Monthly Archives: August 2019

SECOND-HAND SHOP

We’re here in Baarle Nassau on the Belgian/Netherlands border, only a few kilometers from our campsite in Alphen, Noord Brabant, Netherlands. The city is literally on the border, as many of its streets have painted broken lines to indicate which country you were then occupying space in.

At midday, Lieve and I entered a cavernous second-hand shop or tweedehands winkel. This place could’ve been a bowling alley at one time, I thought. Or a used car dealership. Long rows of four-stack shelves filled with assorted homeless relics such as cups, glasses, ashtrays, vases and other glassware longing for a home, took up maybe a third of the shop. Retro and vintage discards of all description, which included the perennial music CD’s of mostly forgotten continental talent, moldy and faded books of mostly romantic and horror genre, garish couches, and ponderous and sullen wooden furnishings, occupied the remaining two-thirds of this household purgatory.  In case you’re wondering, vintage means the real-deal item from the past while retro indicates an item impersonating a vintage piece.  Could members of species-humanis also be one or the other?

Lieve came here in search of items that might go well with our recently acquired vintage trailer-camper. Atop the list of possibilities were orange coffee cups. I soon took a seat in what appeared to be vintage formed plastic, though to my untrained eye, it could’ve been retro/ersatz vintage. Soon I observed the owner making several trips back and forth to a rear storage area. At least he had the look of an owner. Like a long-retired guy who once ran a plus-five employee company. He had a resigned posture and gait as if he were relegated or consigned to this place. As if his shoes were weighted, or as if he had to do a certain amount of community service for discarded and orphaned items. With all this, I guess he loved the place. Suddenly a loud piercing buzzer sounded. Like a halftime buzzer at an NBA game. Or a buzzer announcing a prison break or mutiny. So loud and obnoxious that all the items on the shelves seemed to jump or hiccup, like in an old or vintage Warner Brothers cartoon. I then discovered that this audible intrusion indicated when people walked in and out of his establishment.

Still sitting, I pondered the tenacious hope that these discarded items might’ve had for finding a home. Some were once proud centerpieces. Others the holder
of a thousand drinks. Still others friendly accommodating items of comfort. Some silently pleading their worthiness. Others were resentful still at their previous owners for their abandonment. Still, others hoping to be accidentally broken to put an end to their interminable inaction. But did they ponder as well, a fate worse than the one they were presently entrapped in? Would some be tossed against walls and onto floors during hateful exchanges? Did all those music CDs and DVD’s dread probable permanent silence, never to sing for anyone again? Of course, I doubted all these possibilities. After all, they’re just inanimate items, but all this nonsensical musing, all this forlorn madness, passed the time that otherwise might’ve been spent thinking of what? My own obsolescence?

After some twenty minutes, Lieve announced that she had finally located a coffee cup – only one, unfortunately. This retro-or-was-it-vintage discovery was suitably orange on the outside and cream on the inside. Told by the owner at check-out (for a slow guy, he seemed to be everywhere) that the cup was 60 euro cents, Lieve protested while she pointed out a minor surface crack along the inner edge. Never changing expression, the owner then not unkindly retorted
“OK, 20 cents, then” Lieve, on whom no opportunity is lost, including the business ways of the Hollanders, answered with “How about 10 cents?
OK, literary license only goes so far. It was 20 cents.

 

 

 

THE MERMAIDS / POPSICLES ICICLES

Black, white, male, female, gay, straight, soul, blues, rock, hard rock, boogie-blues, country, teeny-bopper, doesn’t matter. If I like it, I like it. This obscure but snappy 1964 tune, with great vocals and background, is from three Southern California innocents who hit the charts out of nowhere.  Right in the eye of an incredible pop-music hurricane that included the English Invasion, Motown, Country and endless varieties of everything in between. While  Popsicles Icicles seemed incongruous to its time, there were certainly enough record buyers who thought otherwise. I still like this record. That either makes me Pter Pan or someone with an eclectic appreciation of pop music.

Several television family comedies of the period were similarly out of sync. This form of escapism had its place then but was mostly phased out as the decade closed. Leave It to Beaver, Dennis The Menace and My Three Sons were popular during or a little prior to the civil rights movement and Vietnam in a convulsively changing nation. Don’t forget that in just three more years, many of America’s cities were ablaze during race riots.

While this song is about adolescent puppy-love, the TV shows portrayed an idyllic, secure and safe suburban lifestyle. This top forty tune represents to me one of the last cutesy, naive cotton-candy numbers of innocence in a culture as yet completely sullied by the rapidly darkening, fracturing, and turbulent society that was then in its infancy. Reality is here, there and everywhere. So are illusions.  The Dick Clark world of 45s, bubble gum, soda fountain drug stores, ice cream parlors, skating rinks, turquoise Corvettes, and checkered diner floors, would start to recede by the decade’s end.

Kennedy had been shot the previous year and the Cutler family of In Cold Blood had been brutally murdered five years in the past, but this tune might’ve played on the diner Seeburg not far from Beaver’s house. But now there’s an old drug needle on his lawn. Dennis The Menace went to a carnival and this played on the radio at the hot dog stand. But now Mister Wilson’s neighbor has an ugly gang tag on his fence. One of My Three Sons is trans and another is dealing. The cotton candy doesn’t do it anymore. And the wind blew the carnival of old illusions away. Only to replace them with new ones. Where have you gone, popsicles, icicles?  Illusions nowadays are not what I want to play.

 

OUCH!

 

It only hurts when I laugh. It only hurts when I turn around. It only hurts when I hit the ground. Four weeks ago, I was on my way to Delhaize Supermarket, less than half a kilometer away from our apartment.  I had ridden my bike thousands of times on the uneven, broken-stone, terribly engineered bike path, miraculously without incident. I was just going for a morning breakfast roll, and after only thirty seconds or so found myself on the ground writhing in pain. I went down sideways, in half-a-second, as if pushed from a third-story window or thrown to the ground by an irate 800-pound gorilla.

I remember my head bouncing on the bike path. Did I just split it open?
I was in shock and in tremendous pain after a few seconds as I looked up at the sky. It was nice and pretty and seemed to smile at me.  Soon two guys helped me to my feet. I now felt that a telephone pole had been thrust through my abdomen. Maybe that same gorilla. What did I ever do to him? I mean, one little stone couldn’t have caused all this, could it? I couldn’t walk and thought that my hip was broken. It seemed that it had somehow worked its way into my chest. Maybe caused by that person who pushed me out of the window?  The two good-Samaritans walked me the short distance home, each supporting a shoulder. It was a death house walk, the longest walk I ever took. I half expected that a priest would appear and quote the 24th Psalm.

The two-kilometer ambulance ride to Middelhiem Ziekenhuis was a trial by fire, as the vehicle unnecessarily high-speeded it along the bumpy uneven streets. As if someone was working me over with a blackjack. I thought I was in a police van and had refused to answer questions concerning a felony in which I was the chief suspect. While the x-rays later showed three broken ribs, and curiously a key that I had ingested who knows how long ago, it’s likely that I had only one or two broken ribs before the ambulance ride.  Why did they have to drive so fast? I wasn’t a heart attack victim. But maybe I will be when I get the bill for the ambulance, x-rays and emergency room care. I was advised to move as much as possible, but every move I made caused pain, sometimes severe pain.

Lieve was a tremendous help during the first week, walking the dogs, getting my medicine, bringing me something to eat, driving many kilometers to pick-up a rental wheelchair, and especially for enduring my death bed moans of agony.  Later she made a herculean effort to hopefully/eventually get compensation from the Stad van Antwerpen, by taking photos of the malevolent knife-sharp stones that caused the accident, and by saving all documents from the hospital and police report. These will be presented to the insurance company as documented proof that the city of Antwerp was at fault.  She wins the Florence Nightingale award for putting up with me and attending to my comfort, such as it was.

I was advised by the doctors that it would take up to six weeks for a full recovery. Breathing is sometimes painful, but the frequent sensation of the lungs only filling up halfway is worse.  Is there something stuck in there, like part of my rib? Pain-killers have their limits. The first prescription caused dizziness and appetite loss.  The other, which I have continued to take, cause sleep problems. Recovery is an unreliable process. A little like the flu. One is assured that they’re getting better.  Then they jump out of bed start to get active again, only to discover that their fever returns along with headaches and fatigue. Broken ribs are similar in that as the pain starts to recede here and there, you start doing things that were undoable the week before.

But apparently some kind of message is sent by the muscles to the original pain center (the ribs) saying something like: “This is Latissimus Dorsi, you know me, the big back muscle? We worked together before. This guy is working me to death. Can you shoot two or three thousand units of pain enzymes my way, so he’ll lie down? On the double? Gee, thanks, bub”. It’s now been four weeks and even mister Latissimus Dorsi doesn’t complain so much. I even rode my bike yesterday. On the same path. Do I now have brain damage as well?

 

TWISTVLIET

 

August 4, 2019. Our first time back in Vrouwenpolder in over eight years, and we’re here to pitch a tent for the weekend. This charming village, or dorpje is located in Zeeland, Netherlands and is surrounded by double-digit-hector farms. It is typically populated by hordes of well-fed tourists from Germany, a smattering of Hollanders and a few strays from Belgium during summer. The first day was pleasant enough, as we sat waiting for our sandwiches at a little boutique that also served lunch. We enjoyed free entertainment as we watched a spirited team of locals preparing a side street for the village’s annual Horse and Rings event. This was a spectacle of no small dimension, as a huge farm vehicle arrived, dumping a pile of dirt the size of a house, a 2-story duplex that is, onto the red-bricked street.  The team then levelled it along the plus 100-meter route so as to provide proper footing for the horses whose mounts would later attempt to adroitly snatch rings from posts planted along the path, as they galloped by while wielding a two-meter length pole. The ghost of King Arthur was no doubt well pleased.

Our lunch arrived just as Lieve’s cell phone rang. It was Chantel, who Lieve employs for occasional market research projects, calling from Brussels. Lieve had been displeased with Chantel’s performance and attitude during the past week, and in French let her know all about it. A high decibel tirade soon filled the village air, causing turned heads and raised brows from startled onlookers of this oh-so-nice-and-orderly-and-behaved Dutch/German-only linguistic milieu. I noticed that a few of the street’s bricks had cracked from the verbal deluge, and well as a sudden fracture appearing in the cup I was drinking my coffee from. Assaulting words. Verbs that cut like a serrated knife. Nouns that sledgehammered arrogance into bits and pieces. And adjectives that pulverized the cheap-china of false pride. When Lieve finally hung up, I said “smaakelijk!”

Our camp site was located on a 24-hector spread called Twistvliet, about a kilometre from the village’s center. The owner, a farmer, horseman and master carpenter of prodigious energy, rents beautifully crafted all-wood bungalows as well as spaces used for camping tents.  The main building, where the breakfast buffet is enjoyed, is magnificent with its raw-wood high ceiling, huge reinforced joists and old-world charm and warmth. In this interior, I half-expected someone from a Vermeer or Frans Hals painting to saunter in. Every item, every detail, every corner, is cared for and in great taste. A large half-covered patio area, which can accommodate hundreds, lends an aspect of relaxed airy outdoor charm with its wooden furniture and abundant flowered table settings.  A lovable lounging Saint Bernard, whose multi-generational uncle might’ve been seen in the 1947 film The Bishops Wife, greets newcomers and newly acquired friends with a wagging tail.

We have an inflatable Quonset-style tent that assumes final shape after three half-circle support tubes or ribs are quickly pumped full of air. The next day, we discovered that two ribs had a slow leak, (caused by an untightened air-cap) giving the tent an outward appearance of dilapidated disfigurement, as if from having been on an all-night alcoholic bender. During the second night, at around half-past ten, loud voices pierced the night air. For anyone who has never camped out in a tent, sounds that come from a hundred meters away can seem to be coming from right outside one’s tent. I quickly sprang from my inflatable sleeping mattress and deflated pre-sleep musings and proceeded barefoot into the darkness, towards the laugh-laced non-stop chatter.  Walking briskly on the moist grass, I was afraid at any moment of tripping over something unseen. I arrived at loud-chatter-central and asked in a friendly, though guarded low voice to the group of Stuttgart Eight if they could please dial it down just a bit while using a two-handed hand gesture for the purpose that I learned from Lieve. Thanking them kindly, if not profusely, I pirouetted back. Amazingly, they complied and everyone got ready for a good night’s sleep. That mesmerizing, obedience-instilling hand gesture was the ticket. No sooner than one can say “nighty-night, sweet dreams” the sound of a tractor was heard from a nearby field. Or was it a kilometer away? Who-in-hell is working in the fields at this time? Was it the maniac from Dark Night of the Scarecrow? Could it be that guy who was working all day on any number of things on this vast estate? That Zeeland tornado? The guy who built this place? Yes. And he plowed with a resolute will that laughed at consideration for others. It had to be done. Now. The next day, I was thinking of giving him a hand gesture that only required one hand and one finger. But he’s such a kindly guy. And he offers free toilet paper too. And you don’t need 50 Eurocents for the community shower either. But, come to think of it, this place cost double of other campsites.

On an overcast Saturday, while I sat resting my three broken ribs, Lieve took photos of stunningly beautiful wildflowers of intense orange, blue-violet, white and magenta in a small field by the roadway some 50 meters from Twistvliet’s main building. The shots are sharp focus/soft focus and capture a wonderful and magical glass-like translucency and delicacy of flowers and insects that is not remotely as evident in real-time. A good camera, with the right lenses, held by a photographer with patience, love, sensitivity, and vision got the job done.

On Sunday morning, as we waited for the breakfast buffet to open, we met an engaging and friendly thirty-something German who had a PhD in philosophy. His strong-featured intelligent face was an apt countenance for a philosopher. Or an artist or poet. As he spoke, he kept pushing back his intense and wild curly black hair, which seemed to have a will and destiny of its own. He appeared gratified that someone would find his scholarly aspirations interesting and quickly fell into a soliloquy on the thrust of his philosophic reasoning, all of which were lost on both Lieve and me. I had wished to ask many questions of him, including philosophical influences on economic and political theories, but his wife came, maybe quietly steaming because of his long absence, and planted their young son in his arms. Thus distracted, he was soon gone, but not before leaving his email address and expounding on his association with noted Canadian philosopher 95-year-old Charles Taylor.

So, adding up deep, abstract and hopelessly inscrutable thoughts, deflated ribs, loud chatter and a tractor in the night, a cell phone tirade in French, flowers from a micro-universe called sublime, chronic back pain, prodigious joists, and horse riders engaged in an ancient sporting ritual, it was a memorable and well-spent weekend.