Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I'm on Standby


Five good excuses to justify a long lack of posts.

The dog ate my laptop.
It's so cold I always wear gloves. And I'm unable to write with gloves.
Too many things to write to decide what comes first.
I'm joining Luddism.

Saturday, March 15, 2008



Breaking News. According to Harald Dornbos, a Dutch journalist based in Beirut, the release of Fitna on the net is imminent. We are talking about that movie against Islam sponsored by a controversial Dutch MP, Geert Wilders. Perhaps you've heard something about it. Well, those of you who don't live in Holland can't imagine how much the public opinion is debating on that topic here. Everything related to Mr. Wilders finds place on Dutch newspapers, websites, radios and televisions since I came here. This because of the worries connected to this movie. In the last two months, therefore, national medias have talked about this dangerous movie any given day. Even the Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende played a role in the debate on the narrow limit which separates freedom of expression and racism. International medias covered this news only marginally. In the meanwhile Italian newspapers were somewhere else, focusing their attention on a "Dutch law which allows people to have sex in public parks". Sigh. Sob. Needless to say that this fundamental topic didn't find a coverage on any newspaper here.

Anyway, let's come back to the main topic. In his blog, Harald Dornbos draws a worst case scenario made of Dutch embassies burnt down and riotings against Holland in several extremist Islamic countries. I don't know. I hope there has only been much ado about nothing. Yet, I'm not that optimist. Unfortunately the media already fueled the topic so much that is impossible to don't pay attention to it. At this point it doesn't matter anymore if Fitna will be awful, racist, silly or just a plain useless movie. That's not important. I remember how the stupid but innocuous Danish cartoons on Mohammad were ignored for a long time after being published by the Jyllands Posten. Sometimes medias are to blame and this case is a perfect example.

Yesterday my thoughts were different. Instead of ruminating on Mr Wilders' idiocy, I went to Rotterdam for the first time in my life. My Austrian classmate Lisa invited me to join a free dinner and a free concert somewhere in Coolhaven. She found this association called Dialoog Academie which promotes an interesting exchange between Turkish and Dutch culture. I confess I didn't know and never heard anything about DA before. Hence I spent a few hours asking to Lisa where we were going to go and who we were going to meet while walking up and down the Erasmusbrug in a desert and apparently hostile Rotterdam. The whole city looked like under a curfew, miles away from my enthusiastic expectations on architecture, social life, art. Perhaps we went to the wrong places. I will give R'dam a second chance.

The Dialoog Academie is in a modern and anonymous four storeys building in a large silent street. Yusuf, Lisa's contact, welcomed us at the ground floor. We shook hands and smiles.
"The dinner is ready" he told us.
"Dank u wel" we answered using the polite form.
Then we took a lift to the 3rd floor. There we entered in a large restaurant room with dozens and dozens of people sat on many tables. The tasty smell of well cooked food was everywhere. Everyone was chatting and laughing. Small children were running from lap to lap. Dutch looking women were eating Turkish looking food. The atmosphere was really relaxed, informal and friendly. Me and Lisa found a place on a corner and started to sip a soup with a very unusual sweet and sour taste. An excellent warm appetizer coming in from the cold. We also filled our dishes with unknown delicious food which could resemble the meat used for schoarma and kebab and the kind of yogurt mashed vegetables used for Greek salad. Suddenly someone told something in Dutch. Begging for a translation, we learned that we had to go downstairs where the concert was going to begin. We poured a strong and boiling Turkish tea in our glasses and then descended the stairs.
At the second floor we had the privilege to attend to a real and hidden cultural event. I guess we were almost the only non-Dutchmen there. After a short Dutch spoken introduction a choir started to sing some arias from the Johann Sebastian Bach's Johannes Passion.

to be continued

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Blues Are Still Blue

Die Blauwe Koorts
The Blue Fever

"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" is an old song by Paul Simon. "50 Ways to Call Each Other" could be the perfect slogan for the 50th (hey!) anniversary of Les Schtroumpfs / The Smurfs. Do you know what we are talking about?
Synopsis. In 1958 a weird bunch of blue white capped inhabitants of mushrooms makes its first appearance on a comic magazine. The "blue somethings" were a creation of the Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, widely known as Peyo. In a short while these little creatures became one of the most popular cartoon almost everywhere in the world.
While the term "Smurf" survives in Belgium, Holland, Norway, Russia, Bulgaria and Estonia, several countries chose to name the Blues in a different way. Sometimes it's just a small reinterpretation such as

Schlumpf (German), Smyrff (Welsh), Smurffi (Finnish), Smølf (Danish), Smerf (Polish) or Estrumpfe (Portuguese).

While other times the name has nothing to do with the original one. For instance we have

Pitufo (Spanish), Puffo (Italian), Hupikék Torpikék (Hungarian), Pottoki (Basque), Barrufet (Catalan), or Dardas (Hebrew). The Hungarian version is definitely my favorite one. For those who are interested 藍色小精靈 (pronounced lán sè xiǎo jīng líng) is the Smurf's Chinese name.

Ok, let's stop copying and pasting from Wikipedia, right now.
As you may see above, Dutchmen respected Smurfs leaving their name untouched even if Peyo was a French speaking man and not a Flemish. This is what I call tolerance. But that wasn't enough.
A few weeks ago I met some giant sized Smurfs in The Hague. In that occasion I wondered what may take a couple of adult men to wear a blue smurf costume spending a whole afternoon waving at children, being kidded by youngsters and shot by nostalgic parents in their forties. Perhaps the Smurf Solution is better than acting as a Santa Claus' elf in a shopping mall or as a Taco in the corner of a windy street, and yet I couldn't understand Them.
These Lowlands are still a rich and healthy country after all. Here finding a decent non-humiliating job is supposed to be easy. And yet those Dutchmen wore a smurf costume. There's only one possible explanation. They liked it. Quoting Roxette, it must have been love. And it's not over now. They haven't lost it somehow.

Am I wrong? I don't think so. Please have a look below.
AMSTERDAM, WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2008 The Smurf fever that has gripped the Netherlands since mid-February is finally burning itself out. The last 6 million of the 29 million blue plastic creatures that supermarket Albert Heijn has been doling out for every €15 spent will be delivered to stores Thursday. They will certainly be all gone before the end of the promotion on 24 March, said a spokesperson for Albert Heijn.
(courtesy of DutchNews.nl)

29 millions blue plastic creatures!
And 3 of them are currently in my kitchen marching on the microwave. Grote Smurf is the red capped Robespierre of these little apparently harmless Sans culottes! All this wasn't supposed to happen. It's just because of my talent for misunderstandings. In fact for a while I didn't understand the way it goes with Smurfs. I was therefore the perfect target for capitalist marketing. Paying my food I noticed that the cashier told me something like "Schmoorv?" but each time I guessed it was the Dutch word for bag.
"Ja! Ja! Ja!" I used to nod vigorously.
And each time They gave me a small packet the size of a plum. The camouflaged Smurf.
Such a shame I won't complete the collection, while hundreds of thousands of Dutchmen will.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Slam Dunk Dutch Funk

Dit is mijn (eerste) team
This is my (first) team

“Offense or defense?”
“Defense, please”.

It’s ten o’clock PM. Meerstroom College gymnastic hall. East of Utrecht, close to Galgenwaard Stadion. Ladies and gentlemen, fans and castaways may I introduce you to my first basketball training with a Dutch team? Please, before reading consider that it’s three years I don’t play basket anymore. No surprises that after less than one hour of running, shooting, passing I feel deadly tired. But I can’t give up. Oh, no. Never. I stretch my muscles and I dry the sweat from my face. I do my best defending on the ball handler. The amateurish team is called The Eagles and is formed by guys in their late twenties. I’m the only foreigner. “Where do you come from?” a tall guy asks me. “Ah, Italy. We had another Italian in the team, a few years ago. Mauro. Wonderful point guard. But unfortunately he left us moving to Groningen”.
Sander, Wilco, Neils, Roel, Thjis, Maarten and Wieger share the same passion for basketball, a sport which is anything but popular in the Lowlands. One thing surprises me. The Eagles have no official coach. The training exercises reminds me the ones I used to do when I was 15 years old playing for the glorious Polisportiva Lame (English native readers, please don't laugh too loud!) in Bologna. While we had this exotic Spanish coach named Santiago, here it’s Maarten who explains the offensive schemes and the right defensive movements to his teammates and me. He speaks in Dutch, summarizing to me the salient points. Tonight we have to practice on how to attack a zone defense. At the same time we need to improve our defensive skills. Zone 2-3. Zone 1-3-1. Zone 1-2-1-1. “Defend stronger. Don’t let him pass de bal, ehm the ball easily” says Maarten to me. “We prefer to play man to man, but our next opponents use zone press the 90% of times” as Roel explains me. The opponent is called Midland and stands on the bottom of 3de Klasse F Regio Championship where The Eagles keep the second place. “Nevertheless, we won’t underrate them” smiles Roel. He’s the funniest guy in team and has played basketball in Belgium and Finland while studying there. “Goed!” says Maarten.
After theory, it’s time to practice what we just learned playing a 4 vs 4 all around match. I steal a ball and fail a easy two point jumper. Gosh. I need a lot of training before being again the decent player I used to be. “Well done, Lorenzo. Lekker!”. Niels reassures me. He's the playmaker of the team and he’s the only Eagle who doesn’t speak English. And yet he still encourages me when my legs aren’t able to take me close to the basket and all I can do is serving creative assists and trying useless three pointers. Luckily it’s already 11 PM and the training ends. Under the shower Sander and Roel sing something in Dutch. I would like to reply with something by Reflexy, but I'm still not allowed to do that. Copyright is copyright. Dura lex, sed lex. In the meanwhile someone else is discussing about something else. Football? Women? Quantic Physics? I can only wonder the topic.

"So, see you next week, same day?" I tell in my Little Match Seller English (TM) before leaving.
"Sure" They answer.
"Perfect. See you next Monday guys"
"Actually today is not Monday."
"Oh! Ouch! It's just because, you know, I've to join this other club and I made confusion..." Shit.
"No problem. See you next Thursday, Lorenzo. Same time. Same place.
(Ja, op Donderdag. Why am I always so distracted?)
"Have a good match on Saturday, goodbye!
"Dank je wel. See ya. Tot ziens!

Unlocking my bicycle from a hippo shaped bench in the school courtyard I feel satisfied. My first approach with Dutch basketball has been good. The Eagles are friendly guys. The trainings look useful and not that complicated. I am optimist. Now the real problem is cycling back home avoiding cramps. And having no idea of the right direction to take.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nice Weather for Ducks

Een Namiddag in de Zon
An Afternoon in the Sun

Each time Miss Yellow Dwarf remembers to shine on the Lowlands I can't stay at home. I can't stand it. Usually I just spend some time cycling around amazed by the chance of being considered a real Dutch. Actually this possibility never occurred. Since today. Listen: things are gonna change. In fact on my way back home to the university campus a cyclist asked me something in Dutch and I understood he was looking for the central station. Applause! I managed to tell him how to reach the station. Ok, I used English, but I pronounced almost correctly difficult road names such as Platolaan, Prins Hendriklaan and Nachtegaalstraat.
The Asking Dutch told me something like "Heel goed" (Very good) and then cycled in the right direction. Standing ovation! I felt Invincible. I was one of Them. Other cyclists waved at me ringing the
Ode an die Freude with Their bells. The kids of Wilhelminapark invited me to play football with Them. Shop sellers along Nobelstraat offered me broodjes and haringen and bottles of Bock Grolsch. Beautiful tall girls blew me kisses from every tiny bridge of the Binnenstad. The Thoughtful Rabbit statue in De Neude (aka Bunny Square) shook my right hand with its left ear. The sky turned orange.

That's why while at home I decided for action. I put a couple of books and a bottle of water in my backpack and I came back outdoors. Then I chose a destination on my mental Utrecht map. Close to my place there is this nice park called Oog in Al. It takes just ten minutes to reach this quiet paradise from where I live, having a view of the most luxury houseboats of Utrecht. According to a poor Dutch-English dictionary, the literal translation of the park name is Eye in Eel. Isn't that poetic?.
Despite of the name you can find no eels there (perhaps they're shy), but moose, goats and plenty of ducks. Especially ducks. Ducks. Dutch Ducks. Quacking around. From green-brown small sized ducks to posh ivory well fed ducks. Oog in Al is a Duck Republic. Yet, all ducks are created equal, but some ducks are more equal than others. The ruling cast of Ivory Ducks allowed me to sit on a kind of deckchair in a quiet lawn looking at a nice pond where green-brown pariah ducks were navigating .

There I began to read "The Low Sky" by Han Van der Horst. Ah, what a pleasure! I was totally relaxed. My mind was peacefully absorbed by the gentle murmur of water. My eyes read through wonderful paragraphs named "It was never completely safe behind the dyke", "Rioters wreck car" or "If people are not satisfied, they blame it on beleid". I wasn't alone. On my left side Mr. Caulfield, an American tourist, was staring at the Dutch Ducks in a very melancholic way. Sat on the grass just behind me Mr. Spinoza from Amsterdam was whispering something about God, Men and Nature while reading the intellectual newspaper Nrc Handelsblad. Eventually they left me alone. I stretched my legs. I yawned and re-yawned. Then I let the Low Sky fall on the ground. I almost fell asleep.

But in the formerly peaceful Duck Republic something was going to happen. The time for loving. The season of courtships. The clash for reproduction. I was going to witness the noisiest (and nastiest) battle in Utrecht in the last four centuries. A real war fought in three dimensions: sky, land and water. Suddenly the Ivory Ducks started to yell, bark, cry or whatever. Then the Dominant Duck decided it was time for having heirs or perhaps he just wanted to take a multiple satisfaction. I don't know if contraception is tolerated among ducks, but I guess it is, considering they're from the Dutch branch. However, as a guest on the shore of the "Thalamus Pond" I couldn't escape. All around me excited and angry ducks were fighting for taking a part in that libertine party. They were using their immaculate wings to hit each other, furiously biting their donaldduckish tails with their sharp beaks. Or even worse. I prefer to censor some intimate details.
Soon the fightings reached my neutral deckchair forcing me to an inglorious withdrawal trying to reach my bike. Yet those fucking quarreling ducks had surrounded my wheeled noble steed. It's time to confess it. I kicked two of them. But gently. You have my word of honor. I love animals. It was the only possible way to leave Thalamus Pond behind. Please don't tell this story to
anyone at Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals). I feel remorse for what I did.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I'd Rather Dance With Them

Nederlandse Muziek
Music from the Lowlands

As I wrote in one of my first posts, I'm quite ignorant on the kind of music They play and enjoy here. I just knew that They had a nice though derivative period in the 60s thanks to band like The Outsiders, Q65 and Shocking Blue.
All those bands came from the Den Haag - 's Gravenhage area and for a short season tried to land in the young European ears with a bunch of decent songs. Those were the glorious years of Radio Veronica. Yet, the positive influence of this pirate radio which transmitted from an old ship anchored just outside the Dutch territorial waters, close to the beach of Scheveningen has finished many years ago. Going there I found no evidence or testimony of Veronica. What has happened in the meanwhile? How could They pass from a lovely local Merseybeat to Dj Tiesto?

I wanted to learn, listen, judge. That's why I invited here in my place a Dutch friend of mine with the excuse of a dinner. We were still licking from our fingers the delicious whip cream of a local dessert (I forgot its name), when I asked Merel to help me in a rediscovery of Their music. I couldn't wait. My questions were all very naive. Her answers were all very precise.
- Have you got any good and famous songwriter? I mean a kind of Dutch Bob Dylan, a Zeeland born Leonard Cohen, or perhaps a Groningen based Patti Smith? NO.
- Is there any fam
ous rock band here who use to sing in Dutch? NO. JUST IN ENGLISH.
- May we consider The Nits like the Dutch answer to The Beatles? WHO ARE THE NITS?

I didn't give up. I insisted on asking, asking, asking. Finally I learned something. Actually Merel taught me quite a lot. Here is a short list of the bands/artists we talked about.

Acda en De Munnik Their name comes from the sum of two surnames. They sing in Dutch. Folk-cabaret or something. It seems they have a wide audience. My friend Marjolijne suggested me this band as well.
Anouk Fifteen years after her international heydays, she's still quite famous (here). The aggressive poprock-singer she was has all but gone. Yet she looks particularly tired and eye-wrinkled in recent posters of her coming gigs.
Bettie Serveert Who knows them anymore? Are they disappeared? Perhaps they moved to Belgium? During the nineties their song Palomine had a massive airplay on some Italian radios.
Bløf Pop rock band with some ordinary but catchy guitar riffs. They performed the main song of the "Alles is Liefde" movie soundtrack. Apparently they sing in both English and Dutch.
De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig Weird combo of youngsters with a great and uprising popularity. They developed a personal way to hip hop, with funny lyrics, trash irony and self invented words.
Golden Earring They are still on stage after a long career. Once they were among the most famous bands from the Lowlands, now I don't know if they're still popular.
Kane Dutch young but average rock band with English written songs. I had heard their name before. I hope that with a name like this they know who Orson Welles was.
Le Le Once you listen to their hit "Skinny Jeans" you'll hate or love them. It's an infectious song. One guy from Le Le is also a member of De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig (see above)
Racoon Merel showed me a lot of duets on YouTube with this band performing elegant pop songs together with other ones. But they don't have Dutch lyrics so I need time to love them.
Room Eleven They're a very jazzy and sophisticated pop band with an excellent lead singer. I think I saw they will have a concert in Utrecht pretty soon. They are also English oriented.
Solex Well, actually we didn't talk about her. I tried to say her name a couple of times, but Merel never reacted. And yet she's the only Dutch artist I had an album of whom at home.
The Nits Old guys from the early 80s, but still in a good shape. They released a pile of albums. I guess their song "In the Dutch mountains" is a homage to Cees Nooteboom self titled book
Two Unlimited It seems they were very popular on the European dance floors a few years ago, in the wake of Ace of Base. I confess I never heard their name before. I am a nerd.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pardon my Dutch

Mij en Jou en Allemaal Zij Kunnen
Me and You and Everything They Know

My dear Audience,

how are you? Did you miss me? I missed and I miss you so much.
You're right. I know. It's my fault at this time. I was supposed to write you every single day from here. I had promised that with the whole of my heart. Hence, you can blame me for this long and unexpected lack of words from the Lowlands. I would like to tell you that I forgot to write you, because I was working on the long awaited Dutch edition of McSweeney's together with my friends Dave and Zadie, but actually that's not true. And I'm not a liar as far as you believe me.

My beloved Audie, you should ask me why I waited so many days before sending you these few lines. If it's true that we are in an open relationship (at least that's how you call it), you shouldn't be jealous. I haven't betrayed you. Actually I never did it. How could I do that? Yet, this silence has finally ended. It won't happen anymore. It won't happen again.
Well, I go right to the point now.

Audie, my sweetheart, I'm studying Dutch. Ja, natuurlijk. Hey, I'm not joking. Could you take me seriously? Please. Astublieft. You can't imagine how Their language is at the same time amazing and astonishing. Take my first lesson: personal pronouns.

- She and They are both Zij. This makes me stoned. For Them is natural. Why?
- According to what written above They are = Zij zijn. Chinederlandse.
- That same Zijn means His/Its as well. Dit zijn tingen zijn (These are his things). Abracadabra.
- The informal form for You (plural) is Jullie, while the formal one is U. Isn't that perfectly logic?
- For each pronoun there are two forms. How could I pronounce 'k or 't (= unstressed I and It)??

Oh my Audie, is there a better way to express my love to you than this one?
Don't tell me flowers because spring has going to come. Don't tell me chocolate, because Belgium is not that far. May I dedicate you a song? It's in Dutch, try to guess what it means.

Acda en De Munnik - Bij haar zijn