Saturday, October 9, 2010

House and home

DSC00334"A house is made with walls and beams.
A home is made with love and dreams."

The anonymous lines have been on my mind lately, lofting as I am between three residences.  My imagined solution for the ‘empty next’ was to swap the big house rather than maintain it, perhaps for three smaller places on the coast, in the mountains, and on the Continent.  Three year’s experience with that rootless lifestyle has changed my thinking – I really do need a base and a satellite rather than coequal residences.

It got me thinking about house and home, what is needed / wanted / enough / too much when it’s no longer a space for raising a family.

Some would advocate continuing to move up, creating a more elegant and refined ‘Architecture-Digest’ space (left).  Others would opt for Thoreau-style simplicity (right).

 architectural-digest  Barrington

Each is warm and livable in its own right.  Yet neither seems right for me.  One seems too impersonal and formal, a house but not a home.  The other is a cozy turtle’s-shell, home but not a house.

I visited the house at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge the other week and it gave me a lot to think about.  altIt’s an eclectic living space, intended partly to live in (house) and partly to reflect the owner’s tastes, interests, and patronage (home).  It has space to be alone and space to be social, room for guests and window boxes for solitude.  ‘not much of a kitchen, bedrooms a bitt towards monk’s cells, but really inspiring living spaces.  The rooms do a wonderful job of connecting indoors and out, of integrating the art with the furnishings, of creating spaces to live, think, and create in.

It reminds me of another anonymous aphorism: A house becomes a home when you can write, 'I love you' on the furniture.

They did.

Home spaces:

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Public spaces:

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Kettle’s Yard Museum and House is close to Magdalene College in central Cambridge.  Both are worth a visit, the museum holds a series of modern installations, the house has a fixed collection.  The museum is generally open, with noontime concerts that are worth a bag lunch.  The house is only open mid-afternoons late in the week, admission to each is free they ask 2 gbp to take photos.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Doing my civic duties

Amazing raceMy daughter sent me a video clip from the Amazing Race, a US television show in which pairs of contestants race around the world, competing for 1 million dollars.  Along the way, there are various detours and challenges, and, in this one, a woman trying to slingshot a watermelon got hit in the face.  She’s okay, but it’s pretty brutal  (…and it kind of fit my experiences this week)

In any case,  my daughter wants us to sign up for the next race, since she’s turning 21 next month and becomes eligible.  She’s suffered through years of me pointing at the TV chirping “I’ve been there”, and thinks she can cash in on the experience.

She ‘s also worried that my citizenship might be an issue.  My son is advancing his security clearance and has the same concern as authorities dig into family background (Really, I can explain that…).

No worries.  In fact, I got my US Voter’s packet and my IND letter *today*.

120_justitieThe IND letter renews my permit for a fourth year as a Dutch resident / entrepreneur.  Next time, it’s permanent.  But, as I’ve explained to the kid-lets, neither the verblijfsdocument nor the British Tier 1 mean that I gave up US citizenship.  It only says that I have (renewable) leave to stay past 3 months, to live here, and to work (and to pay taxes and health insurance premiums).

Honestly, I don’t expect to ever trade citizenship.  I still keep a US point of residence, my driver’s license, pay taxes, and vote in local elections.

Wa State Votor's PamphletIn that spirit, I settled into filling out my ballot this morning.  Washington, like many US states, allows citizen and legislative initiatives to be put to a vote, and it always makes for an interesting barometer of the times.  This year, economics outweigh social issues.

Should the process for raising taxes be changed to require 2/3 vote of the legislature or a majority of citizens approving?

Should the worker-paid share of health insurance premiums be eliminated?

Should sales taxes be taken off candy and bottled water? 

Should there be an income tax on people making over $200,000  per year?

Should the state monopoly of liquor sales be abolished? And should state-owned liquor stores be closed?

Should we deny bail to criminals facing life in prison?

Should we put energy-efficient improvements in public buildings and schools?

It’s a good crop of questions; I’m looking forward to seeing what people say about them.

The_Amazing_RacesmallThen I can get down to the serious business of applying for the Amazing Race:

Describe your perfect day.

If someone you are competing with unknowingly drops their plane ticket in front off you, what would you do?

Are there any countries you would not travel to?

What is your opinion of foreigners?

What famous person reminds you of yourself?

Can you swim?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Re-ex-patriation

altAugust/September was my longest trip away from the Netherlands since I moved here four years ago.  I hadn’t planned to be gone for more than a couple of weeks, but an opportunity, sudden time in someone’s schedule, a meeting, planning and training: one thing led to another, and time passed.

There’s adjustment in returning, and rediscovering things

  • Finding where I left my bike.  I chose someplace safe, but different than where I usually park, so steps had to be retraced.  And the right set of keys found.
  • Learning to cross streets.  Looking right, not left, and registering the presence of bicycles instead of cars.
  • Climbing stairs.  Narrow passages and thin treads on top of the sheer number of steps and the breathtaking angle of climb.
  • Coping with IND.  My visa renewal went in last July: no word from them in the mountain of mail at my front door.  I called; learning that a decision was reached September 24.  I will hear in a few weeks.  No, they can’t tell me what the decision was.
  • And, about that mountain of mail.  The sheer volume of junk mail vs. real mail is astounding.  Newspapers, flyers, magazines, advertisements, probably 10:1 in number, 100:1 in volume.  I took a big bag of it to the recycle bin.
  • altRediscovering café’s.  ‘How I’ve missed streetside coffee on a  sunny afternoon.
  • Getting back into exercising.  And bike riding.  And stroopwafels.
  • Boats going by the windows.  And people. The pulse of a city’s day again, so different from the day’s phases in the countryside.
  • Resuscitating the plants: Guidelines recommend CPR before shocking them.
  • Restocking the ‘fridge.  This meant doing a big shopping at midweek, when it’s out of style to do a big shopping,   People were inconvenienced, which made the usual race to pack groceries before the next customer’s stuff arrives even more pressured.
  • Reconnecting with friends.
  • Tuning in to the Dutch language; remembering forgotten Dutch words.  And getting comfortable with missing a portion of everyday conversations around me again.  It drove me back to the Dutch books by late last night.

But the skills will all return by the weekend: it’s just like, well, riding a bike.

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Two links of interest, then back to work on the budgets:

Schiphol LibrarySchiphol Airport has long had a small art gallery, where passengers could browse paintings from the Rijksmuseum between flights.  No, next to that spot, they have put a library.  There are several thousand books that can be borrowed, most focused on Dutch history and Culture, and comfy chairs for reading.  It’s a great idea, and may pull me away from the airline lounges on future trips.

DownrightnowMy mail updates are returning errors; I can’t Like my friend’s status.  Is it my fault or is the site down?  Downrightnow.com knows: it’s a free site that monitors the major social networking sites and keeps track of whether they are working.  The graphic history of up- and down-time suggests that the Cloud is far less perfect than we all think.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back among the Dutch

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Okay, the weather was sort of typical: low sky over flat lands, Dutch light on open water.  But the café’s were open, the wafels were warm, and (most) of the plants survived the month’s absence. 

No disrespect to Cambridge, but it feels nice to be back.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rough and Tumble

dragons_den

Status: Dave did not have an easy time of things today

We met with four of the six angel investors interested in financing our company,  reviewing our investment proposal and progress towards our first product.  It’s an in-depth discussion of our plans and budgets, challenging every assertion and assumption, rapid-fire questioning for several hours.  The process is completely non-linear, hopping from topic to topic, diving suddenly, then skipping ahead  or back. 

It reminded me of what you see on Dragon’s Den: absolutely necessary to quickly assessing and critiquing a business, but disorienting and frustrating on the receiving end. Our prepared agenda survived for all of five minutes before being swept away. Then there was a rocky period of coming up to speed on the process; afterward I think I kept up.  By the half-way point, I was remembering passion and hand gestures, when to embrace a question and how to correct one. 

Progress.

TimeIn the end, we agreed that our (wonderful) team is making (solid) progress towards achieving our (significant) Stage 1 milestones, and that the product represents significant opportunity to improve patient outcomes, reduce hospital costs, and generate attractive investment returns. 

However, there were four points where the group spun us hard. Errors cascade, and correcting them creates more confusion.  And, in the end, they (rightly) postpone their decision, asking for more information on budget details, valuation method, an investment strategy, and clarification of founder’s cash participation.  It’s hard to know if they are saying (“No, and this is why” or “Get back to us and we’ll see”, but it definitely not a ‘Yes’.   Presuming success, we’ll provide answers to everyone by the end of this week, then follow up by phone or meetings afterward to discuss next stepsgantt

If you have additional questions please let us know; We would welcome your investment and your participation in the business.

Personal aside: Each time I got a step forward in the process, I think I’m reaching the end of the process.  Instead, I find it’s only the next step.  And then, each time I fail, I have to go back to the Start, repeating the whole to process through.  It’s becoming an endurance event: I’m learning a lot, but I’m  wearing down.  I need to have an end in sight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Troubles, old and new

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I had very little understanding of Belfast’s history before I made a day’s visit there. Back in the 80’s, I was vaguely aware of the rioting, fiery pictures in the magazines and the IRA to blame, so we were told.  But I had little insight into the people or issues behind it all.  Visiting Belfast yesterday was a steep and unsettling immersion into its Troubles, and it left me with a lot of  doubts about their future.

When I visited Jerusalem a few years ago, my epiphany was in seeing how compact the problem was.  Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are within blocks of one another; the Wall is just beyond the city. Partition would never work; a co-existent solution needs to be found.

Similarly in Belfast.  The immersion showed me how close together the Unionist and Republican neighborhoods lie, with angry murals marking territory and yellow Peace Walls holding people apart.  It’s deeply disquieting to see the neat houses and shops in the shadow of the violence and emotion.  The murals are warning, expression, symbol, reminder, everywhere.

It still feels fragile, there are so many open wounds scattered across the city, the martyrs and the innocents filling parks and memorials.

And, layered over it, our tour guide pointing out bombings, shootings, burnings and, finally, reconciliation.  I was acutely uncomfortable to be riding through tragic scenes in an open-topped bus, imagining the neighbors hearing our guide’s even-handed commentary about their history.

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Today, Belfast feels run-down and spent.  The streets are dotted with shawled beggars and debris-strewn lots.  Rare flashes of controversially red or green clothing color the people, who prefer neutral blues and blacks.  Condominiums rise on burned foundations in the old quarters, even as they are falling in value. Clusters of sharp-eyed young men hurry along the sidewalks going nowhere; there are only jobs for 500 workers in shipyards that used to employ 35,0000. 

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And what of tomorrow?

The city leaders are trying to smooth over the emotion with drugs of shopping and tourism.  Downtown is dotted with restorations of iconic bars and gingerbread culture centers.  The legacy of Titanic and Narnia are their rallying points for Belfast’s rebranding.  New murals commemorating the Ship and altstatues remembering the Wardrobe are being purposefully painted over the old.  They seem like shallow substitutes for the authentic history and community pride being torn down.

In this post-modern environment, “The Future” is a debate over whether to convert the giant cranes into bungee jumps or restaurants.  Deliberate Disney-fication bringing in too-familiar global brands, local shops, pubs, restaurants smothered by a cream of outdoor clothing, bath products, and jewelry.

Is the cure worse than the disease?  I imagine that if altsomething weren’t done, the city could have become another Beirut.  But I don’t feel that relentless consumerism the answer: it’s just goods in / jobs out.  The huge yellow cranes stand above the dark skyline, monuments to the shipbuilding jobs, textile industry, and dockyard trade that disappeared overseas with globalization. 

There is a battle here for the legacy of a city and the heart of its people.  The past needs to be reconciled and a new future built, I feel that this just isn’t a real or sustainable way forward.