Thursday, 6 December 2018

Writing thoughts...

"Although a writer does not always know what he has written, he cannot write what he does not know."
Just read these words by Ian Watt when speaking of the English novelist Richardson.
Absolutely. That's why I need to sort through this Blog and give it some shape. Or maybe not...

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

winter light in Amsterdam

Very busy these days. (It's Sint Nikolaas evening tonight ...)
The city is also preparing for Christmas. Fairy lights adorn the bare branches of the trees lining some canals :

These two pix of the fairy lights are not quite the same!
This is the canal at the end of my street.
I am continually aware of how lucky I am to live in this location. It is always alive, and happily I love talking to the tourists (wonderful excuse to practise my languages!).
Yesterday in the midst of many rainy days, we had a stretch of sunshine; so not only did I sit on a bench outside a small cafe and drink a cappuchino, I also walked along the Stadhouderskade near the Rijksmuseum, and took some photos.

Five minutes' walk from my house.

Almost rus in urbe... what the Romans longed for: the countryside plus the city, all combined.
But I do notice the air pollution.

Happily, there are still cheerful water fowl; my friend Jenny thinks these are coots (as opposed to moorhens, which have red on their beaks):

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Cold comes to Norway

But we are prepared. First some very rainy days in Bergen, but the wet no problem, lots to see.
Excellent Ship Museum and good art galleries. We walked along the damp grey streets and found some excellent places to eat at not too astronomical prices.
Here a lovely pic by the painter who taught Munch; a wet scene in Norway:
 I feel the northern wind and quiet rain...
Returning home we took the ferry from Bergen to Stavanger and enjoyed a day's watery journey and had some fine fjord views.

Dramatic effect of light over water. Below, lighter and greener ...

So we wended our way home to Stavanger, heads filled with "cool" pictures, and happy memories of succulent codfish meals, as shown below:

To the right is the menu, in genuine Norsk, and I enjoyed not only the "plukkfisk" which is shredded salted cod mixed with mashed potato, but also the "persetorsk" which is shown above. This is cod marinated in salt and sugar and then pressed (whence the perse bit in the name of the dish, I assume) and then I believe, either baked or steamed.
Delicious. The two of us ate for the equivalent of about €40, which included a small glass each of splendid home-brewed dark beer.

Back in Stavanger we watched the huge misty evening creeping in from the lakes and softly covering all the low houses and dripping from the bare branches of the still trees. Next day the sun was swallowed at around 3 p.m. into a white sky. No more sunsets. 
Then quiet night and no dogs bark.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

And this is autumn in Norway

Went for a wonderful warm quiet walk around one of the many lakes here in Stavanger.
The scenery utterly photogenic!!
And as the walk was about nine kilometers we are feeling pretty fit.
For the rest of David's stay here, the forecast is rain, rain and more rain...

To our delight we found a solitary cormorant, perched on a boulder in the lake.

As we walked round the lake the light changed continually, until at last there was the most glorious sunset.

Then we reached home and beheld the full glory, evening light across the water.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Halloween 2018

More children on the streets in Amsterdam (and England too, I hear) than ever before, and mumbling "trick or treat" without knowing what this means (I asked them, but of course many of the little ones don't speak English!)
But they made a goodly show in their costumes as witches, vampires, skeletons and ghosts ... and I fed them tangerines and pepernoten (which are small crunchy cookies tasting of ginger) and it was nice to see so many young people in our somewhat ageing neighbourhood of Amsterdam.
Here's me and a splendid pumpkin carved out by one of the neighbours:
And here is a close-up of the pumpkin (much admired: thank you Chris, neighbour from the US who has lived across the road for several years)

Just behind the pumpkin you can see the edge of the step leading up to my front door.

So nice to join in the pagan traditions, even when they have returned to Europe via the New World ... curious...

A few days later we packed and set off for a few weeks in Norway, visiting Judy and Christiaan and the grandchildren.

And here we are in Stavanger, in a wide clear world, full of wind and water.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The gold is paling...

Autumn sun still cheers us every day, but the mornings and evenings ask for warm jackets, and the daylight grows shorter with each passing day. Coming weekend the clocks got back, and then an end to sunlit late afternoons, sipping tea or drinking beer on a street terrace or a friend's balcony.
We continue to walk the leaf-strewn streets and watch the light glinting on the canals.
David and I fill our days with many inquiries connected with the unsureness surrounding Brexit, the unsureness in connection with what's going to happen with the monumental building beside David's house, (the new owners maintain silence regarding their plans...)  and the definite intention of keeping the body fit despite the onset of creaking age!
We go for walks through this beautiful city, always discovering yet another hitherto unknown steegje (narrow street or alleyway) and rejoicing in the infinite variety of urban architecture that is to be seen here.
Watching the light glance upon the water, and soaking in the abundance of colour (see photo above!), forms a compensation, a kind of balance to the pictures of brutality and sheer ugliness that the media present us with. What to do with these images? I am glad not to have a television or take a daily newspaper. Always plenty of "news" to find via the internet. I often remember what the writer Saul Bellow said, many years ago: We are troubled by too much knowing. This was in the early days of internet, before Facebook, Twitter, whatsApp and so forth.

How about the Metaphysical poets?
Only a sweet and virtuous soul
Like seasoned timber, never gives.
And though the whole world turn to coal
Then chiefly lives...

Words to ponder on as autumn departs.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Summer returns

Or perhaps, glorious golden autumn is here once more...
Now we are enjoying days of delicious sunshine, 22 degrees Celsius, people in short sleeves, and here in Amsterdam, boats filled with happy relaxed folk ply the sun-flecked waters of the canals.
I am busy with houses and family and friends and much to-ing and fro-ing; so little time to write. 

Below, two sunset pix (actually, one is a sunrise)
The sun seem rising over the river Vilaine, in south Brittany, photo by David.
The sun setting by the Maritime Museum Amsterdam, photo by Machteld.
 Misty sunrise:
 Below: sunset

Monday, 1 October 2018

Had we forgotten winter winds... ?

My younger sister, in a Mediterranean country, complains it's too hot at 34 degrees C. But here in the Netherlands, chill winds blow the rain spattering against the window panes, and it's waterproof gear required when venturing outside.
Nevertheless, a friend form the US and I concluded yesterday that Amsterdam really is one of the best cities to live in. There's a great lack of harassment. And this city has a buzz: I don't frequent many of the haunts favoured by some, but for me, there is culture galore, plus the fact that this is an eminently walkable city. And now there is the metro, recently opened, to speed inner-city movement. There's a metro stop conveniently at the end of my street.
And this is what it looks like inside: steep...

This photo was taken the day after the metro was opened; over the following weeks people grew used to it, and now it has become an accepted mode of travel, though there are also considerable complaints. It's made movement, for example from home to work,  more complicated for some people.

Back to the stormy winds...

Here is Prinsengracht canal getting ready for a thunderstorm.

And me on the bridge, a very Dutch sight, beside one of the many thousand bikes this city boasts.
I love the colours in these photos, they're quite accurate.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Wild winds over western Europe

Bumping home across the cloud-filled sky to arrive in a sunny Schiphol airport, Amsterdam.
A calm evening awaited me. The following day the wind got up, banging loose doors and whirling down twiggy branches and coppery-brown leaves.
Fine to be back: after almost fifty years living in this country, it has become pleasantly familiar.
But there is no way it can ever compete with the country and the language that I was raised in.
Hope I can continue travelling for many years to come.

Ah yes, a word about Brexit: people I met in England are just stupefied about what's happening. 
And there will still be protest marches; no one has given up hope (I speak about the Remainers. The others are, it seems, going to wake up one day and wish they hadn't...)
Here in mainland Europe many people are also amazed. I observed a lot over the past three weeks about social psychology...

I bought the best-selling book Sapiens, and started to read, learning a great deal with every page I turned. Clearly, I shall emerge a wiser and a better Sapiensa!
Now to write a poem (it's in embryo form) for my friend who is celebrating her 65th tomorrow.
We share some parallels in our lives: both have English as our mother-tongue. Both of us married in the Netherlands,  had a son followed by a daughter, and then found ourselves as single mothers (with very young children, living in a country without family or relatives and having to work out the best way to manage the complications of child-rearing with a profession). I've written many poems through those years ...

Below two views of a canal close to my house; I try to make this part of my daily walk.
Looking down Reguliersgracht towards Thorbeckeplein. Wonderfully grey, with a warm wind. Later came a thunderstorm. Then quiet.

Monday, 10 September 2018

England, still green and pleasant...

September days, sun stroked and soft wind in the branches. We go for long walks in the countryside, along softly meandering waters or beside quiet lakes.
This really is like being on holiday. Far from the city's roar (and madding crowd).
I stayed in Bedfordshire and Nottinghamshire and visited places I'd not been before.
Deer parks and landscaped gardens. Balm for the eyes.
Here we go, some pix:
A small selection, capturing the light in this northern landscape, and a fine example of Norman architecture.

Yes, a picture worth perhaps a thousand words. Well, that's debatable.
On the ten pound note in the UK there's a portrait of the incomparable author, Jane Austen, and in tiny type, beneath it, her words:
'I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!'
I have just finished reading an incomparable book, by the contemporary author, Nina George. Its title in German is Das Lavendelzimmer. The English title got re-arranged to become The little Paris bookshop. A curious transition. The book is a joy, and when I finished it I was both greatly enriched and a little sad (like when one says good-bye to a dear friend who is about to move far away). Fortunately Nina George has written more. And I have a whole stack of books waiting for me to read at home.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Travelling again...

Have to keep dancing ...
Off to England to visit family and friends.
Have been very busy these past weeks, what with birthday parties (!) and researching archives and suchlike to unearth the history of the Walen Weeshuis, the former Maison Descartes, built late 17th century (same time as my house). All utterly fascinating.
Good days, lots of good talks with friends, squeezed in some reading, and lots of house cleaning.
Virtue in her shape, how lovely (Milton, Comus). Here two birthday pix:
The earrings are a present from my colleague Kate, companion in many translations.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

My 75th birthday

Oh joyous life!
Half-waking, I do my exercise on the bed to get my circulation going...
then roll over and begin the morning ritual.
Today I went to Anna Mora's Pilates class, starting at 9 a.m.
A wonderful way to start the day. Integration of mind and spirit, as it were...
They gave me a bunch of sunflowers for my birthday, and yes, it's been a sunny day...
Here's me with the sunflowers:

Then home to do the household chores, floor-sweeping, washing dishes, putting away clothes and general tidying up.

The sun shines, I open as many windows as possible, answer several birthday phone calls, prepare the yummies on the kitchen table.

With considerable effort I order the drinks for the party on Saturday and thank goodness my friend Lynn arrives in time to help finish the order  so that I've got it right (never done this before!!).
The first guests arrive. I love having parties ... down the years I have learnt that the great thing is confidence: of course there will be enough to eat, and of course people will come and of course everyone will enjoy it.
Oh happy day! Age seems totally irrelevant...

Monday, 20 August 2018

A song in time of discord

This is a poem I wrote twenty years ago, for the marriage of two friends of mine.
They had very different backgrounds: one of them from the Middle East, from a Jewish family, and the other from northern Europe, with a Christian family and schooling.
One trained to be a doctor, the other a teacher.
They are still together. It is a song of hope!

A Marriage Song

I'll tell you a story:
It begins in the quiet morning
Silver light spreads into a room
outside, tentative birdsong: chirrup, trill trill
Here is a new day.

I see a man and a woman
I see deserts and seas
Across the mountains, across the waters
arms reach out
fingers stretch out
and meet
Hands join.

Voices in different languages now mingle
Listen to unfamiliar intonations
try to remember new labels.

Why are we doing this?
What volcanoes have shuddered underground
What long long roads have been tramped
before two people
reach one place.
And still unknowing.

I see a man and a woman
who catch between their fingers the light of morning
and listen for new songs.

The story is about  rejoicing together
it is about hope and daring.
She says: I found you in a land of shadows
I listened to your voice; the words shouted for joy.
He says: Walking along city streets I found you and
All buildings became home.

Water in the desert
shade in the glaring light
my dance, my darling
my day, my night.

Day advances, the harmonies grow more complex
the statements change, questions arise:
Will you be there for me when it grows dark,
When I howl in pain, and in the greyness of unknowing?
And can I support you in your times of grief?

Having travelled so many deserts
having crossed so many seas
we will remember
the journey and the coming home.

Here: let us light a candle
Let the small flame burn upwards
to remind us: constancy, fidelity.
It glows and gleams through the darkness
telling us
that somewhere always there is day
that always, somewhere there is day

My joy, my darling
my love, my light

(Wendie Shaffer, June 1998)

Summer and birthdays

Very busy these weeks.
Amsterdam buzzing with life: tourists, and excellent films, not to mention fine museum exhibitions.
I am becoming increasingly vegetarian and make superb thick and nourishing soups.
This one is basically pumpkin, but of course a secret recipe!
Often towards the end of the day the sun appears, creating long shadows across the water and between the thin bricks of the canal houses. Most photogenic.

 And here's a watery view:

I love this one: everything slightly askew; and the lamppost really is off the vertical. A drunken moment...
It's beginning to feel as if summer's drawing to an end. Many yellowing leaves (because of the long drought), the grass faded and the juvenile seagulls now white-winged.
This week I celebrate my 75th birthday. Have asked friends and neighbours though many people still away on holiday.
David has a few hours ago arrived in the huge harbour of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France.

I am continually amazed (and delighted) by how quiet it is in my street. Probably because it's not a through-way. And many neighbours are abroad.
Here it is on a sunny morning.

My house halfway down on the left

Monday, 6 August 2018

Parades and processions...

I can never resist alliteration ... but in fact this is just a short item on Amsterdam's Gay Parade.
Which has turned into yet another excuse for some people to make a few extra cents ... selling beer, balloons and fast food...
There was not simply a parade of boats with exotically-dressed individuals, singing and dancing.
It seemed as if people had poured in from all corners of the Netherlands and other countries too, to take part in this extravaganza.
I spent as little time as possible walking along Prinsengracht, the scene of ear-deafening pounding  which I hesitate to term music (it wasn't). As the day progressed it became packed with folk who had drunk too much and and grew out of control, some spewing on the front steps of the houses where they happened to be, or sniffing crack (I suppose?) and generally making me feel sad that so many (young) people apparently thought this was a fun way to celebrate ... Because it is worth celebrating that we live in a country where one is not persecuted, imprisoned or viciously treated because one's appearance or sexual preference is not in line with the voice of the majority.
Ah well... here a couple of pix I took in central Amsterdam on the stretch of canal between Spiegelgracht and Vijzelgracht.
The next day (Sunday) much of the mess was cleared away, leaving only broken glass and countless strips of coloured paper confetti.

The first photo below is looking across the Spiegelgracht canal: comparatively unpopulated!

Below: there are so many people on the boats on this stretch of Prinsengracht, that no water is to be seen...

There are usually only two days per year when Amsterdam loses its head; one is for this Parade; the other is on the birthday of the monarch, now known as King's Day.
This event has greatly changed since I first came to the Netherlands, almost 50 years ago.
Like so much,  it has been taken over by money-grubbers. No longer can little children play their wooden recorders on the street corner and earn a few cents for their performance.
Commerce strides along the streets and small voices are crushed in the din. (Hm, I suspect that's a mixed metaphor, but I needed to have my moan!)

But here is another view: home-grown flowers and vegetables from somewhere on the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, where the owners try to cultivate their land without poisonous pesticides. With thanks to my friend Machteld for the photos.
Happiness in a garden; time to read the poet Andrew Marvell some more.
What wondrous life is this I lead
Ripe apples drop about my head...