Monday, August 01, 2005

"New Amsterdam State of Mind"

31 July 2005

I’ve been thinking about writing, but it seems like nothing has really been going on. Then I started to think about it and things actually have been happening over the past week or so. We have been hearing/seeing a few mortars again. There is a greeting card in the PX that depicts two soldiers who have been here for a while talking to one another on the front and standing around. In the background are mortars flying and exploding. In the foreground are two other soldiers curled up in a ball next to some sandbags and wincing. The one standing soldier says to the other, “You can always tell who the new guys are.”

It’s like that here. You get to accepting the incoming mortars as commonplace as a planes flying overhead back home. My biggest worry on Monday when they hit near the highway was whether the impact was going to spill my coffee that I just got at the Green Bean Coffee shop. Another four mortars came sailing in on Friday morning. It’s not that we don’t take the mortars seriously; it’s just that they have become part of everyday life. If you heard the explosion, you’ve got nothing to worry about...guess you get to eat chow hall food for another day! Don’t worry…Be happy.

Actually, we’ve been kind of hoping for some noise lately as our management team is in from Kuwait and we really wouldn’t want to sent them back south without a little celebratory fan-fair, now would we?

I’m still making my way through the Bewitched first season. It is actually surprising to see all the “up and coming” stars that were in these old shows. “Marcia” from the Brady Bunch has a bit part in one episode. I’m watching another one and as I used to be a huge “Leave it to Beaver” fan as a kid, I saw someone that looked like Jerry Mathers. Turns out to be Jimmy Mathers; must be his brother as the similarity is too much. June Lockart and the kid from “Lost in Space” were in a couple of other episodes. Still waiting to see “Uncle Arthur” Paul Lind. Aunt Clara is always good for a laugh too. Love how she walks into walls trying to walk through them.

Yesterday, I finally watched a loaned movie that was recommended to me. It is a German flick called Gloomy Sunday. It was a bit mellow dramatic, but still interesting to watch. It is always interesting for me to watch a movie in German and see how accurate the subtitles in English are. Europa, Europa was another great WWII-era movie that was in German, Russian and Polish.

Finished an interesting book called “The Island at the Center of the World; The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America” (how's that for a short title?) by Russell Shorto (I'm surprised he had room for his name on the cover with as long as the title was!) First off, I have always loved history. Secondly, when I was stationed in Germany (1984-87), and when I went home on leave, everyone would ask if (with all the Americans with German ancestry) if the Germans or the English were most like the Americans. I always said neither.

After making friends with my Dutch friends Roland and Angelique and their families from Nijmegen, Netherlands and after getting to know the Dutch culture more; I always felt that culturally, politically, personally, that the Dutch were much more like us Americans than any other Europeans I’d met. Surprisingly, this is kind of what the book supports.

So when I read the reviews in the New York Times, I knew that I would have to read this book. With all the newfound old documents that are still being translated from Old Dutch in the New York Library, seems like more of the old history of New Amsterdam, Fort Orange (Albany) and all the surrounding Dutch towns and its inhabitants will be revealed soon.

The book covers everything from the Dutch multicultural/multilingual acceptance, to Dutch foods that we have considered American (i.e. cookies and cole slaw), to all the names we thought were American/English but were really Dutch derived (Yonkers, Brooklyn, Harlem, Bronx, the Bowery, Wall Street); even the Dutch freedom to practice or not practice religion (unlike their pious northerly and southerly English zealot neighbors in Mass. and in VA.) The Dutch zeal for free trade certainly set the example for how to get things done in the New World; mattering not whether this city was known under the Dutch OR the English moniker. Cuz even when the Brits took it over, they only changed the name. They didn't change a thing concerning the operations of this trading hub. Although Gov Stuyvesant was recalled to A'dam at the turnover to the Brits, he returned to Manhattan to live out the rest of his life.

Jumping back to the future; we were walking up to the palace from building 9 tonight and off in the distance before we got to the checkpoint and moat, we could hear music. It wasn’t like the religious chants usually blaring from the mosques in the area. As we got closer to the palace, we could see the kilted bagpiper complete with full headgear standing on the very edge of the second story veranda facing east with his set of bagpipes squealing over the “Iraqi moors.” As we passed through the turn styles of the checkpoint, the sound of the pipes very clearly were playing “Amazing Grace” out across the moat. Kind of a surreal moment. You just don’t expect to see a site like that in Iraq, now do you?
I can only imagine what a sureal moment that must have been for you. "Amazing Grace" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and the bagpipes leave such a resounding feeling in the air. I hope that this experience will remain with you as a lasting plea for peace in war-torn area.
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