Saturday, February 21, 2009

Scenes from Carnivale Friday

Carnivale Friday 09 The pre-Lent celebration Carnivale seriously kicked off last night: the streets were filling with people dressed as pirates and princesses by early afternoon, streaming across the Stone Bridge in their green, yellow, and red finery.  The bands were playing at sunset, brass marching bands and pop-happy records seemed to dominate.  We all ventured over about 9 to do a circuit of the Old Town center.

Carnivale Friday 23

Carnivale Friday 40 Carnivale Friday 17

The dominant themes are crowds, music, and beer.  Lots of dancing outside the bars, highlighted in blaring lights from inside. The occasional cross-dressed bands were roving the streets with horns and drums, most likely bankers and lawyers at any other time.  Oliebollen stands returned, along with hamburger, sausage, and frites (French fries in a paper cone slathered with mayonnaise).

Carnivale Friday 22 Carnivale Friday 35

Beer was sold from small vans and windows next to the bars, about a euro for a small glass with a big head.  Remarkably, it is all served in glasses rather than plastic cups, so there are empties everywhere, inches deep along window ledges and drifted into corners.

Carnivale Friday 39 Carnivale Friday 34

‘and this is just the warm-up…the party shifts into serious gear tonight and the official ceremonies are Sunday morning.  It’s a bit like having New Orleans at my doorstep for a few days.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Premonitory dreams


(n.)  A dream where future events are foreknown or forecast; a warning of future misfortune.

It’s been a year since I first learned of the plans to close our division in Arnhem.  The decision was finalized in early May, communicated on the 8th.  Summer was spent assuring the employees welfare through the Social Plan, transferring projects and assets back to the US, and closing down the facility.  It was a miserable job.

I’ve wandered in body and spirit over the ensuing six months, pressing to remain in Europe to take advantage of the unique opportunities and contacts here.  My mentors in the US recommended ‘trust and patience’: the organization had a lot of budgets, projects, reporting lines to sort out before the new fiscal year began in May.  There would be opportunities.

Later, some of them left; others shifted to new roles.

I networked heavily, moved to Maastricht, and laid the foundations for taking a different role: writing proposals, participating in working groups, taking on small projects.

At the holidays, I spent an long evening talking with friends to get my mind straight: there had to be a limit where I conclude that I’d taken this career as far as I could. There is a time when the risk of getting recalled to nothing outweighs the risks of moving on to something else.

As I said in my ‘25 list’: it’s hard to change, but impossible not to’.

February 1 would be when the groundwork starts to be laid.

   March 1 needs to be the point where I engage some key tasks.

      May 1 becomes the likely fork in the road.

CS304360-01A-BIG And so, this month, I’ve started in, getting started and learning a lot.  And, last night, I had a premonitory dream about it all.

It was really strange: Our GM from Arnhem sat down to talk with me about my career; a fellow project manager from Seattle shared coffee to discuss the alternatives.  A potential client reviewed his opportunity and the conditions for taking it;  another potential employer turned out to be just trying to sell me something.

It was all vivid, compelling, logical, just as though it really happened.  I laid in with the thoughts in the morning as the distant churchbells ran through the quarter-hours. ‘strange for the subconscious to arrange everything so well, but stranger still if it was anything more.

I still get notes from folks who worked for me up north, letting me know that they’ve found work or a project, that their lives are coming together well and they’re happily off on their new course.  Others genuinely retired.  Its probably past my time, coming.

It’s not yet an irrevocable decision either way, but day by day now I’m shifting weight, making the alternative more real as the past becomes less so.

Still, it’s a worrysome omen.  I do hope so hope that my plans aren’t simply a grand way of ‘sinking my own yacht’.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nightmares of Carnivale

Which is more frightening to have in your bed?

The demon from Fusseli’s Donne ed incubi








or the disembodied clown face gracing our local sleep shoppe?

Carnivale head

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Varieties of Dutch food shopping

DSC05853One of the things that I like about living in Europe is the choice of food shopping.

When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I really had to downshift my habits.  Gone were the weekend trip to Costco, buying vast quantities (of bulk) in bulk for pennies on the dime.  I used to squirrel it all away in the abundant cupboards, 6-foot freezer fridge, and bottomless icebox against future visits from my son or the possibility of nuclear apocalypse (I already have my 8 kW generator installed back in Seattle).

Life, instead, became much more like like a sailboat charter.  The stores were closer and the storage was markedly reduced (‘large galley’ ).  Trips to the store became both more frequent and less burdened.  I also shifted towards buying fresher thing since I’d use it pretty soon.  Healthy habits dawned (although not quite a Dutch physique).

DSC05855 A trip to the store now routinely means a circuit of the green grocer, the bakery, the butcher, and the deli.  I have my big green sack, and it gradually fills up with a couple of day’s goods within a couple of blocks…a chance to say ‘hi to the storekeepers and to browse the specialty items.  It’s a throwback, but it’s wonderful.

DSC05283My local Albert Hijn is tagged “3” ( the chain designates stores as 1 (tiny) through 5 (mega) over the entrance).  It’s a one-stop center within walking distance, but I do feel like I give up freshness and quality on some of the items.  Meats are prepackaged and pretty limited, but the cheese counter is pretty good.  Fruit and vegetable selection are very limited, fresh-baked breads are adequate, and there’s a wide dairy selection.

Still, there are times when the staples have been exhausted and I really want a real roast.

For that, there’s Carrefour. image


The French hypermarket chain has a store located10 minutes across the border in Leige, and I spent 150 euros the first time through.  It replenished everything I was missing (although Tortilla Chips (3 euro) and El Paso Guacamole (5 euro) was a mistake I won’t repeat: I plead that it was Superbowl weekend). Now I go with a list and a budget, once a month.

DSC05862 Still, there’s always an occasional temptation, such as this mixture of Dutch gin and Belgian chocolate.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Loose ends from a few days of travel

Madrid Feb 2009 - 001

The first glimpse of a new place is always exciting: the descent through the clouds, the distant snow-capped peaks, the sprawl of the city, then trying to put names to features and spot buildings.

On this trip, though, the flight attendant insisted that all cameras be shut down  during the descent with the argument that they were battery-powered devices, like MP3 players and cell phones, that must be turned off.

I took a picture just for spite.

Madrid Feb 2009 - 041

I brought a tie and jacket for a nice dinner out, but the latest style being shown in the shops was not flattering.  Sort of a cross between an ascot and a traditional tie, it was wide, loose, rumpled, huge.  Maybe the vest and matching handkerchief would help?

I can’t imagine dressing for business like this.

Madrid Feb 2009 - 044

I read a book once that recommended paying attention to the small things in cities: how the overhead wires run, where there’s a track of an abandoned streetcar line, how they cap their downspouts, what they mount on their doors.  In short, look up and down, into corners and through windows, rather than just following the street signs.

  I find that there are always interesting and unique little artifacts to discover, like this doorknocker.

Madrid Feb 2009 - 092

Several of the local bloggers I follow have raised the ethics of including photos of people in blog posts without their permission. Some have started blurring faces or avoiding people entirely in travel pictures.  In public, I assume that everyone yields their privacy, and I don’t worry about street pictures.  But I’ve become much more circumspect about pictures from stores or restaurants, cropping people out or only taking pictures from behind.

But street performers are always fair game.

and cows…

Dave Cow Madrid 1Madrid Feb 2009 - 028Madrid Feb 2009 - 003 Madrid Feb 2009 - 074

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who do you trust when you plan travel

Madrid Feb 2009 - 095 When I plan a personal trip, like the recent one to Madrid, I find that I use a variety of sources depending on the task at hand.  I didn’t realize how diverse it was until I got into a discussion of who I trust for restaurant reviews; I’ve devleoped a ‘go-to’ source for almost every facet of the journey, but seldom the same references for any two items.

Destinations:  I usually have a general idea of the type of place I’d like to go, and last week it had to be a warm, sunny, novel city break.  I talk with friends about their travels, and short-listed Tenerife, Morocco, Sardinia, and Greece.

The online Frommers guide gives me a quick overview.  In this case it warned that Sardinia was largely closed down this time of year, and that Morocco was clearly too ambitious for a long weekend.  Conversely, Medeira emerged as an attractive alternative to Tenerife.

Travel:  SkyScanner gives me a general idea of costs, airlines, and dates, and I check the route maps for Ryanair and Easyjet to get an overall feel for the alternatives of leaving from Eindhoven, Brussels, Dusseldorf, or Frankfurt.  Sometimes the best combination involves two different destination cities, one for flying in and another one for flying out.

Medeira was hideously expensive because only one airline, connecting through Lisbon, serves the island.  Sardinia was cheap, Greece was expensive.  Venice and Sardinia were good bargains.  The Sardinia flights route through Girona, which started me looking at Barcelona and led to Madrid.

It’s important to plan the trip from the airport to the hotel; in Madrid the taxi costs 30 euro, while the Metro costs 2.

Madrid Feb 2009 - 112 Hotels:  I’ll start with the guidebooks to identify good areas, central within walking distance to attractions, and well placed away from the noise of bus- and train-stations.  I always look at TripAdvisor to see what their third or fifth choice is; their search engine also gives a good estimate of room price and availability.  The hotel web sites are the final arbiter based on look and feel.

In Madrid, it came down to Catalonia Las Cortes vs. Suites Viena.  Costs were comparable, one offered breakfast, the other looked more classical…in the end it’s what suits the mood.

Restaurants and Clubs: I prefer to get local advice from friends or colleagues, people who have lived in the area or are really familiar with it.  These establishments tend to be ephemeral and quality can wax and wane, and guidebooks can’t keep up to date.  I’ve had mixed success with concierge desks; they are great for securing reservations, but run hot and cold on making good recommendations.

Distressingly, I like to find a good neighborhood and then just wander around looking at menus and seeing how full the restaurant is.  In Madrid, a tapas crawl after a rioja bar is a fun casual evening.  For a nice evening, the Lonely Planet guide did lead to making a reservation at an outstanding Basque restaurant.

Faced with a long, neon-lit street of clubs, it’s hard to know where to look for a good flamenco dancer.  Everyone is hawking something, al offering paradise inside.  The guidebook recommended one that should have been free, but the doorman asked 10 euro, then more for inside seating.  The show was very good, but I ended up watching on tiptoe from the crowd beside the stage.

Madrid Feb 2009 - 153 Sightseeing:  I prefer getting recommendations from local friends; concierge desks also know opening hours and tricks of reserving admission.  Guidebooks give good overviews and sometimes identify unusual attractions that are fun, but can miss details.  I always try to pick up a local event guide or ask the waiter in restaurants about special events.  Generally have no interest in shopping guides, escorted tours, or out of town excursions, although if a boat is involved I can be tempted.

Madrid has good local tourist sites on the web that are worth consulting.  The big museums and monuments like the Prado or Reina SofĂ­a are pretty straightforward: the key is to know something about what’s in the collection before you go.  Museums tend to scatter the great works around to draw visitors through the museum, leading to a lot of footwork if I don’t have a plan.  I also like the smaller themed rooms that can introduce me to related artists.  My discoveries were Flemish painters Joachim Patnir, left, and the Abraham van der Hecken, right.

My biggest fear is that I’m going to look like “The Philosopher” within a few years…

Patinir -- San Jeronimo van der hecken -- the philosopher