We have emerged relatively unscathed. How about yourself?


Our first Christmas in our own home. We weren't sure what to do. On Christmas Eve we ended up gathering in the Big Square and joining hundreds and hundreds of carolers by the Big Church.

Christmas Day ... well, there was a lot of time on our pull-out couch, which we call The Nest, spent consuming chocolate and mimosas and watching Shrek the Third and three Harry Potter movies (we could really use a better video store).


The one night a year we usually stay in. Well, we had a few at our local Irish pub first. Then there was absinthe, and slim pickin's on TV ... a Spice Girls documentary on cable, and a little hamster cartoon did the countdown to 2008. We were looking forward to the Pamela Anderson Roast at 1.

Then our street erupted in whistling rockets and explosions. Now, firecrackers had been going on all day here and there, but at midnight it was like the Luftwaffe was back. We clambered up to our balcony and surveyed the street scene, our jaws hanging open.

It's hard to convey just how shocking it was. Everywhere, left and right, up and down the street, in front of and behind our house, people were setting off serious, serious fireworks. Like, the big-time ones that firemen do at a distance ... except here amateurs were shooting them willy-nilly into trees, at each other, onto roofs, under cars, up and down the sidewalks. Explosions all over the place, a cumulative war-like roar, and gunpowder smoke billowing and building until it obscured everything except the brightest street lamps. The closer the showers of sparks and bomblets came to us, huddled together and screaming, the more fascinating it all became. It went on for more than an hour. I took some video, but there's so much smoke you can't see much of anything.

The people across the street were shooting them from the handlebars of the nearest parked bike. A rocket malfunctioned, careened off a tree branch, and showered a parked car with white burning sparks for maybe half a minute. A man on our side of the street appeared, watching the scene. He stood waiting for the final explosion before crossing the street toward the perps. Uh-oh, I thought -- here is where concern and reason prevail! That must be his car. Or his bike. But when he arrived on the other side, he merely picked up a little girl who was holding a sparkler on the sidewalk and disappeared into that house.

Everyone would have been arrested if people tried that anywhere I've lived in the States. It struck me that in America, we settle into our folding chairs and watch the pros shoot them off at a safe distance -- very much as we do in our real wars. Here, 60-odd years ago, real bombs fell in the midst of these real people. Rotterdam, for example, was totaled. A few fireworks don't scare the Dutch. I saw one guy walking down the street very nearly hit by a screaming bottle rocket. He didn't even look at it, or break his stride.

But it sure scared The Real Grendel.


It has become a tradition here to strip down and jump into the North Sea on New Year's Day, and traca dared me to do it. I thought she might forget, but nooo... so we packed towels and biked the 10 kilometers to the beach, where we joined hundreds of fellow maniacs for some pre-plunge aerobics in the freezing sand.

They gave the signal, and, holding hands, off we ran madly into the sea (click here or that pic for video). Total chaos, as we were toward the back, and by the time we got to the water, freezing, shrieking people were scampering back toward us. Then the shivering, numb-toed sandy struggle back to the UNOX tent for free pea soup and cheesy, cheesy DJ'd tunes. Everyone got a UNOX hat. (UNOX is a Dutch soup company.)

Oh, what fun. BUT BE WARNED -- if you come visit us this time next year, you WILL take a New Year's dunk into the North Sea!


T-bone said...

Very nice! I think Gillymonster's parents do the polar bear thing in TN. But come on, how cold could the water possibly be in TN? And you do mean that next year when you move back to Iowa City, we will celebrate a dipping into Lake Macbride, right?

traca de broon said...


Brando said...

I can't believe you guys did that. I won't jump into Lake Superior in the summer.

I think it's refreshing to see that, despite the cultural and political differences we have, the Dutch and us share the same desire to blow shit up.