Saturday, March 28, 2009

Oeteldonk Revisited

At the graduation party for Anouk, I told some other collected relatives that we had attended carnival in Den Bosch. Every resident of Netherlands knows it is drink filled days of costumed fun. So naturally I was asked what I had thought about the event. And I said, "Oeteldonk was great! We had a wonderful time." The response I got was "Oeteldonk, yes!" In other words I had pronounced Oeteldonk correctly. As well as using it properly in sentence. Oeteldonk means frog hill and is the carnival name for Den Bosch.

This correct pronunciation did not come about because I have any special abilities. Shirlee has been insistent that if I say a Dutch word, I at least get close to pronouncing it correctly. Also during a conversation with our Oeteldonk hosts Lex and Maria I tried my first saying out loud the word "Oeteldonk" and it came out "Oteldunk." I butchered it. Maria immediately responded with "It's Oeteldonk, Oeteldonk, Oeteldonk"** I then repeated her and committed it to memory.

I want to thank Maria for teaching me how to speak just a little more Dutch than I did before. And giving me the ability to surprise Nederlanders far and wide with my knowledge of a "Below the River" tradition.

** That's "Oe" pronounced as in oo la la, "tel" as in the beginning of telephone, and "donk" as in honk, only with a d."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Anouk’s graduation

Yesterday we were privileged to be invited to attend Anouk’s graduation ceremony, where she received her Master of Science in Health Care Psychology and the Dutch doctorandus. (Anouk is one of “our Dutch girls,” young women from The Netherlands who rented our guest room in San Francisco while they studied at San Francisco State.) She was the first to receive this degree as the program was only instituted last fall.

The ceremony here is entirely different from that in the U.S. It is both more casual and more personal. Family and a few friends gather with the graduate and two officials from the university. One official does all of the talking, and the other just signs the diploma when it’s passed to him. (The talking official signs too.) When all of the official paperwork and presentation is done, the graduate can ask a professor or adviser who actually knows her to give a short speech. Anouk invited the man who supervised her internship to do the honors. Then it’s over. Everyone leaves to make room for the next group, and there is much kissing and congratulations all around in the hallway. Finally, off to the party at Anouk’s parents’ house. We think this is an excellent way to do things.

Now all of this was in Dutch, but I’ve been practicing and could catch most of what talking official man said and some of what the adviser said. Talking official man startled Anouk and everyone else by explaining that the ceremony is called something with the word “exam” in it, so he felt he should give her an exam. Of course, he was mostly kidding, but he did persist until Anouk answered the two questions: what is your greatest strength and what is your greatest weakness. Sweet and shy Anouk was quick to name “talking in front of people” as her weakness. With coaxing it emerged that she really likes research and analysis. In fact, we know that she’s re-writing her thesis for publication in a journal, so she must be quite good at that.

Anouk’s adviser seemed like a very nice man, and he was clearly quite fond of her, as we all are. He said how much he admired her perseverance in meeting the challenges she faced and that he was honored to know her. Her work was in forensic psychology, and she had to interview some criminals with mental problems. (I’m not sure if you would translate this as criminally insane or not. Maybe someone who knows will confirm or correct in a comment. I know some of the family read the blog.) He also said something about her plan to move to Australia permanently, but Anouk assured us later that she wasn’t planning that anymore.

Anouk's graduationIn this photo: Anouk’s advisor (sitting), Anouk, talking official man, and silent official man (sitting)

The party at the van Gerwen’s was very nice. We met more aunts and uncles, including uncle Hans, who gave us a ride. Everyone toasted Anouk with bubbly, and we had yummy deviled eggs, salmon hors d’oeuvres, and cake. Ria had more food for later, of course, but we needed to get home to feed Märzen, so we left a little early.

The van Gerwen familyIn this photo: Jan, Anouk, and Ria van Gerwen

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Those living lady liberties

My friend Marike just caught up on the blog and recognized the living Statues of Liberty from a newspaper article. It seems that they were wandering around the city center to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Manhattan by Henry Hudson as captain of a Dutch East Indies Company ship. Thanks, Marike!

Marike also sent me photos from our trip to Amersfoort, but I need to write a blog entry to go with them, so they’ll be coming later.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lunch and a canal boat ride

This week has been mostly sunny and warmer. That meant that John and our dock neighbor Andrew Smith (no relation) could finally tackle a job that our harbor master lined up for them: cleaning and doing the bottom paint on a six-meter canal boat that has a slip here. In order to paint the bottom, of course, you have to get the boat out of the water, and that meant taking it to a marina on the other side of the river IJ that has a TraveLift, Jachthaven Twellegea.

Twellegea is in the Nieuwendam neighborhood, which turns out to be quite charming. Nieuwendam, we learned, was an independent community until after World War I. It had its own shipbuilding industries that competed successfully against those in Amsterdam, and many of the old buildings and houses have been preserved. We considered spending the winter there, but opted for the central Amsterdam marina. Staying in Twellegea would have been an entirely different experience. Instead of walking to the supermarket, we would have had to make the rounds of the baker, butcher, and green grocer, and we probably would have gotten to know more of the local people.

In just the few days they were there, John and Andrew became regulars for lunch at a little café that another dock neighbor told them about. Café ‘t Sluisje sits on the dike next to a little lock (sluisje) and has a dock and terrace. Andrew took his dog with him, and Rusty was welcome in the café too, a common thing here. It all sounded so gezellig, so we made plans for me to go with them on the day that they put the boat back in the water. We would have lunch and then bring the boat back across the IJ and through the canals to Westerdok.

Yesterday was the day. After morning clouds, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day for our little adventure.

Café 't SluisjeCafé 't Sluisje is pretty typically Dutch and very historic. There were three dogs in the restaurant while we were there: Andrew's dog Rusty, the owner's dachshund puppy, and someone's German shepherd.

MontelbaanstorenMontelbaanstoren, an old city guard tower. As John took this photo, he pondered how many other shots he's taken of it.

John on PrinzengrachtJohn did most of the driving. This is probably in Prinzengracht.

Bikes on a bridge in AmsterdamJust some bikes chained to a bridge. Actually, this bridge is more sparsely populated than many.

Andrew Smith with Round Lutheran Church in backgroundOur friend Andrew Smith with the Round Lutheran Church in the background.

Shirlee passing by Hotel BrouwerMe. I had John take this photo because five years ago, we visited Amsterdam with friends and stayed in the hotel (Hotel Brouwer) that's behind me. We wished then that we could be drinking bubbly on a boat touring the canals—and now we were.

MunttorenApproaching the Munttoren on the Singel. This is another old guard tower. It's the one right by the famous floating flower market.

Statues of Liberty by MunttorenWe don't know why these people were dressed as the Statue of Liberty on the bridge by the Munttoren, but as we approached, we yelled "New York" to them, and they turned and waved.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Carnival photo pages posted

John has been busy with his photo pages, so now we have two more available. They are identified as Oeteldonk Intocht and Oeteldonk Optocht (Carnival in Den Bosch) on our photo page.

In case you haven’t been to our Web site and photo pages before, it might help you to know that recent updates are listed in the column on the left, both on the Home page and on the photo page. The photo page lists individual photo pages in reverse chronological order, so the most recent pictures are near the top. Pages are grouped by country. British Columbia is a bit of an exception. It’s in the proper order, but instead of listing all B.C. photo pages on the main page, it has it’s own page of listings with a link on the main page. B.C. is exceptionally photogenic.

Once you get to the individual photo page, you see thumbnails of all of the photos. Mouse-over the thumbnail for a brief description. Click the thumbnail to pop-up a larger photo. I don’t think the pop-up photos are affected by pop-up blockers, but if you don’t get the large photo, check your pop-up blocker settings. All pages have a link near the bottom to return to the main photo page. Older photo pages from 2006 don’t work quite the same way, but they’re more self-explanatory.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

New old photos

When I started a Sceptre group on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I asked for photos of Sceptres and started looking for nice ones we had of Solstice. That’s when I realized that a whole group of photos had never been posted: the ones for Desolation Sound in 2007. Actually, we somehow neglected to put the page together at all. That has now been remedied, and the Desolation Sound photos are now available.

We’re also working on our Carnaval/Carnival photos. John has finished the page for the intocht, the parade for the arrival of the prince, but I’m waiting for the optocht (grand parade) photos before I post. Meanwhile, I found a representative video of both parades on YouTube. That’s what you see below. As far as I can tell, we aren’t in it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Two museums and dinner at a restaurant

It’s been a busy week. When I went with Marike to De Nieuwe Kerk last week to see some works by Anton Heyboer among the exhibit from the Stedelijk Museum, I bought annual museum passes for John and me. If I’d known about them then, I would have bought them when we first arrived, but we still have most of two months left in The Netherlands, and the passes are good throughout the country for over 300 museums. We’ve made a list of the museums in Amsterdam that we’d like to visit/revisit, and we’ll be seeing at least two a week this month.

This week we went to the Allard Pierson Museum (the archeological museum of the University of Amsterdam) and the Rembrandt House Museum. Both were excellent, and we’re really glad we didn’t miss them. The Egyptian collection at the Allard Pierson was especially impressive. At the Rembrandt House, there was an American (or perhaps Canadian) demonstrating printing from etchings. Our tastes in art run more to the modern, but there were hundreds of paintings and etchings in the house from Rembrandt’s time. And the audio tour was free, so we had a good idea what we were seeing.

This is Dutch Restaurant Week, and Mom gave us money for a dinner out for Christmas, so we combined the two. I made our reservations weeks ago, and even then, I was almost too late. All of the participating restaurants offer three-course dinners for €25, so for some of the restaurants, it’s an extraordinarily good deal. The only Michelin-starred restaurant on the list was already sold out, but I found a little place in our neighborhood to try (Restaurant PS), and it was really good.

Our first course included a little cauliflower soup with cilantro, a beet and beet green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and a crostini with crème fraîche, salmon and capers. Before that, though, they brought us slices of lovely warm bread to go with the butter, pimento salsa, and pesto that were already on the table. Although the salsa and pesto were yummy, we both really enjoyed the simple bread and butter.

We had a choice between fish and lamb for our entrée, and since we’d been eating fish the past couple of days, the decision was easy: rack of lamb. The four-rib rack was served resting against a potato, carrot and onion dish that reminded us of Dutch hutspot, except that the vegetables were thinly sliced and baked like scalloped potatoes instead of being mashed together. A nice touch, we thought. There were also peeled cherry tomatoes and fresh green asparagus, our first of the season, and, of course, a tasty sauce for the lamb.

For dessert, I had the cheese plate and John had the sweet. His sweet was a white chocolate tart with dried fruit and nuts served with an amazing dark chocolate amaretto sorbet. He gave me bites and let me finish the sorbet when he was full. My cheese plate had a variety of breads and crackers with four cheeses. I’m terrible about remembering the names, but there was a nice soft one, a medium soft one, a hard one, and Shropshire Blue. (English cheese that we’ve had before is easier to remember.) The Shropshire was especially good on the slightly sweet fig bread.

The restaurant was pretty, the service was good, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. I must say, though, that Ria van Gerwen’s dinner was more elegant. That one will be hard to beat.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


We really didn’t know what to expect for Carnival. Neither of us had been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras; we’d only seen it in the movies and on TV. And we were certain that there wouldn’t be any women wearing only body paint as there are in Brazil. It’s just too cold here. So we were glad to have Saturday evening with Lex and Maria to talk about what we were going to be doing and to watch some Carnival events on TV.

We went to only two events: the arrival of the Prince on Sunday and the main parade on Monday. But first we needed to dress up a bit. Many people wear whole costumes; we did the minimum, which is a scarf in the red, white and yellow colors of ‘s Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch). I also added a stocking cap with Oeteldonk (the name of Den Bosch during Carnival) on it and pulled some red-and-white stripped socks up over the bottoms of my jeans. Lex and Maria have costumes that they wear every year, but they aren’t elaborate, so we didn’t feel out of place.

Shirlee and Maria in Oeteldonk attire

What was most amazing to me was the community spirit. There were red, white and yellow banners everywhere. And frogs. Oetel is frog in the dialect of Den Bosch, and Oeteldonk translates as frog hill, the historic Den Bosch being slightly higher than the surrounding lowlands. Lex and Maria assured us that many of the people in the crowds came from other places—north of the rivers that divide the north and south of The Netherlands, for example—but everyone had the Oeteldonk spirit.

If you’ve ever been to the Castro on Halloween, you have some idea of the crowds involved. But there was no violence at all, and people were good-natured about the pushing and shoving required to move from one place to another in the crush. And move people do! There are Carnival clubs whose members dress in the same theme and dance around and party for the whole three days of the celebration. Many of the clubs participate in the parades or have bands. Lex says it’s hard work to be in a club.

I was really impressed with the quality of many of the marching bands—their music, not their marching. High schools and colleges here don’t have bands, so they were all regular citizen groups. John was most impressed by the bandleader who stopped in the middle of one parade and whipped out a bottle of jenever (Dutch gin), which he proceeded to share with everyone who held out a glass. Yes, there was drinking and lots of cigarette smoking, even by those in the parade.

A fun but less musical band

In fact, a common theme was the national ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. It was reported in the news that the police would dress in costume and check to see if people were smoking in the pubs so that they could levy fines. So, of course, many people had costumes that included the word politie (police). It was the first Carnival since the ban. We’re told that the pubs are packed with lines outside, so it is a hardship to first force your way outside for a smoke and then have to stand in line to get back in. We assume that the prohibition was largely ignored.

Other common themes were the financial crisis and Barack Obama. Apparently, many Dutch put their savings in Icelandic banks for the higher interest. And Dutch banks have been hard hit too. There was a very clever funeral march for the blue lion that was the symbol of a Dutch bank that was taken over by ING, itself not that healthy. Another favorite was the “Yes we can-can” dancers, which we also saw spelled out in dialect.

"We shall overcome" and "Yes we can" in dialect

All in all, we had a delightful time, and we’re very glad that we had the opportunity to experience Dutch carnival. Once again Lex and Maria were extremely gracious hosts, and this time it was nice not to have to worry about Märzen. Sjoerd and Julia kept her at their apartment for us. Thanks to them all!