Posts Tagged 'Holland'

Memories, mortality and a midsummer’s night

Saturday morning I joined a three of my erstwhile housemates for a breakfast reunion. I am the only one still married – one has been divorced for a long time and the other two are widows.  The men we were dating when we lived together in our student house, and later married (and the one I divorced), have all died of cancer (intestinal and pancreatic) before their 70th birthday – that makes for a 100% mortality rates of our men back then.  Was it the enormous amounts of alcohol male students consumed? The smoking? Or simply bad luck and chance? It makes one think.

We visited our old house and dared each other to ring the bell to see if we could take a look. A young Irish couple now live on the ground floor. I think we woke them up. Nevertheless they were gracious enough to show us around, including their bedroom – something rather unheard of as I remember. Their front room was my first room, the bedroom was F’s. We giggled and exclaimed as excited old ladies can, pointing out where the first encounters with our now dead mates took place. For some it was an emotional trip down memory lane.

The next part of the day was devoted to the reunion of the women’s student association which merged with the boys’ club one year after I joined, thus making my cohort and the next forever the ‘young ones.’ I caught up with people I hadn’t seen in 40 years, found out who was retired, who was not and who was ‘playing’ Sinterklaas (Santa) with their own or other people’s monies, reinforcing once more my belief that there is no lack of money in the world.

We listening to a very inspiring ‘sustainability’ activist, a young woman who founded Urgenda, trying to get Holland to do more to turn back CO2 emissions and even took the Dutch government successfully to court for irresponsible behavior in the face of undeniable facts on global warming. I wonder whether this would be possible in the US – irresponsible behavior is rather blatant and our influence is big, much bigger than little Holland. I was very inspired by her practical and creative approach to get people to do their share of the effort that will and can turn back the clock. A familiar cabaret from the late 60s by a friend of my sister who started her professional cabaret career in Leiden and was now grooming the next generation, had us all pull out the stops to sing along the melodies and words we remembered. Afterwards we split into smaller groups and dined together for a more intimate reunion and catching up.

To complete the day I caught a ride to Scheveningen where I joined Axel and my nephew and his wife and child for an extraordinary performance of Purcell’s The Fairie Queen (based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night Dream) with music by the Dutch Blazers (Wind) Ensemble and the story told in a light-hearted way through enormous puppets. My nephew does is one of the technicians and provided us with complimentary tickets.

The good life in Leiden

A week trip is actually only 6 days/nights, with the two transatlantic crossings, and so it went much too fast. On Thursday we settled into our lovely little boutique hotel on the main canal (Rapenburg) in Leiden, and then hurried to Scheveningen to see my sister and her husband in the construction site that will become their new house – only the heating system was installed, to help with the drying of the plaster. For the rest it required a great deal of imagination to see what they had bought. Decades long unpruned bushes had grown into large and ugly trees that towered the house. One had fallen over in the near hurricane that swept over Holland some weeks ago. But in this town you cannot just cut a tree, even if it used to be a small bush – once the diameter of the trunk exceeds a number of centimeters it is considered a tree, ugly or not, and you have to ask for a special permission which can take months.

In the evening we obeyed Tessa’s rules about researching where you are going to eat but the number 1 and 2 wouldn’t let us in without a reservation, and reservations wouldn’t be taken until Sunday night, when we would have moved on already. Later we discovered that it was a special ‘dinner’ week during which participating restaurants offer 3-course prix fixe dinners hoping to attract people to go out during what is otherwise a very dead time of the year. We learned our lesson and reserved for the next night in the first restaurant that was actually taking reservations – it was not participating in the week’s specials. It was the most expensive dinner I can remember, but memorable indeed, if not for the amazingly creative cuisine and skilled plating, then also for the young and inexperienced waitress who dumped a fancy champagne/liqueur cocktail over one of the guests. The girl was mortified and close to tears for the rest of the evening. We kept smiling to here, sending oxytocin her way in the hope of counteracting the high levels of cortisol; a practical application of all the neurochemistry I have learned this past year.


Our group of women were about the last from a period when the men’s and the women’s clubs had separate existences, separate buildings and separate governance bodies before the two clubs merged in the early seventies. My sister who completed her studies in Leiden before the merger, was never part of the new ‘mixed’ club that was named Minerva.  Only the women who joined after the merger were invited. As a result we were a tiny minority standing out in our colored clothes amidst a sea of dark suits.

The women’s building that we inhabited before the merger was an elegant house on Leiden’s main canal – but it was clear the men could not move in with us. And so we ended up moving into the men’s building, a large, hideous and indestructible building, reeking of beer (and cigars in the olden days) on the main drag of Leiden.

We had decided to enter the large room together, there is force in numbers. At the coat check some older men looked at us with, what I assumed to be a question mark on their head (‘what are these women doing here?’) or made awkward jokes about ‘shouldn’t we have separate places for men’s and women’s coats?”

We had agreed to join the men for the cocktail hour. After all some of the men from our year (or just above) were no strangers; we had studied together, we were related (like me),  some had husbands, ex husbands or boyfriends in that group, or we had served together on committees. After the noise levels had deafened us enough and our voices became raw from trying to get ourselves heard over the din, we left to dine together in the intimacy of a small elegant restaurant in town – the opposite in all aspects of where the men were congregating. It was a most exquisite restaurant (‘Puur’) which I promptly gave a five star review on Tripadvisor.


Leiden memory lane

I left on the 3rd to fly to Holland to be at a reunion of friends I studied with. My showing up from afar pulled in others who would otherwise not have come. The occasion was the annual reunion of people who had joined the student clubs during a period that included 1971, when I had started my studies.

I flew in a very full plane to Amsterdam. The plane was so full that people were offered money to give up their seat in a clever reversed auction system – you bid an amount you want Delta to give you in order to give up your seat. You can ask for $100, $200 or even propose you own amount.  The approach is full of delicious anticipation, possibly followed by disappointment.

On long trips we are allowed to overnight in Europe, a perk I never use since my trips are often too close together. But this time the timing was perfect. I reserved a small hotel close to the action in Leiden. It is funny that people who go to Holland always want to go to Amsterdam while the provincial cities are so much more pleasant, as interesting and much less a tourist trap.

As it turned out the hotel was a tiny (5 room) boutique hotel on Leiden’s main canal, where the original university still stands. I was given the room under the roof in a beautifully restored old ‘grachtenhuis’ (canal house) that was probably built in the 1600s. The hotel was even nicer than I had imagined from the already very nice webpages. I gave it a five star review on Tripadvisor.

The room wasn’t ready when I arrived early in the morning and so I missed the chance to take a little nap or even shower and change before my brother and sister in law came to pick me. They had organized a nice side trip that included a visit to a delightful museum in Wassenaar (Voorlinden) I had heard about. It is located in one of the old mansions in the, a wealthy suburb of Den Haag, the former home of a wealthy art collector, now open to the public.

Afterwards we visited my nephew and his young family in Den Haag for tea and catching up. And then it was time to go back to Leiden to my charming little hotel which I was anxious to show my brother. There we would meet up with another friend before going to the festivities that had triggered the stop in Leiden in the first place.

The good and the bad

On Saturday June 3 we came to a lovely little castle (Kasteel Amerongen) which once housed the Kaiser who sat out his final years in Holland – a controversial move from the Dutch government but what can you do when the royal family ties are so deeply intertwined with Germany.

Despite the expectation of rain during our 9 day vacation in Holland, it was a glorious day and we celebrated my sister and brother-in-law’s 50th anniversary. Some 140 people joined us for this festive event, representing various phases of the couple’s life:  family, high school friends, study friends, fellow bureaucrats from Den Haag and Brussels and friends from their brief stay in Washington DC.

We continued to stay at their summer house in the center of Holland and do mostly nothing other than sleep in, eat all the goodies that springtime Holland has to offer and sit outside in the sun and talk.

And then we got the call from Sita that Tessa was in the ICU of Elliott Hospital in Manchester (NH) with what turned out to be Acute Transverse Myelitis.

We shortened our stay in Holland by one day and rushed home to be with her. She is leaving the hospital today for an acute rehab center closer to her home. I am posting updates on her condition at this website and will not repeat them here.

Spring and election fever

We celebrated my brother’s 70th birthday a day before the actual day, with his sons, another brother, two sisters in law and a newcomer to the family, little Willem, my niece’s child, just 8 months old.

Holland was also in election frenzy mode. The elections will be held in a few days, on March 15. There are some 20 parties vying for seats in parliament, and those with the largest number of seats can expect a role in a coalition government. Unlike the US, there is no ‘winners take all.’

The Dutch passport holders in my family have arranged for others in Holland to vote on our behalf. I generally don’t follow Dutch (or European) politics all that much but it is kind of interesting these days with Trump wannabees doing amazingly well in Holland and France.

There are so many choices who to vote for. There is a party for animals (huh?), a party for people over 50, there is a ‘pirate party,’ (huh?) a party for people not voting (huh?) and a party of people voting. And then there are of course the old stalwarts: the old democrats my mother used to be active in, the Christian democrats, the Labor Party (mighty when I lived in Holland, shriveled up now), the Socialists, the Reformed Dutch Church party, Green Left and more.  I think our votes will either go to D66, an alternative democratic party that was founded when I still lived in Holland (in 1966) or Green left, a Bernie Sander’s kind of party that follows his tactics, campaigning America style.

There is of course the Geert Wilders party which has gotten very big, possibly the one with the most or second largest number of predicted seats. Wilders’ Free Holland Party follows in Trump’s shoes and wants to make Holland lily white again. A lot of people think this is great, even the husband of an Afghan friend of mine, a Muslim who arrived decades ago. They are like the Trump supporters, children or grandchildren of immigrants from a previous wave who feel that the new immigrants just have it too easy and should be deported, spoilers rather than contributors.

Spring fever was also apparent everywhere – the sun was shining; the crocuses and even some daffodils were in full bloom, blooming in large swatches of purple, white and yellow on green fields. People were out walking and running or cleaning their yards. Garden furniture was brought out of their winter storage places. We sat outside in the sun, drinking endless cups of tea and talking about all the things that tie us together. On days like this I miss being with my family in Holland.


The last afternoon in Abidjan I checked out a new ‘residence,’ because all the previous places we stayed were not good value for money. But this one was. I had a ‘studio americain’  which was more than good value for money. The place is near the office. There is an American dinner (the O’burger) and a patisserie around the corner. It also has things I never use such as a swimming pool, workout room. The best feature is the terrace on the 7th floor from where one can observe traffic jams in all directions, while sipping a dark rum or a ‘sex on the beach’ cocktail, underneath an artificial cherry tree which has blossoms that light up once the sun goes down (it does require electricity).

I finished my reports and packed up for our return trip to Paris first. The driver had called an hour before our agreed upon departure time that he was already waiting for us below. What he did not say is that he was waiting for us at the Ibis hotel that is on the other side of town. This we discovered when we were ready to go and he was not there. The mix up had us arrive at the airport a little later than we had planned, just about exactly the same time that all the other 1000 passengers arrived to fly to points north and east.

The plane was full again with babies; maybe they were the same babies as on the way out. Some slept, some cried and some did a bit of both. We left late which made for a mad dash to catch my flight to Amsterdam, requiring endless long walkways, a shuttle, check points and other obstacles.

I did not want to miss the flight since I had paid 140 Euro for a B-class upgrade, seduced by the words “offre spécial.” I thought it was special indeed; imagine that, an upgrade from Abidjan to Amsterdam for only 140 Euro! It was early in the morning, my brain not fully awake and my ignoring my intuition saying “too good to be true!”

It was of course. The upgrade I had just purchased was only for the 50 minute flight to Amsterdam. I got to the gate just when it was closing, the last person on board. I collapsed in my chair, a regular economy seat but with a guaranteed empty seat between me and the person at the window. The economy row in back of me also had only two people with one empty seat between them. And so there was nothing else to do then to enjoy my 140 Euro breakfast: a sliver of salmon, two pieces of (nice) cheese, a croissant with “fresh Brittany butter” and raspberry jam in its own little jar, a few spoonful’s of something in between yogurt and crème fraiche and a cup of coffee. I enjoyed every little bite and licked my fingers to not miss anything of my most expensive breakfast ever (the Meridien hotel in Dubai comes in second with a 75 dollar breakfast but it had a lot more going for it).

And then I was in Holland again. I took the train to my brother’s house, just in time to see him spent his last two days as someone who can still say he is in his sixties.

December 2018
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