Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Diploma ABC (Nederland = Waterland)

And in every region
the voice of the water,
telling of endless disaster,
is heard and feared
(by Marsman)

Photo: Bram Pater

In the very cold night of 31st January 1953 a storm caused by the Northwestern wind elevated the tides on the North Atlantic see to a high record breaking the dikes in the province of Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands and causing a disastrous flood. Lots of victims were made in England, in Belgium, in Germany and specially in Holland. A total of 1836 Dutch citizens died and more than 100.000 had to be evacuated. The damage to the infrastructure, cattle and buildings was enormous.
Map above: areas affected during the 1953 floods

You can see some 24 images about this tragedy clicking here.

After the 1953 disaster there were lots of important consequences and improvements for the nation, such as the Delta Project (enormous dykes and sluices that are a tourist attraction and which Dutch hosts produly show visitors from abroad).

"Yet, every Dutch heart still misses a beat when, with a storm on the way, the radio news announces limited dyke surveillance. "
the extract above is from the book "The Low Sky, Understanding the Dutch (The book that makes the Netherlands familiar)"; by Han van Der Horst, chapter II "Utilitarian", page 99. One of my ever favourite books about the Netherlands.

A very beautiful Dutch film made in 2009 is De Storm, a fictional story within the historical context of the 1953 flood. Plot: when her farmhouse is destroyed by the flood, teenage mother Julia gets separated from her baby boy, whom she kept hidden in a box. She is saved from drowning by a young air force lieutenant, who agrees to go help looking for Julia's little son. A near-hopeless quest ensues. If you wish to know more about the 1953 flood tragedy and this important part of Dutch history then I highly recommend you to watch this film.
I have mentioned before in this blog that I live in a village with lots and lots of islands, and children use to swim in the canals during spring and summer time. My oldest child was always attracted to water, boats, bridges and that makes me VERY nervous. Even when we are with him in the swimming pools of hotels or my parent's swimming pool in Brazil my heart misses a beat (or two).

Up to last year, everytime I used to invite a child to play with my son the mother asked me whether I lived "nearby water" and informed me that her son "...didn't have the diploma A yet". I informed that no, I didn't live near a body of water and... what is this story of diplomas ? "It is a swimming certificate. He cannot swim properly yet", they added.


Since last year, for his own protection and survival my son has been busy with an intensive swimming course in Haarlem. Finally last weekend he had an exam in an olympic swimming pool and was approved. The kids had to spring "like a pencil" into the water, go through a hole in a plastic under water, float for 15seconds, and swim 50m with the four styles... actually a pretty long list of things to be performed and focused on survival in water. The kids must also swim wearing clothes (a t-shirt, bermudas and plastic shoes) for a part of the test. I've read that the rules for the acquisiton of diplomas B and C are even more difficult and the kids must swim in a more refined way. Not only that, the kids must swim with long sleeves, trousers and shoes for diploma B and thick winter clothes and shoes for diploma C.

During the exam last weekend one could feel the anxiety and happiness of the parents watching their kids. At the end, all of them were called to receive their diplomas. The coaches then put some loud music on and started to clap hands while walking cheerfully around the swimming pool with the kids, hands up in the air, singing the following song:

Opa, oma ik heb mijn diploma
Papa, mama kijk ik heb mijn A
Broertje, zusje krig ik nou een kusje ?
Ik heb mijn diploma
Hieperdepiep Hoera !

And let's go for diploma B and C !!! Then my child is going to be super safe in water and I will be more relaxed. My second child is also going to start swimming lessons as soon as she becomes 5.

Then my heart will not miss a beat.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Johan Cruijff's wisdom # 2 [Cruijffiaans]

If you live in Holland, you should be acquainted with some brilliant sayings from Johan Cruijff. Another pearl of wisdom that is well known by the Dutch is Cruijff's solution for the traffic jams problems: "People should drive faster. Like that they are quicker out of the highway, and then there is a reduction of traffic jams. "
"Mensen moeten harder gaan rijden, dan zijn ze sneller van de weg, dus zijn er minder files."

Se você vive na Holanda, vai acabar mais cedo ou mais tarde aprendendo algumas idéias brilhantes do jogador Johan Cruijff. Uma pérola de sabedoria bem conhecida entre os holandeses e' a solução que o Cruijff apresenta para terminar com os engarrafamentos: "As pessoas tem que acelerar mais quando dirigem. Assim saem rápido das estradas e reduzimos os engarrafamentos."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lack of Space # 2 [Falta de Espaço]

Remember this post I wrote in June last year ? The lack of space has always pushed the Dutch into developing creative solutions. Are you living in a flat in Amsterdam and missing a garden ? No problem ! You still can use the space outside your windows... Herbs, plants and flowers share space with water and nuts for the birds.

Em junho de 2009 eu escrevi um post sobre a falta de espaço na Holanda. Agora me deparei com esse jardim do lado de fora de um apartamento em Amsterdam. Não sei se e’ ou não permitido pela prefeitura ou pela administração do prédio. O fato e’ que existe um verdadeiro jardim de plantas, flores e ervas, alem de água, semente e nozes para os passarinhos.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tulip Vases (Tulpvaas)

The last weeks in the supermarket Albert Heijn I have noted these mini tulip vases above, porcelaine made, very cute. They were firstly being sold at 7,95 euros, then 5,95 euros... and the price is still going down. Interesting how such a symbol of wealth has been transformed into a democratic object.
Tulip vases started to be designed on the XVII century. Tulips were very expensive flowers and deserved a very special vase to be the centerpiece of ostentation in a home. Even without flowers, such vase worked as a symbol of high status and pride for the owners.

The vase had a heart shape and generally 5 to 8 holes for the tulips - and very important: was hand painted in "Delft blue" colour. Another traditional shape was like a pyramid of several layers. Below, some other examples of tradional and contemporary work.

Above: tulip vase Stedelijk Museum in Zwolle, XVIII century.

Above: tulip vase at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague, Delft pattern.

Photo above: contemporary work in clay from artist Fransje van Keulen. To me, it looks like Cretean vases from thousands of years ago ! (But then that's my interpretation, not the author's...)
Above: contemporary interpretation of a tulip vase. Available at several home interior decoration shops in the NL. I have seen it a years ago at Pol's Potten, in Amsterdam and Het Arsenaal in Naarden.
Below: photo taken from a shop in the Prinsengracht right opposite Anne Frank's house museum.

Below: a tulip vase I spotted in a house in Amsterdam South.

Above, a modern variation of a tulip vase according to artists Job Smeets and Nynke Tynangel from Studio Job. It can be admired at the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen.
Vase... or surrealistic sculpture ?
According to Smeets and Tynangel, their work is inpired in the XVII century tulip vases but there are no holes for inserting flowers. Instead of flowers painted in the traditional Delft blue style you can see cockroaches - as symbol for the decline of opulence. After all, everyone nowadays can buy tulips for just some euros. Even in the Dutch supermakets you can find them available. Design for the masses... that's something so Dutch.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Easter Dream

Everything from a banket bakkerij shop, somewhere in North Holland... Small villages have great patisseurs too !

Friday, March 19, 2010

Easter Sweetness

All pics were taken at a shop in Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam.
Easter eyecandies !

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gruitendag [Vegetables & Fruit Day]

At the school of my kid they have gruitendagen on Wednesdays and Fridays.
I 'd better explain it first.
Groente is a Dutch word for vegetables. The plural is groenten.
Fruit is also fruit in English (with a different pronunciation).

Groente + fruit: gruit. From that it was developed the verb gruiten = the act of eating veggies and fruits. Dag means day. Plural is dagen.

Such campaign started last year at his school on Wednesdays: to the parents it was advised they should send their kids favorite fruits or veggies for the 10 o'clock break. And the children were told the importance of eating raw, through stories and music.
My son got tired of bananas, apples, pears and tangerines. Plus: he hates kiwis - for the moment, I hope. Therefore I occasionally take him to the supermarket so that he can point out his preferrences. He said he likes raw carrots (!) and cumcumbers, and cooked corn. Funny enough I am not so fond of raw carrots or bell peppers but probably he has seen other children eating such things. Next week I will try different things and take him again to the supermarket. I have also noticed that some children have a plastic lunch box containing all sorts of fruits mixed and a fork with an adhesive tape attached on the top of the box. Some take fruit mixed with raisins and seeds. VERY good idea.
This year we have two gruiten days. I wouldn't get suprised if next year the school supports the idea for three days. Ideally every child should eat only pieces of fruit/veggie for his/her 10 o'clock break. No cookies, chocolates or cakes anymore. I think this is great incentive to educate the children about good habits cause obesity galore in the world.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fake Cheese [Analoog kaas]

The search for real cheese goes above everything.

It impresses me that a whole new generation of kids are being raised with a preference to the imitation rather to genuine taste. Many Dutch kids tend to prefer a canned tomato soup than a homemade one and instead of fresh fruit juice they prefer lemonade (limonade: concentrated syrup diluted in water in the proportion 1-7). Chicken nuggets do not enter my home because I do not know what they are made of. And yes - I have heard of kids who prefer chicken nuggets to real pieces of chicken. Deli meats ? Nah ! Gimme real meat please.

But I am going to talk about fake cheese in this post. It looks like cheese, it tastes like cheese, it can be cut like cheese, it melts like cheese - but it IS NOT CHEESE. The last years I've noticed that they seem to be everywhere. I have eaten it in Brazil too. In the NL Dutch magazines, sites and TV programmes are talking more and more about it.

Fake cheese - It is called in Dutch analoog kaas or imitatiekaas or nepkaas and it is basically made of vegetable oil (palm oil). It doesn't have to be per se more fattening than real cheese. The problem is that many fast food chains call their fake cheese real "cheese", or it is mixed with real cheese. Or worse: the fake cheese is a mixture of vegetable oil with egg white and/or wheat flour & potato starch. Surely sulfites and chlorine (how unhealthy). In Holland on many labels a fake cheese can be called "feta" or "Edam" or "Gouda" - when in fact it is not. Shame !! I expected the Dutch consumers being more demanding/critical on that, cause they have wonderful cheeses. Most frozen pizzas in Holland are topped with fake cheese, and lots of frozen products (lazagnas, fish with a "cheese" crust, stuffed chicken filet or cordon bleu, cheese souffles, etc.) have fake cheese. Cheese burgers and pizzas in Dutch restaurants also tend to be made with fake cheese as well. Why ? It is much much cheaper and melts down easier. It is legal to use fake cheese and it doesn't have to be reported on the labels. I think cow farmers should be infuriated about that !!

Believe me: the taste of good cheese is worth it.

By the way... if you want to know more about IKNGDGKI (Ik kan niet geloven dat geen kaas is or: "I cannot believe it is not cheese") nor believe in me then I recommend you to go here.

Most girls have are fond of chocolate - that's not my case. Cheese goes far on top of my preference as a snack. Or entree. Or main course. Or as dessert. Italian (Parmesan & mozzarela), French (all of them), Dutch (oud or geiten), Portuguese (coalho), Spanish (manchego), Brazilian (minas & prato) or Greek (feta), mmmm...
Do not mess up - aaargh!! - with my cheese !

Remy knows what real cheese tastes like.