Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Apartments Keith and Anne Have Lived In

As some of you might already know, Anne and I recently moved into a new apartment. In this spirit of moving, I would like to share some of the great and epic history, "Apartments Keith and Anne have Live In."

When we met six years ago, Anne and I lived in a dormitory of the New School, the unhappy institution we both have the good pleasure of attending for our lofty educations... (which still, for some reason, doesn't prevent me from making speling mistakes...) The rationale behind moving into the dorm, which I assume is the reason any graduate student would choose to live in a dorm, is that moving to New York from say, Ohio (Yes, I know I'm from Pennsylvania. Another time perhaps...) or Canada, it seems easier (and cheaper you would think [you would be wrong]) to take advantage of the student housing. There is, like in all myths, some truth in this rationale, since, as anyone who has ever tried (as well as anyone who has read the Divine Comedy) knows, finding an apartment in New York is one of Dante's circles of hell (the seventh, I believe... I think he places blasphemers there...) This dormitory, as it turned out, was extraordinarily overpriced--all in all, we were paying about $2500 per month EACH to SHARE A ROOM in a four person suite--(two people per room + two rooms = four people). You can get this apartment in NY for the same price:


Ahem. So, as you can guess, we decided not to stay there any longer than necessary. Near the end of the semester, around Thanksgiving I think, our friend Keren asked Anne if she wanted to share an apartment. Anne told me and I responded by persuading her to move in with me instead. I succeeded. So we started looking for a place. We decided we would require a roommate for this adventure, so we enlisted our friend Steve, my roommate in the dorm, to follow us in our quest. We managed to find a place on 108th St. and Central Park West, with the help of Mark the Broker (See "A Tale of Two Brokers"). It was a nice place, but we only stayed there a few months because, uh, well, something really bad happened. (I'm not going to tell you what, but it's probably worse than whatever you're thinking...unless you know, in which case, nevermind).

Wanting to get out (and far away from) that place of the Unspeakable Event, we moved to beautiful Park Slope Brooklyn. Park Slope is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and one of the most expensive, but after what we had been through, we decided that it was worth the price and, taking Steve with us, we found a place that we could manage to afford. I'm gong to call this place "Gloria's Apartment," since our landlady, the owner of the building, was one Gloria Trembicky. Here's a video clip from Fox5 about Gloria. (Yes, that's her. Yes, we lived there. Yes, everything they say is true).


Steve went to bed with a glass of water next to his bed one night. It was frozen when he woke up in the morning.

In spite of all this, for some reason that remains totally incomprehensible, Anne and I lived there for, count them, not one, not two but THREE years. (The heat did get sort of better after a while. We never could use our toaster and microwave at the same time, though). After a year or so, Steve moved in with his wife whom he had finally fallen in love with after being married for five or six months. (Another day, another blog...). Steve left, our friend Norah moved in. Good times to be had by all, at least when the weather was nice. After our lease expired, we decided to spend the summer in Canada to save some monies.

Moving back to New York in August, however, proved to be another challenge. The only thing more difficult than finding an apartment in New York, it turns out, is finding an apartment in New York when you're NOT IN NEW YORK. There are basically two things you need to be able to do to find a decent apartment and one of them is the ability to look at the neighborhood and the apartment in person and this, it seems, is extremely difficult to do from A DIFFERENT COUNTRY. (Yes, this might be surprising to some readers, but, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Canada, in fact, is a different country. See War of 1812). Unbeknownst to her, we found our next place thanks to the unlikely intervention of the French philosopher, Luce Irigaray. (Irigaray has never been to New York because she refuses to fly). Anne, through her connections in Irigaray scholarship, knew somebody who knew somebody who had a room for rent in the Greater New York Center Metroplex for the hallowed Affordable Price. Failing other options, this seemed to be a good bet, so we packed our bags and moved to fabulous and sunny Jersey City.

I'll call this apartment "Macarena's Apartment," since the person who was known by the person Anne knew, i.e., the person who lived in said apartment, was named Macarena (yes, that's right, like the dance. Everybody sing along and dance). You remember:


Macarena was also a graduate student and the apartment was DIRT CHEAP. I think we paid $400 a month for two rooms of a HUGE three bedroom flat. Really the only problem with Jersey City (besides being in New Jersey) is that it's on the other side of the Hudson Tribal Eschuary and you have to take the PATH train to get to New York. Thus, one ends up with an infinite regress of modes of public transportation, which, as Ockham's Razor clearly dictates, is to be avoided at all costs. Also, the neighborhood was very residential, and while probably not THAT dangerous, was very very quiet and that, my friends, makes one uneasy, especially those who have undergone the Unspeakable Events that I refuse to discuss. And it just TOOK SO LONG to get anywhere (most people in JC have a car, or at least they did in that neighborhood). So we stayed there for about a month, I guess, and then moved back to Brooklyn, back to sunny and pricey Park Slope, where we longed to be.

Our next apartment, "Sophie's Apartment," named because we sublet the place from someone named Sophie, was easily the nicest place we ever lived in New York. Fully functional heat and hot water, electricity, not to mention a DISH WASHER (the shibboleth of Western Civilization) and A ROOF DECK, this TWO BEDROOM place was beautiful. We made an eight month agreement with our patron and in the mean time, were able to actually have people come visit us and STAY. Anyway, it was awesome, but our eight months were up and we had to move on.

We managed to find a nice, relatively affordable studio in Park Slope, aka "The Studio." This time the place was owned and managed by a real estate company, which, contrary to past experiences, turned out to be 1. free, which is to say they didn't charge us a brokerage fee; 2. awesome because they were not only professional and upfront about everything, they also 3. had their act together. The place was kinda small, but in good shape. We signed a two year lease, hoping for the best (i.e., that Anne would get the research fellowship that brought us to the Netherlands) and planning for the worst (making sure we had a place to live in NY if things went pear-shaped). One of the best things about this place is that was right down the block from John Turturro, aka "the Jesus":


Yeah, that guy. He said hi to me once, but he seemed to spend most of his time talking to his agent, watching baseball or spending time with is kids (his one son was Young Richie Tenenbaum, from the movie The Royal Tenenbaums):


The tennis one.

But alas, our budding "friendship" with John never came to fruition, for, as you might know since you're reading a blog about our adventures in the Netherlands (and not New York. Surprising, isn't it?), we had to cut our lease short and head over the sea... We found someone to take over our lease, a nice Canadian boy named Sager, and moved away...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some useful tips on home improvement

For this installment, Keith and I thought it might be fun to mix things up a bit and each offer our own separate reflections on the events of the past three weeks. The following is my version. Keep in mind Keith’s previous oompa loompa entry, however, when choosing which version to believe. I’m not saying that his account is untrue, I’m just saying.

On March 3rd, we moved into our new apartment. Those of you (Mom) who have been following this blog closely will remember that we were living in a temporary our apartment in the city center of Maastricht. You will also remember that earlier in January we went to look at apartment outside of the city center. It was complete pigsty and during our visit we encountered our first naked Dutch guy. Naturally, we took the place and moved in at the beginning of this month. In our new place, we no longer have to climb treacherous ladder to get into bed and the rent is dirt-cheap. Unfortunately, this was virtually all that the apartment had to recommend itself.

Now, some of you will know that Keith and I have lived in some pretty shitty apartments. There was the dorm, where collectively we paid almost twenty-five hundred dollars a month to sleep in bunk beds. Then there was the apartment on the upper west side. Enough said. And then there was Gloria’s apartment in Park Slope where we got royally Trembekeyed. Despite the radical infrequency of the heat, hot water and electricity, we stayed in that apartment longer than in any other, just over three years. Yes, we once spent eight glorious months in palace on 6th ave. in Brooklyn and another eight exalted months in an entirely presentable closet with a dishwasher next door to John Turturro. But generally, it has been nothing but squalor. It is not without a proper respect for precedence, then, when I suggest that in Maastricht we set the bar at an entirely new low.

The apartment didn’t obviously pose a threat to our physical safety and the utilities were all in proper working order. So far so good. While it is very small, not only it is set up in such a way that it is possible to cordon-off the sleeping quarters from the living space, it also has a private outdoor space. One might almost go so far as to call it a garden. Sounds like a veritable palace, our own private Shangri-La. What is the catch, then, you ask? Why all this for such a bargain-basement price? It turns out that in the Nederlands it is not uncommon to rent an apartment without a floor, appliances or light fixtures. What the hell, we thought. We spend a hundred euro-bucks at IKEA, a day’s worth of work and we’ll put down a laminate floor. We’ll buy a couple of light fixtures and hob (or what y’all would call a ‘hot-plate’). After a quick trip to Mattie’s Kringloopwinkel, we’ll have a relatively nice place, at a great price, with a patio.

I must interject two brief digressions at this point, however, before I proceed any further. First, some of you may not know that before embarking on my current foray into academia, I began a promising career in manual labor. As a nineteen year old, I thought that try my hand at house painting. My plan was to make a little bit of money and to spend my summer outdoors. What could be better or so I thought. It turns out, however, that I don’t really like being outside all that much and that manual labor is not my forte. I was fired on the fourth day for incompetence, which was fortunate since I wouldn’t have lasted more than a week by my own volition. I spent the rest of that summer working at Taco Bell, where I realized that the most I could handle in that department is squeezing sour cream onto a Taco with looked like a caulking gun.

Second, while in living our previous digs, Keith and I were fortunate enough to have T.V. and cable, a rarity for us. As luck would have it, one evening we happened across a classic Hollywood film from the eighties, The Money Pit. You know, the one with Tom Hanks and what’s her name from Cheers. No doubt you’ll all remember the plot, so I won’t bother to rehash the story line. Suffice it to say, it’s a charming tale of two New Yorkers who move to the sticks and who are foolish enough to embark the project of home-improvement. Needless to say, given my previous experience I should have seen this as omen. Of course, the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. (Insert ominous musical foreshadowing here).

While we were intellectually prepared to move into an apartment with no appliances and no floor, the reality of it was still a little shocking. Basically, our first week was like living in a garage with a toilet: bare concrete floors and no amenities. No appliances means not even a refrigerator! We created a one by hanging a plastic bag from the outside of our back door, the one opening onto the “patio.” Meanwhile the “patio,” which was the deal clincher for the apartment, had been transformed into a huge pile of sand. It looked like someone had come by with a bulldozer, intending to make the world’s largest sandcastle but had lost interest after gathering the requisite amount of sand and depositing it outside of our back door. We lived in this glorified garage with a view for about a week before we had time to begin renovations. During that time, our diet consisted of instant oatmeal (breakfast), baguette sandwiches (lunch) and ramen (dinner).

Now, for the sake of brevity, I won’t try to provide a detailed account of the events that followed. Instead, I have attempted to distill a few gems of practical wisdom from the past two weeks.

1. Despite the interlocking system, laying laminate flooring isn’t like building with LEGO. It is less fun. And if someone tells you that you can cut the boards by scoring each side with a utility knife and then snapping them with your bare hands, that person is either a ninja or is playing you for a sucker. Regardless, it is best not to attempt the scoring method with the board resting on your lap.

2. When a small, unassuming handsaw calls itself the laminator, it’s not just bravado. It is in fact worth its weight in gold.

3. When installing a shower curtain rod by drilling into tile, “the higher the better” is not necessarily the best rule of thumb.

4. Sometimes, like in the case of electrical work, even the steepest of learning curves is not sufficient to prevent electrocution.

5. Mattie of Mattie’s kringloopwinkel will allow you to return merchandise for store credit, in case you don’t happen to measure first.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In order to begin invoking my experience of the Maastricht Carnival, let me bring to mind several images (not the one to the left):

The first is a scene from Bela Tarr's masterpiece, the Werckmeister Harmonies:


Second, a vibrant yet solitary crimson feather, lying abandoned and forgotten on the floor of a men's room, not far from the urinal, soaking in the slightly sour odor of stale cabbage and water.

A Strawberry Man, walking down the sidewalk, puffing his cigar...

A young man standing in the street, alone, sobbing, wearing a sodden and dirty bunny costume. Pink.

A darkened alley:
Woman 1: "Gro@#$@!@#%aast je smaakdraggen!@#$#@!"
Woman 2: (sobbing)
Woman 1: (louder) "Je Groote!@#$$#@@%#$^. Blaagahastagaten snellmostrategen!!!!! Bitch!"
Woman 2: (sobbing, louder)
Woman 1: (more violently) "De Maan sslechtokoffenhater !@#@!"
Woman 2: (sobbing, now uncontrollably)

Yes folks, a good time to be had by all.

On Saturday, before the official party began, they brought out what I will simply call the "Whale Trucks" to sit in the strangely deserted town square. A very palpable quiet had descended on the town. Nothing to be seen except the Whale Trucks which clearly signaled that something, well, different, was about to take place. They sat there, all day, concealing their neatly taxidermed whale carcasses, waiting for the official opening of the Carnival so the passersby could place their Euros and gain access to the monstrous spectacle.

On Sunday, the festival officially began with what, for lack of a better description, I'll simply call "The Lynching of the Old Lady," (No, I'm not making this up) where an enormous effigy of, well, look for yourself, an old Dutch woman is suspended, by the neck, from a crane. This highly suggestive act signals the beginning of the revels, and this is where things pick up. (As if the Whale Trucks weren't enticing enough already. Did I mention that by "Whale," I meant "Beer"?)

So, with the beginning of Carnival, this is basically what happens.

Much like the "Choosing the Carnival Prince" festival (See "Incomprehensible Carnival"), the good townspeople of Maastricht generally break off into teams or factions, with the inevitable and occasional loner and/or rebel (like this guy to the left here, who's, uh, adjusting his "camera" by the looks of things...). Each team picks a theme: Road Warrior, Blue Person with Yellow, Caveman, etc. and dresses accordingly. (And when I say "team," I mean you get together everyone you know, hand them a green speedo and some orange body paint and say, "Hey, we're the oompa loompas this year. Get ready"). 
Now, we're not quite done yet here oopma loompas, get your speedos ready because we still need to construct our cart. Yeah, I said "Cart." We can choose any variety of cart, ranging from "shopping cart with plywood" to "wow I've really gone all out and gotten a real cart, with a handle and everything." Our oompa loompa team is going with "shoppingcart with plywood" because that's, I guess, what an oompa loompa would do... (?) Our cart needs to serve three purposes that are essential for our team having an awesome carnival: 1.) It needs to hold all the beer we're bringing with us as we wander around the town getting down like only an oompa loompa can. 2.) It wouldn't really be an oompa-loompa style party without our favorite music, you know, that song, the oompa loompa one, except remixed to a hot euro-beat. So our cart needs to be outfitted with a speaker system and stereo so we can blast our chocolate-making music out on everybody. 3.) OF COURSE we wouldn't THINK about leaving the little loompas behind, so little Timmy, throw down your crutch and get your orange body paint ready because you're coming with the family (That's right grandpa--you're coming too). Finally, our cart is where we're going to place the little ones after we're all too drunk to stand and they're tired, cranky and, well, want to get in the cart. After all the beer is gone, we just throw them in. (We WON'T be too drunk to stand, by the way, until about 4:00 a.m., in spite of the fact that we've been drinking non-stop since, well, I don't know, 10:00 a.m. AND in spite of the fact that's IT'S BEEN SNOWING ALL DAY. We're oompa loompas, damn it). Did I mention that this whole cart-drinking-dancing enterprise takes place outside and that (yeah, I know it's the Netherlands, I wouldn't be talking about this if I didn't) IT'S FEBRUARY? We still have to decorate our cart to match our theme, so we get some nice plywood and, I don't know, some orange and green paint, maybe some glitter and/or rhinestones (not sequins) and make it look like it matches our costumes. I guess we could put a green speedo on the cart too.

So we've spent the whole day and night drinking, dancing to our awesome dance mix that we probably made ourselves. We've probably gotten into a few scuffles with the Emperor Penguins next door or the people dressed up in their living room curtains. We've certainly smashed our fair share of beer glasses, beer glasses we purchased from one of the innumerable Whale Truck stands that have cropped up everywhere. We enjoyed it, too, smashing those beer glasses, so we smashed some more. We've also heckled a group of young men dressed as the zoo (yeah, those guys) and tried, through our exuberance and friendliness, to bring those two people dressed in regular clothes (probably the only two people), scowling, giving us weird looks, into the fold, but alas, without success. We're tired. The kids have either fallen asleep or passed out (they started drinking too at some point). It's 4:00 a.m. Time to go home. So we take our cart, blasting our loompa tunes, and head through the streets where some people are probably trying to sleep (but we don't care; we LOVE our oompa loompa music and everyone else will too, God verdomme) back to the Chocolate Factory.

So loompas. It's now Monday morning, 10 a.m. What do you mean you're too "hung over," "sleepy," or "still drunk from yesterday?" It's 10 a.m. and you know what that means: grab your green speedo, it's time to start drinking. So we all go through what I can only assume is the somewhat painstaking process of covering ourselves in our orange body paint again (meticulously), fill up the ole' beer cart with a fresh batch for the day, grab the kids and off we go. Work? What work? School? There's no school. It's Carnival... And what else is there to do, anyway? All the storefronts are boarded up (where do you think we got our plywood?) and nothing's open. Off we go. Today, however, we're switching it up a bit. We're going to dedicate some more space in the cart to beer and, instead of the stereo, we're forming a loompa marching band, or "swagger band," as the case may be. It doesn't matter that you don't really know how to play an instrument, anybody can bang a bass drum!

By Tuesday, you would think that maybe the fun would be wearing off. After all, we've more or less been drinking non-stop since Saturday. We're all starting to get a little dizzy, a little sick to our stomachs because, well, we got the lead-based orange body paint. You would think that by now we just wouldn't care. Well, we do care, sort of. We grab our instruments and head off to drink. We drink and march and play and dance, etc. and, by 4:00 a.m., we're tired and our marching and playing has become, well, half-assed. We start up a tune, get about a block, decide that it's too much effort and stop. Eventually, as we march, everything decays into a drunk, bawling, orange-body paint smeared, smelly, vomiting mess. (Yeah, and who saw that coming?) Drunk and crying, now hating each other, we crawl home, alone, in the cold, stopping to urinate and sleep in the gutter.

The next day, Wednesday, Ash Wednesday to be precise, we get up. Hung over. Headache. Sick. Smelly. Disgusted with ourselves and ashamed of what we've done. But it's OK.

Lent has begun.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Big Americans"

Last night Keith and I went to see a film at Lumiere cinema. It's a nice little art house cinema just two blocks from our current, still temporary apartment (the one in which we have to climb a ten foot ladder in order to get into bed). By all reports, this cinema is about the most exciting cultural activity that Maastricht has to offer. It is important to note, however, that at least in our eyes, this should not be interpreted as a criticism of Maastricht. After all, when we were reminiscing about our lives back in New York while we waiting for the film to begin, we were bemoaning the void that has been created by the absence of readily available good pizza (which is to say, ridiculously greasy pizza) rather than the absence of ready access to MOMA. So what if you can't see "Bicycle Wheel" or "Fountain" whenever the urge strikes, if only you could get a coke and slice at 2 am for two bucks.

This, of course, brings me to my main point. But before I get there, let me share a couple of preliminary observations. These observations are of course entirely tangential, so feel free to skip ahead if you're dying to see where the pizza theme is headed. However, for those of you who may at some point consider going to see a film in the Netherlands, I will share with you some observations which are either universally true and thus of crucial importance or they are entirely idiosyncratic, relating only to this particular cinema, and thus completely irrelevant. But of course, the writers of this blog clearly do not fear the latter, so here goes.

First, those of you who have ever been to the movies in North America are no doubt familiar with the infamous concession stand. Having just paid probably close to $25 to get in the door, you are immediately confronted with a greasy, slightly stale and sickly sweet smell. Allegedly, this is the smell of food. For another 10 bucks you can buy a vat of soda and a tub of chemically infused popcorn, which will leak grease onto your lap, and bring it with you to your seat. Against all odds, most of us at some point have or even regularly do partake. At Lumiere, on the other hand, it is a different story. NO ONE EATS IN THE THEATRE. That's right, it wasn't a typo: you actually can't eat and watch a film at the same time. I can only assume that this is the effect of an institutionalized separation of forms of consumption. It is the effect of the formal separation of food and film, if you will. So instead, there is a cafe in the building where you can get a drink or a snack either before or after watching the film. For only two euro, for example, you can enjoy a nice glass of terrible red wine and discuss the film that you just watched with your companion, namely Keith. You can't get popcorn and though you can try to order a martini, you probably won't get that either. But it is is the kind of cafe that you might just seek out independently of going to see a film, unlike in North America where if you went to the movies just for the food and the ambiance, you'd be crazy.

This leads me to my second observation. Once you take your seat at the theatre, you can set your purse or bag or even your jacket on the ground. The force of this second observation may not have registered yet, so let me just repeat it: you can put something on the FLOOR that you don't plan to leave there once the film is over. In other words, the absence of the vats of soda and barrels of greasy popcorn contributes to a less disgusting atmosphere to such an extent that one could put his or her jacket on the ground and wear it again. This can only mean one thing, namely that the Dutch value cleanliness above being able to eat constantly. Clearly, then, we are indeed in a strange and foreign land. I will try to tolerate this cultural difference and not desecrate the space with high-fructose corn syrup, though it is unfathomable to me.

On that note, then, let me now return to the central occasion for this post, which is the topic of pizza. This blog might provide an opportunity for us to reflect on subtle cultural differences that become visible while living outside of North America. It could be the occasion to think more critically about our cultural, social and national identities. Or we could simply feed into and reproduce caricatures of these identities. Perhaps in the future there will be time for the former, for now let's enjoy the latter.

To this end, I would like to bring a commercial to your attention. Unless you watch a lot of Dutch television, you probably haven't seen it. It is a commercial for a product by Dr. Oetker for something called BIG AMERICANS. I have posted a link to the commercial, which you will no doubt want to watch for yourself.

There are obviously many things which deserve mention, but I will just select my personal favorites. First, I am particularly fond of the fact that he cuts the pizza using the spur from his cowboy boots (and of course he is wearing them despite having just gotten out of the shower). I also like the choice of music in the background, the generic pop-country soundtrack. Both of these details clearly reflect a sustained investigation of American culture. Above all, though, I like the fact that the product is called BIG AMERICANS. Not "the big American" or even "big American" but rather "big Americans." This name seems to designate the effect of consuming the pizza rather than the style of the pizza itself. In fact, it's not a thick crust pizza, its a slap in the face from the doctor himself. The best part, though, is that the joke is ultimately on him. After all, once the cowboy picks up the slice, the illusion is gone. You call that a slice Oetker? I'll show you a slice. Where's the closest original famous Ray's around here?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Slim Bekeken

This past week Keith and I have begun the process of integrating ourselves into Dutch culture. We have decided, however, to do it American style. First of all, we're learning Dutch, by watching the commercials in between shitty American television programs. Apparently the Dutch love Steven Segal. Anyway, so far so good. We've learned several cognates and many useful expressions like the one in the title, "slim bekeken." Literally, I guess it translates, "smart views", but there's probably a more idiomatic translation. We plan to interject it often into our conversations. Also, "punt enel" we have discovered refers to ".nl", the Dutch domain-name. So at this rate, we should be almost fluent in another thirty years.
We have also been ingratiating ourselves with the Dutch people. Today we did our regular Saturday marketing at our favorite grocery store: JUMBO. This time we entered the store through the entrance rather than the exit as we have each previous time, so already the learning curve is impressive. For the past two weeks we've been eating only frozen vegetables due to our rather limited cooking apparatuses. I couldn't take it any longer, so today I filled up the basket with some fresh vegetables and fruit, along with other food that we chose based on the pictures on the box. The store was packed, it was almost like being back at the Food Coop, but for a moment there was a break in the line at the checkout. We were able to walk right up to a cashier without waiting. Almost immediately, however, a line formed behind me. We unloaded our groceries on the belt and the cashier began to scan our items through. When she got to the fresh vegetables she stopped, saying something in Dutch that we couldn't understand. It turns out that you have to weigh all the produce and print out stickers with the price per kilogram before getting in line. By now there were about five people behind us in line. So I stood there sheepishly as the checkout line came to a screeching halt, while Keith took our produce back to weigh it. What is remarkable is that during the wait, not even a single customer so much as gave me an exasperated look. At the Food Coop there would have been bloodshed. After a few minutes, Keith returned with the produce properly stickered and we packed up our stuff and left. As we were leaving the store we had to work our way through a crowd. Keith, of course, elbowed his way through, like he does. Out of our way! We're walking here! Oh kind and patient Dutch people, we have so much to teach you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Incomprehensible Carnival

The following account is not of a dream. It was real.

I want to begin by talking about the Muncy carnival. Muncy, in case you don't know, is my home town in Pennsylvania. The Muncy Carnival, proudly brought to you by the Muncy Township Volunteer Fire Department, takes place in the parking lot of a now-defunct gas station. If memory serves, which it usually doesn't, (Muncyians, if you're reading this, please feel free to corroborate or discorrorborate my story here) the Muncy Carnival had one ride, which I recall resembling the kind of cherry-picker used by the electric and gas companies, but, of course, rustier, partly broken down, like all of the Carnival Rides we all remember. That being said, I think that the Muncy Carnival is mostly about food: Italian Sausage, French Fries, Funnel Cakes, Meatball Sandwiches, etc. There may also be a few games and the occasional live country music band, perhaps a watered-down version of the first pop-country that comes to mind. Muncy, mind you, is a predominantly Protestant community.

Now let me tell you about what happened to us on Sunday, January 17.

I was awakened by the sound of a passing marching band near by. In a state of half-sleep, unsure whether I was awake or dreaming, I listened. The band began with a rousing March, which, however, about three-quarters of the way through, gradually dissipated as the members, apparently, lost their enthusiasm and gusto. It was as if, part way through their song they had decided that whatever reasons they had for marching and playing were not sufficient and that they should, well, just go home. Perhaps it was just a dream.

About five minutes later, the sound of yet another Marching Band. This time, they are clearly headed down our street. Alright. Now I know I'm not dreaming. I scurry down from the Terrifying Sleeping Loft (slowly, carefully, mind you. The ladder is not attached to the wall...), thrown on some clothes, grab the camera and out I go. Yes, they are all wearing "fancy dress," as the British say, or, you know, Weird Costumes as we say in the States.

After they had passed, I went back to gather Anne and the two of us headed off in pursuit. What we saw was that most of the town had broken down into factions, each sporting its own highly choreographed costume. The first group we encountered apparently thought it was Halloween. That one guy clearly thought I was taking HIS picture, which, of course, I wasn't.

We decided we would head to Vrijhof, one of the town squares. We weren't there very long when, once again, we heard the sound of an on-coming Marching Band. These folks were decked out in green, yellow and red, the official colors of the Carnival, apparently, as they had flags bearing these colors everywhere. You can see that this team is sporting a fabulous court-jester style.

At this point we decided to head to the Market Square (a different, nearby square) and sew what was afoot there. In retrospect, I'm glad we did because there we found clearly the best team of them all, who I dubbed "The Road Warriors." This is obviously the best group in the entire Carnival. I hope they won. This a touching shot of a road warrior holding his child road warrior.

At this point we were starting to get kind of hungry. Being in the market square and all, there were a number of booths set up selling things like, well, the Dutch version of Italian Sausages, Meatball Sandwiches, etc. We decided to grab a giant cone of frites from the frites place on the corner, which sells nothing but french fries with various condiments. We went the Euro classic, mayonnaise. Now, European, or at least Dutch mayo is quite different from what we've got out West: much thicker and richer, with the flavor of basically what amounts to the filling of a deviled egg. That's right, deviled egg. Between the two of us we managed to eat the whole thing. I can't imagine eating one of these cones by myself but I certainly saw plenty of people making the attempt. I guess the Dutch have a higher tolerance for, you know, "whoa fried" than I do.

We were under the impression, mostly from the huge stage that had been set up in the market square, that there would be live performances of some kind. This may very well have been the case, but by the time we had gotten our fries, consumed them, etc., they were clearly tearing the stage down. Apparently whatever performances there might have been were over. Things looked like they were wrapping up for whatever had been taking place here. But this raises a very interesting question: What the H#$%l was going on here? What's with these people and their crazy costumes? We agreed that the only solution was to accost some unsuspecting reveler and put them under the appropriate degree of interrogation. So, we stood around on the corner, looking, you know, kind of shady, waiting for a victim, I mean, passerby. We found a family, a woman, dressed up in, you know, some clown-like get up, with her kids, also in clown-like get up, and her husband, who apparently had no enthusiasm. "Excuse me. Sorry, but we don't speak Dutch. Do you speak English?" Clown1: "A little bit." K: "What's going on here?" Clown1: "Carnival." K:"What?" Clown 1: "Where are you from?" K: "New York." Clown 1: "You don't have Carnival?" K: "Uh, no. What is it?"

Carnival, as you may have guessed by now, is the same as other Carnivals celebrated in predominantly Catholic regions. On this particular day, the townsfolk were coming out to elect the "prince of the carnival," the person responsible for calling the shots during the REAL celebration. (Oh yeah folks, this was just a warm-up). And you guessed it, this is the very same celebration that signals the beginning of Lent, what we would know as Fat Tuesday and it lasts until Ash Wednesday. Unlike the American version, aka Mardis Gras, the Maastricht Carnival is supposed to be a family-friendly affair. Nonetheless, when the time comes next month, the bars will be open all night. (Lucky me. I live right around the corner from a bar... Maybe I can get some beads...). As of yet, I have no idea who, if anybody, was named "prince." I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.

So, Muncy, I say to you, where's your game, huh? Where are your ludicrous costumes and impromptu marching bands? Where are your feather boas, cross-dressing and flamboyancy? Where are your old men, spontaneously breaking out into song and dance? Perhaps the Muncy Township Volunteer Fire Department should take their cue from these people for next year and really get decked out. Take down your Cherry-Picker, close the shoot-the-water-gun-to-race-horses-game. Why, maybe even try a little mayonnaise on your fries... even if it does taste like a deviled egg.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Half Naked Dutch Men

My day began three hours later than it had every other day for the past week. Opening week at the JVE had finally come to a close. So rather than getting up at 7 am, we slept until 10. Though we'd been here for a week, I've been so busy with JVE activities that I still hadn't had a moment to look around. My plan was to take the day off from work and to see some of the city. Little did I know that I would end up getting to see a lot more than I had bargained for.
We are still in temporary digs, so we began the day by going to see an apartment. Keith had set up an appointment for us to see a place two and a half kilometers outside of the city center. The apartment was still occupied, so he'd spoken with current tenant to arrange a time. During their conversation, the tenant had emphasized that it was important that we not come by the apartment early in the morning. Apparently he had told Keith that he would be out late drinking with his friends and he had stressed that it was definitely going to be a late night.
We decided to walk rather than take the bus since we still haven't figured out the bus system, setting out at 11:30. The walk was a little precarious due to residual ice on the sidewalk, along with plenty of dog shit that was gradually surfacing as the ice thawed (we have plans to institute "curb your dog" signs). Aside from that, we found the apartment without too much trouble. The current tenant buzzed us in and let us look around.
The apartment itself, was a total disaster. There was junk everywhere. It wasn't just messy or cluttered, it was a complete wreck. The space itself was fine, it just needed a bulldozer to clean it out. The tenant, however, was totally unabashed. He greeted us in a very friendly way and "showed us around" the studio.
Evidence from the previous night's debauchery abounded. The tenant's friends were all still in the apartment and all of them had obviously just gotten up. Moreover the tenant had obviously not yet had a chance to clean himself up, so to speak. The sound of singing from behind closed doors suggested that one of his friends had beat him to the shower. Despite his disheveled state, he was garrulous. Since moving to Maastricht, we have discovered the difference between the Dutch and the American conversations between strangers. In America, the transaction is modeled for maximal efficiency: a streamlined exchange of information takes place with minimal expression of extraneous details. In the Netherlands, this style is much too abrupt. It is in fact impossible to break off a conversation at what would be its natural point of termination in America. If you make the attempt, the Dutch person with whom you're conversing will then repeat everything that has been agreed upon once again. While this is generally endearing, it is less so when your interlocutor has not yet had a chance to brush his teeth.
We stood around in the space for about 10 minutes, since given the size of the place, there wasn't a whole lot of looking around that needed to be done. During that time the tenant and his friend sprawled on the couch answered our many questions both about the apartment but concerning Maastricht more broadly. We were about to leave the apartment when the third member of the previous nights festivities unexpectedly emerged from the bathroom. He strutted out of the bathroom wearing only a pair of tiny blue tighty "whities." Of course he insisted on greeting and introducing himself to us. He was completely nonplussed, obviously enjoying the effect that he'd created. At that point, we decided that we'd seen enough for one day.