If anyone's interested in moving to Austin for a year for a creative writing
teaching gig at Texas State University in San Marcos (twenty minutes outside
of Austin), email me directly (cristina at cristinahenriquez dot com) and I'll give you more info.
I have yet to play this, though I hear there is a spinner that is spun before the game begins to determine which countries are The Axis of Evil.
Definitely check out the Secret Messages if you have a minute!
You can vote for best people-powered videos for a couple more days (till March 23). If you've ever wondered, "What's good on YouTube?" -- this is your one-stop link to see the best of 2006 in various categories. It should go without saying that it's way better than the Academy Awards was. Some really amazing stuff. (And with no TV yet, it's filling a void.)
This one, just as one example, in which this guy takes a picture of himself every day, in the same way, for more than six and a half years, and then flows them all into one long stream. Something very affecting about it. His eyes. His hair looks like it's underwater. The video quality gets better and better (he probably went through a few cameras). You can tell when he hasn't shaved for a few days, when he's moved to a different apartment, when he's on vacation. I felt a real sadness. By the end of not even six minutes I felt like I knew him. Nice work, Noah, whoever you are.
He looked up and saw a small hole in the dike through which a tiny stream was flowing. Any child in Holland will shudder at the thought of a leak in the dike! . . . That little hole, if the water were allowed to trickle through, would soon be a large one, and a terrible inundation would be the result. Quick as a flash he saw his duty . . . His chubby little finger was thrust in almost before he knew it. The flowing was stopped! "Ah!" he thought, with a chuckle of boyish delight, "the angry waters must stay back now! Haarlem shall not be drowned while I am here!"
Haarlem was not drowned. The little boy stayed at the dike all night, too cold even to whistle and attract the attention of passersby, until he was found in the morning and the hole was plugged. Thus, in Hans Brinker or, The Silver Skates (1865), Mary Mapes Dodge told the legend of the sluicer's son who became "The Hero of Haarlem." The practical Dutch pointed out that the story was not true and technically quite implausible. But Americans visiting The Netherlands invariably asked to see the place where the little boy had put his finger in the dike.
The first picture is a side street around here, and the second is Gedempte Raamgracht, our street.
Click here for a live view of the Grote Markt, the big square here in Haarlem. It updates every five seconds, but you have to refresh the page yourself. The big church on the right, St. Bavo's, is awfully impressive. Mozart once played the organ there. At least once a day I walk or bike through that square. You may get lucky and see me! That would make you, as I mentioned, very lucky.
Today is my birthday. I'm 39 -- again.
I'll try to steer clear of the hassle stuff and focus on the surprisingly fun -- actually too fun -- week I've had, though at the beginning there was a last-minute drama involving vets and certificates and the USDA office, but at the end of the journey the dogs were fine, even though I tipped over Luka's crate at Schiphol airport. Hilariously, customs didn't question any of the paperwork that we had unexpectedly spent the day chasing all over Massachusetts.
From the airport Tuesday morning, Tony, my ride, drove us to the house, where I met the sellers, a tall couple who make hanging cradles for babies, and the two real estate agents again, and I "inspected" the house and signed stuff in Dutch, and then their little girl ceremoniously handed me the key (they had clearly practiced it). That first day, which was the second day because I hadn't slept on the plane, was hell on the dogs and me, and we kind of clung to each other during the afternoon, and went to Poop Hill many times, which is what we call the grassy canal bank at the end of the street that is a "Losloopplaats," a "loose run place," but which functions as a toilet. Angry ducks flap at the dogs from the water. I sure as hell am not ready to let the dogs "loop vrij en spelen" -- "run free and play" -- as the sign urges me to. Buses, bikes, scooters, cars, little old ladies, other dogs are all over the place. Not to mention the canal itself, which looks like a swimming pool to The Real Grendel.
I took them home and, although exhausted, to avoid going to bed yet (it was seven) I went and got something to eat and then went to the nearest bar to the house, a typical little cafe on a cobblestone corner, with lit candles on each of the four empty outdoor tables, even though a light rain was falling. Inside I could see seven or eight men, obviously regulars, and one woman, sitting at the bar. I walked in and went up to the bar and ordered a beer.
When they heard my accent, they immediately switched to English. "The bar is new -- Erik made it! He put it in just today!" Erik sat to my right. Erik, after hearing my name, started reciting a poem by La Fontaine, something about "Corbeaux"? "So you are the crow," he said when he was done with his French, "and you have a piece of cheese, and the fox below says, oh crow, you sing so beautifully! Sing me a song! And when you open your mouth to sing, you drop the cheese, and the fox eats it."
After two hours he said, "Go get your dogs."
"Yes," I agreed, standing up. I could feel a drop of beer glittering on my bottom lip, which was twisted in sudden determination. "Yes, they need to become citizens, too."
I went home and got the excited dogs. Brought them back to the bar. Let them off leash. They walked around sniffing the Dutch people. Erik praised them. "We made it!" I kept saying to them, and rubbing their heads. Before long, they were looking sleepy, though, and when I wasn't sure I could stand up much longer, I took them home and blew up the inflatable mattress. See, all our furniture is in storage -- not that we brought our bed. But the blow-up mattress worked, and first things first, such as the closing the following morning, which went off without a hitch.
But then began a series of banking, Internet, telephone, mobile phone, customs, city registration, insurance, credit card, and washing machine challenges. Those were three dark days. And rainy.
By Friday night I had kicked jet lag. I finished my business for the day and at dusk went to three of the the four bars, one by one, that were open on a nearby square called the Botermarkt (the Butter Market, where butter was once marketed). I had a small glass of beer at each one. Then I decided to check out the coffeeshop on the corner -- Cafe Easy Going -- for the first time. The sign outside had a picture of a tired turtle. I asked for the "mildest, lightest" thing they had and puffed on it tentatively at one of the two booths, a black leather seat curved around an aluminum table.
It was a small place -- more or less a living room with a non-alcoholic bar where you buy weed. Riddick was playing on a flat TV on the wall, and underneath it four Dutch youths were playing foosball. The "buzztender" was a straight-backed blonde young man. I sat at that aluminum table and watched that movie, which was subtitled in Dutch, and I vowed to really begin learning Dutch all over again. But the volume was too low, so I saw the Dutch but couldn't quite connect the English dialog I couldn't hear. And the foosball table was loud, and the guys were laughing and groaning and saying, "Alsjeblief! Alsjeblief!" (Please! Please!)
I kept reaching for a beer. Which they don't sell. One drug at a time, people!
Random folks came in. Kids, late teens, early twenties, and a couple of older fellas. And it was just freaking wonderful. The movie had these praying mantis aliens, and Riddick's eyes were weird, and I was finally relaxing. But I kept reaching for my beer -- which was not there. How could it not be there? But it wasn't. I tried to ignore my increasing thirst. I could have bothered the buzztender, who was watching Riddick, too, for a water or tea, but darn it, it was Friday night and I had just moved to another continent, so when the flow of people in and out was properly calibrated, I stood and said, "I keep reaching for my beer" and put on my coat.
"You should have one!" the barman said.
"You're right! I believe I will."
It was nine-thirty or so when I went to the one bar I hadn't yet gone to. I sat at a table out on the clear plexiglass-windowed, awninged patio and watched the Botermarkt. Think of a nighttime brick square, with bikes rolling down the middle of it, groups of young people gathered around a parked scooter eating fries with mayonnaise and laughing, people toting home bags and takeout orders, scooters zooming by exactly when it gets too quiet, a closed-up fishmarket cart from earlier in the day. That was the Botermarkt.
When I finally said I needed to go back to the train station, to get back to Haarlem and the dogs, they said they had to go to the station, too, and surely we could just drop by a coffeeshop on the way. We went outside, and they got on their bikes.
"You're riding with me," said Liam.
And then, dang it, I was on the back of a bike being piloted by a drunk Irishman through the streets of Amsterdam. At night. "Who are you?" Liam kept screaming back at me, pedaling faster. "Get the fuck off my bike!" I had no idea where we were headed. I couldn't see around him. There was nowhere to put my feet, so I just held them up. For a minute I was shrieking with laughter, then I was I grasping the bones of his hips with my eyes closed. When he stopped, I staggered off, stiff, sore, stimulated, lucky to be alive. I looked around -- we were right in front of a coffeeshop and right across the street from the train station.
"I can't believe you just drove me to the station on your bike!"
"I can't either!"
We went inside. They indulged, but I did not. Loud techno sounded. Finally, we went across to the station and said goodbye. I found my train and waited on the platform. Late at night the trains are less frequent. I was lucky and got one quickly. I sat down in my seat and leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes. Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" popped up on my mental iPod. I forgot that I had my real iPod in my coat pocket.
Next thing I knew, I jerked awake. The train was in some station. It looked like Haarlem's. I jumped onto the platform as the doors were closing. It was Haarlem's.
Today, the dogs let me sleep in till eight. We went to Poop Hill. And then I took a train to Zandfoort, the nearest beach town, and had a strong, tiny coffee and reread "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" on an outdoor patio. All I'm missing is traca (pronounced "trassa") de broon, who is off to San Francisco and still more than a week away from arriving here. Thank God for Skype.
You are all welcome to come and stay. Not at the same time.
If you can't sign in to post or comment, or are just confused, try going here and signing in with your Google account (a Gmail account is actually a Google account, so that works). If you don't have one, the page should prompt you to create one.
If you just don't want to get a Google account for whatever reason, you can still log in, for now, using your old Blogger account by going here. I think this will also prompt you to convert to a Google account on your way. You should do it -- maybe. Give it the old once over.
I'm sorry for the hassle. I put this off as long as possible so that the first wave of bugs would be worked out before switching this blog. Progress -- it eventually swallows us all.
Have fun doing the Double Dutch.
Keep Holland real.
For the life of me, I can't figure out how to post an MP3 -- so here's a version I can post -- although it involves visuals.
Just close your eyes, I suppose.
The lovely Rebecca Johns and her debut novel, Icebergs, have been named a finalist for the 2007 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. She joins fellow Goat Daniel Alarcon as a PEN/Hemingway finalist.
The PEN New England site hasn't officially posted the news, but former Dallas Morning News book critic Jerome Weeks announced it on his blog, BookDaddy. So I'm breaking the news here.
Unconfessed by Yvette Christianse was the other finalist, and Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain took home the prize.
Our bare house is there, ready to move in, though it will be "several weeks" before our furniture, etc. is released from Customs. The money for the mortgage has been transferred, I think (have not heard back from the bank). The dogs have had certain shots and have certain certificates filled out. I am mostly packed, I think. Nearly a year of stress and uncertainty is finally lurching toward a spectacular, frothing crescendo. What could possibly go wrong?