Wednesday, January 28, 2009

flying saucers

One of my grandfathers used to work for the League of Nations (before WWII) and later for the United Nations. This was one of the reasons I wanted to go to this party in NY, because we were promised a tour of the Headquarters. As it happens I all but missed the tour because I was so absorbed in the beauty of Manhattan in snow.

Night fell short after five. I was twenty minutes late and I had to go in alone, everyone else was already inside. First: I could not find the entrance. It was dark. Near the Plaza was an entrance with a glass booth with two guards with fur hats, but they pointed me to the "visitors entrance", so I walked from 42nd to 47th but the entrance there was closed too. Walking back I saw what I had missed before: the stealth entrance! At 46nd a gate was slightly ajar and behind it was a small white tent with two Polish guys with bear hats who checked my passport and pointed me to the building, hidden behind another white tent in the dark grey night. Inside was a security checkpoint like at the airport. Those guys got very agitated when my phone rang. But they let me in, with all my gear.

I didn't really get to see anything, except the General Assembly with all the sea-green chairs. We were on a mezzanine at the back of the room. On the other side was an old guard, maybe he wasn't that old but I couldn't see him very well because we were in the dark, and he seemed very shaky when one of the people of our party gave him a laser pointer to specify what part of the platform he was talking about when he told us about the red, yellow and green time-traffic lights and the story of Fidel Castro who sabotaged the time-keeping of the assembly by wiping his face with a handkerchief which he then "accidentally" dropped over the lights so that he could not be blamed for not knowing when to stop talking, and hogging the stage for a full 45 minutes ... where was I ... stop talking ... well when the guard pointed the laser pointer it was very shaky. He then said that he was an excellent shot, which we all believed. He was probably still nervous from having the pointer aimed at him before they handed it over. That little red dot did look a bit scary in this entourage ...

The guard told us that the President of the US is the second speaker at the annual meeting of the General Assembly each year. Brazil is the first speaker. At the first annual meeting no-one wanted to be the first speaker, until Brazil volunteered. Since then they have been assigned to be the first speaker every year.

My nephew asked if there had ever been any big fights between countries in that room. The guard answered that there were rarely any displays of animosity. Russian President Khrushchev once got angry and beat on the desk with his shoe. This was the most display of violence that ever happened there.

That explains why a collegue of my grandfather had a terrible disdain for the United Nations. He said they were even worse than the League of Nations; an even more effective instrument for whitewashing injustice. It also reminds me of this story, which I am not too proud of:

During WWII the German oppressor fired Jewish officials from government jobs. This was against the Dutch constitution. People can not be denied employment on the grounds of religion or race. The Dutch government were in a predicament: if they did the right thing and protest this injustice, a conflict with the oppressor would arise. A government in conflict has no right to exist, especially in war time. The democratically chosen government would fall and another government would have to be formed to replace it.

My grandfather, then in his role of advisor on international law, advised the council of Secretary Generals then to let it pass, and said that although firing people for their race or their religion would be against the constitution, there is an opening in the law where people can be allowed to be fired from a job if on the grounds of personal feelings their employers and coworkers can not maintain a neutral working relationship. For this advice he was later criticized and praised at the same time, and after the war he became Secretary General of the Peace keeping court.

I am not sure that I agree with the advice my grandfather gave at all, because it seems to imply that racial hatred is an emotion that can justify illegal actions. Some say this is what the United Nations are all about: to cover up conflicts. It has no real power except when it has the goodwill of all parties involved. To obtain this good-will it needs to do concessions. But should it ever be necessary to do concessions to the truth?

Of one thing I am sure: my other grandfather would not have bought it. He would have beat his shoe on the table or worse. And been thrown out the building, or worse...

And then we had drinks, dinner and dancing, and we watched the fireworks that went on in Chinatown a bit further along the river. It was a beautiful night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a most amazing place

P1240027, originally uploaded by thymeline.

Manhattan is a most amazing place. It has a most amazing grace, which is accentuated by the snow and the skaters. I walked from the UN Plaza on 44th street and 1st Avenue to Cherry hill in Central Park. Halfway there my high heeled booties started to feel uncomfortable like I was walking on stilts, so I bought a pair of sneakers, authentic Vans. On my return in the hotel I had grown two big round pink swollen blisters on both my heels, from the sneakers. I couldn't even get into my elegant pumps any more for the party, they hurt so much. Fortunately the booties didn't look al that bad with a dress and I am never taking them off again. My booties, mine mine mine! But I didn't want to throw the Vans in the trash so I got on the return plane laden with shoes. The customs officers must have thought I have a shoe fetish, at least they did not threaten me with import regulations.

Monday, January 26, 2009

tax evasion and airport security

I'm back. It was short but sweet. I failed getting arrested at the airport.

Let me explain: due to increased security regulations international travellers are required to be at least three hours early at the airport. The shuttle that I booked dropped me off four and a half hours before departure time, in order to be able to check in and pass all the security checkppoints and scans and customs procedures. The self-check-in took about five minutes, and so did clearing the security points. I did some duty free shopping.

I am not sure why they call it duty free, if you buy a pack of chewing gum the card tells you the price without tax, but after you agree to pay what the card says, they proceed to calcuate what it is actually going to cost you including tax. I managed to evade the tax twice. The first time was when I bought a PSP game for the superkid with what were then my last 50 dollars. When the clerk calculated the tax, I told him 50 was all I had, so he gave it to me without tax. Out of gratitude I gave him all my change, about 54 cents. Then I found four more dollars. I tried to get two packs of chewing gum, 1.99 each... ex. tax. In the preceding minute and a half I had totally forgotten about the tax again, (honestly! I scare myself. It's probably because I can never remember things that don't make any sense...) and so I got the two for 3.98.

At that point still three hours to spend before boarding. There was a bar. I decided to get a drink on my credit card. At the bar were two Americans from Michigan and another Dutch woman. The Americans were friendly and jovial and engaged us in conversation. They had not voted for Barack Obama. Before long I was in a discussion with one of them about 911, the documentary, and the incredible coincidence of there being a camera man on the spot in a perfect position to catch the first plane flying into the first of the twin towers on film... that same camera man being allowed to enter the burning building with a group of fire fighters... and all of these fire fighters re-emerging from their crazy mission alive, as if in a Disney movie.

He didn't even know there was footage of the first plane hitting the towers. I told him that I believe (a small number of people in) the American government had precise information of where these planes were going to hit, precise enough to get it all on tape and that instead of preventing the attack they made a propaganda movie about it that they used to start the war. I think I shocked him, and a lot of other people around us, by asking him if he thought the American government above betraying their own people. He admitted that he did not think that.

A bit later I realized that had this airport been in ...(pick one...) Morocco, I might not have left it the same day on my scheduled plane.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

View from UN PLaza Hotel

View from UN PLaza Hotel, originally uploaded by thymeline.

This morning I called my cousin, and was told that her husband - my boss - fell and has "broken his back in three places" and that "their children (you know who you are) are all sick" but everything else is fine, she is looking forward to seeing me at the party in the UN headquarters tonight, he is in the shower, he will call me back later.


He is not in a wheelchair! (...)

After the initial shock and calling back an hour later I hear that he slipped on ice and three chips off one of his vertrebrae broke off. It sounds extremely scary and painful, and I sure hope he doesn't fall again, but fortunately not as bad as my first impression!

I must go out now and get myself a pair of pincers (the blow-up mirror in the bathroom tells me I have a beard) and while I am at the drugstore maybe I can get my boss a bandaid for his broken back.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barke Obma

My aunt was here the other day. She is from the north east of the country, where the people have names ending with -ink. Lenferink, Geerdink, Obbelink. If you go a bit further north, all names end with -ma. Burema, Sipkema, Miedema. My aunt told me this: Barack Obama is a descendant of the Fries Jelle Obbema, who went to Africa and had many children by various mothers. One of his sons was Sjoerd-Bark Obbema.

Bark. It's a name.

Barke > Bare (bear)

The fact that my aunt told me this makes me very suspicious. My aunt has always been known among us younger generation as a notorious liar.

"Eating sprouts makes you invisible. Oh look ... I just found this ancient treasure map with burnt edges. That treasure you just found in the hollow tree at the back of the garden is 100 years old. Those are magic cookies, that is why they are still fresh and crispy after sitting a hundred years in a hollow tree. The lemonade too!"

Each summer vacation she wrote us letters on grimy torn paper in weird handwriting, signing them with "Japie Krikkemik, pirate". It took years before we found her out.

Barke Obbema's distant Fries cousin is Lieuwe (from Leeuwe - lion) Obbema, a famous eleven-cities-tour skater, who lived from 1912 to 1999. (Why are there no photos of this person on the internet?) He is also related to a six-fold Frisian champion fierljeppen. They can easily say that, no-one has a clue about those obscure Frisian sports anyway. Besides, Obbema sounds more like from Groningen, the province next to Friesland.

There is a perfectly plausible explanation for the name Bara(c)k.

Obbema/Obma, however... remains a bit of a mystery...

Barke Obma, first Frisian/Grunninger-American President of the United States. That doesn't quite rhyme as well as first African-American President. But one thing is true: he has a great strength in that everybody wants to be part of who he is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

change of plan

OK it looks like a bit of a mess now. But I am not going to do the work myself so that should be ok.

The bath will be in what is currently an in-wall closet...

Monday, January 19, 2009

blue Monday

A new type of Windows virus that does not require any user action is spreading rapidly, turn on your firewalls.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New York New York

(New York, 2004)

Company party. When I arrived it was sunny, smoggy and I hated it. The next day it rained up a storm. Fresh air, marvellous grey clouds, a trip around the island on a tour boat, and I loved it. I fell in love with Manhattan and its beautiful antique technocratic architecture.

Everybody crossed.

The photos are bad, I know. Maybe I am going to be able to take better ones this time, I'm invited to another company party! In New York, we'll be getting a guided tour of the UN building. if I see Ban Ki-moon, I'll have a talk with him about the Gaza business and all, I promise. I love New York :-)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

... ever wonder why they call it that?

(click on the image...)

Rains in Cairns, following tropical cyclone Charlotte.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the Gaza, the Gazprom and the Naftogaz

The superkid has a friend on hyves (a social network like Facebook, but basically Dutch) who seems to log on once a week, read through all his comments - new ones and old ones - and then answers them all. He stops by the superkids hyves page once a week and says "none".

"None" is the answer to the question "how many invites have you" that the superkid asked him a few weeks ago. Of course, this question, like most other questions, could well have a different answer each week so it isn't such a crazy thing to do, if you think about it really really hard... and really really earnestly...

Actually when the superkid asked his question, he was a bit lazy and forgot to type out the last bit of the sentence which was "sent me?". To which the answer was "about twenty". He kept on sending untill one got accepted.

I laughed, but the boy is dead serious I know. I met him once. He and the superkid are class mates. He is in a wheelchair.

Intelligence is a very fluid medium. Now you see it, now you don't. Especially in my child it is evasive. Yesterday I told him to wash his hair. He came out of the bathroom head slightly moist and still as greasy as it was before he went in, so I offered to help him. "Am I a baby?" he asked. Apparently yes! A sixteen year old baby. And then he said: "But head lice like clean hair", and laughed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter has left the building

Brienenoord brug

King Winter has left and his royal white cloak has disappeared with him. Maybe he will be back this season, or maybe he won't return in this decade to give another performance. The world is back to grey. Fortunately we still have our lively skies to entertain us.

uitzicht over de Maas

Click on the image to see where I'm standing, and if you can figure out the direction I am looking in.

Monday, January 12, 2009

windmills on ice

schaatsers in tegenlicht

Holland from a different point of view.

Friese doorlopers

The couple on the right were riding old fashioned wooden "frysians".

Friese doorlopers

Those pictures were taken here. I did about ten kilometers and now have blisters. Not in the usual places, but on my shins! Conclusion, I love the blades but hate the shoes. Not all of them, just the part above the ankle. The actual foot area of the shoe was rather nice, but the red swellings on the sides of my shins somehow spoilt the fun. I have already started taking them apart and plucking out some of the so called "ankle support" aka "ankle torture" filling. Fortunately I will be able to fit these blades on to different shoes.

After making this one (the one I got now, in a hurry, at a discount) Raps has developed a better line, of which I have read many good reviews. This time I will take my time and I have the whole summer to choose the right shoe at leasure. Once I find the perfect shoe, I will also be able to equip it with an inline skate wheel set instead of an ice blade. How good is that!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

the only real skate shop in Holland


On Sunday I ordered skates through the internet. One pair for each of us on different sites. I paid for both straight away. The next day I had an email from one site that the superkids pair had been cancelled and were not available any more. Skates have been sold out in the most common sizes for weeks now. Sizes 37 to 45 are nearly impossible to get. We haven't had a real winter for over a decade, people have not bought skates and shops have not renewed their stocks. Skates are scarce!

From the second shop I heard nothing. On Friday morning I called them and heard they were working on it, they were overloaded, they might get my order out today, I'd receive an email as soon as they sent it off. In the evening I hadn't had an email yet. I called them again. They said yes they did have the skates in stock. If it said on the site they had, they did. Yes they were sure. Who did I think they were? I said I didn't really know, and that was part of the problem. They said best thing was for me come by the shop myself.

So I drove two hours to Zealand and landed in a little shop totally packed with skates, new skates, old skates, futuristic skates, hockey skates, figure skates, speed skates, touring skates, skates shoes, skate blades, complete skates, skates with price tags in old currency. Speed skates with low black leather shoes and "noren" made in Norway. Outside it was freezing -4 C, inside people were sweating, customers were crowding, fitting, discarding, destroying boxes, separating pairs, while one old man was cashing in money and five younger men who looked like they would have liked to be outside riding a marathon on the frozen lakes were jammed together in the small workshop in the back assembling and sharpening skates. At the back of the shop a truck stopped from time to time, dropping off new boxes with shoes and more skates.

The skates that I ordered still needed to be assembled, and so I had two hours to look around and decide that I had made the right choice in the first place, to breathe the hectic dynamic patient enhusiastic confident trusting friendly athmosphere of the shop. I had two cups of coffee with milk and an experience I wouldn't have missed for the world.

The superkid fitted several pairs of hocky skates and found a pair in his size (two sizes bigger than the pair I had ordered that had been cancelled) and which he liked (at least when there wasn't any ice under them yet, he liked them a lot).

When we left the shop it was almost too dark too go skating other than a brief taste of the new skates. We will have to make up some time tomorrow. And the superkid can have a ball wearing his while sitting on the couch watching television, because after tomorrow, we are expecting thaw... but at least next "winter", (in a few years maybe), we will be prepared!

new skates :-)
new skates ...

Click on the image to get a better look at the skates

Saturday, January 10, 2009

follow the signs


Yesterday we had a mist. Today it is like the mist froze and fell down on the earth.This is not snow. Everything is covered under a thin white layer of frozen ice crystals from water that condensed out of the air. I am not sure what the English term is, it could be flash frost.

The swans were a little tense about us approaching their territory. The male did a show. He need not have worried, I wasn't too keen on getting any closer either.

Schaatsen 017-1

Friday, January 9, 2009

ice flowers

ice flowers
Ice flowers on the inside of my windscreen

Thursday, January 8, 2009

graffiti addiction

Yes, I do. Work. Occasionally. If I have to.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

chilblains or moonboots

No but seriously, you will be so kind as to notice the ENORMOUS MASS of snow I am combatting with these moonboots?

By the way my legs are not really that short.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Video of me doing taxes

Video of how I spent my morning

Monday, January 5, 2009

back to school - or not

As it turns out he has another day free.

He said; "See, mom, I thought so, vacation never ends on a Monday."

It's true, his vacations often end on a Tuesday. But it didn't say in the book, how am I supposed to know?! Fortunately I didn't have anything planned. At least we got to practise getting up early. And ouf, it hurt!

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Resuming: The father of the superkid turned up with a pair of speedskates. The superkid was less than thrilled. Naturally I protected him fiercely against the tormentor whom I told to begone and get a refund on the skates. Then I started thinking and I had a look online. After much hesitating and salivating I only bought us one pair each (those for him and those for me), but that was just because the figure skates that I liked were sold out in my size. Besides, I don't really do elegant figures anyway.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

spring is in the air, summer is near

Hey I'm allowed to dream, aren't I?


Friday, January 2, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009