DREAMFEST and Alicia Keys


Don’t ask me how I got into Dreamfest last night, but I did. For the uninitiated: Dreamfest is the big Salesforce conference in San Francisco. Read: Nerd Central, with people swarming the city hanging out their Salesforce badges and swag like they have just won the membership lottery to a very special club.

Tickets for this conference go for $2000 a pop, and money did go to Children’s Hospital, so I ain’t going to knock that. The Salesforce CEO is one of the most altruistic of geeks and setting an example for others to shed some of their wealth and give it to charity rather than hide it in shell accounts.

downloadWhat the hell. I just wanted to see Alicia Keys who was the featured artist last night in AT&T Park. She didn’t come on until 10PM but when she entered the stage, she knocked it out of the park. Pregnant with her third child, she was owning the stage like a diva and a queen. Loads of charisma and a voice that makes your spine tingle. But it was 10PM and, to our consternation, we saw streams of people leaving the park, as if she were the after party instead of the hottest ticket in town.

What was wrong with these people? It felt sacrilegious and… could Alicia see it from the corner of her eye? I mean people were leaving as if word had just got out they would miss their shuttle bus to their hotel, and might have to sleep in a cardboard box in the Tenderloin.

Jon and I tried to make up for this lack of respect by draining our lit phones like teenage idiots and singing along until our voices got hoarse. Have some respect, I wanted to tell those sheep leaving in droves, for the pop icon had a message for all of us, speaking of love holding us together and winning (and it did, in Virginia last night). And for god’s sake, she hauled her pregnant ass onto that stage to entertain all of us– I’ll stop there.

When it was over and Jon and I walked out with the inebriated crowd, a guy asked me if I were from Finland (?!). He was obviously tipsy and Jon thought he was hitting on me and he may have been right because when I said: “I’m with him”, pointing to Jon, he said: “You’re with him?!” Conversation over.

We didn’t hit the sack until 2 AM. I’m too old for this.

Yes, yes, now I know why those people left early… They may live longer and happier lives as recent sleep research shows that getting your 8 hours in will help you fight disease, promote weight loss and make you more productive. So I will die prematurely and fat and utterly unproductive (as this blog bears out) but WTH, I saw Alicia Keys in concert and no one can take that away from me.

You might as well live…

 

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Henry Miller’s Gob of Spit and Why I Need Your Help!


“This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing.”

~ Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

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When I wrote my first novella (Euro Trippy, check it out on Amazon), which was faintly inspired by my exposure to Henry Miller over the years, I happened to check how well, or how poorly, Henry Miller was represented in our (US) public libraries and I was shocked by his total absence on the shelves.

For the sake of comparison, if you were to check Irish public libraries for James Joyce, or British public libraries for DH Lawrence, you would find that Joyce and Lawrence, both of whom wrote about sex in their works in a way that was equally shocking for the time, are fully represented whereas Henry Miller, in our country is not.

Miller’s vanishing from the public discourse and canon corresponds with a total and utter neglect of Miller in English departments. In one of the more recent biographies of Henry Miller, Mary Dearborn writes: “Miller’s writing is difficult to evaluate; he has, for instance, received almost no serious academic criticism. His works strike a kind of emotional raw nerve: readers tend to be passionate in their responses, either positive or negative.”

That said, five biographies were written about Henry Miller but these books shy away from a full assessment of the work, the life taking precedence over the oeuvre. Of the critical works, there are about two dozen, whose scarcity shows Miller is indeed fading from the American literary landscape.

Having been trained as a literary historian by GAM Janssens whose efforts put many forgotten American literary figures on the map, by means of dissertations and biographies that were published by American university presses, I was, at first, convinced, that I needed to write another Miller biography, but I changed my mind, fearing that Miller’s colorful and interesting life in Paris and Big Sur would once again overshadow the merit of his most important work.

As I dug deeper and pondered my defense of Henry Miller, or rather, my investigation into his oeuvre, I realized I needed a multi-pronged approach, surveying Miller’s canon “worthiness”, his legacy and his American/European predecessors and heirs.

Secondly, there should be a chapter on Miller and the gender politics in the US, and in particular, the second wave of feminism, which damaged his reputation significantly. As a woman writing about Miller, I can feel the attacks coming, for how can I reconcile the misogyny of Miller’s work with my own gender identity as a woman?

Thirdly, I need to discuss at length how Miller fits inside the literary and aesthetic traditions of both Europe and the US, and in particular, his affinity with Modernism and Postmodernism, making him not only a member of the avant-garde (in a way that his more famous contemporaries were not) but also a trailblazer for genres such as creative fiction, memoir, New Journalism and the anti-novel.

Fourthly, I need to survey the theme of Henry Miller and sex, but also sex and gender identity in American literature and sex in American (popular) culture. As a European, but also as someone who grew up in the Netherlands where attitudes towards sex are vastly different from the American reality, I hope to prove my thesis that from the beginning of America’s founding, this country has had a repressed and squeamish attitude towards sex, which has led, on the one hand, to a kind of sexlessness and notion of an almost pathological obsession with temperance/abstinence, and on the other hand, to a level of excess and the commodification of the act of sex, which shows America’s adolescence in this area. We may have had a sexual revolution, Woodstock and a Summer of Love, but in some ways, America still hasn’t grown up around the issue of sex, which complicates and blocks our understanding and assessment of Henry Miller and his legacy. This plays straight into Miller’s neglect by the American academy. In a context where classrooms have been turned into “safe spaces” and where professors may have to warn their students for shocking passages or texts, Henry Miller remains a fringe author, even though his early work stood up to the scrutiny of figures such as Ezra Pound and TS Eliot.

Finally, part of Henry Miller’s obscurity lies in the unevenness of his work. While his early work has, in my view, the artistic merit that equals the merit of authors such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, his later work was a departure from his Modernist roots and, influenced by his growing interest in Buddhism, attained a rather soft focus. While inspirational and interesting, Miller adopted the identity of the sage and life philosopher, which made these works less interesting from a canonical or aesthetic perspective. And then again, a work like Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch was what Walden was to Thoreau, so I feel obligated to address some of the later work to round out the artistic identity and importance of Henry Miller as a mainstream and important author of twentieth century literature.

But…

I need your help. While my GoFundMe campaign is there to keep me going and fund the most basic need(s) to keep this project going, I am an independent scholar and that can be a handicap. As an academic orphan I’m trying to find a host institution, whether in Europe or America, with whose English/American Studies department I can affiliate myself as a guest scholar (no salary/stipend). Writing in isolation without a sounding board can also be problematic, so I’m looking for an academic peer or mentor (in that department) who is willing to read my stuff and give feedback where possible. Please contact me if you have any leads, suggestions or ideas in this area.

To give any prospective takers an idea of my work thus far, here is a list of my publications and related academic work:

PUBLICATIONS

Books

Dutch for Reading Knowledge. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2012

Euro Trippy, A Novella About Midlife Crisis, Henry Miller and Living Large, Amazon, 2012

Verstilde stemmen en verzwegen levens: Een Indische familiegeschiedenis. Translated and adapted for the Dutch market by Inez Hollander, Amsterdam: Atlas, 2009

Silenced Voices: Uncovering a Colonial Family’s History in Indonesia. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008

Ontwaken uit de Amerikaanse Droom (memoir), Amsterdam: Archipel/ Imprint Arbeiderspers, 2004

 The Road from Pompey’s Head: The Life and Work of Hamilton Basso. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999

Articles

 – “Social Media Scripts in The Chinese Wall.” Short Film Studies, volume 5, number 1 2015.

– “De vergeten vrouwen van de Nederlandse literatuur,” De Gulden Passer, Fall 2011.

Book Review of Eric Jones’s Slaves & Concubines: A History of the Female Underclass in Dutch Asia, Oxford Journals, Spring 2011

“Een nieuwe dageraad in Amerika,” Radio Nederland (Wereldomroep), 2008

– “Verstilde stemmen en verzwegen levens: Een Indische familiegeschiedenis,” Biografie Bulletin, Summer 2008

“Between Memory and Myth: Thematic Connections between Novels of the Dutch East Indies and the American South” in Dutch Studies conference proceedings, 2008.

“The New Emperor’s New Clothes,” Consortium News, May 11th, 2007.

– Profile Hamilton Basso (1904-1964) Louisiana State University Press edition of Southern Writers: A Biographical Dictionary, Ed. Joseph M. Flora, 2007.

– “Een immigrantenidenteit is een badge of honor: allochtoon zijn in Amerika,” Idee,

(magazine of Dutch political party D’66), September 2006.

– “Dutch Disease or European Dilemma? The Geert Mak Lecture Tour,” The Netherland-America Foundation Newsletter, Fall 2006.

“Homelessness Hits Home,” In The Fray Magazine, August 7th, 2006.

– “We Dig Gerard Reve,” NRC Handelsblad, July 4th, 2006.

– “The East-West Divide: Is Multatuli’s Max Havelaar a Topical Novel Anno 2005?” Berkeley Language Center Spring 2006 Newsletter.

“Learning Dutch the Fast Way: a Review of ‘Home in on Holland’, the Direct Dutch Methodology”, Dutch Crossing, A Journal of Low Countries Studies, Winter 2005.

– “Martha Gellhorn: Femme Fatale of American Letters,” Re-reading ”The American Century”: Essays on Twentieth-Century American Literature, Culture and Biography, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

– “Staren naar het plafond,” Zaterdag Bijvoegsel, NRC Handelsblad, March 8th, 2003

– “Haunted,” The Philosophical Mother (webzine), 2003.

– “Food for Thought,” Coloring Book: An Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multicultural Writers, Pittsburgh: Rattlecat Press, 2003

– “Thomas Wolfe and Marcel Proust: The Importance of Smell in Look Homeward, Angel.” Thomas Wolfe Review, 2001

“Anne Sexton.” Lexicon: Post-War Literatures in English. Groningen: Martinus Nijhoff Uitgevers, 1998

– “Paris in My Own Backyard: Hamilton Basso.” Literary New Orleans in the Modern World. Ed. Richard S. Kennedy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998

-“Carson McCullers.” Lexicon: Post-War Literatures in English. Groningen: Martinus Nijhoff Uitgevers, 1997

– “A Tale of Two Cities: An Analogy Between Thomas Wolfe’s Exile in the American City and European City.” Thomas Wolfe Review, 1996

– “Home is Where the Heart is: Small Town Experiences in the Fiction of Thomas Wolfe and Hamilton Basso.” The Small Town in America: A Multidisciplinary Visit. Ed. Hans Bertens and Theo D’Haen. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1995

– “In Search of Hamilton Basso: Rediscovering Forgotten Authors.” The Pursuit of Happiness en de paradox van de vrijheid. Ed. Hans Bak. Nijmegen: Nijmegen University Press, 1994

– “Thomas Wolfe and Hamilton Basso: A Story Never Told.” Thomas Wolfe Review, 1993

-“From Riches to Rags: A Literary Reading of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Tropes of Revolution: Writers’ Reactions to Real and Imagined Revolutions. Ed. Cedric Barfoot and Theo D’Haen. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991

 

Papers Presented at Conferences

 

– Keynote: “The Indo Dutch Fate at the 70th Anniversary of the Ending of WWII: Footnote or Legacy?”, The Indo Project, UC Irvine, 2015

– “In the Dutch Mountains”, Berkeley Language Center Colloquium, UC Berkeley, 2014

– Keynote: Bronnentaal in Praktijk, University of Amsterdam, 2013

– “De uitdagingen van Nederlands als bronnentaal,” IVN Colloquium, Antwerp, 2012

– “No Longer Lost in Translation: Developing a Dutch for Reading Knowledge Method and Textbook for the 21st Century,” AANS Conference, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2008

– “Reading Max Havelaar Anno 2005: Does Multatuli Have Anything to Say to Dutch Liberals in a Time of Political Upheaval and Extremism?” presented at the Netherlandic session at the MLA, Washington DC, 2005

– “Between Memory and Myth: Thematic Connections Between Novels of the Dutch East Indies and the American South” presented at the Berkeley Dutch Studies Conference for Dutch Literature, Berkeley, 2005

– “Thomas Wolfe and Marcel Proust: The Importance of Smell in Look Homeward, Angel.” Thomas Wolfe Conference, Asheville, North Carolina, 2000

– “A Tale of Two Cities: An Analogy Between Thomas Wolfe’s Exile in the American City and European City.” Thomas Wolfe Conference, Asheville, North Carolina, 1995

– “Paris in My Own Backyard: Hamilton Basso.” Presented at the MLA Conference, San Diego, California, 1994

– “Home is Where the Heart is: Small Town Experiences in the Fiction of Thomas Wolfe and Hamilton Basso.” American Studies Conference, Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, Zeeland, The Netherlands, 1993

– “In Search of Hamilton Basso: Rediscovering Forgotten Authors.” American Studies Conference, Catholic University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 1993

– “From Riches to Rags: A Literary Reading of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Tropes of Revolution: Writers’ Reactions to Real and Imagined Revolutions. Conference organized by the English Department, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands, 1989

Translated Books (English to Dutch and Dutch to English)

  • Dutch translation of Steven Rosenfeld’s Dance for Survival, an account of Ben Bril, a Jewish boxer who survived the death camps by boxing for and against the Nazis. Amsterdam: Cossee, 2015
  • English translation of Theo van Engelen’s young adult book, Classroom at War about a group of teenagers and close friends who are caught in the politics of the German occupation in the Netherlands during WWII. Nijmegen: Radboud University, 2015
  • English translation of Sander Francken’s screenplay Hard & Soul, which will be produced in 2018
  • English translation of Jasper Houtman’s first biography of coffee entrepreneur Alfred Peet (due out in 2018)

 Honors and Awards

IES Award for Dutch Language Instructio                                                                 2012

Foreign Language Travel Grant, UC Berkeley Institute of European Studies            2010

Taalunie Research Grant (Dutch for Reading Knowledge)                                         2009

UC Berkeley Professional Development Grant                                                           2008

Foreign Language Teacher Grant, UC Berkeley Institute of European Studies           2008

William B. Wisdom Award for the best research proposal on Thomas Wolfe                1993

Fulbright Fellowship for archival research relating to Hamilton Basso                            1991

Harting Scholarship for M.A. studies in Great Britain                                                    1988

 

 

 

 

 

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For Caroline, on the Eve of Your 19th Birthday


Dearest Caroline,

I’ll tell you a little secret:

Before I had kids, I thought I just wanted to have sons.

No drama, no PMS, no mother-daughter strife–

For in every mother-daughter relationship Electra will lurk in the shadows…

But then I had you,

And part of me wished I had ten more of you…

Because daughters are sacred,

for noticing things, for being there and for commiserating about the female condition.

In the past 19 years, I have watched you evolve

from being a rambunctious and, at times, bossy toddler,

to a strong and funny woman.

There was no drama or PMS but continuous comedy, an impeccable sense of timing and a way with words that has turned you into a witty writer.

My mother always said that mothers and daughters couldn’t be friends– that there had to be boundaries, and respect and a certain distance…

Instead, I have found closeness, respect and a sense that we understand each other on many levels. Friends maybe not, but a mother and daughter who share and listen and who are not afraid to utter taboos or tell a dirty joke to each other.

We can laugh and cry together, and for that I’m very grateful, too.

And being mutually comfortable when one of us is feeling vulnerable requires more than friendship anyway… I think it’s what we call love.

We both talk from the heart and, at times, may wear our hearts on our sleeves, for better or worse…

My little fellow Scorpio– you turn 19th on the 26th, but in my mind you are 21 already: a woman and a queen at the beginning of what could be a very exciting career. And if not… you’ll just write about it, lol. Remember, as the great Nora Ephron said: Everything is copy…

Both your grandmothers couldn’t be here to wish you happy birthday, but I hope to channel them both through me and tell you how proud we all are of the woman, leader and writer you have become. Don’t go changing, for we like you just the way you are.

Wish I could be there on your big day, but we’ll see each other soon!

Love you, miss ya, wish you were here…

xo

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The Friday that would never end…


When you go to NZ you cross the date line and going back you do the same, so this is the longest Friday I’ve ever experienced. Well over my 10,000 steps, jetlagged as hell and mentally I’m still somewhere floating over the Pacific, in between continents. We went straight from Auckland to LAX, so the culture shock is complete as we went from a quick visit to Highwic House in Auckland:

To the buzz and busyness of LAX, and a hotel night near Manhattan Beach where we witnessed quite the sunset:

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The next picture, also taken tonight, after sundown, reminded me a little of a Hopper, to confirm (if my mind is still somewhere in NZ spheres) that I’m really back in the US:

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Speaking of pictures, the wise Erma Bombeck once said that once you start to look like your passport picture, it’s time to go home and I will admit that I looked like my passport picture coming off that 12-hour flight.

The desert look of LA after the emerald green of NZ, LA traffic and the bright lights and loud voices in the restaurant tonight– it was all a bit too much. To lighten the mood, Jon told me that the new PM of New Zealand wants to restrict immigration as well as investment properties from wannabe Trump exiles like us, so now my mood has darkened a little.

Mind you, I have to be careful, being too critical, because a recent FB post elicited someone’s comment of Why don’t you stay there? which was a common reflex in Nextdoor neighborhoods as well when I was still working the conflict and abuse queue. One of my supervisors would always flip out over the fact that when people were critical of something that happened in the hood, there would always be people who’d say Well, duh, why don’t you leave?! I do think that this kind of comment is a lazy and veiled form of intolerance.

If we can no longer disagree without being attacked or being told to leave/stay away, we’ve given up on dissent and democracy and we’re already on a slippery slope. I hesitate to turn on the news but did anyway and heard about the Richard Spencer speech and three men being arrested after invoking Hitler and shooting at protesters. Is that the country we want to live in? A country where we shoot at people who don’t agree with you?

So no– I’m not planning my exit yet. I’m going to stay a little longer to say no to the haters. I haven’t given up on this country yet because what does make it great is not the politicians but the people. We had the most delightful Lyft driver tonight, who again, and I have talked about this before, showed that generosity of spirit that Americans excel at. We’re a little lost at the moment, but hopefully, this too, will pass.

God, this Friday was long. Or did I mention that already?

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More Beauty from New Zealand


So we went from this:

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to this:

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but Jon and I have been totally under the weather so there was also a lot of this:

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Until we found some mega pain killers and dragged our sorry asses to the Auckland Art Museum:

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Which, as you can see, is a beautiful building with lots of glass, so you have a feeling you’re walking through Albert Park while also looking at the art works inside. There were nice touches, too, to acknowledge Maori roots:

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and honor grand Maori faces:

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Granted, the museum is small, this country is young, national identity, a thriving art scene are equally young and New Zealand is far away from the rest of the world, so it’s hard for art to get here, let alone build up a momentous collection. And then, obviously, people don’t come here for art– they come here for the natural beauty, the sea or simply to get away from it all.

Jon walked out, sneering that it wasn’t much but I feel less is more and sometimes a smaller museum makes you connect with the art more because there’s less of it. Plus, large museums can simply be overwhelming. When I walked into the Met in New York for the first time, I got a splitting headache and an overwhelming sense of fatigue, which is apparently real, known as Stendhal Syndrome:

Stendhal syndromeStendhal’s syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.

Let me tell you what I connected with today and why. First there was William Hodges’s Dusky Bay:

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Hodges was on board with Captain Cook and this was a painting he made on a piece of pine wood from the ship, showing Fjordland, the first sighting of New Zealand after seeing nothing but sea and stars for weeks if not months. Thing is, take out those men in canoes and the scenery is exactly the same. When we traveled down Doubtful Sound, I said to Jon, this is how Captain Cook must have seen and experienced it, because obviously, Fjordland has been preserved and there has been zero development (or human stains on the landscapes like phallic Trump Towers).

The above painting inspired the modern interpretation of this series, which hung right next to it:

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As far as European art goes, I was most impressed by this Rembrandt etching:

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That tiny bit of light and a man in his dark, dark study…

And while we’re on the subject of Dutch Masters, I did like this Kiwi tribute to Piet Mondrian, which connected my NZ travel to my travel to the Netherlands this summer where I saw the excellent Mondrian exhibit in The Hague:

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Goya’s Death of Truth triggered dark thoughts about America and having to return to a country whose leader tells one whopper after another, which doesn’t seem to be cause for impeachment or Amendment 25 any time soon because the GOP looks the other way rather than looking at the corpse at their feet:

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We are returning to the US tomorrow and I feel we’re about to regress from a country of great beauty to a country of great ugliness, and darkness, and danger, and feelings of dread when it comes to thoughts about some impending apocalypse such as WWIII– all because our supreme and evil leader can’t control himself. But this is where art can also be a form of consolation. Read the following by Cecil Day-Lewis, written in the dark days of WWII (1943):

So shall our time reveal long vistas of calm and natural growth, a pattern mysterious yet lucid, for Love is the focal point of the pattern. And our heirs shall unfold, like a cluster of apple blossoms in a fine tomorrow.

These lines inspired this painting by the English painter John Tunnard:

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Love trumps hate and that red sphere should remain our focal point and our source of light, no matter how much the darkness seems to envelop us, or box us in.

So you see– even that small collection of art in Auckland had something to say to me personally and this is why we have art and museums: to keep the madness at bay. 

This is also why we have vacations, because both mine and Jon’s working life have been such that we really needed New Zealand,  or rather, a New World reprieve. This country has given us new hope and inspired us with its scenic vistas and dreams, leading to the kind of rest and relaxation that we were craving, so thank you New Zealand, and New Zealanders, for showing us your pristine beauty inside and out. You have much to be proud of…

 

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I’ll never take indoor plumbing for granted again…


We made it. To Auckland. No, not Oakland.

After driving more than 3000 kilometers, Jonathan and I are still amazed by the natural beauty of this country. Case in point: there are a couple of scenic highways but even when we weren’t on a scenic highway we were like WTF, this is a scenic highway– why hasn’t it been marked as such? I also liked some of the signs on the highway, like that one for the National Army, which said something to the extent of “Are your kids driving you up the wall? There’s always the National Army…”

Oh, and one more thing: if you’re a Lord of the Rings illiterate, which I am, you’re missing out. When we hiked to some Falls yesterday, a Kiwi told me “That’s the rock where they filmed the scene.” WTH? What scene? Clearly, half of New Zealand is lost on us because we didn’t bother to read Tolkien or watch the damn movie.

We loved this trip but could have done without our bus which was noisy and big and a bitch to drive. Yesterday morning we had to empty our piss box again at a dump station and the dump station was fucking gross, which is why’ll never take indoor plumbing for granted again. It may well be the best 20th-century comfort invention. Both Jon and I went back to the Gallipoli exhibit in our minds where the men used latrines but were sometimes so fatigued that they’d fall into the latrines and had to be fished out of the shit pits as they were too tired to get up. We merely emptied our latrine– first-world problems, but it made us realize what entitled 21st-century wimps we have become…

Yesterday we also met with Dutch-American friends in Hamilton Gardens– what fun to hear their stories of taking the plunge to live here, make a new life and make the world a better place while doing so. A complete and total inspiration.

As a college essay coach, I tell kids that “getting out of your comfort zone” is one of the vital growth spurts you want to accomplish in college (and admissions counselors want to see your willingness to go there), but it shouldn’t just happen in your twenties– in every decade of your life you should have an experience like it, whether that is moving to another country, making a drastic career change or make a dramatic life change. It makes life more interesting and it makes you grow as a person. It also makes life/time slow down, so you’re living more intensely. Routine, getting in a rut is the fast track to mortality, but we’re all slaves to it because we bet on safety and security but it’s not the path of happiness and fulfillment. As we get older, we get to be more risk-adverse but it does make life utterly boring and, truly, when you do have the urge to go abroad, cruises ain’t the answer. Nor do they build character.

We dropped off the camper last night and woke up in the sky in Auckland in a very nice Airbnb.

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I’ve come down with a nasty cold and had to do a bunch of work so I’m writing this in bed, feeling both miserable and decadent, all at the same time. Off to pop more aspirin and cold or no cold, the city is begging to be explored.

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Coming face to face with Gallipoli in Wellington…


When we made it safely on the inter-island ferry, Jon was looking for campgrounds near Wellington but after driving through Wellington itself with our moronic bus, navigating small busy city streets and intimidating roundabouts, we steered our beast to the nearest parking lot and booked ourselves two nights in a hotel.

Maybe we are, as Sue aptly suggested, “peaking too soon”, but God how heavenly it is to wake up in the middle of the night and not having to negotiate with yourself whether you’ll venture to the bathroom/outhouse in the cold midnight air or whether you’re going to do your business on the Barbie stool in the camper. Besides, Jon has bruises all over his body from bumping into cabinets and the walls of the camper, so we needed some healing time. Read: having our own private bathroom for the next 24 hours.

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This morning, we walked to Wellington’s famous Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s award-winning museum. The torrential rains of the early morning were blown away by a stiff breeze and boy, does this cultural capital ooze charm when the sun comes out. It’s a mini San Francisco, with green hills, a cable car and without the pretentiousness of America’s city of high tech and Teslas.

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And it has more cafés than NYC if you can believe that…

Oktober Fest was going full force last night, and we saw many a Wellingtonian in dirndl and lederhosen litter the side walk with beer mugs in hand, and we were wondering what the German backpacking tourists were thinking of that…

But the high point today may well have been the Gallipoli exhibit in above mentioned museum. This was a brutal battle for Aussies and Kiwis especially (as well as the Turks, who became Allies of the Germans in WWI). It was a grand plan of Churchill’s but such a waste of lives (a slaughter pit really) and had very little impact on the war on the Western Front. The exhibit took you through a graphic timeline of the battle with personal stories and brutal images of what life was like in the trenches on the Aegean Sea.

I came out shaken and in tears, and Jon remarked that we could never have such a confrontational exhibit in the US because everyone would become a peace activist. The realities, body bags et. al., of war have always been kept from the general public and I think this is why Ken Burns’s PBS series on Vietnam is having such a (delayed) impact on the American public right now. Every head of state who might have to face the decision of sending men into harm’s way should be forced to walk through an exhibit like that although when narcissism reigns supreme (as with Hitler and our infamous whiny little bitch in the White House) male ego takes over and men become mere cannon fodder.

Jon and I then walked back to the hotel and saw that the local rowing club had a fundraiser, selling books for $1 a piece. Since we have one duffel bag and a small carry-on, I’m not sure what we were thinking but we came out of there, lugging a dozen books (!). If things get tense in the camper again, we can just decide to throw books at each other because, clearly, Jon hasn’t got enough bruises already.

One of the books is the delicious Faber Books series– this one of Diary snippets of famous people, listed per date. Thus Charles Greville writes on February 26th, 1831: “A drawing room yesterday, at which the Princess Victoria made her first appearance, a short vulgar-looking child.”

Looking up today’s date, there was a hilarious Samuel Pepys entry on the breaking of wind and a resolution about bowel movements, as well as this one dating back to 1943 by British novelist Barbara Pym (since we seem to be on the topic of war):

Yesterday Italy declared war on Germany. What a strange mad war. A pity they didn’t choose our side three years ago.

I am a wretched melancholy creature when I would like to be noble and strong and very intelligent. I lie in a hot bath brooding about G. […] when I ought to be thinking about the Metaphysicals in a scholarly way or planning a great comic novel.

And if that doesn’t make you smile, here’s a pic of a dachshund puppy we met on the wharf today:

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Needless to say, we miss Teddy… as well as our other two-legged friends, our kids Will and Caroline…

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Marlborough Country, NZ: Clothes Optional…


After a good bit of driving– more scenic highways but WTH every road is scenic in this country, I kid you not… we arrived in Marlborough Wine Country, which exceeds Sonoma and Napa in natural beauty and way fewer crowds. IMG_0303.jpg

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Jon had found a glorious campground, which looked like and English garden, literally in the backyard of New Zealand’s most famous Sauvignon Blancs.

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The campground hadn’t officially opened yet and that was a good thing we realized later as it was a nudist campground, but since the season hadn’t started yet, there was no need to disrobe. It wasn’t until later when we had proper wifi that Jon could download the pictures of the place, which included a picture of what seemed like the owners in full nude regalia. I have no problem with nudism per se (if you have a problem with seeing other people naked, it’s not their problem but your problem) but it does seem curious that some people with excess skin and pounds do seem to want to go nude more often than those with divine bodies. So maybe I have a problem, after all, as well.

Now we’re waiting for the ferry to go to the North Island after biking for a bit in the wine country and tasting some Giesen and New Zealand’s champagne/champanoise label “No1”. We were tasting the bubbly with some folks from Scotland and admittedly, as a former college prof, I always told my students that there are no stupid questions, but one of the Scottish lasses did ask a stupid question, namely how does one get a cork into the bottle? The answer: with a machine.

I did learn that grapes are still hand-picked for the higher quality wines, which shows, I hope, that not everything can be replaced by machines (I work in translation, as some of you know, and my fear is that we will be replaced by machines, too, but when quality matters, machines don’t have all the answers, I guess).

The ferry needs to be loaded with cars, so I’ll stop right here. I’ll leave you with another picture, showing the Kiwis have a good sense of humor.

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With all the stuff we’ve broken on this vacation, we tried not to take it personal.

Onto Wellington…

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More from New Zealand…


On Facebook I already referred to the down side of camping with, as an example, the NZ request in every camping bathroom to flush used toilet paper down the toilet and not throw it in the trash. Thanks to my cosmopolitan network of friends, I now know that used toilet paper often goes in the trash in Greece, Mexico, Brazil, Hong Kong and possibly China as well (I figured as much as this toilet caveat was translated in one language only and it wasn’t Greek, Spanish or Portuguese…).

While I’m on the subject, I’m going to say something nasty about the Chinese– now that China is becoming an economic powerhouse and more Chinese join the world industry of mass tourism, I’d recommend they take an International Travel 101 class. I have been on two flights now when the airplane tore down the runway for take off and Chinese people got up to get something from the overhead bin. On one of those flights a Chinese guy in the seat next to me fell asleep on my shoulder and drooled all over it. When I gave him a good shove, he woke up… and started clipping his finger nails…

Speaking of the Chinese, last night, Jon and I went to the Stratosphere restaurant in Queenstown– a total tourist trap (buffet dinner at the top and you buy a package for gondola, meal and seat by the window) but I must admit, I’ve never been on such a steep gondola ride (waves of nausea washed over me due to my fear of heights — my palms begin to sweat again, just thinking about it–, and well, the nausea didn’t do wonders for my appetite), but the view was to die for:

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And I particularly like this artsy pic Jon took:

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But to come back to the Chinese, there were many of them joining the buffet and they cut in line, stepping on Jon’s toes and they seemed ravenous. One woman piled up her plate in front of me, which she gave to a family member, to then pile up another plate. I felt sorry for the waiters and staff… it was a spectacle that really doesn’t deserve any more attention in this blog.

And now we’re on the West Coast in Frans Josef Glacier, after indulging in the glacier hot springs and, once again, being blown away by the scenery: we saw deserted beaches, snow-capped mountains, tropical rain forests, all in one day, and to top it off, had another incredible meal in a small town. The waitress was from Perugia, Umbria, and declared that Italy has become a country for people who “settle”– Australia, New Zealand, she said, is the New World.

With America’s last frontier, California, going through a hellish fire, and a president who acts more like a dictator in diapers who wants to save his frail ego and legacy by provoking and possibly bombing North Korea, I am beginning to think that New Zealand is where it’s at. Part of its charm is its isolation– and you notice that when you become really still and listen: the sound of silence is so pure here that it makes you want to forget about any other lives, ambitions or countries you once called home.

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New Zealand: New World?


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Jon and I truly feel there are times that we think we died and have gone to heaven. The biodiversity of this country, the scenery, the food, the people— we haven’t had a single negative experience. In fact, we are ecstatic. The US, once the place that everyone called the New World is beginning to fray around the edges and if we want to truly speak of a promising New World, New Zealand may well fit the bill.

After an incredible day of sailing down the Doubtful Sound (so called because Cook didn’t want to go down there for fear of losing the wind in his sails), we’re now in Queenstown with mountains that look like the Dolomites, a lake that feels Swiss or Austrian and vegetation that you don’t expect in the Alps (like rosemary and hydrangeas).

Jon and I biked around the lake today and marveled again at how unreal and serene it felt. We have Yosemite, Big Sur and Sausalito but we also have Fresno and Sacramento and tent camps in Oakland. Come to Queenstown and you see Yosemite, Sausalito and Lake Geneva— all in one, with no homeless encampments (1 in 10 children are homeless in the US…) and you don’t have to drive through Fresno, Sactown or wonder whether some nutter on your campground might go on a shooting spree with an arsenal of weapons that should belong to an army, not a private citizen.

I’m well aware people don’t want to read about glowing travel reports as they are boring as hell and my editorializing about gun control will turn lots of gun-crazy Americans off, so let me offset this with a gross story. 

The time had come to empty our Bolero toilet. You do this at a dump station on a campground (if it has one) and I was already so grossed out by the thought that I hardly peed and certainly didn’t want to poop in our toilet that seems to be made for a Barbie Doll house (small, flimsy and plastic— with a hole at the bottom that reminds you of train and airplane toilets). 

However, the thought of driving around with our waste made me insist that we had to empty our “cassette” as it’s called. So we stood there at the dump station, with our plastic gloves and reading the instructions, while not trying to get distracted by the mind-blowing scenery– yes, even at the campground.

First we had to dump our gray water and then came the pee and poop cocktail, which really comes out blue because of the chemicals. Needless to say this took a while, so a German couple pulled up behind us and they had no patience. They got out of their van, staring at us (truly breathing down our neck) and I glared back. No words were exchanged.

Then they got impatient, as we watched our blue waste go down the drain, and they pulled in front of us and grabbed the water hose because they just needed water. Thing is, every stand comes with a plug for electricity and a tap to fill up your water tank in your camper, so why the Germans would grab the fresh water hose at the dump station that every one uses to rinse out their suitcases of poop is beyond me. I guess they want to impress their friends with stories of how they got dysentery in New Zealand, or whatever else you get from ingesting poop. Hardlopers zijn doodlopers, as we say in Dutch.

OK onto pretty things—- in a second-hand book store, we found an anthology of some New Zealand authors— in High School I had devoured Katherine Mansfield already and it has been ages since I had laid eyes on her again. Over lunch today I started reading one of her stories and I was smitten once more. Here’s the character Jonathan, going for an early-morning swim at the beach:

At that moment an immense wave lifted Jonathan, rode past him, and broke along the beach with a joyful sound. What a beauty! And now there came another. That was the way to live — carelessly, recklessly, spending oneself. He got onto his feet and began to wade towards the shore, pressing his toes into the firm, wrinkled sand. To take things easy, not to fight against the ebb and flow of life, but to give way to it— that was what was needed. It was this tension that was all wrong. To live— to live! And the perfect morning, so fresh and fair, basking in the light, as though laughing at its own beauty, seemed to whisper, ‘Why not?’

Yes. Why not. New Zealand is asking us why not…

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