Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas eve, 2009

Dave and Laura Xmas 2

Our very best wishes for a warm and happy Christmas, and for a new year that exceeds all expectations.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scenes around Seattle

There’s always a lot of racing around town before Christmas finally arrived: shopping for food, visiting friends, picking out presents.  But I also enjoy the chance to revisit the familiar landmarks:

The Space Needle.

The floating bridge over Lake Washington.

A sort-of Christmas Market replica at the local shopping mall.

A local food store for homesick British expats (Puddings, but no hard sauce!).


Our village, Woodinville, is experimenting with roundabouts to speed traffic flows.  These are still rare in the US, so it takes a lot of signage and barriers to coax people into going the right direction, and a wide apron in case they stray. 

Sadly, though, no road art.

I think that there is a contradiction that US drivers will struggle with.  Normally, I yield to drivers on the right at a 4-way stop.  But here, I yield to the upstream driver, the one on the left.

However, I was pleased to find the familiar “Teeth in the Road”, all the way from the Netherlands, reminding me to yield before entering the circle…

Monday, December 21, 2009

Musing on the Dutch Antilles

I was reading two articles today that got me thinking about the Caribbean.  One was Expatica’s accounts of the winter snows and freezing temperatures across the Netherlands, the facts behind the photos from Maastricht and stories from friends.  The other continuing story of Laura Dekker, the 14-year old sailor who fled to St Maarten last week.

The Netherlands Antilles comprise five islands, three north (including St Maarten) and two south.   They were colonized for the Dutch East India Company in the early 1600’s, and were joined together in 1845.  They became semi-autonomous in 1945, but are in the process of dismantling the confederation to become regular Dutch States or Special Municipalities.   North Holland has offered to adopt the Municipalities as part of their province.  The process is due to be completed on October 10, 2010.

Thus, the islands become a little bit of Europe in the Caribbean.  The residents are citizens of the EU and will vote in Dutch and EU elections.  The islands will share judicial and diplomatic functions with the Netherlands, governed by the Dutch constitution. However, as Overseas Country or Territory administered by the Netherlands, they are not fully part of the EU:  they will retain their local currency and some may have their status reviewed to become Outermost Territories after 2014. 

It raises some interesting questions about the status of my residency / work permit: I suspect that I could relocate the company or myself if I wanted to. 

Years ago, I took a 7-day Royal Caribbean cruise around the Lesser Antilles, sailing from San Juan through the northern, Leewar Islands down to Barbados, then back north through the Windward Islands.  The ship is a mobile hotel opening onto a new venue each morning, warm waters, beautiful sunsets, each island with it’s own personality to discover.  Sint Maarten was a particular favorite: I crewed on an America’s Cup boat (12-meter challenge) and enjoyed their Guavaberry liqueur in all its forms.

The memory came back while I was in Switzerland for a checkup last October.  My surgeon suggested time in the islands: salt water, sand to walk in, physical activity and relaxation for my foot.  He offered to write a prescription for a month in Philipsburg (but how to get Blue Cross to cover it?)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feeling the contrasts

‘back in Seattle for the holidays, plunging into a whirlwind of  shopping, shipping, and socializing.  It’s not without adjustment.

I’m finding that I’ve adopted a more “voluntary simplistic” way of life in Maastricht, not quite Thoreau, but still walking to local shops, taking the train on longer trips, living without a car, trying to get a better balance between working and leisure time, making time to read and write (drawing is on the New Year’s list).

DSC09419 Okay, I still fly like a demon, so my carbon footprint is still immense.  And I now live in three different countries: the exciting news of the past day is that my UK work visa was granted in just 12 hours (!), clearing the way for me to start my research project and to teach at Cambridge starting next month.

Even so, the plunge back into a US style and pace of life has been bracing.

The holiday traffic is dense and aggressive, especially around the major shopping areas, and it’s taking more time and energy to make the rounds than I remember.

DSC09420 Once inside the malls, the crowds are thick and salespeople feel pushy.  A lot of venerable stores are closing forever and there are 40-60% discount signs in every window.  There aren’t a lot of shoppers carrying bags of purchases, so I think it’s making the shopowners more desperate on this last weekend before Christmas.

A lot of familiar procedures seem to have become more complicated as well. For example, the post office has set up a package shipping center, all touch screens and sequenced instructions to weigh, pay, stamp, and drop boxes down a big slot. Not to sound old or Luddite, but now I have to figure out what to do while a line waits, find out I can't do half of what I want, then wonder if it's been done right in the end.  I still prefer to stand in the (shorter) line to the counter, let the clerk tell me my options, then buy stamps and a money order at the same time.

The local talk radio station had a contest to find the most irritating people or things of 2009: the new light rail system and various bits of pubic art topped the list. A lot seems driven by small government / free market people who want to limit public investment in things that they won’t use or don’t like.  But I don’t know how to leave a regional rail system to wholly private initiative, its the sort of infrastructure investment that becomes useful only when it’s fully functional.

When it’s done, they’ll love it.  And ride it.

It’s all leaving me a bit homesick for my road art and NS Rail, walking to shops and joining friends for Quiz Night.  I’m sure that I’ll take up the slack in a day or so and it will be like I was never away, but the transition has been sharp-edged.

I’m even missing George (smiling, left, in the London Underground, but absent, right, at the Nespresso counter at Macy’s), but can always go see him in the Up In The Air movie if I need a fix.