Thursday, August 22, 2013

Preuvenemint 2013

DSC09526 (1112x1200)It’s time for  the annual Food Fair, Preuvenemint, filling the Vrijthof with eten en drinken goodness.  It kicked off tonight, then runs through Sunday from midday until past midnight.  It’s a big part of the late-summer social scene here: people dress up to visit the music stage and the restaurant kiosks (especially on the first night when the Mayor is in attendance). 

The music stage acts drift towards pop standards and oom-pah bands, but it becomes congenial and amusing once the beer starts to flow.  The crowds can become a bit of a forest to wade through, tall and dense, so the best strategy is to find a corner, a drink, and watch the flow of people.

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It’s a fun event, lots of good tasting menus and some outstanding wines to sample.  You buy tickets (lappen) at 2.20 euro each and then spend them around the kiosks: beer is 1 lap; good wine is 2 or 3, sparling wine is 5, most food is 6-12 lappen.  The portions are small, but I can always top off at the apartment before or afterwards.

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There was good value at the Thiessen Wijnkoopers with some nice little seafood soufflé's and wonderful Langedoc wines for 2.5 lap, and at the Brand tent where a 5-beer sampler with cheese was going for 2.5 lap as well.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inkom Maastricht

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The birds are starting to gather above the Maas each evening, flocking and wheeling before migrating south.  And the  streets are filled with new students at Maastricht University, flocking and biking, filling the squares and spilling along the streets.

The weeklong celebration of New Student Orientation is in full swing, clusters of students in identical hats or shirts consulting maps and lists as they learn their way around the city.  I can’t recognize all of the languages that I hear, pushing through them, but the institution looks like it’s pulling in young people from almost everywhere (nearly half of the 16,000 students from outside the Netherlands).  In a 1000 year old city, it’s surprising that the University is so young, founded in 1976 as a medical school, and so well regarded (7th in the ‘top 50 under 50’).

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No Cambridge, but respectable.

I’m doing an Inkom myself, catching up with development and expat business this week, taking in a change of scenery, and enforcing time to reflect on events with a couple of friends.  I’ve made a lot of personal progress in the two months since, but still feel like life’s rearrangement, personal improvements, are far from complete.  It’s time for a ‘breather’, though, to assess how things are going and where they go next.

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I’m enjoying quiet strolls along the Maas in the lingering Dutch light, a sit in the grass to watch the boats and bikes drift by, a few notes on leven balans en grens to expand on tomorrow.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Living in Elysium

WP_20130818_001 (1200x1008)I missed a big change in Dutch Life this summer: koopzondag is no more.  Or, as I found out, kooopzondag is ‘Evermore.

For many years, the Dutch have taken Sunday off: the stores close, the restaurants open late, and people take their kids to the park or spend time talking with their spouses.  It was hell on me when I first moved to Arnhem: what do I *do* with a mandatory day off? 

Eventually I learned that the answers were “Shop for food on Saturday” and “Chill”.

The only exceptions to the Sunday shopping WP_20130818_003 (851x1200)ban have been koopzondags: the first Sunday of each month (and a few extras at Christmas).  Since it’s mid-August, I knew that the streets would be quiet and the parking would be free.

Except that the tradition has been suspended forever in Maastricht, and every Sunday is now ‘Shopping Sunday’.  I found out the hard way; the parking patrol left a 58 euro ticket on my car for not paying and displaying.

I miss the good old days already…

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The New York Times ran a delightful Op-Ed this morning by their repatriated London correspondent.  She catalogs the many quirks of the British and American people that every expat / repat lovingly comes to terms with. 

She describes the ambivalence that British have about Americans, their excesses, confidence, straightforwardness…the way we approach social situations.  She describes London’s attitudes to personal matters as “don’t ask much, don’t tell much and really, really, don’t want to get into it.”

I am taken aback whenever British friends confess to not being too sure about Americans: we folks think of them as our best and closest friends in the world.

WP_20130816_004There is a strain of social and cultural exceptionalism that runs more deeply in the UK than even the US.  Partly it’s the legacy of a successful empire, partly living on an island.  It reminds me of Elysium, where the privileged live in a pristine place separate from the rest of the crowded and struggling world.  Like America today, Britain prospered as the world’s riches and resources washed through it’s economy for 100 years.

Sometimes it leads to charming results (the British Museum), other times to myopic perspectives (“Why can’t China just get over historical colonialism like India has?” in one memorable exchange).  The Times essayist has had the same experiences.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Contemplatively crossing the Channel

WP_20130817_008 (1200x678)I was late pulling out of Barrington – ‘had hoped to be on the road by 1 but it ended up being 1:30 for a 4 pm ferry.  I was up early and working, but the refrigerator unexpectedly died, leaving me with a sea of melted ice and spoiled foods to clean up.  Dartford Bridge had a 20 minute backup and I got pulled into customs for an inspection at the Dover Docks, so…well, 6pm ferry it was.  A rough crossing as well, pitching and rolling into the darkness.

Klare TaalThe ride was uneventful, apart from a brief call or two, so there was a lot of time to think.  I’m finding more time spent sorting thing out, less time for podcasts, is worthwhile, still improving life’s balans and grens, balances and boundaries.  (I liked Arie Bras’ relevant thought in Klaare Taal, right, too).

DSC09443The  New York Times suggested some  sleep monitoring programs, and I’ve been experimenting with one in the Nexus.  It’s sort of cool: the accelerometer in the computer keeps track of movement all night, giving a graph of how restless you are.  I’m clearly still tossing every hour. Thrice-weekly lap swims are making a difference, but I’ve still got a ways to go.

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The photographs of Chinese artist Wang Qingsong have also been interesting to think over.   Originally trained as a painter, he arranges detailed, crowded scenes of political and social commentary that reflect contradictions in modern China.  They are the sort of work that you can lose yourself in, searching out the subtle messages and connecting them together.

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I got to Maastricht just after midnight, moving and unpacking until one.  Fortunately, Bert at Le Cle,, downstairsm had a special biertje waiting: a limited edition Duvel Tripel Hop made with Japanese Sorachi Ace grains.

9.5% alcohol: the good stuff:  ‘should iron out the sleep cycle.