Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Big Books I've Read. Sources of Inspiration

While De eeuw van mijn vader is the first book I've blogged about, it isn't the first big improbable thing I've read. There have been too many others. The list follows, in the order in which I started reading. It includes books I'm currently reading.

War and Peace: Growing up, I always heard the cliche that this book equalled anything ridiculously long. I had to read it. My parents had a two volume copy, and I borrowed it while in college. I carried it around for the first couple of years, reading it on and off until I finished it. After about 500 pages, my good friend James E. C. started reading it. He sarcastically remarked that he would finish first, and he did. We read the Rosemary Edmonds translation. The book is fantastic and keeps moving all the way to the end. Edmonds was the first to translate both the Russian and French passages, which were printed in italics.

Os Lusíadas: This book was a gift from a cousin in Portugal. I didn't know enough Portuguese to get very far when I got it. As I started learning Portuguese for a recent trip in which I saw my relatives for the first time in over 20 years and the second time ever, I started reading it again and finally finished. The book is the earliest European work I have seen to describe many faraway places as diverse as Africa and Vietnam. On the downside, it's extremely pompous. It's required reading in Portugal, but the explorer component of Portuguese identity seems to have left with the diaspora. Portugal itself is stuck with Jose Saramago forever noodling about Lisbon.

The Bible: Once again, James E. C. started reading this after me and finished first. I read the New American version. I finished reading it as I finished grad school. There is an overall theme of God's message going from a few people to the world over time. If you try to read it from cover to cover, be strong through Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. Before and after that, it's easy reading. Those three books are mainly long family trees and ritual prescriptions for burning food.

100 Years of Solitude: I started it when I was learning Spanish, because it was something I had heard of. I only finished it recently, going all the way through because language snobs love it. There is always another test for an interpreter. That being said, I hated it. It's an overrated, hopeless mess. It sold to a generation that consistently confused deep thought with being stoned. What helped me get through it was that I had learned a lot about Colombian politics between attempts. Knowing some of the facts behind the magical realism was a big help. The author is undoubtedly great, but read his journalistic writing instead. News of a Kidnapping is fantastic. I also liked Love in the Time of Cholera, which I read in English and Spanish after attempting 100 Years the first time.

Don Quijote de la Mancha: The experience and reasons were similar to my reading of 100 Years, but I liked it a lot more. Considered to be the first modern novel, this is a long, freewheeling book with several detours, including a full-length parody of a pastoral novel. Although it is uneven, it is worth reading both books all the way through. This is a book I wish more people would read. I remember reading that Ronald Reagan said he was influenced by King Arthur stories. I wish he had read Don Quijote to temper that. Don Quijote ended a nostalgia craze and a whole genre of stories about heroic knights. In between the Cervantes volumes, there is a book by Avellaneda, which might qualify as the first piece of fan fiction had it not been such a profitable fake. It's of interest to scholars for many reasons, but if you're looking for entertainment or quality, skip it. I glanced through it, and that was enough.

Diccionario panhispánico de dudas: Being self taught mainly, I need a grounding in grammar. I finally decided to read this grammar dictionary from cover to cover. It's very difficult to read very much at a time, but I have been at it for over a year now. I am on p. 470 of 687. I had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in high school. He describes how he read the dictionary in prison and copied the words he didn't know. Later, when subbing in a special ed class, which was more of a dumping ground for malcontents, I met a girl who obviously didn't belong there. Thanks to her efforts, she would be leaving special ed, but not until the year ended, so that her current teachers could most likely take credit for, "Bringing her out." She had hand copied two dictionaries to increase her vocabulary. I was impressed, but it took a couple of years before I could follow her example. I started with a LaRousse monolingual dictionary, but the print was too small to read the whole thing. The one I'm reading now looks like a continuation of Maria Molliner's work. Having thrown out any religious orthodoxy, many language snobs worship her, though their linguistic standards are usually inconsistent when applied.

De eeuw van mijn vader: In earlier posts, I mentioned why I got started. What inspires me to finish is an article in The New Yorker about Burma. I believe it was by one of the Theroux brothers. He describes a man who learned English by reading Charles Dickens. He reports that his speech had, "Victorian cadences." I figured that if someone could learn English by reading Dickens, then I could learn Dutch by reading Geert Mak. After I finish the book and close the blog, I will continue with Dutch language reading. Most likely, the next book will be a volume I have by Renate Dorrestein. Then I'll move on to Max Havelaar.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I'm house sitting now and on a different computer. So as not to tax it, I'm not playing any podcasts. Consequently, I have been doing my Dutch reading in silence. It's wonderful.

Previously, I had always read while listening to somthing, pounding linguistic competence into my thick skull. I listened to either Radio Nacional de España to assimilate good grammar and do better on my next test, Radio Nederland to reinforce what I was reading, or something from Portugal on occasion to not leave that language behind.

I always used to tell my ESL students to listen to radio and TV in English. I would tell them, "If you really want to speed things up, listen and read at the same time."

This silent time has helped me remember something else I have observed: Many kids are semiliterate because they have too much noise in their lives. Learning to read must be done in silence.

It is only in the past couple of days that there has been a major breakthrough: I read several pages without using the computer. For whatever reason, I was able to figure out word roots and only use the printed Dutch English dictionary. Ironically, I never would have thought of reading Dutch in silence if it hadn't been forced.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vrolijk Kerstfeest

It's Christmas Eve Eve. This is the perfect time to examine how to promote the Dutch language.

Christmas in the US and the Netherlands provides a great example of how things work out differently among the diaspora and those who stay home. The American myths of Christmas are Dutch. Santa Claus is Sinterklaas. "A Visit From St. Nicholas," better known as, "Twas the Night Before Christmas," was written by a Dutch-American. Celebrations evolved differently, but the American Christmas celebration bears a heavy Dutch imprint. Before that, Christmas here was a wild drunken celebration, still sung about in some carols like, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

As I look around this Christmas, it appears that Dutch is losing ground. The language needs to be promoted and expanded. Here are some ideas:

  1. Build a better image for the Netherlands. France and England ooze snob appeal. Spain and Italy offer fun and history for the cognoscenti. Holland, to the extent that anyone thinks about it, is known for pot and prostitution. The current image is out of tune with our time, which is marked by ads for memory improvement products and an AIDS pandemic. Anything else, from wind power, to Dutch businesses, to Rembrandt would be a better starting point.

  2. Promote the Dutch language arts. This should be a full court press. As an interpreter would put it, it should cover the entire register. At the high end, the Dutch government should promote Geert Mak along with old classics, such as Max Havelaar. Radioboeken should have some readings available in English. On the low end, efforts should be made to market Dutch language tv output to other countries. Kinderen Geen Bezwaar could easily be remade in other countries, as could FC Kampioenen. American television has long been full of recycled ideas from Britain. Why not import from the Netherlands? Also, Dutch filmmakers should be encouraged and pushed through the international distribution chain.
  3. Do product placement in foreign tv shows and movies. All sorts of products do it. The characters on a popular sitcom could go to Holland. A movie could be filmed in Rotterdam. Feature a sidekick who speaks Dutch.
  4. Promote the entire Dutch speaking world. "Win a Trip to Suriname!" Why is it so hard to get to Suriname? When I looked, there was one flight from the US. It is not connected to much, either by air or by road.
  5. Promote Dutch langage learning. All over the world, dedicated Francophones can find branches of the Alliance Française. There is no Dutch equivalent. If someone's going to do it, make it more fun and less stuffy than the French group. Language learning should also be promoted in tourist destinations. A Dutch only section of Amsterdam would be fun and helpful for linguistic tourists, and it would provide some relief to locals.
  6. Promote the advantages of knowing Dutch. I have read that Dutch is the best jumping off point for learning other Germanic languages. Thanks to studying Dutch, I can hear some German dialog in movies and read some Swedish signs at Ikea.
  7. Finally, Dutch culture has influenced the world. Wherever possible, cultural attaches should commemorate it. There is Dutch architecture and influence everywhere. The Dutch influence should especially be promoted over the next couple of days. Whether Santa Claus visits from the North Pole or Sinterklaas comes in from Spain, he'll wind down with a plate of haring.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Geert Mak=Bruce Springsteen. Both are thoughtful and ruminate a lot. They rarely rock out, but when they do, make sure you're there for it.

After 170 pages of careful history, explanations and ruminating, Mak suddenly becomes a great action writer. He takes us back to the 1934 London-Melbourne Air Race.

Holland's pilots, "Pull a typical Dutch stunt," and enter the race in a new airliner from Douglas. The other teams from the US, Britain and Germany enter purpose-built planes, with additional gas tanks and all sorts of extra equipment. Mak does a great job of setting the scene. He points out that the race was only a little further than the usual KLM run from Amsterdam to Medan.

The drama includes problems with weather and a hastily organized landing in Australia, with a runway lit by the headlights of cars parked on both sides.

This was the most exciting part of the book so far.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Dutch TV

With a big translation due, it's time to watch TV. I just saw a great interview with Fr. Roderick Vonhögen on VARA. Very confident and ever amenable, he explains the Church and new media, answers tough questions about Africa and AIDS, and shows off the gadgets that make Katholiek Nederland possible. The segment ends with the host clowing around with Fr. Roderick's iPhone.

Remember to check back on December 23rd and read about Christmas and promoting the Dutch language.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Boer zoekt vrouw

The problem with the internet is that it's limitless. Any interest can devolve into perseverating. Yesterday, I read what was almost a few entire books on corruption. They were on a seller's web site, and the posted pages just went on forever. It was great.

I have always read to see how the world works. When I was a kid, I read biographies, which, as it turned out, only told half the story. Now, I read about corruption to learn about the other half. Even though I have given talks to court personnel about money laundering, and even though I need to keep up with the field, it was too much.

Although the past week wasn't very good, I did manage to keep up with Dutch culture, this time by watching more TV. I was on a run reading Chapter 6 but got sidetracked.

I used the IMDB to find Dutch performers and writers, then looked at their output. There were two memorable shows that I don't recommend. Both show that Dutch culture can be as banal as any other.

The first one I saw was Costa! a romantic triangle cliche movie. The fact that it centered on lesbians did not make it interesting. Every member of the multiracial cast was a white spot on a white wall.

From there, I moved on to KRO's YouTube page and watched some commercials for their shows. Nothing but Boer zoekt vrouw was memorable, and even that was very formulaic, as tv always is. A farmer is shown interviewing women who are amenable to marrying him. I was appalled that American style reality tv was popular enough in the Netherlands to be posted.

Later, I was relieved to find that the show was a remake of a British show, which has been remade everywhere, to varying degrees of success. The American version ran for 8 episodes.

My running review of Geert "Big" Mak's book will reappear on this blog between Dec. 23rd and the New Year.

In the meantime, you can enjoy my post on Christmas and promoting the Dutch language on Dec. 23rd at 4 am in California, 1300 hrs in the Netherlands.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Right now, The Getty has an exhibit of Dutch drawings. It was my first time there since about 1991, long before the current buildings were put up. It was also the first time I paid close attention to the artists nationalities. I looked longer at the Dutch paintings.

Signs identifying Dutch painters said they were "Netherlandish," early on, then "Dutch" later. I read one sign that mentioned, "The founding of the Dutch Republic," but then I started wondering how a royal family showed up.

It got me to wondering about paintings. Does what you notice say more about you or the painters? I was conscious of looking for the flatlands, but the seascapes really got to me. Part of my family is historically seafaring, but I don't do so well on boats. It's a regret, even though I have no real need to be on the water.

The line drawing with the sailboat on the right is a Rembrandt. I didn't note who painted the others, but all are Dutch.

Be sure to log on December 23rd. At 4:00 a.m. in California and 13:00 hrs. in the Netherlands, my post on how to promote the Dutch language goes up. It also has to do with Christmas. Wow!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show

Nothing brings me down like ostentatious luxury. When I see cars like the giant-toaster Rolls-Royce with its stainless steel hood, I feel demoralized. I used to aspire to such things, and older luxury cars still seem more accessible. Newer offerings turn everyone into Liberace.

And so it was that I felt even worse when I saw the Spyker. It's a really gaudy car, with fly-away doors and a high collar around the back with a Latin motto in chrome letters. Correctly translated, it reads, "Doodle doodle dee, wubba wubba wubba."

Why was this car worse? Because it's from the Netherlands. When you learn a language, you take on part of it as your own. I have found myself rooting intently for Mexico against Brazil in soccer. I watched the Dutch baseball team take apart the Domican Republic. Then today, I saw this horrific, brightly painted disaster on four wheels. It was a terrible disappointment.

Monday, December 7, 2009


After promoting the virtual party, I got a couple of emails from Jan in Dutch. I read them without using dictionaries.

Today, I read my first Dutch news article all the way through. The Catholic Diocese of Utrecht is getting two assistant bishops, for the first time in a while.

It's thrilling to know that the language is finally sinking in.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


It's unlikely, but it would be great if it happened.

I would like to meet everyone who reads this. I was wondering where we should get together. Then it hit me: The place to meet at the end of the blog is where the book begins. Schiedam, the area once known as Zwart Nazareth, would be the place to meet. The book doesn't give any addresses, but I suspect that in 1899, the Mak's lived somewhere around the old Dutch Reformed cathedral, near the water.

From what I saw of Street View, there isn't much of the old days there. It looks very Euro suburban, the type of place that's been torn down and rebuilt 6 times in recent years. Still, it's the place where the book starts.

It would be great to get everyone into a small cafe and talk about what they thought. I would like to hear about what I read correctly and what I got wrong. After lunch, we could walk down to the shore and look at the ships coming and going.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sweeping Up the Confetti

What a party. The top three floors of the Learning Dutch with Geert Mak Building are a mess. I don't even want to think about the bottom 28.

Bianca of the Dutch East Indies Heritage Project stopped by. She left some angklung to help everyone wind down.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy Birthday Geert Mak!

Welcome to the virtual birthday party for Geert "Big" Mak! The event is 33 hours long. We start at midnight, December 4th in the Netherlands and end at 11:59 p.m. on the same day in California.
Wherever you are, have some cake and ice-cream, a beer or maybe even a broodje kroket. This is also a good day to enjoy some haring. Start your version of this event off with Boogie-Woogie from the Netherlands' own Eeco Rijken Rapp. Here is The Youtube-Blues.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

At the 1/3 point.

After nearly a year, I've made it through one third of this book. I hope the rest doesn't take 2 more years. I thought I would be faster by now. Things are going a little faster.

The action has moved back to the Indies. Mak found the letters between his parents and grandparents from the years 1932-46. He is also talking to his relatives about their memories.

An old aunt he visited would watch travel shows on German TV.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Het Zuigende Land

Usually, a chapter title is easy. As I closed in on the end of Chapter 5, this one started to drive me crazy. It all hinged on the middle word. The dictionary defines it as, "Sucking." I knew it wasn't, "The land that sucks." In some contexts, however, it means exactly what an English speaker would think it means.

I had to look further and further. The word also yields ads for paints and adhesives. Finally, I figured out that it means muddy or sticky. This would be sticky as in humid. I finally settled on, "The Muggy Land."

Near the end of Chapter 5, Mak describes the mutiny on the Zeven Provinciën. The event has no American counterpart, but it is similar to The Potemkin, even though it didn't help trigger a revolution.

The Netherlands did not sway to the extreme left or right as much of Europe did at the time. It took a middle course, and stuck with Colijn, who is even more like Herbert Hoover as he is described further. Like Hoover, he had an impressive resume. Again, in spite of this, neither was very ept at confronting The Great Depression. Basically, it was good that the Netherlands stuck to a middle course, but the middle course chosen was more suited to the past than the task at hand.

The rise of Hitler was met with some admiration in many quarters of Dutch society. To his credit, Geert Mak is willing to quote editorials written at the time that approved of the new order in Germany.

Finally, the chapter closes with a look at his family dealing with the death of baby Koosje. He talks about how his parents dealt with it, and how family members visited his grave for years afterwards.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Become a follower!

Make Learning Dutch with Geert Mak your homepage! Increase my numbers while enjoying minimal benefits!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Frequent Guest Returns

At the end of this blog, I'm going to post advice for the translator. I am now on p. 156. Vocabulary started getting harder. I went from almost going line by line to researching every word with multiple sources.

Finally, the man who is always preceded by wild vocabulary exercises showed up: Abraham Kuyper. Big Mak mentions that Colijn was in his shadow.

I was in too deep. I had to read some background in English. First, I found that Kuyper was a minister, journalist and politician. In the US you usually don't see all three in one person. Then, I found out that Kuyper was PM from 1901-5.

I wondered how Colijn could have been in Kuyper's shadow. I still do. Kuyper wasn't the first PM from the Anti-Revolutionary Party. Also, Colijn wasn't the end of a long drought for them. Theo de Meester succeeded Kuyper. The next Anti-Revolutionary PM was Colijn himself, from 1925-26.

Putting it into context for Americans, Hendrikus Colijn appears to have been like Grover Cleveland, an unremarkable president who was elected for two non-consecutive terms. During his longer term in the 1930s, he appears to have been as clueless as Herbert Hoover.

Anyway, I urge the translator to add an introduction and an appendix. Maps and a timeline would also be helpful.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Finally, I'm reading the book again. The Maks went back to the Netherlands for a visit in the early 30s. There was lots of new technology being showcased, including television.

Of course, the Depression was on. The title of this post refers to (Prime Minister?) Colijn, who was in charge at the time. Like President Hoover, he had no idea of the depth of what confronted him. Like Roosevelt, he did radio chats. One of them included handy tips on how to get by with less and make fish head soup.

Mak points out that the Church opposed measures such as shorter workdays and early retirements, but so far, he isn't dwelling on it. This, along with some prior knowledge about the Depression makes for easier reading.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Understanding the Language

Why am I surprised by what's happened before? This is something I used to tell my ESL students about: Often, you can understand a new language better if you don't pay attention. Also, exposure builds ability, whether you pay attention or not.

I was just listening to Kinderen Geen Bezwaar excerpts that are posted here and there. I played a couple of them with no regard for order or episode. I understood a lot of the back and forth dialog, which is basic sitcom stuff. I understood more than when I watched and paid attention. This time, I was on IM and reading in English about other things. It was pretty exhilerating.

My next post will be about the book. I haven't read it in about a week. I have been busy with problems at work, looking for work and fighting with my car insurance company. The only Dutch reading I have done is of a few news articles and Fr. Roderick's posts.

Maybe a breakthrough is imminent. I can hear Dutch more clearly. Although reading remains as slow as ever, it seems that there are more sentences I can read without the dictionaries.

Friday, November 13, 2009


People from other countries sometimes ask me why soccer isn't as popular in the US as it is internationally. Here's why.

1. 0-0. Too often, nothing happens. When the cup came to the US, the big match between Belgium and the Netherlands was hyped to death. Americans tuned in. Nothing happened.

2. Poor production values. Watch an NFL game. Cameras are everywhere. They put you right in the action, up close at almost all times. Angles constantly change. By contrast, soccer games are filmed like American sporting events in 1955. One camera high up in the stands tilts back and forth. The viewer sees a bunch of dots running around. Recently, some soccer leagues made it to the 1960s, with one or two cameras on the sidelines.

3. The game is already too corporate to succeed here. Consumers have limited room in their heads for brand names. The space for corporate sports is already full.

The way ahead:

Dump the offsides rule. Are goalies really necessary? The American indoor game, which had no out of bounds and balls bounced off the wall, was great. Soccer needs something like the NBA shot clock. Not moving forward should be penalized.

Also, the men's game should look to the women's game. Female soccer is wide open and aggressive. Sportsmanship reigns supreme. Women's games don't feature the lazy, lawyerly play of sleazy teams like Italy and Argentina, flopping to maximize the rules to their benefit. Unlike Scandinavian male teams, the women can find the goal without a map.

American soccer could also point the way ahead in terms of marketing. Corporate sports are riding for a fall all over the world. The masses lost interest long ago. More money is being made, because the core audience will pay any price. If American soccer could connect with the masses, that would be a major coup.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nederlands Lite

TV is a stunted art form. You can understand everything by watching it on mute or by just listening to the soundtrack.

What makes TV so bad is what makes it ideal for language learning. When I taught ESL, most of the advanced students got to the higher levels by watching TV.

Today, I've been watching Dutch sitcoms. When I started learning, I couldn't find any. Today, I found two. It helps to watch obvious situations in which people talk to each other.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Other Dutch Links

Thanks to Chris for adding this page to pages at It's great to be plugged in to other Dutch learners.

Also, I heard from Jan's colleague, Bianca, who blogs for the Dutch East Indies Heritage Project. Together with Mike, they're telling the politically incorrect story of decolonization. There were problems, and things could have been done a lot differently. One major problem is that Sukarno wasn't just an admirer of Japan, but Imperial Japan. So far, they're the only ones I know of telling this vital story in English and in-depth.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

At the Dutch festival

Today was the first time I heard a lot of Dutch spoken. It was a lot different than hearing news programs, because people were talking to each other, as opposed to just reading. It was a great time with good food and long lines.

While there, I met Jan Krancher, author of The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies 1942-1949 ISBN 978-0-7864-1707. He's working on bringing the story of the terror that happened to the English speaking world. He is also an environmental consultant. You can see more of him at

I also met some of the Van Gaales, whose family puts on the festival. The event was held at an old family property. The Dutch buildings were put in during the 70s. Plans to make a Dutch theme park never really got off the ground.

It seems that there are two kinds of Dutch people: Those who like haring and those who don't. The line for Broodje Krokets was over an hour long. The line for haring only took about five minutes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some improvement.

Learning Dutch is extremely frustrating. Breakthroughs are few and far between. In reading Geert Mak's prose, I not only look up words, but research them. If something is not in the NL/E dictionary, I check the Van Dale. If it's not there, I go on to Google. Usually, I find something, which means going back through dictionaries to look up synonyms. In the densest sections, which are about religion and church politics, I have to do that with every word.

This has been so difficult that even when looking at looking at Google Nieuws Nederland I have often been unable to decipher anything.

Yesterday, I googled the term "dagblad," and looked at some random Dutch papers. I understood a lot more than the last time I did anything similar. For example, I could tell that GM wouldn't be selling Opel, but I couldn't tell why.

I also listened to Harold Biervliet on Canta America, and was able to understand a lot of what he said.

Knowing some context makes a huge difference. For example, the news surrounds us. I already am fairly familiar with Latin American music. By contrast, I started DE EEUW VAN MIJN VADER with very little prior knowledge of the Netherlands. Now, I'm in a section about the Dutch East Indies, a place about which I knew even less. Getting through background going back to the late 1800s was very difficult.

It was great having a minor breakthrough, which felt major. Understanding more of the written news along with Canta America was great.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nazi Merchandise

Why would anyone go to Oktoberfest on November 1st? In my case, there were several reasons. Because my parents couldn't afford to take us far away, we went to ethnic festivals instead of traveling. My girlfriend had good memories of Oktoberfest with the San Diego German American Society in El Cajon. We thought it would be a fun place to take two of her sons to teach them about other parts of the world. We have taken them to other festivals, including a Dutch one earlier in the year. Also, having studied and listened to Dutch, I wanted to see what I could understand in German. I have understood some when it has come up in movies. Finally, I wanted to do a video slideshow and post it directly on this blog. That way, I could work out the bugs before posting the Dutch festival. As you can see, there is no video.

Even at this late date, Germans are often linked with Nazism. The GF went to Oktoberfest in El Cajon some years back with Czechs, who were in search of a Central European vibe. After too much beer, they started saying the hosts were, "A bunch of Nazis," and got thrown out. She remembers having a nice time, in spite of her friends' mouthing off.

We went to Old World in Huntington Beach, a tacky 1950s stucco development designed to look vaguely like Europe. It's run down now. Think of Solvang without maintenance.

Anyway, there was a German market with all sorts of products for homesick expats and immigrants. People spoke the language. As we walked around waiting for 2:00, when our free admission would be good, we went to other shops.

The other shops stopped me in my tracks. At one of them, I saw a CD with a bunch of old German World War II songs about bombing England, among other things. There were also t-shirts with Luftwaffe aircraft. One shop had a black shirt with an eagle, an iron cross, and a circle with a 90 degree cross hatch over it that didn't quite make a swastika that said, "It's about loyalty."

After that, I felt like a deer in the headlights, walking around aimlessly. I couldn't go inside, but I didn't leave right away either. Everyone looked so nice. Many people had Dachshunds they brought with them for sausage dog races later in the day. I didn't see any tattooed dimwits in gang regalia.

But still, it was their place. They couldn't have been unaware of what was in their stores. These items were on display, not hidden.

There was also a German American Community Church. While we walked around, I saw the pastor, an older German man, whose name was on the door. Later, the congregation started filing in. Most of them reflected the neighborhood demographics. They were mainly Mexican and Asian.

I doubt I'll ever go back, but if I do, I'll ask the pastor what's going on. Why do the shops sell Nazi stuff? How did he get a multi-racial congregation in a complex with shops selling what would be illegal in Germany?

Many Germans were born after the Nazi period, and most don't want to hear about such things. The stereotypes can be painful. I'm still shocked to have seen it being celebrated so openly.

We never went inside. After about 15 minutes of walking around, we left.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Big Mak does a good job of unearthing exactly what colonial life was like. Specifically, he details worker abuse. He even talks about ethnic friction between the free Chinese merchants and brothel keepers and the native population. Mak isn't the only source that says such friction endures.

One place that came to mind when reading this was the American South. Mak uses slavery, along with the lot of Russian peasants to paint a clearer picture of just what it was like for Indonesians in the colonial period.

Although there are similarities to American slavery right down to ads for runaways, a more useful comparison would have been between old Indië and the contemporaneous American regime in the Philippines. Slavery in the American South had ended in 1865.

Big Mak points out that workplace inspections began in 1926, but he does not congratulate anyone. Instead, he uses an example to point out that abuses were being documented as late as 1940.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Flemish Islander Speaks

Once I finished my translation, it took a day before I could go back to reading Dutch. I was overwhelmed when I looked at it for the first time in a week, but I got a couple of pages done.

I may have an ancestral connection to the Dutch speaking world, but it will remain a conjecture. My grandmother, who was born here, had parents from the Azores. She used to say that we were really Flemish or French, and everyone else shrugged it off. Culturally, everyone was Portuguese, though Azoreans have a tendency to be lighter than peninsulars. I was reminded of what she said about a year ago and looked up the possibility. Sure enough, the Azores were known for a long time as, "The Flemish Islands."

From there, I looked up the old County of Flanders but was soon glassy eyed. The old boundaries were never well defined, and the area is now taken up by Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Also, given the Azores' history of dysfunction and unknown fathers that go with it, ancestry there is a guess at best. There is currently a DNA project trying to sort it out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


For whatever reason, I have always been fascinated by the colonial experience. I have met many ex colonists from the old British and Portuguese posessions in Africa. While a volunteer for the police interpreters, I knew a guy who had been rich in the Dutch East Indies. One parent was from the colony, the other from the mother country. Before decolonization, he thought he would never have to work.

Anyway, Chapter 5 has a lot of background about the situation in colonial Indonesia. It was far from idyllic, with plenty of uprisings and fighting.

So far, I have run across two other books about it. For whatever reason, I would really like to read Max Havelaar but not Rubber. It's just as well, because Max has is over 100 years old and is available as a full view book on line.

I have looked Max over, and I could recognize archaic spellings, "y" instead of "ij" for example, which seems easier.

The next post will come up in a week. I'm going to an interpreter's conference in Albuquerque. After that, I have a translation to do.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting ready for the Dutch Festival

Right now, I'm seeing how to upload video. This one is of the Tielman Brothers, the leading exponents of Indo Rock. I had hoped to make it playable from the blog, but it looks like you can only do that from the computer.

Anyway, the story of Rock and Roll in the US is told in our own terms. Nothing foreign happens until the British Invasion. Rock music actually spread all over the world right away, but even Mexico's Los Teen Tops are unknown here.

It's a real shame that the international story remains untold. It is often said that music went into remission when Buddy Holly died, Elvis went into the Army and Jerry Lee Lewis married his cousin. Americans don't realize that the beat went on, just not here. Nostalgia music shows on the early 60s present Ray Charles as the exception to a very dull era.

Now that international videos are readily available, maybe the Tielman Brothers' recordings will get some popularity in the US.

Having made a short story long, this does have something to do with the Dutch Festival in Temecula. I'm planning on attending on Nov. 7 and doing a video/slideshow. The video link is practice for that.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Enough already!

Now working my way through Chapter 5, about life in the colonies. It's 1928, and even though he's been dead for 8 years, yes, "Big" Mak finds a way to mention Abraham Kuyper! He comes up on pages 129 and 130.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Same thing, same time, different arenas.

To put Chapter 4 into context for Americans, the drama that played out in the 20s within the Dutch Reformed Church was very similar to the Scopes Trial.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The snake's speaking, Chapter 4

I finally finished it. Chapter 4 was very hard. The snake is the one in the creation story. It fits for the section on women described earlier and what came after that, which was an in-depth analysis of politics within the Dutch Reformed Church. In the 20s there was a big split between creationists and liberals who thought that the creation story wasn't to be taken literally. The liberal wing eventually broke away completely in 1946.

Recently, I saw a Dutch TV video showing a creationist who has built a replica of Noah's Ark.

It looks like Mak's father was a minister. The chapter ends with a sermon and the family setting sail for the Dutch East Indies, called Indië.

Reading this, the old European attitude that, "Everything else is India," strikes me as strange. Columbus Day was recently celebrated here, and we always hear the story of how he was looking for India. Consequently, we have the West Indies and the East Indies, which includes places in Asia found by Europeans that weren't India itself or China.

Linguistically, this is still very rough going. I still do a lot of dictionary work. I am on page 125, which means I am 1/4 of the way through. There have been a few breakthroughs listening, in which I understand everything for a minute or so, but often, I don't understand what is being said at all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Music from Haiti

The first time I heard Haitian music was at an ordination in Tijuana, Mexico. A new priest was from Haiti, and some family and friends were there. They sang a couple of Haitian religious songs for him, and they were incredible. I heard music from Haiti one other time and was similarly bowled over. It's hard to describe, other than it's in French and combines the best of Africa and the Carribbean. I suppose there is more to it than that. The last edition of RNW's Canta America had some Haitian music. This was the third time I've heard music from there. Again, it was great.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NOS Radio 1 Jornaal Nieuwsoverzicht

On my way home from the exam, I caught up on the nieuws. It seems that Dutch speakers are much more informed about our part of the world than we are about theirs, unfortunately. The story about Obama's Nobel Prize went by with mention of our wingnuts, including Rush Limbaugh. Even so, I hope that some day, people in other countries think of Americans as normal people.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nothing for a week and a half

I got called back for another test and an interview. More later.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Easy Reading

Check out Fr. Roderick's Tweets.

Monday, October 5, 2009

¿Calla América?

I'm not completely rescinding my recommendation of Canta America, but I am adding a caveat. If you don't like the first two songs, erase it. Their last program was a retrospective of The 5th Dimension. ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My Linguistic Progress So Far

It has taken a while for Dutch syntax to start sinking in. Yesterday, I had a breakthrough with verbs. My dictionary work was markedly improved, because I was able to figure out the root right away and look it up, instead of using the monolingual Van Dale first.

Still, I'm in a place that's frustrating. Last night I heard a news podcast that mentioned Letterman. Because of the English segments, I knew what it was about, but I don't know their take on it. On the other hand, there were a couple of other podcasts of general news, and I understood the first 5 minutes of each one. That was exciting.

Reading can also be frustrating. Chapter 4, which I'll post more about later, has a lot of discussion about the Dutch Reformed Church's internal politics. I think Mak's father was a minister, but I'm not sure yet. At times, ministers and ministry are mentioned seperately. I know he did a lot of work with the church, but I wonder in what capacity exactly. It is clear that he wasn't in charge.

In spite of the frustration, I know more than I did before.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

RNW Canta America

This program's title in English is "America Sings," a funny reference for those of us who remember the Disneyland ride of the same name.

It took several weeks of listening to the news on Radio Nederland's podcasts before it dawned on me that I could find this show. I had to see it in print to realize that the title is in Spanish.

Anyway, when the show focuses on Latin American music, it's fantastic. Some times it wanders off, because Eurasians tend to think of the Americas as one continent. A Motown program was great, while one on early 70s country rock (Renamed "Chicken Rock" in the 80s) was as dreadful as you might imagine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

No Great Loss

In his roman-a-clef about Jean Seberg, Carlos Fuentes writes with some puzzlement about America's perpetual loss of innocence. Every time there's a war or some big change, the country loses its innocence. I wonder if the US is the only country that writes its history that way.

By contrast, in writing about Europe, Mak only writes of what happened next and where. In the 1920s Berlin had a huge drug scene. The decadence was a major break with the past, but nobody was losing their innocence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


De Eeuw van Mijn Vader starts on page 11. I'm now on 111! I can do this. Only 388 pages to go!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Dutch Character

Reading Chapter 4 makes me wonder about the Dutch character.

In the media broadcasts, I can see that people in the Netherlands go out a lot for live entertainment. They're out for everything from sports to listening to authors read books that are half an hour long.

In the early 1920s, the Dutch also went out a lot. There were various church meetings and functions almost every night of the week.

I'm wondering if churches back then adapted to the Dutch character by having something to go to most of the time. On the other hand, could the Dutch character have been formed by churches? Did religion go away and leave behind the habit of going out all the time? Please comment.

I think that going out is great, and I try to do it. It connects you with others. When you watch TV, you just have an illusion of connection, and you can fall asleep. You can't fall asleep when you're out. Also, you have to have the energy to get there and then go home.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Answering my own question earlier, I would say that the Netherlands does a better job of international news than the US. European politics are covered, and there are also stories about countries far from Europe.

By contrast, here in Southern California, we get a little news about our neighbors, along with a rundown of how our military is doing.

If one looks to a future of the United States of Europe, which would transfer much international coverage to a domestic context, Dutch media still does a better job. Neighbors are well covered. On the other hand, we only get a little news about Nevada and Arizona, while Oregon might as well be on the moon.

This generalization comes from listening to Radio NL's Wereldnieuwsomroep and NOS Nieuwsoverzicht.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Twee geloven op één kussen, daar ligt de duivel tussen.

"Where there are two believers kissing, the devil is between them"

Now on page 108. The quote appears at the end of page 107. So far in this chapter, Mak is going all out against religion. While the above quote is a bit much, it makes me wonder how the reaction might to current excesses might evolve. My work experience as an interpreter has taken me to STD clinics, which are uniformly rude. The words they use are all the right ones, but their tone reeks of contempt. I'm surprised that STD sufferers go on in silence, instead of starting a movement. I recall something by Octavio Paz, which said roughly, "Sex used to be forbidden and exciting. Now it's a duty."

Mak's father worked with his church in the 1920s. At one point, he saw a freighter wreck, and there were some deaths. He helped out with the funeral related events, but saw a division among those working there. It was becoming professionalized.

This chapter begins with a section on women's rights. Mak's mother was 21 when she voted for the first time. His grandmother was in her 50s.

I have read 2 pages so far. It's very slow going, because it's about religion and other ideas.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I miss Dutch

Lately, work has gotten very busy, which is what happens when you're a freelancer. On Thursday, I have a test coming up to translate Spanish for a school district. Right now, I'm finishing a huge translation, and today, I get to interpret an employees' meeting at a hotel.

I haven't read Mak's book at all. I'm still on page 106. In the meantime, I got some great links to pass on from Marco Schuffelen's page. First off, there's

which has many Catholic and some Protestant prayers and religious texts. It's amazing. I read the "Our Father," and I will dissect the rest after Thursday. He also has lessons. You can find lesson one here:

On Friday, I'll listen to more podcasts and continue reading.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Laura Speaks Dutch

This is also a group on Facebook, which I just joined. I have listened to the first one, and I have all of them on my iPod. If you're learning to speak Dutch, this is the way to go. My own learning is more passive, reading and listening. If I have occasion to go to a Dutch speaking place, I'll listen to the rest of these first and practice that way. Again, I'm in a region where there are very few Dutch speakers. On the Facebook group site, there are lots of tips and recommendations, which you can use or not according to your learning style.

Monday, August 31, 2009

End of chapter 3.

One thing that impresses me about Geert "Big" Mak is how well he writes about other countries. I can't tell if the Netherlands is that open, or if it's just him.

Chapter 3 closes with a look at England, France, Germany and Holland. In England, people retreated into their towns. Germany exploded, and a wild Berlin took over from Paris as the new capital of Europe. The Germans went whole hog for decadence, then started pining for order. The Netherlands had some upheaval. The royal family had an exit plan for a time. Still, it wasn't the wild swings that Germany had. There was a struggle for an 8 hour day. It even had a song, "De Achturenmars," "The 8 Hour March."

Again, Mak's writing is a useful contrast to what usually comes out of the US. The best writing about Mexico is American, but it's never been mainstream. I have never seen an American book about Canada, long derided as "USA North." Our history books are silent about our neighbors for long stretches. If Mak's mentality was American, other countries would only show up during wars, with the occasional foreigner stopping by to introduce a new pop culture phenomenon.

Now that most of my introductory material is out of the way, I will be away for a while. This blog will continue either once a month or at the end of each chapter. I have been reading De Eeuw van Mijn Vader since December 2008. I thought I would be faster by now. Reading a page takes 35-45 min. Each month, I'll comment on Dutch media I've heard and what I've read.

The next post will appear at the end of September.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dutch Learning Tools

Here is what I use the most. The free dictionary is on-line. Instead of playing the same 10 songs and 4 commercials on my car radio, I plug in my iPod. To improve, I listen mainly to foreign language broadcasts. With the internet, you can learn any language.

Friday, August 28, 2009


How come athletes and musicians get all the good nicknames? Geert "Big" Mak!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dutch Media Ratings

VPRO In Europa: Geert Mak is the host of a series of audio and video programs that follow his book about European history. The intelligent calm discussions are really refreshing for someone from a land of shrieking know-nothings. I heard everything I could download. His segment on the English coal strikes under Thatcher had a lot of English language dialog. Mak is someone who wants to know, which makes the series worthwhile.

Katholiek Leven: When learning a new language, it helps if you go with a context you know. Being a lifelong Catholic makes this show more understandable for me than most. Fr. Roderick Vonhogen is a congenial priest who is also a fitness nut. The show had recipes every week for healthy foods. When he recites excerpts from the Mass, it really puts things together. In other languages, I have told my students to go to religious services with which they're familiar. Context puts it together. I listened to all 150 episodes.

Radio Nederland: This outlet has some great news programs, including Neiuwslijn Magazine Wereldomroep. (Newsline Magazine, World Roundup) I can understand a lot of the news summaries due to a common context, but most of their interviews just go right by. Radio Nederland was also useful for learning Spanish. Their Spanish language program is informative and features a wide variety of accents.

Cool Politics: I saw a short podcast covering this recent event. Some politician with white hair and sunglasses was received as a prophet, speaking before an event aimed at younger people. Instead, it attracted hipsters of all ages, the goatee and t-shirt people. The politician arrived in a golf cart. The whole thing looked really dumb.

Radioboeken: This is the hardest of my programs to understand. They feature half hour readings of works by their authors in front of an audience. It's very hard to tease out a context and get meaning. This program helps me tune my ear, but that's about it. This program and others like it show that the Dutch go out a lot to live events. Americans, by contrast, wait for perfect weather, then watch sports on TV.

Het Gespreek: This is an interview channel. The discussions are lively, but a problem in Dutch society is made clear right away: There is too much appreciation for American movies and music. Hollywood often produces a good product, but not all of it is high art.

Goede Zaken!: This show is from Oost Gelderland on Grafschaap TV. It's a roundtable discussion in which the sponsors get interviewed. "How's business?" "I'm glad you asked!" Sometimes the camera wanders off to show various processes, like transporting office supplies. This show is good for beginners, because there are many repetitive commercials. When I last saw it, there were many ads from a car dealer and a furniture store.

Film trailers: Meeste recente bioscoop trailers- This gives a good overview of what's happening in international film. Dutch subtitles over English language films help a lot. A word of caution though, not all trailers are "Approved for All Audiences" as they are in the US. Some European movie trailers get unnecessarily raunchy. Many Dutch movies never make it to the US. It's interesting seeing bits of what is unlikely to come here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


In December I thought I might go to Holland. I started learning Dutch through the media. Although that part of my trip fell through, I decided to keep up with the language and test my theories of language learning. I am a teacher and Spanish interpreter, who is forever in search of a job.

Before leaving it seemed necessary to do some reading. I started with language books from the library. For learning any language, British books are the worst. One book provided a lot of laughs with such useful phrases as, "Don't talk to me like a schoolmaster! Do I look like a schoolmaster?" I did five chapters worth of exercises in a book by a guy from Holland.

From there, it was time to get some real content. I started a search for Dutch authors. I thought that Geert Mak's De Eeuw van Mijn Vader (My Father's Century) would be a good place to start. Wikipedia said that he was a journalist. Reporters usually write in an easy to read contemporary way. I was expecting a short overview of the 20th century in the Netherlands that would be easy to read.

Geert Mak is Mr. Vocabulary. Often searches for words yield "Geen resultaat" (No results.) in Van Dale's online dictionary. Often his sentences are 10 lines long. Sometimes the words he uses are part of Van Dale's professional edition. I search for words in Google and also use The New Routeledge Dutch Dictionary.

One problem with books made in Europe is that they fall apart if you actually read them. My 400 year anniversary edition of Don Quixote from Spain was in pieces by the time I finished it. Similarly, my Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, is also falling apart. I had to send my first copy of my Dutch dictionary back, because it too fell apart. My second copy is holding up better, but we'll see for how long.

Most of this blog will be about Geert Mak's book. I will also report on other Dutch media, which I follow through podcasts. The blog will most likely end when I finish the book.

Some general comments:

The Dutch media presents a self-image of the old Dutch stereotype. People are calm and businesslike. Conformity is a given. With that in mind, I wonder how Amsterdam happened. The Netherlands seems like an unlikely place to put the vice capital of Europe. Sure it's a port, but not all ports are like that.

The story of Santa Claus there is pretty interesting. At Christmastime I heard all sorts of songs about Spain. I couldn't figure it out. Using English sources, I found out that Sinterklaas chills in Spain, until coming to the Netherlands with Black Pete to visit all the good children. I suppose there's more to do in Spain then in the North Pole.

The book so far:

I'm on page 91. I'm reading ISBN 90 450 0127 6, in case anyone wants to follow along.

Right now Mak is describing the 1920s. It is very interesting to read about world events from a perspective I knew nothing about. For example, radio came to the Netherlands in a way that aligned with the 3 tribes Mak describes: Catholics, Protestants and Socialists. KRO, VPRO and other media powerhouses endure to this day.

One major problem Mak has is very common with his generation. He can't stand religion. As a result, he beats the Dutch Reformed Church to death. It was through Mak's book that I noticed this problem. I grew up in the US, just behind the same generation. They always had and still have opinions against religions I know well. Mak's book made me see his generational bias, because I have never had contact with the Dutch Reformed Church and have no opinion about it. In particular, the fundamentalist wing, with which his family broke away around 1900, bothers him. Consequently, all roads lead back to Abraham Kuyper. It's really distracting.

I was not aware that the Netherlands was neutral and made money during WWI. Mak points out that 19th Century thought wasn't swept away as it was in other countries. There wasn't a Lost Generation, and the ground wasn't fertile for Fascism or Communism.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Maks were in the sailmaking business. It was a tenuous existence. The Netherlands was like descriptions I have seen of Portugal in much of the 20th Century, a backward place with lots of poor people and a big empire far away.

My goal is passive comprehension of the Dutch language. It's about reading and listening. There are a few Dutch festivals in Southern California, but not much else.