I finally got to writing my Memoirs. In the process, I remembered my many cultural shocks. If you traveled the world over as I did, you may recognize some of your own experiences.
THE “WEST” AND “SORT OF WEST”
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks Americans are insane and they are sane. And everything in America looks and tastes the same, and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over, yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once: Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic Moroccan invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. Breakfast: French fries, mussels, and beer (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats, and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends and had lovely moments.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled from Spain to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. And females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst, und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa hoompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road. Maybe that will change after Brexit.
- Ireland: All Irish have gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pickpockets are left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys, and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss-French unintelligible; Swiss-German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows, and turtles. The Swiss put holes in their cheese to attract American off-shore money. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and causes terrible farts that kill your co-worker in seconds.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by law.
- South Africa: Go visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill the tourists.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why everybody says it’s nowhere.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and that’s why it is what it is.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seemed to work because it had a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and beware of the Dhaka “run” if you want to survive.
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated and the best food in the world. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle for the rest of your life.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. In the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city, Java is a jewel. And on Bali, they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Go visit Bali’s interior to see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But the hotel bills are hellish.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wondered how long the good life of one country two systems would last when the Brits handed it over to Communist China. The day of reckoning has come.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show and not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going.
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America.
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off if you dare looking at them when they come strolling out after 11 p.m., or for saying something about their beauty.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home, and where I might have stayed if she had said “yes.”
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100-year European wars. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Neighbor of Guyana and awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. People speak fluent Dutch (the only country outside Holland and Flemish Belgium that does) as Surinam was a Dutch colony until 1975. My greatest shock was that while speaking Dutch they are not Dutch at all, and their beautiful women bite.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers and iguana lovers only.
- Jamaica: The place where I spent my Millennial and tore both of my shoulder tendons when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with lifelong Jamaicanitis.
When I grew up in Holland, England was across the sea horizon. So close that when my 6 foot 2 father walked into the sea at the beach with my younger sister on his shoulder, she screamed full of anxiety, “not to England father, not to England father!” That happened just after we were liberated from Germany and we could go to the beach again. In Holland, we loved England despite what we were taught in class about our 100-year bloody sea-wars with each other in the 17th and 18th centuries. These wars were mostly “commercial wars” about sea trade to the Far East for “spices,” and hegemony in the Americas and West-Indies. We lost New Amsterdam to the Brits who renamed it New York. That was bad, and I am still mad about that. But in 1945, England helped liberate us from the Germans. ” The Tommies,” as their soldiers were called, conquered many blonde Dutchies.
Everyone wanted to build a new Europe free from division and wars. The US helped rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan. Regional collaboration started between Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, “The Benelux”, launched by representatives of the three countries exiled in London in 1944, with a Secretariat in Brussels. At the Ministry of Economic Affairs in The Hague, I participated in those activities. It was mostly built on commercial interests. I adored Brussels for many reasons, foremost good French fries, mussels, delightful steak salade, white Mosel wine from Luxemburg. And the beautiful Grand Place with its many sidestreets where you can dine and wine was always like heaven.
My greatest fun was that we received a tax-free compensation for those Brussels meetings that I used to buy my liquor with back home in The Hague. That compensation always increased if the meetings lasted beyond 4.30 PM. So, even if there was nothing to discuss anything more, somebody always came up at the last moment with some urgent issue to resolve. And we went happily home with the extra bonus. Later, when I had a girlfriend living with me, it saved me from ruin because I had to pay for her telephone calls.
“The Coal and Steel Community” came to life in 1951, covering the Benelux, France, Italy, and Germany, which was the precursor of the European Economic Union (EEC), established in 1958. The UK wanted to be a member of the six-country union, but former President de Gaulle blocked its membership because he said it would be the Trojan Horse bringing in the USA to meddle in “Europe’s affairs.” The UK then joined with other European countries bordering the EEC to establish the competing EFTA (Economic Free Trade Association), among others with Ireland, Switzerland, and the Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. So from the outset, the EEC was a continental European affair. The UK became only a member in 1973 after La Douce France lifted her veto skirt. But it has always been a lukewarm relationship. And now it is out again. The good idea of unification after WW II became entangled in overly centralized governing by Brussels and uncontrollable borders with undesirable immigrants.
Churchill, by the way, wanted a federal Europe like the US, but it excluded the UK because that was a self-standing entity. The Brits wanted “self.” It took only 43 years, a blip in history.
It was basically a matter of English breakfast versus Continental breakfast. I love English breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, sliced baked potatoes, smoked mackerel, English tea, so good that we could not stop eating at the Heathrow airport Hilton and missed our flight. Also, because access to Heathrow airport is like a real bottleneck and continuously jammed. Conversely, a continental breakfast consists of espresso, a croissant with some jelly, and perhaps a little cookie. That’s all.
The French continental breakfast
Although I prefer my Douce France for dinner, I prefer my Perfide Albion for breakfast. With the British pound down for a while, I may just go and get it. I remember the dollar was high in 1984, and we stocked up on good English shoes, coats, and curios, and had a ball at Selfridges and Harrods. And we gauged on a succulent English lamb that had become ridiculously expensive because of the EEC.
A feast that warrants repetition thanks to Brexit. God Save The Queen.
Audrey 16 years old
John 9 years old
John in Geneva and Audrey in Tolochenaz
My sweet memories of Audrey Hepburn are revealed in Chapter 1 of Some Women I Have Known, now published on amazon.com and soon available in paperback and hardcover. The short story I wrote some time ago is incorporated in this book.
My publisher, Willow Manor Publishing Inc., and I wanted it out by May 4, Audrey’s birthday. As many may remember, Audrey died of intestinal cancer in 1993. Maybe the horrible malnourishment during the war-years in Holland that she went through sowed the seeds for that illness in her body. Her departure from her close family and millions of friends shocked everyone. It depressed me for a long time. After her brilliant career as a movie actress, with that lovable face and her unique eyes and smiles, she devoted herself completely to the malnourished children of UNICEF in Africa, South-Asia, and the Far-East, till just a few months before her passing away.
My memories are only on the fringe of her life. I only knew her and her mother when I grew up, and more recently e-mailed a few times with her son Sean. She came to visit my grandparents with her mother and grandfather during World War II when they lived near Arnhem because they were family and good friends, and my grandparents lived close by. I happened to be there on vacation. It was a brief afternoon, the memory of which stuck in my mind because she was such a bright-smiled and amiable girl, some 6 years older than I, and we both suffered so much from this war, she more than I because she was older and her stepbrothers were taken away. Even a little boy remembers such things. In Some Women I Have Known I tell this story, and her sudden apparition many years later in Geneva where I worked and she stayed in nearby Tolochenaz, and we could remember this precious encounter when she was still a little girl herself, not yet discovered, trying to find her way under the guidance of her strong-willed mother, whom I called “Aunt Ella.”
I can’t be but very sentimental about Audrey. Her whole life she kept mesmerizing us at home. She lived at the firmament and we were so amazed that the girl, who came by on a visit, became such a wonderful star. When I studied in Paris, she filmed Charade with Cary Grant and had no time to see me. When I finally succeeded in Geneva, by pure luck, she remembered and told me that filming Charade had been very demanding on her, not in the least because of the exacting Cary Grant.
I hope you enjoy Some Women I have Known. The novel is based on the nine short stories that I published under the same overarching title on Amazon before. I rewrote the stories into a self-standing novel to which is added the story Joy to the World (not previously published) which tells who the author (under the fictitious name of John van Dorn) finally marries. The content of some of the short stories has been slightly modified to mold them into a single storyline.
The title of the novel is taken from the bundle of short stories originally written under the same title by Maarten Maartens, aka Joost van der Poorten Schwartz (1858-1915), my Grand- Uncle, which was published by William Heineman, London, and D. Appleton & Company, New York, in 1901. He wrote 14 novels and 4 bundles of short stories, all still very readable and written in a luscious and illuminating style. His Some Women, in a reprint, is also available on Amazon.com, but their content is, of course, totally different from mine. The book explains why.
The back flap of my Some Women I Have Known tells the interested reader that the novel is a coming-of-age tale in which John van Dorn searches for his true love and meets some playful, perilous, and wonderful women along the way. He rides a pony with soon-to-be film star Audrey Hepburn, senses his first fondness of female attention at elementary school, experiences tender moments with his cello-playing sweetheart while at boarding school, loses his virginity in a risky adventure, then savors several dangerous and unfortunate loves in Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva and the Swiss Alps, learning that life is full of losses and ephemeral relationships. After rescuing a woman in the middle of Africa and a narrow escape of life and death, he finally finds peace of mind with a warm and beautiful Caribbean goddess in the United States.
Each tale can be read in one sitting. So, relax and enjoy with a lush glass of wine, a smooth VSOP brandy or a cup of mellow cappuccino, and smile or drop a tear. The preliminary reviews are positive:
“Paying homage to his great uncle, an ex–World Bank professional makes his debut with a memoir featuring the series of women he encountered in his youth. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then Joost van der Poorten Schwartz (or Maarten Maartens as he was called in publishing circles) scored the jackpot…
A wistful memory…” Kirkus Review.
Enjoy it, and give it a review and the stars you like.