In Which Krista Gets Her Groove Back

I suppose it's been a few days, and I can honestly say that I've found what I came looking for: the perfect balance between studying and having a life.

And the Dutch? They are fabulous. I am secretly regretting staying for a full year, but I count my blessings because it means I spend less time in the dining hall, which as it turns out is stocked by the same company that stocks the nearby prison. That also means the coffee a) tastes terrible and b) is decaffeinated-- a sad fact I discovered only after taking a rather large gulp in favor of the caffeine that apparently did not exist.

And speaking of coffee: no one has coffee pots or individual filters (or maybe they do but I live in a green-gated bubble?), but rather Philips Senseo coffeemakers, which are individual or two-cup makers very similar to a coffeemaker my sister bought me for college a few years ago. However, you don't buy ground coffee or beans that you grind to put into the coffeemaker-- you buy pre-ground coffee "pads." They are slightly bigger than a Double-Stuf Oreo and each one is perfectly sized for one serving of coffee. Want two cups? Put two pads in. Convenient, it seems, but different.

And my flat/dorm/whatever you might call it is, in fact, a wall. Two soundproof walls, connected by three stories of bedrooms, five toilets and showers, and lots of brick and concrete compose one of the more bizarrely-designed student housing projects I've ever seen. I'm sure my mother knows the story better than I do, but I guess my campus was part of a military base and my housing started as the wall between the highway and the base, until they needed housing and just added a second parallel wall and some hasty design and voila: student housing. I don't think my toilet had been cleaned since the place was built, but a few more bleach washes and it should be good as new.

But speaking of the dining hall, I should go stuff my face.


In Which Krista Meets Technology

Last week isn't nearly as exciting now that I'm involved in this week, so I probably should have just written about it then instead of putting it off, drinking beer and watching the Chargers lose (and I am not ordinarily into football, but apparently every American in the Netherlands who cares enough finds the one bar in Utrecht that shows the games and suddenly it's a big party).

So. Last week.

-The camera: I love my camera. It's the fancy end of the portable handhelds, an Olympus SP-310. There are moments when I want to throw it against the wall, but overall I'd say it was a good buy. Last week I was uploading pictures from the camera to the computer when the camera turned off. I knew the battery was sort of low but I suspected that had nothing to do with it.

I spent the next few days sort of not really playing with it, replacing the batteries, replacing them again, plugging the camera into the computer as if to resuscitate it, but to no avail.

Until I discovered, of course, that one of the batteries was installed backwards (this part happened as I was writing this paragraph, as if tinkering with it would expand the narrative. And it did).

I have no idea how the camera functioned without the proper direction for so long, or why it suddenly revolted or even why I am such an idiot to not even look at the direction of the batteries as indicated twice in pretty pictures on the camera itself.

-The Bike: I heard a rumor that students could buy a used bike from 25-70 euro, depending on where and how clunky or ugly or semi-disabled it is, and I had also heard that there's some questionable guy selling rebuilt second-hand bikes out of his backyard for 25 euro. My expert advice in such a situation is 1) to be highly suspicious but also 2) to proceed with caution if others before you succeed.

Other students in my program got bikes from the dude earlier in the week, and as it turns out he not only gives you a cheap bike but brand new locks for 12.50 and free maintenance for big problems-- chain falling off, etc.

With that outstanding record of excellence, Erica and I sought Bike Man right after class let out on Tuesday. This will become relevant later, but I also was carrying my mother's 7.5lb package in my backpack, as well as my computer and class books. But back to the Bike Man. He lives off the map in an Italian suburb. You have to call in advance to tell him you're coming and how tall you are so he tells you if he has an appropriately-sized bike, and after some clever bus maneuvers and kind bus passengers we made it.

The Bike Man is kind of sketchy in a 40-year-old-guy-selling-bikes-as-a-"hobby"-to-complement-his-day-job-at-the-post-office sort of way, but he had a decent-looking wife and a cute dog and a kid, so he's a far cry from Junkie at the Train Station. We had to go after 5 because that's when we are out of class and Bike Man is off of work, so it was dark by the time we got there. He found us two bikes perfectly sized, maybe a little big, and we test drove them around the neighborhood.

Mind you, I have not ridden a bike since I was about twelve years old.

Erica and I were satisfied, though to be honest we have no idea what we are looking for beyond something that goes when we pedal. Bike Man replaces my seat when he notices the cover is loose, adjusts Erica's and we're off.

It starts to rain as we ride back into the city center, but not very hard and we are doing fine. Things are a little shaky, having not ridden a bike since age 12 and trucking the aforementioned large load on my back, but not bad. We are sort of lost trying to find this filmhuis for a required film screening but get directions from a nearby store, and we make it with twenty minutes to spare.

Watch the movie, that's fine.

We get out and it's pouring. Great. 21:30 and we've got to bike back from downtown to the Ikea Palace: a ten-minute bus ride, 45-minute walk, 30-minute bike ride. And no, they don't have bike racks on the buses here. But that's not all-- Erica's tire is flat.

She's pissed off enough to ride on the flat and we trudge back through the rain, bitching (for lack of a better word) about the rain and how her dumb bike is already broken and she should have known better, blah blah blah. I am sympathetic, but also dying from the most extensive workout I've had since carrying all my luggage from the train station. My back hurts from carrying crap, my legs hurt from using them for more than just walking, and I am terrified of being hit by a car.

We make it back and thaw ourselves out over hot Chocomel. Homework drearily ensues.

Since then, Erica has yet to fix her bike, and I have moved into a new place-- the one I'm stuck with for the rest of the semester. Rest assured, I am loving most of it at the moment. Little funky, little dirty, but functional. Pictures when I get around to decorating.


Decisions, decisions

I've been going back and forth on this decision: to publish or not publish the links to my photo albums, and my primary reason against it is because my mother and her potential new Facebook account do not need to see photos of my friends trashed in Europe, which is precisely what Facebook's photo option was invented for in the first place.

I have a Flickr account for almost exclusively this purpose, but I am lazy and uploading to two different servers just seems silly and cumbersome when I have already created the Facebook album. See the dilemma?

But then I remembered that my mother is afraid of black helicopters stealing her identity. This is key, because it means that Facebook, which is totally evil and will send her spam for decades, will never see an account with her name on it.

If you don't have Facebook and love me (or Europe) so much that you have been itching for more pictures, here are public links to the family-approved photo albums of the Netherlands:
* The Adventure Begins.
* California in the Netherlands-- The DLC.
* 8 Days of Paris.

Don't worry, epic tales still coming up.


Ik heb een druk week gehad!

If I recall correctly, the title says "I have had a busy week," or similar. Pending my final tomorrow, we'll see if I remember more than just that.

Clearly a lot has happened, hence the lack of posting. I will recap the week once the DLC finals are over tomorrow (and the imminent bar festivities to follow).

-Camera won't turn on.
-Bought a bike. Haven't ridden one since age 12; still sore.
-Moved into new place; my view is of one of the humanities buildings, by which I mean it is within spitting distance. I'd take a picture, but see highlight #1.
-Writing highlights instead of studying.


The Weekend

We're earning our four units in two weeks by being assigned unsupervised field trips over the weekend.

Today, we go to a "minority neighborhood" and observe differences, or something. Women are advised not to go alone, and not to be surprised by jeers or shouts for not wearing headscarves.

Tomorrow, we were all assigned into small groups to go to various cities around the Netherlands. Me and my group are going to Rotterdam to the Boijnmans museum, about which I'm rather excited because of their surrealism exhibit. Others are going to Haarlem, Delft, and Leiden.

Then we have to write reports and presentations. I kind of feel like I'm in a much cooler version of the fourth grade.


Field Trip

On Friday we went to Den Haag (The Hague) for action-packed visits to the Binnenhof (Parliament), Mauritshuis Museum, and the Peace Palace.

The itinerary seemed heavy, and frankly, it was. After a week of homework and classes and errands, a field trip was both a welcome distraction and a daunting task. Like every good fourth grade class, we packed our own lunches and were more or less in our seats on the bus by 8:45AM. We zombies crashed on impact into window seats until we arrived an hour later, apparently late for our guided tour.

The wind and rain didn't help matters much, but the experience made me really appreciate my raincoat, which added more pockets to my ensemble and made it unnecessary to use the umbrella that probably would have blown away anyway.

For those interested, details of each tour follow below. I don't blame you if you have no interest, but I'm sure my mother appreciates it.

The Binnenhof houses the Dutch Parliament and is, according to every single document and Web site I have read on the subject, the "political center of the Netherlands."

We first walked into the Hall of Knights, the room in which Queen Beatrix reads the Parliamentary agenda every September. I was disappointed that, as cool as it is, this was the only part of the old building open to the tour, but instantly gratified by the modern architecture so bluntly and cohesively attached to the original building.

Our DLC seminar instructor, Rutger (here's a Dutch lesson: Try rolling the 'r' and pronouncing the 'g' with the throaty 'h' with which one might say 'chutzpah'), told me that the modern expansion features purposefully transparent walls around the chamber corridors to symbolize the transparent functions of government. I think that's a great idea. The execution in design is perhaps less effective, namely because the chamber corridors have nothing to do with what actually happens in Parliament, but in principle it appears to represent what good architecture is supposed to do: meld form and function in an aesthetically innovative and meaningful way. But I am not an architectural expert, at all.

The second chamber itself (Tweede Kamer in Dutch) was much smaller than it seems on television, and I couldn't help but notice the striking difference in decor from perhaps more traditional chambers. The room is rather austere in a clean-cut sort of way, but it's still rather '90s and the entire wall that Parliament and the press face is composed of several vertical and off-set panels featuring a boring modern art installation commissioned by the Dutch government during construction. The boldly-colored swirly things are supposed to "evoke motion, suggesting the effective pace of government." Not really much more to say about that.

Mauritshuis Museum:

Next was the Mauritshuis Museum, located conveniently just outside the Binnenhof grounds. We all swiped our fancy Museumkaarts for cheap admission and immediately noticed the swarm of people. The coat check was full, so the staff let us use a classroom for elementary school field trips to put down our coats and get organized. Since 30 don't fit very well in small rooms of art-- empty or crowded-- we split. Half started with the exhibition, our half started with the permanent collection.

I'll be honest, 17th century art is not really my thing. There are elements I can academically appreciate, but it isn't generally the art that I would want to own. That said, the 17th century was the Dutch golden age of art, and everyone has to go see Rembrandt blah blah-- they had his most bestest works there, either on loan or as part of their permanent collection, and in the exhibition was one on loan from the Queen of England herself, who claims it is her favorite piece of art in the Royal collection.

They also had Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, which is always a crowd pleaser, and Potter's The Bull, which was one of my favorites.

I may have said this already, but I generally dislike museums. Maybe I'm just a snob, but I have yet to find an excellently curated one or one that is sufficiently vacant or spacious enough to accommodate its visitors. The difference between a museum and an art book is being able to experience the art. I could go on for years recalling Benjamin and Heidegger on similar points, but the fact of the matter is that art books reproduce the art fairly effectively. The only work I've seen so far that disputes this point is Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, where in the deteriorating canvas you can see where Rembrandt painted over what were once hats on two men. I can't see those shadows in a print.

I find the art book far preferable to vast crowds with murmuring audio tapes in several languages and the inevitable old man standing front and center directly in front of a large painting, so immersed in his audio tape that even the security guards can't capture his attention.

In any case, we covered enough ground in our little pack of guided students to sufficiently annoy most of the other visitors.

Peace Palace:

If anything has made me start thinking about law school again, this is it. They won't let you take pictures inside, hence the lame photograph, but it's beautiful. The Peace Palace is just a really big, uh, palace, where several organizations "rent" rooms or courts for settling disputes or evaluating other cases, etc. The UN meets there, the International Court of Justice meets there, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, among others.

The tour wasn't very long considering the sheer depth of ornate detail in every square inch of the palace. We sat in various courtrooms and meeting rooms-- rooms where corporations spend billions of dollars to keep their financial or legal distress behind closed doors, rooms where the United Nations settles border disputes between states-- and I couldn't shake this affect of ... importance. Everything felt so important. No statue is arbitrary (they are all diplomatic and symbolic gifts from Palace member states), no stained-glass window design is "just pretty." Every single piece of art or decor or furniture has a connection to the Palace and a history far exceeding the grandeur of those who use the Palace.

Oh, and we're not supposed to touch the grass. It was a gift.


Home Sweet Home

Ah, nothing like the Berkeley City Council to really tackle the tough issues at hand.

Meanwhile, Kanye's mom (bless her heart) kicked the bucket during plastic surgery. To be clear, the hospital specified there was "no misadventure."

And as the dollar continues to plunge, the US Government doesn't seem to be doing much about it. In fact, they seem to be making it worse by stiffing the phone company.

Oh, America. How your Mittemelism, Hillary Rodham Deco, and Baroque Obama-inspired art movements make me miss thee.



I spent the only two complete hours of "free" time today doing absolutely nothing productive. I also have spent the only two complete hours of "free" time I had today not doing homework or writing up the group debate we're presenting in nine hours (which, for some typically inane control freak reason I volunteered to do).

I'm back to the old habits: doing and procrastinating everything. Couldn't this have been a fresh start?

I guess it's a good sign that I'm settled and relatively comfortable enough to even channel old study habits, but I don't even want to be awake right now, let alone still procrastinating another two hour's worth of work.


Lingering Angst

As I sit here procrastinating my homework (what's new?) I have been poring over the accreditation report for UCU, the college at which I'm studying abroad this semester. Don't ask me why this sounded more interesting than the Dutch constitution. I think I was really looking on UCU's website for their scheduled holidays and just got distracted.

But I digress.

Part of the accreditation report outlined the excellence of UCU's study abroad program, especially because it selected exchange students from the honors programs of their respective universities. Now, I am not a grade monger, but admittedly it depresses me a little bit that I am not actually an honors student. I don't feel like sharing my GPA on the Internet but let's just say it isn't the 3.95 required of students on the Dean's List at UC Berkeley.

It was not my goal in life to be an honors student at a notably difficult university in an equally notably difficult department (which is arguably difficult, really, but that's just because rhetoric is so subjective), but I still find myself staring longingly and cyclically at the list, the requirements, and my grades.

I feel close enough to think there's a chance, but I realize that I secretly want to do even less work and just be smarter about it. Read: be smarter. I have long dreamed of being the encyclopedic kid who gets an elusive A+ just for showing up and exuding brilliance; one of those kids you just know can say something really smart about a book without having read it casually more than once five years ago. They don't work very hard because academia isn't a chore, because money isn't an issue, and because they have jobs or trust funds or law school waiting for them after they grow weary of undergraduate life.

I'm getting closer: my grades improve every semester and, though this post might presume otherwise, I seem to be caring less about the grades than I care about my engagement with the professors and the texts we read. For traditionalist and obvious reasons I use the grades to gauge my success in those engagements, but I find myself procrastinating more because I'm completing the work in less time.

But enough procrastinating and complaining and wishing and hoping. I'm learning to take things one step at a time. First: obtain hot Chocomel and return dinner dish to kitchen. Second: read. Do lots and lots of reading.


Bureaucratic Survivors

The picture to your right is of the dramatic staircase in the bizarre house in the upscale and out-of-the-way neighborhood which Ana held a dinner party to celebrate New Years. I find this to be the only remotely flattering photo of that house. My Parisian vacation was fabulous, but like all good things it had to end.

I left rainy Paris by train on Jan. 3 and stopped in cold and overcast Amsterdam long enough to get a train discount card and ticket to cold and overcast Utrecht.

We suffered through the pre-departure bureaucracy and, some with less sleep than others, arrived safely to Utrecht. I made my way to University College by about 3 p.m. and into my temporary apartment by about 5:15. I managed some settling and unpacking before I came back to UCU to meet the others.

Representing several UC campuses, we 29 EAP students were treated to a well-deserved feast at a pancake house along the canal near the center of town. Tip: if you order the Pirate Pancake, they give you a sword.

Since then, we've managed to get more settled and unpacked, to spend a few Euro at the grocery store (and learn to bring your own bag), and to discover that despite the widespread use of spoken English, very little is actually written in English. Websites often don't translate, pamphlets never, and only a few food products.

Here is what me and a fellow UCU-er (Brenda) have dubbed The Ikea Palace. Everything-- sheets, light fixtures, dishes, furniture-- is from Ikea. The floors are red, the curtains are blue, and the front door is purple. One wall in my room is yellow. The place is brand new and I am on the 17th floor, which would be great if I had a view of anything besides the grasslands. I think I have a roommate, judging by the non-Ikea rice cooker, dead roses on the table, and groceries in the cupboard, but I'm guessing she's on vacation (I gathered gender by the hair in the drain and girly shampoo in the shower).

In any case, I've got a quiet/lonely place to study for what seems to be a daunting language program. We may have survived the bureaucracy, but ahead of us remains two weeks of 9:30-4 classes with field trip assignments on weekends.