It’s summertime and everyone is on vacation. So it’s a time to be quiet and reflect on things. The things I would’ve liked to do but didn’t. The things I could’ve done but didn’t. The things I should’ve done but didn’t. The things I should NOT have done but did. Oh boy, the list goes on and on. And there I am, looking at the blue yonder, the waves rippling over the azure lake, the swan coming by to chat, my watch staring at me as if it wants to stop.
I would love to play piano like Amad Jamal but I can’t. I would love to play tennis like Louis Federer but I can’t. I would love to write like Nora Roberts, but I don’t.
I did play classical piano pretty well but it faded: at a certain stage I noticed that I made no progress anymore. Stuck. Maybe I hated practice. Clearly, I didn’t yearn to get better at it and reverted to playing jazz all the time, which I did all right. My passionate Paris girlfriend and classical pianist, Geneviève, told me there was nothing wrong with that (See Some Women I Have Known – http://amzn.to/1QIL94B). I would’ve liked to play more tennis but back injury, tendonitis, and work priorities all fought against me. But I did complete an all right career and after 50 years of interesting work worldwide, I am now finally retired with a healthy savings account. So I should be happy, no?
Yes and No. I can’t sit still, hate to play golf and am too lazy to go hiking. So why not do some writing? The only thing you have to do is dream up a story, type it down on a computer, and post it on Amazon, is it not? Millions do. Easy, no? Well, not so. It’s like my tennis, like my piano, you must practice to get good at it. Know your words, grammar, syntax, and idiom. And what about my “content mind,” do my stories appeal to today’s readers? And what about my “craft mind,” do I use the right words, have the right rhythm, do I create sparks in my sentences, are my characters alive?
When I read, I use a notebook to write down words I don’t know or find interesting to remember. I underline sentences that I consider well-written. In the hope they stay with me and spark a good sentence of my own one day. The problem is that, as a non-native English writer, the words do not immerse in me as they do with a native writer who grows up with them. For him/her, words have acquired a lifelong meaning and feeling, are associated with memories, education, and experiences.
When I read in Dutch, my native language, I feel the meaning of words so much better because I grew up with them. They became my treasured treasure that I’d pick from whenever needed, and they spring up in my mind automatically when I need them. A native English writer acquired a similar treasure and can even “make up” words, something I’d never dare to do in English because it would almost certainly be wrong and scrapped by my editor.
As a funny example, I read the other day that “she wore a teddy.” Something to do with a teddy bear?
Since I did not know what a teddy was, I consulted Webster, which needed 20 words to explain its meaning! Probably any American knows from childhood what a “teddy” is (my wife, who is British-educated, did not even know!), and they would immediately associate it with their mother or sister, or perhaps a girlfriend (better). That sort of words is their permanent vocabulary treasure.
And so I go on, still learning to use idiom, syntax, and vocabulary. In addition to Some Women (in which Piano John confuses playing sheet music with playing between the sheets”), I wrote Enchanting The Swan (in which grad students and musicians Paul and Fiona agree to marry but evil blocks their love —http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o ). I am currently working on a third. Every day that I work on the “craft mind” I realize how little I know and how more I have to learn. I started doing this much too late. Young writers go through the same learning process, and they will also take time before they write their first good book. Even John Grisham and Stephen King (“On Writing”) admit that. But I started at the end of a long career, and won’t have that “luxury” of time to succeed. That’s why a well-known agent, Paul Levine, called me a “young writer” despite my white hair.
It’s “Spellbinding,” as Barbara Baig calls it (Writers Digest Books). Word(worth) reading!
See you next time and happy reading/writing.
July 14, Bastille Day, is like Independence Day in the US. Nice is my third city in Europe, after Amsterdam and Paris, although many times I consider it my first because of its splendid surroundings inhabited by the more friendly southern French and its lovely climate. Now, my friends there are mourning after a cruel terrorist act. How many times have I strolled along the Promenade des Anglais, so named after British engineers who built it in the nineteenth century out of gratitude for the many Brits who came to escape their dreary cold and drizzling winters?
How many more such terrorist attacks have to happen before Europe and the US take decisive action to eradicate radical Islam? Islam itself will not do it. It is intrinsically weak, full of fear of reprisals at home, and philosophically and religiously strongly divided. How long did it take for Europe to defy Hitler? Only after he invaded Poland when he had already overrun Austria and Czechoslovakia. It took two years, and a number of its ships torpedoed by Nazi submarines, and Pearl Harbour, that made America finally join the war in Europe.
How long will it take before our current leaders take decisive action? More talk, speeches and nothing doing? Erasing François Hollande’s mentioning of radical Islam in the White House?
How many more innocent people leading a quiet and pleasant life and enjoying the fruits of Europe’s prosperity will have to be torn to pieces by the cruel medieval outcry of Allahu Akbar? How long will it take our current leaders to agree that the root of the cancer must be exterminated with a full-blown counter-attack where it really hurts? Why not now? A battle here and there in Iraq will not solve the problem. The cancer has already spread dangerously inside Europe and the US. Containment has only made it worse.
Nice will hurt for a long time. Its promenade is a joyful walk now draped in blood, black and tears. It will not be the same anymore. Until the evildoers are silenced for good. And that requires the guts that so far has been totally lacking in the US and Europe.
Let’s vote people to power that will act. I trust France will lead but it cannot do so alone.
Vive la France! Vive Nice!
A personal story I have to tell in the midst of America’s racial mayhem: multiculturalism can work. Full disclosure: nor she or I are Americans. We are residing in the US as your “legal” guests. But you cannot believe how disturbed we are by the way “black” and “white” are still at each other’s throat after all the so-called racial progress made. “She” is of East-Indian descent from the Caribbean, I am Dutch. Despite the criticism of some that interracial marriage was a no-no in the US – and I speak of 1974 – we closed the deal in Washington D.C., sanctioned by a black judge.
We were blessed with two beautiful and smart kids. “Eurasians” or ” Indo-Europeans” are the terms we would use for them in Europe or the UK.
At age 3 and 1 in Holland and at age 7 and 5 in Udaipur India with their mother after a visit to the Lake Palace.
We have been married for more than 40 years. The children grew up in the US – after four early years overseas – and made their friends here, of all races, white, brown and black. Both did well in school and managed to get good jobs. Both mix well with their cousins from Guyana, many of whom came here and were able to land excellent jobs as well. I as the white guy have no problem mixing with them. It is a matter of attitude and ability to adjust. Two grandchildren came out wonderfully.
Multiculturalism does not mean that different races and cultures should merge to become gray and meaningless. On the contrary: it is fun to watch the different cultural expressions in chant, dance, music, theater and fashion. Cultures are shaped by birth, family, country history, and language. Racial and color differences are, of course, part of cultures. It is unavoidable, and it does sometimes create tensions. In Africa, members of different tribes don’t marry each other for cultural reasons. In India, marriage between different casts is rare. In Bangladesh, we read marriage ads asking for a “fair skinned” partner. Obviously, I have a different background having grown up in Holland, and so has my wife having grown up in a Caribbean country. Different customs, education, food, and family relationships. That does not mean intellectual differences or capacity. The two of us came to the conclusion we did not have anything against each other. Different colors, yes, but not different mindsets. Cultural differences do not have to degrade into racial hatred. Surely not in the US after Martin Luther King showed the way, and many black families have reached his dream since then.
I hope I am not affronting people but in the US, leadership on the issue of racial divide has utterly failed. I am not going into the often self-inflicted tragedies of the past, either by “white” or “black.” But I would have expected that under a black President, who is half-white, the US would rave reached racial reconciliation rather than an increased racial hatred. I blame this administration for this hapless situation. It started with the President saying that if he had had a son, he would have looked like Trevon Martin. And while not openly, everybody knew he meant that the “White Hispanic” was the culprit. He was cleared in court. Similarly at Ferguson, the administration took the side of the black man who was fatally shot by a police officer. The huge damage that ensued was inflamed further by the likes of Al Sharpton, only to be rectified in court.
The same for the turmoil in New York and Baltimore. And so on. From the get-go, this administration has let racial hatred run out of control. They did not take seriously that a new black panther group was emerging. Their laxity gave birth to the black lives matter revolt. Because of this uncontrolled hatred, we see white cop-killing create absolute havoc in Dallas. And the police feels besieged and constraint in their role to protect the citizens. And this while nobody of these so-called “leaders” addresses the immense issue of black to black killing in urban areas. But as soon as it is white to black, particularly when the police are concerned, cities are set ablaze. After all these years, nothing has changed, only gotten worse. And the sensation-driven media has undoubtedly helped to fan the flames. Sensation pays, while certain politicians pander to the black vote.
What is needed in the US is a fundamental regime change and not the type of “fundamental change of America” this administration has been pursuing. Inner-city rehabilitation, better schooling, jobs, removal of gangs, and support of the police to ensure productive community life and order to enforce the law. Someone who can keep all these conflicting interests out of each other’s hairs and put them to work productively. And some enlightened black leadership, again. It may take some tough measures in the beginning. Too much to ask?
I am sure many mixed couples in the US deplore the current situation. We do. But in our little fiefdom of racial harmony, we know multicultural relationships work. So why not make an effort and turn things around instead of battling, screaming at each other, and killing the cops who protect us?
On July 5, 2016, Dr. Taru Spiegel, Reference Specialist of the European Division of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., received John Schwartz to transmit two recent books with love stories written by Maarten Maartens, a nineteenth-century Dutch author writing in English. Maarten Maartens, alias Joost Marius Willem van der Poorten Schwartz (1858-1915) – a great-uncle of John Schwartz – wrote 13 novels and four volumes of short stories in English and became very famous with it. Ted Roosevelt received him – and his daughter – at the White House in 1907. He received an honorary degree at Western University in Pittsburg in 1907 and a similar award together with Thomas Hardy at Aberdeen University in Scotland in 1905. He lived in Doorn in the center of The Netherlands but frequently traveled to England to mingle with other well-known literary authors and critics, who became close friends.
The books transmitted were entitled “At Home and Abroad – Stories of Love”, a collection of 33 short stories Maarten Maartens published in various reputable magazines and compiled by Dr. Bouwe Postmus on behalf of the Maarten Maartens Foundation in Doorn, and “Maarten Maartens Rediscovered – Part II – His Best Short Stories” by John Schwartz. The latter is a summarization of the four volumes of short stories which Maarten Maartens published with various reputable English, American, and German publishing houses.
In November 2015, the LOC formally received “Maarten Maartens Rediscovered – Part I,” by John Schwartz, which is a summarization of Maarten Maartens’ 13 novels.
These summarizations contain much of Maarten Maartens’ own writing to give readers a flavor of the author’s outstanding talent. The same method was followed in the summarization of the short stories, although a few were so well written that they are fully reproduced. The LOC was particularly pleased to add the book by Bouwe Postmus to their Maarten Maartens collection because it was new material.
Above: Maarten Maartens 13 novels and 4 volumes of short stories, and “Letters by Maarten Maartens,” compiled by his daughter Ada van der Poorten Schwartz. Of course, at the top of the photo, the word “No” is missing from the “Food or Drink permitted.”
The Library of Congress, formally The Thomas Jefferson Building, is a very special place characterized by its famous Dome. First of all, it is the solemn silence that reigns in the reading and working rooms and that constitutes the prominent atmosphere in which researchers and readers can work productively, and “Forgotten Writers” such as Maarten Maartens can be studied and reside in peace. No cell phones, no picture taking, except in the public areas. Here follow a few pictures I could take as a “privileged visitor” of the areas where the public can’t go.
First, a few murals painted by the Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari in the Hispanic Reading Room, showing the arrival of Hispanic peoples in America, and the poster indicating we are in the European Division where Maarten Maartens’ books are kept.
Following are pictures of the main reading room, taken from inside the Valhalla of the LOC through a glass wall looking out.
Below the magnificently sculptured clock “Flight of Time” by John Flanagan that took seven years to complete and was shipped in parts from Paris before being installed in the Library when the reading room was finally finished in 1902. It is not unlikely that Maarten Maartens when visiting the White House in 1907 also visited this building.
Below a few pictures of the Hall of the LOC where tourists dwell and make numerous photographs.
We end with a view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol seen from the LOC.
All in all, a nice place for Maarten Maartens to be interred: in quiet and with friends who appreciate him.
Who ever came up with the 99 cents idea? The psycho crisis in the USA! Which dummy believes that 99 cents are not a 100 cents dollar? I still have pots full with dollar cents sitting in my basement. Even the mice don’t care for them. In Holland, I remember we discarded the penny a long time ago. The Euro still has one and two Eurocents coins but people rarely use them in shops. Amounts ending below 3 are rounded down, above 4 are rounded up to 5, and below 7 are rounded down to 5 and amounts ending at 8 or 9 are rounded up. But not in the great USA: the whole sales psychology is built around 99.
This craze goes into the thousands! Items are $299.99 or 1299.99, or for cars from 29499 to 45699 and so on. Buyers think they get a “deal” when it is priced at 99. Houses are being offered at 549599. Just price it at a whole dollar and the sale goes awry! Merchandisers and Buyers are all in the same fix. Even the National Debt ends up with 99. Rounding up or down is a non-starter. We all want to be deceived, thinking we are paying one dollar or Euro less or 100 dollars or a thousand less, while in fact, we are paying the full amount. Sales people know it, buyers know it and everybody likes to deceive or perceive that things offered are cheaper when in fact they are not.
I am sure the July 4th Independence sales in the USA will be full of it. From grocery sales to car sales to home sales. Your barbecue sausage will be $2.99 a pack. Your ham slices 4.99 a pack. Your new car 23,999. I don’t know how the summer sales in the Euro countries will be priced. Maybe they have different ways how to deceive the consumer. But we WANT to be deceived. My wife always buys because “it’s on sale” at 99 cents or percent less. That’s why the basement is full of unused bottles of cleaners and other chemicals, and the freezer full of great deals from the butcher that we can never ever eat in our lifetime.
You get the idea: the ninety-nine cents is a craze and leads to clogging and clutter. And then to think that Amazon.com started this for the poor writers. Selling your “e-book” for 99 cents? A book you have worked on for at least a year, spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on for research, editing, and promotion? Is that fair? I hear that daily 5,000 new books appear on the market now that everyone can self-publish a book. A lot of that must be crap. Nonetheless, they are all floating in the clouds of Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, and other “on-line” book retailers at 99 cents or some other low amount ending with 99. Thousands of “book promoters” offer their services “full price” at “a discount” to get you “known” for thousands of dollars. And the writer gets 99 cents for his e-book minus “administrative costs!” How’s that?
I feel like starting a war to abolish the penny. If I go to my bank with all those pots full of pennies, they will faint or send me to the madhouse. I want at least one wholesome dollar for my e-book, and fifteen or nineteen whole dollars for my paperback, free of the penny craze.
Of course, my books are infested with the ninety cents craze, too: E-book “Some Women I have Known” is priced at $1.99 http://amzn.to/1QIL94B; and “Enchanting The Swan” at $2.99. http://amzn.to/1LPFw5o . That’s how the publishers want it because the wisdom is that readers buy between .99 and 3.99.
If you can’t beat them, join them! Becoming a penny-crazed idiot is contagious in this world.
Happy July Fourth!