Sunday, January 4, 2009

Back from the Nether nether lands

I've returned from a two-week visit to my husband's birth-country, the Netherlands.  We spent most of the time visiting his mother in Jellum, a small rural town in Friesland, in the north of the country.  She is 87 and recovering from a hip fracture in a "care hotel" near her home there.  She's doing well and has a great attitude; I hope that if I reach that age I'll have such a positive attitude.  She's a poet, perhaps the most renowned living poet writing in Friesian today, and I love having a mother-in-law who is such a fine writer (though I can only read her in translation).  She speaks several languages, and her English is flawless.  The Dutch are known for their skill in languages--Teake, my husband, speaks six while I struggle to maintain a working knowledge of three, and have pretty much given up ever learning Dutch, although I did make a valiant effort at some point.  I just don't have enough shelves left in my brain, I think, for another language.

Teake was happy to be home, and it was good to see him so energized.  We took a few long walks and runs in the countryside where he grew up, which is mostly all farmland.  It smelled like shit, literally, because there was shit everywhere.  Teake loved it, taking deep breaths of it, ah, he said, this is home, this is what home smells like!  He is something of a connoisseur  of it, and can recognize regular cow shit, fermented cow shit, and distinguish it from sheep shit and the lovely pure smell of fermenting leaves.  I have a negative relationship to the smell of shit, remembering it from my days in Iowa when there were huge hog farms with lakes of it infecting the air.  But I have to admit this shit smelled sweet, and I wondered if I would ever come to love it at Teake does.

We spent New Year's Eve in Amsterdam with some friends, watching the fireworks along a canal in the eastern part of the city.  Fireworks aren't centralized there so everyone stockpiles them; it was lovely to see them flowering and bursting all along the canal, in the sky and reflected in the dark, slow-moving canal waters that remind me so much of my own low-land home, New Orleans.

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