It’s Sunday morning, but not for much longer. The afternoon is appraoching, languidly. Today is almost perfect as far as Sunday’s go, the sky is grey like weekend sweat pants and it slouches low over Rotterdam.
I’m still in my dressing gown and I have spent the entire morning in bed, drinking coffee, checking my email, reading yesterdays paper and watching back to back episodes of Sex in the City. I haven’t even entertained the idea of leaving the house yet, I don’t think I will for a while and I don’t feel guilty at all. In fact I’m languishing in my sloth like behaviour, sometimes doing nothing just feels so decadent.
Australia has a morning culture, even on a Sunday. Everthing is open by nine and the whole world is dressed and showered and demanding poached eggs on toast. Back home, if I chose to join the world after 10am I could never help feeling that I’d missed something, like I’d been in my own time zone and time had rushed ahead without me, leaving me behind. A Sunday sleep in Aussie style is a guilty pleasure, Rotterdam is more my style. If for some odd reason you happen to find yourself out and about it Rotterdam before an hour suitable for brunch you will encounter a ghost town. The roads are all but empty, shops are dark and closed. Only the seagulls are greedily gorging themselves on the discarded leftovers of late night munchies.
Occasionally I like wandering the streets while the rest of the city is eating toast in bed. It’s humbling and invigorating to feel like the only person alive in the concrete jungle. But today I’m staying in. And I don’t feel guilty at all, because I’m not missing a thing.
It has just started raining. Rain on my window is the perfect soundtrack to my Sunday morning. One more excuse to stay exactly where I am, where my only problem is “fried, boiled or scrambled?”
Before I fell for a Dutchy I thought that Holland and the Netherlands were two separate countries. So, it goes almost without saying that if you had asked me to choose any country in the world to move to, Holland would not have been on the top of my list. I was so madly in love at the time that the location wouldn’t have mattered, luckily for me I got Rotterdam instead of an Igloo on an ice berg in the North Pole.
I’m not going to lie, when I first saw Rotterdam I was a little disappointed. I had something a little more Amsterdam-esque in mind; cute and quaint old buildings with canals running through the city under archaic old bridges. Instead I got apartment blocks, uber modern high-rise buildings, building sites and the Maas – a heaving mass of gushing brown water. It was a concrete jungle, big and dark and uninviting.
My relationship lasted about as long as a paper umbrella in the rain. But I didn’t go home. I think that part of the reason I decided to stay was that I’d already begun a new love affair, I just hadn’t realized it yet. It was not love at first sight, there were no violins playing, bluebirds or rainbows and no lightning bolts or thunder claps. The beginning was rocky. We seemed to have a love hate thing going on, one day we were all over each other, smitten. The next day my new love interest is trying to run me over with a tram. My new prospective love was coy, played hard to get and was highly erratic, wooing me one minute and waging war the next. But there was something that kept me intrigued, a charm that got under my skin. We went on a lot of dates, not all of them good. And, occasionally it got violent, usually involving a bike. But one way or another Rotterdam wormed it’ s way into my heart.
Every city has it’s own personality. Amsterdam is flashy, famous, with plenty of looks, a little wild streak and in your face sex. For me Amsterdam is more about lust than love, it’s a one night stand. “I’ll call you…” Den Haag is somewhat more reserved, dignified and down to earth and easy going. We like each other Den Haag and I, but is it love? “I think we should just be friends”.
Rotterdam, is a diamond in the rough. Like a pimply teenager its beauty may not be so obvious at first glance, but it’s there. Rotterdam is edgy, erratic, enigmatic and sometimes secretive. Actually as far as cities go it’s a little ‘emo’. It had a bit if an image problem, got picked on when it was younger, beaten up (…WWII) and has been re-inventing itself ever since. Rotterdam doesn’t give up its secrets easily which is one of the things I love most about this city. The most obvious things in Rotterdam are often the things worth missing. To find the good stuff you need to know where to go. Every day in Rotterdam is like a treasure hunt and there’s always something you haven’t discovered yet. Rotterdam is also a little schizophrenic, the city of a thousand personalities. There is something for everyone in Rotterdam, you just have to know where to look. One of the things I am starting to love more and more about Rotterdam is that in many ways it is what you make of it. The more effort you put in the more you get back.
Recently I was caught in a heated conversation; Amsterdam versus Rotterdam. I have reason to believe that this debate has been raging for quite some time. Rotterdammers are a proud bunch, they love this city, their city. The thing I didn’t expect was to hear myself defending Rotterdam’s honor.
For me Rotterdam is like a new boyfriend, we’re still getting to know each other and I like showing him off to my friends. Who knows where it will go from here, is it the real thing? Who knows, but for now I’m having fun, dating Rotterdam.
I came to Holland for love, and I found it… just not where I expected.
I guess it was about 15 years or so ago that we suddenly found ourselves in the era of the appliance. All of a sudden there were “appliances” that could take over tasks for us mere humans, they did a more efficient job (or so it invariably claimed on the box) and made our lives easier (or so it claimed on the box). Gone were the days of having to squeeze your own orange juice by hand, risking citric acid in the eye, (always unpleasant) and fruit pulp on your shirt. Cake mixing became a sweat free pass time and Suzie Homemaker could stay perfectly un-ruffled and produce the perfect sponge cake.
These appliances took the load off, they made physical tasks easier. Fast forward, (using some handy appliance of course) to today and these inanimate household slaves have evolved. Gone are the days when they only took on manual labor. Oh no. Now the appliances have been working hard and they’ve gotten smarter in the process. They’ve developed an intelligence. Does anyone else find this a little unsettling? That the coffee machine now knows better than you do how you prefer to take your caffeinated beverage in the morning. At 07.11 to be exact. That the heater knows when you leave the room. That a machine called Tom Tom can explain to how to get from A to B without starting a lovers quarrel or having to stop for directions (sorry, but I find it hard to trust anyone or anything who’s first and surnames are the same…). And then there are the phones. Does anyone else remember when a phone was that plastic box plugged into the wall that would “ring” occasionally and you’d pick up the receiver and talk to someone? I remember when phones became cordless… now that was cool. But now we have “smart” phones, one click of a button and you can see your “friends” ask Tom for directions, find out who invented the telephone, check your bank account, and take photos of your nearest and dearest and make them look fat, or like they live in 1960, or that they live under the sea. Hell, these “smart phones” can even measure how much you move while you sleep…. Now tell me that’s not a little scary??
I feel like I’m living in back to the future, just without the hover boards.
I do not have a smart phone, in fact my phone is not even a semi-intelligent phone. If my phone were a person it would not be smart. It would be severely physically and mentally handicapped. My phone claims to be a “flip phone”, that was its main appeal when I purchased it quite some time ago. I felt quite fancy when I would flip said phone open with a deft flip of my wrist “hello this is me on my FLIP phone, how can I help you?” Now when I deftly flick my wrist my “flip phone” does nothing even vaguely resembling a flip… except maybe flipping me off. It gets stuck mid-flip, hangs up on the person calling me and bites the tender skin on my finger between it’s now sharp plastic teeth. And then it closes again.
Actually, now that I think about it perhaps my phone is smarter than I thought… My phone also has a camera in it. My phone camera is in many ways very smart, it has a mind of it’s own in fact. When I want to take a photo, it is usually off doing something else and is thus “unavailable”. Or my phone decides it time for some shutter action and I cannot ring, text or set my alarm because it feels that now is the perfect moment to get snap happy. My phone has developed more human characteristics, it’s incredibly stubborn, and lazy. When it wants to turn itself off, it does. When it wants to be silent, it does. When it wants to ring at full volume although I’ve asked to be quiet because I’m going to see a movie, it does that too. My phone has also decided to take over my daily routine, it often feels that I should wake up at 5.08am… I still haven’t worked out what my phone wants me to do at 5.08 am but apparently it is going to continue to do this until I work it out. My phone is also a practical joker, it likes to tell me I have text messages when I don’t and it also likes to eat texts that are attempting to inform me of fun social events, like parties and invites to drink coffee. Come on now, that’s just mean! My phone even has a ringtone that sounds suspiciously like an evil cackle. I’ve now decided that my phone is not only smart but also evil. Perhaps it going to start a technological rebellion, leading a blue toothed, mobile army to war. And if it’s not your phone beware of your toaster, it’s secretly plotting with the coffee machine who’s in cahoots with the mixer and the vacuum cleaner… They’re just one button away from world domination.
I’ve just worked out why Spring is the only season with a verb as a name. It does exactly what it’s name suggests! After months of winter grey’s and whites today the sky is blue again! And there are little green things on the branches… wait… are those… buds? I rug up and head outside, it’s warm and the sun is shining. There are green tufts sprouting out of the ground… wait is that…grass? And, there are flowers! Spring has sprung! It’s like mother natures version of pop corn, just add heat and there are puffs of life springing up all over the place. Which begs the question, I wonder why they went for Spring instead of Pop. Summer, Autumn Winter and Pop. It’s got a nice ring to it.
I love Konininnendag (Queens day) I’ve just celebrated my third and it’s quickly becoming my favourite Dutch holiday. There’s just so much to like about Koninginnendag (Queensday) it’s so festive and well… orange.
Not that you can ever rely on the weather in Holland but I’m learning that April is particularly fickle. Four seasons in one day, rain hail, wind and shine. Anything is possible. On the 30th of April I wake up and cautiously peel back the curtain, oh the suspense… The sun is shining! so I leap out of bed, orange up then I head outside to see what second hand goodies I can pick up on the street side markets that have sprung up like spring flowers all across the city. I love these markets, you can buy everything from pets to wedding dresses, cosmetics, car parts and carpets. You never know what you might find. Little kids are selling their old toys, making homemade lemonade, orange cupcakes and painting faces (orange, incase you were wondering) and there’s an old guy playing blues guitar while his mate shines shoes. Strangers actually stop to talk to each other and the usual fast pace of the city slows to a gentle stroll.
I stop at a particularly orange stall to “poop nails” (spijker-poepen). Wow, that sounds really painful when you translate it. It’s actually an old Dutch game where you have a rope tied around your waist that has a nail hanging at the end of it, without using your hands you have to try and put the nail in a bottle, it’s harder than it sounds and less painful than the name would suggest. After I’m all pooped out I’m off for some beer and dancing at Orangjebitter, the best koninginnendag party in Rotterdam. Last year I sawyed to cheesy Dutch classics in a crowd full of beer bellies (big bellies and bellies full of beer) so this year I decided to change things up a bit and jump up and down to the cream of the Rotterdam music scene. The place was packed and the crowd ebbed and flowed like an ornage sea. I danced, I drank, the sun shone, I was orange and I honored the birthday of Wilemena, Juliana and Bea, Dutch queens past and present. I am particularly fond of Bea, she’s regal yet far less stuffy than Lizzy, and she has great hair.
After a mandatory serving of fries with mayo, the orange frivolities are over for another year so we pick our way through the patriotic leftovers now filling the streets. And head home to bed, in an orange haze.
Last night I went to see a movie, it is called “Women Are Heroes”. It is a documentary that follows an art project by a French artist called JR that focuses on women in third world and developing countries. The beautiful thing about it is that it is does not focus on their plight as so many projects like this do, but rather on their incredible strength and their undying hope. Hope in the future, the future of their children, of their country and the future of women. These are stories about the will to triumph over adversity and the ability to continue to see a hopeful future through a ever inclement fog of desolation, demoralization and destruction. It’s beautiful, heart wrenching and incredibly honest, pure and real.As I was writing this I Googled the meaning of the word hero (out of curiosity). This was the most popular online definition in 2011: A man distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, fortitude, etc. Whoever wrote this definition obviously has not seen this film.On the screen in front of me were women who live in societies dominated by patriarchy, by men. Feminism does not exist there. Equal opportunity law does not exist there. In the western world the divide between women and men continues to diminish (we hope). Women have access to education and to high powered jobs, etc. We are not expected to sit at home in flowery dresses playing Suzy Homemaker anymore. Yet, what do most women around me want? What is their main life goal? They want to find a nice man who will romance them, wine them, dine them, sweep them off their feet and marry them.
There is a discourse in the western world around women that says; No matter how successful you are the package is not complete until you are in a relationship (preferably with a man). There is a stigma around single women, and according to pop-culture propaganda it smells like cats.
‘Women Are Heroes’ tells the stories of women who live in worlds where the man is still King Pin. They are dependent on men and their biggest goal is to become independent and autonomous. They want to be able to make their own decisions and to be able to shape their own lives, free of men. Back in the western world, women are free to live their life without a man but if they do society makes them feel like they have failed. Maybe we are not that free after all.
The Achilles heel of the human condition… you always want what you can’t have.
The women tell stories about the realities of what it means to be a woman in a war torn country. When the army and the rebels roll in, the men take the guns and run, the women stay and fight. They say they have no choice, “We have to protect the houses and the children”. And I always thought that the role of the protector and defender was supposed to be played by a man?
In nature animals evolve, they adapt to their surroundings, survival of the fittest. The way I understand it the toughest animals are born out of the harshest surroundings. It’s adapt or die. Women have always been depicted as the weaker sex, they have always been the underdog and they’ve always had to fight harder. The women who continue to live under the power of men have adapted, they’ve had to become stronger. The shadow of men is a dark place, you have to be tough to exist there.
I believe that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone deserves the right to be heard. ‘Women Are Heroes’ brings sound to voices that had been set to mute. I say turn up the volume.
“We have to continue the fight, continue the fight and never give in. Once you start on the road to emancipation, you have to keep going.” – Women Are Heroes.
The following link is for the English trailer of ‘Women Are Heroes” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX0ca9lK74A&feature=related
The following link is a series of photos of the ‘Women Are Heroes’ project and a presentation given by the artist JR. http://www.denni.nl/blog/207-jr-artist-use-art-to-turn-the-world-inside-out/
Dropping temperatures and shrinking days. Balding trees and nights that suck up the morning. Frosty windows and chilly fingers, winter is on it’s way.
Digging the winter jacket out of the closet, buying anti freeze for the car window, opting for thicker socks and adding a scarf and hat to your daily wardrobe requirements is all part of a yearly ritual for Europeans. But this will be but my second winter in Holland and it will be the first time that I can approach it as a recurring event. Last year, despite the warnings winter still took me by surpise, like an icy assassin. I struggled the whole way through. The lack of daylight hours left me listless and grumpy. I was confronted by the heavy reality of gravity as icy pathways whipped my feet and my bike out from under me. I spent far too much time last winter lying on frozen pavements and I came to the unlikely conclusion that concrete is even harder when it’s frozen. I lost all contact with my toes from November through to March. When the feeling finally returned to my distant digits I felt like 10 strangers had been attached to my body. The re-bonding process took time.
I also started moulting, like a snake loosing its skin I left items of clothing all over Holland; A scarf at a friend’s house, an umbrella in the train, another in the umbrella parking lot (a large metal bin next to the entrance) in a department store. I had particular issues with gloves; a left hand left forgotten in a café, a right hand travelled on to Amsterdam after I exited the train several stops earlier, another glove jumps ship out of my jacket pocket onto a cold city street and a gaping as yet unnoticed hole in my overused jacket pocket allows a pair of particularly pretty purple mittens to make a stealthy escape. I felt like I was leaving a trail so I could find my way home…. Just follow the fluffy accessories. It was very Hansel and Gretel-esque , sadly without the blond braids and candy houses. I took great comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one shedding my winter wool-ies. I started noticing lone gloves on side walks, lost scarves in public transport, a beanie left hanging on the back of a café chair and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for these forlorn items of winter armour. They were like ‘fallen soldiers’ lost tragically in a valiant fight against cold ears and frostbitten fingers. Everytime I see one of these fallen soldiers I can’t help but think about the cold hand somewhere, that would reach into a jacket pocket chilled fingers fumbling awkwardly only to discover that the woolly finger armour that it expected to find is alas, nowhere to be found. The fingers are then forced to soldier on unarmed and defensless against the attack of the winter chill. I started collectring these ‘fallen soldiers’ out of sympathy, I am now cultivating a glove orphanage in the bottom of my closet. But, the ‘fallen soldiers’ I have the most sympathy for are the umbrellas. Despite their inherently flawed design they do their up-most to protect us against the almost ever inclement Dutch weather but their flimsy wire frames and cheaply attached material are no match for fierce winter winds that rip them inside out,twisting wire arms and ripping material leaving it flapping sadly in the breeze. Then if that’s not enough torture, once they are wind battered and broken they are stuffed into a garbage bin or discarded in a gutter because no one ever goes to the effort of fixing an umbrella, they’re just not worth it. Ah… the miserable plight of the umbrella, such an unappreciated accessory…
My first ‘real’ winter wasn’t all bad though; I walked on (frozen) water (Ha Jesus! The jig is up!) and delighted in the beauty of snow covered forests and the warmth of fluffy scarves. Snowballs were thrown and snowmen were bought to life. Funnily enough the snowmen and snowballs were rarely attached to each other (which begs the question; without any gentalia or any other features distinguishing these snow sculptures as being male or female should we not, in an age driven by political correctness refer to them as snow ‘people’?)
Whilst I managed to designate what I consider to be ample amounts of time to frolicking in the snow and other such clichéd winter related activities I probably spent more time behind foggy windows curled up in couches and perched on café stools whilst partaking in more than my fair share of warm beverages, everything from tea to mulled wine.
I particularly like to wipe the condensation from the inside of a window, just enough to give me a peep hole into the outside world, and from this vantage point I decided that winter is actually quite pretty. I just prefer to observe it behind glass, preferably near something that is giving off warmth.
This year I decided to be prepared, scarf and gloves at the ready (extra gloves were pre-purchased, this time I would pre-empt the 5 fingered pocket mutiny) I bought ugg boots (as much as I detest them I can’t deny how deliciously toes-ty warm they are!) I toe-tally refuse to re-live the foot-sicle debarcle of 2009 (ah, more bad puns… how I love thee! Ok. But now I must toe the line, toe-ne it down…) I have to admit that escaping ‘Down Under’ for a month may have helped to keep my winter morale from freezing over but nevertheless for whatever reason, this year I have begun to discover the hidden warmth in the big chill, so next year should be 3 months in winter wonderland…right?