pres de mon coeur

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my knight in shining armor July 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — presdemoncoeur @ 11:08 pm

here we are in barcelona, spain, on vacation and house-sitting for a friend, and i have a funny story about our first night here. M is still learning the sounds of the area, and he’s not used to having windows and doors open and hearing so much outside. (i say that, but actually we do it, too, in NL and DE…)  i, on the other hand, have visited our friends in barcelona several times by myself, once even staying for 6 weeks (there was house-sitting included)!, so i’m used to some of the house and neighborhood sounds.

it was 3am and one of neighbors was outside doing something like having a smoke or just sitting out, but he must have kicked something and then said something. anyway all those somethings woke M up, and immediately put him in a panic because he thought someone was in our (friend’s)  house!  when he woke me to tell me i was pretty sure it was the sounds of the neighbors, but he was so worried, so he got up and turned on all the lights down in our room, then decided to go upstairs and check it out. meanwhile, i’m just laying in bed, pretty sure it was just the neighbors; and the sounds outside stopped, probably because of the lights. funny thing was, M was wearing his (silvery, silky) Snoopy, WWI Flying Ace underwear, and in my sleepy haze, i thought, “that’s not going to be very threatening if it IS someone breaking in…” next thing i know, i heard M in the kitchen, pulling the big kitchen knife out of the drawer.

can you imagine, a Snoopy-clad, half-naked man, going through the house brandishing a kitchen knife, turning on all the lights? i heard him trying to be stealthy, sneaking up to the top of the house, but leaving a detectable trail of lights. i thought about calling him back down, but realized sometimes it is better to just let him do his thing. i dozed back in and out of sleep, and eventually my knight-in-Snoopy-armor came back downstairs again, this time with the (culinary) sword, which he decided to keep under the bed for security.

in the morning when it was light, he heard all those same sounds again. he was reassured that it was the neighbors after all and felt confident enough to put the knife back in the kitchen. 🙂

snoopy ww1 flying ace


lonely man week January 17, 2009

Filed under: January 2009,Life in Holland — presdemoncoeur @ 4:59 pm

the women in my family are cursed.  we attract the most lonely, desperate, weirdo men.  i’m not talking the men we choose to have relationships with – i’m talking about standing in line at the grocery store (ice cream shop, library, post office), minding your own business, and then they flock to you and just start very personal conversations.   it’s as if there’s a halo above your head with a little tag attached that says “lonely?  come talk to me!”

i’ve seen this sort of thing happen to my mom and aunts for years, and those of us in the next generation are adding our stories at a quick rate as well.  since i’ve moved to europe, it happens to me more and more often, but this could largely be due to my frequent use of the public transportation system and the large population of northern african immigrants residing here. (i hate to stereotype here, but it is just that a huge proportion of these men who feel they can just come up and talk to me – or worse yet, touch me! – are from northern africa.  i’ve had many conversations with girlfriends about this, and there are various perfectly understandable reasons why, which i won’t bother with now.)

this week has been quite a busy week for lonely men in holland.  instead of my once-a-week annoyance, i’ve had 5!  FIVE!  in the last 3 days at that!   as you will  see, i’ve not managed to figure out ways to cope with all of these types, but i’m learning that from standing there minding your own business to innocent things like friendly smiles, answering questions, and general politeness can all get you in a lot of trouble.  the list:

Lonely Man #1 was actually more of a kid.  he must have been 17 or 18.  there i was, standing at the tram stop on thursday morning, minding my own business, looking all over the place, like everyone else, when i noticed this guy run up from across the street.  i glanced at him, like everyone else, and then looked away and kept waiting for the tram.  then i heard some mumbles and sighs, and some grunt-like sounds.  i wondered if he was trying to get my attention, but decided not to look over.  more mumbles, then he said an actual sentence, obviously directed at me, but it was in dutch, so i said “sorry?”  (what if he was asking a legitimate question?)  he repeated it in english, something like, “whew, i made it just in time.”  i tried my smile-and-nod tactic, followed-up not with a question, but by more gazing off wistfully in the direction of the tram. however, this guy felt the need to keep talking.  and once he started, there was no stopping him.  i heard all about the cafe he was just at, and then he remembered he’d left his book on top of the garbage can by the tram stop and was so glad it was still there when he came running back, and where are you from, why are you here, and do you like holland.  blah blah.  the weird thing was that this guy never blinked.   luckily, when the tram came, he (oddly enough) wasn’t getting on it.  but, while still not blinking,  he made a point to say, “good bye, nice to meet you, very nice talking to you.” i just said “bye” and didn’t look back, or even in his direction when the tram passed him.

Lonely Man #2 was at the library, on the very same day as Lonely Man #1.  these men were separated by a mere 3 hours, yet also about 45 years.  this older man spotted me in the library cafe, having a bit of soup before i met a friend to work on a project.  there i was, happily finishing my soup, sharing my table with a nice grandmotherly woman with whom i’d been making small talk, and Lonely Man #2 just came up to me and said, “oh, soupe!  wat lekker!  is het lekker?”  (“oh, soup!  yum!  is it good?”)  to which i replied, “ja, lekker.” (“yes, it’s good.”)   my tactic here was, just answer the question, and he’ll get his own soup and go sit down somewhere.  wrong!  he heard my accent and wanted to know where i was from, and oh, was i married?  look, he had a great book about tourism in the hague right with him! (he did.)  he’d just come from a lecture about the archiving of dutch something-or-other.   where did i live? oh, i must have met my husband in arkansas, and he’s dutch and just brought me back to holland.  i chose not to correct him on those details.   i was distratcted by what seemed to be cookie crumbs on his coat.  why was this guy talking to me?  what sort of signal was i giving out?  then he asked if the grandmotherly woman was my mother.   she must have given him some subliminal signal or something, because after confirming that in fact, she was not my mother, and in fact, i am married, he left.   i rolled my eyes after he left, and she laughed empathetically and asked, “are you really married?”

Lonely Man #3 was a little drunk after a Friday night out.  A man in his 60s, he was travelling by train from Utrecht to Gouda.  I noticed him on the platform waiting for the train, because he seemed a little bit unsteady.  Once on the train, he struck up friendly conversation with a group of teenage boys, who thought he was funny (maybe he was.  some people are funny and friendly when drunk.  i was tired from a concert and recording session, sitting on the last train home, listening to my ipod.)  from where i was sitting, i could see him carrying on and glanced at him not more than twice, and only when things got noisy enough to disturb the mood of the traincar.  he had to pass by me on the way out of the train at Gouda (i stayed on till Rotterdam), and he took the opportunity to make a very obscene gesture with his entire body, accompanied by some slightly slurred text which i couldn’t make out, partly because of his poor enunciation, and partly because “this american life” was pumping in my ears.  halfway through this display, i turned away and stared out the window.  there was sort of a mood change, like a collective sigh of relief, when he got out of the train.

Lonely Man #4 was also riding the train late last night, and i’ll be the first to admit that late-night trains are full of very interesting people.  i regularly get unwelcome lonely-man visits on my late-night treks home.  this was from Rotterdam to Dordrecht, and i’m pretty sure this guy was in my train car with Lonely Man #3.  what concerns me is that Lonely Man #3’s fermented words of parting may have encouraged Lonely Man #4 to follow me, but apparently i’ll never know.  as i waited on the platform, i saw this 55-year-old guy notice me.  i looked away, walked down a bit further, and continued waiting.  when the train pulled up, we both got in the same doo.  ladies first, and once i stepped inside, i passed a potential Lonely Man sitting alone in a seat group. (i’ve learned to never join a man who is sitting by himself.  it just never works out.)  however, when i chose my seat, Lonely Man #4 chose the seat opposite the aisle from me.  here’s where my new iphone comes in really handy. not only was i engaged in my second “this american life” of the evening, i could conveniently also divert my eyes to my iphone screen and send my husband an email!  even if i were doing nothing but just playing games on my iphone, i think the signal would still be given – my ears are busy and my eyes are busy, so don’t bother!  he tried to make eye contact for about 5 minutes, and eventually got up to go to the bathroom.  when he returned, he sat several seats away.  success!

Lonely Man #5 and i literally bumped into each other at the grocery store.  one thing to understand about public spaces here:  everyone looks out only for themselves.  it has taken a while to get used to it, but people regularly cut in front of you, cross your path a little too closely, bump you with their grocery cart rather than ask you to scoot up in line.  old ladies are the worst.  anyway, the technique is to just bump and go, without even looking at the other person.  i think the problem was that by the carrots when i bumped into him (or he into me, it’s hard to know), i said, “oh, sorry,” albeit without looking at him.  i noticed in the sliced cheese section that we were standing next to each other.  i glanced at him, as one does, and kept going after picking out my jong belegen.  he circled around me a couple of times, checking out apparently more than just the different kinds of cheeses, because i noticed him staring at me when i was by the beers.  oh, and again, by the flour and sugar.  a deceptively nice-looking man with graying hair and a beard, a blue and red wind breaker, and big square glasses magnifying – you guessed it! – non-blinking eyes! it was the eyes i noticed… not simply because they didn’t blink, or maybe because of that, they carried a sort of perpetually startled gaze.  when i made it over to the ice cream, he was on the opposite side of the freezer bin, so terribly obviously pretending to read the back of a package of frozen french fries. but where was his grocery cart??   i turned the corner to the butter later, and there he was, sitting and having coffee at the little free coffee table by the eggs.  i could feel the stare on my back as i debated salted or unsalted, store brand or name brand.  half expecting him to come up to me in line or follow me out the store, i was secretly grateful my bike was waiting loyally on the other side of the big window for the quick escape it has helped me make on more than one occasion.

i’m not going out any more tonight, and i may possibly stay holed-up in my apartment all day tomorrow as well.  it’s hard to know what is drawing these guys to me – maybe my pheramones are in overdrive or something – so better not press my luck.


the perfect gig food November 20, 2008

Filed under: November 2008,Recipes — presdemoncoeur @ 10:06 pm

ok, this recipe sounds a bit weird, but it’s tasty!!  it is my perfect “gig food”, meaning, it is light yet filling, doesn’t upset my stomach when i’m nervous, and it can hang out in my bag for hours without going bad.  i’ve taken the carrot/peanut part directly from nigella lawson, and the quinoa is my own addition.  i ate it with leftover rice the first year i tried it, then this year i tried it with quinoa, and this is definitely the perfect match.  one word of warning: do not be tempted to add more peanuts, as your jaws get a big work out and eventually get overwhelmed at the sight of more nuts, even if the tastbuds are craving them.  i really think the carrots are causing the workout, but, well, in my experience, it is the sight of one more peanut that puts me over the edge.

4 medium carrots, peeled

1/3 cup salted peanuts

2T red-wine vinegar

2T peanut oil

few drops of sesame oil

1 or 2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled

grind the carrots up in a food processor till they are small.  then mix with everything else.  voila!


21st century bus stop entertainment November 5, 2008

Filed under: Life in Holland,November 2008 — presdemoncoeur @ 11:13 pm

Occasionally when I am stuck at a bus stop without my ipod, or on a train with no book, I resort to reading sometimes very old sms’s (text messages) on my mobile phone as my entertainment.  Some still make me laugh aloud, some I never want to lose, and I often remember exactly where I was when I received the saved text.  Here’s a selection of what I found today, typos and all:

•    Hi cab  bad obondat   see you at home
3 Sept 2007, 20:09:06
•    Give him whip cream –xxo or quietly go tell the mother ur cat likes 2 rub his butt on the handle : -D
11 Oct 2007, 17:53:32

•    Ok baby! soggy
26 Feb 2008, 21:48:47

•    You are like an ombudsman godfather!
27 Feb 2008, 12:49:15

•    I heard you were amazing, convincing, and impressive! Congratulations!  I was sorry to miss you.  We’d love to come for dinner, or come here too.
3 March 2008,  20:18:58

•    Sorry you were cold! Miss and love you! About  to go to bed!  Jordi says hello and he will use my head 4 a pillow untill you are back xoxo
5 March 2008, 23:52:40

•    Baby!  you were so, so, so amazing!  you looked very professional and calm, very knowledgeable!  and pretty!  i could tell by there demeanor that they were pleased and impressed! you should be very proud of today!  as i am.  and they were no doubt!  love you! proud hubby
25 March 2008, 15:26:30

•    Hey A! Happy birthday! Sorry I’ve been out of touch, let’s be social in june sometime!  Enjoy the day! xxx, R
29 May 2008, 11:48:46

•     :D:D:D!!!!
3 June 2008, 16:40:03

•    A!  I have flu! I can’t play!  Just kidding! Ha! Good luck today! K
4 June 2008, 13:31:33

•    Wow Brawo The next year we will continue to play with You Gays Gr amd congratulation
4 June 2008, 19:20:39

•    Ye his tummy may experience less joy than his chirping mouth.
Feathers fly on sugar’s soul.
18 Sept 2008, 18:56:25 (this one was in response the first installation of my new-found bus stop pastime: sms poetry.  unfortunately I have not saved my sms.)

•    Oh my g . we should set up a conseling service for postbank customers.  we will b the first patients!  thanks for doing that! rrr!  sadly I an not surprised.
27 Sept 2008, 12:07:18

(From me to M)
•    Sms poetry:
O reigning Queen, in your small motorcade,
The sight of your hair is hard to evade!
What in all Holland demanded your power
in Wassenaar, commanding so at this hour?

(From M to me)
•    And thou helmet head shall protect this wealthy world that saves us artists.
bless your hair gel! : -)
1 Oct 2008, 19:49:02

•    Oh train conductor,
may you be trapped in a very, very, very small room
with no vents.
there you will look down and see jordi.
he will be fart y.
and we will keep you there forever!
send that to him!
2 Oct 2008, 22:12:04

•    Forgot to pay! So sorry! Next time 2x masters tarif. Jp
29 Oct 2008, 14:26:49

(From me to M)
•    Jordi went shopping with me in Schiphol!  😀  First H&M to get replacement sunglasses for those I broke last week, then we picked up a sushi snack at AH.  now waiting patiently and quietly for our train.  A very new excursion for him!  Wonder what all he smelled…  : -)
31 Oct, 2008 (no time records for sent box)

(From me to M)
•    xoxo baby!  Outlet works, yahoo! :* miss you already but had a super weekend.  Jordifine but sporting a v. grouchy face. :-/
4 Nov 2008 (no time records for sent box)

•    Super high voter turn out.  no news yet- obama ahead in all polls xxoxxo
4 Nov 2008, 20:25:22

•    Obama won!
5 Nov 2008, 08:56:38

•    The queen again!  In her motorcade, this time in the middle of the hague.  This is becoming quite a bizarre coincidence…
5 Nov 2008 (no time records for sent box)

Anyway, I realize this is so blog cliché – to write things that probably interest only you.  But well, it’s sometimes fun to try to guess someone’s life story based on snippets here and there.


Thoughts on Recording a CD August 26, 2008

Filed under: August 2008,Life as a Musician — presdemoncoeur @ 5:00 pm

Recording – How strange. How artificial. Yet, how fun. Two weeks ago, I was sweating away in an un-air-conditioned but beautiful, quiet performing hall in a small town in Spain, recording 2 triple concerti by Bach. I’ve recorded before, but this was an entirely new experience. I wasn’t doing the recording myself, dealing with cheap microphones and minidiscs; I wasn’t even at school, using an excellent student sound engineer, but battling sound space with percussionists in the next room. No, this sound engineer (perhaps I should say sound artist, even?) was big time, from Berlin. He’s a friend of a (lucky) friend, so I think a special deal was worked out, but still… A sound engineer is part technician, and part therapist. “That’s fine, great job, beautiful take, you’re really swingin’ now, let’s just do one more section again…” Our perception as musicians was of the whole take, the entirety; thus the increasing frantic feelings and frequency of admissions like “I missed a note in measure 39.” The sound engineer told me for him, a recording project is more like a puzzle – he can see the whole and just has to put in missing parts, adjacent pieces. In take 3, I might have missed a note in m.39, but he got my part on take 2. He’ll use the other instruments’ lines from take 3 and mine from take 2. Amazing.

I was actually pretty relaxed throughout the recording. I really enjoyed it, and I felt the entire group was putting forth their best efforts, exhibiting immense concentration and drive those few days. Those mics didn’t bother me at all, either, which is a new recording experience for me. In fact, I felt like I could flirt with them – it was like a different kind of audience. One that you want to show off to, but don’t feel judged by. By now, I’ve also recorded enough times to know that getting nervous just makes you too tired to continue.

However, each project has its drawbacks. I was struck by the realization that in a recording you must know exactly what you want to say with each particular note and phrase, in order to re-create it 4 or 5 times. The tendency is to play something a little different each time in order to vary, highlight, exploit. And now it is all being recorded. A good engineer will be sensitive to that, I think. I hope. I cannot say I was entirely consistent, therefore I wonder how much room there is for spontaneity in a recording? What if your best take 3 was a spontaneous response to something someone else played, but in the mix, for the other voices he uses take 4? Will your inspired response be invalid in the final product?

Further, can a recording also capture the personalities and relationships of me and my colleagues? Can music? How much of this is visual, really? Will this recording even come close to how I felt on that recording stage, in front of those mics? And with my colleagues, barefoot and concentrated, flowing with me?

It was so hot in that room! Almost sweltering. Taking breaks in the cheery Catalonian sun were so refreshing. We had to tune all the instruments again after almost every take. Frustrating that my wooden flute swelled up towards the end of the day and almost refused to tune to itself anymore, no matter what I tried. It made me doubt myself, and I struggled with that self-doubt on the second day of recordings. Again, wondering how much the recording will capture my personality – will it display the self-doubt on the second concerto? I hope not but fear it may. Will I like the recording? Will I recognize myself? What if I end up hating how I played? What if I don’t really like my sound after all? How can one judge one’s own playing?

I look forward to hearing the cd. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with all the edits, just like I didn’t have to set up the mics and adjust the levels. For once, we musicians could concentrate purely on what we do best, which is of course playing the music. With that came tremendous freedom, actually. And I realized I want to do this type of thing forever.

For more photos:


pear-shaped July 27, 2008

Filed under: July 2008,Life in Berlin — presdemoncoeur @ 3:49 pm

one of these things is not like the others…



Filed under: July 2008,Life in Berlin — presdemoncoeur @ 2:24 pm

Yes, we can! Yes, we could! Yes, we did!

We saw Obama at the speech he gave on Thursday in Berlin. And for once in our lives, we decided to get there earlier than early. We left our house at 14:30, met friends and traveled en masse to the Siegessäule (Victory Column), arriving just before the gates opened at 16:00…all for a 19:00 speech! I have to say, this time it was worth it. We were right up front, about seven rows from the podium. (well, “rows” is a bit misleading. there were no chairs or benches, so perhaps i should say “seven layers of people”?) It was certainly very squishy up there, but for the first 2 hours, everyone just sat down on the pavement and talked and laughed with their friends. About an hour before, the security and Secret Service began checking the mic placement on stage, adjusting the teleprompters, and whatever else needed to be done before the speech.

Security was high in general. Everyone had to pass through airport-like security before entering, though we could thankfully bring large bottles of water. There was a helicopter that flew around the entire time; or, more correctly, it hovered in various parts of the sky above us, never flying off until half an hour after Obama left the stage.

On various levels of the Siegessäule, even up at the very top, there were men in dark suits and sunglasses, looking out through binoculars and also those special viewers normally used by tourists to see all of beautiful Berlin laying out in front of them. Security both faced and stayed behind the crowd – some Secret Service, some German policemen, some security probably contracted specifically for this event. I saw them take out some punky teenagers with attitude on the front row at least 2 hours before the event. Never saw the kids again. We heard that the level of security was only one notch lower than what the President would have received.

We were in front of the press box:

Closer to time, people became quite grouchy with their space. From our group, M and one of our friends went to get some water across the crowds. Getting over there was no problem, but getting back was a nightmare! No one wanted to let anyone get any inch closer than they were…and I can understand, in a way. We did stake our our places 3 hours in advance. Our friend arrived after 30 minutes, but M almost didn’t make it back at all, and wouldn’t have if we’d not had 2 phone conversations of me telling (begging, preaching to) him to be more pushy. What finally helped him slice through the people – those who locked arms and refused to let him through, or who pretended they didn’t speak any English at all (at a speech given by an american?!?), or who just plain refused to look at him – was the a little white lie. He’d already been explaining that his friends were over there, and he was just trying to get back, not get ahead, but after 2 phone calls when he finally added that he had a baby over there with his wife, their iron-strong arms reluctantly unlocked, the supposed non-English speakers seemed to understand, and those who refused to look gave way, just enough to let him (and only him) through. Whew. The next day there was little video on youtube of a woman raising her arm and waving a bottle to get someone’s attention (starting at about 1:45 into the film), which I did after talking to M on the phone. M and our friend J are just sure it’s me, but I don’t recognize any of the surrounding faces. Maybe I was too stressed out to remember. But she is wearing the same black tank top I wore, and she sure looks like me from behind. Except, I think my hair is longer…

At 19:00, people began chanting “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” The press box behind us had their cameras and mics on, everyone was standing, and more and more security surrounded the stage. Finally, a voice announced (in german), simply, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome our guest, a senator of the United States, Barack Obama!” As he came out, there were floods of cheers and screams, arms in the air, people jumping up and down, everyone’s cameras and camera phones flashing. (as a little aside, it must be funny being a celebrity these days. you walk out and all you see are thousands of little technological devices being held in the air, but you still hear human cheers and claps. what happened to just plain smiling faces??) Ever the gentleman, ever the politician, he thanked us profusely, flashing generously that million-dollar smile the whole while.

His speech was about half an hour long, during which I listened intently to the message but also reflected on the respect that humans still generally show each other. No one tried to make a scene, no one was out of control. Really, what are the chances that you can get 200,000 people in one space and not have some freak acting out? People were there to listen, to hear what he had to say. And to see him, of course – we’ve heard from more than one person that Germans love Obama for many reasons. One friend told us a funny story about a break in a recording she was making in Hamburg. All the women went running back to the computer, saying, “Oh, let’s look up Obama on youtube!”

The speech was beautifully delivered with his elegant use of our language, yet it was also simple and very general. People have criticized it for not really saying anything, and the Germans were upset that he didn’t “promise” anything about what would change in the future. But, I felt that as he is a presidential candidate , he was deliberately not making this a campaign speech; truthfully, he’s not in a position yet where he can say much over here. (But we all know that his coming here and saying anything at all says a lot and is also very political.) He referenced all of the things you’d expect in a speech in Berlin – the wall, WWII, rebuilding, overcoming obstacles… He made connections between Berlin from WWII till now, to the current state of the world (walls, wars, rebuilding, overcoming obstacles…) He acknowledged that America had not always lived up to its best intentions, and asked for Europeans to continue to work together, with the US, and with all other nations, in our combined efforts to live more peacefully in this world. People cheered where I expected – all the “hot topics” like global warming, stopping the war in Iraq, solving the disaster of Darfur. I admit, it would have been great to hear some real plans, some clear ideas and solutions, some solid apologies for America’s attitude these last 8 years, but is a speech from a presidential candidate and in a foreign country really the place for that? We can read more about his policies online, and we can watch the upcoming debates.

But, it is something we are all longing to hear. Who will help us out of this mess? Can he help us? Can Obama save the world??

As he finished, we cheered and clapped, and he came down to shake hands; ours were unfortunately 7 rows too far away, though I pushed my way up to at least row 3. Then he left, and it was all over: thanks, smile and wave, the end. As we walked back to our bikes (parked at hitler’s bunker), we shared our reactions and thoughts with each other, our little group with one German man, one Finnish woman, and our always-outrageous, always-outspoken friend from NY. We got home at 21:00 after goodbyes and one stop for chocolate ice-cream, smiling and grateful that we had the opportunity, and that we happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Happy supporters!