Saturday, April 03, 2010

Peace Soup

On July 30, 2006, after more than a year of preparation, Stan Morris left behind his home in Sacramento, California and committed himself to full-time volunteer assignments. This decision would lead him to small towns and cities on the East Coast of the United States and of Western Europe, as well as living for nearly five years in New York, Germany, and The Netherlands...

Both the musicians of Musicians Without Borders and our own IFOR staff have been asking me about us having a going-away 'borrel' (cocktail party) in my honor. I continued to tell them for weeks "absolutely not," as I dislike that sort of thing and that I would rather "just walk out the door like on any-other day." Since it's now also Easter week, my dear friends (more likely Arjan and Lilian) decided to have a Pasen luncheon, instead. This then, of course, soon turned into the inevitable going-away borrel:

Merle had prepared a large pot of "peace soup," in reference to a joke idea that I had made up months ago about a soup we would all make, me starting the pot off early in the morning with one ingredient of my choice and each person throwing in whatever they wanted as they arrived at the office. She had actually found on the Internet a recipe called Peace Soup, and it turned out delicious. Srdan got his guitar out and talked me into singing the same, two old Dutch songs that I know everyone is tired of hearing, but still seem to get quite a kick out of the act.

Then Jane, the MwB office manager and the same person that took me with her to the house concerts when I first arrive in Alkmaar, presented me with a MwB tee-shirt, CD and postcard picturing "De Waag." The musician all signed the back of the card, saying some very nice things that I didn't expect. To not be out done, Arjan next surprised me with another tee-shirt, this one from the IFOR staff, and embedded on the front was a large photo (above) taken the week before of all of us, as a parting gift for my photo album.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's back to New York

Now it appears that I'll be coming back "across the pond," as they often say here, on 7 April. It's difficult to maintain a visa for long in Europe in my capacity, and I've already been here for 2 1/2 years. As such, IFOR is sending me to our US branch in Upper Nyack, NY (FOR USA) for at least 3 months, time enough to renew my visa. I'll be living at and working from Shadowcliff, a 42 room mansion and FOR USA's headquarters / conference center. I've already ordered a high-end DELL laptop to take along, with all my publication software included, so I can continue working without interruption. I also have a new assistant, Kim (originally from Phoenix, residing in North Holland), who will handle from the office what I won't be able execute online.

Since returning from Norway in December I've been exploring more of Holland's cities, like Maastricht (one of the oldest) and Rotterdam (one of the newest), and visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The Rijks houses Rembrandt's "Night Watch," a huge painting, so large that when they moved it to Amsterdam town hall in 1715, a two foot section was cut off the left side, so it would fit on the wall between two entry ways, ha! And I've been ice skating again this winter... what else, the temps were in the -10s (ºC), snow and thick ice remained on the streets and sidewalks for months.

A few months ago Arjan and I went ice skating for the first time this winter at de Meent Alkmaar, the same place where I was skating last year with my neighbor Marique. The ice-park sports a "halfoverdekte" (towering roof with an opening to the sky in the middle), a wide 400 meter baan (track), and a full-size competition rink. I tried-out my new 2nd-hand Ving skates, that were nearly as nice as the pair seen on their website and felt great, much faster than my hockey skates of last year. And, I only paid 10 euros for my Ving's, again at Kook tweedehands winkel, and they looked as good as new (still in the box).

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday (two weeks) I hung-out here in Alkmaar, seeing a Dutch film sub-titled in French at the Provadja (independent arts theater), of which I visit at least once per weekend, and spending time with John Schot, IFOR's Director and one of my best friends here. John has been a great friend, taking me to places I would have never ventured, i.e Sauna Oase Heerhugowaard (Industriestraat 5-7), going to the movies with me every Tuesday ('kortingdinsdag' at the now JT Alkmaar), and just hanging-out together on the Waagplein sipping Dutch beer and my usual Royal Club Tonic (similar to Schweppes Tonic Water). And, of course, I attended "Kerstavond" (services and entertainment) at de Grote Sint Laurenskerk on Christmas eve, as in the past two years.

I am also hoping for a bit more ice skating on the “grachten” (city canals) before I have to leave. I did see a little ice forming on the Singelgracht, one of the larger canals that encircle the business district, at the end of our street a few evenings ago! As for the certain near future, it's back to the State of New York, although this time the Big Apple is less than an hour away.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finding friends in Norway

Along with John Schot, IFOR's Director, I recently spend five days in Oslo, Norway. The week began with a planning meeting for a conference, co-sponsored by IFOR and UNESCO, and a dinner served by our local hosts at the University of Oslo (HIO). We assisted IFOR's NVE program director Eva Fussinger, co-ordinator of the four day conference on "early childhood education," facilitated at Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus, and attended by a majority of Norwegian and Swedish educators. I'm involved in organizing a subsequent publication on the program with Eva, a publication which is fully supported by a grant and John was additionally responsible for doing a presentation. John and I ended up with a fifth day in Norway when our flight from Oslo Lufthavn was canceled due to a snow storm at Schiphol in The Netherlands. That day was no fun, I can assure you, as we tied desperately for over an hour in -12c weather to find a bus that would take us to our assigned hotel.

Other than the lay-over, I would say we had a great time! Our hotel in Oslo, Cochs Pensjonat, was a block a way from the Royal Palace (Slottet), two blocks from the conference, and a kilometer from the harbor. Oslo is an incredible city, sitting at the end of a fjord and surrounded by mountains that spill into the sea. At night you can see the ski lifts cascading down the hillsides seemingly right into the city. The first thing to strike me was the transportation tunnels: huge, sterile, concrete tubes running deep into the earth to the trains below. We were told by a taxi driver that within a year all autos will also be underground. There seems to be a lot of "quiet wealth" exhibited, everything stately and grand and architecturally well planned.

I appreciated all that our personal-hosts Trond, Heidi and Jörgen did for us. Heidi and Jörgen are an older couple, long-time peace activists, and have two houses located near and in the harbor. We ate several wonderful meals at one of their homes and spent a great deal of time visiting contacts there. Trond, as well as Jörgen on a separate occasion, gave us several terrific tours of the city, one of which was of a long park system along the Akerselva River, where many old factories are being converted into art studios and restaurants. We hiked downhill along beautifully intertwined trails for several kilometer, ending up at the Oslo Opera House, which literally juts right out into the harbor.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Boeklezing on Koningsweg

An interesting but kinda' funny thing happened the other night. It was around 7:30p at the library and a friend, Diek, asked me if I would like to go to a "boeklezing" (book lecture/study) with him. He wanted me know that it was located at a church and asked if I was religious or had a problem with that, although the group was open to anyone. Of course, I said no problem and, sure, I would like to go. I then asked Diek if he was religious, still just a bit curious, and he quickly said "nee."

A tall, lanky man with a good sense of humor, Diek is a retired, although still part-time, school teacher. We've chatted from time to time over the last two years, gone out a few times for drinks at a local kroeg (pub), and enjoy talking about Alkmaar history. Once we read a German newspaper together, just for fun, when he saw me trying to read it and finding the language similar to Dutch―he teaches German. Diek also knows that I've been reading some Dutch novels, so it was understandable that he had asked be to go along.

The "lezing" was on nearby Koningsweg. I know of a Mennonite church up that way, actually a member of our organization (IFOR), that a group of us from the office visited last year for a Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance, so I figured that might be the place. It was! The Doopsgezind Alkmaar at Koningsweg 10 was built in 1617 and is one of the oldest stone Mennonite churches in The Netherlands. We were directed to an adjacent, nicely furnished building that looked more like someone's living room, and warmly greeted by Carolien and a few minutes later by Ytje, the leader of the group.

There were seven of us altogether; the book discussion was on "Eindelijk thuis" by Henri Nouwen. It turns out that Nouwen, now passed on, was an internationally renowned priest and author, born in Holland, and a respected professor that has written over 40 books on spiritual life. He was ordained in 1957 as a diocesan priest and studied psychology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. "Eindelijk thuis" is Nouwen's interpretation of Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son (1668)."

Well, about then it dawns on me that I'm sitting in a bible study of sorts, and I find out later, on the Internet, that Carolien is Doopsgezind Alkmaar's predikant (preacher) and Ytje is their pastoraal werker. A surprise, but a delightful one, as I was enjoying myself, the coffee and cookies, and what I understood of the discussion (in Dutch). In between we watched a video of a talk Nouwen gave in 1992 at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. All interesting stuff; afterwards I had a nice chat with the charming Carolien and Ytje, who invited me back. I think I may take them up on it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Darmstädter Hübsch

On Saturday a few friends I encountered in the neighborhood were excited, telling me about a "must see band" called Darmstädter Hübsch. The group was appearing the next day on Sunday, 25 October 2009 at the FEELGOOD FESTIVAL 10 JAAR, the tenth year anniversary of a music festival and benefit held each year at a popular nightclub in Alkmaar. The proceeds are then channeled into local charities and non-profits, making everyone feel good.

The well known club, VICTORIE, is located in the Binnenstad at Breedstraat 33 and it frequently draws large, mixed crowds, especially on weekends. Their website says that VICTORIE, "In the heart of Alkmaar, is a place where everyone goes wild on the dance floor, stories are shared and exaggerated in the upstairs café, talent is developed and performed, and above all, there is a feeling of musical freedom that you can share with friends." In short, it's an entertainment extravaganza!

My friends said I really should see this group and they invited me to go along with them. During the summer we listen to a lot of live music in Alkmaar, because nearly everyone is into music, plays an instrument or sings in a vocal group, and because music is playing every where, in the town squares, in the streets, on sidewalks, in the concert halls, and on most occasions it's free. So, respecting my friends' suggestion, I committed to going with them to FEELGOOD to experience the phenomenon Darmstädter Hübsch.

As expected, the concert went crazy, deafening cheers from the crowded dance floor, when the group launched into its headliner song 99 Luftballons. "99 Luftballons (German: Neunundneunzig Luftballons, 99 balloons) is an anti-war protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album," states Wikipedia. "An English version titled 99 Red Balloons, with lyrics by Kevin McAlea, was also released on the album 99 Luftballons in 1984 after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German original and contains somewhat different lyrics."

Wikipedia continues, "Nena was a German Neue Deutsche Welle band, best known for their 1983 hit 99 Luftballons. The band was formed in 1982 when vocalist Gabriele Kerner came to Berlin with drummer Rolf Brendel, her boyfriend at the time. There they assembled the other members of the band, which took its name from their lead singer’s nickname (a corruption of the Spanish for “little girl”), which she had acquired as a toddler during a family holiday to Spain."

The the music and performance by Darmstädter Hübsch of the song were incredible. A catchy tune, thought provoking lyrics, the song tells the story of 99 balloons that "are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child's balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves."

As a consequence, a ninety-nine-year war results from an otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation without any victor. The singer in the song walks through the devastated ruins and finding a single balloon lets it loose, watching it fly away.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ever hear of BookCrossing?

I was looking through our collection of books in the apartment last week, hoping to find a new book (in Dutch) to read. Sure enough, I quickly found one, the same one I'd passed up many times. It turned out to be a "release;" yellow ID labels plastered on the outer/inner covers, an official BookCrossing bookmark included, and more numbers inside. I immediately got interested, not as much in the book as in what this BC thing was all about:

"BookCrossing is the act of releasing your books 'into the wild' for a stranger to find, or via 'controlled release' to another BookCrossing member, and tracking where they go via journal entries from around the world. Our community of passionate, generous book-lovers is changing the world and touching lives, one traveling book at a time."

Here's the journal entry I wrote at BookCrossing's website:

My name is Stan Morris, I'm the Communications Officer for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) in Alkmaar, NL. I work and live in the same building, the IFOR International Secretariat, where one night on 14 August 2009 I found the book Spitzen that you released in "een boekenrek op de zolder." Having confined myself for the last 20 months to reading only in Dutch, in an effort to learn the language better, I'm always looking for new material. I'm also a Boekenweek and Nederland Leest fan, "zo natuurlijk" I became interested, not only in the book, but also in BookCrossing, of which I had also never heard of before.

Normally I might not have picked this book, but I do like to experience new and cool ideas, like Bookcrossing, and since I've read the 2008 Nederland Leest "geschenk" and the last two Boekenweek CVs, I've decided to try reading Spitzen. I'm taking it with me on my vacation to California through September. Thanks for your kindness, and I will be sure to pass Spitzen along to the next finder.

As a curious side note, on a recent visit to Minden, Germany I came across a large, marble sculpture in the parking lot of Bahnhof Minden (Central Station). Something lying in an 8" hole that ran through the sculpture caught my eye, looked like a paperback book, and it popped into my mind: "Bookcrossing." So, I stopped! Yep, a German novel titled "Nelleke Noordervliet: Das Auge des Engels Roman" dtv, and inside an official BC label and number. I wrote down the relevant info, put the book back, and plan to make a journal entry at BookCrossing on this book, as well.

This last part, about finding a "release" that soon by chance is weird!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Touring the Beemster polder

A few weeks ago Arjan (on left in the photo), IFOR's Accountant and a friend of mine, took three of us volunteers from the office in his car for a tour of an area in 'Noord Holland' where he grew up. We stopped first along the way to show Pauline and Aktuigun, two young interns that were here from Africa and Asia for six weeks to work with our WPP program, several large windmills on the polders (low areas surrounded by dikes and pumped dry of water). Then we went on to visit three nearby, historic, small towns (de Rijp, Graft, and Volendam) and de Beemster polder.

De Beemster polder is well-known world-wide and is where all that famously exported Gouda cheese is produced, the cheese sometimes displayed in food-stores in the shape of large, yellow wheels. While in the area, we also met Arjan's parents, who live in the village of MiddenBeemster. Wonderful people, kind and thoughtful, they were so welcoming and had much to tell us about their lives in the village. Arjan's mother had prepared a delicious Dutch lunch for us, native Dutch treats, and gave us some gifts. It was an experience I won't soon forget, a peaceful, sunny afternoon with gentle people of the Beemster Polder.

After our visit we went on to spent some time touring in Volendam, a very special fishing "dorp" (village) with an even more interesting history. It seems that everyone who is born in Volendam stays in Volendam their entire lives! Generations go back for centuries and the people of Volendam continue to wear their traditional clothing and shoes to this day. Later, we ended our tour with visiting more friends, John Schot (IFOR's Director) and his wife Irene, at their home in Alkmaar, where we were served dinner by Irene, thus having another "heel lekker" Dutch meal and much more enjoyable conversation.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vicky's visit

A few weeks ago I received a per-arranged and most welcomed visit from my sister Vicky. She arrived right after AZ Alkmaar, a football (soccer) team in the small city where I'm living, won the Dutch League championship. The wild, loud, and several days long AZ Feest (see YouTube video) took place soon after, while she was here. We're in the crowd standing on top of a five story parking garage and chanting "kampioen, kampioen!" It really was "wild!" AZ (pron: aaa-zet) won the national championship for the second time this year, and it had been a long time since the first win. As you probably know, football is huge in Europe, it's all sports fans talk about.

I have put some photos up on Picasa of Vicky's visit that I received from her and my BVS Director in Europe, who was also here for the first two days of the visit. An acquaintance of mine, Aggie, actually lives in and operates the photographed windmill, and there are probably ten such mills within walking distance of my residence. Aggie was kind enough to spend the morning giving us a tour of the mill and explaining its operations. All mill operators in The Netherlands must be educated (several years) and obtain a special operator's license.

Thursday before last was "Hemelvaartsdag," Ascension Day, and a holiday in the Netherlands. Each year on this day they have a running event in Alkmaar called the Vestloop that starts at Grote Sint Laurenskerk (the big church) and winds through the "binnenstad" (center of town). I participated last year and again this year in the 5K race. Improved my time by 7 seconds, so at least I'm not getting any slower. Ha!

Received a postcard from a friend I met in Rochester, NY three years ago that was visiting St. Andrews, Scotland and on his way to Istanbul. Hope to hear what he thought about Turkey, as many of the foods I buy come from there and the nuts and dried fruits are the best I've ever tasted. Iran, too; the quality of Iranian dates is superior to any dates I've eaten.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter wandeltocht

We also have Monday off for Paasdagen (1st and 2nd days of Easter). I had some time on my hands, so on the Web I found the Geert Dilling Wandeltocht 2009. This morning I biked over to this annual Alkmaar event and registered for the 10 kilometer. A "wandeltocht" is a walking tour or hike through nature areas, forests and dunes along the seaway, and we have many all around us. It was sunny and warm, and I even found a few people to walk with to practice my Dutch, ha!

Sunday I went for a run through Kennemer Park along the canals, everything is bursting out and smells wonderful. I had to stop a few times just to sniff some of the bright yellow and white blooming bushes. Baby ducklings are everywhere, following their mamas through the reeds, it's all quite cute. Thought I'd see a film on Saturday evening, Grand Torino with Clint Eastwood didn't look interesting at first, but turned out to be terrific. Clint taking the "active nonviolence" idea to the extreme it could be argued.

Between the movie and the wandeltocht I did a research project on a new song I've decided to tackle. Malle Babbe is well known song in Holland and about a lady in the 16th century, as painted by famous Dutch portrait painter Frans Hals in 1630. It took hours over two days to comprehend what this was all about, as their is little known about Malle Babbe and Lennaert Nijgh (interesting person) wrote two versions for two different artists.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Café De Dokter

Yesterday John and I went to Amsterdam for the evening, as our Musicians without Borders friends invited us to their 10 Years Celebration. The event was a concert featuring six individual performances and the music of Sarajevo, Balkans, Mexicaanse, and Holland's Mitrovica Rockschool. On the map I thought the venue looked familiar, then realized I had visited this area over a year ago with Marion, the acquaintance I've mentioned from Austria.

This section of the city "you will want to see," as it hosts some of the most historic names in Holland, the Dam, the Royal Palace, AEX (stock exchange), Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, but most importantly the Begijnhof, one of the oldest and most beautiful inner courts in the city and an enclave with a very interesting religious history. And strolling through Amsterdam on a Saturday night is always a magnificent and exciting experience!

Well, we arrived at the Begijnhof a little early, so John and I thought we would find a nearby café and have a drink (John, always beer, and I, my "now renown" tonic). A half block away, in one of the city's many steegs (alleys), we drop in on Café De Dokter and instantly find this crowded, narrow but fascinating room, incredibly stuffed with two centuries of curiosities, ha! Turns out, this is the smallest café in Amsterdam, founded in 1798 by a surgeon of a nearby hospital (Binnengasthuis).

As always, John and I had a bellyful of laughs, got into a fun conversation with a couple from England, but couldn't stay long because we had to meet our friend Arjan, who had the tickets, in front of Engelse Kerk. Of course, the concert was terrific, with a finale of Joplin's "Bobbie McGee" sung by Mitrovica's very impressive and pretty lead singer. But, I guess, what topped the evening was that John, Arjan and I went back over to the Café De Dokter to finish-off what we started earlier, ha! This time we also order a "kaas bordje" (cheese plate) of Beemster's oldest.

I mention all this to give you some ideas for your visit; but also because you and I certainly must make a visit to "De Dokter."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Office Borrels

A few weeks ago we hosted one of our annual office "borrels," very similar to cocktail parties in the US. This particular borrel was the IFOR New Year's get-together, done by our staff so that friends and associates have an opportunity to see the office and meet our team. We provisioned the event with a wide assortment of Dutch drinks and snack foods and provided some entertainment for the quests (usually all from North Holland).

I may have mentioned that I have been learning a new song, like I was doing while in Rochester, NY, but this time as an effort to study the Dutch language. An acquaintance of mine at the local library, Hein, suggested the song, a classic Dutch "lied" called Ode aan Maastricht, as he has been learning a new song in English by Scottish singer/songwriter Amy Macdonald.  So, I took the challenge.

My musician friend Srdan Kekanovic in the adjacent office found out about this and talked me into singing the same song with him playing the guitar at the borrel. We practiced on and off for about a month, although I was still hesitant about doing this in front of a house full of native Dutch speakers. Additionally, I had invited a couple of neighbors (lady friends) this year, who just happen to be in local singing groups―probably not the best way for me to get to know them better.

The time came, I ended up performing with Srdan at the party and all went as planned; everyone had a few good laughs, as well. It was actually a riot! Srdan plays professionally and had helped me though all of this, otherwise I might have been deported by now. Just kidding! My next door neighbor and her friend even asked me to join their singing group. Oh sure, I thought, that will be interesting! It seems that everyone in Alkmaar is in a singing or musical group... it's just the thing to do here.

So, the following Monday night I showed up for my first practice with the "Spoorbijster," 18 women and now two guys with me included. At least all the songs are in English and older 60s, 70s, and 80s rock 'n roll and Motown hits, all of which I've already heard many times in my youth. The last number of the night was, "Happy Together" by The Turtles. Ha!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sinterklaas visited us

The Saturday before last, Sinterklaas visited us! He was here last year, as well, but I was in Germany and missed the whole thing. So this was all new for me, and I would have to say another "incredible" Dutch tradition to experience...

The tradition of St. Nicholas (our Santa Claus) came to North America via Netherlands Protestant Settlers in New Amsterdam, now New York. It all started back in the 4th Century when a Bishop in Turkey named St. Nicholas became widely known for his good deed with poor children in Europe. His feast day became known as the Celebration of "Sinterklaas" and was held on December 6. St. Nicholas is also known as the patron saint of Amsterdam.

I'll let you read more about Sinterklaas on your own, if you want. All I want to add is that Sinterklaas is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful outfits. These helpers are called Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) in Dutch, and there is nothing like them. According to tradition, Sinterklaas is dressed like a Catholic bishop and rides a big, white horse. After his boat motored into town via the canals and docked at our Waagplein (town square), he rode through the streets on his horse, accompanied by a processsion of jolly Zwarte Pieten and musicians.

This was an all-day event, video Intocht Sinterklaas Alkmaar.

Well, it's snowing again today -- unbelievable!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Strangest dream last night

Had the strangest dream:

I'm standing in the white, graveled driveway of our house in Cedar Grove. Those bright red, double garage doors at my back and our old, dark green, mid-1950's Buick Century in front of me with the hood open, and there's Dad standing right next to it...

(If any of you remember, back then the "old Buick" had been set aside when Mom and Dad bought Otto and Lydia Frisk's newer model Chrysler. I got the idea one day, when I was around 17 or 18, that it would be cool if the Buick was my car. Dad said ok, and we spent the better part of an afternoon one summer trying to get it started. The battery was dead, of course, so Dad pushed me in the Buick with his Ford pickup for miles down Mace Road, attempted to push-start the engine. Well it never happened... we ended up having to push the old Buick all the way back home, and there it sat 'til we moved to Placerville.)

...So, back to the dream. There's the old Buick sitting there with the "hood now down" and Dad facing me, with his trademark closed-lip smile, very calm and patient, just looking at me. We've finally fixed the old Buick! There's this quiet sense of accomplishment in both of us, as we stand leaning up against this now reignited, classic automobile. I had been waiting along time for this day and I say to Dad, "Well, Dad, when you promised to help me get the old Buick started I'll bet you never thought it would be at this time (meaning that he had come back to earth in order to fulfill his promise to me). We share a long awaited laugh.

Then Dad fades away, the old Buick disappears, and I'm left standing with this wonderful feeling -- the kind of feeling you have after spending a hugely pleasant day with your Dad. My next thought was, guess I brought Dad back just to help me finish off the work on the old Buick. But maybe there was more to it, maybe I just "needed to spend a little time with my Dad."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Berlin summer retreat

I have received a group photo that was taken on our Berlin retreat trip by our BVS Director Kristin...

We were staying just outside of Berlin in a resort area called Kladow, right on the Wannsee River (more like a lake) at Haus Kreisau. Haus Kreisau is a youth training/seminar center named after the “Kreisau Circle,” a group of church people in resistance during World War II (the place where they met in Poland, and the location of a former BVS project).

We also toured Berlin for a day and a half, went on one commercial tour and later up into the dome of the Reichstag (the German capitol building, and the one Hitler tried to destroyed before WWII). Visited many of the more popular sights like the Brandenburg Gate, 'the wall,' stood on top of Hitler's bunker, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zomer op het Plein

I've been seeing one concert or theatrical event after another for over a month (sometimes 4-5 a weekend). I might have mentioned there's quite a music scene right here in Alkmaar, with roots going back to 'the early rock en' roll days of Europe,' and it's happening just a few blocks away.

Zomer op het Plein runs all summer, with free music, street theater, art programs and activities for kids. A few of the acts I've seen are: Erik van Muiswinkel & Omnibuzz, well known for his imitations of famous people; Candy Dulfer, regular guest of international pop stars such as Prince, ArethaFranklin, Van Morrison and Pink Floyd; Hilaria/Teatro Pavana, street theater with realistic marine tank, dolphins and a mermaid; Teatro Pavana, life-size giraffes by professional stiltwalkers (the kids went crazy); and Amsterdam Klezmer Band, mix of Eastern European styles and some of the most energetic music I've ever heard.

'Yesterday' Popfoto's of Nico van der Stam has been here all summer at our Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar. The exhibition is very popular, representing just about every band of the 60's and 70's. The day I went people were going nuts over the 'wall of music,' where you can don headphones to hear songs of all the artists (click 'tentoonstellingen' and 'archief' on the left sidebar on their website). From the Rolling Stones to Boudewijn de Groot to the Supremes, it's here when pop music was still emerging and pop photography in its infancy.

Lindegracht Concerten is a tradition in Alkmaar of three open-air, summer evening, classical music concerts. The concerts are held on one of the most beautiful canals in Alkmaar and it too is free. Many people get dressed-up for the evening, and some have candle-light dinners and wine in boats tired-up right below the floating stage.

Karavaan (you have to see this) is the latest event, and the most unusual thing, ha! It travels along the north of North Holland from July17th to August 10th with theater, dance, music and youth performances, a total of 20different productions and well over 100 performances. I met a new acquaintance of mine, Joke, there and she said she had just experienced Vlucht ('experience' is the key word).

So into the chamber I go along with 20 others... keep in mind that many of these acts are not highly commercialized ventures but grand creations by some very creative/inventive individuals with huge amounts of energy. To say the least, my mind was blown when I came out, and if you weren't bored by now with hear about Alkmaar, I'd enjoy telling you more.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wijkfeest Spoorbuurt

Several weeks ago I found a bright-green flyer in our mailbox, obviously hand delivered and stating that there would be another Wijkfeest Spoorbuurt this year on Saturday, June 14. The flyer was packed with information about the 12 hour event -- in Dutch, of course, so it took days for me to figure out just what was happening and where.

Turns out it was our annual neighborhood (Spoorbuurt) get-together, held at a primary school called Bello a few blocks away on Snaarmanslaan. The activities included: the Opzoomeren, including the passing of the Vergulde Tuinkabouter (golden garden gnome), a BBQ, snuffelmarkt (flea market), stratenvolleybaltoernooi and in the evening an open-air concert called Single Tunes (local musicians, singers, dancers and actors).

My neighbors Mereik, Irene, Rus, Jong, Jon and Annaliese talked me into joining the volleyball tournament (6 games in all). Later, the "wisselbeker" (trophy) was awarded, Spoorstraat had won the tournament last year but gave the cup back this year. Along with 15 other buren, these guys sang "California Dreamer," "My Way" (both in Dutch) and 14 other fun songs on stage. I was so impressed with the quality, as well as the numbers.

Guess who I ran into the other night (June 20) at a house concert... Tineke Schoemaker of Barrelhouse. I've made friends with the musician in the office next to mine and Jane, who I've mentioned before, invited me to her house for a concert she was hosting. Jane was also the entire night's entertainment, doing solo performances of multi-cultural songs with three musicians as backup.

There were around 40 of us and later, Jane, Evelen (the guitarist), Tineke and I ended the night at 2:00 AM chatting over a last drink (apple cider, ha!). Tineke has been compared to leading vocalists like Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, and I find her to be "just too cool" and fun conversation.

I also attended an outdoor concert in the Centrum last weekend and saw Rapalje. There had been free concerts all week long because of Alcmaria Feesten and Kaeskoppenstad (old-town turns into a 16th century Alkmaar). Rapalje was absolutely terrific; the music, medieval costumes, the performance and especially the marketing. I liked them so much I even bought one of their T-shirts -- like I really need another T-shirt.

Last Friday night John, our Executive Director, and I went to a "wild" bar on the Waagplein called Joey's to watch the EU football game. The Dutch had won three big games in a row, and the whole county was going crazy. It was a riot but I didn't stay long; one tonic-water, an hour of Oranje songs and big screen TV was enough for me, ha!

I had to chair our publications working group the next morning at the office, so it was quite a weekend. I'm swamped right now with my publications work and IFOR's annual report (that I'm also responsible for) is coming up fast next week.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Hague

On Thursday five of us went to Den Haag (The Hague) to sit in on the Trial of Charles Taylor, at one time Taylor was the President of Liberia. The trial is taking place at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Taylor is accused of aiding the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone. These guys are purported to have killed and raped civilians, cutting off arms, legs, ears or noses, and burned their homes. Albert Hindowa Saidu, an RUF rebel fighter, was being questioned about a brutal attack on a town; we sat just 10' away from him.

Saidu was a college student at Bunumbu in his finalyear, pursuing a teacher's certificate when he was abducted in 1991. He stay with the RUF right until the final disarmament in 2001. Child abductions are a common form of recruitment for rebel forces, something our organization hopes to have an impact on.

After witnessing the ICC testimony we left to visit an organization we had worked with last year, The United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders). They had lunch prepared for us and we met their new student interns, two of which are from Italy. Silvia Silvozzi says she grew up in San Benedetto del Tronto, a small and quaint 'Californian-style-village' by the Adriatic Sea.

Then on to the Vredespaleis (The Peace Palace), often called the seat of international law because it houses the International Court of Justice (different from the one above), the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and the extensive Peace Palace Library. We went on a guided tour (high security, so no wandering around on your own), and it was truly incredible. The Peace Palace is one of the most photographed landmarks of The Hague.

Towards evening, Christina, WPP's Educational Director (who had arranged the entire day) went home and the four of us ended up at Scheveningen / Kijkduin beach for some sight-seeing and coffee before going back to Alkmaar on the train... it was a long day!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Weekends with friends

Saturday before last, my friend John and I biked over 50 kilometer, to Egmond aan Zee (5 miles away) and on up through the Schoorl Duin (dunes). John took his son Willem with us on the back of his bike. Willem is a lot of fun to have around, we've spent hours together here at the office (have a big stack of drawings of dinosaurs and monsters). I'm getting quite close to his family, that has really been a blessing.

Last weekend was the "60's & 70's" music swap at our Stedelijk Museum. I met the guy who owns the Beatles Museum in Alkmaar. His name is Azing Moltmaker, and I talked with him for quite a while about how he got stated. He had some mock Beatle's jackets with him (the originals are in museums) and two Beatles dresses that girls in the Netherlands wore to concerts back then. He also owns George Harrison's jacket that George wore in the famous Abbey Road photo on the Beatles' White album.

Azing said he has the largest collection of Beatles' memorabilia owned by one person in the world -- the other two museums borrow their stuff from private collectors. He has also written more books (32) on the Beatles than anyone else. He was really cool, and gave me his business card; of which I'm going to send to my friend Peggy who loves music.

It was a nice day, and a holiday for us: Pinksterdag (Pentecost). Altogether that weekend I biked 65 kilometers, and ran and hiked another 10 kilometers... then slept 12 hours the next night, ha!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

You gotta' see this..

I had quite a laugh when several days ago I was surprised by this photo of Marion Schreiber, Françoise Pétremand and I, while thumbing through the Alkmaars Weekblad (a local weekly I pick up at our library). Marion is a retired English teacher from Austria and Françoise was the mayor of her hometown in France for 50 years. They were both here last week for our organization's annual three day European FOR conference, where I met both of them for the first time.

The evening that Marion arrived the three of us went out for dinner to a "gezellig" restaurant in the centrum called Sumangali (Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine). The owner came over to our table soon after we were seated and asked us if we would mind having our picture taken, as he "sometimes likes to use the photos for newspaper ads." Of course, I never thought I would really ever see the photo that the restaurateur took of us that evening and, as such, just forgot about the incident...

until now, ha! The food was very good, interesting, the service excellent, and this is certainly one of my favorite restaurants in Alkmaar.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Clocks and water

A couple of things I think are really cool here are the “vrije uitloop eieren” (free-range eggs) sold at Albert Heijn -- it's kind of like a Dutch Raley's -- and “Echinacea toothpaste.” All large supermarkets in the Netherlands now carry eggs from poultry farms raising birds in open barns or in free-range systems.

The toothpaste is just something I have been using ever since I arrived. I like the stuff a lot, although it's not cheap, and I haven't seen it marketed in The States.

Another thing I have found fascinating are the views from my apartment and flat windows over the last two years. My apartment and flats have always been up high enough to see out over the roof tops. This occasional contemplation has spurred me to write this poem...

Clocks and water déjà vu

I can see the hands of a large clock
in a tower
from my living room in Alkmaar.

I could see the hands of a large clock
in a tower
from my living room in Minden.

I could see the hands of a large clock
in a tower
from my living room in Rochester.

A canal passes silently nearby,
below my living room in Alkmaar.

A river passed silently nearby,
below my living room in Minden.

A river passed silently nearby,
below my living room in Rochester.

What this all means to me,
I know not... again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Christmas Eve

In Alkmaar it's a tradition that on Christmas Eve crowds of people gather at Grote Sint Laurenskerk, a huge, 15th century French Gothic style church just a few blocks away. There was a stage setup inside and groups of people moving in and out all evening as each performance changed. The floor is composed of large, black stone slabs with beautiful art carvings in most of them, and two world-famous organs, the Van Covelens (also known as Koororgel, 1511) and the Van Hagerbeer or Big Schnitger (1636), were played during the service.

Hundreds joined in on 12 songs during the service, with readings and a long sermon by a priest/pastor spaced in between the singing. The entire service was in the native language, so we were singing classics like "Silent Night" in Dutch, ha! A friendly guy with his son sat next to me. He couldn't speak English and I'm still not speaking a whole lot of Dutch, yet we actually enjoyed a great conversation and each others company.

The whole thing was quite warm, casual and very community oriented, which was good for me not knowing anyone here. It all finished up around midnight, then I rode back home on my bike across the canal in the moonlight. People were still out enjoying a popular restaurant called “De Studio,” as I passed by. It was all so awesome, unfamiliar and at the same time strangely familiar.

I spent New Years Eve here in Alkmaar, too; informal celebrations on the streets were going on all day. They're very big on fireworks in Holland, as it turns out. It's the one day a year that the police allow people to use just about any type of fireworks you can imagine -- all the ones that we know of as being illegal for personal use in most places at home -- and it is incredible.

Loud bangs and exploding rockets all day, then it all let loose at midnight! For several minutes it was so smoky that I literally couldn't see out the window of my apartment, where I had taken refuge and was having a late night snack. Earlier in the evening I had taken a bicycle ride around town, and was surprised to see that not much was going on. A few restaurants were open for what looked like private parties, but not De Studio where I had planned to hang out.

Everyone came back out into the streets at midnight. They partied on for several more hours; even small children were lighting off firecrackers. It was incredible just how much explosive powder was detonated. There didn't seem to be any drinking or problems, though (you rarely see a policeman on the streets here), just one heck of a lot of "red" paper from the fireworks.

After struggling with trying to understand what my instructor was saying to us in Dutch class and still coming up with nothing, I decided on a different plan of attack. I realized that I was not having any problem with the text books or the writing exercises. So I started concentrating on the homework assignments, went right on through that night's work and on into the following chapters.

Went back to class Thursday night. Started coming up with answers to all the questions before anyone else. Even corrected my instructor on something she stated and pointed out an error in the text book on a logic exercise we had to cypher, ha! I don't mean to make a big deal out of it, but I really needed a boost in confidence at that point to continue and luckily got it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kids with lanterns, old churches

Back in Alkmaar, The Netherlands...

Peace work at IFOR is both active and challenging for me, as I need to interact with people from all over the planet, people who are interested in getting involved with the organization. I've just finished the Fall issue of our quarterly publication IFOR in Action and have already begun work on the next edition. As for off-time, I recently shared with Katie O an experience I had that exemplifies what life is like outside the office here in Alkmaar.

One evening I had taken a walk along a loop that traverses the Centrum Alkmaar and passes through the "old quarter." By chance, I came upon what appeared to be an endless procession of children parading on the sidewalk. I think every kid in town must have been there, and half of the adults, who were lined-up along both sides of the streets observing. Each child was carrying a short stick with a colorful lantern dangling from one end, and each group of children had a unique lantern theme: cheese, ghost, skeleton, etc. I followed the procession of nearly 2,000 participants for a quarter mile through the lamppost lit, thousand year old, narrow cobblestone streets, weaving in and out of the crowd, until I reached its final destination.

The groups, thus representing various primary schools, were being announced and greeted by the mayor and other dignitaries, who were festooned with silver garlands around their shoulders, as they paraded into the Waagplein (plein=square), a town square buttressed by the picturesque Voordam (a canal) and some of the best restaurants.  Alkmaar was the first city in the Netherlands to be freed from the Spanish occupation, a major turning point in the Eighty Years War and what also gave rise to the expression, "Bij Alkmaar begint de victorie" (Victory begins in Alkmaar). All this happened on "8 October 1573," which now explains the above event on 7 October: a Relief of Alkmaar Association program held each year on the eve of the Alkmaar Ontzet.

There are many stone structures dating back to the 14th century near my flat, and many canals dating back to the 9th century. From my 3rd floor Dutch windows I can see the huge, gilded, ornate steeple of Sint Laurenskerk, as well called the Grote Kerk (large church). It contains the early-Renaissance tomb of Floris V, Count of Holland and many other prominent figures entombed in its slab-stone ground floor, and just a few blocks away is the Waag, or Weighing House, built around 1390 and still in use as a demonstration exhibit during the Saturday Alkmaar Cheese Market reenactment and street market. Mixed in with the grand, old churches and historic buildings of Alkmaar's Town Centre are surprisingly many trendy shops and restaurants. I counted fifteen cafes in a row on just one side of a street that's a meer block long. Canals and small boats everywhere, from the canal at the end of my street I could easily take a float trip to Amsterdam or to the North Sea, that's actually only three miles away.

Of course, Amsterdam, only twenty kilometers south/west of Alkmaar, is also full of historic churches. Marion, who was visiting IFOR from Salzburg, Austria, and I toured the Begijnhof, a 14th Century abode for pious women that "didn’t want to take the nun’s veil," but wanted to care for the sick and elderly. We also saw the Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam and the Oude Kerk, one of the oldest stone structures in the city, and toured the Bloemenmarkt and Paleis op de Dam (Royal Palace). Later, we took one of Amsterdam's lingering, afternoon canal-boat excursions, winding through the city.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Minden Germany for a while

Several days ago I arrived, and for the time being will be living, in Minden, Germany. I'll be here for over a month to help-out one of IFOR's 'member' organizations, Internationaler Versöhnungsbund and to establish temporary residency. Tuesday night I moved into a clean and comfortable, furnished, four bedroom flat on the third floor of a large, Tudor-style home. The address is "Steinstraße 26, 32427 Minden," you can find it using Google maps, although no change to my mailing address or anything else. I'm finally able to have access my email, have a private desk and computer at the office, as long as I'm here.

Considering that the software's language setting is 'German' (we haven't been able to change it), that the system is very old, the keyboard is laid-out differently, and the Internet connection is very slow, it's going to take me a while to get up to speed. Ha!

Stadt Minden is quaint, historic (over 1,200 years old and has many buildings in the Weser Renaissance style, in addition to its architecturally symbolic 1,000 year old cathedral) and quite different from Holland's cities, as you might expect. There are two fairly large shopping districts surrounding the huge and beautifully restored Cathedral of St. Gorgonius, or Dom Minden, displaying architecture in the regional Weser Renaissance style or later periods, as seen near where I'm staying. The flat I'm residing at is about 3km away from the office, my landlords Rolf and Anne Müller have been given a sporty bicycle to get around on.

I visited the Stadt Minden Ausländerberhörde (Minden City Authority Over Foreigners) this morning, and was eventually able to register for a residency and work permit to stay for two years in Minden. I was told by my hosts at the office that I needed to see the 'ansprechpartner' Herr Hartwick at Büro der öffentlichen Angelegenheiten (the office of public affairs). Herr Hartwick told me I would need a set of recent, special passport photos taken, and I found the nearby Foto- und Kamerageschäft in the Old Minden Marktplatz (Minden Market Square) to purchase these. Then back to the Ausländerberhörde to be told I needed to first acquirer a residency permit from the department next door, before I could apply for the work permit.

No one there spoke English, I only had a few German words to offer them, so the staff person and I were having a difficult time with the process. Finally, they brought in a translator from the Ausländerberhörde, the assistant of Herr Hartwick, still no one was exactly sure what it was that I planned to do here in Germany. In despair, I whipped opened my jacket to reveal the royal-purple colored tee-shirt underneath and, printed on it, the bright-white 'dove' logo and initials of the volunteer organization I was representing, BVS. Success! Both staffers immediately recognized the organization and knew my mission.

With that done, I headed back to the Office of Ausländerberhörde to see Herr Hartwick. Things went a little better from there: I presented several letters of explanation that Kristen, my Volunteer Director, had written for me while I was in Geneva, Switzerland, I was interviewed, and now I must wait to see if my application will be approved. Next, I'll attempt setting-up a bank account and ATM Card access at Sparkasse Minden-Lübbecke‎. That sounds like more fun!

Here are some interesting photos of the City of Minden, the Weser River, and the Market Square provide by Panoramio | Google Maps.

Friday, October 19, 2007

19% sales tax, yikes!

You think our sales tax is high at 7.75%, how about the 19% I'm paying here in Alkmaar. The tax is levied on all general goods at the rate of 19%. A lower rate of 6% applies for certain goods and services, such as food products, books, medicines, art, antiques, entry to museums, zoos, theaters and sports.

The Netherlands has one of the highest tax rates in the world, with income tax and new automobile sales taxes topping out around 52%. But this country also has one of the highest standards of living: employers pay for workers' transportation costs, usually give employees an extra month of wages at the end of a year, and you get a minimum of 25 days paid vacation. Then there are extra days off based on your age. I'm eligible for 3 extra days. Getting older is finally paying off, ha!

Most streets here are paved in brick; each brick placed on edge in a bed of fine sand, this same sand covering the entire country. In small towns, like I where I live, homes are built right up to the narrow sidewalks, along narrow streets. This puts their large, living room windows inches from you as you walk by. Every living room is immaculate, with exactly two lush house plants in artsy, ceramic pots or art sculpture carefully place on a shelf just below the window.

It's normal for living room windows, which are almost the full width of the house, to either have no curtains or curtains that are left open all the time. It's considered impolite to look inside, but there's really no way not to. What's more, all the other windows in the house have their curtains open, day and night.

Packed in around me is one sq. kilometer (0.4 sq miles) of trendy clothing shops, gourmet foods, exquisite bakeries, and polished hardwood, candle lit restaurants with outdoor seating―eating out seems to also be very fashionable. Every Saturday there's also a street market at the Centrum, where I usually go for lunch and groceries.

Yes, I'm experiencing many new foods like fries roggebrood (Dutch pumpernickel), pannenkoeken (huge, fruit filled pancake), Speculaas Brokken and Stroopwafels (large, absolutely delicious cookies). Although, none of that "raw" herring served at foods stands for me, ha!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's been a little chilly

I've heard from friends at Plymouth Gardens (this is the apartment building where I was living in Rochester, NY) about them receiving the computers I had promised. Months before I left, I had been working with Time-Warner Cable to have two decrepit computers in their activities room replaced. The company's Internet Technology department finally said they would do it, but not until fall. Well, the other day they delivered two, brand new "Dell OptiPlex 745" systems with Windows XP Professional installed and cabled Internet. No kidding!

Mom asked me what I saw in the sky here. I have a skylight over my bed, so I can look up at night and see stars. That is on a clear night, of which we don’t have many of here, ha! One interesting thing, though, is that looking out my rear view, which is a large floor to ceiling patio door/window set, on any overcast night, there is a very bright, orangish glow across the northern horizon. I wasn’t able to figure out what this ominous presents was, thought it might be northern lights, until someone told me it was from the many "greenhouses" in North Holland.

A few Sundays ago it was so beautiful, after days of cold and rain, that I decided to take a bicycle ride to the ocean. The beach is 8 kilometers away, or less than 5 miles, and several bike paths lead there. I went the wide open spaces route along a canal to Bergen aan Zee. There were thousands of people out on the beach, playing in the water and eating in the restaurants that sat right on the beach -- eating out seems to be the thing to do! I took another route home through a wilderness preserve and the town of Bergen.

It was finally warm enough on that day that I could wear a Tee-shirt and shorts again! Yes, "it's been a little chilly" since I arrived; the good news is it never gets below the 20s F., or above the 80s F. in the summer.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What's the difference?

After four days in Geneva with our director, a long train ride through Germany and the Netherlands, I'm finally here in Alkmaar. There's a lot I've seen and experienced already in Amsterdam, at the ocean (5 miles away) and just in our town that is one of the oldest and most historic places in the country. I'll share more of that with you later, but I thought you might enjoy hearing about some of the differences. Ha!

Maybe everyone speaks English, but everything else is in Dutch (only): street and train station signs, food labeling, newspapers, tourist brochures, my washing machines, et al. I'm going crazy trying to read info on the stuff I'm buying to eat, drink and clean with. I don't know if it's been washed or not (spinach), if you can use it for machine or only hand washing (detergent), or if I'm using something safely or not (appliances).

Here are a few more...

Well-made, touring bicycles are everywhere, painted in dark, classic colors and ranging in price from €400 to €2,000. Everyone rides them, ladies in chiffon dresses and men in business suits.

Everyone leaves their curtains open, even at night; living room windows are right at the edge of the sidewalks in town.

If you don't bring a bag with you grocery shopping, you may very well be carrying your carrots and cookies home in your bare hands.

Many foods normally found in the US are in short supply and cost a great deal (protein bars), other foods are actually less expensive (vegetables), and some are much less (cheese).

Hydrogen peroxide, called Waterstofperoxide here and of which I would buy anywhere for $.47/pt in the US, is hard to find and only comes in small 110 ml bottle for around €2.

Clothes driers are NOT THE NORM, I have to use a "drying rack" for my laundry.

Mayonnaise, and lots of it, on French fries (called Belgische frites or patat). No one ever mentions the word "low-fat," let alone things like "trans fats." These fries are made fresh, right on the spot, and are served in paper cones.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Finally, a day off...

After four days in Geneva, Switzerland, sight seeing, eating out, meeting with our European Director and, on one evening, sneaking across the border into France, fellow BVSer Solomon and I are finally here in Alkmaar. The town is like a fairytale land, and living in-town has made it easier to learn my way around. The Dutch are kind people, and I seem to fit in... as some start right-off speaking Dutch when I meet them, ha!

I finally have a day off after 9 days of much activity and discussion here at the office. Along with the high-spirited, daily work in the office the Gender Working Group and the Representative Consultative Committee, including IFOR's President, have both been meeting here in separate sessions over the last four days. I have been interacting often with both groups since they arrived and have made some more new friends.

The people on these committees and I are all from different countries: Italy, India, Wales, Columbia, Madagascar, Austria, Canada and, of course, the Netherlands. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun getting to know each other and I'm especially enjoying the good feelings and laughter coming from the mix. Marion, RCC member from Austria, and I are planning a bike ride to the ocean tomorrow and Sashila, a Doctor of Medicine, invited me to visit her home in India. I was also able to get my first publication out on schedule while this all happened.

Naomi, the previous Communications Officer, showed me around town last Friday; we saw the world famous Cheese Market, hundreds of restaurants and shops and checked out some very nearby grocery stores. I also have a lot of publication deadlines and meetings coming up, but there's only a 37.5 hrs./wk for everyone.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Goodbye NY, hello Holland

On the 18th of August, 2007 I had fulfilled my one year volunteer commitment with Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) at the AHEAD Energy project, located on the campus of the University of Rochester in New York. At the same time, I was considering committing to another year at the AHEAD project, after receiving an invitation from AHEAD's Director, Dr. Mary Jeanette (MJ) Ebenhack, and already deciding to continue my volunteer service with BVS.

A month earlier, I had received an offer through BVS from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), a 90 year old peace and human rights NGO, to come to the Netherlands, again as a BVS volunteer, and serve as their Communications Officer. Although I enjoyed my work at AHEAD and living in Rochester, an opportunity to focus directly on human rights was more important to me. I'd had an interest in such issues, since my early days as the Special Reports editor for, and had begun a blog in 2004, where I was reporting on international events.

After an interview and much correspondence with IFOR and Kristin Flory (BVS's European Director), informing me on what I was getting myself into, I was off to a rather small but historically important town in North Holland called Alkmaar. For the next several years I will be serving the IFOR International Secretariat, utilizing skills that may be readily available in the US, but may be more appreciated in other parts of the world. I will learn to speak Dutch, to read Dutch newspapers and literature, to sing classic Dutch songs, to ice skate on canals, to do everything on a bicycle, and find out what it is like to live as a Nederlander.

In the meantime, I've already achieved another goal, begun around the same time and really an experiment in taking success to the next level. That is, a life based on Voluntary Simplicity. It took the first year of my quest to convince me, but before I left for Holland I had sold or given away most of my possessions―an agonizing but thought-out process. Yes, I, a capitalist for 25 years, have now arrived at a life of simplicity and turned my back on the material world, giving up my cellphone, my Dodge Ram 150, my furniture, and even my own home.

It has taken a total of two years to complete my transition from capitalist to simplicity.

Tot ziens!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It's a Clean Sweep!

[I now have Photos Up of my 2006-7 volunteer experience]

The City of Rochester has a rich tradition of volunteerism, and it's growing greener by the year. The entire city is invited to participate in two of Rochester's largest annual events and close to 20,000 actually show up. These caring citizens donate a 1/2 day or more of labor to clean-up streets, parks and river banks, repair buildings and/or make improvements to commercial property. All this done in the spirit of "taking pride in Rochester!"

Here are three of the volunteer efforts I participated in within the last few weeks:

The Otetiana Council of Boy Scouts of America kick's off the "Clean Sweep" program for the City of Rochester! The project, called “Scout Sweep,” is centered in Genesee Valley Park and was held this year on Saturday, April 21. When I arrived, Sylvia, Otetiana Council's District Director, introduced me to Florence, the Urban Director, with whom I was to work with at the registration table along with Rose and Sandra. We logged in participants that had been organized into units to pick up litter and debris along the Genesee Riverway Trail and Erie Canal.

The next weekend I helped out again in Genesee Valley Park with the first of four City of Rochester "Clean Sweep" volunteer events. Mayor Robert Duffy spoke to the crowd of over a thousand, launching crews that went out in force to sweep streets, remove graffiti, clean up City properties, repair unsafe sidewalks and filling potholes. My crew, around 20 of us, picked up trash along the river and Genesee Street from the park to the University footbridge.

We all received a bright yellow Clean Sweep t-shirt and were provided a full set of yard tools, some volunteers even brought their own tools. Later, we were invited to a celebration picnic where we shared stories about finding such items as bowling balls, wheel rims and fence posts—last year a total of 1,500 tons of debris was collected. I enjoyed my lunch with three, very nice ladies I befriended along the way. Clean Sweep Photographs - 10/21/06: here and here.

Four days later, I showed up along with 11,000 other volunteers for Rochester's single largest volunteer effort, United Way of Greater Rochester's annual "Day of Caring." My supervisor, MJ, at AHEAD Energy was organizing a crew to do improvements on the historic South Presbyterian Church located nearby. It was a perfect Rochester day for planting flowers, spreading planter mulch and river rock, and I supervised the re-roofing job on half of the church's adjacent garage.

The value of all these efforts is said to be around $1 million. Last year, nearly 13,000 volunteers from more than 120 companies and several area schools spent their day working on more than 500 projects in and around Rochester. Our crew of around 20 was composed mainly of employees from the Rochester branch of Macerich Company and members of the church. I worked with a couple of cool guys from Macerich, one of them bring a full set of new power tools he bought for roofing his own home.

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris

Monday, March 19, 2007

A friend from Mozambique

Last week our associate from the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane arrived here at AHEAD Energy's headquarters, housed within the University of Rochester, to work with us for one month on a bio-fuel experiment (photos). I'm restricted from saying much more about the bio-fuel experiments, but I can say that projects in Mozambique are a major focus for AHEAD Energy.

Joao is a chemical engineer and lecturer at the state university in Maputo, Mozambique. He has come to Rochester to help us with some experiments on bio-fuels. He sits at the desk next to mine in our office, where we have a chance to chat throughout the work day about Mozambique, and America.

My supervisor MJ (CEO/President of AHEAD), who along with her husband Ben (founder/COB of AHEAD) sponsored Joao's trip, thought it would be kind to show Joao around Rochester. By now knowing my way around the relatively small, Upstate New York, city of Rochester and always willing to explore more, I offered to do the "showing." Joao is a pleasant and interesting person, so I looked forward to revisiting some of my favorite hang-outs with him.

As we made our way across town on foot, visiting High Falls and the historic mill sight responsible for Rochester at one time being called Flour City, stopping along the way at my favorite coffee shops, like SPOT Coffee and Java's Cafe, it became easy to see how much tourism Rochester has to offer. We could have spent the day at the Memorial Art Gallery and didn't even make it to the Rochester Museum & Science Center or the George Eastman House.

It was a sad day when we needed to say good bye to Joao. As we shook hands to part, he handed me a large bag, inside a heavy, pull-over shirt that he wore often while he was here, and of which I had favorably commented on. Ya', that's Joao!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Biking the Genesee

[I’m on volunteer assignment at the University of Rochester, serving an humanitarian non-profit called AHEAD Energy ]

Just got back from a bike ride; it was so sunny and dry out this morning I thought I'd take the Genesee River Trail into town and do some reading at Java's Cafe.

After a hearty cup of Colombia Supremo—there's no better, whatever they say—I decided to explore the nearby Midtown Plaza. I'd heard a lot about the "Clock of Nations," indoor monorail, famous skybridges, etc. and still had not made a visit. And what better time of the year, huh, it was Christmas in Rochester! In front of Messinger Hall I asked an alert-looking woman walking out of the Eastman Community Music School where the Plaza's main entrance might be located. I'd been in Rochester four month and no one that I'd asked, so far, seemed to really know. She struggled for a while and finally took a guess that it was "catty-corner to the Liberty Pole."

As she walked away I asked her how long she's lived in Rochester. For these four months I found it curious and ominous that the mall's access appeared to be so inconspicuous to me and others. The mall, one of the worlds first indoor shopping centers, had been suffering an economic set back for years due to urban flight. Having had a consistent fascination with marketing since age 12, I suspected it was due to something more mundane.

"All my life," she said... Case closed!

That beautiful, sunny, "Rochester warm (high 40s)" morning quickly changed to a dank, dark and cold afternoon with a 36 mile per hour headwind on the ride back. It felt like I was peddling up a ski slope, as I pushed my hunched over torso down Mt. Hope Ave., heading for the office! I rounded the corner onto Wilson Blvd. and my mind drifted to another day, soon after I arrived in Rochester, a "cider making" picnic I was invited to at the farm of my supervisor MJ's friend, Lauree. The rolling hills and rustic Northern New York country side (south of Canandiagua, I think) was also gorgeous that morning, and Lauree and company were very cool and kind to us.

I'm reminded again of how much fun relatives and friends are to just hang-out with (these days you're allowed to end with a preposition, if you want to).

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Now appearing near you!

We have Web Cams here on the University of Rochester campus that run 24/7 in two places I frequent daily. This spawned the brilliant idea of doing a campus cam appearance for family and friends back home, for no other reason than to "just say hi!" So, there I was on November 18 at 12 noon EST, after notifying everyone via email two weeks before, standing in view of these Web Cams waving wildly at the robotic lens as it swiveled around in my direction.

The first stop was Wilson Commons, a huge four story atrium housing the student center, lounges, restaurants and conference rooms, where I stood on the "Hi Mom Balcony" pointing out such U of R attractions as "The Pit," "The Flags" and "Residence Quad." Then I walked a few 100 ft. over to the Eastman Quadrangle, pacing in front of the stately Rush Rhees Library. All this time I was talking to my Mom and my brother Dan and his family on my cellphone, explaining the history and activities associated with each of the views.

It was a riot... and the whole thing worked out well!

I had a chance to do a preview with my sister Vicky and her husband Dave—2,500 miles away in Sonoma, CA—the week before, which was just as fun and also helpful in preparing for the scheduled appearance. Vicky took these shots of me with the website's camera button located at the lower/left corner of the cam screen and kindly sent them to me.

If you missed "it," below are the links to the two Web Cams. The Rush Rhees Library on the Eastman Quadrangle is that big, domed building you see when you access the cam's page by the same name. You might be advised to read the instructions on using the cams on the right side of the page. Everyone I talked to later seemed to enjoy the show and I plan on doing a repeat appearance Christmas Eve, same time, same station.

Wilson Commons Web Cam:
(Another place I hangout at when I'm hungry or want a change of atmosphere).

Eastman Quadrangle Web Cam:
(I cross this area several times a day on my way to the office, libraries and events).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bright Side of Life

[Last night I attended the "Off Broadway On Campus" musical review The Bright Side of Life, just to hear this song]

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (from Monty Python)

From: Monty Python's Spamalot

Words and music by Eric Idle

"Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

"And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

"If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing.

"And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life..."

Click here for the rest of the song, words and music, provided by Brobdingnagian Bards.

I love this song, can't get enough of it—I'm officially making it my theme song, ha!

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris

Friday, November 17, 2006

Blind men, an elephant

I really enjoy exploring the creative thoughts of others, from around the world and especially the Middle East (where cultural roots run deep). I look in libraries, lecture halls, on the streets or wherever and for whomever has a different or new opinion.

Bouncing my ideas off someone else's can be exhilarating or exasperating, but always worthwhile to me. So how do I keep from going nuts with all this difference of opinion... The Blind Men and an Elephant!

A Jainist version of the story says that six blind men went to determine what the elephant was like.

The blind man who touches a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the tail-toucher claims it's like a rope; the one who feels the trunk compares it to a tree branch; the man who felt the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the belly-toucher asserts it's like a wall; and the tusk feeler insists the elephant feels like a solid pipe.

A wise man explains to them:

All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.

This resolves the conflict, and is used to illustrate the principle of living in harmony with people who have different belief systems, and that truth can be stated in different ways (in Jainist beliefs often said to be seven versions). This is known as the Syadvada, Anekantvad, or the theory of Manifold Predictions., Blind Men and an Elephant

Ok, I'll admit to having "just another opinion" and probably holding onto a huge tail or ear of my own choosing. So to keep my head on straight, I think I'll keep asking those other guys what they've got a hold of—that's all I really need to know!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hookah and Hummus

[The students and staff here at U of R have been really nice about allowing me to feel like a normal part of the campus]

Last week I saw a flyer on a posting board in one of the "campus tunnels" that caught my attention... and curiosity. It was an invitation for Saturday night to join in the activities of a fraternity sponsored event called "Hookah and Hummus." The location was right nearby my office, I wasn't doing anything else pressing, so I decided to check it out.

Now the location is significant because it's the exact center of the campus, the George Eastman Quad (see Web Cam here), where six commemorative red marble benches and a 5' stainless steel compass sit in the middle of a large lawn area.

The frat brothers, along with some campus coeds, had a huge "and expensive," three hose hookah setup in the center of the compass on the sacred inscription. About 20 people were standing around the compass when I pulled up on my bike around 9:30 pm, taking turns in the inner circle to smoke the hookah. This was all done somewhat seriously, but with an air of amusement, which is what this was all about. I was soon greeted by a cool guy named Jake that seemed to be the leader, welcomed to help myself to some hummus and step into the inner circle for a smoke.

After asking lots of questions about the pipe and shisha—tobacco: peach, cherry and bubble gum flavors soaked in molasses were being fired-up at that time—I stepped into the inner circle. Very soon someone generously handed me one of the large, blue stripped hoses and I took a couple of long draws... Smoooooth stuff, I remarked. Yessss, several in the circle responded modestly. It was time for me to go, so I quietly slapped Jake on the shoulder and thanked him for a cool evening.

I went back to the compass the next morning to read the inscription on the decorative, stainless steel face... "E = mc2" is engraved in the center and around the famous equation, an optimistic line written by Sir Thomas Browne (1646) that proclaims, "There is in wise men a power beyond the stars."

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Political side of Patch Adams

Halloween night I went to hear a talk by Patch Adams, held here at the University of Rochester and generously sponsored by the Neilly Series. Patch, as you may already know, is a healthcare physician, professional clown, and founder of the Gesundheit! Institute, a holistic health facility emphasizing laughter and humor as an essential part of the healing process. Robin Williams played Patch Adams in the 1998 movie titled with the eponym.

But this night Patch was more than Robin could have ever portrayed on the big screen. Dressed much like his character was in the movie, a ponytail down to the middle of his back and a long earring dangling from one ear, Patch was quite the treat... or trick, depending on your politics.

The enormous Strong Memorial Hospital, a top-rated medical training facility, is just around the corner from my office. The auditorium was packed full of med students and Patch was really trying to get them 'fired-up'. Forget capitalism and making the big bucks, find your calling, then just go out and start a free clinic or something. Give it away and keep giving, don't worry, things will work out, the world’s full of neglected soles that are just in need of love. This was the message, sometimes delivered softly with years of obvious experience and sometimes quite loudly with a profound fierceness, as Patch Adams stepped right into the audience.

He even told one young lady during the Q&A session, who asked him how she was to pay-off her $200,000 student loans, if she was to take his advice," to "be creative, the people that loaned you that money had lots more where that came from." I about fell out of my seat, it was wild! Oh ya', I got to see a political side of Patch Adams that I really didn't know existed!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tunnel painting, seriously

[I walk though this same tunnel several times a week on my way to campus libraries, technology centers and food courts]

Quietly hidden beneath the UR campus Eastman Quadrangle, lies a 235' long, underground passageway that everyone calls just "the tunnel." This well used, solid concrete corridor is part of a much larger underground pedestrian system that connects eight of UR's integral buildings. But this tunnel is different; painted entirely in passion pink, Smurf blue or you-choose-it—and it can change over night, as it did during this writing—"the tunnel" is also covered from one end to the other in graffiti.

"The tunnel" stretches from the Hoyt Auditorium (a large, red brick building: everything is large and red brick at UR) to second tunnel that runs between Morey Hall and Lattimore Hall, after intersecting a third tunnel connecting the Bausch and Lomb Hall and Dewy Hall. Any student that wants to express them self, make a statement or post an event paint scrawls words and images on the walls, ceiling and floor... wall space is always at a premium. And there's no clean-up afterwards, either!

An article from UR's 2000 News & Facts mentions "Tunnel Painting" in a piece about campus traditions, "Tunnel travel has been a way of life at the River Campus since its first days in 1930. In the early years "lowly freshmen" were consigned to an underground existence, even in clement weather, by their sophomore masters--and all students then and since have ducked below ground during the inclement stuff.

"The tunnels have (of course) been the object of student pranks. On one famous occasion, the main cross-campus link was cinder-blocked at both ends by a hard-working nocturnal crew. The passageways have also been used for student research, says Ilene Busch-Vishniac '76, now dean of engineering at Johns Hopkins. She remembers bursting balloons and firing starter pistols in the echoing halls while studying the behavior of sound waves. (She has since become an expert in the design of highway sound barriers.)

"The custom of painting the walls of the cross tunnel originated around the turn of the '70s, when student philosophers began affixing their aphorisms. Samples: 'Life is a category mistake.' 'Is there life after birth? Only your guru knows for sure.' And, candidly, 'This is a good tunnel but not a great one.'

"More recently tunnel-painting has become more of a group activity, with expressions of love and loyalty among Greek organizations alternating with a heads-up for one or another organization's 'Awareness Week.'

Everyone knows about "the tunnel," it's well used 24/7 as a main though fare to get around campus, but little else is known about the tradition of "tunnel painting." How thick is that paint after 30 years of coat over coat? Who really started the tradition? Why is it that this vandalism is tolerated by administration? No one I've talked to seems to know!

Photos from U of R Chemical Engineering Department website.

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris

Monday, October 23, 2006

Theater and politics

Yes, it did snow here last week, can you believe it! It was beautiful, though, looking out over the Genesee River at the huge Rush Rhees Library dome on the UR campus, covered with a light dusting of winter flakes. All this looking, of course, was done from the warm confines of my tenth story apartment.

Otherwise... NOT soooo gooood for a California boy, ha!

So, now that outdoor activities are at a premium, it's time to enjoy the indoors. On Sunday I went to see my friend Nikola in The Lower Depths at the UR's Todd Theater. He did some nice work! I thought he was talking about a bit part when we used to chat late at night after he got home from classes. But he played a much larger role as Michael, I was impressed! Nice looking stage wife he had, too, that Virginia. Still, I think he could have taken the Walter character during an altercation in the first act—Nikola looked much bigger (he lifts weights for entertainment). Kidding aside, all these young actors did a great job, some real talent for a university level act. I especially enjoyed the way they set the stage, so you ended up seated at the front porch of the house (an entire replica of a house) after the intermission. It was hilarious when two cops blowing whistles madly came rushing in at the end of the third act and made all of us exit the area, to go back to the other side of the stage where we started, what a surprise.

Then Thursday night I participated in a student political forum sponsored by the Black Students’ Union and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity here on campus. I was nicely welcomed by Raymond, Marquis and Porshea, valued and integral members of BSU, and I admire their efforts. It was a little disappointing that there wasn't more diversity in the crowd; this was a really cool event, lots of discussion, experimentation and polling thrown into the mixed. Plus, everyone appeared to have a good time!

The audience was part of the form and had a chance to comment on six issues that had two slants, then we were polled on each issue to see how we stacked up personally and as a group. Curiously, I found myself in the majority each time. I commented on most issues, of course, and soon they were calling on me by my first name. On the last issue of the night, "gay marriage," the crowd was pretty well split when I offered the last comment. I stated my position! "I wasn't for party one or two, because both were discriminatory against people 'choosing not to marry' and that I would be voting in the undecided column—of which I hadn't done all night—for that reason." I got some immediate but quiet nods from the crowd. Up til then, the undecided column hade received only 0-6 votes max per issue...

Final tally: Largest majority of the night voted Undecided!

Not including my bit, I was impressed with what I heard during the forum; all sides were well represented by some serious, active students and I walked away feeling that America and the world's future was in good hands. I'm doing some volunteer work for the "Ant-Hill Cooperative" on Sunday. The Ant-Hill people get together monthly for a brunch and work-party and I've been keeping in touch.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Meliora weekend...

[I'm now serving with a worldwide, volunteer placement organization called BVS, non-profit idea later used to model the Peace Corps]

Last weekend was "Meliora Weekend" and the "Head of the Genesee" Invitational Regatta... two of U of R's most high-profiled events. This sixth Meliora Weekend (Meliora is a Latin adjective meaning "better," the schools motto is "always better") hosted some of our nation's prominent speakers talking on issues that were as relevant as they were diverse. Student's parents and all past alumni were invited—I met some guys from the class of '44 that had to move out of their dorm during the war to make room for Army training personnel. This year 18 alumni that had made it big were brought back as featured experts and panelists.

Drew Carey and the Improv All-Stars headlined Saturday night. The Improv All-Stars are veterans of the British and Carey-hosted versions of Whose Line is it Anyway? and the roster of All-Stars included Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Laura Hall, Jeff Davis, Jonathan Mangum, Julie Larson, Sean Masterson, and Drew Carey Show diva Kathy Kinney, known to audiences as the beastly "Mimi." Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek International and an ABC News Analyst did a talk on "The Future of Freedom" and Lynn Sherr, 20/20 news correspondent, explored the topic "100 Years Since Susan B.: How Far Have Women Come?."

The Regatta (featuring 60' long rowing shells) is a huge deal here and goes on all day Sunday at Genesee Valley Park on the Genesee River, adjacent to U of R. With teams coming from as far away as Florida this is one of the states most publicized races. The turnaround point is actually right in front of my apartment building, Plymouth Gardens , (the sidewalk seen in the lower/left corner is only feet from the Genesee River). Some of the schools participating this year were from Brown University, Cornell, Florida Institute of Technology, Harvard, Rochester Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, Vassar and, of course, University of Rochester.

After morning coffee at our own giant hospitality tent, next door to rival Harvard's, the head race began five kilometers (3.1 miles) upstream. Entrants were started at roughly 10-second intervals and, after several bends in the course that straightened out for about 1/2 mile, passed through a couple of S-bends, which marked the halfway point, sprinted down a long straightaway at the 2 mile mark and went under three pedestrian bridges past the boathouse to finish in front of U of R's River Campus. I had my bike, so I moved around the course and had lunch on the other side of the river at the boathouse—an artichoke veggie wrap that was superb.

Then to top-off the weekend I saw the movie Cars here on campus for free. It was playing at our campus theater, located just 100' from my office (where I hangout even on the weekends). Movies normally cost $3 for faculty and staff, but the nice guy with the school's film club, that hosts these three nights a week showings, let me in at no charge. I knew the movie would be a "big hit" as soon as I heard about it months ago. It was a big hit, wasn't it?

Reporting from the underground...

Stan Morris