Saturday, November 14, 2009

The big broadcast

There was, apparently, a Drunk Dads component to the Father’s weekend at college.  ‘hard to imagine parents behaving worse than their offspring, but for some, the pull to relive their glory days was pretty strong.

My days of undergraduate glory were mostly spent behind the microphone rather than beneath a table, afternoon drive DJ at the legendary WRVU, 91.1, the Music Station.

So, when offered the chance to co-host the midday KUGR Rock-Sport radio show High Times in the Polouse with my daughter, I jumped at the chance.

We did a solid two-hour show, conversational and fun: she worked the board while I did colour.   The control console has some familiar elements, channel selectors and volume sliders where they should be, but so much more is computerized now.  No records, no carts, no tapes.

We got the Dutch on-line to listen to the streaming version: it was fun being across the campus and around the world.  Problem was, we couldn’t find any of their requests.  The music library, a digitized collection, was filled with amazing gaps in classics and hits (No Jefferson Starship?  No ABBA?).

Okay, now I am showing my age…it was embarrassing enough to have to do the show with reading glasses on.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A visual voyage over the mountains

This was the day to make the 5 1/2 hour drive from Seattle to Pullman for my daughter’s Dads Day weekend.  I got up early to find that the 6:00 am road / pass reports were of unexpectedly heavy snow that closed the pass completely.  And, hopefully, temporarily.

I tossed the snow tires and chains into the van and headed to the garage to get the wheels swapped.  On the road, finally, at 9, there was ominous cloud to the east and the signage wasn’t encouraging.

I pulled over a few miles shy of the pass to chain up.  The traffic was really sticky, trucks everywhere, but I got everything mounted.

A fellow next to me commented that it was bad weather for this time of year: I agreed and said that I’d come all the way from Holland only to find this.  He grinned broadly:  “Welcome to America!”  It must be my accent.  “They do get snow in Holland, don’t they?”  Oh, yes, only the mountains are missing.

The snow was pelting down as the temperatures dropped to the mid-20’s F crossing the summit.


Fortunately, the roads never got beyond wet and a bit icy: the advisory for chains was probably unnecessary.  I swooped through Ellensburg at noon and was off across the cold scrublands beyond.  250 miles still to cover, but the snow held off until the last 75 as I pulled off onto country road past Ritzville.

Pullman was a mess, the snow was finally starting to stick, and cars were spinning and flipping, snarling traffic.  8 hours total, but I arrived in good shape for the big date.

‘feeling warmer already….

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Piling higher and deeper

DSC08880 Four hours sleep last night…hope that the trend is towards damped oscillation converging to 7 hours.  ‘hope it happens by tomorrow, too.

It was a good excuse to get up early and re-partner with the Mobile Command Center, my Sony laptop, now restored to full function with a repaired case and new hard drive.  The new Windows 7 disks arrived as well, so I did the install and upgrade of all the drivers before installing anything else.

It took hours, but I generally like the new system.  It looks great, runs well, seems stable.  The only complaint is that everything has been moved around yet again: it took forever to find where networking settings have been hidden.

I’ve been making the usual rounds to dentist, haircut, grocery, drugstore to re-provision before heading back in the Netherlands.  I got an evening to explore a new single-malt with a good friend, both of us catching up with events, plans and a few tall tales.  Its still remarkable how much life diverges between travelers and settlers. We both admit that there are elements of the other’s life that we miss.

Of course, journeying means that the maintenance work (and not just the leaves) pile up during an absence. A lot has been done, and the general upkeep is looking pretty good. Still, cars needed attention, computers were offline, the television was only semi-working, furniture needed to be moved, the yard needed attention.

The day’s work is enough to clear my head about the romance of being a settler.  Talk is starting to turn towards downsizing, perhaps long overdue, but it gives a focus for prioritizing maintenance and throwing things out.

At least I seem to have kept enough upper-body strength from months on crutches to battle the leaf piles successfully.

And the leaves are beautiful this year: it reminds me of a Wolf Kahn pastel (one of my favorite artists).


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hopping the pond

DSC08869 (1477x2000)‘Completed the hop across the Atlantic: a long, long trip with a six-hour layover in the middle, but that’s the price of a cheap ticket these days.  It ended up causing a lot of ricochet jet-lag: I slept 12  hours the first night. ’never good to start a day after 1 pm.

The traditional decorations are out at Amsterdam’s airport, always a welcome sight.  Schiphol remains one of my favorite airports,DSC08874 (2000x1500) and their Christmas lights are among the best.

The airplane movie selection confirmed my impression that there hasn’t been much to see in the Bioscoop the past few months.  There were continuing series (Harry Potter, Star Trek), loud action films (Terminator Salvation, GI Joe), or both (Fast and Furious), but no good comedies or dramas.  Adam looks interesting for the trip back; most people around me were watching Ice Age or playing Solitaire.  I ended up spending a little time with House and catching up with 30 Rock when not reading or dozing.

DSC08876 (2000x1500)

The scenery over Greenland at sunset was amazing.  There are mountain ranges along the eastern side by the sea, with deep glacial valleys and rugged peaks that glow in the flat light.  The ice sheet is said to be thinning quickly, but the vistas were seamless this evening.

In contrast, Minneapolis was warm and dry.  Friends have been posting pictures of snow in their back yards for months, so I was expecting the worst.  But when I met a colleague and left the airport, it was pleasantly moderate.  The Mall of America was quiet and undecorated, but  apparently the expectations are high for a return to a more normal shopping season.  ‘hard to believe the recession is over, though: just an inflating stock market that makes it feel that way.

And, of course, Seattle was dark, cold, and rainy.  I’ve always maintained that the Netherlands and the Pacific Northwest move in lockstep when it comes to the weather.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How do you visit a new city?

8 Bergamo 05 It’s been a long morning’s drive:  out of the hotel by 9, stretch and snack in a roadside park, 280 km behind you.  Now, a bit past noon, you arrive in a small city with a few hours to spare. 

What’s your approach?

While I check the guidebooks and plan ahead of arrival for major cities, smaller towns often aren’t well covered (or even anticipated along the way).  So where do you start?

8 Bergamo 06 I usually begin with the town square.  It’s the hub of landmark buildings and civic activity and makes the iconic statement about the town.  Often, the local VVV (Tourist Office) is somewhere nearby. providing a one-page map and some local advice.

6 Siena 06Then I find the big church.  Every European town has one, often dating back to the era when the city was establishing itself as a political or commercial hub.  Each is unique in its architectural trim, paintings, statuary, and ceilings.  There’s usually a good description of local history, and its always a marvel to imagine how they were built hundreds of years ago.

8 Bergamo 27Then I climb the Tower.  Most city halls have one and admission is never more than a few euros.  About half have elevators, but I usually walk up if there’s time.  From the top, its easy to appreciate the colour and texture of the town, it’s situation among nearby hills and rivers, and the character of its neighborhoods.   Often, it gives me the best insight as to how the town became a trade or cultural center, and to what it is becoming today.

8 Bergamo 34Time to eat some local food!  Every region has its specialty, and every town puts it’s best local treats into its shop and restaurant windows.  I avoid fast food chains religiously, and the tourist boards along the square hold little attraction.  It’s better to get down the main way, off a block into a side street, where the locals fill a place with laughter and stories amidst old chairs and scarred tables.  And don’t miss the local drink.

8 Bergamo 16See the art.  There always seem to be unique bits tucked into the corners of public buildings and galleries.  This inlaid wood scenes of forests and legends, (left), turned up along a church altar. I like figurative and modern art if I go to museums, but along the streets I’m watching for ornamental trim and courtyard sculptures .

0 Sermione 18 Finally, I keep track of the ebb and flow of the locals.  Where do they go and what do they do, and when?  Early morning gossip in an outdoor cafe, sunset breaks along the waterfront?  Crowding a bakery for fresh bread in the morning, or closing a shop for a break in the afternoon?  The people carry the rhythms of the town, and it’s essential to get and share a sense of life’s rhythm.

Finally, I go home and read the book.  Armed with some context and place names, the histories and novels come to life.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The road less traveled


As expats, do we build or do we skim?

I’ll be visiting the US this week, always an occasion for reflection on the road not taken (Frost).  Friends have homes and families, wrestle with empty nests, careers, retirement plans: the lives of friends and colleagues following the leftward branch.   I have pictures and experiences, wrestling language training, business creation, and residency permits along the rightward path. 

And we’ll all laugh and lift a glass to the contrasts.

I’ve been through a  succession of locations, experiences, leases,  and friends: a wonderful voyage, but what lasting qualities am I building?  Is life becoming simpler for having a bicycle, or degenerating for no longer having a car?  Are my relationships richer for their greater diversity and for having  wider scope of discoveries to share, or fatally weakened by distance?  And where does the journey finally end: there are no old expats.

Peter Callesen - Holdingontomyself I love what I’ve been doing, and can’t imagine trading away the opportunities around me.  But sometimes, and especially when I visit life-as-it-was, it can feel out-of-step, insubstantial.  I start reflecting on it during the plane rides, doubting over morning coffee.  It’s probably a useful check on impulse, but the question still nags: am I building, or just skimming?

Paper cutting by Peter Callesen – Holding onto myself (2006)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Scenes from Sunday morning

DSC08857The garlands have appeared over the city streets; the stores have begun to open early (and will every Sunday through December) as the shopping season begins.  Some people are even still huddled in  the outdoor cafes.

DSC08856The ducks are taking an early paddle, absent the barge traffic on the weekdays.




The Vrijthof Square has been blocked off to prepare the Christmas Village: the vendors are getting set up early around it.



And the streets are filling with people, although,  sadly, the buskers still can’t get a break..