Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Reflections on being an immigrant

Originally posted on Multiply May 21 2009

This was inspired by a Multiply friend's post on Norway's National Day. Congrats Norway, you are a wonderful country! We would have moved there in 1968 if they had let us.
She wrote:
"Home is where they speak my language, where the food is well-known, where we sing the same songs, where people know me......."

When one leaves the place of one's formative years to go somewhere else, some things are lost no matter how much is gained.

On the morning of March 26th, 1969, a few hours before Chris' Dad was due to take us to the airport for the big trip, we realized we needed one more suitcase. This incident could be used as proof that we both have ADD, but that is another topic. I made a quick dash to the Haarlemmer straat to buy one, crossing a bridge over the Brouwers Gracht on the way. A particularly nice spot, here it is.
And the thought came to me that I would never again live in a place where I had such a clear claim. I had belonged to it, it belonged to me.

The move to Canada has been great. I have never, for a single second, regretted it. We became Canadians as soon as we could.

We now have this, which would have been totally impossible in Holland. Ten glorious acres, about 4 hectares, of land. Our own space in natural surroundings whose beauty feeds my soul daily.
And yet. Sometimes going back to "the old country" is like stepping into a comfortable pair of old shoes. On this last trip my mouth relaxed instantly and comfortably into its mother tongue. I find this a bit scary. If I am to speak only one language without accent, I'd prefer it to be the one I have adopted for the last 40 years.

Being an immigrant means a fault line runs through your life. You often don't know if certain changes are due to the factor of Here, or the factor of Now.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Places where we used to live

First posted to Multiply May 9 2009

I should be packing, the trip home starts tomorrow morning. But I have my brother's house to myself tonight and can't stop messing with the pictures, deleting the poor and excess ones, naming the others. The Hoorn fotoos need to be organized, right now they are just being dumped.

Anyway, while that is happening, here are some that I took in Amsterdam, which also needs to be blogged about, :).

When Chris and I first lived (in delicious sin) together, which was quite a daring thing to do in 1963, we had a furnished room in a sort-of-hotel, on the corner of the Raadhuis straat and the Keizersgracht. This is it.
Our room had the window above the balcony, and the bay window on the canal side to the right. The trees on the canal side were huge. They must have been removed and replaced since then. When one sat in the window seat it was like sitting in a tree. The view from the bay window was this, though better. This was taken from the bridge at ground level.
From the other window we saw this:
The WesterKerk, the tower is the tallest in Amsterdam and an icon for the city. I was very happy there. Talk about Location! To be continued, it is time to pack. Next:
The entrance to what used to be Hotel Torna Sorrento, and is now Hotel something else. Posting this as a private joke for Chris: below our old dwelling is a lamp store. We had one on the ground floor of Westerstraat 191 as well. That is the house below. The lamp store had a fire, and we had the pleasure of watching pretentious fake chandeliers gently float down from the ceiling and bounce.
This building used to be married student housing. We were so lucky to be assigned a flat here! Later it was a feminist book store at one point, and now it is something boring and private. First we had the first floor above the store, later the one above that. I liked that one best. It was a bit smaller, but it had a roof terrace outside where one could sit in the sunshine with a view of the Westertoren.
Around the corner was this: I believe it is the 2nd Anjeliers dwarsstraat. Note the Westertoren at the end of it.
We showed this as a slide once to the Canadian-raised little girls of Korean geologist parents. Their reaction: "How do you get out of there?"

Answer: Follow the street all the way to the Prinsengracht, the outermost of the 4 concentric semi-circles that are the main canals, all built in the 17th century. The city inside the inner one, het Singel, is older. You end up near the Wester Kerk again.
Surprise: the Dutch mania for gardening has now reached the inner city! We always had parks and trees along the canals, but the last few years everytime I go I see more greenery in the narrowest, used-to-be-slum streets. The brighter aspect of gentrification.
Finally, a last word on Jordaan chauvinism. This is the area of the second house, the one in the Westerstraat. Back in the days when it was still a working class neighborhood with an identity all its own, the Jordaners used to say that you were not truly Dutch unless you lived in Amsterdam. You were not truly an Amsterdammer unless you lived in the Jordaan. And you were not truly a Jordaner unless you could see the Wester Toren from your bed. We could!

I am very happy in  my Kootenay mountain paradise. But a part of me will always be at home in this city.


The work is done, a day in Maastricht, and Mercury retrograde.

Originally posted on Multiply  May 6 2009
Our mother has been laid to rest in style. Nine years ago I did my father's eulogy, and at the time I promised Mom I'd do the same for her.

Mom will be cremated and  her ashes will later be taken to my land, where she spent so many happy vacations.

We had a few intense days, with wonderful gatherings of the 4 siblings. Friday May first we gathered in Maastricht, where my youngest brother has been living ever since he met his gorgeous girlfriend at a carnival. It has been years now. I got a glimpse of Dutch travel nightmare.
I had to get a quick picture of the sign to the town that my husband's ancestors came from! My last name is van Houten.
The maiden name is van der Hout. It is like being called Smith-Smythe.  

We got stuck in crawling stop-and-go traffic near Eindhoven, and once in Maastricht it was quite a challenge to find a parking spot. May first is a day off in Belgium and Germany, so the city was full of tourists.

My sister-in-law swore they'd take the train next time if it was just the two of them. This country is just too crowded for cars.

Crossing the rivers is always a treat. This is the tower of Zaltbommel.
Once in Maastricht we had a fantastic day. The weather was more like early summer than like spring. We wandered the gorgeous city, hanging out on sidewalk cafes, eating and drinking till late in the night. It was good to be together.
This is not us, but I wanted a picture of the herring stall. "Hollandse Nieuwe" refers to fresh herring, a national treat.
So little time, so much to see and taste!
We are not Roman Catholic, but Mom used to love lighting a candle in the chapel of Maria Stella Maris. So we stopped and lit some for her.
The entire city was busy and festive in the warm spring sunshine. We had to wait for a table at this square.
View from the old city wall in one direction.
And on the other side is a view of glorious chestnut trees in full bloom.
Some more miscellaneous Maastricht scenery.....

And finally, an old-fashioned sibling line-up, like the way our parents used to pose us.

It was an absolutely wonderful day. Amazingly I did not suffer from jet lag. Credit goes to the Camu Camu that I had guzzled in concentrated form.

As for the Mercury Retrograde.... During the approximately 3 weeks that it appears to be going backwards, communications tend to be tricky.
I had a brief but serious panic when my debit card was refused twice. Once in a store, which is not unusual, since it belongs to a small credit union. But then it said "insufficient funds" when I tried to cash some Euros, at the same bank machine that usually forks them over without fuss.

I had NIGHTMARES about having accidentally booked 3 trips, the morning I was struggling with KLM's online booking system. It kept kicking me off and refusing perfectly good credit cards after taking me through the whole system, card numbers and all. I ended up calling a travel agent after all. But what IF something had gone through after all, and my regular email address, that I can't get at right now, contained 3 e-tickets? Scary thought! My poor sister had to put up with the frazzled vibes.
After being a nervous wreck for the afternoon it was finally late enough to call Nakusp. Turns out I had tried to take too much at once, a smaller amount per day worked just fine. PHEW!
It keeps amazing me how easy it all is. Once upon a time we had to take travelers cheques, remember those? The first time I stuck a card in a machine on a street in Hilversum and guilders rolled out I got all excited.

 I remain firmly rooted in the twentieth century.