Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Should Zadkine's sculpture be moved? YES! It should!

The two bear cubs, by Grimdalen

Being Rotterdam-born, I feel I have the birth-right to give my opinion about a matter which is very dear to the hearts of many Rotterdam-born people (whether they still live in this wind-blown town or not).

And I am given to having very strong opinions.
My knowledge of Rotterdam sculptures was nurtured by both my beloved Gran and my mother, who never tired of pointing them out to me. At the tender age of 2 (this is one of my earliest memories) I cuddled the bronze bears on the Lijnbaan. This sculpture was given to Rotterdam by the Norwegian people, and I loved it.

I also liked the oldest sculpture we have in Rotterdam, by Hendrick de Keyser, who sculpted Dutch humanist Erasmus in 1622, and which you can still see at the Grotekerkplein in front of the St. Laurens church.
Erasmus, by Hendrick de Keyser

My mother whispered of family connections; Erasmus was one of my forebears, she said. Hm...Perhaps my writing gene was passed down from him? Anyway...I do see a vague resemblance in the shape of the face, mouth, nose.

 (Mind you, my mother's Grandmother looks to be of Spanish descent in the only surviving photograph of her, which isn't that far-fetched, as we were conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century. And I was once told in the Seventies that there was surely a black forefather in my history as I had a tendency to walk through the doctor's office where I worked as a temp on bare feet, and have a rare anemia seen mostly in coloured people. Honestly, with hindsight, the arrogance of that doctor to tell me this solely based on my Flower Power appearance!)

But what this blog is really about, is the statue "The Devastated City" (or Jan Hole, Jan Gat, as it is known to Rotterdam people) by Ossip Zadkine.
Now, I'd love to show you a photograph of this amazing sculpture, were it not that apparently there is a ban, as I cannot upload one from Google images. 
So, I'll describe it to you. It is made of metal, modern, grey, has not a little in common with Picasso's way of depicting limbs, and it screams. Moreover, it has a hole where the heart should be. The other facts about it are: that it is situated on Plein 1940, it is a memorial to the Nazi bombardment of Rotterdam on May 10th 1940, and that Rotterdam people hated it when it was first erected.
As a child I hated it too, as it frightened me and did not look at all like Bambi.

But the thing grows on you. And now there is talk of moving it to another location, namely the square in front of the new Central Station. Not quite at the heart of the bombardment, but not that far from it either. 

And I think this is an amazing idea! This square is where many tourists get their first heady whiff of Rotterdam, the wind from the harbour blowing straight into their faces and then this Jan Gat standing there as a reminder of the ravages of war. One person, when asked by AD newspaper, said he hoped the council would put it on a large pedestal, where people could sit and rest awhile. It would give Rotterdam a war memorial as imposing as that of Amsterdam, better even! (When you are Dutch, you  understand the everlasting rivalry between Rotterdam and Amsterdam)
And again, I agree. It would be great!
Oh! Look! Found an image after all!

Chapter 2 - Part 2

Delftware, as found on Isa's windowsill

Chapter 2 – Part 2

“Why don’t you look on the Internet?” said Ellen.
 “On the Internet? Look for what?” 
Ellen took another handful of Macadamia nuts and crunched them away noisily. 
“Guys. You know, dating sites.” 
Isa nearly choked on her wine. 
“Are you mad? I’m fifty-three!” 
“So? It’s not as if you’re past it! You look okay. In fact, you look great! Lush, voluptuous...” 
“Over-weight you mean.” 
“No, I mean attractive. You may not see it yourself, but you still get stared at, Isa. You can still pull, girl! But you’ll have to make a bit of an effort. You’ve let yourself go a bit.”
 “Gee, thanks, girlfriend!” 
Ellen had to ward off a well-aimed black olive.
 “Seriously, Isa. Paint your nails, go see your beautician, get your hair done, better still, let’s go to that spa we talked about. We could...”
 “You are a raving lunatic! Besides, I don’t have the money to go to a spa. Or go to a beautician. I have to live on one salary now, remember? And I have no, absolutely no inclination to ‘pull’, as you so charmingly put it. I have done my pulling. My pulling days are over.” 

With heated cheeks and flashing eyes, Isa did indeed look sexy. If only she could see it herself, thought Ellen. She watched her friend, critically trying to see her with fresh eyes, and noted the good teeth, generous mouth, shapely legs, elegant hands, creamy skin and ample boobs.
 “You’ll get awfully lonely.”
 “Why?” Isa got up to get the wine out of the fridge. 
“Why would I get lonely?” she persisted as she returned, stumbled over a cushion on the floor and splashed a wave of Ellen’s wine down her friend’s new shirt. (Copyright Renée Koopman – If you steal this, you are a very bad person!) 
“Shit! Sorry, El. I have no time to get lonely. I see approximately three customers a week, all of them with their issues, and their quirks, and let’s not forget their egos! I talk to my darling daughters. I have my cat. I have you.” 
Frowning, Isa slugged back her wine and then shot Ellen a look.
“Fuck, that sounds boring,” she muttered. 
“I rest my case.” 

Ellen looked like Isa’s cat when he had got to the quiche. She loved being right. 
“Okay. First thing’s first. Boot up, Google some sites, write a profile, and then put up your feet and wait for all those gorgeous guys to contact you.” 
Isa blew a raspberry. 
“All those old, divorced, freaky, nerdy, mummy’s boys you mean. You know the old saying, don’t you? All the nice men are either gay or still married.” 
“Christ, that IS an old saying, from the Eighties, I’d say. I’m serious, Isa. Do something, or you’ll end up old, grumpy and very alone, mark my words!” 

Isa looked thoughtfully at her oldest friend, and filed away her remarks to be mulled over in the near future, when she was alone. 
“Want a top-up?” she asked instead. 
Ellen looked at her almost full glass, one eyebrow quizzically up, thinking about her childhood friend and her tendency to become quite a bit of a soak. She used to envy Isa. Isa The One Who Has It All, she used to secretly call her. Used-to. Now she felt a bit smug. Her own husband was sitting on her own couch right at this instant, safely watching Eurosport Live. No risk of him straying to greener pastures. Safe, sweet, boring Ben.
 “Oh, what the hell, life is for living, and I’m on my bicycle anyway.”
© Renée Koopman

Friday, 10 January 2014

Chapter 2 - Part 1

Ducks (photograph © Wibe Koopman)

Isa’s Sundays used to be filled with people. A husband, her two daughters, her Mum, friends. She used to rush around her kitchen from two in the afternoon; preparing dinner, chilling wine, making sure everything was just so for when everyone would sit around her huge teak dining table at six.

When did all this change? The rot started with her Mum dying of the cancer that had sneaked up on her five times previously. The sixth time the cutting and medicating couldn’t save her. Isa mourned her in silence. She wasn’t given to loud and public mourning. But she missed her mother terribly. 

Then, out of the blue, her husband of twenty-five years dropped a bombshell into their tidy lives. He had fallen in love with a woman fifteen years younger than Isa. And this woman loved him. Love! So he moved out. And moved in with his new love. Isa mourned the demise of her marriage as she had mourned her mother. Quietly, secretly, but not bitterly. Thus was life. Husbands left for greener pastures and greener leaves, one only had to look around the supermarket to see the evidence. 

But when in the course of one year both her darling daughters left as well, one to study International Business Law in Maastricht and one to teach abroad, Isa had to face down a huge urge to get seriously depressed. The wine hardly got the time to chill properly. (Copyright Renée Koopman – If you steal this you are a very bad person!) 

Her few true friends rallied round. But all of her not-so-true ones disappeared along with the Sunday dinners as soon as they got the message that Isa wasn’t her normal cheerful welcoming self. 

Isa got through it by working hard. How ever late it had got the night before, how ever many glasses of wine she had guzzled down in the evening, she was there in time for her first appointment of the day. Slowly, very, very slowly, she found she could smile, and then laugh again at the antics of het cat. 

She managed to shoulder the burden of her daughters’ shock over the phone at their father’s midlife crisis, with carefully contrived humour, and clichés straight out of women’s magazines. “But don’t you hate him, don’t you hate her,” they would ask, and she would give a little chuckle (mentally patting herself on the
shoulder in the meantime; oh, how good you are at acting grown up!), and reply “No, no, how can I hate them for something as natural as falling in love? Don’t forget we had you, and you are worth it, all of it.” (Pat, pat, pat, and a quick trip to the off-license after work)

Anyway, Isa counted herself lucky in a way. Robert, perhaps feeling guilty, had agreed to a quick, harmonious divorce. Not for her the screaming rows, the spitting fits, the tug of war. She had, a whole bottle of Chardonnay gone, for a few minutes considered cutting up all his suits (weren’t you supposed to do that sort of thing?), but couldn’t find the scissors and then nearly fell down the stairs, so she gave up on that idea. Another cliché.

After a while things calmed down even more, and she found she could see Robert around town without wanting to throw her arms around his knees and beg him to reconsider. He couldn’t be more gallant about it all. Came round to fiddle with her dishwasher when it broke down. Offered to mow the lawn. Looked radiantly happy. Life with his young lithe wife certainly agreed with him. Isa swallowed her tears and ran to the CD player to put on Adele when he’d left for his new home.
© Renée Koopman

Thursday, 9 January 2014

What are you 'into' ? Amongst other things, I'm into Owls.

Ever since I was a girl, I have been fascinated by owls.

I lived in the country, far from school and school friends, so I was a child who had to arrange her own entertainment; and I could. Books were my friends, ever patient. And all the animals around our converted farm (my bedroom was in a converted outhouse) were a constant source of diversion.
Alongside the outhouse and stables was a narrow waterway. Home to ducks, herons, lots of rats and a bath for the cows and horses in the meadow next door. The banks of the waterway were planted with willows, ancient ones, which were mostly hollow and falling down. 

In the willow nearest to the door of my bedroom there lived a pair of Athene noctua, I believe they are called screeching owls in English, but I'm not completely certain. (They are the smallest owl species in The Netherlands)
They used to call to each other, 'kieuw!', or 'werro!' when they got excited, but I used to pretend they were calling to me.
courtesy of Natuurblad
I didn't see them very often, which made it even more exciting when I did see them.
The Wind in the Willows was one of my favourite books then, and I always wondered why there weren't any owls in it. But thankfully there was an owl in Winnie the Pooh.
When I was a little older, I read about the totems of the Native Americans, and there was an owl amongst them, which was totally understandable to me.
Steenuil, or Athena noctua
The funny thing is that people keep sending me owl photos.
I don't ask for them, they simply arrive. And I am very happy to receive them. I'll leave you with the latest one I got; it's been taken by Rina van der Veld, who is in South-Africa at the moment, and who spotted this beauty. I wonder if anyone of you can tell me what species this is?

Chapter 1 - Part 2

Chapter 1 - part 2

Oh God, why do I always feel responsible for the oddballs of this world? she thought, and sighed. Part of her felt sorry for this stranger, and part wanted him to go away. She sighed again.
 “You’ve invited him, you stupid woman,” she muttered. 
“Are you coming in?” she called. 
A sudden smile lit up his face, a wonderful transformation. He came to her table and sat down, carefully placing his sketchpad face down on the table in front of him, and looked expectantly at Isa. She returned his look, confused. Now what? Oh, of course! She held out her hand. “I’m Isa. Citizen of Hellevoetsluis, mother of two, writer. Sort of.” 
“Pleased to meet you, Isa,” answered the boy formally. 
“And who are you?” Isa had to ask. 
“My name is Dirk.” (Copyright Renée Koopman – if you steal this you are a very bad person!) 
He looked deep into Isa’s eyes for a moment. Isa put her ignored hand back into her lap. 
“Citizen of Hellevoetsluis, no kids, student,” he added suddenly. 
“Oh, a student, are you? How nice. What do you study?” 
Great, at last, safe ground. She ordered a dry white Chardonnay for herself and heard Dirk ask for a cup of tea. When asked what kind of tea he wanted, he quickly answered “Just tea!”
 “What is your subject?” persisted Isa. 
“Illustrating. I go to the Art College in Rotterdam. I want to be an illustrator of books on ducks.” 
“Oh! Just ducks? Surely you’d want to do other books as well?” 
“No, ducks. Just ducks.” 
Oddball. Definitely. Isa stretched out her hand to his sketchpad. 
“May I?”
 “No!” Dirk put both his arms across the pad, the pleasant look on his face swiftly replaced by a fierce protective one. 
“Whoa, take it easy, if you don’t want me to look, I won’t.”
Their drinks arrived, and Isa took a huge gulp of chilled wine. She deeply regretted her invitation by now. She wouldn’t ever learn, would she? Working as a freelancer had warped her judgement. She always thought her natural rapport with people would help her in any situation, but it clearly didn’t in this one. And a nagging thought fought for attention in her head. She had come across this kind of behaviour before, hadn’t she?
 “Dirk,” she said softly, “ I mean it, don’t worry! Drink your tea and relax. I don’t want anything from you. Perhaps it was a silly idea to ask you to come for a drink. Yes, it was stupid of me. You don’t know me. I’m a complete stranger to you, and an old one at that. But I was bored, you see, nothing to do in this town on a Sunday afternoon. And I lost that stupid hat!” 
You are babbling, Isa, she thought. Shut up! Dirk looked at her. 
“You’re not old,” he said. 
He had eyes of the deepest blue she had seen, with almost feminine lashes, a thin long nose and a generous mouth with straight white teeth. Isa realised with a jolt that this was an extremely attractive face. The tension had left his eyes, and he had moved his arms so they now lay relaxed along the table. 
“Oh yes I am!” she contradicted with a smile. “Ancient! At least to someone like yourself. How old are you?”
 “And you like to draw ducks?” 
“Ducks are beautiful animals. Have you ever looked at the feathers of a Mallard, I mean really looked? And at those of a Teal? Or a Dutch Hookbill? I have a whole bookshelf full of books on ducks, and watch every nature program that might feature them. Obviously at college they make me draw all kinds of things, boring mostly, but when I have the time I draw my ducks. I’m learning how to build a website, and as soon as I know how to, I’m going to have my own site featuring all indigenous ducks and the ones that come to our shores in Winter. I may take photos and then put the drawing next to the photo. What do you think?” 
Isa noticed his eyes flashing with enthusiasm, and his lean hands drawing imaginary ducks in the air, almost knocking over his tea. 
“I think that’s a very good idea,” she said kindly.
© Renée Koopman

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Chapter 1 - part 1

Hi again,
As there's been no-one telling me to immediately stop writing, I've uploaded the next part of the story for you.

Chapter one.

Grey rolling waves raced towards Hellevoetsluis harbour, making the mallards bob up and down like ever so many corks. Isa held on to her new felt hat with one hand.
“Whose silly idea was it to go to the harbour?”, she muttered to herself, knowing perfectly well that it had been her own idea, born from the boredom of a lonely Autumn Sunday afternoon. She turned her back on the water and squinted up at the round white lighthouse with its jaunty red roof. The wind immediately saw its chance and spun her hat straight into the choppy harbour waves.
“Shit! Shit, shit, shit!“
Dismayed, she tried to work out where, if anywhere, her hat would float near enough to the harbour wall for her to reach. More mallards making their way to the jetty below the lighthouse gave her an idea. Perhaps she could borrow a boat? Many of the yachts in the harbour had their private dinghies. Isa hurried to the nearest vessel, a beautiful wooden Waarschip.
“Hello! Anyone on board?” She hesitated before the gangway. Should she board? “Hi! Can you hear me?”
 Silence. Then a gull screeched like a banshee, taunting her.
Isa decided to try once more.
“Helloooooo! I need your help!”
“There is no one on that ship”, said a voice behind her, making her jump.
Isa looked over her shoulder, flustered, until she saw that the owner of the voice was a young man. More of an older boy than a young man, really. In his hand he was holding a sketchpad, and he looked just as flustered as Isa was feeling.
“Oh! Hi there. I was hoping…I need…,” she stopped. “Oh, what’s the point? My hat’s long gone by now. It blew into the harbour, you know. My new hat. I‘ve only had it since yesterday. I…”
Again Isa ground to a halt. Something in the boy’s reaction, or rather lack of any reaction, made her lose the thread of her thoughts. He was staring at his pad, with a small annoyed frown.
“Oh well. Don’t let me keep you from your drawing. Bye.”
She turned away from him, ready to walk back to the little square on the other side of the harbour. Her bright idea, that a brisk walk along the waterfront would blow the cobwebs away, had utterly vanished from her mind.
“Another fun day,” she muttered darkly.
“It has sunk,” said the boy.
“What?” Isa turned back.
“Your hat. It’s sunk.”
So he had heard her after all.
“Story of my life!” Isa snorted. “My gorgeous new, not to mention very expensive, hat has drowned. I may as well go and drown my sorrows then, don’t you think?”
Again she turned away from him, but something made her hesitate and toss him a quick look.
“You look cold. Would you like to join me?”
“Join you where?”
“You know! Join me for a drink.” She nodded in the direction of the pubs on the square across the water.
“We could go to De Admiraal.”
 Once more it seemed as if the boy hadn’t heard her.
Isa shrugged and started walking to the bridge. Behind her she heard the boy fall in with her rhythm. What an odd boy, she thought. They marched quickly over the cast iron bridge, buffeted by the strong westerly wind, which whistled through the green railings. 
The cobbled square was deserted. Only the statue of Napoleon’s architect Jan Blanken, ledger open on his bronze knees, looked out over the yachts that were moored in the Haaven. Isa peered into the window of De Admiraal. At the back of the restaurant she saw the gas fire lit. Good!

“Come on then, if you’re coming,” she said.
Without waiting for an answer, she stepped over the threshold. She wasn’t quite a regular, but she had been to De Admiraal a couple of times, and liked the quiet modern interior. She tossed her coat onto the coat stand and chose a table near the gas fire. She saw the boy still standing at the door, an unhappy look on his face.