April 29, 2006

Queen's Day; Orange belongs to Beatrix

Theo, Liesbeth, Michele and Sietske

Orange is the national color of Holland. It has its origins in the fact that the Queen of Holland comes from the house of Orange (beit el Portugaal), and therefore we wear orange whenever there is a national event. These days that’s just soccer matches and speed skating competitions.
Joke, Theo, Sietske and Marijke (Do all Dutch names end in -ke?)

But once a year, just once a year, we celebrate Queen’s Day. It is supposed to be on the birthday of the queen, but since our present queen, Queen Beatrix, was born somewhere in January, under subzero temperatures, we have stuck to the birthday of our former queen, Queen Juliana, and we celebrate this on April the 30th.
And on that day, we go out in force, and we got out in orange. Everything orange. And we party, and we drink, and we dance, and we sell our old junk on the street side, and we play games, and we make music, and we eat, and we have fun.

These days, our orange has been high jacked however. First by a bunch of revolutionaries way over in the Eastern Europe. Can’t think of the name right now, but it’s that guy they tried to poison with dioxin.

And now we have here our local Hezbollah Hero, Aoun, who made the unfortunate choice of choosing orange for his scheme. Couldn’t he have thought of something else? Green? Purple? Blue? Anything but orange.
Because as I got out of my car yesterday evening, to celebrate our Queen’s Birthday at the St. George with all the other Dutch out here, all in orange, I could just see the people passing by in their cars thinking; “Oh look, Aoun supporters.”
I used to have a lot of respect for this man, until he, for whatever the reasons may be, sided with a bunch of fundamentalists, who know where the place of the woman should be, and it ain’t alongside the man, I can tell you that. How can you ally yourself – as a man who used to say he wanted to deconfessionalize the nation - with a bunch of guys who believe in an Islamic Republic? This is beyond me. The guy has tainted the beautiful orange color of the Dutch, and personally I think the Dutch government should make a case out of this.

No more orange for Aoun, it belongs to Beatrix. Party was a bit on the stale side. Too many 'decent' people maybe. And we only found out they had herring until we were about to leave. Luckily for use, the Lebanese didn’t think the thought of chewing on raw fish with raw onions was very appealing, and had left the herring stand alone. But the bitterballen were great. (Thanks Tarek, who brought them in from Holland personally.
Joke and Marijke
Michele (l) and Alexandra, and Joke and Marijke
who is dressed up in a national costume
.

Theo gives a demonstration of
'
How to eat a herring'.

April 26, 2006

Things that make me laugh

As the plumber is stuck in the cupboard under the sink, while breathing in all kinds of vile cleaning agents, and water squirting in all kinds of directions except into the sink, it reminded me of a very funny scene.

I have a little van, a hippy van that I travel around with in summer. It comes with everything; little fridge, stove, pots and pans, beds, and a little sink. Yes, a little sink with a tab. This tab, as puny as it is, has some sort of ingenious mechanism that makes it spurt water into the sink.
However, when I bought the van, everything worked, except for that little water spout. So my brother, who has a similar van, said he knew how to fix it. So here we are, or actually, here he is, bending in all kinds of shapes and bends (he’s 2 meters tall, and these cupboards are extra tiny to fit in a small van) to make that pump work. It took him hours and hours to get the wiring straight, but finally he had the thing going. “Now if we wire it this way, it will work extra strong, so it will come out really well, so you do not have to wait for an hour to fill the kettle,” he said, as he turned on the tab. The stream of water was very powerful indeed, so powerful as a matter of fact, that the water shot into and catapulted right out of the sink again, and into the ceiling of my van. Boy, did I think that was funny.

And that was what I was thinking of when I saw that plumber at work.

April 24, 2006

Going Home

Back Home

Had hoped for the famous sunny skies of Beirut; it’s almost May, after all. No such luck, because as I write this, the rain is coming steadily down. Hubbie got me a new squirrel. He’s into breeding and has tried to convince me (for over three years now, I might add), that the two squirrels I have are actually two males, and that I should introduce a female into the cage. I didn’t think there was place for a third squirrel, besides I was too lazy to go to the pet store as well. And too stingy (they sell ‘m for a hefty price suddenly) I got my first squirrel for free, when the neighbors downstairs, from Iran, said they were going for a holiday to Iran and if I could please take care of their squirrel for a while. And then they never came back. Either I didn’t understand them, or they got lost. But that squirrel sat in a cage of 10 square centimeters. So I got him (her?) a bigger cage. I thought he/she looked terribly lonely, so I bought a second squirrel for 12,000 LBP (about 10 euros). Now the guy of the pet store suddenly wanted 70,000 LBP. Anyway, I got the third squirrel, but the thing hasn’t left the night cage so far. Looks like it’s going to die. Hmmm.

Reminder of Holland
Had a drink with a friend downtown one evening. Was very pleasant. And so I got a friendly memento of that evening; courtesy of the Dutch police.

Exhibitionism
A friend of mine says bloggers are exhibitionist. A discussion with another acquaintance led to the conclusion that apparently we (bloggers) think our lives are so interesting that the whole world should read about it. So unless you are blogging for business, it is a pretty pathetic state to be in, it seems. So I took it a step further this morning, and decided to see what other celebrities look just like me. Depending on the photo I uploaded, J.K. Rowland (The Harry Potter author), Val Kilmer (Batman. Ouch, that hurts!), Cindy Lauper, Meg Ryan (Yea. But is this before or after that Botox-induced lip?) and Rene Zellweger (Something diary) all looked like me! So for all you ego-trippers out there, give it a try.

I myself had hoped for Sharon Stone, but since her recent plastic surgery, I guess the computer didn’t recognize her anymore.

More on Pets
Finally managed to ‘shoot’ the second cat. We’ve had ‘shoes’ (known for her shoe fetish) for over 6 years now, picked her up from the streets. But two years ago hubbie spotted this ‘absolutely beautiful’ street cat on a parking lot somewhere in town. “She’s got two different colored eyes,” he said.

We spent the afternoon on our knees peering under parked cars, with a bird cage and smelly chicken. That cat – that we finally caught - turned out to be an absolute nasty beast, a fearsome creature, and very wisely it makes itself invisible to everyone in the house except hubbie. Two different colored eyes indeed; one blue, one yellow. But a nasty character, and he (she?) has therefore never received a name either. But this morning it just sat there on the carpet, quite visible to everyone. I thought for a while it might be sick, and on the verge of dying (as well. Has bird flue finally reached Beirut?). But when I moved in to make a closer shot, it ran away. Aah, it’s healthy after all.

April 23, 2006

Party

Well, we celebrated the fiftieth wedding anniversary. Eddie got to meet all his cousins, end some nieces and nephews as well. His Dutch is improving, although the acquired vocabulary is not totally usefull in most situation.
Koen, Hugo, Annemijn (up), Eddie and Hana (down)
All the grandchildren before the party: Michiel, Jelle, Koen, Hana, Maaike, Niels, Adriaan, Nienke and Sietske.
I remember when we grew up, parties like this were horrible, because we had to wear grey woollen pants (boys), leather shoes, and white shirt. Girls had to wear tights, and this was in the days when we did not seem to have cotton, or polyester, so these were itchy woollen tights. These days, we do not worry too much about this anymore. They're all in jeans.

April 19, 2006

Dutch Flowers

The Dutch are known for their flowers, so here some shots of a typical Dutch thing. 30 tulips will cost you €5, which is something like 15,000 LBP. I once bought 8 tulips in Jeanne d'Arc Street, Beirut's 'flower street', for 21,000 LBP. Roses go for €5 for 40 pieces.



April 18, 2006

Reinoud en Sietske


Eigenlijk vindt hij dat we er allebei wel opmoesten. Hier Rein, daar sta je dan.
For English readers; "This is Reinoud, who wonders why people blog in the first place, and why he is never mentioned in my blogs. So here he goes."

Reinoud


Omdat Reinoud zich toch afvraagt waarom mensen in hemelsnaam een weblog bijhouden, en omdat hij eigenlijk wel eens genoemd wil worden, hierbij een foto van Reinoud.

The Situation in Holland

We have family dinners,

and feed the ducks.

April 14, 2006

Why I Like This Country

This is a topic that has featured quite a bit in my posts, but I often get reminded of this. Just now, I dropped Lois off at the airport. She’s due in Korea tomorrow. It was quiet at the airport, most flight come in early morning or late evening, so there was practically no one parking when I got there. I unloaded her suitcase, said goodbye, and got back in the car.
As I started the car, a guy from Internal Security (they are neither police nor army, and thus wear a uniform that is camouflaged grey, not green) tells me from across the street; “Quickly quickly.” Now why he would say that I don’t know, since there was no traffic at all. I look in my mirror, and back up. I then hear a very distinct crunch. Ooops, I ran into something, something plastic from the sound of it, probably a plastic traffic barrier, although I cannot remember there being one when I parked the car there. So this guy from the internal security looks at me with these dog eyes, and says:
“Now look what you have done!”
I look out of my window and see the small black wheel of a little scooter. I ran over a scooter.
“Now what ass hole would park their scooter right behind my car”! I tell him as he walks over to pick up the unlucky scooter.
“That would be me,” he replies.
This makes me laugh out loud. I’ve been on the beach the afternoon and stashed away a few Margueritas, so I thought this was infinitely funny.
“Oh well, you told me I had to be quickly,” I laugh.
“Quickly forward, not backward,” he grumbles.
“You didn’t say that.”
“Now I say it, please quickly forward,” and I drive away.

Now where in the world could you call an officer an asshole, run over his scooter, laugh and get away with it?

April 13, 2006

Summer coming up

Summer is in the air in Lebanon. T-shirt weather, sun glasses and ice cream. Margueritas on the beach. Floating in the Mediterranean Sea. Dinners outside, and fabulous sunsets. But can I get those long sleeved sweaters out of my closet yet? No! Just heard that it is 7 degrees in Holland. Dang, and I’ve got to go there tomorrow!
Lots of free days this week. One holiday on account of the birthday of the prophet Mohammad, and now we’ve got the crucifixion coming up, so lots of free days as well. All these religions do have one positive side; lots of holidays.

I visited Tyre this week, or actually the Roman ruins in Tyre, 77 km south of Beirut. They had a fantastic field of poppies, so I made some pictures. I would have show them here if it weren't for the fact that I cannot seem to get anything uploaded for the past week. Poppies always remind of this poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae

Tyre has a colorful history. It was conquered by – among others - the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar (586–573 BC), Alexander the Great, (in 332 BC), by after a siege of seven months and by the crusaders during the First Crusade in 1124. There’s an extensive necropolis, an ancient Roman cardo (street), an archway over the Roman road that led into the ancient city and one of the largest Roman hippodrome ever found. (all for the price of $4). All date from the 2nd century A.D. to the 6th century A.D. The necropolis consists of loads of stone and marble sarcophagi of the Roman and Byzantine periods. Often with bones still in them. Alongside the ancient Roman road are the remains of the aqueduct that assured the city its water supply. The partially reconstructed Roman hippodrome could seat twenty thousand spectators who gathered to watch the death-defying sport of chariot racing. (At least that is what they say).

I also went to Byblos, got fed up of making pictures so I don’t have any, and I went to the beach. Real Lebanese do not venture to the beach yet, for them the starting date is June 1st, but sun-starved foreigners do the weirdest things, and they go to the beach in April already ! I did go, but since the beaches have not been cleaned yet for the summer (never knew you actually have to clean beaches, but you do because you do not believe the amount of trash that gets washed ashore!), I had to wade through miles and miles of plastic bottles. Did find a clean spot in the end. Eddie went body-surfing, Hana dug a hole, and the dog sat in it. Hana screamed her lungs out and tried to get the dog out. To no avail, he liked the cool sand.
Next week it will be Holland, so excuse the hiatus.

April 09, 2006

Street Scenes of Yesterday

According to Marijke, there should be some changes to the Arabic food of yesterday: "Het is 'kusa mehsji' (gevulde zuchinni), en niet 'kusa bi mehsji', wat zou betekenen 'kusa' in het gevuld, en 'loubia bi zeid' (boontjes in olie) eet je juist zonder riz (rijst), 'loubia bi lahm' eet je bi riz."

Spring has finally started, Lois is in town (from Korea), so we walked around a bit. Here some scenes in Beirut.
ELVIS PRESLEY
This Elvis Presley has been hanging above one of the shops in the neighborhood for some time, but I cannot really connect the car to the shop contents. It’s not an auto body shop and they do not rent cars. I don’t know what they sell, but the British Elvis – as he is sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car, looks nice. I like the bullet holes in that right piece of the wall. You do not see that very often anymore. There used to be - long long time ago, at the very beginning of the civil war, so that is in the late 70's, or early 80's - a checkpoint of the Mourabitoun, a sunni militia that was wiped off the map pretty fast. A reminder of those early days. Many checkpoints followed in this part of town, but hubbie says he remembers that particular day.

INVALID PARKING
Parking for disabled people, is it? Or a wheel chair entry? I am not quite sure. My neighborhood seems to have been a pilot project for some ‘exotic’ road signs, like this one, because you don’t see these anywhere else in the country. But whatever it was supposed to be, it no longer is.

HANA AND TINKERBELL DOWNTOWN
The ratio of nanny to child in downtown seems to have moved from 1:2 to 1:1

WE ARE NOT ARABS

I saw this one downtown. I was out some time ago with a friend of my son’s, and we were at a place where there were just too many people. So the boy said: “Can we leave, there’s just too many Arabs here.” Now this boy is 100% Lebanese, both parents are Lebanese and Arabic speaking. “I’m an Arab too,” said Adrian. “I’m not, I am Franco-Libanais,” the boy replied. Seems like he picked up a French passport somewhere. I was pretty stunned, but this way of thinking is pretty prevalent here among some groups.

April 08, 2006

My Cookies Got Rigor Mortis


Okay, so I can’t cook. I was a lousy cook to start with, and being married for God knows how many years has most certainly not improved my cooking skills. Besides, I have a 45 hour job, write for a Dutch newspaper, organize a children’s judo team and run a family with kids, dog, cats and two squirrels - all of which makes cooking a virtual reality only.
But this cooking ‘problem’ was very quickly solved by the acquisition of a housekeeper. She does the cooking, and is quite good at it too.

But now and then, I feel these pangs of remorse, or rather guilt, that I am not a ‘cooking-Mom-kind-of-person’. When Eddie goes and plays over at a friend’s house, and he comes back, he always has these stories on how the mom fed him ‘koussa be mehsje’, or ‘riz ma loubia be zeit’, which are intricate Lebanese platters of high nutritional value. Whenever kids play at my house, it is sandwiches. What’s wrong with sandwiches anyway?

So now and then, these guilt feelings get the better of me, and I get down to business. Today when I got home with Hana, I thought that I should teach her the finer details of cookie baking. I mean, it’s great fun, educational too, she gets to mix the cookie dough, cut them out with the cookie cutter (especially bought for this purpose this morning) put them in the oven, and afterwards she gets to savor home-made cookies. What a terrific educational experience, no?
So I made sand cookies with Hana. They came out quite well. However, after a couple of hours, rigor-mortis set in. I cannot quite figure out what went wrong. For those readers who do not understand Dutch, the ingredients were; flour (350 gr), butter (175 gr), sugar (300 gr) and one egg. So I have no idea what went wrong. Maybe it’s the oven. Yes, that must be it. It’s the oven.
For the REAL THING, click on the TV and have a good laugh. Commentary is in Dutch, but I think you get the gist of it. Don’t forget to turn up the volume; this way you can ‘hear’ the cookies.

April 05, 2006

Congratulations

1958
This blog post is not on life in Beirut, for a change, but to congratulate my parents with their fiftieth (!) wedding anniversary. They got married on April 5th, 1956, and the weather was pretty much then like it is in Beirut right now; wet and rainy and cold.

They are still going strong, dropping by twice a year in Beirut. I always thought it was interesting that when my mother was pregnant with me, my father bought her a gold watch while he was in – yes – Beirut. Funny how I ended up here some 25 years later.
We’ll have a big party in two weeks time. So happy anniversary.

2006

April 03, 2006

Trombone Surprise!

Eddie had a special school day today. Instead of studying, he had to show his Mom around and explain her what he was doing and learning in class, and how everything worked. I learned lots of stuff from Eddie today.

Some of the highlights:
* Integers (the less said the better)
* He can open the number lock of his locker in less than 4 seconds. His locker was surprisingly neat.

The lockers

* He buys his lunch in a ridiculously overpriced school cafeteria! (Evil men making tons of money of children’s’ pocket money).
* He can make a debit/credit excel worksheet and keep track of his income, making it add and subtract the added posts all by itself.


But what I thought was the nicest one of all is – and this is the first time I hear about it - that he can assemble (and disassemble) a trombone, read notes, and actually play a piece of music with the instrument, and quite well too! So here’s a big hurray for Eddie and his music teacher! Thank you Carol! Here’s my future musician.

April 02, 2006

So the Saga Continues

Hana and her Mom in the car in front of the Amn el-Aam
The Amn el-Aam story of this morning sounded way too enthusiastic, it should have set off alarm bells with any sensible person. Stupid me to think that it would actually be that simple. I got her passport, with a stamp. “Where are her papers?” “What papers?” “Well, her work permit, and her permis de sejour (residency permit)?”. Oh no, we’re just here to give her a visa, so you have the time to start working on her paperwork. You were a week late. So I spend two months work on just getting a visa! And until what time did I get? March 28. “But it is already April 1st!”. Ah, yes, nothing they could do about that. So NOW I can start her paperwork. Not this morning however, because the government doesn’t work after 11 on a Saturday. Next Saturday, I guess. So the saga continues.
And then it started to rain. When it rains in Beirut, it does not just rain; the sky comes down. La deluge, and then some more. It falls and falls and falls, thick like sleet. The sewer system, not too adapted to storm water, overflows, and it just comes spouting out of every hole. Cars in Beirut seem to multiply themselves whenever it rains, so traffic jams up to your ears. I had to run some errands in the southern suburbs with my sister in-law, pices are infinitely lower over there, so we sloshed our way through town to get there.
The supermarket guy, who carried my groceries through the rain as it came falling out of the sky at 10cm/mm2 per minute, was soaking wet. I gave him a big fat tip. Maybe I should have given him rain pants, still got a pair here from Holland.

April 01, 2006

Amn el-Aam

Sunset in Beirut; Friday, March 31st, 2006
Hana plays witch with the pieces of the 'Mens Erger Je Niet' game.

Today I have to pick up the housekeeper’s papers from the ‘Amn el-Aam’, or Security Services of Lebanon. This used to be an excruciating business, being send from one booth to another in very shabby ministries. Bureaucracy in the Middle East is used as a work provider for a massive number of the population, regardless of whether their services are needed or whether the service they provide is really necessary. So you have to get copies that are signed, stamped, double-stamped, signed again, copied again and signed again. One paper passes through 7 different people, all giving their approval. The higher up the chain of command you go, the larger the office, starting with 9 guys behind an iron counter and ending with one huge man in an empty office behind a massive wooden desk, a chair so massive (fake leather) the guy (always a guy) almost disappears in it, with some trinkets and other stuff on the desktop. No computer, mind you.
It seems however, that changes have finally set in, and the last time I was there, it was modern, clean, and not too busy. Besides, I have learned not to get aggravated over all this silly stuff, and have someone do it for me. I call them ‘fixers’ in English, I do not know the Arabic term. It comes from journalism, where you always have a fixer who organizes the official things for you; the paperwork to get to certain checkpoints, the appointments to press conferences etc. So the fixer goes and does all the legwork, and then for the last stage of the process (usually several weeks further and a 5cm pile thick paperwork) you go for the identification. It cost a little extra, but is well worth the aggravation, or lack of it.
So today we are in the last stage of it. I hope.
The Amn el-Aam’, or Security Services, also take care of the censoring. Which means that every book, video, CD and DVD that comes from outside, passes through their offices. We order a lot from Amazon, and hubbie has been asked several times to show up and explain himself as to why he is ordering certain material. Specifically when it has ‘Jewish’ contents. I remember he had to come for ‘Band of Brothers’, a 8 DVD epic on a group of American soldiers that are followed through the entire WWII. In DVD #7, it shows the company of soldiers walking past a concentration camp, with prisoners standing near the fence, staring at them. It doesn’t really show who the prisoners were. Just prisoners. So hubbie had to promise not to show this in public or use it for any type of publicity, as the episode contained material that showed ‘sympathy toward the Jewish cause’. That nobody picks up on this still surprises me. I understand that the Lebanese have a strong dislike for Israelis, but this is WWII stuff. Anyway, hubbie signed, all pissed off. “The things these people think of.”

And who can tell me how this trick works? http://www.digicc.com/fido/