Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I have a Secret...

... I miss Middelburg.

Two weeks ago, I had a skype call with a group of friends from RA, and one of them said, "Do you know, I don't miss Middelburg, one bit? I miss you guys, but not Middelburg."

Even as I responded indignantly, I was questioning whether I really missed Middelburg myself. Most of it, certainly, is missing such great friends. Maybe what I miss now is my housemates? And they'll all be gone in the next year or two.

Then again, I obviously miss the coffee. Ko D'oooooor claims it has the best cappuccino in Zeeland, but so far I haven't found anything better in the Netherlands.

And the lovely walk to school! I even miss the parking lot all back, like a brick park, all red and green, or red and orange in fall. And the street I raved about last spring. Just looking at those pictures makes me want to go for a walk, in Middelburg, with the Lange Jan tilting over every other building, and the graceful Oostkerk standing humbly on its little square.

I knew for certain that I missed something about Middelburg, not just my friends, the other night when I was trying to fall asleep. I was lying in bed, too warm, because although it is late October, and I open the window every time I am home, and I haven't turned on the heat in two weeks, my room is always warm and stuffy.

I lay there and could not settle down, so as I closed my eyes, I pictured my room in Middelburg. My table over there, the couch and armchair and bookshelf with four times as many books as I have now. More than picturing it, I could hear it: quiet. Or maybe housemates laughing in the common room, their voices growing loud the minute someone opened the door. The wind in the vines that grew along the street, and the occasional scooter buzzing by to deliver a pizza. The voices of students humming louder and softer as they passed my window, mere feet away from me in my bed.

How could I not miss the place that had been my home for three years? Middelburg was not a six-month excursion, like Nice and Moca were. Though I loved both those places in their own way, and they have shaped who I am, they simply aren't Middelburg. Though I get excited when I remember the Dominican Republic, or hear Spanish being spoken, and still have that weird, unrequited love of France, when a teacher now mentions a printing press in Middelburg or a 17th-century map of Zeeland, I'm as thrilled as if they're telling the class what a wonderful place Powell's Books is.

I doubt that I'll feel that way about Leiden after only one year, but then again... you never know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Letter to the Vlaamsche Broodhuys (Flemish Bakery)

Dear Vlaamsche Broodhuys,

You are a blessing. In this country of mostly mediocre bread (though much better than the soggy white rolls in the Dominican Republic, or the weird, collapsing baguettes in France), you are a culinary highlight.

You make what my mother once called "honest bread" – a description that has stuck with me. I know what this bread is. It gets hard, not moldy. It was not meant to be sliced ahead of time. It has air bubbles and hard, dark crust, and when you tear it, it is fascinating to watch each little segment part from another.

When you toast your product, it doesn’t acquire the texture of cardboard (made worse when it is put on a plate to sweat in its own steam), and when you press it, it springs back to life, rather then squishing into sad form.

After three years of mediocre bread, three years of bringing better, crustier bread back from vacations to brighter bread cities… it is heaven to have you waiting just down the street.

I just wish you put a bit – just a bit! – more salt in it.

Yours in bread and butter,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Write, Jot, Scribble - Part II

I didn't think there would be a follow-up post on this topic, but you never know where a blog is going to take you.

I've been shut up in my room without internet since Friday, with the exception of an hour in the computer lab at school on Sunday, and it's enough to drive me crazy. Especially since I have spent most of that time writing a paper on the subject of... blogs. (If I was shut up in my room for two days without internet and without looming deadlines, I'm sure I would be quite happy to watch some of the movies I own and read through half of my bookshelf. But I had a looming deadline.)

This paper is supposed to be 8-10 pages, with type size 11 and 1.5 spacing, which ends up being at least 3,500 words. Okay. Not the end of the world. Luckily I had done some research Wednesday and saved several articles to my computer, so I could do most of the writing without the internet. I'm not quite finished, but close.

Today in class - the first since last Tuesday - everyone asked each other about their progress on this essay, which is due tomorrow at 6 p.m. The answers varied greatly, but the one that surprised me the most was from a classmate who said he wasn't a very good typer and had therefore written his entire paper... by hand.

All I'm going to say is - imagine! That used to be the norm! Despite my love of pen and paper, I can't imagine doing such a thing. I remember a few years ago, I used to sometimes get started on a research paper by writing the introduction by hand, because my ideas seemed to flow better that way. Nowadays, I can get started very easily on the computer. But since I began my bachelor's degree, the idea of writing 3,500 words of academic writing by hand hasbecome more or less... unthinkable.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Slow Down

I am going to learn from the past week and do something productive tonight.

And I don't mean write my essay or work on my manuscript assignment.

I mean sit down in my armchair, away from this confounded computer, and read.

This week has gone by too fast. Tomorrow is already Friday! All I have done is set my alarm ambitiously early and end up sleeping through it until 11. (Even on the day I had class at 11:15, heh heh.)

So after spending the entire afternoon counting the pages of a very old Dutch Bible and trying to figure out where one quire begins and another ends, I am going to sit back and chill out.

Nothing spectacular - It'll be Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, along with some tea and the last couple stroopwafels. But I am very excited.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The stroopwafel (pronounced "Strope-vaffle", kind of) is one of those truly wonderful Dutch things. One of the things the Netherlands should be known for, along with tulips and clogs and windmills and canals (and maybe instead of weed and red light districts).

The truth is, I can go ages without these things. I think I have to, because if I buy a pack, I usually end up eating the entire package in one day, which is obviously bad for my health. It is also bad for my stomach - take it from me, it really doesn't feel good to eat ten of those in a day.

I could occasionally just buy one "Superwafel" at the market, but the problem with that is they don't come with a cup of tea. Stroopwafels were meant to be eaten after being softened over a cup of steaming tea, preferably until the layer of stroop (syrup) between the two waffles is runny and gooey.

So I usually go weeks, or even months, without a stroopwafel. And then someone comes to visit.

When Katharine was here a few weeks ago, I think we ate a pack a day. (Sounds like a bad smoking habit, doesn't it?) Granted, there were two of us, and we walked a lot as well, so it slightly lessened the damage. Only slightly.

Whenever I go home, or go somewhere, I take a pack or two as gifts. I took some to Hopi when I visited her in Edinburgh. I bring several packs home to my family when I return.

Well, I bought a pack today. I've been so disciplined with sweets lately; that stash of lebkuchen and pfeffernusse are packed up in a kitchen cupboard, and I eat only 2-3 after tea and another 1-2 after dinner, which is a true accomplishment for me. I am my father's daughter. I eat until it's gone.

I had two after a very nice lunch (good bread, cheese, and two mandarins), and two more after dinner (chicken, mushrooms, eggplant, and potatoes - the eggplant was supposed to be gone by now and it distracted me, so I forgot about the brussels sprouts which were to be my greens! Tomorrow, I guess).

But even the steep Dutch stairs between my room and the kitchen cupboard were not enough to keep me away from the stroopwafels. Just now I ran (climbed?) back up the steps and grabbed two more. I plan to get started on a big essay tonight, after all.

I took two from the package and, before I twisted the plastic sack back together and closed it with a twistie, I noticed that there were only three left.

Meaning... there were only nine in the package.

Meaning I was CHEATED! Out of a stroopwafel! There are always 10 stroopwafels in a package!

It's probably a good thing, but I am very disappointed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Frankfurt Buchmesse

Last week, the students on my program (and some of the professors) went to Germany.

The main reason for the trip was to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Photo by Juliana

This was not a book-lover's heaven, as you might have expected. "Book Fair" sounds like an amazing, fantastical place, like Powell's Books only floating on a cloud. Or something.

It's basically a place for publishers and printers to talk shop and make deals and get the rights to translations. Also, if you want to buy something, you can't until the last day, or if you are talking to a very nice person and smiling and begging a lot. So really it's kind of like a book-lover's hell, seeing all these things and not being able to buy anything.

(Really good for the student wallet, though.)

It's also a place to introduce new gadgets. For example, we found an eReader we hadn't heard of, the Hanvon WISEreader, which was cheaper than we expected and looked to be at least as good as the two we had seen in class. (I still hate how they flash the negative of the page to mimic page-turning, though. I think they should just have a bar slide across the screen or something.)

We were less impressed with the OnlineMag and OnlineBook, basically a PDF that can show videos and has a slightly niftier bookmarking option. I see the draw for promotional material, but other than that it didn't seem like a very clever answer to the question "what is going to happen to print?"

We were more impressed with a Spanish company, Moleiro, which makes facsimiles of manuscripts, only better. Down to the last detail. If a page in the original manuscript was made from two pieces of parchment stitched together, than the reproduction page is also stitched together, by hand.

I was also impressed with a Czech textbook I spent some time poring over.

What I enjoyed the most, though, was the international experience.

The expo center (I guess that's what the venue is) is probably the most enormous complex I have ever been to, and it is full of stands from pretty much every country in the world.

I went to the area for Italian publishers, and it was full of Italians, talking and gesturing on their telefoninos. It was like stepping into Italy.

I spoke and heard so much Spanish it was amazing. This was due to spending time with my Colombian friend Juliana, who really got us into the stands and into conversations with the people working them.

There was a big Dutch section where people were speaking Dutch, and at the Norwegian book stands, people were speaking Norwegian.

I found the Czech stand and looked at all sorts of books and thought about how I should be able to read these titles, but can't. I looked out for any Peter Sis translations, too, but didn't see any. So I sat and looked at that Czech course for quite a while, while Juliana and Chiara rested their feet.

Photo by Juliana
It was so much fun to step from one country into another, or, more precisely, one language into another. So, although it was maybe not a book-lover's heaven, it was perhaps something close to a linguist's paradise.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The German Prince

Just got home from my course's trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Gutenberg Museum, and the Kloster Eberbach, and have to admit that the highlight of the trip - though probably not the most illuminating experience of it - was none of these things.

It happened today, at a gas station mini-mart on the German highway.

We - nine young women packed in a mini-bus, screaming along to Alanis Morissette and Michael Jackson - were just hanging out, stretching or smoking or stocking up on German treats, and about to hit the road again.

When suddenly, up pulled this amazing car. Maybe it was a Rolls Royce, but whatever it was, it looked like a million dollars.


Out of the car came, first, the chauffeur, with a mustache, glasses, and a black jacket with a seal embroidered over the pocket and a crown on his lapel.

Then, out of the back seat, came a guy wearing a ridiculous, ruffled, silver shirt.

And finally, a thin blonde woman with huge hair and dramatic makeup, a red mini-dress, matching red strappy sandals and a black fur stole.

So we all convinced Malka to go and ask who it was, because, as Elli kept repeating, "I really think it's someone famous! Maybe an actor or a singer..."

Malka came running back.

"Oh my God, you guys! He's a prince!"

Shrieks and excitement from the car, which we had been on the verge of starting up and driving off in. Instead, Malka went back and asked if we could take a picture with them (and the car), and they agreed! The silvery guy did not seem to mind at all. We asked what his name was, and he told his chauffeur to write it down for us, which made us very excited - he even has someone write for him!

So the chauffeur wrote, "Maximilian Michael von Anhalt".

After much laughter and many "Dankeschön!"s, we got back in the car to laugh some more, speculate about the prince, boast to each other about how we would surely win the photograph contest, and scream along to some more Alanis Morissette. (She's very empowering.)

So, now that I'm back in Leiden, with internet access, I thought I would look this guy up.

Maximilian Michael Prinz von Anhalt is a rich health club owner and socialite who, according to wikipedia, bought the name (not the title) "Prinz von Anhalt" from Zsa-Zsa Gabor's husband, Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, for two million dollars. Frederic got the name from his adoption by an actual Royal. Apparently Maximilian was adopted by Fred and Zsa-Zsa last year. Technically, neither he nor Fred are royals - though Maximilian certainly tries to present himself as one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Write, Jot, Scribble

I like to write by hand, generally; I think it comes from my years of journal-keeping. I feel my thoughts flow better when they are released in one fine, concentrated point, rather than splayed out across the keyboard via ten fingers. When I start a story, I usually begin with my writing notebook, and don't turn to a computer until my second draft.

So I thought it was funny when one of my Digital Media Technology teachers said, "from now on, all documents are digital-born". Meaning, I suppose, that nothing comes to be on paper anymore, which I would argue is not yet the case.

I type school assignments and papers, and sometimes little blurbs of fictional thought. I also type my blog, unless I get an idea on the road and flesh it out in my jotter.

That is what I meant this entry to be about: my jotters. (Just another example of how typing allows too much freedom - I tend to jump back and forth between paragraphs, and even sentences, which is a confusing and annoying technique.) I was just flipping through them to gather some ideas, and as usual, I was surprised by the amount of material I've stored away there, and was motivated to try harder with my current jotter. (It comes and goes, and was best kept, unsurprisingly, when I was graded for it.)

Another thing about writing by hand: more shopping. It's just so fun to look at all the different types of paper and notebooks and pens! What joy is greater than discovering a new pen that suits you perfectly? Or a notebook with dimensions that are perfectly conducive to your needs?

One of my best writing techniques was to use a particular fountain pen - a rather cheap one that dried up kind of quickly. As long as I was writing, the ink flowed properly, but if I spent too much time thinking or daydreaming, I had to put the lid back on and tap it impatiently on a surface to get the ink moving again. So I kept writing, and if I didn't know what to write next, I wrote slowly, rather then stopping, until the words came to me.

The problem was that I was writing a story for an assignment in the creative writing course I took last winter, and it had a word limit. A word limit I surpassed - 8,500 words, instead of the 4,000 word limit, which resulted in me having to literally cut it in half.

In that case, it might have been good to use a word processor, and have the word count in a simple click.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Curse of the Cool Course

Last semester at the Roosevelt Academy I took a course about 17th-century Dutch painting. It was a great class - so much so that it rarely felt like a class. Mostly, I just felt like I was attending an interesting art lecture, as I have done occasionally in the past, or reading an exhibition guide. I always meant to write a blog entry about the way it felt, but never got around to it.

The problem was that it was hard to get motivated. I felt so laid-back about the whole thing - dark lectures with the paintings lit up on the powerpoint screen and a stream of information flooding in - that I really had to make sure I was thinking about the studying part. And not getting distracted by the interesting bits of historical information that kept cropping up in my reading.

(For example: couples' portraits were often two separate portraits, one of the husband, and one of the wife, with them sort of facing each other, so that they could hang on opposite sides of the fireplace. This was because Dutch houses of the time [holds true today, though] were rather small, and people didn't have a wall that was big enough for a huge double portrait.)

Now I am re-experiencing this phenomenon at Leiden, in the course called "The Manuscript Book in the West".

I never expected to study ancient manuscripts. (If I had, I would have paid a lot more attention in that not-for-credit Latin class I took in my first year at RA.) Yet every Thursday, there I am, in the special manuscript collection section of the university library to spend two hours learning about manuscripts.

And it's the exact same thing. That classes are great. We look at really old books and the teacher tells us how they were made, how they were preserved, how they were marked, and why.

But it really just feels like a trip to the museum (okay, if I was an extra-special, high-profile client), where instead of reading a plaque I hear it from an expert, and there is no glass between the manuscript and me.

I need a switch in my brain. One side would be labeled "Focused Academic Active Listening/Reading/Studying". The other would be "Passive Absorbing Oh-My-Gosh-Isn't-That-COOL?". In this one, you tend to remember the little, fascinating-but-useless bits of information rather than the big picture things and theory that help you pass the test.

Incidentally, the latter one was especially dominant in most of my linguistics courses.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leids Ontzet, Part II

Well, I promised I would report back, and I promised I would take pictures. It actually wasn't quite what I expected - much more like a big old kermis (carnival) and a lot less like... well, I guess I expected something more like Queen's Day. More partying in the street and live music. There were outdoor discos Friday night. But as there isn't much to report, I'll treat you to a quiet, visual entry, beginning with dinner on Friday and ending with dinner on Saturday.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Leids Ontzet, Part I

Tonight begins the special Leiden festival, Leids Ontzet. Every October 3rd, the gemeente celebrates their release from Spanish invadaers. Or something, definitely don't quote me on this. It's about when the Spanish were repelled from the city. There was a siege, and the residents were starving, but when it ended, troops brought the citizens herring, and a boy found a pot of hutspot that the Spanish had left behind: potato mashed with carrot and onion. (The picture below is from the time we had it for dinner with my housemates at the Roosevelt Academy in Middelburg.)

The streets and sidewalks outside restaurants are tented, there is a huge carnival in town, with stands for oliebollen, sausages, and suikerspin (cotton candy) all over. It is drizzling but no one seems to care. There are barges on the canals which will eventually support stages and beer stands. There are an enormous amount of beer kegs in the street, waiting to be hooked up to the spigots.

My friend Katharine is visiting on part of her trip around Europe and Morocco, and two of my RA friends are coming from Utrecht tomorrow to check out the madness that will be Leiden on the 3rd of October.

I promise to take pictures!