Archive for the ‘Dutch’ Category

To Amsterdam from Russia with love

February 6, 2010

The Hermitage Amsterdam is housed in the Amstelhof on the Amstel River

Let’s just agree to put aside, shall we, the hookers and hash. The Amsterdam you don’t hear as much about is filled with beautiful historic buildings, great restaurants and cafes, funky design shops, and world-class art museums. That’s what the city is to us.

Most museumgoers associate Amsterdam with the world-class Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. But now there’s a third art attraction pulling in the crowds. Last summer, the Netherlands capital opened the Hermitage Amsterdam, a branch of the renowned State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (where I hope to some day go). This Hermitage is run by a local foundation and independently financed.

The 17th-century Amstelhof was formerly used as a state-run home for the elderly

Wessel and I had the chance to visit in November. The weather was dreary but the place was packed. Everything about it is magnificent, from its setting along the bustling Amstel River to its location in the Amstelhof, a 17th-century building formerly used as a state-run home for the elderly.

The restored 107,000-square-foot building holds rotating and permanent exhibit space, a restaurant, outdoor terrace, courtyard, auditorium, children’s wing, and gift shops.

Church Hall with a view of the river

Our favorite spot (and everyone else’s, it seemed) was the Church Hall, a grand gathering area with large windows overlooking the Amstel. A smattering of comfy chairs faces the windows and they’re always filled.

The exhibit we saw, the inaugural (it ended Jan. 31) naturally focused on Russia, specifically on the Russian Court. The pageantry, polish, and pearls were lovely, but I’m much more interested in the upcoming show, opening March 6 (through Sept. 17). Called “Matisse to Malevich: Pioneers of Modern Art from the Hermitage,” the 75-piece modern-art showstopper is expected to draw huge crowds. The Hermitage has one of the world’s finest collections of early-20th-century French masters and famed Russian painters, so this will be a blockbuster. Most of the works in this show are usually on permanent display in Russia.

Metal fence with camellia blossoms near the back side of the museum

We’ll be back in Amsterdam in April, and will gladly fight the crowds to see this collection. On this trip, it will (hopefully) be warm enough to rest up in the courtyard, admiring the Hermitage from the outside

Admission for adults is a stiff $22, but that’s Europe for you.

My new favorite wine is wienerful!

December 19, 2009

I have a new favorite wine — the most wienerful wine in the world! Alas, from what I can tell, it’s not available in making its way throughout the Northeast and, soonish (2011/12) across the United States. I’m counting on my readers to investigate and report back.

I spotted the French wine Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah while checking out wines in the Netherlands, at the Super de Boer, a basic Dutch supermarket chain (just bought by Jumbo, FYI). I screamed, in that way that I do when I see something so wienerfully wonderful.

Here are the things I love about Longue-Dog. First, the dachshund, duh. Its image is not only stretched across the front of the label but continues around the back. Snazzy. There’s also a cute little wiener head on the neck label.

Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah, the most wienerful wine in the world

The name, too, is fun. It’s a play on words — for the Languedoc region of France. Languedoc, in the south, supplies a third of the country’s grapes and is France’s largest wine region — though its least known. I assume (but don’t know) that Longue-Dog comes from Languedoc grapes. Apparently the region is trying to become more known by consumers.

I have a brilliant idea. Start selling Longue-Dog in the United States. That would bring tail wags all around!

The bottle label has a tail-wagging part two

According to the small print on the back of the label, Longue-Dog is made by Boutinot, a wine producer and distributor based in the UK and started by Frenchman Paul Boutinot. I emailed Boutinot’s customer service address, but didn’t hear a bark back. (UPDATE Jan 22, 2010: Heard from Boutinot today. They’re “nearing” a launch in US. Yee-haw! )

Can anyone help, s’il vous plait?

Happy Sinterklaas, wherever you are

December 5, 2009

Sinterklaas visits a store during his busy three-week stay in the Netherlands

Wessel and I spent Thanksgiving week in the Netherlands, but of course there was no celebration of the Pilgrims in America (though they did depart from Leiden, in Holland). Instead, we were bombarded with images of Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten.

Many say that Sinterklaas is the inspiration for our Santa Claus. Sint looks a bit like Santa, though his belly is smaller. He comes by boat from Spain (I still don’t get that part) mid-November, and his arrival is televised throughout the country. For a few weeks, he visits towns throughout the country. Like Santa, Sint has the uncanny ability to be omnipresent.

Images of Zwarte Piet are everywhere

Instead of elves, Sint has the assistance of a bevy of black men and women. It’s true. They’re the Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes (though many are women). These are white people with their faces painted black. Yep, it sounds scarily like our minstrel shows of yore. At one point they were said to be Sint’s slaves then a few decades ago they suddenly became “friends.” Regardless, as an American, I was pretty chagrined to see Piet images everywhere, including toy Pieten, banners, and window decorations. I tried to engage a few Dutch relatives in talks about Piet, but that didn’t go over well.

Zwarte Pieten in a TV show that runs daily while Sinterklaas is in the country

The best overview of the Piet issue I found is here  in the German magazine Spiegel. The funniest take on Zwarte Pieten was written by my former classmate David Sedaris in his essay “Six to Eight Black Men.” (It’s in his 2004 book “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.”)

Zwarte Pieten play music in one of the shopping streets of Alphen aan den Rijn

Finally, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten get down to business on the night of Dec. 5 (Sinterklaasavond), when they leave gifts for the children outside to be opened on Pakjesavond — the evening of the packages. The Dutch also celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, with a tree and a big meal, but no gifts.

Diane meets the real Sinterklaas!

A week ago, on the day we flew back home, we made a stop in Alphen aan den Rijn to visit a friend’s shop. In the distance, Wessel heard the sounds of a marching band and tore off, shouting for me to follow. We turned a corner and there they were! Sinterklaas with his Zwarte Pieten, playing horns and marching through town! Though I’d rather the Petes were elves, I did enjoy the spectacle. And I got a hug from Sinterklaas!

As if there aren’t enough cultural problems with Sinterklaas, now another issue is brewing. Because of the country’s growing Muslim population, some folks object to the cross on Sint’s headdress, and many Sints now wear a solid red hat. I apparently met a “real” Sinterklaas, bearing a cross and leading his six to eight black men.

Cold feet? The answer is in the bag

December 1, 2009

The `voetenwarmzak` is the perfect antidote for cold feet

Wessel’s parents have the most amazing solution for cold feet of the literal kind — an electric “voetenwarmzak” — a “warm sack” for your feet. I borrowed it when we visited the Familie Kok in the Netherlands last week and was in heaven. And now I’m trying to find a similar product in the US, which uses 110 voltage instead of the 220 the Dutch version come in. Can anyone help me?

Here’s a new Dutch model online, for $47. When I Googled all sorts of word combinations of English words, I found nothing close to the “sack.” I could, of course, buy the Dutch version and use an electrical converter, but that’s not the safest option.

Moon boots and a space heater are the currently used protective methods

Moon boots and a space heater are the currently used protective methods

In case you’re wondering, my feet are generally fine except when I’m sitting at my desk not getting any circulation, which is a lot of the time. I wear Sierra Designs puffy boots, which we call  my moon boots, but even they don’t do the job. I also use a space heater and sometimes rest my feet on a heating pad, but nothing has kept them truly warm — until the voetenwarmzak! I must find one!

Happy Dutch-American Heritage Day!

November 16, 2009
200911_21_heritage day

A salute to Dutch-American relations

Today’s blog post is written by the most famous Dutch writer Diane knows: her husband, Wessel.

Not that you would know (even I didn’t until recently), but this day was instituted in 1991 to celebrate the bilateral relations between the Netherlands and the United States. Nov. 16 was selected because on that day in 1776, Dutch forces on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius returned the salute of a small American warship “Andrew Doria,” thereby making the Netherlands the first country to officially salute the flag of the newly independent United States.

In 2005, Diane and Wessel sealed US-Dutch relationship with a kiss

On Oct. 30, 2004, Diane and Wessel sealed their US-Dutch partnership with a kiss (mimicking kissing-Dutch ceramics)

The day is celebrated in parts of the US with a large Dutch community, such as Michigan and the Hudson Valley, New York.  Alas, no such tradition exists in North Carolina. But Diane and I recently had our own personal Dutch-American anniversary, which dates back only five years.  On Oct. 30, 2004, we were married in the presence of Dutch and American family, friends, and flags. Liefde is love.  

The Dutchness of New York

September 15, 2009

I’m turning over this installment of the blog to my favorite Dutch expert, Wessel. Take it away, hon…

Wessel and Diane are part of a US-Netherlands collaboration that has lasted for 400 years

Wessel and Diane are part of a 400-year US-Netherlands relationship

It’s great to be Dutch in the USA this year. I’m basking in the light of national pride. In 1609 — 400 years ago — a Dutch ship,  the “Halve Maen” (Half Moon), led by Englishman Henry Hudson, sailed into the waters around Manhattan. Hudson was actually looking for a shortcut to Asia for the Dutch East India Company.

The New Netherland colony and the trading post New Amsterdam, now New York City, would later be founded along its shores. NY400 — an all-year initiative in 2009 — celebrates 400 years of history between the Netherlands and the US.

Many newspapers have carried stories about the anniversary. But do Americans know about this historic event? I wouldn’t be surprised if only 1 percent know anything about what happened. So let me, a Dutch citizen, fill you in a bit.

Memorial for Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans in Battery Park, New York City

Monument portrays the Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans

More than a decade ago when visiting New York City, I went on an expedition to find traces from the Dutch past. I walked for two days through the city and found different tidbits. Topographical names: Wall Street (Walstraat), Harlem (Haarlem), Brooklyn (Breukelen; Brooklyn Borough Hall has a beautiful mural referring to its Dutch past), Coney Island (Konijneneiland, i.e. Rabbit’s Island). There were statues and plaques: The Dutch buying Manhattan from Native Americans (Battery Park), a plaque commemorating Peter Stuyvesant (last Director-General of the colony of New Netherland 1647-1664). Even the seal of the City of New York mentions 1625, the year that Fort Amsterdam was built on the southern tip of Manhattan.

Santa Claus is really a copy cat Sinterklaas

Santa Claus is really a copycat Sinterklaas

Another legacy is the Dutch linguistic influence. A few hundred words with Dutch roots are sprinkled throughout the English language. Who ever thought of Santa Claus having Dutch roots? The Dutch ancestor is Sinterklaas. Here’s a selection of loanwords: boulevard (via French from: bolwerk), brandy wine (brandewijn), caboose (kombuis), cookie (koekje), coleslaw (koolsla), dike (dijk), frolic (vrolijk), golf (kolf), iceberg (ijsberg), luck (geluk), mannequin (via French from: manneken), stockfish (stokvis), tulip (tulp), wagon (wagen), yacht (jacht). The latest addition is clap skate (klapschaats), a type of ice skate with the blade attached to the boot by a hinge at the front.

Coleslaw was invented by the Dutch who probably didn't want to waste leftover cabbage and carrots

Coleslaw was invented by the Dutch, who probably didn't want to waste their leftover cabbage and carrots

While you might not be aware of these Dutch-American stories, some you’re probably familiar with really aren’t Dutch at all. The famous Dutch boy Hans Brinker who saved the nation from disaster by sticking his finger in the dike is a work of fiction story by American writer Mary Mapes Dodge. The famous Dutch tulips were actually imported from Turkey in the mid 16th century. I’m not quite sure what the origins are of the Dutch kissing couple, found in souvenir stores everywhere. My suspicion is that sneaky Dutch merchants made the whole thing up. Even I took the bait, and have a photo of a kissing-couple statue as my desktop wallpaper at work.

Wessel relishes a stroopwafel

Stroopwafel connoisseur Wessel relishes one of these classic Dutch cookies

Another Dutch story is found in the expressions “going Dutch” and “Dutch treat,” meaning everyone pays for themselves. I guess for English-speaking people it’s hard to admit that there are frugal sides to their personalities, so they blame the Dutch. Unfortunately, I am not the best example to derail this stereotype, but I do my part by trying to redefine the expression Dutch treat. On every return trip from the Netherlands, I will fill the empty luggage space with packs of “stroopwafels.” Friends and colleagues can confirm that the stroopwafels are highly addictive and are a real Dutch treat.

Forget blue, what about Carolina oranje?

May 12, 2009
The Netherlands has had queens for more than a century

The Netherlands has had queens for more than a century

While the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day in the Netherlands on April 30, here in the middle of North Carolina the Dutchies celebrate it when they have a nearby available weekend.

Here what it’s called in Dutch: Koninginnedag. I have yet to master that pronunciation. Want to give it a try after listening to this lesson?

Diane and Queen Beatrix go head to head at Dehullu sculpture park in Gees

Diane and Queen Beatrix go head to head at Dehullu sculpture park in Gees

We don’t have anything in the US to compare to Queen’s Day. It’s a day that the royal family, who represent the “House of Orange,” which is a family line and not an “oranje huis,” or house painted orange, come out and play with the common folks. (Sadly this year’s festivities were marred by a loony-toon who drove into a crowd in the city of Apeldoorn, killing seven people and himself.) The whole country parties, but Amsterdam really goes wild.

Though the Royals once took an important leadership role in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, they now are largely symbolic though still admired. Queen Beatrix especially still plays an important part in uniting the country in times of turmoil. And of course the royals keep the paparazzi and gossip rags busy.

Orange was the dominant color during celebrations of De Wieken

Orange dominated De Wieken feest

So every year, no doubt in Dutch clubs around the world, expatriates gather to celebrate their homeland. On Saturday, Wessel and about 40 others from De Wieken (wings of the windmill) Club gathered in Raleigh in their finest orange to dine atop orange tablecloths, and wave the Dutch flag, which in fact is red, white, and blue. They played Dutch trivia (Wessel’s team won!) and then sjoelen (pronounced SHOE-len), a century-plus-old shuffle-board type game.

Special cake to celebrate Queen's Day

Special cake to celebrate Queen's Day

Next on De Wieken’s list is our favorite event, the yearly rijsttafel, featuring Indonesian dishes that the Dutch first started eating after they invaded and colonized the archipelago in the 1600s. Regular readers will recall that Wessel won top prize for his “hete eieren,” or hot eggs. What will he cook up this year? He’s not even telling the royals.

Lang leve de koningin! Hoera! Hoera! Hoera!

Dutch dilemma? It’s all in a name

March 16, 2009
Wessel is a citizen of the Netherlands

All Dutch citizens carry passports from “the Netherlands,” not “Holland”

Don’t mention Holland to my Dutch family unless you mean it or you’ll get this smarty-pants answer:  I’m not from Holland.

Wait, how can a Dutch citizen not be from Holland?

Because the Netherlands has an identity crisis.

Yes, the country is officially, legally, and historically named the Netherlands. Or, in Dutch, Nederland, as in “low country.” Hence the NL country abbreviation you see on car stickers. The country is bordered by Belgium, Germany, and the North Sea. To the west, across the water, is England. (And, for the record, the Netherlands is not part of Scandinavia, as some people mistakenly think.)

So what’s with the name Holland?

Well, two things, one official and one not. 
The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 12 provinces. Two of those are North Holland and South Holland on the west coast. Until 1840, they were one province, called Holland. Their residents were, and still are, Hollanders. The country’s largest and most well-known cities are in Holland — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague.

So, Holland has always been the most powerful and populated part of the Netherlands. But it’s only a part of the country. (This conundrum has similarities with the whole United Kingdom / England / Great Britain thing, which we won’t even get into here, will we?)

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

As you can guess, my Dutch family members are not from those provinces, therefore they’re not from the official Holland. They’re from the province of Drenthe, in the northeast, which is more rural and has the country’s lowest population density. (Americans, think Nebraska with canals.)

Holland is used as the commercial name for The Netherlands

Much to the Koks’ dismay, “Holland” is used on most Dutch souvenirs

Making matters even worse for them, the name Holland has, unofficially, been used interchangeably with the Netherlands for many years now. Many Dutch people from all provinces say they’re from Holland. Even the country’s tourism website, run by The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, is called Holland.com. Personally, I’ve met several non-Hollanders who refer to their country as Holland.

So, while my famiy’s provincial sensitivity is understandable, I do think they’re fighting a losing battle, and one that does not appear to have all that many soldiers these days. But, as a family member through marriage, I feel compelled to join in and fight the good fight, too. I hereby dedicate this blog post to the Familie Kok and their fellow non-Hollanders. Lang Leve Nederland!

Still falling in love

February 14, 2009
Wessel's first snow shoe experience

Wessel's first snowshoe experience

I remember it so clearly. On our first date, Wessel arrived at my house in his boxy 21-year-old Mercedes Benz with his rented snowshoes and recently purchased cross-country skis. I was living in Quincy, Mass., near Boston, and Wessel lived a little south of me, in Hull. He’d moved from the Netherlands only a few months earlier for work (medical diagnostics).

Wessel is a big long-distance ice skater, but he’d only recently learned to ski, and he’d never snowshoed. That winter of 2002-3 had been wonderful for snow sports, and I often went to the nearby Blue Hills Reservation to take it all in.

We had first met on Valentine’s Day 2003, at the Delta baggage carousel at Logan Airport in Boston. Two weeks later, we met up for coffee, but mostly it was for an interview for the little ditty I wrote about his crazy ice-skating odyssey for my Boston Globe travel column. Our first “real” date was on March 8, 2003.

Diane takes a break

Diane takes a break

The activities were my idea. Since he’d only recently begun to ski, I figured we’d be equals on the snow, as I’ve skiied like a beginner for a decade now. And, of course, anyone can snowshoe.

The day was perfect, with deep snow, brilliantly blue skies, and little wind. We skied first, gliding slowly over the mostly flat trails, flanked with evergreens and bare branches. The snow sparkled. We talked and laughed and shared life stories.

Out in the Blue Hills as long as daylight allowed us

We didn't leave the Blue Hills until the moon started to rise

The snowshoe portion was all laughs. Wessel thought the sport, featuring giant foot coverings like tennis racquets, was pretty hilarious. We walked through the woods, creating our own trails as we went, then climbed up a hill to a rocky outcrop, where we could see the Boston skyline. We sat on a huge slab of granite to eat our sandwiches and I remember feeling the energy zing between us. I didn’t want the day to end. We left under a rising moon.

I invited Wessel to stay for dinner, figuring, sadly, that he probably had other plans, or had had enough for one date. Instead, he said yes. Woo-hoo! I cooked a simple pasta dish, and we shared a bottle of red wine. We talked and talked and hugged and hugged, and Wessel left around 1 a.m.

We started falling in love that day, and it hasn’t stopped.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, my dear. Happy Valentine’s to all.

Tiptoe through the tulips with us

February 13, 2009
Dutch tulip fields nearby the Keukenhof in the Netherlands

Tulip fields nearby the famed Keukenhof display garden, south of Amsterdam

Why buy roses when you can have tulips? I love wild roses and garden roses, but the kind sold in stores leave me wanting … for tulips. So when you’re shopping for your sweetie for Valentine’s Day, consider the tulip, the best Dutch treat on the planet. I’ve long admired tulips, but now that I’m in a half-Dutch household, it’s our official flower.

Flowers are cut for preservation of the tulip bulbs

Most Dutch tulip farmers cut the blooms in order to later export the bulbs

Here’s a short history. The tulip was originally a wild flower, growing in Central Asia, and first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1000 AD. It was introduced in Western Europe and the Netherlands in the 17th century by Carolus Clusius, a biologist from Vienna. He became director of the Hortus Botanicusthe oldest botanical garden in Europe, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, at the University of Leiden, where, incidentally, I studied Dutch in 2005. (Notice I didn’t say I learned it.) His plantings marked the beginning of the incredible tulip bulb fields still famous in Holland today. If you’ve never seen them, add that to your life list.

200902_21_tulips

This year's Valentine's tulips

In case you were wondering, the word tulip comes from the Turkish word for turban. The Dutch word is tulp and the plural is tulpen. (Wow, I remembered!)

Wessel and I bought our Valentine’s tulips today. Orange, the Dutch national color. What color did you get?