Saturday, January 12, 2008

...and when they're grown

When your children are little, you'll think that they will change the world; by the time they turn twenty, you are simply glad that they aren't in jail.

A research nurse gave me that advice when my family was young, and events this week led me back to reflect on the difficulty of raising grown children. My son is a delightful rogue: smart and personable, strong-willed and sharp-tongued. He also seems completely unable to find his path in life towards becoming a happy, successful, independent adult.

We struggled with him as he came up through school: he was the oldest so it was our first time through as parents. He bounced in and out of advanced programs that teachers recommended. Between 15 and 17, he ran the table of sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, and staying out all night in sequences of three months each, then thankfully left each behind. Somehow, he did great on his college entrance exams and was admitted to an east coast university. We thought we'd finished launching him, but he bounced back home after two quarters.

He said that he didn't see the relevance: kids study and party and, at the end of it, they're no further ahead than if they'd worked instead. So he took a job loading trucks for UPS from 10 pm to 4 am, dabbling with occasional community college classes. The union position provides great benefits but little pay; he earns half what he needs to live on his own. He sleeps all day, playing online games and watching manga as a substitute social life, to my wife's direct frustration back in Seattle.

As he approaches 21, it has to change. My wife and I have struggled with whether we are supporting or enabling, and our lives feel stuck because of our inability to get past his. I'm worried that, legally, alcohol could re-enter the picture. It came to a head over Christmas with an ultimatum that he had to choose, left or right, full-time school or full-time work, and move ahead with life and move on from home.

As the kids grew up, we told them (and ourselves) that they could become anything that they wanted to be, and we were careful not to answer the question for them. But I don't think that I ever allowed for the possibility that he wouldn't want to be anything. I never gave up believing that the right answer was always to love and support him. I still haven't.

He called this week to say that he was pressing his suit, buffing the resume, and headed to Boeing to see if he could become a machinist. Sure, I swallow hard and wish him luck. But, after 21 years, his opportunities finally exhausted, my marriage crumbling, I'm really feeling tired and defeated. So I called my friend, the research nurse in Tucson, and we had a good talk about raising kids and about letting go, about love and independence. It's still going to be hard to come to terms with, but it did help to put things into perspective and make it all feel a little less lonely.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Happy "Day to Read"

A quiet day on the blog while I take advantage of today's designation as a "Day to Read", being promoted by a number of sites.image And, just in case you find yourself without something to read, I'll add a link for the day to Amanda's latest post about "what to do if you're traveling too much".

"Where luxury once meant chandeliers, champagne, and staff on tap, it now means privacy, independence, and chocolate-covered strawberries."

There is a category of magazines that deals with aspirational lifestyles: once described as being "dedicated to clothes you'll never wear, people you'll never meet, cars you'll never drive, and parties you'll never be invited to." In general, I don't give them a second thought.

I do, however, have a weakness for the Aspirational Travel Mag.

Conde Nast, Travel and Leisure, the Sunday Times Travel (the quote above is theirs) are my favorite bits of fluff to curl up with on a long flight. Further down my list come CNN Traveler, National Geographic Travel, and Frommers (although I swear by their guidebooks). And no, sorry, imageI've never warmed to Rick Steves like so many Americans (even though he's a fellow Seattle-ite).

The fun of these aspirational magazines is that they are filled with completely accessible aspriations. It's not hard to imagine standing where they've taken a picture, staying in a recommended hotel, or enjoying one of their idyllic meals. I usually come back with several torn-out pages in my shoulder bag that I use to help me remember towns to visit, or to find some out-of-the way spot that would make a great getaway. While most have online versions, I much prefer the big glossy pages, filled with pictures of clear blue seas and deep green forest.

As the Times says, "Be informed. Be inspired. Be there."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mysterious Dutch light

At this time of year, daylight in the Netherlands arrives late and ends early. Sunrise begins after 8 am, sunset concludes before 4, and the sun stays low most of the day. On occasional clear mornings and late afternoons, the light paints the landscape with a distinct yellow cast. My camera doesn't show it well, unfortunately, but mjmourik has done a great job of capturing "Mysterious Dutch Light" in his Flickr photos. The grass, trees, buildings all take on a sort of mustard yellow tint ("Gamboge yellow", we called it in watercolor class), further highlighted by contrast with the flat robin's egg blue of the sky.

Cuyp - Dutch landscape painting

I was reflecting on this effect of Dutch Light while checking the dates for the huge European Art Fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht (March 8-16). The Fair an expensive but worthwhile event, filled with classic and modern works exchanging between private patrons that you'll never see again in public galleries.

Last year, I wandered the many galleries of Dutch master paintings, and noted that they all seemed suffused with the same yellow light. As an example, a painting by Aelbert Cuyp (above, right), a 17th century artist known for early morning and late afternoon landscapes of the Dutch countryside.Both - Dutch landscape painting Again, Jan Both (below, left), an Utrecht painter of the same period who painted peasants and travelers in golden Dutch light.

So it's not just a haze in my post-holiday head. Of course, the golden tone might be just be caused by aging of the varnish, but, looking out over the winter landscape, I still think that I see the essential Dutch light that was captured over the centuries in these works. The scientist in me wonders what is released from the ground (bogs?) to diffuse the light in this way: it seems to cling low to the horizon and to be stimulated by sunlight. However, the nascent artist in me is, this morning, content to just enjoy the effect (fleeting, though: the typically grey Dutch clouds have now raced in from the west to cover the sky...)


  Note added: It turns out that a movie was made about this phenomenon: The website blurb is certainly provocative:

"There’s an ancient myth that the light in Holland is different from anywhere else, but it has never been put to the test.image It’s the legendary light we see in paintings. The German artist Joseph Beuys, however, says that it lost its unique radiance in the 1950s, bringing an end to a visual culture that had lasted for centuries. Dutch Light breaks new ground by examining this renowned but elusive phenomenon. What is Dutch light? Is the light in Holland really different from that in other parts of the world? What is true, what is myth, what is fiction? And was Joseph Beuys right? Dutch Light addresses these fascinating questions. And it is an ode to light and to observation. It turns looking into a new experience."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Brussels Christmas Market

This was, happily, my year for visiting Christmas markets. Although a four-hour drive down to the famous Nuremberg market was too ambitious for me, I did get to the Koln market in early December and, at New Year's, made the two-hour trip down to the Brussels market.

The Brussels Market is an annual event, running from Dec 1 through Jan 1. It contains the classic elements of craft booths, food, and drink, along with rides and events that seem more characteristic of Belgium. I'd love to see it in snow, but the colored lights and excited crowds made it fun even in the temperate evenings.

The Market begins in the west-central portion of Brussels: a quick metro ride dropped me directly into it at St. Catherine's Church. This is the main portion of the festival, extending across four wide blocks from the church (bathed pink) to the Grande Roue (the brilliantly white Big Wheel: 5 euro per ride). It reminds me of a carnival midway: I enjoyed simply strolling the twin rows of chalets (Marche de Noel) with food, gifts, and street performers. Half-way along is the Manege Magique (Magic Roundabout: 2 euro), a large Victorian-style carousel, and the Patinoire (Skating Rink: 6 euro) is found beneath the Wheel. While the Market attracts masses of people, it felt much less crowded than the Cologne market because it is so much larger.

a-Christmas market 01 a-Christmas market 07

Behind the Church, there is a huge inflated dragon that people can walk through (4 euro) and a second Victorian carousel. I thought the carousels were fascinating: a Jules-Verne fantasy with metal rockets, fanciful flying machines, and fantastic vehicles that children ride far above the crowds. (No way that would be permitted in litigious Midwestern fairs!) Lines were long for all of the rides, so I focused on the Gluhwein and Sausage chalets (both a shade less potent than their German counterparts).

Beyond the church, the festival winds through the center of the city along a series of closed streets lined with restaurants and more booths. I enjoyed walking along the busy boulevards, window shopping all the way, rather than navigating across town between island market areas. The next major way-station is the Bourse: unfortunately, crowds get thick as they wedge along the narrow street beside the huge building. I gave up and went around to rejoin the parade on the far side.

b-Christmas Walk 18 b-Christmas Walk 30

The way terminates at the Grand-Place, where the narrow market streets all empty into the huge square facing the Town Hall. Spotlights and endless strings of icicle lights are synchronized with piped-in opera music, creating a wonderful light show across the whole face of the building. The biggest crowd-pleaser was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", accompanied by a rapid choreography of light perfectly synchronized with the music. When the chorus drops sequentially down the scale, for example, the lights sequentially drop down the tower: lots of applause from everyone.

c- Town Hall Light Show 16 c- Town Hall Light Show 07

The restaurants along the Market streets run late and have an amazing amount of seafood on display. Most have specials where you can get a three course meal (and ample moules) for about 15 euro. The Belgian Christmas chocolate was also great especially with a hot waffle or as a mug of cocoa.

d-Restaurant area 3 f-Arcade and Chocolate 11

I thought both the Cologne and Brussels markets were great, each in it's own way. The web sites and hotels all have good deals, and I thought that both were pretty approachable even for a first-time visitor like me (more pictures up at Flickr).

Sunday morning around Arnhem

Arnhem Countryside Jan 6 08 - 07 Arnhem Countryside Jan 6 08 - 08

Arnhem Countryside Jan 6 08 - 45 Arnhem Countryside Jan 6 08 - 04

Arnhem Countryside Jan 6 08 - 32 Arnhem Countryside Jan 6 08 - 37