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Visiting a beach located on the North Sea in March hardly seems like a good idea, but we’d been given an afternoon reprieve from the rain in The Hague and we thought we should make the most of it.

My companion for this errand is “Doc”, whom I have discovered is my iPod soulmate. We spent the afternoon one-upping each other on WWII cantina songs. I swear, I never thought I would meet a person as into the Andrew Sisters, Mel Torme or Glen Miller as myself.

Reaching the beach from the embassy district in the The Hague is amazingly easy. Both trams and busses make the trip regularly, so pack a 1.6 Euro and you’re all set.

koerhuis1

The beach at Scheveningen is a trip back in time. I mentioned before how the candy-striped awnings of buildings in town reminded me of Newport, Rhode Island circa 1900, well, Scheveningen has that in spades.

A palatial hotel and restaurant, Steigenberger Kurhaus, lords over the mile + long beach and is flanked by an esplanade and board walk housing more shops, restaurants, and bars than one can count. Depsite the wind blowing a steady 30 knots dropping the windchill to about 15 degrees, the beach has hundreds of people milling about, chasing the tides, playing with dogs, and throwing their bags in the air to see how far the wind will take it.

It’s a little too cold and to windy for the Doc and I, so we head out to the covered pier, a half-mile long, double-decked structure that stretches out into the ocean. The pier has small satellite structures featuring a casino, a restaurant, and bungy jumping. In the summer, it is filled with the expected tourist shops, but at this time of year, it’s just hosting bedraggled tourists such as the Doc and I who do not want to brave the cold.

We walk off the pier and head around the other side of the Kurhaus to have a look. It looks swank. We, decidedly, do not. But we’re going in anyway. The worst, to our thinking, is that we’re kicked out for a dress code violation, but that is certainly enough time to snap some pictures before we receive the boot.

011_galerij_imagesThe interior of this hotel is amazing and we have only just hit the lobby. I can imagine that a night in a beach side room will set you back a month’s mortgage payment. No one seems to care that two women with scary windblown hair are lurking about so we venture forward towards the grand staircase engulfing the room and start climbing.

We reach the top and find ourselves in the grand ballroom. The appointments and general luxury remind me of the movie Titanic. Doc is snapping pictures and I am turning circles to take it all in.

Behind me, above the staircase, is wall painted to look like a movie screen. Pictures of the hotel and guests from over a hundred years ago are projected from where, I don’t know. Directly under this “screen” is a grand piano where a woman is quietly playing standards.

Doc and I note a bar in the far end of the room. We scamper over to have a drink and spy on the diners. From this vantage point, we can see the entire room. In my walking shoes, sandy jeans, and winter jacket, I more than feel out of place.

We order the house wine, 9 Euro yikes!, and an appetizer of bitterballen which will serve as dinner. Bitterballen is a Dutch “meat-based” snack of what I am assuming is meat-byproducts, flour, and broth, rolled together and fried. You usually receive either mustard of mayonnaise (the Dutch eat a tremendous amount mayo), and when we initially ask what is in the appetizer, the waiter replies “you don’t want to know”. I take this to mean that it is something akin to the American hot dog, so I go for it and don’t think twice.

We lounge about for a few hours requesting songs of the piano player whom we discover is American. It’s a nice relaxing evening away from our fellow travelers who are no doubt out and about making a nuisance of themselves. We eventually pull ourselves out of our chairs, leave the hotel, and make our way to the tram stop. Not a wild night out, but a pleasant evening nonetheless.

Just like everything else in The Hague, Scheveningen Beach is pleasant, it’s clean, it’s orderly, and it’s nice.

A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian walk into a bar…

No, seriously, they did. Embassy workers and the cheeky lads were kind enough to invite me to dine with them. I played my part of the shocking and bedeviled American and more wine was probably sprayed from laughing than was properly consumed. Not a bad way to enjoy the afternoon.

Welcome to Den Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag….

pict3004Do remember though that you must respect Low Sidewalk and High Sidewalk. High Sidewalk is for walking, Low Sidewalk is for cyclists and you best mind your P’s & Q’s when tress-passing on the Low Sidewalk because the Dutch are armed with bells and they are not afraid to use them.

Next stop: the local grocery store. The Netherlands are damn expensive and eating out will put you back a pretty penny or four so I hit the market and pick up enough food to crowd into the mini-bar when I get back to the hotel. Nothing terribly noteworthy about Dutch grocers except for the staggering variety of dairy products. Takes up nearly a third of the store. A clerk was kind enough to explain the varieties of milk and for what foods they are specifically engineered.

If this entry is disjointed it is because that was my experience. My hair and sleep cycle did not meld with The Hague. It’s all now a bit of a blur due to sleep deprivation and the strange habit I have of viewing a new city through the lens of the last city I visited. Hence, the Netherlands is viewed through Iceland who was viewed through Ireland who was viewed through France who was view through Morocco and so on and etc.

So my summation is this: the Dutch are groovy kind of folk. They like their bikes retro, their cars small, and their dogs breed-neutral. They have a complicated style of dress that only years of study in the areas of architecture and Dadaist art could I then begin the assimilate. They serve a cup of coffee with a cookie which is exactly how life should be.

The Dutch will take the time to tear up an asphalt covered street only to be replaced with brick laid in a herringbone pattern. That’s a lot of brick. That’s a lot of patience.

pict3014The architecture is Baroque on top of Baroque on top of more Baroque with snippets of astounding Art Deco and modern structures. But all building have the same M.O: large windows with, often, no curtains drawn. They suck up as much light as they can during the day and and rarely bother to draw the shades at night allowing for seriously people watching in their natural habitat. When asked about this, a local store clerk informed me that Dutch people did not assume the worst of people as Americans clearly do.

Attached to these large windows, however, are retracted candy-colored striped awnings just begging to spring out. The most common color are white and orange which I can imagine make the place reminiscent of Newport, Rhode Island the summers of the early 1900’s where the Astors and the Rockefellers and other Masters of the Universe would keep “summer cottages” (read: massive mansions constructed before the introduction of the income tax). I would actually consider a trip back here just to see these awnings in full glory.

I like these people. Their national color is orange, they’ve adopted mint tea from their citizens of Moroccan descent, they ride their bikes rain or shine, hell, I saw a family of four commute to work on a tandem bike with attached side car. Amazing. This in a city with the best public transport I have ever seen.

The only complaint I can conjure is the weather, well, that and a disturbed hotel-roommate. The weather has either been pissing rain, misting rain, or blowing rain the entire week. The only reprieve was the last day when the sun finally broke through and the temp reached a lovely 50 degrees. Rain however, was not enough to keep me from visiting the beach.

I’ll get into that tomorrow though. Right now, I’m still so jet lagged, I’m ready to call it a night even though it’s only mid-afternoon.

1327009-carla-of-the-antartic-0You know it’s cold outside when your hairdryer decides to break,

And you’re late for class,

So you push a hat down on your bean as you hurry out the door and hope to not get hypothermia,

And the car takes forever to turn over because the engine block it probably frozen,

And you manage to slide a full 15 feet in the school parking lot without falling on your keister,

And you get to class and you pull off your hat and everyone is staring you…

…because your hair is frozen solid.

Wow.

I’m feeling pretty proud to be an American today. Something I haven’t felt in a long time. I wasn’t sure if we as a country had it in ourselves to exit the tunnel of fear, racism, and hatred we have been living in for the last eight years.

We elected a black man to be president. We almost elected a woman to higher office. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had the highest voter turnout ever.

I am verklempt. But I’m holding my head high.

Damn, I love YouTube. Want to find a commercial with a catchy jingle that you remember from when you were a kid? It’s there. Want to see an old cartoon that never made it to DVD? They got it. Want to see an old PSA about eating beans and rice? No problem.

YouTube has grown to be so much more than just a streaming site. It is now like the Master Historian of All Times.

So speaking of culturally significant things, I came across an old favorite song from kid-dom that will now.not.go.away…

In an effort to focus on something positive other than an election I am wary of, a financial crisis that enrages me, and the massive frustration of life in general, I’ve been indulging in some escapism. Now I have to admit up front that the book I’m going to go on and on about was written by a friend of long standing. However, as said friend can attest, had the book sucked, I would have told him so and would be writing a completely different entry right now warning all of you of the soul-crushing properties the novel contains. Fortunately, in the most simplified terms, the book rocks.

When I was a kid, my favorite stories hadda-kinda scare the crap out of me while humoring me at the same time. In the books and films I loved most, the adults were silly, slightly deranged, and gleefully endangered the lives of children who were serious and often more mature. Aside from inspiring a sense of wonder about the world, they also taught me to be wary of it. The movie Fantasia with the axe scene (careful what you wish for), Willy Wonka with the fantastic dispensing of all the annoying brats (everything in moderation), and hell, just about any fairy tale not involving a princess can be added to the list. Hansel and Gretel being my favorite, mostly because I believe the witch got a bad rap. If two little porkers came around eating my dream house of candy, you can be damn sure I’d be tossing their heaving fannies into the oven.

The unfortunate part of growing older though, lies in that fact that most escapist fiction for the older audience tends to be written from a science fiction perspective. Consequently, escapist fiction for kids tends to be rather insipid. Science fiction certainly has it’s place, but when I really want to escape from the world at large, I want straight up fantasy, no hi-tech gadgetry need apply, thanks. Lemony Snicket picked up the mantle with his “Series of Unfortunate Events” that appealed to all ages, but since the saga has ended, I have been left wanting. That is until now.

James Kennedy wrote “The Order of Odd Fish” some time ago. I remember when he emailed it to me after Sailor and I first moved to Maine. I spent a fantastic few days lying on my deck overlooking the graveyard with crows flying about reading of the trial and tribulations of Jo Laurouche in the alternate universe of Eldritch City. Rightly, the book was published and released in August.

I of course read it again, this time in proper binding, and was amazed the second time around at small nuances I had somehow missed before. I’ve read the book two more times since then picking out words and phrases that I know Kennedy has been fermenting in that noggin of his since high school. You got that, Kennedy? 2 MORE TIMES! What am I doing? You don’t even read this blog.

I’m not going to even bother trying to explain the plot, so instead I shall list all the things you don’t want to miss:

1. A Russian colonel who lives his life by his intuitive digestive system.

2. Sub-villain Ken Kiang, whom I always picture as Wyle E. Coyote with his “Superior Genius” whenever he appears.

3. The Belgian Prankster. THE BELGIAN PRANKSTER!. In a world of Osama Bin Laden and al’Qaeda, I find this super-villain name particularly enjoyable.

4. The telling of the history of the The Very Polite War.

5. The all powerful Box of Inconvenience.

But here’s what I love most about the book: it’s so fantastically out there. And I do mean out there. Suspend all disbelief if you plan to get through it. And while this is a novel geared towards young adults, come prepared with your dictionary. Kennedy does not deign to dumb it down for anyone. There’s a strict motto here: you’re along for the ride-all of it-or you’re not along at all.

In short, the book assumes the reader is of a certain amount of intelligence and in this age of micro-attention spans, text message spelling errors, and idiot celebu-tweens, I think it’s a rare joy to find a book that both adult and teen can enjoy for the fantasy and for its devilishly clever humor.

Note to Kennedy: you better get crackin’ on that sequel. I want to know the back story on Lily and Karsokov, and what the hell ever became of the Box of Inconvenience???

For two reasons:

#1: It was freezing last night so I was able to open up all the windows and actually SLEEP!

#2: The US Womens Sabre Team whooped ass and swept the sabre fencing event!!!

Way long time ago, in the before time, back in the “dream time”, I used to be a fencer. I learned as a tike and was often an object of curiosity because no one know what the hell fencing was and why I wanted to do it. I fenced through college and retired after thoroughly trashing my feet after many long years of the sport.

Back in that time, the US was able to produce some decent individual fencers, but never a team of note. I remember pretty regularly getting my butt kicked by Germans, Polish and fairly snotty Italian fencers, all my old teammates of course. And they all said the same thing: Americans will never be a fencing force.

The last few Olympics thought have witnessed the rise of the US fencer, and now that the broads have kicked fanny in Beijing, I find myself emailing all old fencing buddies and going:

NYA-NYA-NA-NA-NYA!!!

It’s a dangerous thing for me to get my hair cut when I’m having a bad day. Add to that bad day frizzy, uncontrollable hair due to weather and general hair styling ineptitude, and voila! I’m begging for a close shave to the scalp.

So it was that day, Saturday, that I plodded into the place where I get my hair cut, basically an in-out shop where cuts are cheap and appointments unnecessary, and the place was jammed. My mane was a tangled mess of usual nastiness and I was rather dismayed that no one was available. I noticed an empty chair at the same time the reception-person mentioned that “C” was available if I was interested. I had no idea who “C” was and I was desperate, so one shit-yeah later and I’m being walked to the back just as “C” is walking out.

“C” is the shop’s lone black stylist. I normally see her only working with the black clientele, and by the look on her face when she saw who was sitting in her chair, I gathered that assessment to be correct.

“C” sighed an “okay, here we go” under her breath and asked what she could do for me. I replied that I would be most grateful if she could just shave my head. This provoked a laugh and off we went. I relayed the long, sad, and troubled history of my hair: red (obviously), wavy (and not in a good way), thick (duh), and too much of it (obviously). I have straightened, permed, dyed and tortured my hair for eons and it simply will not obey. As such, I wish it banished from my existence.

“C” laughs, inspects and pronounces that I’ve been styling my wrong. This, I’ve heard before, but I let her do her thing nonetheless. Only, there’s a snag to my rhetoric this time. This time, someone, “C”, is actually right about my hair.

“C” shows me how to blow dry my hair, how to use the straight iron and and what temperature, what shampoo to use, what ingredients to look for, what conditioner to use, and what styling products to use and not use, and what kind of brush I need. “C” then teased me about being the “whitest, white girl with ‘sister’ hair”, rang me up and sent me along my utterly grateful way.

Normally, this is all yeah, yeah, whatever, but the here’s the thing: my hair has looked awesome 3 washings since Saturday. It’s straight, it’s smooth, it’s shiny like effen gossamer, and it only took half the amount of time to dry (it usually takes a full 45 minutes to dry my damn hair). Humidity? No problem. Ride a bike to work? Hair is still straight by the time I get there.

I’ve blogged before about trying to clean up my beauty routine act, and my hair is always this biggest bump when traveling down that rocky road. How lame is it that it never occurred to me see someone who would specialize in dealing with hair like mine? Doesn’t matter, now, what does matter is results. It’s so insanely stupid to write this, but I do feel like a whole new person.

So thanks a million “C”, you’ve done this “sister” a solid and have got a client for life.

So that this does not come across as a complete non-sequitor, I was driving to MY ISLAND last weekend and I kept humming this tune that I could not place. It bounced around in my noggin driving me effin bonkers all weekend.

It finally occured to me last night what it was: The Faygo Boat Song.

I’m from Detroit and back in the day, we used to drink the hometown brews of Vernors, Town Club and Faygo. Faygo released this utterly fantastic commercial way back complete with the a song that kicks the crap out of that Coca-Cola song.

So here’s the thought process, or so I think: Island in Maine was an amusement park until about the 1920’s. You take a boat to get there. In the Detroit River, there’s an island called Bois Blanc which was an amusement park called “Boblo Island” and you took a river boat to get there. Faygo filmed the commercial on one of the Boblo Boats and hence, the mice in brain latched onto repressed memories and here you go:

Brief update from the west Iceland:

Saw full lunar eclipse from Airplane

Ate Puffin and damn are they tasty

Stinky water makes for soft skin

Drove the most treacherous road in all of Iceland during a white out, unwittingly of course, must now plot revenge, or smite, Sailor Man

Iceland and Ireland have entirely too much in common

Full explanations later….