Koos z’n Bevrijdingsdag

Get Me to the Church on Time! Koos Leads the Way to Monster's Heart

As absolutely everyone around here knows, Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of the undermanned Mexican army’s surprise drubbing of the invading French in the Battle of Puebla. As it happens, May 5 is also Liberation Day in Holland. Bevrijdingsdag, they call it, and I’m afraid it’s pronounced pretty much the way it’s spelled. Judie’s hometown is over there, a cozy village on the Dutch channel coast with the unlikely name of Monster (“Muenster”, I’m often corrected by know-it-all passerby. No. Monster.). From her mom’s house you used to be able to see a glimpse of the nearby windmill, whose name is de Vier Winden, but now the vanes are obscured by other houses. If you strike out in the direction of the beach, though, you’ll find the windmill two blocks away. Walk on past it if you want to hit the beach. If you want to head downtown, though, hang a left and you’ll continue on for an easy 20 minutes (weather permitting) through a long, leafy neighborhood of tidy brownstone row houses, their steeply canted roofs and ordered lawns conferring a certain highly organized tranquility.

When you reach the roundabout at Van Bemmellaan, (or Van Bemmell Lane, if that helps), you hang a right. There, adjacent to the Film Club videotheek you’ll find a bronze statue commemorating Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day), the day in 1945 the exhausted German occupiers left at the suggestion of the arriving First Canadian Army. The statue is a mildly expressionist woman cast in bronze. She faces the nearby beach and raises her right hand in welcome, signifying the massive sea landing further south that finally brought rescue. The Canadians swept into Holland almost exactly one month before the D-Day landings on the French coast.

The Germans had arrived with a bang in another May, 5 years before – the terrified Dutch and German soldiers fighting savagely at close quarters in the previously bucolic forest of Ockenburgh, a half mile or so from Judie’s childhood home. The German guys were trying to advance to the Hague and the Dutch guys were determined not to let that happen, all the uniformed young men clawing and shooting and weeping and falling where today there are swings and slides and climbing structures for the kids, and birdsong. On a clear day you can picnic among the trees. For some of us it’s difficult to transpose the one scene over the other. I’d been raised on the stirring and sanitized war of t.v and the movies; The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes. My G.I. Joe war doll came off the assembly line with a manufactured facial injury and a hint of fraternal smile. War was heck. The movies portrayed muddy, stylized battle, yes, and as a kid I spent a considerable amount of time wondering why they didn’t just throw the grenade as they would a baseball. What’s all this dumb stiff-arming about? The shadowy complications off the battlefield mesmerized me the most. There was covert intrigue and well-dressed men running along train platforms and James Garner in a turtleneck gently crashing his escape plane into a picturesque knoll, and always David Attenborough with his collar turned up. Attenborough’s pensive wartime baby face didn’t prepare me for Koos and Riek’s casually brutal stories of a childhood spent in the midst of a world war.

As kids in the middle of a monstrous and merciless war, Judie’s parents had seen into the abyss. How any kid of that generation who’d seen what they’d seen could survive and grow up and prosper and function – it’s beyond me. Judie’s mom, Riek (Hendrika), is an indomitable, humor-filled dynamo of energy and wisdom. She cleans like a cartoon tornado, is a three night-a-week card sharp, dispenses folksy Dutch wisdom with a raised forefinger and a smile and usually dines in her apron. Koos (pronounced like “cose”) was a particular softie, G*d rest him. A former cabaret performer, he had an artist’s sensibility, and he loved shared laughter. When he found something funny, his face would collapse into a crinkly smile and he would put his palm to his forehead in a silent gesture of hilarity, winking his eyes at you conspiratorially in his own inimitable signal of love and family. Koos was an emotional tinderbox, his heart a barely contained fire. When Judie and I had excitedly told him in the kitchen one evening that I had proposed to her, he surprised us both by bursting very suddenly into tears, roughly embracing me again and again, then turning to his baby and folding Judie into his arms. He was a lovely, gentle man, a bespectacled joker and much-beloved figure in the small seaside town on the North Sea where he’d grown up, which, like all real villages and towns, remains a world unto itself.

But he’d had it rough at the hands of the German occupiers. He was a pubescent everykid when they rolled in and he remembered aloud to me once the scene in Monster’s town square when advance word of the German approach was rushing through the cobbled streets like a toxic wind, uniformed teens in a local Youth Brigade of some kind rushing around in panic and yelling in terror at everyone to get their hands out of their pockets lest they be holding grenades. “Hands out of pockets, hands out of pockets!” he described the scouts screaming in their high kid voices. Once the Germans arrived, Koos and other boys his age were conscripted into killing factory work with little food to speak of, slave laborers assembling munitions. One day Koos walked by a room where several officers were dining. He hadn’t eaten in days. The officers asked if he was hungry and gestured him over, allowed him to eat his fill, laughed and smoked as he attacked the sumptuous foods spread out on the table. They knew the sudden feast would kill him, and it nearly did.

The 5 years between the German army’s arrival and the liberation of Holland were characterized by misery and privation, and many hearts were naturally hardened in that crucible. The stories are many from the winter of 1944 in particular, the Hunger Winter (Hongerwinter) when the occupiers responded punitively to a railway strike called in by Holland’s government in exile. In angry response to the strike, Germany ordered the blockade of food shipments in a disaster that unfolded so quickly the German commander in the area saw the scale of what would unfold and somewhat desperately tried to roll back the orders, but by then the inland waterways, Holland’s famous canal system, had frozen solid and nothing could get through. Tens of thousands starved in a famine so virulent there is evidence it bred epigenetic changes in the next line of Dutch children to be born to the famine’s survivors. My in-laws have told stories about families digging up and eating tulip bulbs for food and capturing birds in the denuded, otherwise useless greenhouses. Riek’s father would leave the family and travel the perilous countryside for days on his bicycle and return with a loaf of bread. Her mother, unable to bear the hungry families that passed by their home day and night, would share her own family’s meager rations, infuriating her husband on his return. “M’n moeder was een heel goed mens,” Riek says today. During the hardships and death of the occupation, an entire generation of Dutch people had their hearts impermeably tempered against Germany and Germans.

It once would’ve seemed impossible, but by the early 1980s a grudging and ragged rapprochement was in the air. German families had been coming to Monster’s beaches for some time (to the occasional shouts and growlings of certain of the Dutch citizenry there) and a field had long since been set aside for their trailers and tents, in the shadow of the enormous berm that separates the shore from the town. But the intermingling of the populations also gave rise to new animus. During the war, Dutch bikes had been confiscated in their tens of thousands by the occupiers, the primacy of the bicycle to the Dutch culture and identity an unknown quantity to the Germans. The nimble mobility of the Dutch, and particularly the Dutch Resistance (Ondergrondse), the largest WWII resistance movement in Western Europe, was an unclear but intolerable threat to the occupiers.

Given the broader horrors that had been visited on the Nederlanders, the taking of the bikes remained, in the post-war years, a curious sore point. At the seizing of 100,000 bikes in July, 1942, the Dutch outcry was such that a Wehrmacht officer’s memo noted that the confiscation was “…a particularly harmful action. One of the worst things that can happen to a Dutchman is that he loses his bike.” As the long thaw between the countries incrementally crawled along, the angry lament for the stolen bikes stubbornly took hold as a sanitized and invective-free rallying cry of post-war national anger against the Germans, singularly hurled at German campers, football supporters, and so on. It was an innocuous, even childish thing to shout, but it contained volumes.

“Geef me mijn fiets terug!” – “Give me my bike back!”

In the early 80s there began a timorous exchange program between a church choir from the tiny village of Mühleip in Germany, and Koos’ choir in Monster. Someone in Koos’ choir knew someone who knew someone, it seemed an idea whose time had come, and arrangements were made. One year the German choir would come by bus to Monster and be hosted and housed, the next year Koos’ choir would be received as guests and performers in Mühleip. The informal, seat-of-the-pants arrangement began with some trepidation on both sides and crept along in stutter-steps. The enmity ran very very deep. But slowly, the ice cracked, a little. The recency of the war made it a glacial thaw. While no actual friendships grew, the two choirs began to see each other not as ciphers or historical symbols, but as flesh and blood, or to put it less biblically, as singers in a couple of small town church choirs. Koos, though, couldn’t let it go (understandably, I think), and during one visit of the German guest chorale he burst out with a comment that may have set the whole enterprise back on its heels; “How about you guys bring back the bike you stole from me!” After some downcast faces and throat clearing the remark was allowed to drift away, like an awkward flume of smoke.

When Koos’ choir next made the trip to Germany to perform and be hosted by their counterparts there, a couple of the German singers pulled him aside.

“Koos, we must tell you something.”

He waited. “Ja? Wat is er?”

The Germans looked at each other.

“Koos, we found your bike.”

“….my bike?”

His smiling German hosts wheeled out a beautiful 10-speed racing bike amid clapping and laughter. They’d painted it Dutch royal orange. When the German group next visited Monster, Koos met the bus at the edge of town and led his pals, in a singular procession, down the winding streets to the church where they would sing together, Koos on his royal orange steed gesturing as grandly as a parade master. It would be the second momentous rolling into Monster of a loud German mob. This one cheering.

The human race has its moments. We’re not stamped by destiny. Happy Liberation Day. (Koosje, je bent altijd in onze gedachte..)

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The Monster in My Id

wedding day

two bedazzled lovebirds embrace in a cheap hotel room in Amsterdam on the Big Morning

By the age of 26 I had a beautiful teak rolltop desk full of weighty documentation, having parlayed my university experience, considerable native intellect and ruthless drive to succeed into a position of

By my mid-twenties I had resoundingly fulfilled and then surpassed my early promise. My 75th floor office gave onto a skyscraping eyrie at whose filigreed iron railing I regularly took in the view of Gotham, the teeming city/state I’d conquered with such aplomb and daring as is only dreamed of in the pages of Fortu

As Grails go this gig is definitely the battered cup of a carpenter and not the kingly, jewel-encrusted decoy that caused that guy to melt in the third Indiana Jones movie. Rocky’s is not the Hollywood Bowl, but it is a club in Santa Barbara; or FREAKING SANTA BARBARA as I called it then. We’re jumping around like shameless asses a block from the long-sought Pacific, and we are being paid. The dance floor is packed with beach-scented revelers. As recent arrivistes from the powdery Sonoran desert sprawl of Phoenix and its black-painted, fishnet-gloves-and-clove-cigarettes club scene, we are in thrall to our sunshiney good fortune. True, the pay is such that, back at the band house/rehearsal studio, we are surviving on baked potatoes and pilfered frat house boxed wine. Show Biz Glamor is keeping her distance. Actually, she took the first red-eye to Timbuktoo and imperiously asked us to drop her a line when we began to gain a little traction. That would never happen. A freckled sunburst Yoko would presently shamble into the club with her friends and utterly guileless 1000 kilowatt smile, inadvertently laying waste to our china shop and turning my page so quickly it would effectively be torn from the book. Today the sun would begin setting on our years-long band and songwriting project, Spin Cycle. Elsewhere songbirds would begin quietly announcing the roseate onset of an extravagant new dawn; a dawn often viewed through slanting arctic rainfall on a Vermeer landscape, but a spirit-seizing, heart-renewing Dawn nonetheless. Juud!

My beer-dappled Converse® high-tops are being put through their paces. I’ve descended from my gosh-like position on Rocky Galenti’s Mainstage (or as we used to call it, the stage) and am mingling frenetically on the dancefloor with the thrashing throng of thought-free thoroughbreds, my unwieldy 60 foot mic cord allowing me the freedom to be publicly asinine in a setting where Asininity is King. The band churns buoyantly away behind me as I weave between the swingers. I’ve made good use of my late-breaking leave-taking of the Wallflower Club, whose charter membership I once wore like a badge of quietude in h.s. and college. I and my like-minded stagemates are well-matched. As a band we are part circus, part pop roadshow, part inexplicable performance piece.

I’ve stood atop our equipment truck at midnight of a starlit evening and serenaded a writhing mob in the street outside the club as our music poured out of the open stage door. I routinely take my leave of the dance floor in the middle of a song, and, mic in hand, climb atop the drink-littered bar in the front room and do the Vegas Catwalk, affronting the patrons in the main lounge who’d thought they’d successfully steered clear of this malarkey. I’ve sung hanging from rafters, have shouted off-pitch into the mic from the reverb-blessed confines of a club restroom, and once managed to warble while laying supine on a dance floor with a weighty patron in failing halter top perched on my chest. Which is all to say, ‘look how cool I was, and understand in part why nobody ever really realized I couldn’t sing’. Our between-song stage patter would frequently baffle our audiences, and in the middle of a song Leslee, our resident ‘foxy chick singer’, would more often than not flop off the stage like a maddened marionette  to join me on the dance floor in a fit of high octane idiocy, bewildering the pogo-ing patrons with what looked like a grand mal dance seizure.  We were full of surprises, misfires and dayglo laissez-faire. The songs, though, always came first. Eddie and I had been writing together since high school, he a post-modern Richard Rodgers who even as a 17 year old could spin a gorgeous, genre-crossing melody as you or I would open a can of soup; me a willowy, nominally quiet word-fan with one lazy eye and a nose made crooked by the Toyota Corolla that smacked me when I was 14. Rodgers and Frankenstein?

Today is The Day. Juudje, Carola and Renate are en route. It is 1986. We are, I think, three sets in on a sunstruck Sunday afternoon at Rocky’s, our favorite regular gig and the one that speaks most loudly to our having successfully made the move to California. Summer beach light pours onto the dance floor through the arched northerly club windows. The tanned, sandy throng gyrates in bikini and board shorts, pleasantly dizzy and pumping their fists in the ambient summer glow, as the pleasantly dizzy will do when unable to otherwise articulate their inner joy and wholeness. How many more sets this afternoon? Two? Three? One? Soon it would hardly matter. I believe I’m singing the epileptic Devo ballad ‘That’s Good’, leaping like a fool on coals and occasionally landing atop a fleetingly disgruntled mosher. I can actually smell the beach here in the club. We are expertly blaring a colorful mix of our own original tunes and covers by the likes of Talking Heads, Howard Jones, Divinyls, Our Daughter’s Wedding, and so on. Everything is going according to plan!

Eddie and I step outside for our customary Carleton between sets, a pitiable ‘low tar’ ciggy whose pathetic, pleading ad campaign at the time (IF YOU SMOKE, PLEASE TRY CARLETON!) is just amusing enough to make us fans. We reenter the club and spend the few remaining minutes before taking the stage in chit chat.

In walks Juud, in the company of her two beautiful friends and fellow-travelers Renate and Carola. I didn’t see them come in that afternoon, though one would think the hollering, frantically waving cherubim and seraphim would have tipped me off. As often happens, the heavenly chorus was drowned out by the din of happy drinkers ringingly in love with their own collective Moment. It wasn’t till Judie approached me between sets that the angelic loud-mouths gave their full-throated endorsement. I only remember someone speaking and me turning to regard a glowingly adorable post-punk ragamuffin redhead in a Cure t-shirt, and the warmest, happiest green eyes I’d ever seen. She was saying something unintelligible through the riot of club noise. She seemed to have some sort of speech impediment.

“Oh, hi…what?”

“I lijk ye bent.”

“um…..What?

“I LIJK YE BENT.”

“…..What?”

“I LIJK YE BENT.”

“You like the band?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.” Her towsled strawberry blonde mop, purple tube skirt, off-brand sneakers and immediately kissable face were not the standard uniform. My head swam, a little. Later it would swim a lot. Her striking pals Carola and Renate were behind her, mingling a little, watching over Juud a little. The three of them looked like radiant refugees from a Benetton shoot, high latitude blondes who carried themselves like self-possessed creatures of another culture, as indeed they were. They introduced themselves and explained that they were from Holland, a smallish town there called Monster.

“Muenster?” I blathered

“MONSTER!” Judie corrected, then raised her arms above her adorable apple head and made claws. “Like a monster! Raarrrgh!”

“Oh. It’s…the town is called Monster?” The three of them laughed disarmingly.

“Yeah!”

I wanted suddenly to wrap my arms around the one with the freckles and heartbeat-accelerating grin and warm green eyes. Keep your hands at your sides, you fool! You don’t know what is considered acceptable in Denmark or wherever!

Later that afternoon I would glance over through the madding crowd and see Juud standing in the middle of the blur, looking straight at me, her gentle, clock-stopping smile a still-point, a quasar, the gently buffeting breeze from an 80 kiloton explosion. I remember it with crystal clarity; that smile at that moment. I looked over and there she was, looking over. It almost sat me down, right there on the floor of the club. Good Heavens. That smile, that smile! Juud is the most beautiful, sensitive, life-loving and desirable creature on Earth, and an ongoing knee-weakener. Things happen to me when she enters a room, not all of them suitable for discussion in mixed company.

That Sunday in 1986 a corner turned, though I wouldn’t know it for some weeks. We fell hard and spent many an hour in my room at the band house, listening to music, talking about everything, partaking sickeningly of Little Caesar’s two-for-one deal. Soon it would develop that Judie had to go home, her visa expiring. I would labor over and then make an odd and slightly macabre decision, one whose effect on my dear friends I barely paused to consider, it must be said. Without the requisite inner turmoil (it would come later), I put my immediate past aside and stared fixedly at a previously unforeseen and deliciously unforeseeable future in another country.

I imagined the ineptly dubbed afterschool specials of my youth; rural European kids on tractors wearing alien-looking overalls, their words and mouth movements marvelously unrelated, cars with strange license plates, windmills, canals, those van Gogh stacks of threshed wheat; a half-accurate and delirious premonition. In brutish short order my emotional life would soon be overwhelmed anew as I informed my beloved bandmates and pals that our longstanding gig was up. All those endless muse-chasing days and nights, going right back to the egg; Eddie’s and my musical convocations and discoveries and initially accidental collaborations in the orchestra pit in our high school auditorium while crewing for that season’s musical, then the practice rooms in the music building at NAU with Paul.

And then the band years in carpeted living rooms and garages, clubs and bars and Fraternity bacchanals and university courtyards and city park bandstands, hotel ballrooms and yard parties; growing the band, growing each other. Everything for the music, for the imperfect, mildly self-mocking pursuit of Art. All the stories, the personalities – Monica, Tooth Sue, Plum Crazy the Gentleman Pirate, who could slurringly recite any Baudelaire you’d care to request, and who would travel with us to our Ventura gigs in the back of our enclosed equipment truck, sitting in the dark back there and emerging with a laugh when we arrived — I hadn’t a clue how tough this chapter-closing would be. I vividly remember my complete surprise at breaking down in the middle of the street downtown as I told our drummer, Cary, and him putting his arm around me like a consoling big brother. Cary; the comparative youngster we called The Kid.

Then there would be passport complications, more tears, some unnerving final gigs, a horrified last-minute, morning-of-my-departure pursuit of Leslee’s escaped cat (Commander Salamander RIP), me boarding a jumbo jet with one large suitcase and a Brother electronic typewriter as heavy as an anvil. “Okay, here I go!” I chirped confusedly to Leslee at LAX when boarding was called. “Don’t be glib,” she said levelly, through tears. “This is it,” the flight attendant said to me with meaning, looking me straight in the eye as I boarded; a strangely apt remark I still wonder at.

Then a peaked attic bedroom at the tippity top of a flight of narrow spiral stairs, a bedroom through whose canted ceiling window one could stare straight up at the enormous black birds endlessly battling the Dutch gale, their desperate caws sounding like cries for help. Then nuptials in Amsterdam, much horizontal rain, long nights drinking in Naaldwijk with Juud and Marcel, then biking back to Monster through the Dutch countryside in the whisperingly silent wee hours under scudding moonlit clouds. Freaking magic. And a whole new, deeply beloved family in a cozy little seaside town, nestled against the dunes on the Dutch channel coast; my second home and the Monster in my id. Oh, wat ben ik gelukkig. Thanks for coming to the club that night, Judie!

My Dutch In-Laws and the Wonder of Machined Things

Koos en Riek in an Italian Movie moment

Koos en Riek van Vliet, 1950s, Holland. I’ve always loved this picture – it looks like a Truffaut movie still.

My mother-in-law is visiting from Holland, an unlikely country spread across an undersea declivity from which the water, over the centuries, has been ingeniously pushed, rather than drained. The sea still muscles up to the country of 17 million like a churlish rejected suitor, harassing with all the weight of the vast ocean the defenses the Dutch have built to keep her at bay. On the night of January 1, 1953 an historic catastrophe which the Dutch call the Watersnoodramp (‘water tribulation disaster’, approximately) befell the dish-like Holland with long-lasting effects.  A mighty storm, combined with the kismet of high tides, swamped the Dutch system of seawalls and dykes and inundated the south of the country in the Zeeland – Noord Brabant region. Nearly 2000 people were drowned, along with tens of thousands of animals. Buildings and homes were swept away and in the course of the blow several ships were lost at sea and in the channel.

In one of many notable feats of spontaneous, powerfully practical Dutch “Now we will fix this” derring-do (a quality I’ve learned to both love and fear), the quick-thinking, detail-averse mayor of a town called Niewenkerk commandeered a largish grain barge and ordered the captain, named Arie Evegroen, to head with all speed to a widening breach in the Groenendijk on the river Ijssel near his town, a key dyke in the region whose loss would be catastrophic. That high sea dyke was beginning to weaken on the seaward side, threatening with explosive flash flooding about 3 million Dutch people in the province’s lowlands. Captain Evegroen was reportedly nervous about the more-than-a-little-crazy, seat-of-the-pants plan his wild-eyed mayor had cooked up, but he only paused long enough to haul a lifeboat onto his rust-eaten barge, de Twee Gebroeders (the Two Brothers), in case things didn’t work out and he was obliged to jump overboard.

Een Dubbeltje op Zijn Kant

Een Dubbeltje op Zijn Kant – a cool little statue in the Groenedijk commemorating a sea dog’s rescue of his countrymen in a moment of rural quickthink.

In the event, Captain Evegroen throttled up to the dyke and in the “I was raised on this river” manner that jut-jawed heroic sea dogs have, masterfully maneuvered his ship into the yawning hole such that the full force of the sea was diverted from the breach, and several million Dutch brothers and sisters downriver were saved.

A typically demure bit of Dutch statuary commemorates the event on the site of the patchwork rescue of a quarter of the country’s citizens that day in ’53. It’s called Een Dubbeltje op Zijn Kant – A Little Coin on its Side – a Dutch saying that connotes a narrow escape. For all the lives that were saved, and the scale of the added disaster that was averted, the commemorative sculpture simply shows a guy in a raincoat bending hurriedly over a dinghy. This is how the Dutch pat themselves on the back. Quietly. Their tensile strength is in the doing.

In the literal wake of the ruinous flood the Dutch hurriedly, almost angrily, came up with a massive machined response called the Delta Project; a huge, technologically complex series of sluices, walls and sea-gates down the channel coast of Holland whose intent is to effectively round off the complex inlets and waterways of the coast and reduce the number of miles and opportunities through which a storm-maddened sea may pour its wrath, so to speak. The Dutch had been planning a similarly large-scale if technologically less robust project to protect their vulnerable southern reaches when WWII broke out and more immediate concerns superseded the fear of drowning. Now they attacked the problem with all the ingenuity and will they are known for.

The largest and most dramatic stretch of the project, completed in 1986 and dedicated by Queen Beatrix of Holland, is the Oosterscheldekering; as difficult to say as it is awesome to see. The Oosterscheldekering is a 9 kilometer long (~5 mile) wall of sluices and gears and gates, and looks like something from another planet. It is a world-renowned example of national pluck, as we Americans might once have put it, and amounts to an enormous Dutch middle finger raised to old King Neptune. That is, following the disaster, this attack by capricious nature, the level-headed, quietly indomitable Nederlanders had wrung out their clothes, sharpened their pencils, and returned to bitch-slap the elements. Or as the Dutch plainly understate on a plaque installed near the ostentatious sea wall – “Hier gaan over het tij, de wind, de maan en wij“.

“Here the tide is ruled by the wind, the moon and us.”

Yes. Point made. And stated, I can tell you, with the firm and mildly grinning Dutch clarity of purpose one learns very deeply to love.

My father-in-law, Koos (Jacobus – may he rest in peace) was in the military at the time of the disaster and was given a medal for his efforts in the rescue operation that followed the disaster. His stories are many and his everyday heroism and humor will find a home in this blog.

My mother in law, Riek (short for Hendrika) is also heroic. What she experienced, and what her family survived during wartime, are of another world and epoch, and with her permission I’ll get some of that down here, too. It defies easy comprehension, much of it. Riek is funny, loving, and unbreakable. And – now to the buried mini-anecdote that catalyzed the writing of this post – she has a great respect for water. All the Dutch do. Every man, woman and child in the country must pass a surprisingly arduous three-step swimming program and exam called the ABC Zwem Diploma, beginning around age 5 or 6, or they aren’t allowed out of the shallow end of any public pool. Ever. The Dutch are citizens of a place that exists at the pleasure of the sea, and of the engineers whose ingenious contraptions hold the sea, year after year, in abeyance.

The prosaic result of all this water-conquering is that every year on her visit, Riek destroys our shower handles in a fit of water-arresting determination. It can be said that the 1953 seawall catastrophe in Holland has been a gift to Santa Barbara’s plumbers. Ours is an older shower which, when turned off, looses a few fitful drips of water before closing off the flow completely. If you are able to bide your time for 4 seconds the dripping ceases. To Dutch folk of a certain generation, 4 seconds may as well be 4 days. On seeing the drips Riek’s impulse until recently has been to crank the shower handles to ground with such muscle-trembling strength that by the time her 3 – 4 week visit is ended, the measly American shower gaskets have been crushed to diaphanous doilies by her strength of will and bionic wrists. A plummeting droplet of water is something to be forcefully addressed. The shower handle gaskets are invariably shot to pieces during her visits and need to be replaced, in a yearly ritual that signals dear Riek’s return to Holland, within a day or two of her leaving. This year she got the memo, and is treating the fixtures more gently. Surely Riek’s new exercise of patience is allowing her the astonished revelation that sometimes running water will stop moving of its own accord.

I’ve long understood, though, that she has earned her contempt for uncontrolled running water. She’s earned her ways. Most of her habits and ideals and sayings were formed in a crucible. Everything she and Koos feel and felt were hard-won. Allow me to explain. It’s the very least I can do.