Sunday, 25 December 2011

The cutlery

When was the last time you had real metal cutlery on board of a plane? Even befoore 9.11 it was not so common, now it seems all crews fear someone will threaten them with a fork and demand to crash into some tall building.

Well, the Etihad crew of the flight EY26 heading from Düsseldorf to Abu Dhabi didn't fear that. First of all, probably, because there were hardly any arabs on board. Besids, why would anyone would want to threaten the crew when one really has anything one needs during the flight?

I mean, would you even think of sticking a fork into a flight attendant if a pillow and a blanket already wait for you when you get to your seat? Who would think of putting a nife at the purser's throat after they gave you an a-la-cart three course menu with three main courses to choose from? I had a traditional Christmas meal - turkey with chestnuts, roasted potatoes and green beans. Halal of course.

The flight attendant came along distributing small black poaches containing a toothbruch, toothpaste, a pair of ear plugs, a sleeping mask and a pair of... socks! After that the wish to run over to the cockpit and knock out the pilot with a spoon evaporated completely.

Yes, I do recommend flying with Etihad. The word 'cheap' is not in their vocabulary. Even if they charged you an EasyJet fare.

And I do recommend flying to Abu Dhabi because the passport control guys look ultimately HOT!






<--Stay connected during the flight.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Das Lebensmotto

Our teacher handed over sheets of paper with quotations from famous Germans: Bismarck, Schiller, Nietzsche and such.

Teacher: “Welches Motto könnte für Sie gelten?“
M.: „Und leben ist ja doch des Lebens höchstes Ziel!“
Teacher: „Warum?“
M.: „Das Leben gibt es um zu leben. Dann muss man das leben. Wann du dein Leben nicht gelebt hast, dann hast du nicht gelebt!“
Teacher: „Genau.“

Speaking of famous Germans: Georg Friedrich Händel - For Unto Us a Child is Born

Monday, 19 December 2011

Flying with luggage – lessons learned

  • Lesson No. 1 – Never put your favourite shoes in your check in luggage. 
  • Lesson No. 2 – If you have any unique jewellery, make sure it’s either on you or in your hand luggage. 
  • Lesson No. 3 – The dark straight Diesel jeans cannot be left in a suitcase unattended. 
  • Lesson No. 4 – Cabin luggage suitcase can be best used for cabin luggage. 
  • Lesson No. 5 – If you only have one foundation, for Heaven’s sake keep it with you at all times. 
  • Lesson No. 6 – Take all books on board with you. 
  • Lesson No. 7 – Avoid checking in luggage at all cost. 
  • Lesson No. 8 – If you have to check in your luggage, make sure there are only cheap, old and easily replaceable things in it. 


I now have a couple of days to replace the contents of my lost suitcase at the cost of KLM. I’d rather have my suitcase back.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Emancipation

Emancipation is good, but men with long nails are a no-go.

Selah Sue - Peace of Mind

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Model

When I travel I’m always amazed by women who travel on high heels. High heels bring about that glamour model look many of us would like to have but few of us are prepared to suffer for. The ‘Wow!’ effect. I always failed to understand why someone would willingly suffer high heels through check in and passport control queues, security checks, airport shopping and long flights. But the high heeled women never look tired or suffering. Super women!

I don’t have shoes with very high heels in my wardrobe, but I do have heels. And last Friday I headed for Germany wearing boots with some 5,5cm heels. I figured the flight was very short (a little more than one hour) and my friend would pick me up at the airport. I could even kick off the boots in the car if I felt really tired. Besides, the boots would take up too much space in my little suitcase.

I have to confess: high heeled and with my borsalino hat on I did feel a tad model-ish. Diesel’s Fuel for Life (sprayed at the duty free first thing after the security check) contributed to that feeling. I’m not sure anyone else had noticed the model in me, but who cares? I model-rock. Yes.

Encouraged by this positive experience I decided to repeat the model trick on the way back. It would be the same story except this time I had to spend one hour on the very comfortable ICE train to get to the airport. Can do.

Model me entered the train to discover that it was fully packed. Me – no seat reservation. On my high heeled boots and with my suitcase I started moving through the overcrowded carriages in the direction of the restaurant. That was a challenge. Flats would have been of help at that moment. Two carriages later I entered the restaurant. To discover. That this restaurant. Was equipped. With very few seats. And many high standing tables. And all the seats were taken. Crap!

After 30 minutes standing on high heels in a fast moving train I lost not only my model look (if I’d ever had any), but also every trace of the model feel. As soon as one of the seats was free I threw myself in it preventing a gentlemen in the age of my father to have that seat. He certainly didn’t see the model in me but I didn’t care.

Slightly recovered I found my way through the maze of the Frankfurt International Airport to the right terminal, flirted with a friendly guy at the start of the security check (weak model signals beaming through the layer of tiredness) and headed for the gates. There were no trolleys to put my bag and almost-fur coat on so I had to carry that all while applying some Dior perfume and checking out other shops.

Finally I arrived at Schiphol with no modelling ambitions and a strong wish to get home as soon as possible. That’s when I spent 30 minutes standing while waiting for my luggage. I expected it to appear on the baggage belt any moment, so why bother to sit down? I was wrong. I spent more than an hour waiting for my suitcase and went home without it. Lost. There was a pair of very fine heelless shoes in it...

So why do women travel on high heels?

Monday, 12 December 2011

Exciting

Digital boarding passes (provided you have a smartphone. Don’t you?) Security scans, however annoying and time consuming – they do get better and better equipment. Information screens – loads of information, all useful.

Terminals. Gates. Arrivals. Departures. Transfers. Conveyor belts. Moving walkways. Mind your step (it’s only cool if the voice says that when someone approaches. If the voice keeps repeating that in equal intervals – that’s an old system – boo!)

Check in desks for passengers travelling with animals. SkyLine train without a conductor to bring people to the more remote parts. Toilets that flush themselves. Water coming out of the tap automatically. WiFi.

Food may be expensive, but boy there’s choice! Waiting areas made to look like living rooms – I wish my living room would even remotely resemble one of those. Museum. See. Buy. Fly. Casino. Chapel. Mosque. Synagogue.

Lights... Planes!

Airports in all countries have more in common with each other than with the countries they are actually situated in. All this abundance of technology ever growing in its complexity. One may find it frightening, but I love it. I get excited just at the thought of travelling by air. Can’t wait to do it again!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Cold

I am cold. [Now go ahead and make that how-can-you-be-cold-you-come-from-a-cold-country joke. Yawn.]

I’m so cold it makes me want to hibernate for the next two months. I took a hot shower and tried to think of a vacation in some place warm. I would have to dig out my summer clothes and sun screen. I’d cut out a large piece of the winter and replace it by summer. That all seemed nice until the thought of getting off the plane back in Amsterdam ruined the idyll.

I am cold and it makes me want to put on several layers of clothes. You know, like a wool cardigan on top of a wool sweater with a vest and a long-sleeve underneath. Like panty under the trousers. Like keeping the scarf on the whole day. And preferably also the hat.

I am cold and it makes me want to put the heating up to 25C and not switch it off till May. Buy a car just for the sake of being able to heat it up to the comfortable temperature level. Hold a cup full of hot tea in my hands all the time. Sit on a warm radiator.

I am cold and it makes me want to crawl under three layers of blankets. While wearing a wool cardigan on top of a wool sweater with a vest and a long-sleeve underneath. And panty under the trousers. And a scarf. And preferably also the hat. While holding a cup of hot tea in my hands.

How long will the winter last?

Some eye candy from Vorontsov.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Madmen

I am looking back at the party at my place last Saturday and realise that I have a bunch of totally crazy friends. That shouldn’t surprise me, who else would want to be friends with me? If you read on you will agree. Some conversation bits from Saturday night:

A: Take anything you want, but not the keyboard hoover!
Me: I know you need it badly, but have you seen my keyboard?
She won the hoover, but after inspecting my keyboard left it at my desk anyway.

D: Oh I may pick the nicest present. Hey! Give me that little Russian monster!
J1, J2, O, M1, E and me (in one voice): It’s not a monster! It’s Cheburashka!
I: Take the candy g-string, it’s much nicer.
D: Ok, give me the g-string then.

M2: I have to take something from B. I want the food fighters.
B: The food fighters are not mine anymore. You may choose between modelling balloons and a.. ehm... a thingy.

Somebody has received a candle in a jar. We all sniffed at it and afterwards some people claimed to be hallucinating.

For some reason two or three people were fighting for the set of three CDs of “Original Christmas Classics”...

I won a yellow door handle sign with a skull and the word ‘Danger!’ on it. I am going to put in my cabin luggage and use in hotels.

We started at 19:00 on Saturday, the last guest left at 04:45 on Sunday.

Music that fits this madness: Chinese Man – Get up

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

DNA-spray

Today I saw this sign in Amsterdam. It says: “Area protected with DNA spray”. As I had no idea what DNA spray was, my mind painted pictures of DNA material being sprayed... Well that just couldn’t be right.

But it’s not what you think. At least not what I thought. DNA spray is a tool spraying synthetic DNA material in the air in case of robbery. It’s invisible and not easy to wash off. It lights up under black light. This way police can find criminals and especially prove their involvement in the crime.

I just wonder: if the DNA spray is released in the air it will also down on other people, right? If you want to avoid misunderstandings keep clear of black lights after you’ve witnessed a robbery in a shop.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Russian

“I think the woman can speak Russian”, I said after looking at the couple seated at the table beside ours.
“I think so too”, answered my companion. “Look at that furry thing she’s wearing”, he said amused with her rabbit hair knit vest.

Even though we could see only her back we both were pretty confident about the origins of this woman. The main evidence was the white vest. It was accompanied by hair coloured in different rather unnatural shades of blond and well manicured and polished, rather long, nails. When she turned her head I saw a large shiny earring. It was striking how easily recognisable her background was.

“Aren’t you ashamed to be with me? Aren’t you afraid people will laugh at you, or rather at me?”, I asked imagining that I myself in my blue Cora Kemperman dress, brown leather jacket and red hat was as easily identifiable.

“No, you are not THAT obvious”, he smiled.

Totally irrelevant:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Progress

Yesterday on a train I overheard a conversation of two women about preserving the cultures of African tribes and ethnic minorities in South America. They were talking about traditional clothing, rituals and songs.

I never really thought about it, but yesterday this idea suddenly struck me. What if by helping them to preserve their culture we actually prevent them from developing? The reason that we don’t walk around in wooden shoes and dance around fire is that we’ve moved on. We have better shoes and nicer places to dance. We’ve got a lot of other stuff too. And we are proud of it.

The next thought that occurred to me was even more peculiar. If a country is trying to revive already vanished traditional culture (costumes, music, cuisine) isn’t it making steps backwards? May that holding onto the ‘traditional values’ be at least part of the reason why a country does not develop to its full potential?

What do you think, is this song a sign of progress or is it clinging to the past and resisting progress?
Ivan Kupala - Kostroma

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Fear

Fear! That’s how many companies in today’s economy earn their money. Insurances are extremely good at it. They let us pay them money because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to get ill, to have our house destroyed by a fire, to get robbed while abroad, to die. We’re afraid, afraid and afraid. To get rid of that fear we give money to companies that do not produce anything. Moreover, they don’t actually prevent us from getting ill and our house from burning down. They will not make sure we don’t get robbed or die. They will leave it all to chance. And we pay them anyway. What an ingenious concept!

Another industry flourishing on fear is the cosmetics industry. Not as good as insurances though as they have to actually give you stuff in exchange for your money, but still good enough a business. Their specialty is our fear to get old or to appear ugly. And they are damn good at depriving us of our money! They even have the nerve to promise us their nicely smelling substances packed in pretty tubes and jars actually work. And we pay them.

Take me for example. My skin is getting less pretty with the years and I use more and more skin products. Even though I understand that the changes of my skin are the result of the unstoppable ageing process I still don’t dare to take the risk. If I’d saved the money I spent on skin products and the time I spent visiting a beautician and applying those products for the past ten years, I could have easily made a trip around the world.

Instead I walked into a cosmetics store today to buy a new foundation (the old bottle is almost empty). Without actually wanting it I found myself in a high chair in front of a mirror. A girl was applying foundation on half of my face. “Do you use a primer under your foundation?” she asked. A primer! Exactly! That’s what I miss next to my deep cleansing scrub, cleansing foam, cleansing milk, refreshing tonic lotion, rebalancing cream mask, cellular treatment gel, sun cream SPF 30, moisturising cream, smoothing eye cream and the foundation. A primer! I left the chair as soon as the second half of my face was covered, had another girl recommend me a foundation about €10 more expensive than the one I used before, paid and ran out of the store. A primer?! Thanks, but no, thanks!

I am afraid that I’m not THAT afraid. Yet...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Tests

I like taking psychological or life style tests of all sorts because the outcomes usually make me feel good about myself. Not that I desperately need reassurance, but a little boost is never wasted. Tonight I spent two hours taking tests on Youbeaty just to discover that I am a healthy arrogant female between 30 and 53 lacking sleep and dissatisfied with her sexual life.

I might reconsider my attitude towards tests.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

December stress

December stress – for some people it’s so bad, they seek help. Of course, if holidays give you so much stress that you need help, you’d better get help. I honestly think half a country needs help.

Although, I can see where the stress is coming from. First there’s all this Sinterklaas happening. I have no clue how the parents cope. They certainly don’t look healthy the couple of weeks prior to 5th of December. But at least it’s clear where and with whom you will celebrate that. If you have kids, the childless relatives will gather at your place. If you don’t have kids, you go to somebody who does. Or you don’t go anywhere.

Then you get Christmas. Christians (still a majority in the Netherlands) go crazy. Each year you’ll have to decide where you’ll be spending the two days of Christmas. And no matter what your options are you never win. There aren’t many options really. You can stay at home and pretend to ignore the whole happening. Except you can’t. You cannot go anywhere because it’s either fully booked and has a special Christmas programme or is unreachable. You will see Christmas out of your window, on your TV and in your mailbox. And don’t forget to buy enough food – the shops will be closed!

You can host a Christmass dinner at your place. You will spend three weeks planning the menu and buying decorations, one week decorating and buying food, two days actually cooking and one evening serving your friends and family all the stuff you cooked.

You can skip that and go for a dinner at someone else’s place, most probably family. You will spend at least a month negotiating whether you spend the first day with your parents and the second with the parents of your partner or another way around. After that is settled, you’ll try to squeeze in a Christmas brunch hosted by your sister-in-law and visit two or three still living grandparents. You will spend two days dressed in uncomfortable black glittery clothes eating food among hideous decorations and discussing family matters.

If you got through December without serious traumas, food poisonings and family conflicts or arguments with your partner – congratulations! I’ll gladly share a bottle of Champaign with you at the New Year’s eve. But to be sincere – being single and having no family in the near vicinity does have some advantages.

Happy December stress everybody!

Signe Tollefsen - Where You Been

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Identity crisis

In the Age Of Empires 3 Board Game colonists are placed in the event boxes during the turn to claim the space and perform the action depicted in the event box. Specialists can perform the same function as the basic colonists but also have unique extra abilities. Merchant ships can be combined with trade goods to form “sets” that generate income. There are trade goods, money, capital buildings, discovery counters and discovery cards. You can place your figurines in event boxes or regions.

If you want to win you need to buy capital buildings that give you people every turn. For that you need money. To get money you need to collect three similar trade goods or buy a building that gives you money each turn. To buy a building you need money. And of course the building has to be available. To buy the best building you need to claim the 1-space through the initiative track. If you do that, you’ll lose one colonist. But because you only have five colonists each round, you might want to spend them for getting specialists – captains, soldiers, merchants and missionaries. Captains and merchants give you more weight when getting a merchant ship or during the discoveries. Soldiers are good to earn money while discovering new continents. They also can fight during conflicts to defend colonies. Colonies are necessary to earn winning points. To build colonies you need colonists and specialists. You get five colonists each turn, but you also lose loads. To get specialists you need to place a colonist in the merchant space, but then you will lose your colonist. To get extra specialists you need to buy capital buildings. And for that you need money...

Is this game for nerds? Absolutely! Did I play? Yes. Does that make me a nerd? I guess to a certain extent. Did I come any close to winning? Nope. Am I a beauty or a nerd? Help! Identity crisis...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A melancholy time

The big tree in my neighbours’ garden was changing colours. From green to yellow, to golden to brown. Like the trees in the Zuiderpark not far from my house. Green-yellow-red-golden-brown. Like the trees along the canal. Like the trees covering the hills around Tübingen last week – breathtakingly beautiful. Like autumn in the parks of Kiev. Yes... like in Kiev...

Somehow I always end up in Kiev. Fall scenery everywhere no matter how gorgeous is always just a reminder of the fall in Kiev. Just as blooming chestnuts in The Hague are a reminder of Kiev’s chestnut prelude to the summer in the beginning of May. Kiev just won’t let me go...

A melancholy time! So charming to the eye! 
Your beauty in its parting pleases me - 
I love the lavish withering of nature, 
The gold and scarlet raiment of the woods, 
The crisp wind rustling o'er their threshold, 
The sky engulfed by tides of rippled gloom, 
The sun's scarce rays, approaching frosts, 
And gray-haired winter threatening from afar. 


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Morning drama

“The kindergarten opens at 7:30, but don’t worry about that. You can sleep as long as you want. He will not wake up till 7:00 or even 7:30” Wow! I can sleep as long as I want till 7:30. Do you also feel a discrepancy in this statement or is it just me?

The morning with the three-years-old son of my friend started very promising. He woke up at 7:30 sharp and with a bright smile started showing me his toys. But as we moved to the kitchen to get breakfast his buoyancy started to deteriorate in a rapid tempo.

“Where’s mama?” “She’s gone to work. She told you that aunt Sasha would be taking you to the kindergarten today, didn’t she?” “I’m going to look for papa.” “OK.”

Obviously, papa was not there. “Aaaaaaaa! Where’s papaaaaaaa?!” “He’ll come tonight. Let’s have breakfast.” “Noooooo! I want to my papaaaaaa!” “Drink your milk before it gets cold.” “Nooooo!”

After some negotiations we managed to make it to the table and start eating the breakfast while counting animals in a children’s book. That’s when the phone rang. The concerned mother wanted to know how things were going.

“Who’s that?” “It’s your mother.” “May I talk to her?” I guessed ‘no’ was not an option and handed over the phone. “Mamaaaaaaaaa! Aaaaaaaaa! You have to come home nowoouuuuaaaaa!”

Now everybody was upset: the boy because his mother was away; the mother because her child was crying bitter tears on the phone; me because I had to start negotiations all over again.

“Drink your milk.” “Noooooo! Go away!” “If I go away, you’ll be here completely alone. You don’t want that, do you?” “Yes I dooooo! Go away!” Crap.

After counting all the animals in the book seven times we finally finished the breakfast.

“Let’s wash your face, otherwise they won’t let you in.” “Nooooo!” “You can’t go to the kindergarten so dirty. Other kids won’t play with you.” “I am not going to the kindergarten. I’m going to wait for mama and papa.”

Sometime later I chased the kid around the house with a toothbrush. To prevent another round of drama I let the boy put stickers on the wall while I was dressing him up. I hope the stickers are easily removable. Otherwise, dear friends, I am very sorry.

“OK, we have our shoes and coats on, let’s go outside.” “I am going to look for papa and mama.” “Yes. Outside.”

At 9:10 I delivered the child at the kindergarten. What a relief! “Everything is fine” I texted my friend. She texted back: “Thanks a lot! Did you enjoy your time with him? You should visit us more often.” Hmmmm.

How do you, people with kids, can do this every morning? And with more kids? I don’t even dare to think of that.

Friday, 4 November 2011

High standards

My friend and I were discussing my yesterday’s blog post and both agreed that a man writing with mistakes is a no-go. A man who doesn’t speak his languages is not particularly attractive either. Guys with an IQ below 125 will not be considered. Steady (high) income is required. Men who are still searching in terms of their professional development have little chance.

A car stopped next to us. The door opened: “Hi girls! Where are you going?” We were so uninspired by this cheap attempt to make contact tha we didn’t even bother to stop. “At least he was the right age range” I said trying to look at things positively. “Yeah, but not the right weight range” my friend replied dryly.

Poor men! I don’t envy you.

Terez Montcalm - Sweet Dreams

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sehr gut

I was reading my morning newspaper today and kept on stumbling upon mistakes. Luckily there were no spelling mistakes, but plenty of skipped words, wrong word order and other stylistic disorders. Mistakes are annoying. Very annoying. Really.

I’m not talking about misspellings and mistakes in status updates, tweets, chats or text messages. Typed fast, often from a phone they are doomed to contain mistakes that are a pity, but no more than that. Although I do tend to remove my tweets and type them over if I notice a mistake. I also have a lot of respect for people whose tweets and status updates are always mistake free. But when it comes to texts that were supposed to be written, read, edited, reread and edited again I am rather unforgiving.

I take grammar very seriously. As I write this I realise that when it comes to ‘measuring’ someone’s influence on me their writing would give quite an accurate picture. I tend to accept the authority of those who write well and disregard opinions and expertise of those who misspell or make stylistic mistakes. Even if the subject of their expertise has nothing to do with languages.

Some time ago I translated my resume to German as homework for my German class. Yesterday I received it back corrected by the teacher. “Sehr gut!” – she wrote on top of the paper. The two pages contained seven mistakes. That can’t be ‘sehr gut’! It’s not even ‘gut’ – there are mistakes. It took me a whole day to calm down about it and accept that mistakes are a part of the learning process and if my teacher says my work is ‘sehr gut!’ I’d better be proud of myself. I even played with the idea of accepting that not all people have the talent for languages and I should rather look at the essence of the message before turning it down because of the bad grammar. But no. I hate mistakes and I will consider unsubscribing from my newspaper if I stumble upon four or more mistakes in one article ever again.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Tübingen

Tübingen has a lovely town centre, beautiful river and a lot of nature outside of town. Up the hill there are very nice houses where people live. Jewellery shopping is fun. Other shops look promising too. Theatre is crap – don’t go there. You can better go to a salsa party. Although, if you have a choice, you’d better do that in Italy.

I had a wonderful time: I shopped, danced, went for a long walk in the woods and had some typical German food. And spoke very little German. What a shame!

On the German note: 17 Hippies - Herz auf der Zunge
And if you're interested - the lyrics are here.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Penetration

The room was full, no empty chairs. When the first presentation started everyone had a smartphone in their hands. When I say everyone I mean everyone. Every single person had a smartphone in their hands. All fifty eight of us. Smartphone penetration = 100%. And everyone used their phone during the presentation at least once. Including the person presenting. He used his phone as a remote control. Some phones made sounds and nobody seemed to mind. The phone of the speaker went off at the end of the presentation. He didn’t pick up. But if he’d done that, probably no one would mind.

It’s not science fiction. It’s real. The world and our perception of things is changing. Fast.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

#$^%&*

“I like you in every aspect as long as you don’t swear.” A man told me this once. I can see his point. Russian swearwords are rude beyond any imagination and a woman using them looses all or most of her charm very quickly.

I don’t use swearwords in Russian often. At least, usually I don’t. But today someone on Twitter asked about the gender of a Russian swearword. I am a sucker for grammar rules so I responded enthusiastically and, to make my point clear I used two similar swearwords of different gender in one tweet. Someone else responded too, there was a discussion and swearwords flew back and forth. As a cherry on the cake a friend retweeted my initial tweet with the two swearwords letting the world enjoy my illustration of Russian grammar.

Now I guess many people think I’m a low educated, semi-criminal, illegal, drug addicted, vodka drinking prostitute. Because in that case such use of language is totally justified. Oh well...

As a means of compensation: 17 Hippies - Frau von Ungefähr. My German is not so good yet, though. They might as well be swearing for the entire four minutes.

Go ahead this. Maybe this'll help to clean my reputation. Thanks!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Reincarnation

He: Do you believe in reincarnation?
Me: No.
He (disappointed): Oh, what a pity!
Me: Why?
He: I want to see you in my next life. Then I’d marry you. I know your family name, so I can ask for you at the gate. But unfortunately you don’t believe in reincarnation...

Indeed, I do not believe in reincarnation just as I don’t share in any other religious belief. As I heard this, I felt an urge to ask some questions. For example: do they know there at the gate how my name is spelled in different alphabets? What if I’m a man in my next life? What if I am a lot younger or a lot older then? Will they allow you to choose where to go? I thought a person was not fully aware of their former life besides the belief that there had been one. So how is he going to remember his intention to marry me?

Belief and rationality don’t go so well together. And, with this possible marriage in mind, maybe it’s not so bad I don’t believe in reincarnation. ;)

Rupa & the April Fishes - Une americaine a Paris

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Melancholia

As we all know Lars von Trier is not afraid to be different. Melancholia shows he’s also not afraid to be slightly less different. Which doesn’t do any wrong to his new masterpiece.

Melancholia is a drama you accept and embrace although you keep hoping it won’t really happen in the end. It does anyway. That. Plus breathtaking photography.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Occupy yourself

Occupy [put the name of your city here] has surprisingly led to an explosion of emotions that I was trying to conceal, but don’t see the point of it anymore. So I am going to rant now.

First of all it’s a mass protest. And you may know what I think of those. And then, what are these people demonstrating against? Or in favour of? Excesses of capitalism was a very common statement of the Dutch protestors. Which is... eh... what are those exactly?

That’s when it starts – everybody has their own example, but most people named exorbitantly high salaries of the high bank executives and reckless bank policies including too high interest rates and careless investments. But how did the banks get the money they pay to their executives? Wait – we gave them the money ourselves! Because we’ve been borrowing the money to buy new cars, install new kitchens and go on vacation. Because we were willing to buy obscure insurances. Because we buy houses we actually cannot afford without the help of the government. No wonder banks lost it. The money kept flowing in effortlessly, so why be careful and not reward the executives? Do you have a right to complain if you have a new car, sit on a new couch in your way too expensive house insured against everything, even against an occasional attack of Smurfs armed with sticks made of green chewing gum?

And then, usually when you go camping you do prepare well, right? You do bring your own tent AND the foil to put underneath, don’t you? So why didn’t you now? Why are you asking me through your site to bring you chairs, tents, umbrellas, blankets, food, drinks, medicines and teddy bears?! And while you are there, do you make sure you don’t ruin stuff I paid for through the taxes? No, you don’t – look at Rome. And cleaning up the mess after you in every other city will cost extra money too.

So, please, go and #occupy yourself with something useful.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

My cat vs iOS5

Last Friday I was determined to make another step towards a healthy relationship with my cat but the iOS5 update of my iPhone made it nearly impossible. I never thought that my cat and iOS5 would cross paths.

I bought a cat flap. The only thing that I needed to do was to call a contractor and agree on the date for him to come and install the flap in my kitchen door. I picked up my phone ready to call and discovered that because of the iOS5 update the night before my phone lost some numbers.

Never mind. I have a WhatsApp message with his number. I just have to look it up. I headed for the WhatsApp messages and discovered they are not there. Because of the iOS5 update.

No problem. I got his number from another contractor. I’ll just call him and ask for the number. Oh, wait! I don’t have his number anymore. It disappeared after the iOS5 update.

Oh well, there’s Google. I found the number of one contractor, texted him, received the number of the other and made a phone call. “You have the flap? All right, what dates would be suitable for you?” – “Let me check my diary.” I open the calendar on my phone and realise... Yes. I lost all the past and future calendar content. All my appointments – gone! Because of the bloody iOS5 update.

“Well, Monday and Friday should be fine. I guess...” – I finally said. The man felt the doubt in my voice. “Let me call you back on Monday” – he replied. I agreed, although I was sure I wouldn’t be able to recover all the lost appointments by Monday.

Now I am trying to explain to my cat what iOS5 is. She said “meow”. Not sure she understood, though.

I listen to this to calm down: Philip Glass - Einstein On The Beach – Knee 1

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wrong

I received a Wordfeud request today. I set the first word and immediately get a chat message.

“Sasja, is that you?”
“Yes. And who are you?”
“Don’t you recognise me?”
“No the photo is too small.”
“Guess!”

That was the last thing I was going to do. I set another word and moved on with my life.

“Coward!”

This kind of remarks never had any motivating effect on me.

A kiss from Ravi. x”
“A kiss from who?”
“Ow. You must be the wrong Sasja then.”

Good I didn’t try to guess.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Follow

Today’s zouk lesson. “Now gentlemen put your hands on the upper arms of your ladies. Pull the shoulders of your lady up and turn them towards you. Now let the shoulders drop again. Pull the right shoulder up and let go again. Ladies, follow your men! Don’t listen to me! Don’t think. Just feel your man and follow. Now change partners. Everybody has to do this with everybody. Go!”

I figured out that if close my eyes it’s much easier to feel and follow without thinking. In front of me a non-Dutch speaking guy. I see him for the first time in my life. Then I close my eyes and don’t see him. I let him play with my shoulders and let my head sway along. “That’s nice!” I hear him say.

That’s when I realise how weird the whole exercise is. While women concentrate on not concentrating (most with closed eyes) men pull and push our shoulders and watch us closely for the effect. Within half-an-hour eight different men held me in their hands and watched me follow their movements. After the exercise some guys looked quite shaken. Apparently this was something most men don’t get to experience very often.

There’s more to dancing than just dancing. I have sore muscles on my neck and shoulders.

We danced to this tonight: Adele – Rolling In The Deep

Friday, 7 October 2011

Dreams of Rivers & Seas

Dreams of Rivers & Seas by Tim Parks is a novel, but it feels alarmingly real. It gets you involved, makes sure you reach for your knowledge of life, your experience, your fears and dreams. And then it withdraws because it’s still a novel and you can never change anything that happened in it. Cruel.

The novel is also extremely cruel to its characters. All the way through the book I was wondering how the author was able to do all this to the people he created. It must have been difficult. Several times I had to remind myself that it’s just a book, fiction. Otherwise I couldn’t sleep longing to do something. Go to India, talk to people, prevent things from happening! Or simply weep. Remarkably, the book has a happy end. For what it’s worth.

And now don’t spare yourself. Read it.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Official

I am going to make it official! And I will announce it to the world on my Facebook wall. There will be photos and presents. And from then on there will be loads of love.

But first the necessary arrangements. My home is not equipped for two so I’ll have to call the contractor. This relationship will have to be registered with some authorities and organisations. And it all has to be ready before the last weekend of October.

I am not sharing my cat anymore!

Yasmin Levy - Mano Suave - Una Noche Mas

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Purpose

Last night I had this little conversation:

Me: “I feel a little uncomfortable when a man pays €80 for food or activities to spend an evening with me. Somehow it doesn’t feel right.

He: “Why not? Men should pay. What other purpose do we have?”

Shot this picture at the port yesterday.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Toilets

My German lessons take place at the Deutsche Internationale Schule in The Hague. It’s an ordinary school: concierge, gym, classrooms and children’s drawings on the wall. Announcements are in German, I guess that’s different from Dutch schools, but for the rest – it’s a school. And you know it as soon as you enter. There’s nothing special about it.

I remember my school. Concierge. Gym. Classrooms. No children’s drawings on the wall. Sometimes there were exhibitions of drawings. Only the best drawings were allowed. Obviously, they never put mine on the wall. They didn’t want to disturb public order I guess. There were portraits of Lenin in each classroom. Deutsche Internationale Schule doesn’t have any portraits in classrooms. How do they condition their youth?!

I went to the toilet after the lesson and that’s where I got surprised: the white and red tiles, superstar mirrors, garbage bins built in the walls, and design pots, sinks and taps. Besides from being super fancy, these toilets are also the very definition of clean. I remembered my school. The toilets. I will not describe them here – better for the public order. One thought struck me when I was washing my hands: if my school had had such toilets, what would have become of me?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Doomed

Facebook has introduced the new profile. Yes, again. And yes, the privacy settings changed too. I’ve spent last four days trying to make a chart that would help to determine the level of one’s privacy on Facebook. I’ll be honest – I failed. Privacy on Facebook is an elaborate 3-d model. Making it would require a computer program with an extensive algorithm and hopefully less than seven million years. But you may see the result of my naïve struggle and hopefully learn something from it.

Imagine you’re a public figure in the spotlight for some reason. With your current privacy settings how likely are you to survive the (yellow) press that are searching for any personal information to feed the hunger of the masses? Let me know! (Click on the image to see it in its full size.)
According to my chart I am doomed! Still that is not a good enough reason to abandon my privacy settings and share everything with the public. Because my privacy settings affect my friends a great deal. I might be willing to share private things with the world (which I very often do on this blog), but I certainly can’t expect all my friends to be this way. So, believe it or not, even I am quite careful when it comes to the Facebook privacy settings.

I don’t mean to scare you. Remember that Facebook is nothing more than a reflection of your real life. Just refrain from doing and saying things you could be (or should be) ashamed of. Then I am sure, whatever your privacy settings are – you’ll be fine!

Feel free to share!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My first

Guten Abend! Mein Name ist Sasha und ich bin siebenunddreißig Jahre alt. (page 8) But after my first German lesson I feel as if I where three. Or ninety three depending on how you look at it. If I am to learn German I’ll certainly need more challenge.

Wie heißen Sie? Woher kommen Sie? (page 9 of our study book) Petra (die Lehrerin) kommt aus Deutschland. Albert Einstein auch. (page 9) But he is not in our group. There are seven people in our group. Lucio kommt aus Italien. May kommt aus Taiwan. Alex kommt aus Kamerun. April kommt aus den USA. Victor kommt aus Russland. We also have Mohammed. Er kommt aus Marokko. And myself aus der Ukraine.

Leonardo da Vinci kommt aus Italien. (still on page 9) „Lucio, could you please name a famous Italian person?“ „Apart from Berlusconi, you mean?“ – Lucio pauses to think. „Mussolini“ – Victor suggests.

Homework: write about yourself using the words and sentences from pages 8 and 9. I think I’ll skip to page 32. My German pronunciation sucks.

Ich weiss warum - 2raumwohnung

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Puzzled

I think I shouldn’t spend so much time with men. They make me less feminine. Men persuade me to engage in more active sports and activities than I’d usually do. Some time ago one man managed to make me climb a mountain. He didn’t really ask whether I wanted to, he confronted me with the plan. I did enjoy it a lot, but just the idea.

Today another man pushed me even further – I did some 45 minutes of waterskiing. Well, at least I tried. I managed to stand on the skis for about one minutes three times. The rest of the time I was swimming. He said he was proud of me.

What’s next: ice hockey? Car racing? Boxing? I thought men liked feminine women. But then why do they like to perform masculine activities with me? This puzzles me a little.

It’s been a while since I sent you to Vorontsov, but he didn’t stop making wonderful photos.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Temptation


My back and shoulders were giving me trouble again. I suffered the whole day at work. I had to go for a swim to make it to the next day. Swimming is the answer!

I got home, changed, had a very fast dinner, packed my bag and checked the opening hours of the swimming pools in The Hague. Only one was still open. It’d take about thirty minutes by bike, and once I’d get there I’d have about an hour to swim. Good enough.

‘You have a little more than half-an-hour before the closing time’ – I was warned by the man at the counter. ‘But your website... Never mind.’ I ran to the changing rooms. Thirty minutes is very little. I changed and locked my stuff. I had to pee, but didn’t find a toilet inside the changing area. ‘I’ll do it on my way back’ – I thought heading for the pool.

The small sport pool was occupied by a group doing aqua aerobics. I was bound to use the recreation pool with underwater lighting, curves and streams. On the bright side - I had it all to myself. I used my time to the max and got out only when they started switching off the lights.

By now I needed to pee really bad. But I still had to shower, put my clothes on and pack my things. That would take some time even if I skipped the hairdryer. I stood in the shower letting warm water flow over me. My bladder was now threatening to explode.

I looked at the aqua aerobics women. They were chatting, picking up their things, slowly approaching.  But they were still far enough. The thought was too tempting, but I’d have to make up my mind really quick: ‘If I am fast and discreet...’ I watched the women approaching...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Lost

So she met this man. He said he loved her. Apparently she wanted to believe it. Maybe it was true. It all depends on one’s definition of love really. In a couple of weeks she transformed into a person none of us was able to recognise anymore.

In a rapid tempo she was giving up things she'd always claimed to stand for. She stopped dancing. She changed her religion without even noticing it. She lost touch with men who wanted more from her. Then with men she used to be close with. She moved to another city giving up her apartment. Then she called her female friends with a formal announcement that she didn’t want any contact.

I was one of the lucky ones to receive a phonecall. “I now have a man who does everything for me. I am very happy.” - she said in a dry formal voice. Yesterday she deleted her Facebook and Hyves accounts wiping off contact possibility with many people at once. How long before she gives up her LinkedIn, changes her e-mail address and both phonenumbers?

I am now torn between being angry at her for abandoning me just like that and being scared for her sensing a future in total isolation. I know I can’t save her because she absolutely doesn’t want to be saved. But what am I to do? Lose her out of sight and pretend everything’s fine? I don’t know...


I don’t know why, but I found this song very comforting today: Elin Ruth Sigvardsson - Dead Man Walking (you’d better listen to this song on Spotfy, though)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monsters

The train had just departed and I was still busy with my tea and croissants (breakfast) when I accidentally overheard two men talking. “So what do you want to become when you’re done with your studies?” “A physics teacher.” That’s when I looked up from my breakfast surprised and curious. The man in his early thirties looked like a secondary school teacher already.

Why on Earth one would want to become a teacher?! I remember a young mathematics teacher who was supposed to teach us while our regular teacher was ill. Believe it or not, I was a very quiet and well behaved kid. But even I failed to behave during those classes. The guy was called Eduard Aleksandrovich and I was replacing his first name with: leopard, erudite, parasite, etc.

I remember participating in humming actions against the teacher of Russian. All children were humming with their mouths closed and if the teacher approached you, you’d stop making sound. As soon as she’d move away you resumed humming again. So she was moving in a bubble of silence through the humming space and no one could be punished.

I remember singing during geography classes and minding my own totally irrelevant business during the lessons of Ukrainian (in case you were wondering why my Ukrainian is so bad – that’s why). I remember the whole class building an ingenious construction around the class door to make sure the chemistry teacher would get hit by a mop and get water splashed all over him as soon as he’d open the door. It worked. I remember... too much to describe here!

So why on Earth people would want to become a teacher when they risk all this happening to them? Never say never. But children are monsters and you’ll never find me in front of a classroom!

Maia Hirasawa - The Wrong Way

Friday, 9 September 2011

Knitting

I was passing that nice knitting shop on the Westeinde and couldn’t help peeking in. A group of women sat around the table in the middle of the shop – chatting, knitting. No, not a group of women. There was one man at the table. Just as the rest of the group he had some knitting project in his hands. It’s very unusual to see a man indulge in such a typically feminine activity.

Women have gone a long way in claiming their right to do stuff that was considered men’s domain. But it seems men are either bound to the traditional pattern (and an enormous pressure to comply) or are torn between the traditional pattern and attempts to comply with the feminist view of the world order. But what is it that men really want?

Do men in our society have a free choice when deciding on their behaviour, occupation and hobbies? They now seem to take a more active role in the household and childcare and some are very happy at least with the latter. Still it seems this kind of development is initiated by women.

We have allowed them to work in typically female professions, we've let them take over some of the household tasks, we've even made them shave their armpits. But what do men really want? And when will they stand up for their right to get it? For their right to take part in a knitting club without looking strange?
Photo by Wolfgang Josten

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Absolute beginner

So following my intention to not get a baby, but learn German I went to the Goethe Institute today and enrolled myself on a course of German language.

I made an attempt to take the basic test they offer to determine the level. The test confirmed – I’m an absolute beginner. I don’t like beginners’ language groups. I tend to comprehend the material twice as fast and feel bored and annoyed for the rest of the time. But the lady assured me I can switch to a higher level if I move fast enough. And that’s what I am determined to do!

I found it very amusing that the ‘intake’ lady could not speak Dutch very well. I haven’t seen many Germans stumbling over Dutch. :)

Excited I went back to The Hague. The lessons start in two weeks, I can’t wait. I got off the train and headed for the book shop to get my dictionaries. I was all consumed with my excitement, trying to speak German in my head already, when I saw a homeless man on the sidewalk. He was consumed with polishing his shoes with a piece of toilet paper.

It’s remarkable how two people at the same time in the same place can be concerned with such totally different things. I bought my dictionaries. And I’m still very excited.

Absolute Beginners- Carla Bruni

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A baby?!

The words reached me and revealed their meaning a few seconds after the waitress had finished the sentence. I got this funny feeling again. The one that had been haunting me for the past two days. Only this time I suddenly felt more. I felt it was time for the next step. I took a deep breath and before I realised what was happening I asked a question. In that princely restaurant in Vaduz on my birthday, there and then for the first time in my life I asked a question in correct German!

No, I am not going to have a baby as the majority of the voters suggested! As long as there’s no dedicated father (extremely high standards apply!), there’ll be no baby. So thirteen of twenty six voters can relax – no Spotify for those.

No eco farm either. It’s not because I’m opposed to eco (although some people might think so), but because farm isn’t quite the right environment for an urban creature like me. Apparently most of the voters (all except for three) know that about me. Although, with my adventurous nature and the ability to change direction, one never knows...

Flying lessons are no longer a no-go area, but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea. I might want to polish my driving skills first. So, no flying lessons. Not yet. To those six voters – thank you for your trust in me.

Most people voted for the sake of voting and didn’t care to let me know their choice (which was required to be able to win the prize). Of four people that voted for German, only one revealed his identity to me. So we have a winner and I’ll contact him to get his Spotify premium to him.

I am sorry to disappoint you, but no baby. I am going to learn German! This might not sound very exciting to you, but I am very excited. Tomorrow I am going to Goethe Institute in Rotterdam to determine at which level I should start. Yay!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

I love the police

Yesterday I got locked at a cemetery. Yes a cemetery. The Portuguese-Israelite Cemetery. I came there to see it and to make photos. No I didn’t climb over the wall, I came through the gate. Yes, the gate was open. No, I was not hiding. There’s no place to hide anyway. Unless one would lie under a gravestone. I didn’t.
No I didn’t panic when I found the gate was closed. I was just very thirsty and rather excited. Because I had to call the police! So I did. They said they’d send someone and asked me to wait in the meanwhile. As if I had any choice!

If you ever go somewhere where you could be locked in, make sure you have a smartphone with you with internet access. Because if you do, it’ll allow you to search internet for help. And when you don’t find anything useful on the internet you’ll be able to call the police. And while you wait for the police you can entertain your friends with Twitter and Facebook updates and comfort yourself with Wordfeud and some music. I did all of the above. I found Klezmer very appropriate for the occasion.

Police came within ten, maybe fifteen minutes. A guy on a bike, that is. He was good looking, friendly, practical and fast. He talked to a colleague in the office, knocked on the door of the warden’s house, walked around to examine the walls and ignored the curious passers-by. Then he went to the nearby café, came back with a ladder and a man and voila – I was on the other side of the gate. I thanked him, he wished me a good day and off we went in different directions.

I love the Dutch police! And my iPhone.

Don’t forget to vote!


Thursday, 1 September 2011

500,000

I share the city I live in with half-a-million other people. This morning The Hague welcomed its 500,000th resident. The city went crazy for a couple of hours: the bells of the Grote Kerk tolled, cannon shots were fired on the Plein and Dutch rusks with green and yellow aniseed comfits (beschuit met groen-gele muisjes) were doled. I was at work and missed that all.

Until I was fifteen, I haven’t seen a city smaller than one million inhabitants. The one million one was Saratov (even though because of the heavy military production it never officially reached one million, attributing people to surrounding villages) and I used to think of it as a small town. Which in a way it was back then. When I started travelling, I’d discovered that the world is much smaller than I thought. Amsterdam is smaller than Saratov!

The Hague is smaller than Saratov, but somehow it’s not. There’s much more life here on this tiny piece of land – our government, The Queen, international organisations, theatres, cinemas, museums, concerts, festivals, art galleries, shops, parks...

Still of all the cities I’ve lived in and visited so far The Hague is the one that resembles Saratov the most. It’s not the look of it. It’s the way sun lights the buildings on a March afternoon when the tram number eleven strolls along. It’s the way the air smells on a chilly morning in February. It’s the way the August voices sound when I hear them through the open door of my kitchen.

I think I´ll stick for a while.

Mélissa Laveaux - Needle in the Hay

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Irony

Last year around this time I’d discovered my Dutch nationality was about to turn five years old. There was a party with a cake. This year I am reflecting on my being Dutch again.

Obviously, by acquiring Dutch nationality I didn’t lose all the other national and ethnic characteristics I’d had before. I am never only Dutch or only Russian or only anything else. I am everything I am. All at once. And I cherish this diversity. But becoming Dutch is something I did very consciously. It was something I’d had invested time and efforts in. And unfortunately my being Dutch is the least recognised by the outside world.

Ironically, the more compliments people give me about my being well integrated into the Dutch society, the more they stress I actually do not belong there. Think about it: you never compliment a Dutch person for speaking Dutch very well, do you?

A couple of months ago I have explained a friend of mine what I do as a social media consultant. He was very enthusiastic and sent me a couple of links to social media articles and TV reports he’d come across. My friend is German and the articles were in German. “Thank you for your trust in my ability to understand German” – I told him. “Of course! You are Dutch. All Dutch understand German” – he replied.

Needless to say – I loved the remark! At first it seemed a great compliment to my language skills. Later I realised this was much more than that. This was the first time I felt my Dutch side being truly accepted. Somehow this felt very liberating. Even though this acceptance came from a German. Now isn’t THAT ironic?

Remember this one? Alanis Morissette - Ironic

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Magritte

“I despise my own past and that of others. I despise resignation, patience, professional heroism and all the obligatory sentiments. I also despise the decorative arts, folklore, advertising, the voice of the radio presenters, aerodynamics, scouting, the smell of gasoline, the actuality and drunken people. I like subversive humour, freckles, knees, long female hair, dreams of young children who are still free, and a young girl that runs over the street. I long for real love, for the impossible and the utopian. I am afraid to discover where exactly my limits are."

The Magritte Museum was on my Brussels programme today. I bought this postcard for my ‘kisses collection’.
René Magritte – The Lovers

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Reverse engineering

The last couple of days I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of my ideal man. I can’t name the immediate cause for these thoughts. I’d just stumbled upon them, probably not by pure chance, but still quite unexpected.

I thought of putting all the characteristics of my ideal man on paper to get a portrait of that wonderful creature. I could frame it, put it on my wall and admire him.

But instead of writing down all the positive things I’d love to see in my man, I kept on thinking of everything I don’t want. My head was overflowing with negative features of all my ex partners, male friends and family members, acquaintances and men I’d heard or read about.

Maybe I should write down all the negative stuff and then try to (re)construct my ideal man by applying the opposite? Would ‘reverse engineering’ be a correct term for this?

De-Phazz - Heartfixer

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Spotify Premium anyone?

It dawned on me at a restaurant in Vaduz. Later I realised that the thought that came to me at that moment didn’t reveal anything new. It rather showed something that was already there. Like a rare word the meaning of which you all of sudden appear to know without being able remember how you got that knowledge. Like a dream you didn’t dare to admit you had, because you’d always thought it was silly. Like a desire you didn’t dare to think of because everyone around considers it inappropriate. It sits there until something happens and you are confronted with it with no escape possibilities.

How long did I know this without knowing? Must be quite some time now. The restaurant was just a last drop, the final link in a chain of events. The idea itself felt very natural and logical. I was rather surprised by the fact that it didn’t occur to me before.

It was a relief. I felt light, happy and ready for action. I will do it!!!

I promised to tell you about the revelation I’d had in Liechtenstein and I certainly will keep my promise. But first let’s get you that Spotify Premium subscription!

There’s a poll on the right. Vote in the poll and send me a message (e-mail, FB message, Twitter DM or through my About.me. Comments on FB and this blog will not count!) with the option that you’ve chosen in the poll. Please do it at the same time, so I can track you. Out of people who made the right choice I will randomly choose the winner.

The winner will get one month of Spotify Premium from me! If Spotify isn’t active in your country I can send you a CD of your choice provided it has the equivalent price.

Mind the deadline – September 4, 2011, 23:59 CET.

Good luck! (I’m thrilled!)

Friday, 19 August 2011

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller or one more victory

“Reading is a discontinuous and fragmentary operation. Or, rather, the object of reading is a punctiform and pulviscular material. In the spreading expanse of the writing, the reader’s attention isolates some minimal segments, juxtapositions of words, metaphors, syntactic nexuses, logical passages, lexical peculiarities that prove to possess an extremely concentrated density of meaning.”

I am not easily scared of heavy reading. I’ve read The Foundation Pit, The Tin Drum and The Elementary Particles with great pleasure. But even I do have my limits.

I was struggling with Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller for two months! First I was hoping the book would get going and carry me away. Then I kept on reading because I promised the friend who recommended it to give it a chance. When that point passed I was persisting in the hope all the unfinished stories would miraculously come together at some point. At two thirds of the book it was clear that was not going to happen. I then started looking for a hidden meaning. At three quarters I understood that whatever meaning there is I will not be able to see or understand it. But then I was so far advanced I decided to finish and add the book to my list. Besides, I was on vacation and didn’t have any other book with me.

Even though I understand Calvino stands for high quality literature, I wouldn’t be able to recommend this book to anybody. And even though I’ve won the fight a couple of days ago, I still feel devastated and do not dare to start reading the next book. I am too afraid to feel simple and illiterate again.

I’m sure I’ll recover eventually. And if you decide to read If On a Winter’s Night a traveller – it’s at your own risk. I warned you!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Ontdekking van de Lidl

“Mam, mogen we dit? Dit is hetzelfde als bij Albert Heijn, maar dan twee keer goedkoper en in een plastic flesje.” Het meisje van een jaar of zestien laat het flesje vruchtensap aan haar moeder zien. Ze is simpel, maar stijlvol gekleed. Ze straalt zakelijkheid uit. De moeder niet.

De moeder is niet zakelijk. Ze is onopvallend, heeft een bezorgde blik en is vooral ergens mee bezig in haar hoofd. Misschien met rekenen of misschien met iets anders. Ze kijkt lang naar het flesje. Langer dan normaal gesproken nodig zou zijn om ‘ja’ of ‘nee’ te besluiten. Ze is niet gewend om haar kinderen een flesje vruchtensap te ontzeggen. “Hoeft niet per se, hoor.” – zegt het meisje bemoedigend, maar nog steeds heel zakelijk.

Haar een paar jaar jongere broertje staat verderop voor een schap met kant-en-klare salades. Hij was met zijn mobieltje iets aan het uitrekenen. Nu haast hij zich naar zijn zus en moeder. Hij is nog een paar meters van hen verwijderd, maar kan uit verbazing en enthousiasme zijn ontdekking niet meer voor zich houden. “Je betaalt hier voor…” – er volgt een uitgebreide prijzenanalyse, uitgerekend per gram. Hij heeft een houding van iemand die op vakantie is in een vreemd land. Je kan dan over de hele winkel heen schreeuwen, toch niemand die je verstaat.

Dat laatste is in deze Lidl naast de Haagse Markt deels ook wel waar. De helft van de bezoekers is de Nederlandse taal niet voldoende machtig om deze mensen te kunnen verstaan. Dus blijft hun niet al te verborgen familiedrama onopgemerkt. Wat doen ze hier? Waarom is de moeder zo bezorgd? Waarom zijn de kinderen zo goed op de hoogte van wat hoeveel in verschillende supermarkten kost? Ik hoop dat het goed komt met ze…

Zo, mijn koelkast is weer gevuld.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Maps

Last months have been full of travelling, packing and unpacking. I take care of clothes almost immediately once I’m home, but bags, travel guides and bills from vacations have been laying around unattended up till now. Bit by bit I am trying to clear the space.

Today I came across maps - Cyprus, France, Liechtenstein. I love city maps as much as I love cities. It’s a kind of ritual to ask for a map upon arrival to a new city, to determine the historical sites area, the shopping area, the restaurants area. Then find yourself within.

I unfold one of the maps and look at the web of streets. In my head lines on the map transform in buildings, shop windows and street signs. I even remember where and how I got that map. I remember walking into the tourist office in Victoria on Gozo asking for a city map. I couldn’t hide a smile when I heard the answer: “We do not have city maps. We only have maps of the whole island.” My vacation maps are heavily used, worn out in a couple of days or even hours. This time all of them are free maps that I picked up at hotels, airports or tourist offices. In my opinion, cities that do not have free maps are not civilised enough.

I should throw these maps away. Keeping them is no use. But I can’t let them go. Not yet. They remind me of travelling, of the places I’ve seen, of the times with no worries. I try to think of some creative possibilities to recycle them, to let them stick around for a little longer. Internet suggestions are no use and nothing original comes to mind.

I take the map of Calais and cut it into a large snowflake. Then throw it to the bin together with all the other maps. That was easier than I’d anticipated.

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