Book Review: Dutch Girlby Robert Matzen


Author: Robert Matzen
Title: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II
Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Publication Info: Blackstone Pub (2019)
Summary/Review:

The most famous story of Netherlands during World War II is, of course, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Hepburn and Frank were nearly identical in age, born just a month apart in 1929, and their narratives of the war share some similarities.  Nevertheless, Hepburn had a privileged position and not being Jewish didn’t suffer anywhere near the level of persecution, and thus survived the war.  Otto Frank actually requested that Hepburn play the role of his daughter in the 1959 film adaptation of the diary, but she demurred, both because she was too old for the part and because she would not be able to revisit the horrors of the war.

A lot of the narrative in this book focuses on people in Audrey Hepburn’s extended family and friends in family,  or just general history of Netherlands during the war.  Obviously these types of details add context, but their prominence in the book seem to indicate that Matzen had very little material on Hepburn herself to work with.  He also overuses the practice of writing what people may have been thinking in reaction to certain invents that relies more on his (informed) imagination than actual historical records. All in all, this book is an interesting glimpse into events in Netherlands during German occupation, but is less effective as a biography of Audrey Hepburn.

Recommended books:

Rating: **

Podcasts of the Week for Two Weeks Ending May 19


I’m not doing well at getting these podcast recommendations up every week, but here’s a good crop of podcast for your listening pleasure.

HUB History :: The Battle of Jamaica Plain

There was a gang shootout right here in my own neighborhood over a 100 years ago that had international implications and ended up involving Winston Churchill, and I’d never heard of it?!?

Hidden Brain :: Baby Talk: Decoding the Secret Language of Babies

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a nice chat with a baby.

Planet Money :: The Land of Duty Free

The mass quantities of liquor, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume sold in airports has always fascinated/perplexed me.  Here’s the story of how the duty free shop got started at Shannon Airport in Ireland.  It also confirms my suspicions that duty free shop purchases aren’t really bargains.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders

A live performance of LeVar Burton reading a hillarious/poignant story about a worldwide apocalypse, a genie in a bottle, theater criticism,  and the nature of wishes, complete with an interview with the author

BackStory :: Shock of the New

The history of World’s Fairs fascinates me and this episode commemorates the 125th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with special focus on women’s and African American perspectives on the fair.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cherokee Story Slam

The stories and life of the talented Robert Lewis.

More or Less: Behind the Stats :: Tulipmania mythology

The Dutch tulip bubble always makes a good story about economics and finance, but the truth of the story is not as dramatic as the myths, albeit more interesting in many ways.

 

TV Review: Hunter Street (2018)


Title: Hunter Street
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 20
Summary/Review:

My son encouraged be to binge watch this Nickelodeon tv series about a family of foster children in Amsterdam who solve mysteries in Amsterdam.  As a child of the 80s, I can’t help be reminded of “The Bloodhound Gang.”  The mystery of “Hunter Street” is leavened by cornball comedy.  I think if you just read the script it wouldn’t really seem all to well written, but the kids in the cast of this show just ooze charm and are eminently lovable.  Plus every episode ends on a massive cliffhanger so you just have to keep watching.  We’re going to have to track down season one now that we’ve finished this binge.

I find it curious that although everyone involved in creating this show is from the Netherlands and the show is clearly set in Amsterdam, they went to a lot of effort to make the show for “export.”  The characters all speak English even when it would make sense for them to speak Dutch, the kids wear bike helmets, the police read a Miranda warning, and a thermostat shows the temperature in Fahrenheit.

“Hunter Street” is good family television.  Check it out.

Book Review: Amsterdam : a history of the world’s most liberal city by Russell Shorto


Author: Russell Shorto
TitleAmsterdam : a history of the world’s most liberal city
Narrator: Russell Shorto
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2013
Summary/Review:

Shorto’s history of the Dutch city of Amsterdam is built on a principle that the city defines liberalism in both senses of the word.  There’s economic Liberalism – the principle of laissez-faire in free market capitalism, and there’s social liberalism – which values communal action and individual liberty.  While these two interpretations of liberalism are at odds with one another in much of the world, Amsterdam is a place where individual enterprise and community spirit work together surprisingly well.  This may have its origins in the creation of the city itself, literally reclaimed from the water by dint of communal work, and yet the new land became property of individuals at a time when most land was owned by royalty or the church.  Shorto describes how the notable Dutch tolerance is based on the idea of gedogen, turning a blind eye rather than strictly enforcing the law.

The history of Amsterdam is broad and Shorto both compresses a lot of detail and tends to overstate Amsterdam’s significance, but appropriate to Amsterdam’s characteristic of establishing individual identity, he focuses historical periods through the eyes of specific historical Amsterdam personages.  These include:

  • Rembrandt van Rijn – the portrait artist who explored human interior life
  • Baruch Spinoza – rational philosopher who foresaw modernism
  • Frieda Menco – a contemporary of Anne Frank who also went into hiding in Amsterdam and then to concentration camps.  Shorto refers to extensive interviews with Menco
  • Robert Jasper Grootveld – anarchist organizer of the Provo movement who helped make the 60s counter-culture a permanent facet of Amsterdam
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a feminist activist known for her outspoken opposition to Islam

I found this an engaging history of this fascinating city.

Recommended booksAmsterdam: A Brief Life of the City by Geert Mak and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner
Rating: ****

Photopost: A Visit to the MFA, part four


To celebrate my birthday on Wednesday, I played hooky from work and paid another visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  This time I was accompanied by my lovely wife Susan!

As aficionados of Dutch Golden Age art, we made our way first to the special exhibit Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The name is misleading as there is only one work by Vermeer and a handful by Rembrandt.  This is not a bad thing as a number of their contemporaries painted some excellent scenes of of 17th-century Dutch life.  Jan Steen stood out as a favorite of mine.   Art was unusually popular among all income levels in the Netherlands of that era, although not usually art as fine as that on exhibit.  The exhibit is arranged to show art depicting the upper, middle, and lower classes each within their own gallery, with a fourth gallery collecting works that show the different classes interacting. Sebastian Smee has a great review of the exhibit in today’s Boston Globe that focuses on the social effect of the exhibit.

Photography was not allowed in the exhibit, so below is a list of my favorite works in the exhibit:

If you look at these paintings on your computer, make sure to zoom in on all the tiny details. The curators on the audio guide were particularly ecstatic about the brushwork.

After finishing that exhibit, Susan picked out a small but spiffy exhibit of American ceramics from the 20th century and then we wondered among the Art of the Americas gallery where we stumbled on a few surprises.

 

Previous visits:

World Cup Round of 16 Rooting Interests and Predictions


After an exciting round of group play, the knock-out rounds for the 2014 World Cup begin today.  Below I’ve listed the teams I’m rooting for and the teams I expect to win (not always the same) for each game.

28 June 2014

Brazil vs. Chile

This is a tough call.  I have a soft spot for Chile and they acquitted themselves well in group play, but I’ve always liked Brazil and it would be tragic if the host nation exited the tournament this early (especially after having to endure all the corporate, government, and FIFA corruption).  That being said, I expect Brazil will have no problem winning this game and probably advance at least to the semifinals.

Supporting: Brazil           Prediction: Brazil

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Colombia is one of the most exciting teams in the tournament with the most feverish fans.  Uruguay did well in group play, but aren’t going to go far without their bitey star Luis Suarez.  Colombia is an easy team to support and pick for the win.

Supporting: Colombia         Prediction: Colombia

It’s interesting that four of the five remaining South American teams are essentially playing for one semifinal spot.  I expect that Brazil will advance from this group of four, but the Brazil versus Colombia quarterfinal has the potential to be an exciting match.

29 June 2014

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Mexico is our biggest rival, but I’ve been swayed to their side this World Cup for several reasons:  CONCACAF regional pride, the performance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the exburance of coach Miguel Herrera, and their exciting style of play in a tough group.  I adopted the Netherlands in 2010 as my team to support after the US elimination (mainly because I had just visited Amsterdam that year), but the karate chop performance of the final kind of took the bloom off that rose.  Still, the Netherlands look like a dominant side that may advance all the way to the final again, and will be hard for Mexico to beat.

Supporting: Mexico          Prediction: Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica’s team is the surprise of the tournament, giant-killers in what should’ve been the toughest group.  It’s hard not to like Los Ticos.  Greece are also surprise members of the final 16.  However, they haven’t shown a lot of skill in the group stage.  I expect another Costa Rica win.

Supporting: Costa Rica     Prediction: Costa Rica

An all CONCACAF quarterfinal would be a thrilling thing, but I expect that the Netherlands will progress to the semifinals from this group of four.

30 June 2014

France vs. Nigeria

I tend to root for the underdogs, so I have to favor Nigeria here, but France is looking like one of the top teams in the tournament, so I don’t have much hope for the African side.

Supporting: Nigeria         Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria is the other surviving African team who’ve drawn tough European competition in Germany.  I’ll root for Algeria, but expect Germany to make it at least to the semifinal.

Supporting: Algeria          Prediction: Germany

There’s an opportunity for an all-African quarterfinal coming out this group of four, but it’s more likely that European neighbors Germany and  France will meet to decide a spot in the final four.

1 July 2014

Argentina vs. Switzerland

I’ve not been impressed by Argentina who  won a weak group by basically holding out for a Lionel Messi wondergoal.  On the other hand, Argentina has enough talent that should be able to advance as far as the semifinal without breaking much of a sweat.  I haven’t got much of a sense of Switzerland, but I’ll be rooting for them just so that USA would have a more potentially beatable side in the quarterfinal, should it come to that.

Supporting: Switzerland       Prediction:  Argentina

Belgium vs. United States

Sure, Belgium is a dark horse to win the World Cup, and sure they won all three of their group matches.  Sure, the United States has struggled and only just made it out of group play.  But Belgium played in one of the weakest groups, while the United States faced down three challenging opponents without ever throwing in the towel.  I believe that we will win.

Supporting:  United States       Prediction: United States

While I think that the United States can make it to the quarterfinal, Argentina is the prohibitive favorite of this group of four.  Still, Iran held Argentina scoreless for 90 minutes, so maybe someone can pull of a miracle win.

Song of the Week – “Discourse My Romance” by Shinedoe feat. Karin Dreijer


Amsterdam-based DJ Shinedoe (aka Chinedum Nwosu) provides the groove with Karin Dreijer of The Knife providing the vocals on this dance-able, but somewhat eerie, track “Discourse My Romance.”

Song of the Week has not been weekly lately, but hopefully this will tide you over until I get my act together.

 

Song of the Week: “Proxy (Original Mix)” by Martin Garrix


My groove this week is “Proxy” by Dutch DJ/Producer Martin Garrix.  I first heard this on the most recent Tiesto’s Club Life Podcast.  This certainly makes me want to dance, or maybe just strut.  Actually, with baseball season starting this week, I think this will be my walk-up music.

What’s making you move this week?  Let me know in the comments!

The Beers of Amsterdam


Here are a few beers I sampled on our recent travels in Amsterdam (not counting the six-pack of Grolsch I bought at the Albert Heijn store).

Beer: Hertog Jan Pils
Brewer:
Hertog Jan Brouwerij
Source:
Draft
Rating:
** (6.7 of 10)

Comments: A bright gold beer with a must pilsener aroma and a crisp, dry taste.  Foamy lace lines the glass.  A nice, drinkable beer.


Beer: Wieckse Witte
Brewer:
De Ridder Brewery
Source:
Draft
Rating:
** (6.3 of 10)

Comments: This is a cloudy, blond beer with a citrusy aroma and a dry, fruity taste.  The head evaporated quickly and did not leave much lacing.  Not my favorite style of beer, but not bad.


Beer: Budels Pils
Brewer:
Budelse Brouwerij B.V.
Source:
Bottle
Rating:
* (5.8 of 10)

Comments: “Just Beer,” a pilsener with a foamy, flat, golden appearance and a dry, grainy flavor.  The beer retains its carbonation and leaves a light lacing on the glass.  An OK, everyday beer.


Beer: Hertog Jan Springbier
Brewer:
Hertog Jan Brouwerij
Source:
Draft
Rating:
*** (7.0 of 10)

Comments: A deep amber beer with a fluffy head.  The scent is musty, like cannabis, or perhaps the scent pervades everything here?  Sweet & malty with fruity highlights.  Sporadic lacing lines the glass and the head disappears quickly.  A decent beer for the season.

Book Review: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank


Author:Anne Frank
Title: The Diary of a Young Girl
Publication Info: Anchor (1996) [Originally published in 1947]
ISBN:0385480334

Summary/Review:

Like many people I thought I knew everything about Anne Frank and her diary and probably like many people I never actually read it.  I did see the movie when I was a kid.  So, of course, I was in for a big surprise.  It is a diary and reads like it was written by a teenage girl concerned with her studies, her changing body, attraction to boys, and asserting independence from her parents.  She was also a teenage girl with a great talent for writing and one who was aware as she wrote that her diary would be published.  It’s fascinating how Anne Frank captures the personalities of the people she is in hiding with, the petty arguments, the greater political issues of the time, and the ordinary day-to-day life in an extraordinary situation.  Knowing what happens, there are a lot of moments of heartbreak.  When Anne accidentally incinerates her fountain pen and says it’s turned to ashes just as she hopes to be cremated one day, I shuddered.  There are several close calls where there hiding place is almost discovered and the relief of their escape is tempered by the knowledge that they would be caught in the end.  Anne hopes to become a writer and journalist, a dream she only achieves posthumously. I kept wishing that Anne Frank had survived the war and lived to tell her story and experience new stories as well.

If you’re like me and haven’t actually read this book, pick up a copy as soon as you can.  I think it’s especially worthwhile for teenagers to read as there is much to relate to and much to learn.
Rating: *****