Monday, November 2, 2015

Too Much Mayonnaise

They sat in the train together going forward, both wearing not very new sweatshirts. It was a bit cool for old sweatshirts but for the two prime-twenties male passengers this was a satisfactory arrangement in response to the climate. One held a muy non wee Starbucks paper cup in his hand, the other stabbed haphazardly with a plastic two pronged fork into a square of folded cardboard. “Ugh,” he exclaimed in Dutch, “Too much mayonnaise!” He didn’t look really Dutch; he was small framed and wore a brown beard.  The brown beard threw away the soggy fries and sucked on a Space Age Mammary Pack of Yoghurt Drink.


“All those vitamins gone,” his companion remarked about the thrown away mayonnaise and  oil soaked fries. 

“Vitamen E?” I wondered blindly judging the benefits of mayonnaise.

I've begun to entertain myself standing next to the onion bins at the supermarket. I hold a net of red onions in one hand and a net of yellow onions in the other. “500 grams?” I think, “Is this what 500 grams feels like?” It’s been an odd couple of months passing.

“What the hell is a C?” I stood, not in the supermarket but amidst the lingerie in the mid range department store. The surgeon hadn’t said B. I stared at him and he stared back at me and I thought he would shoot me down if I said B. I could remember as a teenager quickly passing the B mark. Somehow I had a B jammed in my brain, as the thing to be.  Back when I was thirteen. The surgeon said, “C then.” He was eyeing my small frame, the choice was a C or D. The maximum, my brain screamed C.

So what was it?  Prefering supermarkets and onions I intensely dislike lingerie stores, both the products and spending any time in them. What am I? There’s the rub. Too much mayonnaise. Maximum one hour on this errand I told myself between gritted teeth and tearing eyes. I grabbed a number of items, none of them really having anything to do with my body type, just to see what a size said. I learned it doesn’t say much. I fled after examining items that opened in the front. “Buy a C and a D.” I was told about post surgery bras.

After the letter from the insurance arrived, I let go realizing that I had been micro managing the discomfort of my body on a day to day level. A horizon stretched out in front of me that was a giant landscape of relief.  You could though, I told myself after listening to direct stories of nipple mismanagement under the knife, end up with something Dali-esque.  This didn’t discourage me. I feel as though I’ve been wearing a straightjacket for thirty years so who cares if they might have to tattoo a nipple back on? Or not. Go for the photo shopped look.

“I hate that meal.” Direct words from my ex about my chicken-rice dish. I admit I can’t get the chicken to be that delightful stringy quality but the maizena-ed sauce is perfectly-a-gloopy. Just like in my school lunches when I was a kid. It’s a comfort meal. I loved a hot meal at lunchtime, and I showed up like clockwork at school for food at noon. Sometimes I fantasize about eating chicken-rice off a chipped yellow tray again. The chipped parts in the tray revealed a kind of stringy mesh fiber much like the chicken. I do add, a personalization, a healthy dose of chopped parsley after the trip to the microwave.

I was thinking there on the train that in the future, this has to do with mayonnaise, women could just pop their boobs into a machine and thwaonk zonk zonk zap them into the size they preferred, with a maximum of three treatments over a period of forty years. After getting a set of mink bodies in the mail, antique items, from a family member offloading heritage, I offered to pose  semi-nude with them for a painter friend of mine, a matter of placing oil well here and a smudge there.  Her eyes gleamed wickedly. I think now it’s even a better idea, after all immediately after surgery with scars I’d match the minks. People in a hundred years would look at my post op portrait, Venetian-esque, and say that’s how they used to do it back in the day, but now we just thwaonk zonk zonk the little vixens into shape.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Macro What?

Not the brightest when it comes to economics, I signed up anyway. A bit of a challenge.

“They can take away funding from us,” the well-established musician in front of me at the café table said about the refugee situation in Europe. “And we’ve already turned in so much.” The budget cuts made a few years ago are finally making the bruises of their heavy fists felt.

My brain ran amok, I was nearing the end of the Macroeconomics online course. A few thousand refugees in the Netherlands was not going to bust the budget, besides GDP depended on people. More could be better, low birth rates etc.  Pulling in the money meant fighting inflation, more government spending was to create employment. But then wait, wasn’t it that there was an automatic adjustment to balance the sides out?  That’s what this course was trying to tell me. People, aka white men, had won Nobel prizes for such statements constructing the surreal. But it turns out that the surrealistic schools of economics are factual matters in everyday life because of government.

“They held a BBQ.” Another friend relayed with irritation.  She was steaming that the media was making big headlines by shrieking that there had been a big to-do because more refugees than expected had shown up in a small place in the Netherlands. Eventually the next day the town had gotten a BBQ organized and handed out enough plates of food. The BBQ was not reported in the news, the meal was featured on FB, but the xenophobia had been spotlighted.  

The musician at the café whispering about the rise of the right wing and the artistic community being pulled in by dark forces as the right wing was now pro-art claiming was not the only one looking sour at me. At a meeting last month I watched a young and talented orchestra member look a bit cowed.  She never looked that way at me before, in the past mostly her glances at me usually made me feel like an utter loser.  Then against a lot of odds I hauled my life over and circumvented a lot of problems. There in her presence I realized the cushion was gone. She was fighting for earnings.

“By looking at FB,” the online Dutch news article said, “People found out about the emergency town meeting concerning the refugees and poured in en masse.” I begin to wonder whether the journalist checked how many people claimed to intend to be at the meeting on the FB event page, and decided that perhaps was the fact main point without exacto checking but then I admit the accompanying photo to the article was a little chaotic.

“Five old ladies,” the vocal coach said of the public she had found at the concert venue, “I hate those old ladies in the choirs.” We all try to disguise these facts on our FB posts, insert photos of half-truths on our page for self-promotion, not much better than the hardened media fighting for those clicks, serving out saucy titles, and waiting for the centavos to hit their bank accounts from the advertisers bit by bit.

I liked the macroeconomic course, I would even recommend it. It didn’t aim too high intellectually, but it thoroughly brought me back to my past and helped me into the present. “A survey of the Syrian refugees,” a poll report said, “Reveals more than 80% would like to return home if possible.” Yeah, those post New Deal Days were exciting and then Reagan hit the White House and we all learned about Trickledown Theory.

 

 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Working It

He was sitting at a table with a notebook open. A paper one, he was consulting other paper notebooks spread out in front of him. I envied him. I used to be able to sit in a café in the afternoons working away quietly, but now I am mainly in an office during the day, working away quietly. It’s not the same. We were sitting, not together, in a café I have known since I moved to the Netherlands. I was introduced to a place by a friend, a pianist, who was, in before turn, introduced to me by my voice teacher.  “You two,” he said, “Should work together.” Thus assigned we immediately went off to have a coffee and chat. Now long term friends, we rarely work together.

“Is it a gay bar? I never knew that!” exclaimed a singer once after she’d been going to the place for twenty years.

Nor had I noticed.  So this time I was inspecting the girl behind the bar, not the flighty student type, more the arty student type. The café always has arty people because it’s an arty place. A few opposite sex couples were chatting and having lunch. Who was gay? I wondered.  Not that it matters to me, but was this café a noted gay café? Really?  The girl was quick with my coffee. I admired her swiftness.

My attention turned to the man with the notebooks.  I would have liked to sit for an hour and work, but this wasn’t going to happen. I needed to run off to my errands. Gone are the days sitting in a café with an hour or two to work quietly. I mourn this aspect of my life, but then I also realize that straights were so dire a few years ago I could barely scrape up the money for train fare and coffee to get to the café and legally sit there and here I am now without time but with money to run errands.

“Who is coming to the concert?” we ask ourselves.  It’s always thus.  “Hardly anyone came.” Moaned a friend of mine.  I had attempted to get to the venue, but looking at the trains, buses and walking distance combined with my fatigue, I had decided against the exercise. Still if people I know are singing in my vicinity, I regularly go to listen.  I was thinking this time round, why bother singing much longer?  I could simply use the time to write and sit in cafes instead.  But then, despite the office routine, the writing here and there, I still sing.

“Why have you decided to become singers?” Asked the wife of the most prominent voice teacher, the Super Cheese, at a Conservatory I attended in the states.  She was handing out copies of some cheesy article about Pavarotti in the cheesy Gente magazine to better our insufficient knowledge of Italian. “Because we are all psychological basket cases and have nothing much to do,” I thought silently looking around me. I was 18. The teacher’s wife had nothing to do in that small town either, which was why she was there in front of the blackboard, salaried.

“You need to show yourself more,” my therapist informed me.  She’d flashed her tight bottom in those hot mustard jeans and high heels boots as she led me into her office. I was wearing a bag for a skirt and covered up to my ears because I don’t want to catch a cold before a concert. She’s a lot younger than me. Come to think of it, I like the stories I tell when I sing, it’s probably the closest I come to communication of what my soul has to say to the world. 

So sitting in the café of long ago watching the man pour over his oeuvre in process, I thought about the cottage cheese sandwich that I fell in love with the first time I ordered it at the café. No longer on their menu, I make my own versions of it nearly every day at the office, along with a big soy latte.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Under Current


I keep trying to read through a big book. It’s a mighty big book, one of a series of three heavy books about American history. The problem reading a big book is that I don’t feel inclined to take in on the train with me. I don’t have the other two volumes so this exercise will simply be limited to one heavy book. People ask me why do this, I could be watching television. Yesterday I was called by some consumer center and coerced into listening to a hard voiced woman who wanted to schedule a 40 minute appointment in my agenda so someone could come to my house and talk to me about the current issues such as those seen on television or in the newspapers.


I don’t read the newspapers in depth.

I don’t have a television.

Reading my big book, I notice that back during those historical days, news was deliberately not printed. I don’t think much has changed, after all we decide on the spot what is news and what isn’t news. I could have said that I would never agree to let some stranger into my house to talk to me about current affairs chosen by well placed editors for 40 minutes.  There was probably a big sell or robbery behind the whole scenario anyway. But I told her straight off the bat I was very uncurrent.

“You can go if you have some vacation time over, and volunteer. Try to give a little happiness.” Said the yoga teacher on Monday, who had just returned from Crete, standing on the beach welcoming Syrian refugees out of the boats. Her eyes wept. “A woman told of losing her child in the forest while they were escaping.”

Refugees vandalize….I read the title of an article posted on FB…..mainly young men said the article. Bad people are lifting along with the refugees, it’s murmured. Desperate people all around.

I got my big book on the Civil Rights Movement as part of a package of books a second hand store was giving away. I had made a deal to collect the English books before they were chucked in the trash.  I’d donate a bit of money every odd week or two for the books. I have gathered small selections of intellectual volumes on topics such as the Civil Rights, or Native Americans, or mental intelligence or Russian literature translated into cheap paperback editions, all part of someone else’s bookshelves. I keep wading my way through the stacks at home with the utmost perseverance.

Thus I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s book “Stride Towards Freedom” about the Montgomery bus boycott. “Too bad,” said the man at the second hand English bookstore looking over my 1950’s hard cover copy that I wanted to exchange, “It doesn’t have a cover jacket on it anymore.” Before that I had never read MLK Jr’s writing, and in fact the slender little work wasn’t all his writing.  The book was ghost written by a white writer because the NY publisher wanted to make sure it would appeal to a “mass” audience. Nonetheless the essence of nonviolence is still there so I appreciated it. My big book is explaining the rest. “Humanitarian hope is illusion.” Stated King Jr. at one point in his life. And he didn’t even realize that the FBI had written him off as a Communist, an enemy of the people.


Which brings me to this point this week while in Utrecht on my way to a rehearsal: To my right I saw a sign saying 50% off.  I peered into the store, it was a bookstore. It was the kind of bookstore that very much appeals to me, a second hand bookstore with old nibbled on paperbacks, the backs falling off the binding, or heavy mildewy volumes with flash gold letters to enhance a dry subject, the coffee stained dust ridden forgotten authors that no bus driver thinks has enough change on them and in this instance two choices arise, ignore the sub fare doled in pennies or simply fail to brake for the bus shelter. Charity cases. I stepped into the place and surmised that the ramshackle shop had a kind of socialist - Marxist vibe. Holding out a copy of EM Forester’s “The Hill of Devi” which I had unearthed at the back sandwiched between two Mary McCarthy paperbacks on a rough wooden plank made of old crates, I jauntily asked how much this item would set my capital back to the cashier.  He had shoulder length grey hair, and I knew he was armed to the teeth with useless information in grave terms.  He cast his eye over the colonialist retro memoire, marked for three euros and calculated: “Seventy-five cents.” He punched in the numbers to the cash register which then displayed “6.05” in green neon and informed me that I should ignore that bit of information.  “Certainly,” I thought, “The pleasure is mine, comrade.”




Friday, September 25, 2015

Stay While I Go

Tall, blond, all in black, she stood outside the toilet stall door. She smiled at me as I exited the space. “Do you mind,” she said, “Staying while I go? I am claustrophobic and don’t like locking the door.”

Not a problem.

Women just have to go more often than men, cubics in bladderland, metrics it is rumored are involved. Once out of the tram, up the wide ramp into the hospital before my appointment, I made a bee line for the ladies not because I had to go but because I suspected I had to go. In passing on my way to the bathroom I briefly made eye contact with the tall blond senior citizen as I walked past one of those terribly bland but trying to be homey cubby spots found in hospitals. Obviously she had been closely observing the door to the ladies room.

Dependence. “Who are you going with?” People ask me when I mention my next vacation. There had been no negotiations for my booking. I made my reservation without consulting a fellow passenger.  I still can, I thought happily while waiting outside the bathroom stall, be fairly independent.

The flu season started early this year in the Netherlands.  People have already been complaining. Concerts cancelled, my colleague hospitalized for a week, I had a weekend free.  Honestly, I liked it. Well not of course that my friend was seriously gasping for air, but the extra time without feeling driven to Eat-Sleep-Practice-Eat-Sleep-Practice was unusual. But given that Saturday I still thought I had to sing on that Sunday I was, in my mind, half off the hook, semi dependent. I could go out for a few hours and do Something Else but I still had to practice for Sunday.

It so happened that it was Open Monument Weekend, a day in the whole of the Netherlands when doors are thrown open to places not usually open to the public. I ducked out around the corner before going to the supermarket, and visited the Makelaers Comptoir built in 1634. I had been wanting to visit it for more than a year, whenever my nose was pressed to the tram window or stumbling by on a foot errand. Once inside I stood under the rose. Business was always done under the rose, meaning that it was confidential and discreet. The brokers’ guild gilt rose was set into the ceiling of the main room.  A large rose above our heads, signifying A Gentleman Never Kisses And Tells.

“Incoronar di rose..” Sings Susanna in Mozart’s famous aria “Deh vieni” in the Nozze di Figaro. She’s waiting for her wedding night to finally arrive; the aria dives into low notes, singing of fleshy longing as she knows her beloved is hiding nearby and can hear her. This line translates as: I want to crown you with roses.  One opera coach I once worked with was graphic.  He poked his finger through the closed thumb and forefinger on the other hand to demonstrate his point. I sat this week listening to a version of the aria in rehearsal. I don’t think the singer had been told this earthly information. She was singing it straight like an eight year old at First Communion. “It would do if she could get a bit more grovelly and growling for those low notes.” I surmised silently of “dirty” business.

In the Makelaers Comptoir I looked up at the rose and thought about something other than a rose, trying to recall the exact words on some obscure BBC program I had once watched about the significance of the rose in church architecture fertilized with the notion of what blessed place was found between Mary’s holy legs. I proceeded after lunch to the Anatomy Theater, the infamous place once painted in way of reference by Rembrandt. I admit I was disappointed that the interior, the operating table and benches, was no longer in place; it was a circular bare room with a painted ceiling featuring noble coats of arms. Still, my curiosity was satisfied.

By Saturday night our concert on Sunday was also cancelled. Sunday morning I stood in line for a tour of the Royal Industrial Club, normally closed to non-members, on the Dam Square. By the time our little group had entered the dining room, past the bar with the statue of Hermes declared “the best bar in Amsterdam because of the view,” past the lounge with the crackling fire in the fireplace --- “Here at the club, we offer a fire every day,” our guide said snappily, oblivious to practicality, outweighing seasons, the must of the must because of club principles – one lady was in tears.  She leaned towards the guide, a steward of the facilities. “When my husband was a member, I came here so many times, such good times, the parties…” Her voice wobbled, she searched for a tissue in her bag. “But since he died, I haven’t been back. It’s all over.” The steward tactfully placed a hand on her arm and whispered, “After the tour is over, stay a while.”

Back in the day, when I lived in Singapore, I looked at club memberships. I collected brochures and considered the matter. “Absolutely not.” My other half stated baldly. I silently totaled up the social benefits, work contacts, easy diners, pool and sports facilities, and moaned inwards. It wasn’t about being top of the heap, it was about constructing a life. We could have chosen either the Dutch club or the American club both with benefits and detriments. We did neither. I stood there in the dining room at the Royal Industrial Club, surreptitiously eyeing the menu prices, and wondered would my life had been over if I couldn’t get into the club, presuming that I had been in the club?

In rehearsal for the reduced version of Nozze di Figaro, always held in the small chapel of a retirement complex, we rehearsed the trio. Again. The baritone began to sing my part, instead of his, out of tune and entering at the wrong time. I stared at him in incomprehension, while next to me I heard one of the people who come every week to observe the rehearsal, sang my line to me from his wheelchair. It dawned on me that the several inhabitants of the place who come faithfully to listen to the rehearsals, know and even understand Mozart’s entire score much better than any of the singers, mostly amateurs struggling with the language and notes and memory skills.

I watched the teary woman duck into the ladies at the Royal Industrial Club. The stained glass Art Deco door swung behind her.  As usual I had been eyeing the door during the tour, planning to visit before leaving assessing hidden architectural details and discreet cubic bladder signals. But watching her disappear into the sacrosanct I decided not to ask the guide whether I too might visit the loo at the end of the tour, before heading down the staircase to the lobby, no, I thought -- let her stay while I go someplace else.

 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Let’s Spray Paint the Ivy

“Women are difficult.”
 
“Yes,” I joked, “Always difficult.”
 
He searched in the cupboard. “Difficult,” he repeated. Then he said the whole sentence all over again, laughing. He’s a very kind man really and means well.

 “I don’t know what language he speaks,” his wife said to me once. “He can’t speak English, Dutch, German or Vietnamese.” The last one is his native language. We’ve all known each other for years. We used to live together when I was a student renting the extra room in their apartment. I still go to get my hair cut at her house, a train and bus ride away. This occurs about twice a year because I am most remiss in hair care and like to keep up our social contact. My friend tightens her lips whenever she sees me, “Yes Behsephone,” she says (Vietnamese people have a hard time differentiating between a p and a b) holding up some of my split ends, “It’s been six months. Time for you to look like a woman again.” Hmmm. I don’t hold it against her, I feel terrible the next day because I can’t style my hair and then it all goes up again in a little less of a mess on the back of my head.  My friend knows this, she’s hardly a fool. If it’s not wash and stuff into a chignon, it’s not happening. I also know time is fluo at her house.
 
I arrived early. I don’t believe I have ever arrived late. Her husband was home while I waited for her to return from some mysterious errand. Her husband made me tea and searched for biscuits to serve his difficult guest. I didn’t think it was wise to try to explain my gluten allergy in either Dutch or English.  I couldn’t recall that I had attempted clarification the last time. He joyfully came up with the “women are difficult” mantra. In the background a computer program was playing, spinning out conversational English. It’s never not been this way.  Had he ever really studied English? One could believe he never ever studied German even though he lived there and holds a university degree issued to him in German; he must believe languages come by way of osmosis and in most cases I think he is correct, the exception being himself. I listened to the subtler points of using the word “some” in English and disjointed conversations masquerading as educational tools while I drank my tea.  To replace another ineffective conversation he turned on the television.  Now that the space was adequately filled with noise from every direction, he left to hang up the laundry. 
 
My friend returned from her errand. “Jesus,” she exclaimed, “Your hair.”

The bus ride out to the burbs is always fascinating to me. There’s never anyone on the street except for a dog walker or a teenager with a sports bag running for a bus. It’s the Garden of Eden with freeway access where you can go home to your open plan living room after work and all be deathly quiet together on a tip top block in the evenings.  It’s not my kind of place. “Overrun by people and noise,” people say referring to my neighborhood in Amsterdam. I won’t have it any other way. Out in the burbs people put up those stone fences, rocks placed in steel cages to deter graffiti artists, or grow vertical fields of ivy. In my neighborhood the alleys get routinely sprayed. “I am just going to help a neighbor paint over his wall, get rid of the graffiti,” one of my building’s inhabitants cheerfully told me on a sunny day as we crossed paths on the doorstep.
 
You must be really desperate or stoned to go out and paint a wall of ivy in the dead of night, I thought sitting on the bus rolling past vacant sidewalks towards my haircutting appointment.  I am sure the ivy doesn’t mind a bit, such a hearty plant. “I wish we had stayed in the city,” my friend said mournfully to me shortly after moving to the burbs. She had been battling the overt racism she faced in paradise when trying to promote her Dutch Asian children into the better schooling options. Her sons are now attending university.
 
“Social media,” another friend recently blurted out to me, suddenly seeing the usefulness of the medium after turning up her nose on the subject for years. “You can go hand out some sandwiches to refugees on the border.” Her eyes sparkled. “What do you think of this?” she prodded me. I would certainly go hand out sandwiches. She expected me to make some grand statement about the refugee crisis. Until our spending habits change, there will always be a refugee crisis, I thought silently of the war in Syria and the economic repression in Africa.
 
“I am grateful we were picked up by a Dutch boat.” My haircutting friend and ex cohabitant confided to me years ago. “We were all hoping to get to America, but Holland is much better in the end.” She and her brother had taken their teenage lives into their own hands, said goodbye to their parents, and sailed out in a dinghy to the middle of the ocean to be rescued by whatever patrolling ship would happen to find them.  This week during my haircut she wanted to pick my brain about her office work woes. “I said, and it’s my own fault being so easy going, okay sure I would be happy to take the communication course. Two days.” she snorted, “I had to be enthusiastic so I was enthusiastic. Yeah, super a communication course. What did I learn in two days? Then they ask, so what did you learn in two days? Assholes. Repeat after me.” She considered the matter, she is by far one of the most communicative women I have ever met. “This week I have to go in and state my goals for the coming year in their non-lingo terminology, applying their two day communication course points, and what I say now will be evaluated at the end of the year.”  That would be spray painting the ivy.

 

 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Am I Poor?

The idea was presented to me recently that the separation of the wealthy from poor was unnecessary back in the days and terribly unchristian; that people were allowed to purchase their seating arrangement in the past in churches, the reserved pews for the elite, was thus presented as evil and immoral.  My mind baulked at this sweeping proposal.  I began to silently categorize the ills of humankind’s general health and states of degradation; woes arranged by the lack of dental care, various scourges and afflictions dependent on salves and balms in bygone and not so bygone times. Frankly, that one should welcome or prefer to sit next to whatever brand of humanity should appear on the pew with us by whatever mishap is more a modern concept and it is not necessarily the wealthy that have the sweetest breath.  “I met the most interesting person,” people relate, “He has a PhD in astronomy from MIT and has been living under a bridge since even before the millennium. What a great guy!”

This is about survival via charity. All religions hold a not so exclusive warrant on the matter. That is the nature of the beast, righteousness.  We should be so righteous as to sit beside whomever is destined to suffer our presence. If you disagree, you are a poor loser.  If you agree, you even may be poor in spirit, or, worse, poor in pocket.

In most ways I didn’t “make it” as a singer. Sitting in a comfortable Volvo sedan on my way back to Amsterdam one late evening after a rehearsal the retired tenor was telling me about the perks of the opera choir career. “One gets to sing the little roles as a choir member,” he said. Having been there for a short while, I suddenly summoned up the squeaks “Herr Baroni has arrived!” sung by a light tenor, nude torso half dressed in powder blue breeches, as a footman into my mind’s eye and ear.  The one solo phrase of an elite choir member waiting in near pain in the wings, eyes glued to the monitor to figure out when to take that all important breath and Go Solo for Three Seconds. “Those were the raisins in the oatmeal.” He said with great satisfaction. By raisins he meant both the remuneration and pecking order in the choir, or oatmeal.

Everyone needs their moments in the sun, those all-important jaunts of self-esteem building. I deferred to the retired tenor because he was a. a man and expected it, b. an established member of the music community with years of service behind him and c. was not unkind.  He had attained something I had not and he had fought for it.

Am I poorer for it?  Am I richer for having chosen a different pew? Am I poor in spirit for essentially having bought a place in a pew of my choice? Who do I want to sit next to and what sort of conversations do I entertain? Am I elitist? Do I bestow charity? Am I chasing righteousness? Are these questions that matter these days? Why must I accept everything that comes, and even welcome it, make it feel at home?  In addition I feel partially set upon because I am female and I am supposed to accommodate by tradition.

Listening to the sermon the other day, I resolutely decided not to accept this admonishment, and not because of designations on wealth, poverty and illnesses or robust health, but on being capable of accepting the quality of life that I would like to experience, and hope and expect that all others are able to do the same because the government should care about the people and be supportive of equal opportunity.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Glass House


“You’ll stay with my sister,” she said instantly and that was that, settled. In the back of my mind I continued to weigh my obsolete options, balloons blown away high in the sky wafting out of sight.  I had been tentatively planning to make a free fall call for accommodation via the artistic community I knew; I had at some point worked with some lovely people who might be kind enough to offer me a bed, but I had noticed a tendency to demonstrate deficiencies in advanced conversational skills such as listening and patience is not my middle name. Sensing danger, I stayed put with the unknown, the winning lottery ticket.

The sister of my friend didn’t look anything like my friend and was just as charming.

“I keep thinking up titles of books,” the sister’s husband said. “Whenever I see a title of a book, I become instantly wary.” He pulled his chin back to demonstrate.  “Because of the title.” He confessed comically. “And I often like to think about the title of the book I would like to write.”

We were speaking German. My German is very rusty. In fact it’s never been anything but rusty. “Here,” the sister’s husband said while showing me to my room, standing on the stairs midway, “Is a closet.” He turned, “There are the doors. I started ten years ago on this project.”  The closet doors were on the landing, leaning against the wall.  The fastenings were also present and unfastened.

They speak German because of their daughter.  S. only speaks German and might have initially spoken Russian, but she was never taught in the orphanage.  S. is tackling German. My friend’s sister, English, is also tackling German, she’s been going at it for years. The only person who hasn’t been going at the language as a second language is the sister’s husband. We were all bravely tackling German. S. wanted to tell me about the wasp situation. In German of course.

“There are many types of wasps,” her father took over the topic. “Some live in nests like the one in the back of the garden.” He gestured past the tomato plants, past the sturdy quality swing set with climbing facilities. “The neighbours suggested I take it down. But it is empty.” He stated over the breakfast table. Wasps are an inexhaustible topic in August in Berlin. Every drink comes with a beer mat across the top of the glass because tankards are not in fashion these days and look nicer in museums. “These wasps,” he swatted, “Live in the ground.”

I had never heard about wasps that lived under ground. We looked at the map. “In the street,” my hosts tapped the Brandenburg Gate, “You can see where the wall was by the stones set into the road.”

I’d never been to Berlin before, nor had I stood before Queen Nefertiti. I’d been an Egypt buff as a child. I was still thrilled to be standing in front of Nefertiti. She looked like a woman other women look upon in awe.  Come to think of it three women were with me standing in awe of the bust of Nefertiti. Many guards were with us in the room with the Queen on the second floor, more than three in uniform, shaking each other’s hands for it was lunchtime. The museum was a great place, a receptacle of the objects of dreams; Schliemann’s chase after a poet’s story. If you dig in the ground long enough and you’ll come up with gold and another woman encased on the ground floor. Congratulations then on Helen too.

Ah, sniffing the air, those past summers in Germany came back to me, the familiar sights and tastes; the Nordsee sandwiches and fishy snacks, the biergarten, ice-cream -- the ice-cream always disappoints me. I’d turned over a concoction in my mind at lunch on the Spree while swatting away wasps with the menu. The menu pictured a crimson coagulated cherry in a sundae photo, heavy menstrual chunky fruit flavour on clouds of whipped cream that didn’t deter wasps.  I wanted it, but I didn’t order it.

I quite believe that I still owe the bill for a Spaghetti Eis I ate back in 1984 in Osnabruck. I think about this often, as it happens. I was young and in Germany for the first time, and it was still in a Cold War. “You can go talk to an American.” My host father suggested. He was worried I didn’t have anyone to talk to because I really didn’t have anyone to talk to and he’d noticed this problem. So I met this American on an average street in July on a day when it wasn’t raining in Northern Germany, in front of a building with grey walls and an ice-cream parasol parked outside. I sat there on the pavement thinking, was I expected to pay my share because I was in Germany or was this American boy going to pay my share because he was American, but then again would he because we were in Germany? I was very sensitive to cultural expectations and I was a silent cheapskate. I only wanted to buy shoes and I wasn’t very interested in this person and I didn’t like the Spaghetti Eis in front of me and I was bored.  Americans were everywhere in Germany around that time of the last century, all hopeful humanitarians selling Cheetos and Mrs. Duncan’s in special stores, the soft homey pitch to ease the occupation. “Gee, what a pre-packaged life we could all live, without bombs or guilt, a fantasy world of Kansas fields and lumbering automobiles.” Even in 1984 this was still the dream even though California had been taken over by economical Toyotas.

“Look,” my Berlin host said. “There’s the greenhouse.” I looked. “At the back.” I could see tall weeds in an organic barricade that was made of even taller river weeds past the first set of weeds.  Beyond all the weeds, a rectangular patch of land was obviously laid out with the expectation that the greenhouse would arrive and fertilize the air with exotica. “It’s been a couple of years now since we cleared the ground area.” The soil is sandy, nothing really grows, I was told. “We have two seasons, hot summers and cold winters.”

Berlin is still designed to challenge the inhabitants.  I started speaking German immediately upon arriving at the train station, it was sheer instinct.  “Do you have Wifi?” I asked at a café. “Nein.” Neither in the train, neither in the museum. The freedom of communication is still a bit remote. I began to suspect I might have to locate a Starbucks.

“That’s Hitler’s old airport.” My friend’s sister informed me as they dropped me off at Tempelhof Station. “Now you can…” and she ratted off a long list of sports activities, “There.” My train passed alongside the old airport via an elevated track. I gasped when the train overlooked Tempelhof Airport -- it was still clearly an airport in airport mode with runways but filled with people having fun on a Sunday. When would the greenhouse land as per the good witch’s orders?

“Do you have wifi?” I asked the proprietors of the Ferienwohnung when I reached the ex DDR countryside, the masterclass location south of Berlin. 

“ Nein.”

 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Elijah's Lightbulbs

“You look Irish.” The Scotsman said to me at the coffee clutch after church in the church.  People often tell me this, but I am a pure American mongrel with partial Irish ancestry. The pastor who pronounced “pahk” for “pink” had just preached a sermon on how with one seed God creates an onion and with another seed an oak tree. This got me thinking about onions.

“See,” she said, showing me the cover of the cook book. I had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. “I am making you this.  Without the cream.” She added. I looked at the cover of the cookbook in which a piece of salmon was placed in a yellow sauce on a white plate and surrounded by blanched vegetables, including bite sized morsels of a narrow delicate leek. Mostly I wanted to eat the leek. Maybe it was the Irish in me. The whole meal was delicious though, without fault, despite the absence of cream.  She turned over the salmon filets thoroughly and copiously bathed them with spoonfuls of crackling butter. It was beautiful to watch.

“You don’t mind if I eat the mango skin?” She asked. I had brought the dessert. “Shall I wash the mango?” This was her way of telling me that the mango needed to be washed. She had been a nurse before retirement.  I normally don’t wash mangos before peeling them, but somehow I felt I had been terribly incorrect these past 40 something years, routinely not washing my mangos.  She washed the mango. We discussed how to cut a mango.  She came from the Caribbean, one of the old Dutch colonies.  “We did sink some of those German boats. They were all out there.” She stated with pride, waiting for me to insert the knife.

“Here,” she said handing me one half of the mango without the fruit. I took the skin between my hands. We stood at the kitchen counter sucking the half mango skins. She was much better at it than me. My mango skin had a slight covering of dog hair left over it while hers was vacuumed clean. 

I told her the story of how I used to graze as a child in the garden, eating everything until I tried the corn.  It had been a bitter disappointment to me that it had been so hard to eat; I learned, unlike the carrots, snow peas, raspberries, lettuce that corn had to be cooked. She looked at me as if I were a fool. “Sweet corn milk!” She exclaimed. “Of course you can eat raw corn. We did it all the time as kids.”  She shook her heard. “We eat dem sweet potatoes too.” Every once in a while she’d slip a little Caribbean lingo in her sentences.

“Raw?” I asked impressed.

“Make yah teeth go green. Hmmm.” She stood still and remembered trying to clean the green stains off her teeth.  “Give me the pit.” She nodded at the mango pit I had attempted to strip clean with a knife. “Put it on my plate.” She suggested.

“Give us a clean heart.” The pastor had pleaded from the pulpit. I wondered about this information. Since when was it dirty? And what was immer wrong with the flesh of the fruit? Nothing can be clean without dirt.

When my friend had eaten half her meal, the salmon in the soft buttery sauce, she asked me for the jalapeño tabasco sauce, fresh out of the box.

I had divined, upon spying the box of tabasco sauce on the table, that she was making the European tender taste meal for me, her guest and non-Caribbean person, but that at heart she regularly dined with tabasco sauce. I deliberated sprinkling my food with tabasco sauce. I like tabasco sauce, but my American born Euro mongrel nerves twinge a little at the thought of a soft buttery salmon combined with jalapeno sauce and I start to fret thinking that I will mismatch the flavors and miss something important. “My great great grandfather was born in London.” She said calmly.

At church we listened to the story of Elijah and the watery fire. Sitting in the pew I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone had ever patented a product called “Elijah’s Lightbulbs” and simply sold weak lightbulbs with a clever name.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Men Don't Like

Last week I read an article about what men don’t like in a woman. Correction: The article was more about what men don’t like on a woman. Neon colors, as well as heavy make-up were encouraged. The piece was called “How to Turn Off Men” or something like that.

Coming out of the narrow alley in the mornings, dragging the dog with me past the puke stains, piss perfume and splashes of graffiti on the black brick walls, I step out into the raging beauty of Amsterdam. My eyes open a little wider, I always stop at that point to acknowledge the view. The dog has stopped long before me, of course, but here I let her sniff the black corner of the house by the alley to her heart’s content while I stare in amazement across to the other side. The view has expanded, a broad canal wanders in front of me filled with green murky water.  Boats are moored to every inch of the canal.

The dog can move as slow as she’d like now, I am not in a hurry. We take long pauses under each and every tree, looking down into the boats, littered with garbage in the summertime, before the plastic fades to grey. The remnants of yesterday’s pick nick on the quay. The historical canal houses are flashy but not too flashy. My eyes attempt to accept all those gifts of man and God in one panoramic scan. I constantly worry that I will not remember each and every detail on the houses, and finally after a long wrestle with my conscious every morning, I relinquish myself to the inevitable realization that I cannot memorize it all at that exact moment. “But wait,“ I think looking upwards, “Oh yes, yes, now I remember, there’s the house depicting the man standing with a lit fuse in his hand next to the canon on the top.”

We were just beginning to stand under a certain tree, a door opened, a woman emerged from the house.  A blond woman in her early thirties, wearing no makeup but well-tanned, walked towards me. “Neon,” I thought eyeing her pink shirt. Not blaring neon but see-through neon, the seams screamed a little, the body of the garment shimmered. “Was she trying to turn off men?” I wondered. “Was she all dressed and ready to get out in the world to totally not interest men? Was this the day’s occupation?” I noticed an open window in the house. The naked torso of a man in his mid-thirties was watching her leave.  She wasn’t smiling, he wasn’t smiling. She knew he was watching, he knew she knew he was watching. She didn’t look up or turn when she got to the bridge.  She didn’t wave, he didn’t wave. He left the window open, but he wasn’t standing in it anymore.

“Did she put on the shirt to have a fight, or were they having a disagreement before she selected or put on her shirt? Would things have turned out different if she hadn’t selected neon? Was there a symbolic message in the choice of shirt?” We moved on to the next tree. “Look,” I thought to myself, “There’s the door with Jesus and the lamb.” All meek and mild, in a sky blue dress.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Out of School

When I lived in Paris, I saw everyone.  Everyone comes to Paris. I met up with everyone constantly. 

When I lived in Gouda I had a great group of friends in the area. Not many travelers came to Gouda. I did not see everyone.

Now that I live in Amsterdam, I’m routinely alerted that friends are coming through town.  It’s always a pleasure to see everyone again. I also haphazardly meet people who also live in Amsterdam that I wouldn’t normally make appointments to see.  It’s like this, we run into each other in the tram, like the other day  -- “Persephone!” I heard a voice exclaim and I turned to find a singer I had met at a masterclass a few years ago smiling at me.  Ready to step out of the tram, transport pass clutched in hand, at that very moment I was stressed and needed to go throw myself in the swimming pool to work off a little steam before the pool closed.  She wanted to talk to me, she seemed to imply that I would go one stop further with her or immediately step into a café together for a coffee. I said, “Hey, let’s message on FB!”

A week later we met up. She was late and tastefully dressed, showcasing her small narrow frame. We assessed what had changed. She was still working part time at a global concern in customer service, she had been expelled from Conservatory. When I first met her a few years ago, dismissal had seemed set in the tarot cards. The singing professor and the vocal coach were worried. They threw in their weight to try to make a monumental change happen for her, the miracle didn’t appear. They whispered suggestions, out of her ear shot, theories of why things weren’t working, they clung on to the factors outside of their responsibility.

“I have two songs recorded.” She announced to me. She speaks very quickly. I noticed that she suppresses her breath.

“What roles have you sung?” I asked.  She had just stated she had turned 26 and had to get her career started.  She slapped the table when she said this, displaying the sense of urgency.

“None.” This sounded familiar. I don’t think I had sung an entire role at 26. Or maybe I had just sung all of Despina. "A girl of fifteen should know about things, things that hang around and have ‘tails’” – you may know that aria sung by the maid from Cosi van Tutte. “But I have the two pieces, one aria and one song recorded, for auditions.” She picked at her sandwich. She eats quickly and sloppily, the slender fingers tapping, pulling, and pushing the bits of filling on her plate. She explained she was leaving in two weeks for a masterclass in England.  It sounded like a push in the right direction, with the right teachers in the right places. She was applying to more Music Schools, solid names. She didn’t know where to practice cheaply in Amsterdam, she didn’t know where to gain the experience of singing a role at a bargain rate, she didn’t know a lot of things she should have known.  She’d been living in Amsterdam more than three years. I reflected on my life experience. I had been a bit like her, but when a conductor said to me, “Get out of Conservatory and into the real world,” I knew he was speaking the gospel. It boils down to this, there are very few top soloists that come out of the constrictions of a Conservatory. Mostly, young starting singers head towards third rate stages, take the hits, navigate the bullets, try to keep in condition and with luck and some funding may make it.

“Technique,” she was clinging onto this word, “It has to be good technique before anything else.” True, and where my friend, do you find this and at what price?  "The dream is a cocktail at Sloppy Joe's," the words of the poem drifted through my brain....Langston Hughes.....

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Deductive Nirvana


“What bar do you usually go to?” I looked at the man in astonishment, trying to figure out where he was coming from in his world not mine. British and Canadian, the two words crossed my mind as I assessed the company I was keeping.  Right, I realized: Pub Life. I am supposed to have a pub, local, and hang out there after office hours to let down my hair and talk to my neighbors. 

Ever since I left Gouda, and my marriage, I’ve basically stopped drinking booze. I realize I used to drink more than, than what? I have never considered myself a big drinker, but then two years ago I was drinking amounts that surprised myself. I was thinking these days that I seemed to have easily returned to my “when I was around 25 habits,” which means just about nothing in terms of alcohol.  When recently out with my acquaintances from Gouda, stranded in Amsterdam because of the strongest summer storm since 1901 this past weekend, I considered the menu and was swayed by old habits. I asked for a jenever. Sipping it I sat there thinking I didn’t need to drink a jenever. I ordered soda water on the next round.

“You’re different.” People say to me.

I’ve also dropped some weight. It’s hard to see on me what with the abundant curves. “You’re dressing different.” A friend who hadn’t seen me in a year remarked a few days ago. Not really I just finally got to see what’s in my wardrobe as I now have a closet to hang all my clothes up in, as opposed to the heaps and droppings back in Gouda where I had little closet space for my clothes. In a way I have found myself in terms of coordinating sweaters and skirts.

Most days after my office hours, I practice singing at home, eat a quick dinner and then go to yoga, which I have now deduced is my local pub serving outrageously priced smoothies, yakking on about making sure we drink enough water after class.  Remember to hydrate! At yoga, I am, per the norm, one of the oldest inhabitants in the studio. I am definitely the one with the tire around my waist in a room full of young pre mortgage people with practically no body fat. “Let’s get you headed in the right direction,” my doctor said handing me two slips of paper. Big breath now, two more giant moves coming up after the general giant change of direction in my life. I made the calls, and made the appointments. The next day, I woke and realized I was not micro managing my problems anymore, I was in the director’s seat. I quickly noticed that a few of my eating habits disappeared; that Haribo Handful, for instance, had dissipated.

It’s been a week or three.  I still have cravings for sugary things. Occasionally I give in, and my body isn’t too pleased although my brain tells me I should be “HAPPY!” because I got my piece of chocolate or snack bar or pudding or shot of gin or chewy cherry bonbon.  Frankly I’m not, I can just feel my molecules reacting to the sugar and sometimes I perceive hints of nausea.

Reading a scientific article on consciousness, I gathered that science is busy figuring out the formula to explain why consciousness, that weightless and essentially valueless moment, strikes us long after the physical experience that ultimately leads to some sort of perception has occurred.  Although I can appreciate this effort of the scientific community, I wonder why exactly this search for “Pinpoint the Formula” is important or beneficial to society. Will this speed up sobriety, meaning any type of sobriety? In future will we punch in the formula to an inbuilt body thermometer/regulatory machine embedded in our wrists and immediately come to a true state of deductive nirvana? Avoid pitfalls wedded to the lethargic belief that we are happy in the moment? Speed, perhaps, is the thought, we need to speed up all our mortal imperfections to have a happy life.  I am not so sure. We all like to think we are happy, whatever the situation at hand is saying to us.  We might even dupe ourselves with a formula.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Untold Story

He told me the story. He often tells such stories and it makes me seriously wonder about the man. “Paris,” he said happy to recount his sweet naivety and the avarice of others. “We needed to buy metro tickets and there was a queue.” That must be Gare du Nord I thought envisioning the bustling thievery. “A few Good Samaritans were loitering about,” he continued. Okay he didn’t put it like this, these words are my interpretation, “E. said, ‘Don’t do it!’” He smiled. I could see his ex blond ex girlfriend non mental competent herself pulling at his sleeve, rolling her eyes in exasperation. “But yeah, I love to be robbed.” Okay he didn’t put it that way, this is my translation. “So I let him help me.  Turns out that I paid six times the real price for metro tickets.” He gazed back at me, satisfied with his tale.  

I looked back at him. Should I congratulate him? Berate him? What I really believe, I have known the man over twenty years, is that he likes to think that he makes other people reveal their weaknesses and he’s the hero, not just a fool. It must have been too many dopey Bible lessons in the Catholic Church when he was a kid, thwarting common sense.

What, I wondered, was the reason that he was telling me this tale? Was the moral, “We should be happy to all be robbed?” The situation at hand lent itself to this interpretation.  Point taken but not without a damn good fight.

Out and about I pass by a house on the Keizersgracht most days of the week. It’s an old merchant house, not the most grandiose of the lots on Amsterdam’s canals, and the hallway is coated in marble floors and walls. What’s not so standard is the inhabitant.  I can tell the walls are marble because the door is most often open and the occupant out on his front step nearly every day rain or shine.  He’s so red I doubt snow would hamper the influence of his blood pressure and airy wardrobe. The front step being the raised set of steps made of expensive slabs of stone which was all the fashion in the 18th century.  Leaning over the painted forest green railing, for nearly all the canal houses have railings painted forest green, his paunch hanging out from his dirty tee-shirt, he surveys the street like a belligerent bulldog ready to bark.

Everyone knows this instinctively, that he’s looking for a fight. You can tell it just by sniffing the air. He’s unusual in his habitat.  Next door to him behind green protective bars and railings is a similar looking house but occupied by patricians. The norm, they stay demurely indoors. The man with the drum tight paunch in workers boots under distressed shorts surveys his domain either with a beer in hand or a carton of milk. He gaily harasses the bricklayers busy equalizing the street. One of the fellows didn’t look native. A strew of provocative comments from the raised steps washed over the man on his knees in the middle of the street.  Yesterday, I saw two policemen settling a scene between the paunchy businessman and a number of rag tag looking people. God knows what that was about, but I got the impression it was about stoop and step hospitality.

I said businessman because about six months ago I saw his house undergoing a change. The withered geraniums had been removed from the front windows.  Looking up into the house I could see the 18th century beams beyond the open windows. A sign appeared. “C.I.A. comics.” It proclaimed. What wit. I’d like to step inside and see the place, I’d like to know how a man of his nature owns a canal house worth millions, and I’d also like not to be a target of his ire or harassment on my daily walk.  I guess I'll have to think about the matter some more and wait to see if a story appears.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Texel and the Tuna Sandwich

“It is known that seagulls,” the Dutch beautician said massaging some cream in my face, “Fly from Texel to Amsterdam for some fries.”

My grandmother Gert used to make me a tuna sandwich on white bread.  “Do you want the crusts cut off honey?” She might ask, but not always.  I was the one grandchild, out of many, who would stay for a while at her house during the summer.  Sometimes my cousin V. came over for the day to keep me entertained.  My grandmother would be extra vigilant then. I was known to be a bit of a wire on the intellectual aptitude side and would routinely perform figurative tricks with wool that were unbeneficial to my cousin. Otherwise I was easy and well-mannered, generally speaking. 

Somedays I thought my grandmother was being extra nice.  She was already very nice to me. I would worry about her question. Crusts posed no problem; I appreciated anything served on a plate on a table at noon. Was I supposed to be fussy about crusts? At age eight I worried, should I say yes just to “fit in with childhood” or would that earn me minus points? My grandmother Gert didn’t like fussiness. 

As an adult, I sometimes make myself a tuna sandwich. It’s a comfort meal.   It reminds me of those placid and fulfilling lunches with Grandma Gert along with iceberg lettuce.  That was also a specialty of my grandmother Gert.  I never saw iceberg lettuce back home.  Nowadays I occasionally buy iceberg lettuce at the supermarket and still I feel either like a criminal or a nostalgic fool.

But I forgo the bread altogether. I was never big on bread with or without crusts and now I can choose the no bread option. I make myself a tuna salad on salad with a handful of potato chips on the side. Grandma Gert always gave me a snack sized serving of potato chips to go with my tuna sandwich. As a child I really looked forward to an individual serving of potato chips in the neat bag. That alone would make my day. Small bags of individually wrapped potato chips were decadent. That is I learned that they were decadent at home. At home, first off, potato chips were bad bad bad and not to be eaten openly in public. Then, the economics of small bags of potato chips versus the economy bag was underscored by pollution problems experienced by the planet. Litter. At Grandma Gert’s house I didn’t have to contemplate these problems while eating lunch openly in her company enjoying potato chips that came out of a small bag and tuna sandwiches with iceberg lettuce.

She’d sit at the head of the table and I would sit to one side to her. I was also allowed a soda drink at lunch. A few years ago stewardess on a domestic flight in America asked me what I would like to drink. “Ginger Ale.” I replied awash with nostalgia. She opened up a can of ginger ale and poured me a glass. “Would you like the can?” she inquired. My heart leapt as a seven year old. I thought I was at Grandma Gert’s house with a whole can of not a generic supermarket brand of soda bought without the benefit a drought or heat wave excuse in sight.

Grandma Gert didn’t say much at lunch. She’d eye me carefully as I sat enticed by a bag of potato chips and a can of ginger ale. She’d often make corn on the cob for lunch.  That was the vegetable. She had corn on the cob dishes, small long shallow plates that would hold a single corn cob. Grandma Gert posed the corn on the cob plates on the upper left side of the plate with the tuna sandwich laying on a placemat. Placemats were also fairly exotic for me and existed only at grandmothers’ houses. Grandma Gert even had those plastic corn cob skewers so you wouldn’t burn your fingers and get butter all over your wrists. She’d never use both skewers at one time. She’d hold the corn cob up by one skewer and slice off her corn kernels with a knife.

She had once explained to me the problems of her dentures.  After that I never mentioned her habit of cutting off the corn kernels. She’d raze the corn kernels cleanly from the cob and I would watch her in silence.  Once she’d removed the kernels from the cob, I always felt relieved that the painful process was over; I wouldn’t have to think about her dentures and gums, and she could enjoy her lunch.  I believe that when we weren’t eating lunch together we each ate our lunches in solitude.

“Maybe,” I thought slowly, “It’s for the company that the seagulls fly all the way from Texel to Amsterdam.”

The beautician continued, “I am convinced, quite convinced really, that there are fries in Den Helder.”