Catch of the day

‘Zwerver’! It means tramp, and that’s what my son said to me when I came home with my catch of the day. Call it another manifestation of middle age crisis, if you like, but I’ve begun to find it difficult to pass by garbage that I happen to catch out of the corner of my eye, without stepping off my bike. Middle-aged yes– but still quite able to bend, lean, sit on my haunches, balance, stretch to get my catch of the day.

That’s when one or the other member of my family comments. Or gets downright upset, while I try to separate plastic from tin, paper, cartons and silver foil in our back yard.

Plastic. Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Crawling along, or embedded in the earth in the company of trees. On the forest floor, hugging reeds on edge of a lake. Glittering. Rolling along in silent midnight’s wake. Sticking out of earth, as if growing there. Bits and pieces everywhere. Flap flap flapping in rhythmic beat. Red. White. As black as peat. Plastic calling out to me. Like no other in the garbage family. Ducks cluck cluck clucking in the vicinity.

So I heed the call of plastic and stop in my tracks.

today’s catch

On one such collection spree, when I was trying to precariously balance myself on a slope leading to a canal, a twelve year old student of mine bicycled by, a bemused look on her face. I’ve seen different reactions, especially when on a walk, I hold my catch of the day in my hand. One lady recently, looked, smiled a bit, then suddenly bent down and picked up and discarded something she saw on the street in a bin. A wordless connection bound us together.

 

 

yesterday’s catch

What do I do with this catch of the day? Most often I dispose it with our private plastic collection, gathering day after day in an oversized bin in the kitchen. I lack the brilliance of Marius Smit – who came up with a foundation called ‘Plastic Whale’. This is what they do:

  1. They fish for plastic in the canals of Amsterdam and in Rotterdam
  2. They manufacture boats with the catch of several days
  3. They use the boats to fish out some more plastic from the canals of Amsterdam and in Rotterdam
  4. They also use the recycled plastic to make office furniture

And here’s the thing. We can all join them. We can row through Amsterdam or Rotterdam fishing for plastic. It’s a new concept in tourism, and its works.

You can find more information about ‘Plastic Whale’ here:

1. article in The Guardian

2. video plastic fishing

3. volunteers fishing plastic in amsterdam canals

No more chicken curry, daddy

On 23rd August, my friend Mayura hosted a dinner in memory of her father. It was his birthday, and he would have been 75 years of age, had he survived the stroke that took his life away a few years ago in Mumbai. She misses her father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guests were invited to bring along something that their fathers loved to eat or drink. I brought Old Monk Rum – a drink my father consumed every evening if he could help it. Followed by a good curry or mince. He was an inveterate meat eater. He was convinced that vegetarianism would have killed him. Right away.

A heart attack did. At the age of sixty. He was quite overweight.

Mayura hardly ever eats red meat and she doesn’t miss it either. But her father loved ‘mutton curry’ (made of goat meat) and so she made it. Our conversation gravitated to the relationship we share with animals we eat (or don’t).

I mentioned how in recent days, I’ve glanced at newspaper reports about the cruelty of halaal and the efforts to ‘humanize’ the practice, here in the Netherlands. Slitting the throat of an animal and letting it bleed to death does feel crude. As Mayura remembers, the streets of a particular part of Mumbai (Bombay then) would almost be flooded with blood, and, she adds, ‘more than the sight of it, it is the smell that has always remained with me. It was so visceral’. That matches my experience too.

That’s the thing with India. It’s all so in your face. The extremes of cruelty and of kindness – everything is right there to live with and live through, if you can.

In contrast, as one of us pointed out, it’s not possible to approach an abattoir here in the Netherlands. While attributing the reason for this to hygiene, there are others too. What goes on inside the walls of an abattoir here are no less crude. Just out of sight and smell range. And yes, clean. Squeaky clean. I’ve experienced industrial meat production in Europe through a documentary film at IDFA. And it was pretty much no more chicken curry for me daddy after that.

So we talked about some of these issues around the domestication and eating of animals and animal products that night and what we do and feel about it. We – with all the choices before us in supermarkets and shops laden with every kind of food from every part of the earth. And I do believe that many more people around me are questioning why they eat the flesh of animals, or at least looking at what kind of a life the animal may have lived, before they landed on a dinner plate, or between two slices of bread. As our newspaper of 20th August this year shows, the plofkip (a broiler chicken that is on a short track for maximum growth in the least amount of time) has almost been worked out of Dutch supermarkets, thanks to a very effective campaign started in 2011. This campaign, begun by an activist group called ‘Wakker Dier’ made it impossible for us to ignore the extreme suffering of broiler chickens because of the cruel practices surrounding their production. I remember what an impact it had on me.

 

 

 

I see why it’s necessary to dialogue about halaal. But it’s not just how animals die that I want to think more deeply about. It’s how they live. Under our guardianship. And this is why ‘Wakker Dier’s’ campaign is interesting. They’re watching out for those creatures while they have life in them, and adding quality to their existence because they think they have a right to it.

 

 

 

 

 

August Times

It’s summertime, and if you’re not a tourist yourself, you could be bumping into one.

Unlikely in Oegstgeest though.

Countryside walks in and around this village are one way to take in the tourist experience without feeling hemmed in by thousands more. This is what I offer friends and family who visit.

While I am giving a running commentary of what I think might interest them, the visitors sometimes say and do things that make me stop in my tracks.

“Now we’ll see ducks, and the windmill will come into view”, I say. “Here it is – built in 1789 to pump water out of this land. Today it’s not turning, but it does sometimes”.

“But there aren’t any sails” says my friend Angela.

“What sails?” I ask, and think to myself ….windmills and sails??? What exactly is she talking about.

Yes windmills do have sails. I saw them the next day on another one that did happen to be turning. True I don’t exactly have the head of an engineer, but to think of it, it’s not rocket science. It’s as simple as Angela put it:

“The sails catch the wind and help the blades to turn.”

Of course. Yes of course. I’d just never noticed them before.

And Angela’s gaze was not just upwards. She bent down to pluck a leaf. “Mint”, she said, crushing it. “Mmmm I love the smell.”

 

Indeed – mint. Lots and lots and lots of it along this path I have tread a thousand times.

 

 

 

Later that evening, in a quiet and private moment, Angela’s eyes fall upon a picture on the birthday calendar hanging on the door of the toilet at home. She shows me later. ‘Water munt’ (water mint) says the caption under the picture of the plant. It was what we’d just seen on our walk. The month on the calendar is, of course, August.

 

Every now and then, I get a message via Facebook, email or App from a friend or acquaintance – sometimes from a classmate of so long ago that I can barely remember anything about them. They tell me that they plan to visit the Netherlands (Amsterdam is sort of synonymous with the Netherlands for some), and they ask me what they can do in the four or five days that they plan to visit. And each time, I ask the same question:

“What is that you like to do, see, experience when you travel?”

So far nobody has replied that they want to go on a countryside walk in and around Oegstgeest.

If they manage to tear themselves away from the myriad things to do, see and experience in Amsterdam, I take them on a countryside walk, a bicycle ride to the beach or a boat ride on quiet waters near home.

And it happens that the traveler, who meets every day with a welcoming spirit, whose senses are open; who lets the experience of being out of home overcome her, brings another perspective to the ones for whom the everydayness of trodden paths has taken over.

Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme

Dreams could come at least 50% true, and songs too, apparently. That’s what I found when I read the recipe on the label of the packet of black spaghetti. Black, because it gets it’s colour from ink fish. I needed sage and rosemary to bring this black spaghetti to life. And the song that started to play in my head is one I grew up with – “are you going to Scaborough Fair…. parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” in the harmonious voices and the gentle music of Simon and Garfunkel.

I remembered too, the herb garden – no Scaborough Fair but more like the commons of Oegstgeest – the village in which I live. It’s a little strip of land, on the edge of the shopping centre that I discovered quite by chance when I first moved here three years ago. Here, a board says in Dutch, and I translate:

“Pluck a leaf, flower or seedling, at ease

Of different herbs according to your wish

Go about it in a sustainable way

So that you leave something behind for others”

When I first discovered the herb garden, I found its location in the heart of the commercial centre of the village fascinating. What could be the message, I thought, that the makers of this garden want to give to us, the residents of the village? That, before you enter into shops and supermarkets overflowing with everything you may or may not need, there’s a spot – modest in comparison – where you could stop to indulge in another way of shopping. Or picking. However you see it, take your pick.

At that time I was impressed by the garden’s location. But I soon realised a few things about the village. That it’s full of volunteers whose aim it is to contribute towards improving the quality of life. That the initiatives are many and diverse. And that the herb garden is beautiful for it’s own sake. It has no other function besides offering, in a sustainable way, folks the possibility of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme should they need it for a meal or two. It stands there as a reminder – a thing of beauty – that hopefully will last forever, while busy shoppers in the background continue to do what they came there to do.

Mission Possible

I’m hardly ever in front of my house, but on this day, I was. And before I knew it, a voice greeted me and asked if I’d like to volunteer to go around the neighbourhood collecting money for ‘foundation for the child’. And before I knew it, I had signed up with name, telephone number and email id, and a promise to go around with a collection box for a week. For a cause I knew almost nothing about. And that was that. I’d agreed to stand on the ‘other side of the door’ of my neighbour’s homes – the outside – in the shoes of the folks who ring my bell on many an evening. It often leads to irritation or a patient kind of tolerance, or sometimes, I’d go so far as to say – a feeling of here they come again. The changers of the world. Collecting change for cancer research, heart research, children, animals, environment, causes, causes, causes. Being the change they want to see in the world.

On the radio, an expert was asked why there was so much attention in the Dutch media for hurricane Harvey in America, when the people of Eastern India, Mumbai and Bangladesh were suffering a lot more at the same time. The expert’s reply was that the tendency to identify with ‘one of your own kind’ is much stronger in the human heart than to identify with someone who is not considered so. Dutch- American bhai bhai. Dutch Indian/Bangladeshi – not.

Now I am standing outside a door having rung the bell, collection box upright in hand before me, identity badge visible.

The door opens.

“Would you like to make a contribution to the foundation for the child?” I ask in my best Dutch.

He smiles. “That doesn’t ring any bells”.

In the background, there’s the little head of a child bobbing up and down. “She’s Italian, she’s Italian”, he says in Italian. He’s as excited as a little puppy that has sniffed what it loves best. Iv’e just returned from summer holidays in Sanremo/Italy. My spaghetti string dress shows my arms, shoulders and neck that have turned golden brown.

“Well it’s for Dutch kids who are not fortunate enough to live with their parents”, I reply – delivering my lines slowly and clearly. The money enables them to participate in clubs, music lessons, swimming lessons….that sort of thing. And when they’re older, it’s used to hire coaches to guide them with study and life choices”.

Sure he wants to contribute and pops back in to look for his wallet.

 

And now I am a bird, sitting on a nearby tree, watching and hearing myself doing something with no idea about why I’m doing it. Waarom, daarom.

With every step I take and every bell I ring, I get into the rhythm and the rhyme.

“…well….Dutch kids, Dutch kids, Dutch kids….” I hear myself say. The box get’s heavier, and I have to let my right arm drop every now and then to give my wrist a rest. There’s a storm brewing. A hard wind blows. Summer is edging towards autumn. I have a mission. It’s possible.

“Thank you for your support, thank you for your support, thank you for your support”.