Archive for December, 2011

Into the next year

And we shall march on:
the pensioners, the children
the mother and her little son,
the teacher and some
giggling girls in Sunday dresses
all following the band,
with the baker hitting the big drum
and the butcher blowing
his enormous cheeks as he impresses,
playing on the sousaphone,
and everyone is going
with joy into the brand new year,
no one will stand aside or be alone
when the band is passing here.
And while their boat is drifting on
we’ll still hear them play
when they are gone
into another day.

*

Everyone a very happy 2012!

image from the Dutch movie “Fanfare” (1958)

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What lies beneath

What lies beneath, hidden by time
captured in a forgotten thought
is ours to find, the reason we sought.

When our journey is uncertain
sand is blowing over our track
we must move on, there is no way back.

picture by Marieke Piek, made at Terschelling 2011

Nehalennia

Was I the only one who thought of you,
Nehalennia, on this stormy day
when not only ships were sailing, passing through
but also thoughts drifted, floating away?

Did someone else think about you, and who
you were, guiding ships from our island bay
going across those tempest waters to
shores unknown, uncertain in a way?

I saw you, watching the ships sailing too
from a cloud, on that cold stormy day.

Nehalennia was a Roman Goddess, origine perhaps Celtic or French, who guided ships. She was worshipped in Zeeland, in the South-West of the Netherlands where here altars were found in the sea.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nehalenia

Today I noticed a female figure in the centre of the sky in this pic, made by my husband,  and thought of this Goddess.

December

With every year that she draws to its grave
she dies more than she lived days on this earth.
The force of life, at times a tidal wave,
that threw her further away from her birth,
now pulls her back, giving her a new start.

She digs a hole to burry this year
in letters she couldn’t sent, and a card
to her lover. He will never be near
more than he was alive, in her heart.
The year is done and the grave is covered.

Leningrad

Somewhere hidden
in the wooden salt container
that you bought for me that Winter,
a smell of some sweet fungus
mixed with a cheap perfume
is waiting for shared memories,
the kind I hope you
will find somewhere too.

Keep looking for them
in the lines of old women’s faces,
like those that folded
when she sold us
a newspaper in the Newski Prospekt,
“Pravda”, which means “the truth”,
but we couldn’t read Russian that well
so the truth never hit us.

Do you remember the taste
of my father’s burning vodka
when everything was frozen?
We had chosen not to judge the world
covered with black spotted snow.
A cold war ended in the mean while
as we grew up, but where
my friend did you go?

Somewhere hidden
in the wooden salt container
is the Winter when I first saw
life as lovers know it.

*

My sixteenth birthday

In December 1973, a day after Christmas, my mother and I got a physical check-up, in order to get a real Seaman’s book. It was all done in a hurry, in Amsterdam, and from that moment on we were supposed to be stewardesses. It says so in that book, I still have it somewhere.

A stewardess, on a coaster! There is no such thing, of course, let alone there would be 2 of them about, but only with that piece of document we were going to be allowed to go ashore in Leningrad, (that is where the trip was going to), by the authorities there. We had to pretend to be real sailors, mama and me.

The officials in Amsterdam were very creative and cooperative.

Oh, and it turned out we were both healthy. Always good to know.

I was very excited to go to Russia, it was the only time I went there. My father got me some English-Russian study books and by the time we got there, I had learned the alphabet and some lines that might come in handy.

The ship was called Noorbeek (former Timca), owned by Rederij Spliethoff, and we were to get a load of wood. My father was first mate on that voyage, and I got the pilots cabin. It was locked by my parents every evening from the outside. My father was a bit overprotective I guess, or he didn’t trust me to behave, but I had never given him any reason not trust me I think. Anyway, it did not bother me just then. I also had to make a deal that I would occasionally wear a dress instead of jeans. Now that was the hard part. Hated dresses. Jeans for ever!

The trip went smoothly. We sailed through the canal between the North sea and Baltic, we called it the “Kielerkanaal”, and as we had a pilot on board in the canal, who had to have access to his cabin because of his trade union-isues, I stayed up that night in the wheelhouse.  I found a nice place to be out-of-the-way and listened to the calm voices of my father and the pilot. “Midships!”, answered with ”Midships.” Very relaxed. There was almost no conversation. A men’s world really. Women would probably have spoken a bit. Chatted. Not these men.

After a few days, on dec. 31, we reached the port of Leningrad, now (again) known as Petersburg. The dead trees used for guiding the ship to the harbour were the first thing we saw. It was cold, it froze about 15 degrees C. It stayed a bit dark almost all day. I probably wanted to go ashore right away, but that was not possible of course, it never is with ships, the custom officers have to have a say first.

Two soldiers were standing in front of the ship, with real guns, keeping guard. I had never seen a presumably loaded gun before and it scared me to bits, those things can be dangerous! One soldier on one end, we called them all Iwan and a good change that was really their name, and one on the other end. They were there the whole day, also at night. Well, they got released every now and then of course. I cannot remember ever seeing that, though. We felt awfully sorry for them. Nobody on board was quite sure whether they were there to protect the Russians from us, or to make sure nobody tried to leave the Soviet Union as a stowaway. As one of them was always right in front of my porthole, underneath a lamppost, I could see him go up and down with the tide at night.

There was a green sort of box near the gangway, with a sloping lid, and in there our harbour passes were kept. Every time we wanted to go ashore, we gave the precious seaman’s book to the soldier, he gave us a harbour pass in return and the harbour officials in the building at the entrance of the port would exchange that for our passports, and then we could go into town. Till eleven pm.

Meanwhile the timber was being loaded. The workers were so cold, my father gave them things to eat and drink to keep them motivated.

First thing when he got a change, it was my father’s duty to organize transportation from the harbour to the centre of town for the crew to spend their leisure hours. He went ashore and I followed him through the snow. He didn’t wait for me, so I really had to walk fast. I felt very adventurous, here I was, with my father, in Russia! But for him it was just another day at work, I suppose.

We came across a lonely Christmas tree, that puzzled me, I thought they did not do Christmas over there at that time. Well they did, on the 6th of January. With Father ‘Frost.’ (Djed Maroz)

There was a building, very old I remember, built of clay and it had irregular walls. We entered, there were some women sitting round a table, silent, but one of them was crying her eyes out. Something terrible must have happened. Somebody had died or something.

I looked at my father, weren’t we suppose to ask what was the matter? Perhaps we could help? But he ignored the women, only asked if he could use the phone on the wall, phoned and arranged things with Intourist, an organization not just for tourists, but also for seamen I suppose.

As it was New years Eve, we got instructions from the captain, an excellent cook by the way who made all of us a very nice festive diner, NOT to do any fireworks. It would not be appreciated by the harbour authorities. So in the middle of the night, 2 am local time, that was midnight in Holland, after the captain went ashore with drinks for the soldiers and we had all watched, knowing they weren’t allowed to accept even though it was so cold, the second mate and I went to the upper deck and he fired off a beautiful red emergency light. It went al across the dock and landed in a pile of timber. And got alarms started. Nasty sirens. We had a great time. My mother predicted that we would all be sent to Siberia. Instead we got a third soldier in front of the ship. Iwan the third.

The next days we strolled along Newski Prospekt, were a man in a shop wanted to sell us a fur coat. Never! The rest of the shop was very empty. All of Leningrad was a bit grim, but great. The people were silent and sad, life was tough for them, that was obvious. Things were scarce to get. In a pedestrian-tunnel I sold my old scarf to a well dressed Russian man for 8 rubel. We saw the Herimitage, (Winterpalace), the best museum in the world I guess, it had 27 Rembrandts we all got to see.

We could enter without having to wait in line, as the Russians had to themselves. That was very unfair. We visited the vessel Aurora, were the Revolution started with, and also the seaman’s house, a former palace of a kind.

A woman, in full make up and probably to be rented by the hour or something like that, turned out to be quite nice actually.

There was one Russian seaman who was sitting on a different part of the bar. He did not speak to us. There we were sort of oblight to watch a film about enormous tractors, fields of waving grain and a lot of happy singing people. Boy was it fun to live in the Soviet Union!

“Propaganda,” my mother sighed. We saw it through politely. A man came sitting next to me and started to ask all sorts of things, in German, like: What did I think of Russia etc.

“Ignore,” my father said. “He just wants you to work as a spy and make photo’s in ports and such.”

Ok, as if that sounded normal! But to him it did.

The second mate had a girlfriend in town and stayed away one night. It gave trouble.

“We will all end up in Siberia!” my mother exclaimed. He was the kind that always got into trouble, and I was not allowed even to play chess with him with the door of the cabin wide open. “We will all end up in Siberia!” my mother exclaimed again.

And there was a matter of the harbour perhaps freezing over, icebreakers not being able to fix a route anymore. If that happened, we could be stuck there all winter. I hoped for it to happen. It didn’t.

My 16th birthday on the 4th of January  was celebrated on board and in the seaman’s house. I got a real balalaika from my parents, it is now on the attic, and also a gift from a very nice crew member, who did not speak Dutch. It was a wooden salt container that I have had for many years. And I got another souvenir: I exchanged a ring I had, for a pin with Lenin and a red flag, with one of the soldiers, who was not much older than me.

The exchange was pure friendly, nothing romantic! We did not say very much to each other, him standing on the quay, me on the ship. With my father being around somewhere it had to be done quickly and sneaky, and what is there to talk about, if you don’t speak each others language well and it is freezing hard. But Rembrandt he knew. When the ship left january 7, he was on the quay doing what soldiers do I suppose and I was on deck. We did not wave, hey, it was not as if we knew each other.

Goodbye Leningrad. The best thing I remember now about that holiday, was my father being a man of the world I could look up to as he walked on that quay. But of course my adolescence-battles with him were about to start…. Sweet sixteen, forget it! I wanted my ‘freedom’ so badly.

My Christmas Blog – Light and Dark

Light

Thinking of the light that sneaks in just in time
from a hidden source to save the grayish day,
like candles lit in darkened rooms
where mothers wait in vain
and stars at night in cloudless skies
guiding whom are lost,
or as a ray of sunshine
entering in a sudden, unexpected way
would lift you up with cheer,
lighten up your heart
to last you through the next, new year;
thinking of you,
I wish you that, and more.

Merry Christmas!

*

Short story:  The Lighthouse and the Candle

It was a quiet evening.  Christmas eve.
The “Pythia” was sailing under a full moon. On board, captain Hessel Westra did his shift and drinking his coffee that the cook had brought to him in the stirring cabin.
“Another Christmas at sea,” the cook sighted. He gleamed outside.
Hessel didn’t speak. He shivered. Every now and then a beam of light flashed over the water from the the coast. The island became visible. The lighthouse Brandaris. Terschelling.

The old farmer put his book down and his glasses away. He looked at his wife, who was sleeping in her chair near the window. On the windowpane was a candle next to a picture of a young man. The candle was flikkering. Christmas eve and a silent night. Maybe it was a pity there was no snow this year.
He rose from his chair, got his jacket and wellies and went outdoors.

It was so quiet outside. Just the sea behind the dunes. The moon was shining from a clear dark sky.
A cow in the barn mewed, then it was quiet again.
The old farmer started to climb the dune and he thought of years ago. So maybe he was wrong that time. He shouldn’t have tried to force the lad to do what he didn’t want. But that was how it was in those days. Children listened to their parents, was he wrong to think his son would listen too?

But the boy wanted to go to sea. Not become a farmer. And now, years later, he knew the son had a point. But then… Had he himself not just lost his brother who was drowned? He was still wearing the black armband then!
Around the arm that hit his son that Christmas eve.

From the top of the dune he looked over the peaceful island, the dunes and the sea.
Where would his boy be now? Well, boy, he would have been forty now. Would he still be alive today?
He left that Christmas eve and he had never returned. Never they had heard from him.

On the bridge of the “Pythia” Hessel still shivered. The coffee couldn’t keep him warm. Was it really cold? He remembered that he had this strange sensation when he was young. A shiver. A feeling of bad things to happen. And then he would just know a cow would die, or lightning would strike , things like that. Odd, he had forgotten all about that shiver.
Maybe it had to do with the fact they were sailing here, so close to Terschelling, where he had lived on his parents farm until that Christmas eve such a long time ago.
There was the lighthouse. There were the dunes. And somewhere behind those dunes was the old farm, the horse and his parents. If still alive.

The old man was staring towards the sea, were he could see the light of a vessel far away. Why didn’t he just go home, inside, where it was warm.
Didn’t he hear the old horse now? What was wrong with that animal?
He turned round and entered the barn. The horse was restless, scraping his foot over the floor.
“What is the matter old boy? Huh?”

On board of the “Pythia” Hessel took over the stirring wheel from a mate and gave him his coffee.
It was strange, in the last years he must have sailed here several times, so close to the shore of his island, and he never thought about home till now. It had been a horrible fight, between him and his father. Over twenty years ago it had been and he had left and never returned to the island.
Maybe he was right then. He thought so, then. But now, he could see his fathers point of view too. So soon after the death of his father’s brother, he should have waited a bit with revealing his future plans.
And now he once again sailed by the island he used to live on.

He shivered.
All of the sudden he saw his mother, she was sleeping in her chair near the window. The candle on the windowpane flickering. The candle…
He uttered a cry.

The horse had calmed down a bit, the old eyes looked sadly at the farmer.
“So you are fine now, aren’t you old boy,” the farmer said. Just when he decided to take a look in the stable to see if the cows were okay, he could hear the telephone ringing in the living room.
“Now why doesn’t she take that call?” he wondered. He forgot about the cows and hurried inside, into the living. There his wife stood in the room, a burning curtain was lying on the floor. She tried to kick out the flames. He helped her and the succeeded to put out the fire.
Still shaken she said: “I was asleep, you know, and then the phone rang. I woke up and I saw that the curtain was burning. I just jerked it down to the floor. Just in time. If that phone hadn’t rang…”
“Maybe who ever it is, will call again,” her husband said.
“Whomever it was, he or she may have saved my life,” the old woman said. She put the fallen picture of her son Hessel back in its place and they both had a glass of wine to celebrate the good ending.

Hessel was still near the radio and waited. There was the voice of the operator.
“This is Scheveningen Radio again sir, I am sorry, they won’t answer the phone.”
He thanked her and stared out of the window again, over the sea. There was the lighthouse of Ameland, the next island. The shiver had gone.

Slowly the ship continued the voyage.

translated by Ina, from orig. Dutch, written by Ina 1987, posted on this blog in December 2010

************************************************************************************
Dark Globe Award

I am very honoured because I am nominated and in the finals! for the Dark Globe Award 🙂 Everyone can vote!

http://thedarkglobe.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/the-inaugural-dark-globes-artist-awards-voting-has-begun/

😉

The poem

The words kept circling,
butterflies of your mind,
lines and stanza’s sent to me.
I tried to touch them,
out of reach they fell down
in front of my feet
in an order I had never
expected truth to be
and for one moment
I understood, I understood!
before the draft
took everything away.

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