Thursday, December 07, 2006

Time Out For 3 Weeks *)

Noordereiland, Rotterdam, Netherlands

It's time to hold my horses in Blog- and Flickrland and concentrate on the making of a film I promised to a good friend months ago.

It's a fact of my life that I have no options but going full throttle or not at all. One might say it's one of my 9 weird points.
Sorry for this, I'll miss you all too!

*) Note:
...or as much longer as necessary or as much shorter as possible (that's the wording of our government when announcing public works).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Arquennes, Belgium

From the country where surrealism was invented.

See where this picture was taken.

PS I couldn't help posting the following image, found at

Monday, November 27, 2006

Conveying the mood of the season

Here's a movie I made last week, featuring a barrel organ in a Rotterdam shopping centre.
Sinterklaas songs are uptempo and cheerful.
After december 5 the organ grinders replace their punchhole playbooks by the much more solemn and syrupy Christmas repertoire, that we then only have to endure for 3 weeks!

Just discovered: there is a film about Santa Claus where the connection is made with our Spanish Sinterklaas. The film is called Nicholas of Myra and the trailer can be viewed here.

Following the encouter with the barrel organ I went to market. As usual really lovely colours and patterns...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Why we have such a brief Christmas season

Every year mid-November Sint Nicolaas, aka Sinterklaas, gathers his colourful assistants around him and travels by steamboat all the way from his episcopal palace in Spain to the Dutch and Flemish*) children he loves so dearly.

The good old holy man needs his huge army of helpers because the period from mid-November to His birthday on December 5 **) is a very busy period.
Mind you, the long journey over sea is only the beginning. His official arrival in Holland is a very elaborate affair with a cacophony of ship's hooters, singing children, a speech by the mayor and a ride on the white horse across the city to greet as many children as possible.

But then the real work has yet to begin. Every night when the children are asleep he gets on his horse and rides over the rooftops (!!!) to deliver small presents through the chimneys for children who have been good. Don't get me wrong, his assistants lower themselves through said chimneys and do they moan and complain? Not at all, they don't notice the difference because they are all black! Once in the house the Zwarte Pieten (every assistant is called Piet, pron. Pete***)) collect the carrot children have put in their shoe as a treat for the horse and a small present takes its place.

Now you may wonder how does Sinterklaas know if a child has been good or bad? He has his huge book with the names of all children in it and a brief description of their characteristics. Easy.
The Zwarte Pieten carry heavy bags that have two functions. On arrival they are full of sweets and presents, and when empty come in handy to take bad children to Spain, a country from which, as we all know, there is no return.****)

December 5 it is time for the actual celebration of Sinterklaas's Birthday.
This takes place in the evening and there is no employer who refuses their staff a few hours off early to be able to have a proper pakjesavond (boxing evening).

Hot chocolate and all sorts of traditional sweets are served, the children and grownups alike sing Sinterklaas songs, and then there is a knock on the door (we sing "Hear Who Knocks There, Children?"). If Sint can find the time he comes to deliver the presents personally, reads what he knows about the children (and grownups too), is served a glass of Dutch genever and then hurries on to his next assignment. If he can't stop by personally he just delivers the bag, knocks on the door and is around the corner before you can say Pietjepuk (Dutch for Jack Robinson).

So this is in brief the traditional Sinterklaas celebration in Holland. No wonder the shops where the Good Holy Man buys the presents, know better than to start the Christmas frenzy before December 5. Sinterklaas would be deeply offended and that just would not do, would it?...

Before saying Sinterklaas looks very old please remember two things:
firstly his age is counted in the hundreds of years and secondly he can be very impatient about grownups whose vices are written in his book.
Sorry I had to pinch this image, only small children and a tv crew were allowed to come near the good holy man.

PS Of course this is a nationalistic view. For an unbiased description of the Sinterklaas phenomenon read Invader Stu's blog on the same subject.

*) Te Flemish area includes a tiny bit of northern France, where some still speak what is essentially the Netherlands language - and many celebrate Sinterklaasfeest.
**) Some claim the correct date is December 6.
***)The In the Basement concert was on December 5, 2005. It featured Rachel Fuller and Pete Townshend - there is no such thing as coincidence, Dale.
****)Unconfirmed rumour has it that bad children are used as base material for the special Sinterklaas treats called "pepernoten". I personally think this story was invented to stimulate good behaviour.

The welcome to the steamboat from Spain is a noisy affair.

Blogger's Block

Attentive readers are sure to have figured it out: blogger's block has (had) me. New posts don't come easy or not at all.

It would be a shame just to give up now, especially after the warm support I received from several readers who must have sensed something was brewing. So watch this space and expect a new post within 24 hours, about how in Holland and Belgium we keep Santa Claus at bay at least until December 6.

Until then I suggest you follow the FlickR link under my profile. FlickR is a godsend, because it can make a much greater number of pictures easily accessible. Besides, if handled properly, it makes connecting with people with specific interests much easier.

So have lots of viewing pleasure, FlickR is a true treasure trove of interesting images.
There are disadvantages too. It takes much time to tag, describe and post the images properly, and in Holland FlickR is not a word we use in public.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kitsch is a beautiful wor(l)d

They never fail to touch me, these shop windows or market stalls filled to the point of overflowing with sweet, romantic colours. It's just about everything the taste police would like to ban, and I wouldn't like to be caught owning such things.

Yet I find them irresistibly charming and I regret the many times I forgot to take pictures of that colourful abundance. Luckily at least I have taken six pictures of these lovely items.

What? Is it really more than two weeks since my last post? Bad blogger, bad blogger (beats head against the wall).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What a pleasant encounter - again

It has been said before that in this corner of blogland we find a very friendly atmosphere. Earlier this year this led us to a get-together with Anne-Marie, who was visiting Europe, and could fit in a visit to Rotterdam with her travel plans seamlessly.

There are more people we'd like to meet, and I expect we will in due course.
For some it will take a while; British Columbia for instance, and Holland are quite a few miles apart. However, one of our really faithful visitors and commenters, Erik-Jan, lives only an hour's motor bike ride away.

Yesterday -Tuesday- was the magic moment. Erik-Jan arrived on the quayside and he had found us effortlessly, thanks to his attentive study of all the posts we had done about the Oude Haven in the course of time.

Here Val explains to Erik-Jan about her new entrance hatch.

Meeting Erik-Jan confirmed an opinion we have built up: even in writing you will always show a true image of yourself.
And since Erik-Jan's writing has always been very pleasant, it turned out he is a very pleasant man: thoughtful, modest, gentlemanly and unassuming and nobody's fool at the same time. In brief, our kind of man.

We gave our special guest, a died-in-the-wool professional photographer, the grand tour of our harbours - and walked Sindy in the meantime.

We've already made a plan to meet our special guest again in January, when the Luxor will be on the slipway for underwater repairs.
If there is any possibility at all, we want to go see what Erik-Jan's nautical activities in his home town Naarden are about. His site is in the Dutch language, but the images tell a great part of the story.

And now for our next explanation about ttraffic signs

This strange, scratchy traffic sign, don't know what to make of it. Probably means no neckless roundheaded men in black allowed here. Well, sounds useful, doesn't it?
(Not to Val's daughter Jodie, who passed the theory part of her driver's license test. Congratulations Jo).

Says Gypsy Noir:
"that sign means duck your head theres a black ball about to hit it.."

Rache said...
"...How about 'Walk carefully or your head will fall off'?"

Ahvarahn said:
"...but be careful, that sign worries me a little; it could mean: no dumping of handless, footless, almost-headless corpes? there may be a sinister lot near that sign, i'd stay clear if i were you :)"

Baz said...:
" Beware of black nudists without a neck. "

Lannio said...:
" Beware of neckless, handless, footless humans. They want to circle you. "

Erik-Jan said...:
" Do not lose your head (too often). "

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Study of Red and White Poles

We went to Turnhout in Belgium just to get away 'from it all'. There we walked along the canal, and noticed these red and white poles, very clearly marking the place where one can easily climb out of the water if necessary.

I suppose the next time we'll need to publish a Study of Red and White Czechs ;-)

Ever noticed what the Polish flag looks like?

No joke, it's red and white.
Guess it was all meant to be...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stepped into a church I passed along the way

No I don't go in there to pray, but I do get down one knee to put the camera on the floor in order to take pictures in frog's perspective.

As a rule French and Belgian roman-catholic churches leave their doors open during the daytime for those in need of prayer or just the occasional visitor like me.
It has become a routine of sorts: see if the door is open, take a quick pic and maybe a look around and out again. That approach has now led to a pleasant collection that you can find in the film strip below.
The image above is St-Bartholomew's church in Geraardsbergen in Belgium.

Click on the moving strip below for images of other churches.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Last stop before Lille

Every year, when sailing to Lille, our group of Dutch barges made a last stop in the lovely village of Wambrechies, home of the famous Claeyssens distillery.

Another example of a rather shabby place done up. Here two essential elements of the distilling process on display outside the old factory that is still in use.

The harbour was quite filled with our barges when we all went in there. The rest of the year it is in use as a marina only, as the image above shows.

Restoration in this former industrial area implies a great deal of cleaning. When I first saw this church and the town hall further back, they were all black. Now only one side of the church is left to be cleaned.

The regional dialect is called Ch'ti-Mi (meaning 'You, I'). Also a handy name for one of the beers that this area is famous for.
Here's a song in Ch'ti-mi called P'tit quinquin. The dialect is also referred to as Picard.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Comfort Junkie Dog

Here is VallyP's dog Sindy, convincingly playing the part of the affectionate comfort junkie.
She now grudgingly admits that for her blog she'd hired a ghost writer, VallyP no less, who is now temporarily unavaiable. Sindy's comment: " 's Not fair!"

After an extremely summery month of September so far (making up for an extremely rainy month of August), today we could finally sense a hint of autumn in the air.

However, after this morning mist was over, it was like summer again.

Numberless times we have walked the dog along the river, but today was the first time I noticed this cast iron cover over a firehose connector.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

This is for Dale

Dale F who so often says just the right things, who has a unique ability to put them into the right words, and loves horses. We love you, Dale, thanks for your comment on my Lille post. I feel I am a lucky man. VallyP sends her hugs to you too.

She can't spend on blogging the time it deserves. Giving less would be doing it wrong. Hence her decision not to blog until workload permits. Until that have to live without new posts from Vally P. In the meantime I shall be happy to oblige every time people ask me to give her a hug on their behalf.

This is the traffic sign of the day.

It makes perfect sense unless you give it a Koos interpretation:

this road accessible only for
- tractors without drivers;
- men with small girls;
- cyclists using horses to pull riderless bicycles.

What exactly happened to Philippe Chabottier, who died here on the bank of the river Maas, near the Belgian border on Februari 17 2002?
Well, it seems he was drowned here.
Now we face the beginning of a new tradition after the roadside memorial: the riverside memorial!

A strip of today's pictures. Click on the strip to view large version.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Can't explain...

So what is it that fascinates me so about Lille? This is the question behind the answer in the header of this message: Can't explain...
Let's try and make the images speak for themselves first.

Is it the translucent quality of the atmosphere? Maybe, but during my first visit in 1983 to this city the restoraration process was still in its early stages. Many of the buildings weren't much more than ruins, the façades - or what was left of them - still covered in sooty grime.
Here, on the left, is the opera building; on the right is the commercial centre with the traditional beffroi-type tower on the corner.

Well, since I can't explain, what it is that fascinates me so about this urban sprawl, let's get on with the pics.

Danger! High voltage. Touching the wires absolutely forbidden.
Near Lomme, a shunting area I had previously only seen on maps...

The footbridge over the train tracks.

Same footbridge, from a different angle.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Go To The Mirror

There are plenty of traffic mirrors around if you develop an eye for them - not unlike manhole covers. Like their lowly friends, the mirrors are far from uniform.

I found most of these in Belgium.

As usual here is a film strip of the entire collection. If you want to view a slide show, please click on the strip.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Sentimental Journey to The Bois-Blancs

It was a scruffy part of Lille, designated to be pulled down and be replaced by an Olympic Village. After the Games it was to become the Knowledge Centre of the North of France.
Luckily the Olympics went to Athens and and the isle of Les Bois-Blancs could doze off again.
Once a year in September, European countries celebrate their monuments. The Bois-Blancs had no monuments to offer, 'so' once a year since 1996 a varying group of Dutch historic barges sailed off to the this neighbourhood to provide them with monuments. Through the years I was one of the very faithful participants, because this was my brainchild.

Dutch barges moored at the Quai de l'Ouest in 2004.

Back then, they'd all but given up hope, and several houses were boarded up. Since 1996 however, this part of town regained self-confidence. People gave new attention to their houses, and gradually the island stopped being an area better avoided at night.

After the event in 2004 - as usual the third weekend in September - we decided that it was time to stop. The novelty had worn off, it was getting harder to mobilise the necessary forces.

After my tour along the railway I went to see how 'my' neighbourhood was doing. It seems we stopped just in time. It has been done up beyond repair. No more scruffiness to be found, gone are the small irregularities in the asphalt, no more dust or muddy patches on the pavement.
It has become a shopping area without shops.

The old canal
(the new and larger canal is on the east side of the island).

The footbridge, a great vantage point.

The little square-that's-not-square seen from the footbridge.

So goodbye Bois-Blancs, I'll miss you next weekend, and I know you'll miss us too, but I promise I'll come back now and then - see how you are doing, like I did this time.

Is this madness?

I have an ongoing love affair with the northernmost city in France, the metropolitan area of Lille. This area is spread out across the Belgian border, as I've written earlier in "A brief visit to France".
Part of the magic is the train journey from Belgian Kortrijk (Courtrai) by way of Mouscron and then across the border to Tourcoing, Roubaix and Lille, where the terminus is a true copy of Paris's Gare du Nord.

This time I took the motor scooter to Lille, and I followed the railway closely, taking in as much of the area as I could. Normally I would only get superficial impressions in the passing, this time I took several hours instead of the usual thirty minutes.

The first station south of Kortrijk is called Lauwe. No scheduled passenger train has stopped there for years. The station had a second life as a pub, now it is for sale. Wouldn't I love to stay in there for a while. If anyone else is interested, I can provide the broker's name and telephone number.
Note, the telephone booth is not that old, yet it is an endangered species.

No old roman temples for me. This is the my idea of history, must take pictures now, it may be gone tomorrow!

Quite large areas are still in use as farmland.

No, not the Seven Bridges Road, there are only two of them here.
The French words are at the top, which means we are now in the French speaking part of Belgium.

Opposite Mouscron station the atmosphere is very much like my beloved Maubeuge, or many places in England if it weren't for the traffic here driving on the right.

Lethally pretty - I love it...

...but this is my favourite of the week!

The end of today's zig-zag ride along the railway: Tourcoing station.

Realising I had left for France from Rotterdam in the morning, and was planning to be back before midnight I asked myself: is this madness? No, most certainly not! Madness is staying in Rotterdam on a gorgeous day like this instead of breathing in that wonderful French atmosphere.

Please click on the FilmLoop to enjoy the complete series full size (95 photos)!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Manhole covers anyone?

Just for once don't look up, look down. A manhole cover like the one below is rare, but be prepared to find a great variety of them.

My collection is modest, only 25. I found a few of my favourites in Richmond and Twickenham, England.

Nowadays the real politically correct call them personhole covers (retching sounds, forgive me, my friends).
Yesterday I heard a French woman say plaque d'égout, (but it's not all about sewers).
The Dutch term is putdeksel. The u is pronounced as in cut, not put. Deksel is pronounced like deksel, so that's easy. Don't forget this, it's a good thing to know in case you come to visit.

Click on the strip to view large size.
Don't take pictures of this kind if you could be mistaken for a muslim. Your suspect behaviour will be reported and your bad intentions assumed. It's referred to as citizens' alertness, I call it totalitarian xenophobia.
Photos Koos Fernhout ©2005-2006