Saturday, August 3, 2013

Naar Zussen en terug


Zussen is sort of a non-entity: it doesn’t appear in Wikipedia and is only a green smudge of buildings against surrounding fields in satellite photos.  ‘Located just over the Belgian border in Limburg, it is best known for it’s high-quality limestone quarries and hospitable zussen 2climate for growing mushrooms.

The brick pavement along Kesselskade was shining red from overnight rain as I turned my bike south along the Maas.  Sleep wasn’t coming easily, again, and a morning ride might clear my head and boost my spirits.  The only traffic was the early barges thrumming along the river; the only people were workmen laying a new highway above the expansion of the shipping locks.  I turned west, pedaling hard past the joggers along the Albert Canal.
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Normally I head right at the bridge back towards Maastricht; today I turned left across the border into Belgium, along cycle path 80 up through the Tiendeberg preserve.  The stiff climb leveled out into spectacular rolling fields of golden wheat and green corn.  A church spire and brick houses marked Zussen, glowing in fresh-washed morning light, nestled in a hollow.

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I did, of course, manage to get confused among the tractor trails and farm roads, taking pictures and circling a bit out of my way before finding the main roads and the river again. But the rolling landscape, reminiscent of the Palouse hills, was really lovely, serene and still at 8 am.

By any reckoning, a good start to the weekend.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Het is erg warm ....

WP_20130802_008 (1400x1186)…but after the spring we’ve had, I can hardly complain.  I had to sympathize with the flowers left out to suffer in front of the bar up the street, though.

I was up with the sun, as usual, did a little early reading, biked to some 9 am appointments.  A leisurely lunch with a friend at the Vrijthof, then back to work on legal issues through the afternoon.  Sunset found me working my favorite risotto recipe with a fresh-made vegetable stock.   It made all the difference in the recipe.

‘takes me three times to get anything right: once to get the feel for it, second to overcompensate, third time perfect.

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Outside, the Stone Bridge glows orange in the sunset, the bicycles drift by in the twilight, soothing like watching fish in an aquarium.  I sit in the window, sip a good Belgian beer, and make plans for the weekend. 

The Antwerp city museum, most likely, or down to Spa if my spirit tends towards a ramble…

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ridderronde Maastricht

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WP_20130731_009 (1400x763)I made a snap decision to head back to the Continent today: events are in motion in Cambridge and results won’t be known until Tuesday, so there isn’t much to do (control).  Philosophically, I can change the scenery and my attitude, so I hopped the early ferry and hit town about two pm.

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It’s a lovely sunny day in Maastricht, shimmering water and laughing children.  It’s also the day of the Ridderronde Maastricht, a series of bike races with some of the top cyclists competing.  The circular course through the  three public squares goes right under my window, so we had an impromptu party and hung out the windows, cheering.

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The women competed much harder than the men, the athletes more than the bartenders, the elite athletes most of all.  The cyclists came past every few minutes, preceded by a motorcycle and chased by vintage cars with the event queens and local dignitaries. Very strange.

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And the music, the beer, and the dancing went late into the evening (on a Wednesday!) with Cataplana, performing at the end of the ‘Skade; always fun when someone you know is in the band.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Illusions of control

DSC09407 (1767x1452)I usually maintain pretty good control of things.  I understand my projects, I know my resources, I have my plans: I execute well.  When I travel, I’m organized just enough to make the day work while leaving most of my time free for wandelen and lunchen.   I try to keep myself under control; I try not to control others.

Yet things spun badly out of control in the past months, and I was surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by events that I thought I understood.  So, is control an illusion?

What is ‘control’?  To my mind, the power to change perceptions and events, perhaps also to prevent change from happening?  Or, as a friend suggests, a matter of saying “I will” rather than “I can” when confronted by change?

A lot of things that matter to me are actually outside of my control.  I can’t change facts: experimental data will be what it is, and arrive when it’s ready.  Sadly, I can’t change people’s perceptions: they often persist in believing  what they will for reasons entirely their own.  My knowledge is piecemeal; my power to act is limited in both timing and intensity.

DSC09404 (1800x1095)What I can control is how I think about things, what meaning and significance I give events and how I let other people constrain my actions.   I am learning that exercising control is more about how I choose to yield it than about how I assert it. 

I was invited to a friend’s for dinner the other night where we talked about someone who had lost a leg to illness.  He had refused to let it stop him in life, adapting his physical abilities to overcome the limitations of his handicap (hopping up stairs without aid) and completing significant academic work at Cambridge.  At the same time, he struggled in relationships, beset by need and over-reactive to his partner’s moods. 

It’s a big difference, and the reasons seem almost solipsistic.   His successes are driven by asserting positively over himself (I will), his failures by yielding negatively to another (I can’t). 

People overcome  adversity and assert control in many ways: enduring, waiting, witnessing, complaining, fighting.  Often, though, and too often in my case, strategies are deployed against events and perceptions that won’t be changed.  Knowing the difference between the illusion and the reality of control is probably key to reducing stress as well as increasing success.

What is control: power or perception?  Or perhaps it still comes down to self-control: keeping my work and my relationships within limits and in balance.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A moldy oldie

1In 1974, I became Program Director at the The Music Station, WRVU 91.1 FM.  The ‘Werve was a 300-watt powerhouse of a college radio station, and I did afternoon drive as ‘Dashing’ Dave Roberts.  It was a lot of fun and a great community to be part of, I seriously considered a career in Media before heading off to graduate school to study engineering instead.

The station is long gone, reduced to internet streaming and the broadcast frequency sold off.  But a minor storm burst on Facebook today when a YouTube audio track was posted by the PAMS company, who did all of our radio jingles, featuring me as the DJ.  A surprising number of friends recognized me (the hair or the smile?)

Dashing Dave Roberts, On the air

I remember going to Dallas to cut the package: the producer took us to lunch, then into the studio where a group of singers belted out our clips.  They’d do a segment, then turn and ask me how it sounded.  Can they hit the ‘W’ a bit harder?  “Hit the W’ said my producer, the tech miked in the command, the conductor talked to the singers, they hit the W.  Very fun and impressive for a 20-year old.

It also gave me my first experience managing, where I learned the importance of Lucy Kelllaway's basic principles: “Make sure that everyone has a proper job to do. Pays everyone fairly. Make employees feel that their efforts are recognised. Gives folks nice people to work with.”

‘Makes me want to dig out the old airchecks (if the oxide hasn’t fallen off the tape backing).