Archives for January 2010
A light dusting of snow over the city this morning, not enough to impede bikers or hikers but enough to frost the buildings and streets. Intermittent parades briefly clog the streets, Carnivale celebrations beginning their happy occupation of the city.
Another ray of sunshine this weekend was a note letting me know that I had been given a blog award by two writers who’s work I follow and enjoy.
Isabella writes at A Touch of Dutch and has long been a guide and mentor for the expat community (and for me) here in the Netherlands. She untangles the mysteries of Dutch language and culture for a wide audience, and posts pictures and stories from around the country. I always enjoy reading her recommendations and participating in her discussions: my goal is to become as ‘at home’ as she has become here.
Tiffany arrived in the Netherlands more recently (just over a year ago) and has been publishing her expat blog since September. She brings a fresh perspective to everyday life in her Clogs and Tulips essays, and always sees cultural and social differences with a traveler’s insight and good-natured humor. I appreciate her enthusiasm and passion for her new home, remarking on the many amazing things about living abroad that I sometimes take for granted.
Many thanks to you both, and keep up the wonderful work!
The award comes with a number of conditions (bottom), which I’ll modify for the occasion. I would like to note seven other expat blogs that are of consistently high quality and who’s authors always lift my spirits:
- Maastricht Minuutiae – Amanda is a skilled observer of life’s twists here in Maastricht.
- Op de fiets naar de Starbucks — Harry is a Dutch friend and colleague who now lives in Minneapolis: we seem to mirror each other’s expat experiences and I learn a lot of Dutch reading his weekly updates.
- Aly’s Pretty Swede — Aly is a student and friend of the family who is midway through enjoying her expatriate year at school in Stockholm.
- The Blue Suitcase – Bonnie writes wonderful, literate essays about life with family, friends, and birds in Amsterdam.
- A Letter from the Netherlands – Amanda is another person who brings the expat blogging community together and recognizes the outstanding talents among us.
- A Flamingo in Utrecht – Indigo posts a daily picture with commentary about little-noticed bits of life in the corners of her neighborhood.
- Orangesplaash – An Indian expatriate and freelance writer who I recently discovered and enjoy a lot.
I know that some of you already have a Beautiful Blog award, the remainder should consider yourself nominated ! And thank you all for your writings; I enjoy your thoughts and catch up with your adventures regularly.
For those new to the Netherlands expat blogging community (we need a name!), you should also check out the popular blogs by Invader Stu, Nick (Here and Now), This non-American Life, and Amsterdam Asp: they’ve been writing a long time and always have worthwhile things to share and to discuss!
Finally, I keep a public RSS Feed on NetVibes that carries a feed from all of these blogs and others (generally organized as Travel on the left, Expats in the center, Entrepreneurs towards the right). I also keep a Google Reader feed that can be accessed through my profile.
Beautiful Blogger rules (change to fit your mood)
Google has set itself the task of digitizing all of the world’s books, sparking a continuing debate about the value of easy access vs. the rights of authors. I favor the compromise that compensates copyright holders generally while allowing access to out-of-print works, believing that more access to books is better than less.
But I worry about what this project means for the future of libraries.
Libraries exist as collections of useful materials for common use, a shared community resource supported by universal tax contributions. They’ve been under a lot of pressure lately: budgets are tight, people are reading less, and special interest groups are challenging their purpose. (Details in the ALA’s yearly survey and the “Save-a-Library” fund.)
For me, libraries were always special.
I like the symbolism of having public libraries, rooted in the enlightened ideal of creating informed citizens. Broad factual knowledge and the full spectrum of literature and opinion should be freely and equally available, so shelves of books from across ages and nations were set down right in my neighborhood for me to borrow and read. I was shocked when I was asked to leave the college library at Trinity (Cambridge) because I wasn’t a member. I worry about monopoly power and user fees undermining access, or creating just enough friction to drive people away.
I like browsing the shelves. The organization of books by genre and subject meant that if I found one good work, dozens more would be nearby. It led to associative learning: I’d thumb through books next to the one I was looking for, or pick up other works by favorite authors because they were handy. The King County Library system was among the best, transporting any book to my local library within a day, for free. I worry that books will become more isolated from the full body of knowledge as they move online. It’s already happened with research papers: I download .pdfs of articles instead of thumbing the table of contents of key journals.
I like Librarians. They always understood where to find some obscure detail or had a personal recommendation. They were even a bit heroic, defending the variety of books on the shelf and (until recently) preventing the government from asking what I’d checked out. I worry that our general guides to the world’s knowledge will disappear, taking not only their understanding of the landscape, but their enthusiasm for the journey with them.
I used to think that a person’s impact and legacy could best be measured by how many books they’d inspired. Not biographies, but a shelf of volumes explaining their thoughts, drawing implication, building on the work. That associatively and accessibility comes, in part, because there are public libraries. I don’t think the virtues will survive the transition to Google Books.
‘Feeling a bit slow this week, and I felt like it showed in the blog post last night. A couple of dark pictures, a few sentences about biking in the snow, an obscure camel reference – Without theme and drive, writing became ritual exercise.
It felt purposeless.
There are lots of good things that I do by rote in life: not everything needs a higher purpose. Everyday tasks of cleaning, washing, shopping, and cooking don’t require much planning ahead, thought in execution, or reflection afterwards. True, there’s early pride in accomplishing them alone in a foreign country, but, once mastered, they become simple routines.
Things that have purpose are feel different. Planning takes creativity, there’s’ a sense of building something during the work, I take pride in the result. Work, vacations, learning, and relationships all have that sense of theme and drive around them.
I was worn through last night, and I think that part of the issue is that work became a slog through completing a long series of commissions. There was a business plan, a presentation, a prospectus, paper. All of them were paying jobs and I worked hard to do quality work for each of them. Then there are meetings, edits, and handoffs: the product goes out, the money comes in, and the table is cleared for the next round of tasks.
Empty start to empty finish.
If that is true, then does consultancy work have purpose?
I’ve made money; I’m self-supporting. The clients are happy; my reputation and network grow. I’ve created tools and knowledge; I’ll be better prepared for the next job.
But the cycle feels like an exercise rather than a process; like I’ve completed a task rather than taken a step. It feels like rote work.
I don’t yet have the insight to answer my question, but I feel like I’ve framed up the issue to where I can let my subconscious chew on it. It’s a cold rainy day here, changing back to snow blowing along the river. I’ll make some tea and have a think on it all.
…and avoid posting obscure pictures of camels hung from lampposts in the meantime.
and, now, the Carnivale camel as well.
It’s been a busy week: I’ve been buried in writing all day, then off to dinner meetings three nights running. Not a good environment for keeping up with blogs and social networks.
It’s been icy cold here too, miserable for scooting around on the bike. I’m bundling layers, but the lock is starting to stick and the cobblestones are getting slippery. Last night the sleet started on the way to dinner and had accumulated to about a centimeter when I started home at 11.
The ride wasn’t bad: the snow was criss-crossed with winding bike trails and there were warm clusters of yellow lights marking other riders along the bike paths.
The snow was gone by morning; easier to get out and do the shopping before the next storms arrive this weekend.
Christmas decorations go up earlier every year in the US as retailers try to get a jump on holiday shoppers.
So, too, with Carnivale in Maastricht.
The pre-Lent celebration gets going in early February, but a few of the colorful decorations have already started to sneak into shop windows throughout the Wyck. It’s a nice splash of color in the misty rains and early evenings. The butcher shop (shown) has the best display so far.
I took the train north to Amsterdam on Tuesday to visit my accountants, a couple of hours journey each way. I always enjoy the trip, stretches of fields and waterways punctuated by now-familiar villages and cities. The rectangular geometry of water-filled trenches bordering fields and houses grids the landscape everywhere: it reminds me of putting in the French Drains back in Seattle years ago.
We were digging a hole for my son’s basketball pole when it suddenly filled with water; I thought we’d hit a pipe. We subsequently discovered the water table had raised, and that the home’s crawlspace and foundations were submerged. It was caused by an uphill neighbor clearing trees from their back yard (Why move to the Pacific Northwest if you don’t like trees?).
The Dutch might have figured it out, I had to use trial and error. Trenching and draining never seemed to solve it, despite several refinements. We finally had to put in a sump pump, it still whirrs several times a day to clear the cistern.
It’s not the best of time to visit Amsterdam. The city gets wet and drab in winter, everyone bundled in black overcoats and grey scarves. There was ice on the rivers and the Centraal Station had a biting wind blowing through the long tunnel of platforms.
Still, I like walking the canals and the joining the bustle of the city. It’s easy to imagine the warmer weather, budding trees, and canalside cafes that will arrive in a couple of months.
The days are already starting to lengthen and the ice has thawed out of the cobblestones in the South. The bands will soon take to the streets; the fraternal icons will again be hoisted up lamposts. Along the Maas, it’s almost time for Carnivale and I agree with the shopkeepers, it can’t come soon enough.