are going pretty well. The weather could be more cooperative, but I have a job that I love, friends in town for a while still, and I've been productive. I read Jane Eyre last week, I've been reading a couple of pages of Harry Potter in Dutch, and I've even been writing fiction - something I always say I like to do but never really... do. I think my problem is mostly that I have tons of story and novel ideas, and sometimes I start them, but soon I get distracted by other ideas.

Another good thing is that since I've started working, I have experienced the very pleasant realization that I actually understand a pretty good amount of Dutch! I'm sort of at that pre-understanding stage, where the sentences are just a little too fast, and my vocabulary is just not quite big enough, to understand. But I can follow conversations much more than I would have expected.

That's good, because right now I'm surrounded by Dutch, English, and a lot of German. I'm trying to remind myself that I speak three languages and that's pretty good, but I feel a little clueless right now since two of those three are pretty useless in my current situation! A little more quality time with Harry Potter en de Steen der Wijzen and I'm sure I'll be checking off another language by the end of summer.

The one thing I haven't been doing is research for my Independent Research Project. This is something that I really need to get started on, because I have to write 10,000 words on "The Blog and the Book" next semester and it's always good to get a head start. Also, I have the possibility of continuing work into fall, and if I can get a lot of research done before the semester begins, I'll have more time to work. And since I love working, it seems like a good idea.

Well, today I'm free - no work or anything, so I guess I'll spend it reading, writing, and just maybe doing some background IRP research. Or, at the very least, order the book I'll be studying, Petite Anglaise. Nothing unusual.