Moving

Stillness (Or: The reopening of libraries across The Netherlands)

During the national press conference on 6 May, Prime Minister Rutte said that libraries would be able to re-open from 11 May provided visitors follow social distancing rules and limit the number of visitors at one time. This was welcome news since the original ruling was that libraries would be closed until (at least) 25 May.

The Hague libraries are now open under the following rules: you can lend books, pick up reservations and get help at the customer service desk. However, you can’t work or study at the library, you can’t use the computers or printers and the bathroom facilities are closed. Last week the central library in the city centre was also only open for returning books and picking up (existing) reservations, unlike other branches which were immediately open for lending books as well. However, since this week it is also possible to lend books at the central library. I visited on Tuesday to turn in the four books I had and to check out more.

If you’re just there to return books or DVDs, you can actually turn them in outside. I don’t have a photo of it, but you actually turn them in by placing them in a large garbage container (Oh, the horror! putting books in a garbage container! It’s obviously clean, though.) The books are then kept in the container for three days before they are disinfected as much as possible and returned to circulation. On the fourth day you can check and make sure that the books disappeared from your account. Which means I can check my account on Saturday to make sure they are gone.

If you want to check out books, you can get into line to go inside. While practicing social distancing of course. You enter through the side door, which is normally used for patrons who can’t enter through the revolving door. When you exit you do use the revolving door to leave.

But very cool: when you enter you get a huge bookmark. That’s how the library is able to control how many patrons are inside. I love the theming.

The giant bookmark says: Welcome, we are happy to see you! Our doors are opened for limited services. Please return this bookmark (boekenlegger) when you leave the library.

I checked out two books which have been on my to read list for a long time: Oracle Night by Paul Auster in English and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King in Dutch. They have been on my to read list since September and December 2018 respectively.

I was pretty impressed by everything that the library staff had done to prepare for the re-opening – there were signs everywhere. I wasn’t prepared for how quiet everything was, though. No one studying, no one talking. There were less people using the escalators which meant they were mostly inactive and making less noise. There were people around, of course. But it wasn’t the same.

As noted, studying and using the computers or printers isn’t allowed at the moment so there was a lot of furniture stacked along the sides, covered in caution tape.

I believe this computer was not in use because it is too close to the self-checkout computer shown in the background. These computers are used for searching the library catalog. There were still a few available to use, though.

I must admit part of me wanted to keep the bookmark as a souvenir of these crazy times. I did not, however. You turn it in right before exiting through the revolving doors, handing it over to a staff member who meticulously disinfects it before handing it back to the staff at the entrance. And then the next person is allowed in, happy to check out some new reading material.

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A look at how my mind works (Or: Spoiler–it gets confusing)

So last week you had this article at omroepwest.nl:

The first time I saw this article I translated it as ‘Two men attack each other with knife and cow foot after fight’.

Cow foot? Okay, that’s strange, but that’s what it says: koevoet. Koe for cow, voet for foot. Maybe it was a frozen cow foot from the butcher?

Repeat a few days later when I see the article again: oh, that fight with a knife and a cow foot, okay. I figure it’s really not that, but it’s too fun picturing a man wielding a cow foot so I decide not to consult the translating friend of Google.

Repeat last night, when I see the article again. But this time Marco is around to ask. I let him know I have a “Dutch” question, as I like to put it. I repeat the article title and then translate it to English.

I’m barely finished when he tells me that a koevoet is a crowbar.

Awww. That’s logical…

But a part of me is disappointed none the less. Can’t you picture a man running down the street, screaming and wildly brandishing a frozen cow foot?

I can.

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What do you miss most? (Or: An ode to libraries)

As mentioned in a previous post, the “intelligent lockdown” rules have been extended through 20 May, with a few exceptions for children. Unfortunately this means that The Hague public libraries have extended their closure date through Sunday, 24 May with a hopeful reopening on Monday, 25 May. Good news: the free-even-for-non-members app “ThuisBieb” (Home Library) with around 100 e-books can now be used through 1 June. Read away!

I also mentioned in a previous post that I love the online library service (onlinebibliotheek.nl) and have already used their E-books app for one book, The Traveling Cat Chronicles (review from theguardian.com). I have since moved on to another book, Where’d you go, Bernadette, which is a completely different type of book, and not just because of the subject matter. The book is made up of emails, invoices, memos, letters – written by different characters that know Bernadette. It’s good, although work is a bit more taxing the last few days so I haven’t been reading as much as I could be at night.

Online is good, but there’s something to be said about the feel of printed pages and the random things you find which could loosely be labelled as “bookmarks”. In my case the last “bookmark” I found was a pressed purple flower. Or I think about browsing through the stacks, having a coffee downstairs in the café…

If anyone from the library world is reading this, just know that I’m taking good care of the four books I have in my possession until I can return them again. (And seriously, if I had known I would have checked out another five at least!)

You never know what you miss until you don’t have it anymore. What are you missing because of this current situation?

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Metro newspaper (Or: Another victim of these crazy times)

Metro is a free daily paper that is primarily distributed at train stations to commuters. It was started in 1999. As you might expect, all of their income comes from advertisements.

I was just thinking about them last week – I took a responsible social distancing walk to The Hague Centraal train station and spotted an empty Metro container. I remember thinking to myself that it made sense that there were no newspapers inside – there weren’t any commuters to be seen! The Netherlands has seen a roughly 85% drop in public transportation use since mid-March.

Because of this, the newspaper announced on March 19 (link in Dutch) that they would temporarily be stopping with the print edition of Metro. Yesterday they announced that they would be moving forward as a purely digital newspaper (link in Dutch).

It’s actually hard to imagine that the print version is gone. The best part about the paper was that it was free – because that meant people would leave it behind in the train when they were done reading it. That way the next bored person could have something to read as well!

Empty boxes at Gouda train station, normally filled with newspapers

The (cropped) image above was taken by Wikimedia Commons user Donald_Trung and can be viewed and downloaded at this Wikimedia Commons link.

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Onlinebibliotheek.nl (Or: The library is open! Virtually)

As one might (unfortunately) expect, all of the public libraries in The Hague are closed. Libraries are something you definitely miss when you don’t have them anymore!

Luckily there is a solution to my current problem, and not just reading the handful of books I have lying around the house already, either. E-books can also be downloaded at onlinebibliotheek.nl and read either on your computer, via an app on your phone or tablet, or via your e-reader. You have three weeks to read the book, after which they are removed from your device and you need to download them again. Note: most titles are in Dutch, although there is a bit of English in the mix.

eBooks app – for members with a Dutch library card number or a subscription to onlinebibliotheek.nl. As noted there is a bit of English titles here, but it is mostly Dutch.

LuisterBieb app – audiobooks; for members with a Dutch library card number or a subscription to onlinebibliotheek.nl. A select number are also available for those without a membership.

ThuisBieb app – this app has about 100 titles for adults and 100 titles for children – it’s free for everyone, but everything is in Dutch.

It was really simple to download my first eBook – I simply entered my library card number on the website to make an account, found a book, downloaded the eBooks app, entered my login details one more time, and started reading.

I chose “The traveling cat chronicles” in Dutch, and just finished it last night. It’s a great story about a cat and his owner going on road trips so that the owner can find a new person to take care of his cat. Each chapter features a different road trip and has a flashback about how the owner met each of these friends during his school years. After the flashback, the chapter returns to present times and you move to the cat’s point of view again for the rest of the chapter.

Warning: a box of tissues is a good thing to have around for this one.

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Stuck inside? (Or: Libraries are still the answer)

Similar to the photo I posted yesterday, one of the rotating advertisements on the digital advertisement boards is for onlinebibliotheek.nl.

The advertisement says “If you can’t go outside, you can still bring the world inside, right? … Visit (online) your bookstore or go to onlinebibliotheek.nl”.

Luckily the library here in The Hague says no fines until 13 April due to all of the branches being closed They ask that you hold onto the items you have checked out for now. Like a typical book junkie, I only wish I had realized in advance that all of the library branches would be closed so that I could check out more books in the meantime. I suspect the libraries won’t reopen on 6 April, especially considering the new rules that the Netherlands is taking to enforce social distancing.

Right now I am reading The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, in Dutch. If I am honest with myself, I have plenty to read after that, books that I already own (including Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career by Kevin Rafferty). But there is just something about getting a library book and cracking open the binding for the first time…

Sometimes you get lucky and someone who had the book before leaves a checkout receipt inside or a bookmark or something like that. The last book I checked out from the library had a pressed flower inside that was presumably used as a bookmark. With little purple flowers.

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You'll Never Walk Alone (Or: Played across Europe)

A few minutes ago a lot of radio stations played You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers. The original idea to play it this morning at 08:45 came from the Dutch DJ Sander Hoogendoorn from the radio station 3FM. The idea spread first in The Netherlands, and then to all of Europe. Officially 183 European radio stations signed up to the action (article in Dutch), but even the radio station we were listening to (Arrow Classic Rock) played the song at 08:45.

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

The next song Arrow Classic Rock chose was Everybody Needs Somebody from the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. Go Chicago!

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Palace Gardens (Or: The last embrace of summer?)

The Netherlands is enjoying a last minute fling with summer today, with temperatures over 80F. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but here it is! I decided to take a stroll over to the Palace Gardens, which I’ve already blogged about a few times over the years (2012 and 2016).

Palace Gardens / Paleistuin in The Hague

It was lovely to sit in the sun and just read a book. Today I started a book by Neil Gaiman – The ocean at the end of the lane or De oceaan aan het einde van het pad in Dutch, as that was the language I was reading it in. It’s about a man who goes back to where he lived as a child to attend a funeral. While there he gets lost in his memories of his childhood.

One interesting and unexpected thing was that the book begins with a preface which reads “Ik schrijf in mijn eigen taal. Dat is Engels. Ik ben er erg dol op. Het is een goede, soepel taal, waarin ik kan uitdrukken wat ik te zeggen heb. …” Or, translated: “I write in my own language. That is English. I am very fond of it. It’s a good, flexible language where I can express what I need to say.”

I thought that was quite strange, and wondered if that preface was in every version of the book. But no, he goes on to say that his sister-in-law lives in Utrecht (a city in central Netherlands) and he brings his family to the Netherlands as often as he can to visit. He goes on to say that you don’t need an English/American upbringing to read this book, and since it is now translated into Dutch you can read it too (of course the preface was translated as well, since he doesn’t speak Dutch). Kind of cool.

The only small downside to going to a park to read is that sometimes you can get distracted and not be able to focus on the story. Especially when what you are trying to read isn’t in your native language… When I arrived, I chose a nice sunny bench, at the end to give others plenty of room to also sit down (the benches generally fit three adults). I’m at the far left, with no benches to my left. To my right, there are another three benches, all grouped right next to each other.

After a while, a man sat down on the other end of the bench I was at. No problem at all; he was just watching his kid. About five minutes later a woman sits down next to him, so I promptly and politely moved my backpack to the ground so she definitely had enough room. And then they began to talk. Argh.

Oddly enough, I had no problem when the conversations happening were at the next bench (about five feet away), but one foot away was a bit much. Especially since they were tourists speaking English, which meant hearing one language and reading another. I was pondering my options – 1) suck it up and keep reading 2) go find another bench 3) leave. But after a few minutes they all got up and left. Yay.

So I kept reading, having a personal goal of getting to 100 pages. I did that, and was at page 103 when two more people sat down at “my” bench with a few other folks in their group standing around them. And they began to talk loudly. Arghhhh again. This time I gave up – I was past my goal anyway – put my bookmark in place, stood up and left immediately.

I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much. It is a communal park after all. 🙂

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Pizza dough (Or: Is it really pancakes…?)

Here’s an example of things that can be very confusing for non-native speakers:

So the top blue arrow points to the description Mix voor Pizzabodem or Mix for pizza dough in English. So we’re making pizza…

…but the second blue arrow says that the prepared product will make about 20 pancakes. What? It’s just logical enough that it could work – here’s a Dutch recipe for pizzas made with pancake batter. But still, it doesn’t seem right…

I’ve asked a few Dutchies and they all think it is a typo. What do you think?

Categories: Everyday purchases, Food, Reading | 3 Comments

Wabi Sabi (Or: Reading on a rainy day)

The weather here has been absolutely dreadful. Monday morning I made the mistake of wearing my lighter jacket, not realizing how bad the wind would be. With the windchill, it was about 0C/32F. Brrrr! I made coffee the second I got home, let me tell you. And now it’s Wednesday. The weather is a tiny bit better, but not really. It’s still cold, windy and rainy.

One fun thing to do on days like this is to read. My current Dutch novel is Wabi-Sabi by Francesc Miralles. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy of accepting your imperfections and making the most of your life. But that’s not why I grabbed the book. I grabbed it because it starts with a cat!


One note about the various editions: the Dutch version I am reading seems to be two books in one, totaling around 400 pages. If you’re instead reading it in English, you should look for Love in Lowercase to read the first half. Let me tell you: if the book had that title and this book cover instead I wouldn’t have given it a try. I am not big on romances.

But to me, I just saw the cat. Which is funny, since I am not a big cat person. I tolerate them, of course. I think they are darn cute. I love how soft they feel to the touch. But I don’t really trust that they won’t go berserk at a moment’s notice and claw me for no reason. I love reading about them, though. Also try The Guest Cat by Takeshi Hiraide.

This book is pretty easy to read in Dutch. The font size is big enough (not any of that annoying fine print sized font) and the author has a habit of writing 3-4 page chapters. You won’t hear me complaining about that. I do remember one time I found a book in Dutch online, thinking it would be a great read. I checked it out from the library without opening it until I got home. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the abysmal font size and the lack of paragraph breaks (seriously, I found a page with no paragraph break on either the left OR the right side). That one quickly went back to the library unread.

Anyway: the theme of this book so far is sort of the butterfly effect (an idea that a small change can cause something much bigger to happen). The cat stops by, and ends up staying. Because of that, the main character meets his next door neighbor, ends up going to the vet, sees a love he thought he’d never see again, etc. It’s very enjoyable so far.

Ah, and it’s raining again.

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