Downwind of Amsterdam
May 2003

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May 28, 2003

Dutch Vocabulary: A Contest. Logolatry

Then there's this thing where a reasonably educated, good humored Anglophone, sauntering along a Dutch sidewalk, without warning stops in his tracks and bursts into loud laughter. No one around him can imagine why. Well, here's why:

English and Dutch almost certainly sprang from the same roots, so many, many words have diverged in meaning little enough to be recognizable but far enough for bizarre twists in meaning. Anglophones can come very close to understanding some simple Dutch sentences without help. Wat heb je in je hand? for "What have you in your hand?" Or perhaps Ik vind dat goed for "I find that good."

But sometimes the relations are just, well, WEIRD. We can shop sign: U kunt hier pinnen + chippen even make a game out of this, and in fact I recommend it! Here is a minor example to get us started: What is called in English a squid is in Dutch een inktvis. An ink fish. OK, besides illustrating our game here, it also illustrates the Dutch penchant for startlingly direct talk. None of this "Could you repeat that please?"--they just spit out "Wat zegt U?" Now, to an American ear this comes across as "What the hell did you just say?" but really it's just how the Dutch speak. No wasted effort. An American businessman may think he speaks directly, but if anyone addressed him as bluntly as even Dutch husbands and wives do, he would simply faint.

OK, back to our faux amis. I'll give the best I've found in just my first few days here, just for fun ranked in some measure of increasing interest. Drum rolls, please:

  • TENTH PLACE: Afhalen for "take-out," as in take-out food. In Holland you are not allowed simply to take something out from a snack bar, you must HAUL it OFF. I like it.
  • Lopen for "walking." Dutch verbs are a laugh riot for Anglophones. You can go on and on, so many of them are just off enough to keep your interest. Heffen for "to lift" --or-- schieten (pronounced roughly "skeet-en") for "to shoot" --or-- delven for "to dig" -- Stop, stop, you're killing me...
  • Ja, hoor for something like "You bet". Careful with this one. Don't see it? Do try this scenario: She: "Wanna go out tonight?" He: "Ja, hoor!" Whap!
  • Piccolo for "bellhop." OK--where the hell did that come from?
  • Kruispunt for "intersection," of streets, that is. Literally a "cross point," which is way too funny, since (1) you had best be wearing a cross when you enter one, and (2) if you persist in driving through Dutch intersections, sooner or later one will have cross with your name on it. No one here can quite decide whether or not a car turning right at an intersection has absolute right of way. At least in Belgium you know that no one ever looks when turning right. In the Netherlands they take it one step farther, actually trying to fake you out...and little crosses at intersections are the inevitable result. Likewise, the string of triangles on the pavement indicating that you must yield or die are called (I am NOT making this up): Shark's teeth.
  • Dank U for "thank you." You'll have to speak French to appreciate this one, but let's just say that I canNOT believe this doesn't cause daily fistfights in Brussels.
  • Badpak for "bathing suit." I suppose that value judgement depends on just what the wearer is packing, but this is tending towards the disturbing.
  • Bioscoop for "movie theater." Scarier yet. Sounds vaguely like they watched Alien one too many times, else I have NO idea where it could come from.
  • So, a drum roll, please, for...
  • SECOND PLACE: Hondpoepzak (poep is pronounced as "poop" in English) for, well..."canine waste bag." Again with the brutal directness. And my advice: don't even go near hondenfokker for "dog breeder."
  • Here a yet louder drum roll for...
  • without question, FIRST PLACE--and I REFUSE to believe that this is not a Divine Jest--goes to: TRAP for "staircase." Perfection. I have bandaged shins to prove it.
posted by eric at 21.17 CET | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 20, 2003

Saga of the BIG WHITE BOX

This is the story of The Big White Box.

Back in the Illinois hotel room, I was faced with choices--what would fit in a suitcase and a box, and what would have to stay behind. The Florida house was emptied, the hotel room had been nearly emptied, too, but when you're thinking of all the Stuff you've accumulated over 50 years, what is left in a hotel room doesn't look like much to you. But it looks like a hell of a lot to KLM and other airlines.

So when I learn that KLM will allow two checked pieces, I run out to buy two boxes, the 18" x 18" x 18" brown box that I hoped would hold everything, and a white 24" x 18" x 18" if not. The sum of sides must not exceed 62", so that was the limit. Sure enough, I have to unpack the small box and pack the larger white one. This is noon, and my flight leaves at 5 pm.

I seal the box and at the last moment write the Netherlands hotel address and phone number on it, and my last name on every surface. I'm all packed but running late. You've read earlier about my messy transit through O'Hare airport, and the Big White Box followed me every step; it disappears into Security, and I disappear into the departure area. The next morning at Schiphol airport it fails to show. When the nice Dutch lady at Baggage Service asks me how big it is and I tell her with my hands, she gasps. In best Netherlands form, she wags a finger at me, hands me an official receipt for my trouble, and tells me it will be all right.

It was bloody well not all right...

  • They phone Saturday night that it will arrive Sunday morning.
  • They phone Sunday morning that the Bighh Vite Bucks will arrive Sunday afternoon.
  • They phone Sunday afternoon that Meneer'ssh Very Bighh Vite Bucks weighs 44 kilos and so will require delivery on a special truck, Monday morning. Or I can come to the airport Monday morning and they will pay me 20 euros. I have no car yet--it's Sunday, after all--so the round trip will cost me 120 euros taxi fare or 40 euros taxi fare plus 10 euros train fare plus three hours' time. I signal to the hotel desk: No Thanks.
  • They phone Monday morning that it will, without fail, zeker appear Tuesday morning, and sure enough the desk points to the monster, and I get on my knees and hug it.
  • Maybe that would have gone better if I had hugged it in Chicago.

As I load it into my new rental car Tuesday morning, and my new landlady appears in the parking lot. We drive to the apartment, she opens the front door, and I nearly faint. Oh my God, I think to myself, if I try to live here for a year I will DIE. Here is the entry procedure:

  1. I unlock front door, enter, lock door behind me (extra points if carrying groceries, etc).
  2. Climb first then second circular flight of stairs.
  3. Unlock glass door to the outside, step through, lock door behind me (extra points if carrying).
  4. Walk 15 meters across other apartment's flat roof. I am not making this up. (Extra points if raining.)
  5. Unlock third door, step through, lock door behind me (third lock) (extra points etc).
  6. No, we're not finished yet.
  7. Doff shoes. Pick up stuff, mount steep steps absent any handrail, two turns past toilet. Dump stuff. Home again.

To go out, reverse process. No wonder the Dutch get home and stay home. Thuis blijven, they say.

Now, about the toilet. It is the size of a Corsican jail cell, if cleaner. Did I mention that the toilet and bathroom (actually, shower room) are separate. No, not just separate...on separate floors. You see, our climb into the stratosphere is in fact not done yet: it is a two-story apartment!!! To wash clothes or self requires another climb up steep stairs through the middle of the living room. In fact, I think I know how this apartment was designed slapped together. The other five apartments in the building got first dibs on space, and mine is tinkertoyed together from whatever space was left over. That has to be it.

After the day's work I come through the first of my new Trinity of Locked Doors, and in a crouch, there on the floor and eager to put an end my days in a spectacular, Icarian spill down the stairs lurks...the Big White Box--horrible, reptilian, relentlessly evil.

But already this place is home, and it sure isn't Florida out there. Anyway...a little WD-40 in the rusty locks, and after a few trips carrying up contents of the Big White Box up--piecewise, safely, in a successful bid to outwit it--and I hardly even notice the stairs any more. (How such a flat country can be so obsessed with steep stairs I haven't figured out yet.)

I remember my very first thought when I looked about the apartment with just the first of my things in it: So this is where my novel gets finished. I will sit at the desk and look down Achtermeulenweg and edit its 111000 words. This seems possible, even inevitable. A very good omen.

The rainy evening I spend unpacking enough things to remain clothed this week. Even the stuffed animals made it OK from: being lifted kicking and screaming (not really) for the last time from my writing desk in Florida, then riding in the car over the snow-covered mountain roads and across the Midwest, suffering with me in the claustrophobic Illinois hotel room where for all I know they decided we would live, then all of a sudden trucks and movers and boxes AGAIN, then a clandestine ride across big, big water. Well. When I grow utterly bored with unpacking (ten minutes) I walk in the mist to old Bussum and a nice dinner, and I walk home. Home. Sometime this week I'll have to figure out the grocery store. But not today. Who knows what the future will bring in this land of bicycles, but for now this is home. This is home. This is home.

posted by eric at 20.33 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 18, 2003

A Shock...then Debasement

Sunday morning. Slept late and lounged at the NH Naarden hotel's terrific brunch, waiting for the promised noon arrival of the Big White Box. In what passes for a lobby, I pass the time by drinking my fifth kopje koffie, sweating as a result, and reading (haha) a Dutch newspaper. The concierge takes a call and is soon yelling. She slams down the phone. She turns to me and explains: the BIG WHITE BOX is still in Chicago. Security there had some kind of problem with it. It will come on tonight's plane, and KLM will deliver it tomorrow between 9 and noon. It is delayed because it weighs (drum roll, please) ... 44 kilos! I told her that missing my first morning of work would probably be a bad omen, and so she agrees to sign for it, since so far as we know there are not customs issues. Maybe my painstakingly prioritized packing strategy (2-days' needs in my carry-on, 4-days' in the checked suitcase, 2-weeks' in the Big White Box, and 6-weeks' needs in a later airshipment) would pay off after all. There was nothing more to do, so I dug out the map, took a taxi 6 km to the town of Bussum, my new home. The driver knew the street, and before I knew it we were stopped on and admiring...

... Doctor Frederik van Eedenweg. My new neighborhood.

When I descend from the taxi, I note a field across the Dr F v.Eedenweg from apartments (yes, plural) 1A. Needless to say, being so close to urban open space in a nation as crowded as the Netherlands is quite the luxury...which is a good thing, since my apartment itself is, well, not likely to prove exactly luxurious.


Before I have walked 200 meters north along Dr. F.v.Eedenweg, I am confronted by...this. I am mesmerized, I have very strong and conflicting emotions. I also come to realize that I know this statue--from art class in my relative youth I believe, or perhaps just from reading sometime in the past year about the Netherlands--I can't say. I will have to do some serious research to find out. But just now I ignore the silent misting rain and step close, slowly, silently. I find I have put my hand to my mouth. I stop. I can no longer move. I feel myself breaking into sobbing.

Here I speak strictly for myself: this is easily the most moving statue I have ever beheld. The legend on the pedestal reads: VOOR DE GEVALLENEN 1940-1945. The subject is distressed beyond weeping and of course represents the grief of all the women and families and friends of all the soldiers and others who "fell", that is had their brains blown out or were crushed under rubble or worse, during the Netherlands' horror. The fallen don't suffer any more, it's over now, the dates on the pedestal want to say, but of course the hurt is never over. The flowers and ribbons around the base were placed there today, Sunday. Some--from the looks of it, a lot of people--remember and still suffer from all the years that could have been but were not. I hesitate even to photograph.

A couple of deep breaths help, and I turn away. I wonder, over time, how many others have wept too, in that very place, and with far better reason than I.

It is interesting that when I move into the apartment I will see this every day.

== ...and now: the promised DEBASEMENT. ==

With all the shops closed and no access to the apartment interior, there was nothing more to see in this neighborhood. I walked to the Bussum train station--a very pleasant 13 minute walk from the apartment--uitstekend!--and my new bank and two wine shops on the way. An excellent omen. I take late lunch at an Italian restaurant, from whose kitchen I hear four languages I can identify, Dutch, Italian, Arabic, and English, and perhaps I am hearing even more. I dutifully observe Lord Mountbatten's Rule (never pass up an available toilet) and start north to the hotel, an hour's walk.

At thirty minutes, I am indeed halfway, but the bladder begins to ask for attention. In another five minutes it is like a little child relentlessly repeating its demand, louder and louder. In another five minutes I wonder if there is going to be trouble. I look around me as I walk faster, and I realize for the first time that in the Netherlands there are always windows in almost every direction around you, and the shades are never drawn. In five minutes more things get serious--damn that last cup of coffee. In the middle of a dense apartment area come to a bridge crossing a narrow, muddy, tree-covered ravine, and turn down to near the stream's bank, and with just my head at street level I turn my back to the wall of apartments through the trees, lean close to a tree trunk, separate my feet at the last moment and--AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaOOOOOOOOoooooooooohhhh whew. I breathe, I zip up and ascend to resume my walk as though nothing had happened. No policeman on the street, and in the windows no small ladies in lace pointing frantically and gutteralizing into telephones.

Well, after only 30 hours in the Netherlands I had committed my first Dutch crime, but it turns out that I needn't have worried. Such happens often enough in this nation of ardent walkers, beer + strong coffee, utterly no Sunday access to public WCs, that there is a word for it: wildplassen...technically illegal in the Netherlands, but so are pot and speeding. Right.

posted by eric at 21.09 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 17, 2003

First Stroll across Naarden

The alarm raged in my ear, and knowing that the next step in my patented Jet-Lag Survival Method was a life-or-death one, I somehow lugged my lazy butt out of the nice, nice, nice down blankets. Shoes on before I changed my mind, downstairs to the hotel bar for coffee, down the hatch!

Time to walk the 5 km to the new workplace. I hear that it's scenic enough.

Now some readers of these hallowed pages will consider this, well...retentive, but from my Illinois office last week I logged onto the wonderful site, I printed relatively detailed maps of the hotel vicinity, Naarden (where I will work), and Bussum (where I will live), and then I taped them together to make a supermap that would just fit in the black-and-pewter Euro-style satchel that I found, amazingly, at the Schaumburg Target--for $19.

So, I abandoned my little hotele-op-de-polders, and with map and camera in satchel and satchel in hand, I loped east to the medieval village of Naarden and then a kilometer farther east on Huizerstraatweg to the place where I will work. The distances were short, and the round trip over there and back to the hotel was easy--not exactly a lot of hills.

Here are some pictures!...

The main driving/riding entrance to my new worksite (once I am graced with a car and/or bicylcle again, that is). Huizerstraatweg 28, Naarden. Whatever the interior looks like...I'm sure I've never enjoyed a more gracious entryway.

Panorama of the west corner of Naarden. The history of Naarden is strange and bloody and beautiful, all at the same time, a combination that, personally, I associate more with Corsica than with rural Netherlands.

Indulge me for just a moment, would you? Unworthy as this scene would be on a postcard, the location is important. This is on the fietspad between Naarden and Naardenbos to its west. The A1, the main motorway in the area, stretches across the background, and the white specks are sheep.

This photo is taken from the exactly the point where, last December when I was interviewing for this job, I got caught in a freezing windstorm without adequate clothing, and very far from shelter. Five days later, back home in Florida, I came down with a case of the flu that put me in the emergency room twice over three days. The first time it was the crash cart and paddles, just in case. It could have been worse--had it been two months later, I would no doubt have been quarantined for SARS.

Anyway, the weather was better this time (as you can see).

posted by eric at 20.55 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tot Ziens, John Wayne

This is the day I leave the US for perhaps the world's least patriotic advanced country.

6:25 am. This is my last morning in the US. Tired of laying awake. I jump out of bed, fire up the laptop, and install Norton Utilities while I can still get free phone access to the internet for the updates I know Norton will require. I make a backup CD of critical data like this blog, my financial stuff, etc., and I pack it in the suitcase, away from the laptop so if one is lost the other will make it. I hope.

I'm packing heavy stuff in the box, and I realize that it is going to be too small. It's not like I can make a second trip to get the remainder, so I unpack all that crap and put it in a bigger box that I bought last night. It looks like it will all fit, so I run to Dominick's for Danish and Starbucks for breakfast and trail mix for the plane and first hotel day.

Two things about this grocery store trip. (1) Why doesn't a grocery store the size of a small, newly independent nation have trail mix? (2) My last morning in the US I spent in line behind a couple of overweight J.Lo wannabees prattled on their cell phones and waited for some damn labor-wasting Mocha Vanilla Low-fat Citrus Latte Cappucino Frappucino Crappucino foo-foo BS with freaking ROOM FOR CREAM (just a little). Just a little room?--shall we get out the calipers? Can't these Life Failures phone ahead for their orders, like normal people might order, say, automobiles? Doesn't anyone just order COFFEE anymore?

Made it to work at 8:57 for a 9:00 morning. Bad omen for later in the day. The meeting, it turns out, was cancelled. Bad omen #2. I confirm the airline ticket, phone the Naarden hotel that I'll be early. Finally have that meeting, visited a few people around the building--good politics, may as well practice now, the Naarden job is going to require it.

At lunch, I realize that for purposes of enduring a long flight, I've been doing everything wrong. I know that no one of these is a big deal, but they do add up...

  1. Way too big dinner Thursday night, spicy Mexican food, even. Imagine what bean gas does at high altitude, and cringe.
  2. Alcohol (Pacifico Clara, a weakness of mine, at La Magelena, then a Pilsner Urquell while packing).
  3. Media overstimulation (U.S. Marshalls on TV while packing).
  4. Way too little sleep the night before. Couldn't be helped. From this month in Illinois, one thing I've learned for sure is this: sleep deprivation does not get easier with practice.
  5. Major caffeine hit at breakfast, enough to make me sweat all day. Dumb.
  6. Spicy lunch (Cajun dirty rice, which it is unfair to expect this boy ever to resist) just before driving to airport.
  7. Lost of carbonated drinks just before flying (see bean gas, above).

Oh, well.

When I tried to send a nice e-mail to my US friends, up pops a warning message:

your Lotus Notes address has just changed to EDOSE/NL. Do you accept this change?

I grasped the mouse, and hesitated. I watched the screen, but of course it didn't change. I drew a long breath and clicked

Yes, I accept.

I stood, I looked into my director's office and waved, dropped cellphone and heavy book off at Shipping so I wouldn't have to lug their weight through airports and hotels, left the building. At the bank, got new checks reprinted--they had done it wrong and I had discovered it only while packing, terrible timing. Bought more packing tape, bought trail mix at a drug store. Returned to dreadful hotel room, tried to close the suitcase and box. Nothing doing. I actually stood on the suitcase, reached down and zipped it shut, a first in all my travels, but this is desperation, folks. Same with the open box, on which I had to jump up and down like a damn kangaroo, roll of tape in my hand to seal it without stepping off lest it spring open like jack-in-the-box. I used almost the whole roll just to be sure, that is, to avoid being sued by an injured baggage handler.

Checked out of dreadful hotel room, Could hardly lift the heavy white box into the van and thought, either this is too heavy, or I'm getting too old for this. Possibly both. I race down the Northwest tollway to O'Hare until the inevitable traffic jam at Mount Pleasant, where we come to a stop. I look out the van's passenger window, with plenty of time to watch the departing jets, each heavy and slow and making O'Hare's famous steep climbing turns.

Give the rental van to this fat and truly nasty attendant, and an equally irritable driver dumps me and my big white box (ca. 30 kg), suitcase (25 kg), duffel and laptop case at the Northwest Airlines entrance. He speeds off. I ask about skycaps. "They don't work this floor." I look around the open space to see half a dozen travelers lifting, dragging, kicking large pieces across the linoleum floor. I do likewise, draging my near-bursting large white box, large suitcase, and two carryons across the floor to an automated cart stand--$2.00. I only have tens. But it does take a credit card. With the fearfully overloaded cart into and up the elevator, and a fifteen minute wait in line for Northwest Airlines, who tell me that my flight is all the way across the airport--"three terminals away, you go up the elevator and take the train. By the way, you can't take the cart on the train." Morons.

The first train is full, hopelessly full, Japanese commuter full. I watch it recede. If the next one takes as long as 15 minutes, I'll miss my flight and will lose a day of my life, a lot of sore muscles, $150 for a room, $200 for the ticket change, and probably a $500 fare increase. It takes 10 minutes. Everyone sees my predicament and crowds together, helps with the pieces, and helps me off at the other end of the line. As the train pulls away I wonder how I'm going to get this stuff upstairs to KLM, when a vision of grace and beauty, a princess, a saint--well, a bored young KLM flight attendant happens by with a cart--"I think you can use this." Bless you. Rats--no time to propose. Still, a good omen.

Upstairs, I cannot tell whether KLM check-in is to the left or right--no one thought to put up signs. I shrug and turn right, which thank God is correct. But the line extends through a serpentine corral, then 200 feet down the hall, messily crossing right through the two even longer Security lines the length of three terminal entrances. I and my cart take a place for my 5:10 flight. It is 4:05. The couple ahead of me asks if we're going to make it. I tell them sincerely that it doesn't look good. A uniformed teenager asks those of us near the end of the line for our tickets, and he writes 1610 on each. The clock behind the KLM counter reads 1610. I protest to him that I had in fact been in the Northwest Airlines line for a Northwest flight an hour earlier, and he tells us that he expects that we will make the flight. I realize that he is marking out tickets not as late but as being in line at 1610. I retract my protest and thank him. I tell the couple that it looks much better for us now.

And once the 5:05 Istanbul flight clears, the check-in line moves much faster. Then a line for...baggage security. The horror, the horror. I realize they are going to open every single luggage piece. I imagine what horrors they must find when combing through with their plastic gloves--dirty underwear, glow-in-the-dark sex toys, even Loose Boxes of Favorite Breakfast Cereals. I also imagine again that our jet will cross into Canada while we are still in this long, slow line. I imagine the consequences of their cutting the packing tape, and tomorrow my parents at coffee, reading the headlines: Overstuffed White Box Kills Owner, Five.

But the hippopotamus-obese Security handler checks that our suitcases are unlocked, tells us not to wait. He points around the corner to the final security hurdle. His unsmiling advice: "Run."

We pad barefoot through the metal detectors, claim baggage, run to the gate. Through the glass I note that the jumbo jet in indeed the same one I saw last week while waiting for the Dallas flight, to surprise Mom. I run down the dark passage way, both bags in one hand, fetching boarding pass with the other. It says "one carry on." Northwest had said two, but they had gotten everything else about this flight "of theirs" wrong so far, too. The blonde flight attendant in KLM blue smiles sincerely and points forward: "Elf-A, alstublieft." This is a second good omen, making us even now, two and two. The duffel fits overhead, and laptop under the seat in front. I settle back into the cushioned seat, feeling that I weighed 450 pounds. Or rather 200 kilos, now of course. Everyone around is calm. I calm myself, motionless for the first time in 11 consecutive hours. And now to be motionless, in a way, for the next 9 hours. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the aisleway video screeen displays hundreds of cuts of swans floating, necks twisted, beaks preening themselves, which I find utterly creepy. This probably intended to be calming and beautiful, but I can't ignore that the swans are doing this to root from their feathers mites, insects, all sorts of unmentionable pond detritus. They'll probably eat what they find. I think about the airline food to come. I look away.

The jet engines wind up, and the video gives way from coprophagic birds to a young flight attendant with a ghastly smile, who explains--in the unlikely event of landing in water--our safety procedures; that is, what exactly all proper citizens will do as the concluding actions of our lives.

I respect my longtime habit of setting the time-zone on my watch as soon as the engines spool up and we accelerate down the runway. I figure they are committed at this point. We roll forever, haul ourselves off terra firma, and climb steeply in a very steep turn. Why so slow?--Full of fuel for a long flight? I ate too much for lunch? My big white box? The wings level, we cross city shore to blue Lake Michigan, then over a bank of clouds. America disappears. Good bye, Uncle Sam.

Our world is now the noisy cabin. I put in ear plugs, decline the headset but accept one for the sleeping guy sprawling across the window seat and part of mine. Nothing to see below but clouds. I wondered why flying east to Europe is so often above clouds but the returns so often in clear air. The video monitor finally laid off the KLM advertisements--and why was KLM still trying to win over the only humans anywhere who are obviously already KLM customers? The video map showed us to be far south of the Hudson Bay track that the inbound flight from Amsterdam had taken. We were over New York! Why so different? Surely the shortest path in one direction must be the same as the shortest path on the return. But then...of course! Flights go west to the US with the best tailwind out of the east, therefore around the north side of any low-pressure areas with their counterclockwise winds (remember that north and easterly winds tend towards clear skies in the Northern Hemisphere). And they fly through rain and clouds when they fly east with the warm fronts' west tailwinds. This is of course not new knowledge:

Oh western winds, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down may rain.
Christ! That my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

A movie comes on almost immediately, some violent kind of mix of the Matrix and Spiderman and, improbably: Wait Until Dark. An athletic, martial arts expert, all-seeing, blind hero. I am not making this up. I try to follow the Dutch subtitles, and find myself eerily disoriented by the idea of a macho superhero menacing bad Dutch. I realize that I hadn't known who Ben Affleck was until now. I wished I still didn't know: I hate wasting cranial real estate. In compensation, the movie's image of the line of flaming pool tables was très cool. Movie underway, the flight attendant handed each of us an empty cup and a small KLM foil bag marked MIXED PEANUTS. Mixed peanuts? My disorientation is complete.

I came, I flew, I zonkered. Meaning: I did get an hour or two's sleep. Good omen. The flight was over before I expected it. So it's true that flying nonstop to Europe is far easier than with a connection, to which my Florida-Europe intereraries had always condemned me. For the first time in memory, control didn't ask how long I was staying, and this is the time I'm moving there! Duffel and laptop case at my feet, the suitcase rides down the conveyor, I pull it off, and...the big white box doesn't. The other passengers have left, except for the people next to me in the Chicago lines. I just know that last set of bags didn't make it from Security onto the plane. KLM's baggage desk, well they eventually confirm it. It is raining. The cab driver speaks neither English nor Dutch, but he did understand Modern Pointing, and we make Afrit 6: Gooimeer. We stop and I pay the 65-Euro cab fare. I check in and unpack--laptop and animals first!!!--like the efficient, amnesiac zombie that for the next few hours I must be.

Lunch in the desperately lonely hotel cafe is served by a gangly waiter whose only salutation seemed to be "Mister." Just as I would want to be corrected in Dutch, I want to tell him it's "Sir" not "Mister", that only 1950s movie stars say "Pilgrim" and "Mister." But I have no energy. This boy is tall, but his voice is high and his hands sort of swished. His hair is spiky, but he is incredibly thin, and when he asks, "So--did you enjoy your meal, Mister?" he was all too easy to imagine John Wayne's estranged, flaming-gay son.

Dutch cows are grazing at the end of the hotel hallway. I retreat behind the lock, grateful for a bit solitude after the jumbo-jet cabin, and I set the alarm for 3pm. I'll take a long walk as soon as it goes off.

It is only noon...not that I have any earthly idea what time it should be. But now it looks like the animals and I all made it. For the first time in 24 hours I don't have to anything to hurry through. My last thought is that just twelve hours ago I was racing in sock feet through a Chicago metal-detector portal. I sleep like the dead.

posted by eric at 12.44 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 16, 2003

Packing is SO much fun

No time to say hello goodbye I'm late I'm late I'm late

WHY did I agree to put in a half day of work in the US today, with a 5:10 flight out. This is not a vacation--if I leave anything behind now, it is lost. My box and suitcase are so heavy--if I were a baggage handler, I'd go on strike, too.

Next message probably from a hotel room in Naarden.
Wave as I go over!

posted by eric at 14.25 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 14, 2003

She bought the car...

...and I think she likes it!

M: I couldn't be happier that it's staying in the family. May it keep you safe, and may you always arrive in life where you want to be. And with all your customary style.

posted by eric at 23.49 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 12, 2003

Tale of Two Weekends -- #2

OK, we played a trick on my mother, a terrible one though I don't think she minded, but the important thing's not my sister's fault. I admit it. It was my idea. I had one weekend "free," though for me these days "free time" is actually an oxymoron--no, a nitromoron. And I had a mother near Dallas pining away because her (50-year-old) baby boy was running off before she could see him.

So I called my sister, and she recruited my father in this conspiracy, and she picked me up at DFW last Friday night. About ten o'clock I rang the doorbell and she answered and jumped up and down and...well, you know.

Of course, the house was perfect (in perfect Dutch style--can I write that?) and of course "my" room was ready. Saturday we had a nice lunch at my sister's house, and be concise, we stuffed our faces all weekend. OK, now this weight thing is getting serious.

The parents' picture is elsewhere on this blog, so the most I can add to your understanding them, within a single picture, is this view from their back of their house. The location is lovely. They cultivate habits of choosing well and then raising their choices to perfection. Just as when they adopted me! hahahahahahaha...OWW!!!

Of course my sister and I (and my niece, hung over I mean sleepy from her high-school prom, as well as my nephew) treated Mother and Father to a wonderful brunch at the Lincoln Center (I'll overlook the Illinois overtones). We walked along the ponds, where I admired the boat-tailed grackles and their raucous song that sounds something like an electronic synthesizer being backed over by a truck...

and then it was time for me to fly back.

BONUS PARAGRAPH!!!: That Friday afternoon, while I waited at O'Hare for my Dallas flight to surprise my Mother, an enormous KLM jet rumbled past. It was 5:10 pm. I was astonished to realize that that was the flight, the very aircraft, that I will board the next Friday, and that beginning at 5:10 will whisk me to Europe. Through one of those windows I will watch the US recede in the evening and the Haarlem tulips pass below, the next morning.


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May 8, 2003

Tale of Two Weekends -- #1

I'm late writing about last weekend. So...I drove down to Indianapolis, and was delighted to get in one last visit with Meggo and Michael. We all met at the dog park, where we ran their whippet puppy silly.

This woman seems to be the whippet center of attention. I couldn't figure out what contraband she was feeding them while the owners were looking away.

The puppy was exhausted, which gave us a chance to chat, catch up on their lives and mine. We picked up Kathleen and had a very fine dinner near the Keystone section of Indy, then drove along the river to Butler University auditorium for Indy's last opera of the season. La Bohème. It was wonderful, with wonderful singing. The other three didn't care for the overly static, posed (in)action of those on stage but not in the action. I have to agree that it reminded me of a staged R.E.M. video or something. I don't want to spoil the opera's surprise ending but...she dies. Sorry.

Desert at M&M's, then I took Kathleen home. We talked about each other's writing (SHE gets to do it for a living). But driving back I had another idea, to do with the car. I sprung it on them over a nice Sunday buffet (Amazingly, I gained weight from the weekend's nonstop eating). I won't reveal the car secret here. For that you'll have to read an entry soon to be posted. Please do.

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May 7, 2003

What's Dutch for "To Do List"?

Done as of now: Plane tickets in hand (OK, actually in briefcase). Software all bought. Apartment arranged for--it will actually be in Bussum...but since it is only 2 miles / 3.5 km from work in Naarden, and since I will probably spend more time at work (Naarden) than in the apartment (Bussum), and since in any case it's all downwind of Amsterdam, I'm not changing this page's headers. So there. Winter-Park-house-selling documents all completed. Mail forwarding from Florida is working. Persuaded the US office to let me keep my US office phone number and voice mail while I'm in the Netherlands. Ordered Dutch CDs from Amazon. Bought shoes, clothes, etc. to fit my oversize frame. Have a buyer for the car (!). Arranged for rental car. Completed all US work documents: retirement plan, life insurance, health insurance, prescription drug plan, dental plan, etc etc etc, not that I'll use any of this anytime soon. Scheduled pickup of stuff at hotel room. Reserved Naarden hotel room (before apartment is ready), NL company car, and NL rental car until the company car is ready.

Yet to do: Buy Big Ol' Honking voltage converters, and ship them here before hotel-room pickup. Get US-shape paper, so they will fit the printer and filing cabinets I'm taking. Start mail forwarding from Illinois. Get passport photos for Bussum docs. Figure out why the hell Earthlink is charging me hourly internet charges on an Unlimited account. Notarize and FedEx house-closing documents. Get car serviced, sell car, close car insurance, get rental car. Get NL phone adapters for modems. Arrange to close house insurance. Get everything out of the office to the hotel room Separate all the stuff stacked in this hotel room into: (1) going on the boat vs. (2) going by air freight vs. (3) checked luggage vs. (4) taking on the plane vs. (5) shipping by UPS vs. (6) throw it the hell out. E-mail family etc. all the particulars, US and NL. Reconfirm flight next Tuesday. Check out of hotel room. Good-bye to my new friends at work. Last drive down I-90, return car, get through O'Hare security, fly nonstop to Amsterdam, get stuff, declare squat, dawn cab ride to Naarden, get room, drop stuff, hot shower, pass out.

Uitsmijter en koffie, put on walking shoes, check out Naarden. Een kopje koffie, graag. Check out Bussum. Nog een kopje koffie, alstublieft. New life.

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May 1, 2003

More Chicago Pix

And last Sunday afternoon will have to serve as my last visit there for a while. Very soon it's off to the Netherlands with me.

Don't mind me while I blubber, but--surely Chicago is one of the world's great cities. Big, boisterous, but not noisy or hostile. Just powerful, confident, and more or less un-selfconscious.

More pictures follow...

There was an enormous charity Walkathon. The tents are just to feed the participants. Yes, the Midwest does a lot of Big Eating. But don't forget--a lot of charity, too.

Seen from almost any angle, this city seems interesting.

Near the lake, in a cool spot downwind from the large fountain, I found a tree stump in the shade, and I looked past Chicago's little harbor and across Lake Michigan.


Let's call it "summer's first game of Frisbee" even if the trees are still bare.

Season's first chance to cruise the lakeshore.

Adler Planetarium.

Er, the camera slipped there. Sorry...

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