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