16 July 2008


I woke up relatively easily this morning at 7:15 and hurried to the Academiegebouw. Apparently seventy people had crowded into the little tower yesterday while second thoughts about losing sleep over major third bells kept me in bed, but today only Ted the Aussie and a Dutch lady showed up. Auke de Boer demonstrated the carillon, emphasizing that one must use a light touch to play the little instrument, but I must admit the faint sound of the bells was dreadful inside the playing cabin. Then it was my turn. Without realizing what an suitable repertoire choice I was making, I took out Peter Vermeersch’s Bellbook nr. 2. Auke seemed immensely pleased—its requisite fleet, light touch and modern sound aesthetic made it perfect, in his opinion, for the instrument. I took to the ladders (not meant for any human however, only monkeys) and climbed into to the belfry, where to my surprise the bells sounded perfectly pleasant. Distance seems to make them ugly.

Afterwards Auke and I spoke at some length and discovered that our lives met at many intersections. Just three years ago, he had played a summer concert in Rochester, and still prizes his old LP of the Eastman Brass as one of the best brass recordings he owns. He plays the organ and a brass instrument as well, and has a repertoire of about twenty pieces for horn and organ that he used to play with one of the hornists of the Concertgebouw. Even more strangely, he knows Rudy Zuiderveld of Middelburg infamy. John Brombaugh based a few of his stops for Rudy’s organ on an organ that Auke either plays or is close to.

Apparently Auke has recorded his carillon with brass ensemble – this will be very interesting evidence for my business proposal, which is still valuable to me even if it didn’t merit acknowledgement of receipt. I will need to order the CD from abroad from the RuG Winkel.

My stay in Groningen is confirming my lessons in Middelburg. Go to the Netherlands (or New Zealand, I suppose), and you’ll make all manner of new friends within in the week. Live in Flanders for a year and you’ll be lucky to feel comfortable keeping in touch with anybody. I hope to keep in touch with Auke and other Dutch folks I've met and to see them again in the States. Perhaps Berkeley will host more guest carillonneurs, as was done for Winsemius in 2004. I know it would take a huge budget as there’s no Cali concert circuit, but even one guest would surely be worth the expenditure.

We proceeded to the Bellfoundry Museum in Heiligerlee, where the new Scandinavian traveling carillon was stationed for the evaluation of the membership. Despite the surprising fear of heights and terror of my public debut for 2008 on a non-American keyboard that the contraption inspired, I felt out the World Standard Keyboard with Geert’s Evening Meditation and found it a very odd fit. My performance was less than ideal, yet amusingly enough, Eddy asked the name and composer of the piece afterwards, and Frans Haagen invited me to give a recital in Almelo next Saturday.

Afterwards I shared a good laugh with Hylke and Vegar popping out of the bell moulds in the museum garden (I could fit myself in entirely) and chatting about Vegar’s new iPhone--I hadn't realized the iPhone had until now been unavailable in Europe. In the museum shop I discovered a van Bergen booklet about its exhibition at the World’s Fair in Chicago, truly a gem of a discovery for my most recent research.

We were entertained next with an organ and vocal concert in Appingedam by Adolph Rots and his wife, followed by Geoff Armitage reciting all sorts of facts Koen Cosaert and André Lehr had already emblazoned on my mind. I went in search of a salon in the quaint city centre, realizing too late that one stood virtually across from the church. I managed to get my hair washed and conditioned, but cut the blowdrying short only to discover that the Walloon artist had played a 50-minute concert for his 30-minute timeslot and that Jan was just beginning. It was better that I heard him—my hair still looked far better after the shampooing and drying in the sun, and didn’t even poof up. Mysterious good luck or defiance of nature?

My bus buddies over the course of the day were numerous—Bauke, Erica, Janno, Hylke, Koen van Assche. Yet somehow Phyllis managed to reserve me for her table with her granddaughter, whom she hopes will consider Yale, as well as UF student Ben, and Arendt and his wife, who was extremely urgent about nobody cutting Ben and me in line for dessert. I roved amongst the other tables as my charge seemed indifferent about Yale and responded “I don’t know” to most of my leading questions (and even my non-questions); I don't know which of us was more frustrated, really. And who cares--for a buffet feast was laid before us, with piles of herring, fish grilled before your eyes, salad, cheese, fruit, and desserts of all kinds, most of which I took care to sample. For my social rounds I went first to the British table (to which Trevor commented “So this is the rabble table!” as he passed, to my heated objections) where the (Loughborough?) carillonneur reminded me of our Elgar correspondence. I then made my way to the American table, where our GCNA president recounted my Langlais story to Janet, Todd and I snuggled up for our scandalous “traditional photo,” and Carol, the unexpected recipient of a 5 EUR cordial, waved “Goodbye butterfly!” as I left to be re-interviewed for the Congress DVD, perhaps hoping to nurture a life-of-the-party successor.

The real highlight, however, was introducing Sinnika and Min Jin to each other—the two lone (women!) carillonneurs of their respective countries. How good it feels to introduce two people, see them connect intensely, and suddenly realize you no longer exist for them—something I imagine Margo would do.

I was late for my chat with Andrew, but fortunately he was also late due to the bus. As my laptop wouldn't connect to the wireless network, Hylke installed Skype for me on his laptop, which we discovered had a built-in mic. After Andrew hung up (perhaps disquieted at the voice commenting and laughing in the background), Hylke showed me his websites for his choir and Rosemarie, as well as photos of his brother’s mansion in Aberdeen. I left at a quarter to one... a lovely way to end my last congress day.

12 July 2008


The shower is going and I don’t know how to turn it off. Curious about how to start it, I had pressed the little red button on the 70’s-era coin machine without inserting any coins and nevertheless water started splashing, first dismayingly cold, then warming up and going... and flowing... and going. As I had no designs on a shower, I started blogging to wait it out, hopefully before someone else arrived. To my chagrin, two German girls strolled in shortly before it stopped.

I’d been amused when the Hungarian girls compared the Stayokay Zeeburg to a hotel, but this hostel shows that they were right. Besides the modestly attractive lobby, the Simplon Jongeren is spartan. Even the ‘Clouds’ painting by Margreet Ubels sprawling across the gridded ceiling doesn’t soften the barrenness. In contrast to what the shorter Hungarian girl noted was a “good view” (of a young man undressing in another window) from our Stayokay room, this hostel has a view of a wannabe construction site and an unphotogenic industrial roof.

I should have been grateful for my Japanese and Korean roommates. Quiet as they were, they were unquestionably preferable to the obnoxious Dutch girls who just walked in chatting at the top of their lungs. Their nasal accent is even more grating. They casually butt into the German girls’ low-voiced but animated conversation, but stay away from me.

When it comes to hostels, you get what you pay for – roommates included. Those Japanese girls though, they were a riot. They had both brought heavy pieces of luggage filled with hairdryers and heaven knows what; they spent egregious amounts of time patting their smiling faces with makeup; unfortunately they took showers barefoot and probably won’t last for long without athlete’s foot. Although they came from the same time zone as the Korean girl, they went to bed early while she went to bed late. One of them locked herself out while putting the bedclothes outside. Never a dull moment with them around.

The Hungarian girls, friends since kindergarten in Budapest, were the friendliest folk I’d ever met in a hostel. I need to visit Budapest. And I should have invited them to visit me in the Bay Area, as one of them loves SF and is starting at UT Austin. My mind is clearly still on vacation.

As a college town, Groningen is lively for its size. Gezellig restaurants and bars buzz along the streets leading from the hostel to the Grote Markt, and my American sensibilities noted two cozy cafes serving frozen coffee and good tea. There is a sizable shopping district, much of it standard chain stores which are relieved by interesting businesses such as a surprisingly run-down Bijenkorf, upscale Dutch boutiques (ick), and specialized bicycle shops. Passing the open-air markets, including a mouth-watering fish market, I reached the Aa-kerk—The famed Aa-kerk with its Schnitger-orgel!—and made a mental note to return for a musical pilgrimage. To my surprise, the church was open late—for an exhibition of contemporary art, all of which was available on loan! A female DJ was spinning; perhaps this was an exhibition opening as people were lingering at tables drinking and crunching on bar snacks. What a strange sensation to walk into my holy Aa-kerk to be met by large-scale photographic portraiture of black gangsters from Amsterdam (clad in American ghetto), this female DJ, and the organ nowhere in sight. Perhaps Groningen is my type of city, to a degree. Perhaps it is only my accommodations that feel bleak.

The clash of old and new, secular and sacred entertains me here. Beyond the Aa-kerk stands the grand Korenbeurs, a historic monolith flanked by two impressive statues. It now houses one of the omnipresent Albert Heijn supermarkets.

There is a little Chinatown a block away from the hostel. It can’t comprise more than ten or so businesses, but it is there nevertheless, with even a Chinese salon. I had dinner in a very nice combination Chinese-Thai restaurant with white table cloths and tall red candles. The cross-influences amuse the knowledgeable eye to no end – Thai art suspended beside upscale Chinese kitsch, and my Buddha vegetable dish served on a warmed “rice table” tray heated by candles. I was one of only two parties there for dinner on that Saturday night. I hope the restaurant does brisker business on other nights; I can’t imagine how it could survive otherwise. The food was fine, and the check came with the largest mint I had ever seen; certainly larger than a quarter. I folded my chopstick wrapper into a caterpillar and set him there feeding on it before I left. A terribly good value for 8 EUR. This is the Netherlands after all.

It’s a small world, running into Boudewijn on my second day in Amsterdam and John Courter on my third. But in Groningen I feel alone. I hope tomorrow that feeling will be dispelled. I also have an interesting breakfast to look forward to. Returning to the organic foods store, I pored over the cereal shelf and bought the highest-fiber package I could find, only to discover at the hostel that it was a rough, powdery substance that would form a paste in milk. Yum. A subsequent trip to Albert Heijn scored a more reassuring box of All-Bran.

I need to stop going to the Netherlands. Especially with $3,000 from Berkeley for the next two years, I should be able to get myself to Scandinavia for a concert tour. Of course I had a delightful time in Amsterdam and am charmed to a certain degree by Groningenas well, but I know the type. I need new horizons. Germany needs to be in those plans too somewhere. My other head will surely show me a good time in München.

My days here are long because the sun goes down late at this northern latitude. At 9:07 pm, golden sun suddenly floods the room and we all turn our heads to see what has changed. The shower is silent.

11 July 2008

Amsterdam nº2

I made good use of my second day in Amsterdam. First I wandered through the Anne Frank House (I should have known that Anne’s original diary was in Dutch!), bare of furniture the way it was when the prisoners were taken away and all the furniture confiscated. Echoes of Corrie Ten Boom seemed to resonate throughout the house and Anne’s story. The depth of thought she expressed in her diary shocked even her father. “I can only conclude that parents do not know their children as well as they think,” he tells us in a video. Most touching of all, earlier in the year of her death, Anne learned that diaries and correspondences would be collected and archived after the war. She set about revising her diary letters to the imaginary “Kitty,” but she could never have imagined how the world would come to love her in so many languages. The world gave her little, but she gave us so much as the voice of her people. The last time we know of her being seen in a concentration camp, she believed she was all alone in the world. Her friend, speaking to her across the fence, brought a care package of trinkets to give her something to live for. A woman caught the package as it flew over the fence and rushed away with it. A second package did reach Anne, and that was the last time that this particular friend saw her.

After this haunting affair, I decided it was time to indulge and had my first Hollandse nieuwe broodje of the year at a stand at the foot of the Westerkerk. The frieten from the next stand were the worst I’d ever had, but the broodje was satisfying psychologically and physically. A carillonneur who was rather in need of more training made music to accompany my tiny feast. Afterwards I set out in search of a post office marked on my map, only to find that all local post offices had been inexplicably shut down. This led me back to the Singel, where I saw Boudewijn strolling down the sidewalk speaking to a young woman. People tell me he knows everybody, so one cannot assume she was a carillonneur. Small world here – even in Belgium I never ran into people I knew.

With little time left, I hurried through Mango in the magnificent historic shopping center, then skipped the alluring photography exhibits at Huis Marseille and Stadsarchief in favor of ARCAM. However, I made my roundabout way there via the Stedelijk Museum CS. This allowed me to take more photos at the same underpass as in 2005, realizing later in the SMCS that I could cleverly revise their titles to “Vers Un Nouveau Stedelijk Museum” from my old “Towards the Stedelijk.” Despite the promise of its wild undulating exterior, the free-entry ARCAM offered only one exhibition room, but plenty of architectural biking tour maps to make my mouth water. The text of the captions was typically tiny; attractive but hardly functional for sore eyes. I made a 15-minute run through the SMCS (my Museumkaart is still good for a few days yet) afterward and was glad for it, as the museum is closing in October for the one-year return to its old living quarters, version 2. I wish they sold copies of their posters with the crossed-out names of RIETVELD, MONDRIAAN and so on over the names of lesser known contemporary artists, in reference to the collection on display—the climate control of the old Post CS isn’t precise enough for the exhibition of their most renowned masterpieces.

Hurrying out of the Stedelijk Museum, I rushed in my flipflops to, up, and down the dock behind the station for half an hour until my knees began to complain. As it turned out, the Pannenkoekboot departed from Amsterdam Noord, which is across the Ij. I had forgotten how bad the Dutch are at giving directions, even those who work for tourist enterprises. So I took the free commuter ferry in order to sightsee, and boy did I get an eyeful of new architecture and a magnificent industrial area further south. A rainbow Greenpeace boat partially powered by an aggressive-sounding windmill was docked for the festivities that night, but I wanted to catch Andrew on Skype and go to bed early and so returned for dinner at one of the pannenkoek places on the way from the Dam to the Westerkerk to satisfy my protesting pannenkoek appetite. My stomach declared victory after a couple of poffertjes for dessert.

Jazz at the venerable Concertgebouw put me to sleep, so I slipped out during intermission, made reservations for my final day in Europe at the Stayokay Vondelpark, took note of the nearby Wagamama for a late-night dessert after Gouda, and headed back to the hostel. Thankfully, I was able to video chat with Andrew, and FON.com continued to work in my room just for Gmail. What a luxury, to have free wireless Gmail in your hostel room! I like the FON concept, although I don’t know how workable it is. Seems that there are quite a few hotspots in Groningen, including a cafe. Definitely worth testing.

Amsterdam is no less under construction than it was when I came for the second time with the Yale Guild. The magnificent Central Station is still an unsightly mess, the SMCS is still in the unclimate-controlled Post CS, and the Rijksmuseum is still under renovation. Things move slowly around here. The results had better be good, because I will end up back here soon.

10 July 2008

Amsterdam nº1

The first half-day in a new country is a foregone conclusion. You will waste your time figuring things out, no matter how confident you are. I failed to prepare myself mentally for this fact, despite the foreboding location of my hostel in the boonies of Amsterdam.

After finally settling into my lofted dorm room in the Stayokay Zeebrugge (having been let in during lockout by a sweet Asian housekeeper), I hopped the 22 bus to the opposite end of the line at Museum Het Schip and savored the creativity of Amsterdamse School architecture. Pumpkin soup, a tomato-basil sandwich, and a cup of tea kept me going through the utter exhaustion and the damp of the overcast day. After wandering through the furnished exhibition apartment and exhibit (learning along the way that the Amsterdamse School’s official organ dedicated an issue to Frank Lloyd Wright—makes total sense), I made my way to FOAM and discovered Adama Bamba, an African photographer who promised to open a new world to me, although his work was only visible in the brochure. I was also lucky enough to attend an exhibition opening on the first floor, and felt an extra rush of artsy-fartsiness as a result.

By the time I was through with feeling artsy (and woefully underdressed, especially when trying to prevent my ginormous EMS backpack from smacking fellow art lovers in the crowded halls), the rest of the (legit) museums had closed, so I bought a new SIM card and then allowed myself to be pulled into De Slegte, where I purchased two carillon-related books, although I found nothing particularly drool-worthy in the photography or A+A sections, and then into ZARA—the four-story ZARA on the winkelstraat. Boy did I make a killing in there. I certainly could have stayed and bought more, but fortunately I ushered myself out in time to stave off sartorial disaster. I doubt my luggage could have fit much more for the rest of the trip. It’s terribly irksome that after all the trouble I went to tracking down an affordable product, I forgot to bring my vacuum-packing bags with me for the return trip.

By accident (or perhaps because it’s the only authentic and cheap Cantonese restaurant in the area), I ended up at dinnertime at the same joint at which Ingrid and I had gone two years ago when I was dreadfully ill and needed to live on a diet of jook. The food was authentic, but only when I strolled out the door did I discover that the next place was an affordable and appetizing fusion restaurant. Next time. I had to end my long, long flip-flop walk somewhere.

Asian food (as well as Mexican and Argentinean) is quite a delicacy here, although it’s usually considered cheap cuisine in the US. Curious.

To my delight, my roommates from Budapest were extremely friendly. Perhaps Hungarians look more mature than their age compared to your average American, because I assumed they were nearly my age. They were in fact starting college in the fall, and marveled at my independence and achievements at the age of twenty-five. I didn’t know whether to feel like a proud woman role model or an old fogie.