Sunday, September 18, 2011

A video view on our world

Oude Haven Rotterdam from Roesj Producties on Vimeo.

This video is about us - about those of us who live here in the Oude Haven. It was made a while ago, but the people interviewed are still here and are still our neighbours. Some of you might recognise Philip (from Watery Ways), who took his barge to France almost three years ago now. I think this interview must have been done not long after he came back.

In any event, as it's all in Dutch, I will say that it describes pretty well what it is like to live here. 

In the opening interview, Philip mentions that he is on his way to a place called the Biesbosch. It is one of the quietest places in the area, but even so, you can still hear the highway if the wind is in the 'wong direction'. He speaks of his love for France because of its silence, something he finds quite addictive. Here in the Oude Haven, I will agree that it is very noisy, even though it is like a village in the city. Still, Philip says that the handy thing is that, when he wants to go away - to find some peace -he just takes his 'house' with him. That has always been the main appeal of living on a boat for me packing,  no leaving your familiar things behind, just travel with your home around you, like a snail.

You then see interview clips with Eva. She and her boyfriend, Nico, live on a big luxe motor barge, and Nico is a ship's carpenter. Eva talks about the sense of freedom in living afloat, along with the  feeling of camping all year round, and of living in a village.  She also speaks of how people are mostly very willing to help each other when necessary. It's a close community, and everyone knows each other - something that's very unusual in the heart of a city.

Other contributors are Martin, an 'older' member of our community, who is amazingly fit despite his more than 70 years now. He also talks about the sense of freedom you have on a boat, but he  goes on to describe how he lives a somewhat primitive lifestyle because his ship is still in the process of being restored and converted. Showers are taken at the yard, cooking is take-aways and convenience foods (he has no kitchen) and life is pretty basic on board his tjalk. Nevertheless, I know of few people his age who have as much energy and drive to keep going, so it must be a healthy recipe really!

Then you see red-bearded Joram at work. He is a professional restorer, being both an expert welder and riveter. He lives and works here in the harbour as that is its - and his - purpose: the restoration of historic barges. He says that although it's true that there's this sense of freedom (we all have the illusion of it anyway), anyone who thinks living on a ship is easy is mistaken. It is mostly very hard work, and maintenance is a constant battle to keep one step ahead of the elements (my words here, not his). 

There is of course more, but in essence, that is what the movie is about. I think it also underscores the fact that all of us who live here are either hopeless romantics, square pegs, or simply individuals who want a different way of living that still offers some semblance of autonomy. It's an honest insight into our village people, but despite the romance, none of us harbours any illusions about the work involved in maintaining these old barges.

All that being said, the winter is approaching and lots of jobs have to be finished before it gets too cold. This year, the elements have really been against us. I am so hoping the rain will stop for a few days so we can just do what's needed to keep the our floating homes preserved for another year - that is, until next spring when we will have to  start all over again!

Friday, September 09, 2011


That sounds dreadful doesn't it? With its gutteral 'g', this word 'geslaagd' conveys the feeling that you're about to swipe someone's head off, but actually its meaning is much more pleasant. Thank goodness.

The whole sentence I should have written was : "Ik ben geslaagd voor mijn examen Nederlands als tweede taal." And about this, I am very pleased indeed. What it means is ...yay! I passed my Dutch exam!

I can tell you that no one is more surprised than I am. I was so convinced I'd messed it up completely, but I do realise, in retrospect, that as a language teacher myself, I might be expecting more and greater things than the examiners are. That doesn't make me feel altogether good about my level, though. Even I know that both my daughters, who have absorbed the language like sponges and kindly smother their giggles at my bumbling attempts, would have sailed through. Meanwhile, I struggle on to figure out what the heck people are rattling on at me about. Still, the fact that I have taken the hurdle head on, cleared it and stumbled to my feet on the other side is very, very satisfying.

The exam itself was quite an experience. I was one of around fifty candidates. Each part of the exam (writing, listening, reading and speaking) took between two and three hours, so the whole event extended over two days. I say each part took more than two hours, but in fact, about half an hour of each test consisted of instructions being barked at us by a sergeant major of an adjudicator. "U mag niet dit en u mag niet dat" and so on and so on as he marched up and down the room with his megaphone telling us in no uncertain terms what we may not do. Okay, it wasn't really a megaphone. It was actually a small mike, but it sounded distinctly OTT.

One of the things that we were allowed to do was use a dictionary for the writing and reading sections, but our drill sergeant warned us that resorting to such aids 'kost tijd' and that we didn't have much 'tijd'. He wasn't kidding. I mean we had two hours to write three reports, a job application and then complete sections of thirteen short letters and paragraphs. I can't even do that in English! Predictably, I ran out of time and ended up writing a heap of irrelevant banalities about labelling litter bins for a proposal about how to clean up our city. My job application letter wouldn't even have passed a litter bin without voluntarily diving in, it was such rubbish.

As for the listening test, well, it would have been great if I'd known anything about being a fisherman landing massive shoals of Cod or such like in the North Sea, or what it means to be wrestling with a flailing 200 metre water hose in the fire service - something I've always wanted to do, I can assure you! It did make me wonder how some of my fellow candidates from somewhat hotter, drier climes fared here, I must say. But, the worst by far was the speaking test.

It was on Day 2, and I confess to having felt a tad over confident after the reading test in the morning, which I found fairly easy. Big mistake. We filed into the exam room after lunch and sat at our cubicles, ready for the sergeant major to strut his stuff. "Put on your headphones," he barked. We did as ordered, but then couldn't hear what he was saying properly. Clever. I took off one 'ear' and gathered that we would be played a tape, which would have questions related to some pictures in a booklet we were given. We then had to answer the questions on the basis of what we saw in the pictures. Okay, so far. It sounded quite good actually. Not only would we hear, but also see what we needed to talk about. Great!

Not. What I hadn't realised was that we would all hear the tape at exactly the same time and exactly the same speed. This meant the 'peeptone' signalling our queue to answer came at the same time for everyone. Result? A huge cacophony of noise as everyone yelled into their mikes at the same time (you know the effect of wearing headphones? When everyone thinks no one can hear them?) I was totally thrown. Couldn't think. Couldn't say anything other than simply to utter even more banal nonsense than I'd come up with in the writing test. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, it felt as if the whole room was trying to shout me down. Disaster. What got me was that I'd had a really nice chat in the waiting room with a young Brazilian guy all about social problems in Brazil and Holland, and all in Dutch, but here I was unable to mutter anything even vaguely comprehensible into a microphone. At least that's what it felt like.

Anyhow, when the letter with my results arrived last Friday, I couldn't quite believe my eyes. I'd passed all four subjects! It's taken me a week to absorb it, and now that I've got my 'diploma' on a fancy certificate, I'm beginning to feel positively euphoric about it. In fact, I don't think I've ever felt quite so chuffed about passing an exam in my life. I'm even thinking of having a go at the next programme...

Listen, if I can do it anyone can, so if not, why not? Hey?