Carnaval 2023

Hello, beautiful Roermond!

Whew! I am still tired! Well not really – but this town throws quite a party! And I’m an introverted, quiet sort of old lady.

There was a celebration here last year but I didn’t connect with it for some reason. This year, though, I thought it was important to get out and experience Carnaval. Who knows what the future will bring? I should grab the opportunity to know more of this beautiful city. And februari 20th was my birthday – my 70th birthday! So yes, I had to participate at least on that day.

We went to the parade, then went home to finish our costumes. After dark, we went back out. We were die ‘kwallen’ in de straat – did you see us? We walked all through the center, but kept coming back to Marktplein, outside De Sjants. It had the best vibe.

We danced, and talked to people, and drank wine, and had a wonderful time! Thank you, Roermond, for happy times and good memories!

Strangers at the door…

Hello, beautiful Roermond!

It’s interesting, being an immigrant. I am old, short, and round – not tall and lean as are so many native Dutch. But I can pass, until I speak and reveal myself as a buitenlander.

My family emigrated to the US from Ireland about 100 years before I was born. They were hungry, and there were few prospects for them in Ireland at that time. My mother told me they were scorned by some Americans when they were getting settled there, called “the dirty Irish”. By the time I was born, those days were long past, and we were as American as anyone could be.

I was given a book on the history of Dutch art for Christmas. The Art of Describing by Svetlana Alpers. (It’s a good book! I recommend it!) The author quotes an Englishman, Thomas Sprat, who was writing a history of the British Royal Society. Sprat compared the Dutch with the English like this: “The English are avers from admitting of new Inventions, and shorter ways of labor, and from naturalizing New-people: Both which are the fatal mistakes that have made the Hollanders exceed us in Riches and Traffic: They receive all Projects and all People, and have few or no Poor.”

Sprat wrote that in 1667. Almost 400 years ago.

I’ve got to know a few people who are first, second, or third generation Dutch citizens. One of them explained the term ‘allochtoon’ to me while we chatted in a coffee shop. We were speaking English – she teaches English in middelbare school, and my Dutch is (still… sigh) too clunky for lively conversation.

A woman sitting near-by interrupted us, asking me “Are you American?” and started a brief side-conversation with me. This new person did not speak at all to the woman I was with, who wears a hijab. Later, we talked about it; she told me she’s frequently snubbed in shops until she speaks and people realize she’s Dutch – then they warm up to her. That cold attitude doesn’t happen every time, of course – but often enough for her to feel it.

Another Dutch woman I talked to yesterday said the same thing. Her grandparents were Surinamese & she’s lived in Roermond her whole life. Yet she often has to explain and defend herself as true Dutch.

Welcoming immigrants is hard. It’s human nature to cling to what’s familiar and reject strangers. It’s hard for individuals when new neighbors have different customs; hard for the gemeenta’s trying to integrate new people, hard for the government to allocate resources. I don’t think there’s any human history that doesn’t discuss friction about assimilation of new-comers, the suspicion that “They’re only here for the hand-out”, that they should go back where they came from. It’s a very common attitude in the US, sadly – a whole nation of immigrants! I don’t understand it.

People move around. It’s what we do. Famines, wars, oppression, plague, drought, poverty – so many reasons to try to get our families to better places, better lives. Humans gather, bicker, separate, re-gather, merge.

The Netherlands has dealt with these challenges for hundreds of years. It’s survived, triumphed, and thrived. It’s one of the things I so admire about this country.

De Omwentelaars

Hello, beautiful Roermond!

Have you heard of de Omwentelaars? It’s an organization of here in the Roermond area, made up of people who are committed to sustainability. They not only hope that the world can be a better place – they work to make it so. And they have fun in the process.

Last year I joined their Kledingruil, or clothing exchange, which is a rotation of people who periodically receive a big bag of clean, good-quality 2nd hand clothes. I think there are seven bags circulating among the members now. When it’s my turn, a bag is dropped off at my house by another member. I can go through it, remove anything I want to keep, add anything I want to share, and then pass the bag on to the next person on the list. It’s quite fun to sort through and try on so many nice, new-to-me outfits in the privacy of my home!

You can read on their FB page about how damaging so called “fast fashion” is, as well as a summary of everything they accomplished in 2022.

De Omwentelaars have activities all year. They bring people together for nature walks, for river clean-ups, to learn about gardening and vegetarian cooking, etc. You can always check their website or FB page to see what is on their agenda.

I admire that they are open and welcoming to everyone, no matter what their level of commitment to sustainability, or to the environment. Everyone starts from somewhere, and the Omwentelaars aim to encourage and educate the community.

Poems and Poets

Hello, Beautiful Roermond!

I like poetry. Of course I’m mostly familiar with poems in English, along with some in French and Spanish. These days, though, I’m reading poems in Dutch. My favorite writer just now is Hans Andreus, the pen-name of Johan Wilhelm van der Zant. Reading the work of Dutch poets is helping me to learn the Dutch language, and teaching me more about Dutch culture. Poetry is also a doorway for me, to the beauty in the Dutch language.

(It’s become hard to say “Dutch” instead of “Nederlands” – it just doesn’t feel right!)

Anyway, the library is offering all of us an opportunity to get to know six contemporary Dutch poets, with guidance from Roermondse poet Meity Völke. Meity won the Turing Gedichtenwedstrijd in 2019. She published her first volume of poems, Aan het licht, in 2020.

Here is the link from the library website for anyone who wants more information about the leesclub.

Also, if you want to know more about Meity’s work, here is a link to see and hear her, reading her poems last year at the Nacht van de Poëzie.

I hope you find a wonderful poem to read, today!

Helaas, I’m in Quarantine…

Hello, beautiful Roermond.

Oh darn…

I have not seen much of you recently because – well, as you see. It is my turn at last. I am vaccinated and boosted (thank you, Nederlands!) so I am not very sick. I am staying home diligently because I don’t want to make anyone else sick.

To pass the time I’ve been watching YouTube videos about The Netherlands. I’ve been watching the Easy Dutch channel; and Dutchies To Be; and Bart de Pau – all Nederlanders. Also Josephine Ogugua from Nigeria, and Matthew Schwarzer from Germany, and Not Just Bikes by Canadian Jason Slaughter. And Expat Ellen from the US; Casey Killmore from Australia, and others.

Then, I have been reading the comments from Nederlanders. They seem so interested in the opinions and experiences of buitenlanders, and how the country is being portrayed to the rest of the world. Their comments are almost always welcoming and encouraging. The Dutch seem so delighted when buitenlanders are happy here.

Often Nederlanders write something like “Not everything is perfect here…” or “There are lots of problems in our country…” They are warning foreigners not to see things too much “through rose colored glasses” as we would say in English.

Of course that is true. There are problems in every land. But I hope the Dutch see that all these foreigners find many wonderful and special things here; so many things that the Dutch can be proud of.

A Visit to the Stadhuis

Each week the Roermond library hosts us buitenlanders for 90 minutes, as we strive to learn Dutch. A couple of weeks ago, we were all invited to visit another beautiful and historic Roermond building. We had the opportunity to tour Roermond City Hall, or more properly het Stadhuis gemeente Roermond.

There were about 25 of us, mostly foreigners with a few Nederlanders. We walked from the library to Marktplein and our tour guide gathered us in front of the building, around the circle that tells the history of the kingdoms for the past thousand years. He explained a little about the buildings, in Dutch of course. And I did understand some of what he said!

Then we entered the building through that stately door. We visited the room where the weddings take place, and pushed the button to signal the carillon to play the wedding march. We visited the council chamber. And we even climbed up into the rafters to see the carillon and the view of the square below, from away up there among the rooftops.

I felt so lucky! A beautiful and historic building. What a great evening!

Walking in the Staad

The car I used to have…

In the US, I had a cute little Smart Car. A car was necessary where I lived. So many kilometers to the grocery store, so many to friends houses or other destinations. The roads were unpleasant for walking, and dangerous for bicycles. The nearest public transportation was about 3 kilometers from my house, and the bus system was not very efficient or pleasant to use.

Let me say that there are some places in the US where it is convenient to live without a car. But those cities are few.

When I came to The Netherlands, I’d already decided not to have a car. The cities here are better organised, and public transportation is a hundred times better. At least.

So now, I walk much more than I used to. To the markets, to the library, to appointments and shopping, to meet friends, or a stroll along the river. I’m not a fast walker, but I get where I’m going eventually.

Roermond is so well laid out for pedestrians. Once I learned to stay off the bike paths, walking here in the city and the nearby areas became such a pleasure. I’m so glad to be healthy, able to walk everywhere, and to enjoy it. I take a wrong turn sometimes in unfamiliar neighborhoods but that’s part of learning my way around.

The guy who followed me…

It’s not always perfect, of course; nothing is. A couple of weeks ago a young man followed me. I noticed him near the Ziekenhuis, and he was behind me all the way to the Hoogvonderen neighborhood. He was tall and fit. He kept me in sight, even taking the same wrong turns I did when I was looking for the address I was going to. Finally, I thought I should do something about him. So I walked around a corner and stepped into some shrubs. When he came jogging around the corner I stepped out and snapped his picture. We had an argument when I refused to delete his picture, and when I called the police, he walked away.

The incident doesn’t worry me and hasn’t stopped me from walking everywhere. And it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying those walks and being so glad to be walking here in Beautiful Roermond.

My First Kings Day!

Hello, Beautiful Roermond!

I’ve been quiet for several weeks. Do you ever feel that the internet is a noisy place? So many people and organisations, all screaming for attention. I feel like that. Sometimes it seems better to just be quiet. But that’s also a bit rude, isn’t it? So I will overcome my urge to stay quiet in a corner.

Also, doesn’t it seem that I’m always saying the same thing over and over? “Wow, everything here is just great!” Maybe yes, I do that a little bit; and I’m going to do it again.

We went to Maastricht for Kings Day. I did not expect to see the royal family, and I didn’t – except on the screen in the square. I am short, and I got to Maastricht after the crowd was well established. No way was I going to see over all the tall Dutch people who were there before me!

But it seemed important to be there, together with Nederlanders, celebrating Koningsdag for the first time since 2019. Maastricht is nearby, and is always a wonderful city to visit. It’s so easy to get there by train. It was a beautiful spring day, too. So, off we went.

So, if we didn’t see the royal family, what did we do in Maastricht that day? We saw de Helpoort, and went through the museum there. We passed so many charming stores as we walked, and went into some of them. One was Manu Facta, where we saw beautiful art, jewellery, and clothing made by a group of talented local women. Another was Angels and Heroes with children’s clothes, toys, and books. We listened to music in the square. We danced in the street to the samba drums of amistura. We ate delicious ice cream cones at Gelateria Luna Rossa. We had a great meal at Café Zuid FINALLY, after walking forever trying to find a place that had an empty table.

We walked over 16 km that day. Some of the time we were pressing through crowds standing shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip; other times we were standing in the growing throng at Vrijthof Plaza, or following with or against streams of people in the streets.

Everywhere and always, I felt a sense of easy well-being. People – no; A People – enjoying the day together with their families and friends; enjoying a high quality of life. It’s a very different ambiance from similar crowds in America, in my experience. Better. More peaceful, more secure.

I am happy and thankful that I was able to be there.

An Uninteresting Subject?

Hello, beautiful Roermond!

Things are going along quietly for me these days. I do live a quiet little life – there’s not much interesting to share with you.

For example, here’s an uninteresting subject – cleaning products. I’m getting to know the products here in Roermond. They’re a little different from the things I used before. It’s great that cleaning-strength vinegar is available here! I try to avoid plastic but almost everything seems to come in plastic spray bottles and no large bottles to refill them?

A few months ago, a friend told me about a smart new Dutch company called Pieter Pot. I signed up on their waiting list at first, but now I’ve been ordering from them for a while.

Pieter Pot is a crowd-funded Dutch company that started in 2019 with a mission to get rid of plastic (and other) waste. They purchase in bulk and deliver my orders in recyclable glass containers, which I return when I place my next order. Their prices are comparable to Albert Heijn and Jumbo. Ordering from them REALLY cuts down on waste, especially plastic.

Their food products are great, but I especially love the cleaning products they offer. Laundry soap in a thin sheet – weighs nothing and the box is completely recyclable or biodegradable. Dish soap in a bar – no plastic container! Cleaners in tablet form; put them in a spray bottle and add water – and they work just fine. Cleaners we buy in the store are 90% water – why pay for that? Not to mention the endless flood of plastic bottles.

Pieter Pot also offers personal care products. Toothpaste in tablets. Shampoo, conditioner, and bath soap in bars, without plastic wrapping. Like I said before, these products are mostly water – why should we pay to ship water? Why waste fuel carting heavy loads that are mostly water? And Pieter Pot has toilet paper and paper towels in paper wrap, not plastic. Hooray! That made me so happy!

Another thing I like about Pieter Pot is that their website is easy to use. It’s all in Dutch, of course, so I need to translate a lot (still…sigh). But it’s well designed and easy for a non-tech-talented person like me to use. And one time when I had a small problem their response was immediate, friendly, and thorough.

Now I see that Pieter Pot is negotiating with Albert Heijn so bulk products in re-useable non-plastic containers may be available there soon. That would be just wonderful!

So here in my quiet little life things are going along as usual. Next time maybe I’ll have something more interesting to chat about – we can hope!

Klagen over het weer?

Hello, beautiful Roermond!

I’ve been doing it wrong!

As my Dutch gets better (LANGZAAM!), my kind neighbors and friends try to have small talk with me. The main thing they talk about is the weather.

I don’t think the weather here is at all bad. The American city I used to live near (Portland, Oregon) is well-known for rain and gray skies. Portlanders don’t bother much about the rain, they just go about their business. They think rain is normal, not anything to complain about.

The friendly rain in Roermond feels very much like my old home. (Although it seems to me we’re not getting much rain this winter…)

The internet says Portland has about 156 days of rain (or sometimes snow) each year, and Roermond has 197 days. True, that’s a lot more rainy days…

Anyway, when people make small talk with me in Dutch about bad weather, I always say “Oh, het is niet zo slecht!”

But now I remember people telling me that complaining about the weather is a big part of conversation here. Is it rude to contradict someone by saying the weather is not so bad? Am I hindering the conversation? I’m trying to learn Dutch, so hindering conversation is not good. And being rude to neighbors and friends is very not good.

I guess I’ll have to learn some complaining-about-the-weather Nederlands!