80 Books: The Netherlands

Netherlands Canal Bicycles Holland Bikes Amsterdam

Netherlands Canal Bicycles Holland Bikes Amsterdam

For my first book in the 80 Books Around the World, I read The Dinner by Herman Koch. Picture two upper middle class white couples, one of whom is the front-runner to be the next Dutch Prime Minister, out for dinner and trying not to talk about the fact that their children recently committed a horrific act of violence against a marginalized person. The novel is about what lengths parents will go to in order to protect their children – or are they protecting themselves? Coincidentally, coming to theaters May 5th with Richard Gere and Laura Linney. I don’t plan to see it since I found the people in the novel horrible and do not wish to spend any more time with them.

If you’re a foodie, you might enjoy the detailed descriptions of each course. If you’re more impatient (or action-oriented, as I refer to myself) you might want to just get on with the plot. Apparently Dutch restaurants don’t hold with that “the customer is always right” philosophy, thus if someone sends back food, it is a mini scandal. One of the characters finds it disgusting to eat corn on the cob. (Is this a Dutch thing or just this character?) And during a vacation with other Dutch in Dordogne, France, the main character gets the distinct feeling the French locals are sick the of the Dutch interlopers….and nervously thinks about Deliverance, and Straw Dogs, two movies where things don’t go well for visitors. I didn’t see that coming!

Nowhere in the book did I find the odd Dutch expression “as if an angel is peeing on your tongue,” meant to signify enjoying a delicious meal.

Other fiction books set in the Netherlands include Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; and to understand why I prefer non-fiction or mysteries, you need look no further than the Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. In 1686, an 18 year old girl arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new lift as the wife of an illustrious merchant trader. So far so good. He gives her an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, she engages the services of a miniaturist – an artist who makes tiny creations to mirror their real life counterparts. And, that’s where I’m done. This sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit that didn’t make the final broadcast.

For movies set in the Netherlands, I can recommend Girl with a Pearl Earring (Scarlet Johansson is always great) or Kidnapping Freddy Heineken, about a real event. Crossing Lines is an American TV series set at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they pursue criminals all over Europe.

And random fun facts about the Netherlands, mostly from my internet research:

  1. Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriage, in 2001.
  2. Netherlands is the tallest country in the world. (I actually learned this from a classmate once.) The average height of men is 6 feet tall, and per an article I read, the government has recently promised to change building regulations to increase the height of doorways, as the population has grown in recent generations.
  3. No shortage of large sized shoes in Amsterdam! They have several stores that cater to unusual shoe sizes. Stravers Luxury Shoes includes both large and small sizes, US women’s up to size 12.5.
  4. Dutch mothers don’t feel guilty. They’re really got the work-life balance thing figured out. Read about it here: Dutch mothers.
  5. The Dutch love to swear in English – you can find many fun examples of signs here; my favorite is an a diner “F**k it – Eat Salads”.   Dutch swearing

And finally, the Netherlands is like both the U.S. and other European countries with wildly differing viewpoints about immigrants. They have politician Geert Wilders, who wants to end immigration from Muslim countries and views himself as a right-wing liberal (??). Picture a younger, blonder, Donald Trump.

Yet they have other groups of people stepping up to help those in need. Bijlmerbajes is a former prison which is now turned into a temporary residence project, colorfully painted by artists and refugees. See that here.  And Takecarebnb.com is a housing initiative which paris refugees with Dutch families for a 3 month period so they can get started integrating into Dutch society (started by a former Bosnian refugee).

Other than going through the airport in Amsterdam, where I had the most thorough pat-down ever, I’ve never been to the Netherlands. If anyone has, I’d love to hear about it.

Elaine

Around the World in 80 Books

In reaction to the xenophobia and general racism going on with our president (and around the world) I decided to fight back by learning more about other countries, particularly those with which I’m not familiar and have not visited. Bookriot.com had an article listing a book from each of the 80 most populated countries in the world (sorry, Sweden) so I’m getting right to it.

 

I went to the local library branch with the list and before I could so much as find any African novel I found a novelization of the TV show Sons of Anarchy. This is a 7 season show about an outlaw motorcycle club in fictional Charming, California. Although it’s a fictional town, by the cities the show mentions, it is located about an hour from where I live. Is there anything more lowbrow than a novelization of a TV show? No, but I checked it out anyway since I’m in the middle of re-watching the entire series.

 

The one book from the list that I did find in my local branch is The Dinner by Herman Koch, set in the Netherlands. So, again, not outside the white comfort zone. Both my Dad and my Mom’s sister recently had their DNA tested (this is the kind of gift you give to retired people who don’t need anything) and the results are in: I’m 99.98% white. Whitey McWhite, if you will. Fraulein Blanche, more accurately. OK, I’ll start there.

 

Most of the books on the list are novels, which are not my favorite thing to read. They’re like movies about boxing – one every 6-12 months is about all I can manage. I prefer a mystery series or non-fiction, so I’ll add those to the mix to dilute the novel ratio. Bookriot also had an article about books from the countries affected by the US’s latest travel ban (which has already been challenged in the courts), and it include a list of young adult (YA) novels. Now that interests me more so I’ll read some of those also.

 

If anyone has any book recommendations, please feel free to share them. So far I’ve gotten tipped off to The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison, a mystery set in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

 

 

Elaine

PS – please forgive the poor quality of the visuals. I’m working on upping my game blog-wise but I wanted to get started with this.

 

60s/70s Lamp

Remember, I was chosen to participate in an online challenge called the Mystery Thrift-Off. Lindsay from Better After bought 12 random weird items at a thrift store and mailed them to the contestants who then had several weeks to remake them and email her pictures of the before and after. Lindsay didn’t know what this item was when she sent it to me but thought it might be a gerbil breeding farm. I figured out from the tag on the back that it was an item for pets. I think it’s a cat toy; you put a little jingly ball inside and the cat sticks her paw inside and bats it around.

Here's my item in its original form!

BEFORE: Here’s my item in its original form!

AFTER: Fabulous 70s Inspired Wall Light

AFTER: Fabulous 70s Inspired Wall Light

My first thought was to make it into a floral centerpiece like this. IMG_0610 I moved on from that since I felt I wouldn’t be taking advantage of the unique design of this thing. So, I decided to make it a mod 60s/70s lamp. The choice of colors was inspired by this top I have. Well, that and googling 70s color schemes and weeding out the avocado/dirt/goldenrod combos.

Montana Black spray paint shades: Mermaid and Pink Panther

Montana Black spray paint shades: Mermaid and Pink Panther

The colors of spray paint I used are called Pink Panther and Mermaid. You can’t find these at your local hardware store but you can at an art supply store. My new favorite place! The brand I used is Montana Black. The inside is lined with orange plastic – I had it custom cut at a place called TAP Plastics. Cost: about $12. Then I stuffed it with a giant string of white Christmas lights. Voila! IMG_0617

Close-up - orange plastic inside, with Christmas lights

Close-up – orange plastic inside, with Christmas lights

IMG_0620 I don’t know what I’m going to do with this; probably sell it on eBay. Contact me if you’re interested! I’ll get a better photo.

Mystery Thrift Off

I’m participating in an online challenge. A blogger I follow, Lindsay from Better After, is hosting a contest called the Mystery Thrift-Off. She bought a dozen random items from her local Goodwill – the more random the better. Then she mailed them to the participants (she chose 12 people out of 250 applicants) and they had a few weeks to remake them into something else.

She’ll do the reveal on June 8th, I think……and I think there’s voting and prizes. Or a prize.

The first picture is my item as I received it. The second picture is my first thought of what to do with it. I was going to turn it into a floral centerpiece , with a green base and pink flowers. I abandoned that idea. Stay tuned – after Lindsay posts it on her blog, I’ll do a full post on it!

Here's my item in its original form!

Here’s my item in its original form!

IMG_0610

The Least Slutty Woman

Me and Tommy Flanagan

Me and Tommy Flanagan

Least Slutty Woman

Technically, I didn’t stay around to accept the award for Least Slutty Woman at the Easy Rider Motorcycle Show at the Sacramento Convention Center on 1/17. In fact, there might not have been such an award, but I would have been a lock for it, since I wore neither high spiked heels, black ripped shirt or lace see-through shirt; no spangles or sequins. Or fishnet stockings. No tattoos. And although I am well endowed, I didn’t have them on display, if you know what I mean.

You might ask why I would go to such an event. Is it the boyfriend influence? Actually, it was all my idea, since my favorite actor from Sons of Anarchy was there to sign autographs. Yes, Tommy Flanagan, aka “Chibs” to those of you who watch the show. I suggested that Dain should drive, since I calculated a 62% chance I would run off with Tommy. But, Dain had confidence and insisted I drive, and he indeed beat the odds by coming home with me. 🙂

Tommy and I didn’t exactly share a moment or anything. He had his hat and sunglasses on and I would wager money he kept himself happily intoxicated to get through the meet and greet. He kept it moving, though, which I appreciated, since by the time we got there and got in line, we were behind the cut off point where they guaranteed you would get your photo. But, the line moved quickly and we got included. (Note – you don’t see Dain in the picture as he didn’t want to make Tommy look short.)

While we were in line, we could enjoy the dance stylings of the Purrfect Angelz, a strip-show-esq group of dancers who had apparently been on America’s Got Talent. Think Pussycat Dolls without the singing. These girls wore tshirts over fishnets and chaps, they did a lot of ass shaking to Bon Jovi song after Bon Jovi song.

Various tricked-out motorcycles were on display so you could vote for your favorite. My favorite is the one with a wheelchair platform, as the owner was in a wheelchair. Oh, also, it had a pole for the girlfriend

The crowd was, as you would expect, mostly men wearing black leather. Lots of cuts, lots of patches, even some real-life nomads. If you don’t know what all that means, watch Sons of Anarchy. If you need suggestive rhinestone underwear, skanky wife-beater shirts, or leather bags for your Harley, this was the place. I steered clear of some of the vendors, like the Hell’s Angels. They had not one but two booths (for Sacramento and San Jose charters) and were super-organized with bins for every size shirt, etc. They’ve been around so long they’ve learned a few things from the man, apparently. Nearby were some Bikers for Christ (I don’t remember their actual name but there were several such groups) and then Bikers of Lesser Tolerance (BOLT). They weren’t Neo Nazis or anything, just intolerant of the government making them wear helmets. Fighting for the freedom to smash their heads into the pavement at high speed!!

Zoo

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Last night my two dogs got into a fight. This went on many more seconds than usual; I had to yell at them and smack them to stop. It was all Daisy being the aggressor, of course. It freaked me out because I am reading Zoo, the book by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. It’s a fast-moving tale (no pun intended) of animals attacking humans on an unprecedented global scale. Dog bites increase dramatically around the world. Lions band together and hunt people in Africa for no apparent reason. (This is especially odd since they don’t usually hunt – it is the lionesses who hunt. Hmmm.) A pet chimpanzee goes berserk, tricking and killing his babysitter, destroying the already squalid apartment and then jumping out the window into NYC. The animals all have cold, knowing looks in their eyes.

My animals don’t seem to have that look:

Daisy

Daisy

Maddie

Maddie

What is causing this? Theories include some kind of virus; an upcoming geologic event (such as earthquake or tsunami) that the animals can sense long before humans. The book evokes sympathy for some of the animals, like the elephants in India who are “trained” to allow people to ride them by being beaten and poked until they just give up and submit. I feel those trainers deserved to be trampled.

Since it is the middle of the night and I’m not thinking clearly, I wonder if this is really happening. I Google “Animal Attacks 2014” and see a pattern not identified in the book. Namely, animals are attacking really stupid people who swim next to crocodiles and get in the boxing ring with kangaroos. Often alcohol is involved (presumably on the human’s part).

Now, I understand a deer crashing into some cyclists out on the mountain trial. They’re all moving fast, in perpendicular directions. I understand a random monkey stealing a bookbag from a teenager.  I even understand a house cat jumping on a kid’s head. Kids are annoying.  But what could cause an otherwise well-adjusted goose to attack a human? What does it have to gain?

Perhaps the answer lies in the Bird Bible. I had never heard of this, but I saw it on Saturday Night Live (hosted by Jim Parsons) and it all made sense. It’s a book where all the Bible characters are portrayed by birds. (“It makes it all seem more real.”) The hand of God is a claw coming out from the Heaven. Jesus seems to be a canary with a beard, holding a baby lamb. The birth of Jesus is precious, with His little beak breaking through the shell. Like the more well-known Bible, it’s not for the faint of heart. The illustration of David and Goliath is post-beheading and bloody. Suppose all the animals have discovered this book and passed it around among themselves? And it emboldened them to exercise their godlike abilities that they had been mistakenly suppressing for years?

IMG_0030   I did come home one day to find this, presumably perpetrated by my dogs. If a human did this, you would consider him seriously disturbed.

I won’t ruin the ending of the book for you; I’m just warning you to watch your “pets.”

Britex Beach Memoirs

$69.99/yard imported Versace stretch fabric. That’s what I pulled off the shelf when I went to Britex, an old-school fabric store in San Francisco. Think SF’s answer to NY’s Mood. I got a sewing machine for my birthday last year, and a friend gave me a gift certificate for Britex as a gift.

Versace, darling IMG_0318

Britex is in the Union Square area of San Francisco, surrounded by expensive department stores (Barneys, Bloomingdale’s) as well as a Ferrari store. Lunch can be had in the rotunda of Neiman-Marcus, where you can watch brides modeling Vera Wang wedding gowns in the window across the street. Since I’ve been sewing, I usually by fabric from Hancock’s on sale, or use clothing from thrift stores. So Britex isn’t really my usual hangout, but off I went.

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Britex is four stories of fabric extravagance, with all colors and types of fabrics crammed in like they’re expecting an apocalypse and a subsequent century of sackcloths for clothing. The fabric is so beautiful! Luxurious textures, beautiful colors, and exorbitant prices. Want cheap remnants? Hike up to the fourth floor. (Yes, there’s an elevator too.)

IMG_0326 IMG_0321I wanted to get something special at Britex, not something I could get anywhere, and make something nice. However, my extravagant Versace tastes didn’t fit into the $50 budget, if I wanted to make something to wear. And what of my sewing skills? Let’s call them beginner. I did learn to sew when I was 13, but that was a long time ago. I’m on a steep learning curve.

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This skirt on the left is the first thing I made; cute, but I bought the fabric online (Amazon gift card) and really wasn’t stretchy enough for the style, so it kept ripping apart. I followed an online tutorial from Mimi G style, and decided I’d left too much room in the waist and not enough through the behind. My next skirt (above, right) I patterned after one I already had, and it was much more successful. Well, the waist shouldn’t be closed examined, but the blind hem is a thing of beauty.  I have more material to make another skirt before skirt with boots weather disappears.

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Above: Complete failure.  Again, fabric not stretchy enough for what I wanted. (What’s my excuse? I bought this in person.) I plan to repurpose the fabric for stuffed animals or something cute.

At this point I decided to spend some time brushing up my basic skills before I got back to making things for myself. I started making dresses for Dress A Girl Around the World, a charitable organization that provides dresses to girls at risk around the world. A similar organization is Little Dresses for Africa. Both of their websites state that girls are less likely to be targeted by predators when they have the appearance of being cared for by an organization.

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Now, don’t look for me on Project Runway anytime soon – the dresses are made from pillowcases. That doesn’t mean they have to be drab – I made all of mine cute with contrasting ribbon or fabric, and all except for the baby sizes had pockets. I put a bracelet into each pocket. (In many of the countries that receive these dresses, the girls have very short hair, which is why I chose a bracelet instead of a hair clip.)

My sewing machine is currently at the shop (the buttonhole wasn’t working correctly, and no, it was not operator error); I’ll post again when I’ve either made something with a pattern, or refashioned something; both are waiting in the wings.