Thursday, November 30, 2006

Contest! Fix My Earrings

What binds fake pearls to metal?

The winner gets stroopwaffles. No joke. Unless I don't know you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dutch Culture: Sinterklaas

This is officially my first post about the holiday season and my first post written while I ought to be working on a final. Probably the Sint will leave me coal. "The Sint" is an affectionate nickname given to Sinterklaas, which is an affectionate nickname for Saint Nicolas (Sint Niklaas). Sinterklaas is basically the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. Except they also have Santa on Christmas, so really it's just more candy and presents. I urge you to read more about this fascinating and complex tradition, but for now I will just do the highlights.
On the second to last Sunday in November Sinterklaas arrives on a steamboat from Spain in the Amsterdam harbor. Yes. A boat from Spain to Amsterdam (Sinterklaas Boot!). He spends Saturday chilling at his church (which I have posted pictures of before. It's big and vaguely Byzantine). You can see him from home because they broadcast his arrival on TV all over the Netherlands and Belgium. On Sunday he parades through town on his white horse (apparently named Americo) and throws (unwraped!) candy to the kids who come to see him. It's important to note that he does this in every town (in the Netherlands AND Belgium). So to recap, parents, television and the government (which I have reason to believe subsidizes this extravaganza) conspire to convince children that:
a) A boat came from Spain.
b) It was carrying a saint on a horse.
And then they leave this elaborate ruse wide open by having one guy in every town at once.
Of course the Sint himself isn't throwing the candy, his reliable helpers the "Zwarte Pietje" do it for him. Those quick with Dutch translation know that these are "Black Petes." This is probably the most.... difficult part to get as an American. I accept that we are racially preoccupied as a country, but Black Petes are just a bunch of Dutch guys running around with black face (and hand) paint with big red lips, wearing "moorish" outfits and gold earrings. Apparently Pete is black from the soot of the chimneys he goes down delivering candy. Which he does EVERYNIGHT FOR THREE WEEKS. Yes, Sinterklaas and Piet go from rooftop to rooftop each night atop Americo delivering candy to children's eagerly waiting shoes. Typical candy seems to be anything with an almond base (there is so much damn marzipan in this city right now!) and chocolates in the shape of the first letter of the child's name. Something makes me think that stubbornly ignorant American children would reject such a candy as a subtle ploy to teach them to read. Perhaps I am disillusioned.
You're really only supposed to get candy if you're good. If you're bad you might get coal or sticks. And if you're really bad you might get put in a sack and taken back to Madrid with the Sint (I am working on my badness as I type). Apparently the sack and Spain treatment isn't particularly in favor anymore, but I can try!
On the eve of Saint Nicolas day (December 6) everyone exchanges presents and the daily candy bombardment stops (until Christmas 20 days later...). Sinterklaas is really the day for gifts, but they are supposed to be small and funny. In fact, my favorite part of the holiday is that you write rhyming poems for all of your friends and family. Poems!
I would certainly love to write some rhyming poems, but since my first final is due on Sinterklaas, I think I better not.
All in all, Sinterklaas is probably not that much stranger/ less probable than Santa, though the mythology and ceremony surrounding him is certainly more precise. Racism aside, it's cool the way everyone buys into it. And capitalists rejoice that Sinterklaas' arrival in the Netherlands is perfectly timed to kick off the holiday gift buying season!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Old and New Amsterdam Compared and Pie

I wash my hair between Monday night and Tuesday morning and at some point on Friday. Every week. Hair dressers and women's magazines are always telling you it's a good idea to wash your hair less frequently and in the (relativey) smogless Amsterdam it's finally possible (in New York I wash my hair every other day. I brush my teeth the same amount in both places). My shampoo smells like babypowder. I don't know if I explained my complex method of choosing items like shampoo when faced with Dutch packaging. I basically choose something cheap and familiar looking. So I have Dove shampoo. The package says "Anti-Roos" and according to my translator roos means rose. Needless to say this discovery was very distressing. I mean, there must my lingo-psychological damage caused by prolonged use.... I later learned that "roos" is the word for dandruff. A little insulting. But just to be certain, I bought a conditioner (also Dove brand) which is labled "Respect and Balance." For some reason that's in English, though the rest is Dutch (I think I have normaal haar, right?). It seems like a good way to counter act shampoo that might be washing away flakes of my Self along with unwanted build-up and dead skin.
In New York I buy shampoo solely based on smell. Also commercials (to be totally honest). And the last time I bought shampoo in New York I succumbed to the trap of buying designer or professional or whatever the term is for an expensive one. I find myself making comparisons like this a lot lately since I have just over a month left here. I don't think I remember New York clearly anymore.
I have a vague notion that I might have already mentioned my perculiar Dutch shampoo situation in this blog, and if so, I appologize for boring you. My parents are in town and we had a long day riding the train to and from Maastricht (yup, the one with that treaty!). We also saw some neat medieval stuff like walls and churches. And we saw the crypt of a saint who died in 384 AD. But the important news is that the South of Holland is known for a particular type of pie called Limburgse Vlaai (which when pronounced correctly it rhymes with pie). And so I was finally able to fulfill the promise implied by the title of this blog.
Honestly, I wasn't blown away. It was served cold (a no-no) and there were raisins in it. Also I think it was a little mass produced. I won't condemn the style as a whole, though. The crust was cakey rather than the flakey pastry we are used to in the States, which I can dig. And the concept has merit (a crust of uniform thickness on all sides with a nicely proportioned amount of filling) but I think I went to the wrong shop. I guess I'll have to try it again.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I'm Basically Dutch.

Well it finally happened. Five weeks and one day before I leave the country I received my official residence permit card. This card cost me several trips out to the far flung industrial park where the foreign police are located and 430 euros in September.* But it's pretty cool to have an official identity card from another country. It says that my nationality is Amerikaans Burger which sounds vaguely like a menu item at Bartley's to me. I am still fascinated by all of the forgery proofing on this tiny object. The fancy holograms and barcodes and invisible inks on identification cards practically make up for the frightening loss of privacy they represent. Um, I mean, it makes me feel safer from terrorism. No terrorist could possibly get by the gold colored face silhouette on the back (and it ought to be real gold for the price I paid).
On a related side note, did you know that the Montana driver's license has bears on the hologram? And not like complicated roaring bears that appear to swallow the photo when moved in the light. Just tiny, simple bears. It's about as complicated as the key design that was on the fake ID I paid too much for when I was nineteen. But even the fake was more complicated. At least when you turned it you saw "guaranteed authentic."
Contributing to my Dutchness is the fact that I attended a "football match" between the national team and England last night. It was sort of slow (I was trying to root hard for my temporary home team but they just didn't have any hustle at the front). But in the end they tied it up and it was exhilarating good soccer for five minutes. The fans were almost certainly more interesting than the game. Especially those wearing "Lyonhosen," bright orange liederhosen-style short pants with a lion's tail coming out of the bum. The lion is the national symbol of the Netherlands and orange is the national color. As some of you might know I have an abiding fascination with people with lion's tails. I suppose I read The Borrowers too often as a kid. Whatever the reason, it was marvelous.

*exorbitant cost of photo copies not included.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Three Parter

So I have a lot of catching up to do. I am going to break down the last several days into three major categories: Karaoke, the Zuider Zee and Belgium. So, beginning chronologically:

Karaoke Thursday evening was my first time properly doing karaoke in the Netherlands. There was one activity called "bier cantus" (beer singing) during the orientation week, but that was really more of a sing-along with television screens projecting the words. So on Thursday, we went to a place that bills itself as a "the only karaoke bar in Amsterdam" after dinner. It was run by two Cantonese women and dominated mostly by groups of Dutch students. This karaoke bar was not doing anything right. Most egregiously, the DJ was incredibly rude to one of my friends, prompting us to leave before Son of a Preacher Man and the Macarena* had a chance to be brought to their full glory. Additionally they allowed the same (godawful) Dutch pop song to be sung twice in ten minutes and only had the Nikki French disco remix of Total Eclipse of the Heart available. It was popular nonetheless and my second song was met with what I like to think of as silent respect by the onlooking drunk Dutch students. I can say with confidence that 90% of the room had never heard MacArthur Park before (god help them). Marta emailed me this photo with the subject line "Pop-star Rose Costello in Amsterdam Performance! A new talent has born.."

*It should be noted that this selection was made by Federico and Marta who were choosing the only "Spanish language" songs in the catalogue. The lyrics to La Bamba appeared with phonetic spellings for a Dutch reader, which was pretty hilarious.

The Zuider Zee For those who aren't attuned to the intricate Dutch translation process, Zuider Zee means Southern Sea (isn't Dutch adorable?). On Friday I had the opportunity to visit this lovely region which is only about a half hour from Amsterdam. I went with Federico and Walter (who goes to NYU also, though we only met here. It would be a funny coincidence if I knew anyone at NYU). Our first stop was Marken. We were relying on a Rough Guide for our information on tour stops and mostly picked Marken for it's intriguing description: "Despite its proximity to Amsterdam, its biggest problem was the genetic defects caused by close and constant intermarrying." ("Damn, they really put the rough in Rough Guide on that one. We looked around, saw the pretty houses (they're a bright green color with white trim) and I began my new photo project of documenting the awful lawn ornaments used by Dutch people. I have honestly never seen more garden gnomes in my life. But all the while we were looking for people with genetic defects. Disappointed we returned to the bus stop where we finally spotted one at the bus stop. I would include a photo, but it's on Walter's camera.

Our second and last stop (it really starts getting dark at four-thirty here) was Edam, home of the famous cheese. Edam is basically a postcard. It is incredibly quaint and picturesque. The canals, bridges, houses, etc. were all very enjoyable, but the highlight of this stop was definitely the cheese warehouse. We sampled about fifteen different cheeses and they were so delicious. Federico and I bought a fantastic creamy bleu and a delicious traditional Edam style cheese with garlic and herbs. Edam differs from Gouda, the other famous Dutch cheese, in that the rounds are typically smaller because the farmers in Edam were not as rich as those in Gouda (and consequently didn't have as many cows and thus didn't have as much milk). Edam cheese is also only 40% fat wheras Gouda is 48%. Again, this is because of the richness of farmers. I know these are the details that keep you all coming back for more, so I couldn't let you down. We returned exhausted at six pm to a pitch dark Amsterdam and prepared for more fun adventures the coming day.

Belgium Saturday was the first time I left the Netherlands since arriving almost three months ago. I went with six friends (yes, it is difficult to travel and make decisions with so many people). It took us a while to get on the train (train tickets are much more complicated than they ought to be...), but when we did our final destination was Bruges or Brugge. You might never have heard of this city before because I certainly hadn't, but let me tell you, it's a must if you're in Belgium. In English it's Bruges (rhymes with bruise) and in Dutch it's Brugge (for some reason Brew-ha). The city is apparently a tourist trap and was very crowded eventhough it was cold and wet. But it is full of medieval architecture and cathedrals and cobblestones and chocolates. We mostly just walked around, but we saw some really cool things including a Michelangelo statue in the Church of Our Lady (I literally went to six churches in one day). Perhaps inconcruously, the highlight of the trip was the bar we went to on Saturday night which was a sort of secret entrance piano bar with a Cuban santaria theme. it was so cool. The place was full of strange art and the mojitos were really cheap. And the piano player was.... well, completely unbelievable. Not in his skill necessarily, but more in his style. Picture an older Belgian man in an ugly tie and ill-fitting jeans playing and singing I Will Survive. Priceless. I took a video but I have to add sound and stuff so it'll come up later. For now I will leave you with this picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe to give you an idea of the style of the place.

So I'll probably post more photos soon, but I gotta run now. I am going to see the Holland vs. England soccer game tonight. I'm excited. Real live hoodlums!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Party's Over

So I love blog comments. They're like internet PDA's but more tasteful and less offensive. However, "Anonymous" has ruined my open commenting policy for everybody. You will now need to register yourself as a user. This is not a difficult thing to do. You don't even need to write a blog. You just need to sign up. You can do it through the blogger homepage. It's my intention that this will prevent further advertisements in the comments section. I hope this doesn't prevent any of you from contacting me. I think that most of you already have my email address, but I'll soon try to set up one of those fancy email links to make it even easier. I'll be back really soon with news (stories! photos! videos!) about my action packed weekend. Until then, enjoy Monday.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I am a Grown Up.

This evening after getting home from karaoke, I recieved the following email in my inbox:

Please respond so I know you'e OK. I read the most recent entries in
your blog
today and enjoyed them. XOXOXO R.

That "R" stands for "Roberta" (maybe Robin), who for the uninitiated (that is, creepy readers I don't know... or whatever, maybe you're not creepy) is my mother. So yes, my mother is reading this blog. Which is actually ok. Because when I think about it there isn't really anything I am uncomfortable with my parents knowing at this point. Sure, we might not naturally talk about the details of my sex life or things like that, but that's not really what I'm telling you guys about either (good thing too because it would hardly make for a good read what with the ocean between me and my monogamous partner). I sent out the address in a mass email which is probably how most of you found the site as well. Something about my mom reading this blog makes me feel old though. It's like, "Oh you read my diary? No big deal. Wasn't that thing that happened on October 15 hilarious?" Oof. Weird. But, I just wanted to say, "Hi mom!!" and that it's cool and strange but mostly cool that you read this. Also it's cool that you figured out the internet well enough to find it.
So that's it. I'm all grown up now.
In other news I'm going on lots of fun excursions this weekend. Tomorrow I'm going to a village that used to be an island that is known for inbreeding (apparently people are actually dumber there?) and on Saturday to Sunday I am going to Bruges in Belgium which is considered "the Venice of the North" (although Amsterdam is also called that). So I have to get to bed now. But expect lots of pictures of me singing "MacArthur Park" and posing in front of windmills with inbreds in the next entry. Cause that's just how we grown ups roll.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On Elections of all Ilks

To be honest I voted last week. In fact, in the five years I have been eligible to vote (and I voted each year!) I have only cast a ballot at a polling center once. All the others have been absentee. Except this year I had to buy a stamp. I considered going to the US consulate to see if they would send it for free (essentially I was paying 1.20 euro to vote which seems fundamentally undemocratic) but I thought it probably wasn't worth getting lost on my bike in the rain. And if they said no I would have looked like a cheapskate chump. Probably.
But I hope you're all out there participating in participatory democracy. Unless you can't because of a lack of US citizenship, felony charge or being stuck under a collapsed piano. Those are the only excuses that I currently accept (and the piano one requires the written testimony of the fireperson who eventually rescues you) and I'm working on the felony one (in a broad cultural/ideological way, though I'd love to do more!).
In addition to the US election, there has been all sorts of other electoral fun in the Western Hemisphere this week. Mostly fun for leftists in Nicaragua. But also nearby Panama won a seat on the Security Council. I can't really claim to have followed the Security Council elections very closely (I hardly think any of you are in a position to judge), but it seems like Panama sort of came from behind after all that Venezuela bruhaha earlier this fall. It it must be very exciting for the Panamanian delegation. Not to give the power of the UN or the Security Council undue credit, but just imagine: You're sitting in the General Assembly, pretty psyched to get to meet all these awesome diplomats, never expecting much more and then, bam! Basically you're an instant celebrity. I mean if you base your definition of celebrity on self-Lexis Nexis searching (which I imagine to be the self Googling of the diplomatic and intellectual elite).* I bet they're dreaming of the "Panamaniac" puns copy editors will get to make because of them right now.

*In the interest of full disclosure, and the general interest of this blog which is self-interest, my own Lexis search is dominated by a columnist for the Sunday Times (of London) who appears to write about shopping and an Irish romance novelist who also tops any Google searches. Also, I share a last name with the treasurer of Australia (the Stacy McGill of Down Under as I like to call him) and several articles pop up involving the past tense of "rise" (inflation, spending, growth, etc.) from that country.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Big Girl Plays Dress Up in MOTION

So despite the fact that I turned in all of my midterms a week ago, I am still messing around with the video recorder on my camera. For me this means boredom and wasted time. But for you this means unflattering video entertainment... and probably wasted time as well (let's be honest, are you waiting till your lunch hour to read this?). This is momentous not only as my second foray into internet video production (or any video production) but also as the second installment of Big Girl Plays Dress Up. Although I will forwarn you that this is not a clear cut case. This is actually the wackiest ensemble I could put together given the "practical" clothes I brought with my to the Netherlands. So what do you think? Is it totally cutting edge? Will it take Paris and Milan by storm?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Halloween in November! or The Return of the Lion Lady

So perhaps my "Sad Little Pumpkin" post was speaking too soon. Last night I went to a Halloween party sponsored by the International Students Network. So basically there was a Halloween party about equivalent to a College Halloween Party (think: half-way between Rhodes Halloween and Radnor Halloween, with more boys, just as much girl kissing and (slightly) less latex body paint. But just as many Americans. For non-Bryn Mawr Alums, I have no analogy). It was a bit above lame though certainly not memorable.

Among the highlights were my orientation leaders dressed as a Vampiress and a Dentist (as an added layer of meaning, she is from Romania), the fact that it was in a club called "de Catacombes" which is actually in the basement of a church, watching people from my classes awkwardly/drunkenly make out (sometimes it's nice to be a part of the gossip mill) and the perfection of my Lion Lady costume, which New York friends might remember as a mixture of the Deer Phenomenon Party and the Magical Realism Party outfits. So I saw some orange christmas lights, saw some wacky costumes and they even played "Thriller." And so, I present my costume:

It's really more of a concept costume of a predatory cat. Yes, I only said that because I am an asshole.

That's my tail. Scroll to the last post to see my (engorgeous?) mouth/ makeup.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I ate canned hot dogs.

More on Amsterdam Haloween (observed) in the morning.

Be honest, does my mouth look sufficiently engorged?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sad Little Pumpkin

There is no Halloween in the Netherlands.
Not in any meaningful way at least.