Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What? No Frisian Cows?

June did not get off to a good start as I was really rather poorly with a nasty virus that resulted in me losing my voice completely. Whilst this was a relief to some, it is not great if you're a teacher. The throat and chest infection I'd picked up lingered for a while so for a while I've sounded a bit like Eartha Kitt. I thought about taking up a new career as a blues singer but decided against it as even with my newly-acquired gravelly bases, I don't think anyone would have paid to hear me sing.

For a bit of R ‘n’ R, I was very kindly invited by my colleague, Mary-Ann, and her husband, Ben, to spend the weekend with them at their home in Leeuwarden. Leeuwarden is the capital of Friesland, the original home of the milk-producing, black and white Frisian cows that can be seen grazing in almost every field in this part of the world. However, I was most dismayed to learn that the symbol of Friesland is not a cow but a golden ram playing with a ball. I couldn’t quite work that one out!

Mary-Ann sometimes works as a city guide so I was treated to a private guided tour of the place, which is quite different to Groningen in feel. It’s much more curvy and even has hillocks. I got quite excited by the lack of straight lines and flatness!

As well as being famous for its cows, pottery and being the original seat of the Dutch royal family, the town was also the birthplace of MC Escher and Mata Hari.

MC Escher was a mathematically-insp
ired artist and I’m sure many of you are familiar with his illusionary creations.

You may be less familiar with Mata Hari, who was an exotic dancer and courtesan executed for espionage during World War I.
Born as Margaretha Zelle, she left the Netherlands as a young woman after a turbulent upbringing and, along with her new husband, headed to the Dutch East Indies. There, she studied the local culture, including traditional dance, and adopted her Malay name, Mata Hari, meaning "eye of the day" or the sun. Following the breakdown of her marriage, she moved to Paris where she performed as a circus horse rider and posed as an artist's model before becoming an exotic dancer. In her dance act she pretended she was a Javan princess and seemingly fooled those who were entertained by her as to her real origins.

As a result of her success as an exotic dancer, Mata Hari had affairs with high-ranking military officers, millionaire industrialists, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries, including the German crown prince. Her relationships and liaisons with these powerful men frequently took her across international borders. It was during this period that she claimed to have been a French spy. However, in 1917, she was arrested in Paris and accused of being a double-agent, spying for Germany. Following her trial, she was executed by firing squad at the age of 41.

Rumors circulating after her death were that she had blown a kiss to her executioners and that, in an attempt to distract them, she had flung open her coat and exposed her naked body at the same time as declaring, "Harlot, yes, but traitor, never!"

This infamous Dutch woman is now immortalized in a statue in the middle of Leeuwarden.
Apparently, locals often donate their own clothing to cover up her curvaceous assets as they wander past.

After a walking tour of the city, Ben and Mary-Ann later drove me to a small town on the edge of the Ijsselmeer (Ijssel Lake). Hindeloopen is one of the eleven ‘cities’ on the route of the Elfstedentocht (Journey of Eleven Cities) speed-skating competition. The competition is rarely held as the ice on the canals, lakes and rivers on the 200km route must be frozen to a thickness of 15cm to support the weight of the 15,000 amateur skaters who take part.

I was also interested to learn that the sailors who used to live in Hindeloopen would have a small anchor placed on a hook at the top of their houses. When they were away on a voyage, often working for the Dutch East India Company, the anchor would be removed to indicate that they were not at home. Perhaps this is the origin of the saying ‘anchors away’?

We later visited Beetsterzwaag, where we enjoyed a lovely meal, although I was a little disappointed not to see the village’s most famous resident, the Dutch film actor, who starred in Blade Runner and the Guinness adverts, Rutger Hauer. Mind you, the restaurant didn’t serve the Irish nectar so perhaps that’s why?

Things are pretty quiet at work now as the teaching semester has come to an end and all the grading is complete. Many of my colleagues start their holidays next week but I’ve decided to work through until early August and take my holiday during the final three weeks of my contract.

As an end-of-academic-year celebration, my department organized what is called a ‘Doe Dag’ (Do Day). All staff members were invited to participate in a day of 'group activities' in the local area as a team-building exercise. Bathed in glorious sunshine, I cycled 20 km (that almost qualifies me to be a true Dutchie!) and spent the afternoon mucking about in various boats on the two lakes. In the evening, we enjoyed a lovely barbecue at a lakeside restaurant. I was also quite touched to be given a leaving present by my colleagues although I must admit I felt a bit of a fraud as I’ve not exactly worked there very long and am not officially leaving for a while yet.

I’ve still got a few classes taking place at Gasunie, a large gas company in the area, where I've been teaching on and off throughout the year. It's located in quite an amazing building - not a straight line in the place. I've also been running some teacher-training sessions on using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, which I've enjoyed putting together. I must be honest though and say that I can’t wait for my own holiday to arrive. The countdown has begun.

My plan is to spend most of August travelling around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China before returning to Europe and moving my stuff back to Leeds. I’m starting a temporary teaching job at the University of York (UK) in early September. After that my plans are a bit less certain although things seem to be moving in terms of my application for Canadian residency. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my residency status might be through by the end of this year and I can head back to Toronto once more. I guess it's a case of 'have clogs, will travel'!

No comments:

Post a Comment