Tag Archives: Netherlands

A holy grail

For the first time in my life, I’m walking to my grandparents’ grave without either of them being buried today. My grandma was the second one, and she died six years ago. Haven’t given myself time to go there since. Did I become a martyr of my domineering mind?

I’ve received a fulltime job as copywriter, and am starting in a few weeks. I’m letting my thousands of little (and bigger) projects go for now, and take some time off. Walk. Visit friends. Let the losses slide of my back. Early this morning I decided to go for a walk to the north. Out of the city, into the land of my ancestors. Flatlands. A deeply manmade structure which scared me when we drove here during my childhood. Flat grass, straight, arranged ditches and many little houses packed in villages as far as the eye can see. We’re in one of the most populated countries of the world. Windmills.

I think it’s the first time that I so thoroughly enjoy it here. It may be the freedom of simply walking out of my door, into the fields. Or the cacophony of the birds, whose names I still don’t know. Their volume overrules the sounds of the roaring highway just behind us. Or perhaps it’s the red sun that is now at about 10° above the horizon, shining in my face as if to tell me to take off my new hat for it. Or maybe it’s the fact that I am sure that one day, when my grandpa felt like taking a detour, he crossed this little bridge here, in the middle of what was nowhere at the time, just for his enjoyment. Or the reflecting shadows of the water’s wrinkles on the moving straw, which combined mesmerize me into dreams. I’m amidst serene tumult.

That’s not to say that while I walk along the little path here, away from the deafening noise, my soul transcends along with the millions of glimmering dewdrops, slowly releasing themselves from the young blades of grass around. Or actually it is, now that I imagine it to. I’m liberated, even from myself. Especially from myself. Even if just for a little bit of time.

My grandpa was a kind, calm man when I knew him. His white hair surrounding his bald crown was long enough to be combed back. That looked pretty cool. So did the loose skin of his big thin hands, with thick blue veins meandering over them. I remember him sitting back on his couch, circling his thumbs around each other. He must have been furling his inner disagreements there. His lost memories. His missed chances. His incapacities. But I did not see that then. I was fascinated and he smiled gently. He always served us with chocolate, slices of sausage and other snacks. He limped a bit, when walking to the kitchen. His hip had been replaced.

Neither he nor I spoke much in company. What we would do, is hold each other’s gaze for a while. It told me I was his grandson, and that words aren’t always necessary to know you have a connection with someone. Still, I am not under the impression that I knew my grandpa that well. We lived about 400 km away from each other. Visiting them meant travelling hours and hours in the car. We slept there occasionally as kids, me and my sister, but most of what I remember from him were grownup visits where we did grownup things such as sitting at a table and eating and drinking. Though he did teach me how to play chess.

Once, he took me on a bikeride through these lands. I was a kid. Eight maybe? It was flat. And long. Kids from Luxembourg aren’t used to long bikerides. I think this one took several hours. I do remember enjoying following him on the bike, and stopping to have a chat once in a while, but there’s one memory that stands out. Somewhere near the end of the trip, he told me something about a bird around. My response? “I’m not very interested in that”. I possibly had to pee, or was tired, or was saturated with information. Maybe I was looking forward to a chocolate milk he promised me somewhere at the end of the road. I don’t remember his reaction, but today, a part of me feels guilty about it. Anyhow, years later, my grandparents were surprised to learn that I was going to study biology. And when it comes to bird species, they were right: I still don’t know that much about them.

“Grutto!” yells one of them from quite close. Hey. I can tell it’s panicking because of me. It probably has a nest. More interesting: I suddenly understand why it’s called Grutto in Dutch. I never knew, nor have I ever heard it that clearly. Was it trying to teach me his name?

When I visited my grandma after his death, I felt drawn by my grandpa’s encyclopedia. I walked there, took one of the 20 books of the shelve, opened it, and picked a random word. It was ‘dode hand’ (‘dead hand’). I had never heard of that word. It read something like this: “The dead hand is the property of the Church that is not inheritable by non-church members”. I was certain this was a message, related to him.

Moving to the Netherlands, and particularly Amsterdam was a personal declaration to look for my roots. My ancestor’s history. Figure out my family’s lives. In the meanwhile I have learned a bit about life in the city, before the war, during and afterwards. Things have changed quite radically. The past is gone, yet with a little bit of conversation and imagination, you can summon a vivid reconstruction of how life used to be. Walking in these wetlands is a similar attempt to reconstruct a forgotten past. Untangle a life of people who mattered little, yet stream forward in history through the very blood that rushes by my pen. Even if just for this moment, they are my entire world.

My grandpa grew up as a farmer, but through hard work became a manager in a company. He was the last one in my family lines to make that choice. Independence from the land. There were stories around him. Dreams. Meetings with deceased spirits. Predictions. At some point he developed automatic writing. He explained he would just lay down his hand with a pen in it, and then letters would shape themselves. Words, sentences, and new meaning would arrive without his conscious interference. He thought it was the input of a spirit, or a higher power. He once wrote something like: “Hendrik”, that was his name, “watch out what you do with your life”. He had a moterbike accident the next day.

Much has changed. Biodiversity dropped over here, electricity poles were built, the land is slowly being invaded by the ever growing civilization. Landprizes here have skyrocketed, and the farmers are slowly being replaced by rich people with big cars who spend the final decades of their life in retreat. Most I meet jog. They catch up with the sweat they failed to let to the land. I picture ghosts, hovering ahead of them, drawing them forward towards… what? What is it I am looking for? Which ghost precedes my steps? The tiny asphalt road bounces up and down when joggers come by. It is laid out over what used to be swamp. Utterly unreachable to man. But the Dutch built dykes. We showed them.

People would visit him to receive messages, until it suddenly stopped for ever. His explanation for the loss of his gift was that his ego started interfering. But by then he had already written what has always interested me most: a few pages in Latin. He did not know Latin. In an attempt to translate it, he discovered the text was about the evolution of the soul. That we all make steps forward, and then go back, and that we are all part of a slowly evolving collective consiousness, floating among us in the aether. That what we think of as our own awareness is merely a part of that bigger whole. A befriended priest offered to translate the manuscript for him. My grandpa gave him the papers, but never got them back.

After the incident with the encyclopedia, I’ve enjoyed imagining that those handwritings of my grandpa are still hidden in an occult library of some church in these lands. That they were in fact breathed into this world by some divinity or local spirit. That there is a holy grail somewhere, linking me back to something bigger and more meaningful. A unique message that would consolidate my spiritual quest and reveal the limits of the mechanistic paradigm. A proof. That the church was always aware that there’s more going on there, but that they shield us from it, because they want to remain in power.

The truth is that this fantasy inside me is slowly being overgrown by a sense that spirits in the west are dead, the document has disappeared and I’m perfectly fine without both. The transmission of lore is now all around us with the internet, and the format of film and imagery has made it more effective than ever. Oculus rift and hololenses are already catching up with our dreams. We are slowly immersing ourselves in representations that seem so real that it will be harder and harder to tell the difference. As opposed to believing in ghosts of the ancestors, which people all over the world have done for as long as they existed.

But what of reality? What is reality? Was the text of the manuscript really written in meaningful Latin? Or was my grandpa’s mind playing creative tricks on him? Did he, without knowing, gather some of his little knowledge on the language to create a sloppy text, imagining it was given to him? Did the priest simply forget it, given its insignificance? If so, what of the striking double, even triple meaning of the word ‘dead hand’? Was it a remnant spirit of the past, guiding me there, or was it just a lucky hit, short circuiting my sense of what is real? If it was true, am I making his same mistake by publically writing about it?

The grave has no answers. It is static, grey and silent. Both names are on it. There are freshly cut tulips here as well. White with red ones. Who put them here? A distant cousin? My uncle or aunt? Great unlce? I haven’t been in touch. And these grape hyacinths in the pot? How long have they been around? Did my grandma choose them? I vaguely remember them having these in the garden. I wipe some of the dead blossom of the smooth stone and have another look. A drawing of a hawk. Our name.

They are dead and I’m alive. There’s a world of difference between us. A world the nature of which I have never been certain of. Perhaps I’m here to remind myself that even if I do not know, I can still surrender to the stories. Accept them, like I would accept a film. I can dream a new truth. Revive the dead by recounting them. Let them live through me. How could I forget? How did I forget? Did I forget?

Am I here to accept that my own spiritual connection with nature was harmed with my grandpa’s choice to abandon the land? That in reality, I was always more interested in comfort, computer games and films, and that this was already written in the stars when I was born? That I am here to let go of these roots, and set the next step forward, into a virtual world of engineered redemption? Am I here to accept that humans will keep conquering these lands until even the tiniest patch is rid of its diversity, then recreate it in a different, imaginary world? Will there be life in that world?

No. This is not an end. There is no conclusion here. We can always go back. We can still go back. Nature can teach us. Nature will teach us. This is merely a meeting of life with death. Mysterious.

I don’t stay long, why would I? To find peace? I have more to do today. I’m a city boy now, living a civilized life in the great metropole that watched over us for generations. They are dead now, their memories gone. There is no reconciliation. The bird has flown.

There’s only one bus here per hour. Turns out I don’t have to wait long. No chance to go back. What would I expect to see anyway? In the shimmer of death, it’s still life that matters most. I’ll be back one day.

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A rich man´s pastime

‘Crack!’ The sound of the breaking tooth resounds in my skull. It doesn’t hurt because of the anaesthesia, but I do feel exactly what she’s doing. The sensation of the wisdom tooth removal reminds me of a dream I once had, in which all my teeth scattered in my mouth.

As I recently earned a bit of money and thought it would be wise to invest it in something useful, I got myself a dentist. My previous visit was over 5 years ago. My new dentist is a very attractive blonde woman in her thirties with big bright blue eyes. I have the luck to stare into those while she is digging into my mouth. It’s unfortunate that visiting her costs about a hundred euros per half hour.

I do not particularly like dentists. Next to the fact that they perform the best earning profession in the Netherlands, it is their job to judge your mouth without knowing you, and to present you a highly expensive improvement plan, which you basically have to agree with, because they are the experts, and what do you know about the teeth you have lived with your entire life? Besides, they confront you with the fact that you’re getting older and start falling apart. And if you haven’t really been able to afford a dentist for a while, your teeth are not your strongest pride. I only had a small bleeding under my wisdom tooth and some plaque, but that lady who was otherwise quite sympathtic managed to make me feel bad about myself within the twenty minutes I had (even if I had no cavities, or serious issues). Then she expeced me to pay two months’ rent for a cleaning progam she prescribed. Very confusing.

Are dentists a vital human need, or a luxury? Nowadays, if we see a person who lacks teeth, we consider this person dirty. Judging people by their teeth has become normal. The truth probably is that this person cannot afford going to the dentist. Perhaps it’s not always the case, but without a regular cleanup by a professional, it seems that our teeth would fall out when we are a few decades old. Old people in third world countries seldom have all of their teeth, just like elderly people who live on the streets in cities. A natural part of life, it seems. Then again, animals who lose their teeth usually simply die. End of story. That’s not what we want.

Okay, so let’s assume teeth are not a luxury issue, but a basic human need. Then why are dentists so incredibly well paid? Why is it so hard for some people to afford it? And why do we frown upon those who didn’t manage to keep up? We are taking this one for granted. Is that also what is going to happen with plastic chirurgy? Nowadays, you are allowed to have wrinkles, hanging boobs or a bold head. Will those slowly turn into signs of self-neglect? Will they represent the poor, uncivilized layers of society? I suppose it will probably take a number of decades before the masses truly tip on this one, but high society is well on its way with rebuilding their bodies in to those of adolescents. After all, being young sells better than being old, does it not?

It appears that dreaming of losing your teeth, your fangs, has something to do with the fear of losing power. Vitality. The fear of getting old. The dream was long ago, but the memory is right here. Indeed, I’m bolding, indeed my skin is not as supple as it was, and yes, my teeth are not as white as they used to be. I guess physical growth is over, it’ll be maintenance from now on. And apparently I’m not the only one who cultivates such lingering anxieties.

After half an hour, when I’m allowed to remove the cloth from my mouth, I taste something familiar. Walking through the Jordaan, it takes a while before I realise what I know it from. It’s the same taste I got after losing my baby teeth as a kid. This was perhaps the last time I savoured it.

Breakthrough in climate world

This was the week in which the Dutch court, called upon by the action group Urgendaordered the state to reduce CO₂ emissions by 25% (compared to 1990) before 2020. The judge obliged the state to massively increase the effort on behalf of the citizens. I watched the decision live on YouTube last Wednesday at 10 am. It made me cry. Twitter boomed shortly afterwards.

Most Dutch newspapers only made a small mention of the case. Facebook users waited a day to post it. It reached the New York times. What matters is that the news got out, also in the land of law. I can guarantee you that it is already causing a global snowball that will slowly but steadily turn us into a fully CO₂ neutral society.

So how did the court come to this decision? Some key points:

  • The state has the duty to protect citizens.
  • If called upon, the court hast the duty to correct the state if it does not adhere to this responsibility.
  • The IPCC has proven a causal relationship between CO₂ and global warming, proof both the state and Urgenda agree upon.
  • Global warming is dangerous for citizens.
  • The point that you cannot show a direct causal relationship between Dutch CO₂ emissions and global warming related trouble in the Netherlands is not valid. It is the whole that counts here.
  • It is possible and therefore mandatory to accomplish the given reduction.
  • There is no reason to assume that shifting to sustainable energy sources would endanger the Netherlands’ economy or threaten its competitive global position.
  • International climate treaties are irrelevant in this case, this is a reasonable minimum.
  • Being highly industrialised increases the weight of this decision.

So it shall be done.

Now, similar cases are being held in Belgium and the US. People in Norway are preparing a case, and groups from Canada and Australia have already made phone calls with Urgenda. And law works such that judges will base their decisions on the landmark case.

Within the Netherlands, environmentalist political parties now have a lawful tool to force the attention on this problem, and present their solutions under a different light. The debate is no longer about ‘if’ but about ‘how?’. All party members have to listen to the court, that’s how it works here. It’s brilliant and it’s beautiful.

I’m looking forward to the avalanche.

Selling CEO’s

Two Dutch banks recently announced a raise for their CEO’s of about €100.000 per year. In the week following the announcement, several thousands of their clients subscribed at the competing green bank: a sudden increase in registrations. Twitter boomed, some important politicians complained, and the CEO’s decided to cancel the salary increase.

Since about the time of the Occupy movement, western citizen’s trust in banks and bankers has dropped to below zero. Of course, over 99% of us still have bank accounts, but our perception of banks has shifted from ‘a service’, to ‘a group of slave drivers’ or at least ‘a bunch of greedy frauds’. Banks are doing their best to improve this. Since the 1st of April, it is even mandatory for employees of Dutch banks to sign a vague list of ethical guidelines for bankers.

The CEO salary case is interesting, because it clarifies some things. First, it reveals that the CEOs in Dutch banks are as greedy as they were before, but they use arguments for it now. Theirs was: by raising the salary, they’d be able to attract more reliable leaders, and thus become more competitive on the bank market. Because why would someone do his best for something, if he or she is not paid over a million per year, right? That would be playing your cards wrong. Not only can we conclude that the Dutch bank leaders are greedy (but try to hide it), the market of bank CEOs remains focussed astronomical salaries. It makes sense, because herding astronomical numbers is an astronomical burden: you have to keep them all in your sight, else they run away.

This event also reveals the power of these banks’ clients, especially when amplified by a social media outburst. A single decision of self-enrichment led to such buzz and fuzz that the CEOs had to take it back. No juridical court involved, it was all angry mob. And an overplayed hand. The careers of some of the dudes up there are even on thin ice now. They are made aware again that contracts are a two-way thing, and they have signed an astronomical amount of them.

This was a tiny battle. I’m curious to see how much the power of the people is really worth. It was about some salaries this time, but what if more important decisions are at stake, such as resignation of the board, or structural reforms? Could consumer disobedience still put leaders on their backs?

Psychoindustry

On february 13th, a group of students decided to occupy the Bungehuis. That building was just sold by the University of Amsterdam, who no longer wished to use it for education of arts and languages. Students did not agree with a debate night, they wanted commitments by the board. At the time the building was still being used by the UvA, and many people, including the press thought the occupation went too far. But the Faculty of Humanities supported them.

After several attempts to talk to the occupants, the municipality of Amsterdam ordered the riot police to evict the occupants at dawn of the 24th. They were taken to jail, where they were held for some days.

That afternoon, a different group of students hit the streets for a protest march against the eviction. 300 of them went towards the Maagdenhuis, the board office, and occupied that instead. They were visited by the Mayor, but did not leave. They presented their demands the nex morning: resignation of the board and democratization of the decision-making.

In the years after the crisis, there have been enormous government cuts on university subsidies. Students are no longer funded, research budgets have reduced and teachers no longer have time to attend the enormous amounts of students, a problem that has worsened throughout the years. Instead of being places for dialogue and reciprocal teaching, Universities are turning into psychoindustries where minds are bred and force-fed information without being able to digest it in a social or ethical context. This is what the students protest, and they are finding support.

The students are still there. Over 400 teachers and employees have already signed their loss of confidence in the board. There have been protests on similar topics all over the country. More are scheduled. Nationwide newspapers acknowledge the issue. Just now, as I write this the UvA has offered a plan to increase democratization, and pressurize the government.

It is no isolated movement, but it’s part of a global trend. It’s not just the universities that are being industrialized, it’s all of us, and all nature that surrounds us. We are letting it happen, and it’s going too far. It is for that reason that this simple impulse has triggered something so much bigger. The movement has not stopped, and will not until we liberate our psyches. Let this be a motivation for all of us.

The mental chains are cracking and with our effort they will break.

Become a campaigner

Starfish speak to the imagination. That must have been the thought crossing the mind of the Dutch WWF marketers who came up with this new, brilliant campaign “Become a sea star“. Drench a Nemo-video in a low quality Skyfall song, and you have yourself a campaign clip.  I cry every time I see it. The Starfish invasion comes to save the reefs. Except that starfish don’t save reefs, they eat them.

In that sense, this ad is comparable to promoting flowerbeds with grass mowers. I also find it very similar to the ladybug symbol of the Dutch anti-violence organisation. Ladybugs are top-of-the-food-chain predators, about as peacefull as a hungry shark. If you look at them up close, you’ll see that they have jaws made of the terminator’s childhood toys. I’ve seen the little devils do things to each other in petri dishes that I dare not describe. I can forgive the Dutch peace fighters, they just see a little cute spotted being on their knee. WWF, on the other hand, knows that starfish invasions can wipe out coral reefs. They even educate us about it on their site.

Can we forgive them? They do good work, of couse. And starfish as such are not too bad. They keep oceans balanced by eating up wildgrowth and cleaning the waste of the dead. Starfish are fantastic as long as they’re not with too many, like in the video. And we can all become sea stars! Doesn’t that sound great?

Okay, well, who am I kidding? If you’re an organisation of that size, you can’t expect the marketing department to be in touch with the experts. Their task is to draw in the cash, and if that means speaking to the audience as the stars they can become, that’s just smart advertising. Just like the Panda bear logo. People love Panda bears. Their feeble nature speaks in their favour.

It’s the see-through internal conflict of interests. It’s not that WWF is evil, it’s just that they don’t seem to agree with themselves. On the one hand they want to educate people about the values of nature, but on the other they’re prepared to throw that overboard when it comes to raising funds. Then they wield systematic logic using emotional leverage to do… what? It makes me wonder how much these employees actually care about their subject. Or maybe they know. Maybe they deliberately mislead the audience to protect the very thing they use to fool us. It itches me somewhere.

 

Dark Memories

How often have I heard the stories about the second world war in the Netherlands? I have told people that I’ve seen enough films and read enough books on the theme. How many two-minute silences for the victims have passed? Plenty. Yet once in a while throughout the years, the topic kept triggering my interest . As I grow older, the impacts of the stories get more intense.

I’m visiting my grandma, Jacoba, at her dusk. She is a little lady with short white hair and clear blue eyes with tiny pupils, through which she looks with fiery calm. She sits on her own spot, in the middle of a yellow leather three people couch. She smokes a cigarette that has not run out for as long as I’ve known her.We had a coffee, walked a round and now we talk. She unexpectedly brings up the war.
“How was it for you?” I ask loudly. Her hearing is not that good anymore.
“They were just people…”

In the first years after the Nazis had conquered the Netherlands, they had been quite likeable. With their trustworthy attitudes, they had managed to convince Dutch Jews to register their family trees and wear the infamous yellow star of David. After two years of occupation, they began to systematically rob the Jewish of their rights and freedoms. They then  moved the families out of the city. Many seemed to believe that they’d simply been sent off to work somewhere else.  Jacoba, sixteen at the time, lived very close to the Dutch Theater, where Jews were gathered and most deportations were done.

“Half of my class were Jewish” she says, in a tone that does not seem emotional at all. “The thought of Jews being different from the others had never occurred to me before. But one by one, they came to my door to announce that they received the letter. They came to say goodbye and some left precious belongings for me to keep for the day when they’d come back. One boy gave me a guitar. I still have it upstairs.”

“One day I biked by the Weteringschans and I saw how people were being executed by gunfire. I stopped, but a soldier commanded me to move forward. Of course I did that, I was afraid of what would happen otherwise.”

The winter of ’45 was deadly to many. My grandma still feels guilty about selling a box of one of her Jewish friends because she needed the money for food. When the liberation came and people could eat again, some people died of burst stomachs. Jacoba and her sister reminded each other of that when her new Canadian boyfriend took them to a party where little breads were all around. She laughs about that adventure.

“One day during the deportings,” she concludes “I was walking home, and suddenly saw a man look at me, out of the truck. I will never forget the expression on his face. We both knew that he’d never come back.” Under the disgust in her expression, I can taste their shared despair.

King

He’ll wear stoat fur in front of the world. Tradition before justice. The country loves him.

Walking though Roosendaal helps me realise that indeed, Amsterdam is a superior town. This place is dull and spineless. I cannot even find a supermarket after a 40 minute walk which includes crossing the centre. Yet when I see the portrait of the royal couple in the display window of a shop, I feel at home.

The country hates him. All he does is take up space. He and his beautiful family enjoy their mansion in Greece. Who pays for that? The crowd. We live in 2013! How can a man be granted dominion over a whole country purely because he left the right womb at the right time? Of course we know that he’s no more than a puppet like all of us, but we want our cage to be golden like his!

We love his wife. Man, can she dance! For a Dutch girl. And so smart! Much better than her dad. We’d rather forget her dad, but we understand if she doesn’t. That’s just who we are.

And his kids. Three girls. How cute.

Great interview he gave. Planned, but so what? A real man will rule. No beard, but he stands for our past. And our future. Present, he stands for us all.

So we’ll watch the crown besiege him. That’s how much he’ll take for us. Thus will be our lives. Happily tied to his. So what if some threaten that? That’s not what we’re drinking to. That’s not what we’re singing to. We believe in miracles.

As if you do better.

Queensday

We’re off. Zuzana, Eric, Henk and I are headed to a world of orange. I’m the only one in the group who’s wearing something orange. It doesn’t seem that way to me because they’re orange glasses which I got from a stranger during Euro Cup 2008 because they fit me better than her. In fact, it’s a different one, because actually, I exchanged this one with someone after the Netherlands lost the finals of World Cup 2010. This one’s less scratchy. Even the sky is orange.

For all foreigners: here’s a brief answer to the question why the Dutch love the colour Orange so much during their national events. It’s the queen. She’s called Beatrix from Orange. Did you know? Anyway, today is queensday. So Amsterdam is orange. Orange flags, orange clothes, strange orange hats, orange hairtypes… There’s even an orange drink circulating. It’s called oranjebitter.

People on boats, orange boats, are playing surprisingly good music. We are crossing street party after street party and in fact, the music of most of them is pretty awesome. Eric takes pictures from the crowd. Orange pictures. But what starts as a company becomes a trio and after we lost Eric as well, Zuzana and I are the only ones left to dance and drink. Then, the network goes online again and we find more friends and we meet up with Mom and Sis for some more beer.

So things come and go until we find ourselves making a campfire on the balcony of my appartment in the Pijp, hoping Eric will find his way back. Opposite of the balcony stands a hotel. I’ve seen it shine blue, green, white and even all the colours of the rainbow in once. Tonight, it’s orange. It’s incredible how far a nations tradition can spread.