Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Old Contemplates the New

THIS PHOTO OF THE BINNENHOF in The Hague, taken last September, keeps pushing toward the front of the desk, I don’t know why. The Hague used to seem stuffy and snooty to me, and in fact I was told, years ago, that the Dutch themselves use the term haagse, "haguish" I suppose would be the translation, to mean something like nose-in-the-air.

In recent years that’s changed, and The Hague seems more like Los Angeles, or Sydney, less like ... well, the Boston of old. I suppose Boston has changed similarly.

The Binnenhof is at the center of The Hague: it’s the complex of governmental buildings, a fine old castle of a complex, in fact, its oldest rooms dating back to the 13th century. That’s it on the right, the brick building with all the dormers, beyond the pond which itself is, I suppose, a remnant of the old defenses around the castle.

Above and beyond the Binnenhof rise three of the many new buildings which have so changed The Hague, brought it into the late 20th century you might say. Twenty years ago I would have hated all this, but now that I’m seventy years old I better understand that Change is not a jerky motion from one state to another, it is the constant flux, stately at some times, astonishingly quick at others, without which there is no life.

And here in The Netherlands this change, at least in this period, is being done with such style; and the style contains so much good humor! The sharp brick gables on the rose-and-blue skyscraper at the right comment on traditional Dutch canal houses, and more specifically on the gothic roofs of the Binnenhof. That curious copper-blue-green cupola on the brick tower to the left of them -- some architect’s comment on the dome, of course; but also the traditional structure of the once-ubiquitous Dutch windmill, lacking its sails.

In the foreground, the Dutch fondness -- an obsessive fondness, really -- with sculpture. And how the substantial Haagse lady in her pink T-shirt confronts this green abstracted speedwalker, and how the jets of the fountain beyond him lend angel’s plumage to his shoulders!

The people in the boat -- you won’t believe this -- are installing another sculpture, a temporary one I suppose, consisting of gaily colored spheres floating in the pond. I don’t know if they’ve finished and are rowing away, or whether they’re towing it around the pond, or whether it’s chasing them; it doesn’t seem to matter.

I think that’s the Mauritshuis beyond the trees, which in fact are growing on an island in the pond. The Mauritshuis is one of the finest art museums in the world, home to splendid Vermeers and Rembrandts and Ruisdaels, to Paulus Potters’s amazing portrait of a magnificent bull, and Carel Fabritius’s tender and mysterious portrait of a goldfinch.

Everything comments on everything else. This is urban landscape as conversation, a conversation marking a protracted present moment in a long and generally prosperous history of a civil and cultured society. I love it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Books, books, books

AMONG MY FAILURES: keeping current with my reading of current material. So only now do I see the December 5 (2005) issue of The Nation, the annual “Fall Books” issue, with its opening sidelong glance at Georges Perec (whose W, or The Memory of Childhood I finished reading this morning), and its reviews of Canetti’s final memoir instalment, and biographies of Voltaire and Rousseau and Laurence Olivier, and Andrew Delbanco’s biography of Melville.

Now as many of my friends and family know I contribute to my failure to keep current with literature a terrible foible I’ve cultivated for years: I like to read authors chronologically; that is, to read their books in the order in which they were written. Clearly I violate this principle from time to time: I’ve read Rousseau’s Confessions and Voltaire’s Candide, but nothing else of these indispensable progenitors of Modernism.

From time to time there are errors of reading, as when I thought W, or the Memory of Childhood was an earlier work than in actually is, and discover that it belongs instead to the middle of Perec’s output: so now I have to loop back; and I sentence myself to recapitulating Perec’s work next before I get to move on to anything else...

So Canetti will have to wait; I have not read Canetti at all.

And the Melville survey, beautifully begun with Typee and Mardi and Omoo, won’t move on to Redburn this year.

All these musings are set in motion by a chance intersection: Vivian Gornick’s review of Delbaco’s Melville with a letter to the editor of The Nation by one Bill Halsey, responding to a review last October of Joseph Horowitz’s Classical Music in America. Halsey points out that the reviewer (Russell Platt) had overlooked the role of recorded music “in destroying a musical culture [the American musical culture] that [had] produced great musicians.”

Halsey presents two signal results of the commercial success of recorded music: it deprived many, probably most musicians of their livelihood; and it “created a class of canonical performers... and music became consumed with imitating the past.”

Gornick laments the lack of a “grand theme” in Delbanco’s biography of Melville, contrasting his work with “the truly grand terms” with which Melville was presented in F.O. Matthiessen’s classic Amierican Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, which appeared over sixty years ago.

“...[T]he tragic vision of Man Against Nature, our own Innate Depravity, the guilty need for Crucified Innocence, the Malign Intelligence of existence itself -- those terms were fresh, original, exhilarating,” Gornick writes. “Today they are worn thin, in criticism and biography alike.”

Here of course is yet another example of a Present failing by comparison with the Past. “The problem is one of imagination,” as Gornick herself writes.

So I return to Perec, looking forward to Melville (and, of course, a resumption of Henry James). Why these novels? Because, as the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk writes in yet another piece in this yellowing issue of The Nation, “The novel, like orchestral music and post-Renaissance painting, is... one of the cornerstones of European civilization, it is what makes Europe what it is, the means by which Europe has created and made visible its nature...

“I am speaking now of the novel as a way of thinking, understanding and imagining, and also as a way of imagining oneself as someone else.”

This exactly describes Georges Perec’s W, or The Memory of Childhood. W is the name of a fantastic island off Tierra del Fuego, an island whose perfectly organized society centers on a cruel and efficient obsession with Sport. The Memory of Childhood is an account of a presumably Jewish childhood in French Savoy during World War II. The two accounts, at first apparently completely unrelated, interrupt one another in a presentation that alternates nervously between them, but they converge as the book continues; at the end you might think W either a parable of the insanity of Hitler’s Europe, or the first fictional attempt by the child whose early days are being remembered; or perhaps both are true.

Perec is a marvelous literary stylist. (He’s best known, I suppose, for his long novel La Disparition, translated into English as A Void: a long novel that dispenses entirely with the letter “E,”) But he is also a keen social commentator: he knew as well as Jean-Jacques Rousseau that it is in the novel that Europe thinks, understands, and imagines, and thereby unites experience and the consideration of experience. His first novel, Things, is a brilliant insight into the commoditarian culture of the late 20th century. I look forward to continuing with him.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Coffee Time

THE BAD NEWS IS, it’s in Palo Alto. Not very likely I’m going to drive two hundred miles for coffee, not even really good coffee.

But the good news is, my very favorite coffee in the world is now available here in the USA, and it’s only a couple of hours away. And after all I do occasionally get down near Palo Alto. And, who knows, maybe they’ll ship me a pound from time to time.

We’re talking about Cafe del Doge here. I first ran into this rich, complex, yet completely friendly coffee in Venice, in the café by that name, not that far from the Rialto as I recall -- it was a little while ago.

Later I found it in Treviso, a few miles north of Venice. In Italy Cafe del Doge has a fairly good web presence, but the coffee itself was nowhere to be found outside the Veneto, where it’s blended and roasted. In Rome, for example, no one I asked had heard of it. Oh well: Tazza d’Oro wasn’t a bad substitute, while we were in Rome.

Here in northern California, though, my favorite coffee remained Mr. Espresso, which we’ve been drinking for years -- at home, at the bar upstairs at Chez Panisse, and at the Downtown Bakery here in Healdsburg.

I like Mr. Espresso and I like Carlo who runs the company. His mechanics have done a good job keeping our old Faemina running. When you depend on a machine that’s a half-century old for your morning coffee you come to appreciate that.

So I felt a little disloyal a couple of months ago when a new roastery opened in Oakland, providing a coffee very close to Tazza d’Oro -- so close I had to switch to Blue Bottle.

Blue Bottle sells a number of blends. It’s the Romano blend that approximates Tazza d"Oro, and you have to get it early in the week; it seems to sell out quickly. Then too there are only so many places you can find it: the Berkeley farmers’ market, the Oakland roastery but only Monday and Friday. And the "kiosk" in San Francisco, on Linden Street a few doors west of Gough, in Hayes Valley.

We stopped at the kiosk yesterday for an espresso. At about 3:30 there was a line of perhaps a dozen people patiently waiting at the counter; the line trailed out onto Linden Street itself -- fortunately a little-trafficked alley.

But they were out of Romano. Too bad, as I wanted to taste it right then, to compare it with what lingered in memory of Doge -- for we’d stopped at Caffé Doge about noon.

THE CAFE ITSELF, at 419 University Avenue, Palo Alto’s Main Street, is stylish, comfortably exciting, at least to me. There was a real Italian working the machine: his English is pretty shaky, and you’re better off talking to him in Italian. I asked him what Caffe del Doge was doing in California: we have a friend here, he answered simply, and he made this possible.

We had a delicious cup of the Doge Rosso, which is one hundred percent Arabica, and we split a prosciutto sandwich, a panino on a soft rectangular roll, not too soft of course, with a little butter and a good supply of lettuce and a very judicious amount of pickle -- a beautifully calibrated set of flavors. And then I had a second ristretto, this time Doge Nero, which is a blend of Arabica with other coffees: I find it less redolent, less chocolatey, but Lindsey thinks it smoother. So we bought three quarters of a pound of each, in the bean, and soon we’ll see how well they serve as our every-morning coffee, taken by Lindsey with a great deal of hot milk, really a sort of café au lait, and by me more as a cappuccino.

And I have a hunch I’ll be switching brands for the second time in just a few months. Sorry, Mr. Espresso; sorry, Blue Bottle; I love you both, and I’ll dally with you again from time to time. But for now my heart’s in the Veneto.

WELL, THAT HAVING BEEN WRITTEN, we’ve had breakfast. Lindsey: You know, I like the Blue Bottle better. This [Doge] has a bitter undercurrent.

She's right, of course. But it has to be pointed out that she puts a lot of milk in her coffee, or rather a very little amount of coffee in her milk. I made my usual breakfast caffelatte with less milk than usual the second time, and liked it more. But the fact is that Doge, in my opinion, does not carry milk well: a doge is not a cow. It makes a fine espresso and a fabulous ristretto,, both with the requisite amount of sugar. (The need of espresso for sugar is a subject for another day.)

So after we've run through this supply it'll be back to Blue Bottle. Unless something else turns up in Portland next month.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Winter Moon

THEY SAY YOU GET to see one thousand moons. Well, that’s what I remember reading somewhere the Chinese say, or used to say; one thousand moons. At thirteen per year, on the average, I’m seeing number nine hundred fifteen, and I must say I am enjoying this one.

It’s cold and clear, a perfect winter night. Orion lies on his back low in the south on his short ride to the horizon. We have been eating well and visiting with friends. Winters are made for this.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Nathan Rubin 1929-2005

ABSURD, OF COURSE, to have a favorite musical instrument, or even to prioritize among them. But the violin has a special place. Maybe it’s because it was the first instrument I played in public. It was in 1940 or ’41, and I was in an orchestra of children, playing “Kitty-cat Waltz” on Treasure Island, during the World’s Fair. I distinctly remember the little girl next to me; her nervousness apparent in an unfortunate and inappropriate release of fluid; and I remember the sound of gunshots, from the nearby Sally Rand Nude Ranch.

I like writing music for violin and other stringed instruments, and I particularly like writing for the combination of soprano voice and violin. And over the years I’ve been lucky to hear the results played by some fine musicians.

Today a memorial service was held at Mills College for one of them: Nathan Rubin, who died suddenly last October when he apparently tripped on a sidewalk and fell, striking his head on a concrete driveway. He never regained consciousness. It was an absurd end for a man whose most memorable quality, to me, was his grace.

He was a graceful, intelligent, sensitive man; and he was also a shy man, I believe, and when I first met him I was as shy as he and for better reason, and so I never really knew him, knew him as a friend I mean, and that was my loss.

I knew him first as the concertmaster of the Oakland Symphony. I particularly remember his playing in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, when his solo playing seemed to be exactly right -- his tone and expression completely realized the ache, the yearning, the ineffable awareness of life and death and nature that Mahler stands for in his best moments, and his playing lacked the ego and self-pity and complaint that produce what some think are Mahler’s worst moments.

That was over forty years ago, that Mahler performance, but in each of the few encounters I had with Nate since then it seemed to me the same things held -- he was a remarkably consistent man, always occupied, always giving full measure to the occupation of the moment.

Nate was a remarkable sight-reader. You could give him a new piece in graphic notation, for example: he would ask only the least, most efficiently phrased questions, or often no questions at all, and would tuck his violin under his chin and play the piece effortlessly and with complete comprehension.

He spoke more often with his bow than with his larynx when it came to talking about music. It always seemed to me that he engaged the world with his ear and his bow, and so I knew nearly nothing about his verbal life, his life as reader and writer. Again, my loss; though I respect the grace and range of his book John Cage and the Twenty-six Pianos, which he sent me with a little note:

Dear Charles, Here, with the compliments of the house. (Is that the right phrase?)

With Nate it was always the right phrase; to me his life, busy and amazingly diverse as its activities were, was a single effortless phrase, lyrical, aware and easy and above all graceful though not without an undercurrent of amusement at how small we performers are in the face of the larger totality within which we’re simply momentary events and minor processes.

This morning, as I was thinking about all this, I listened to a performance of the Cavatina reproduced above. Nate and Judy Hubbell performed it, years ago, in Hertz Hall, on a concert I couldn’t attend because I was visiting another friend, a much closer one, who was going into emergency surgery. The surgery was successful, Hippocrates be praised; and the concert was recorded, Apollo be praised. And so while musicians come and go, the music continues forever; that’s the pleasure and solace and purpose of music, it is a way par excellence we mortals have of intersecting and participating with the Infinite.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

8: Closing the Amsterdam dispatch book

Healdsburg, a week later

AND SO WE’RE HOME again, after a final uitsmijter in an ordinary bar-cafe in the Marriott Hotel, and a trudge back to our hotel the Prinsen, shuffling through new-fallen snow and chuckling at the windshields, on half of which someone had scraped the word BRASIL through the snow, and getting up next morning at six to take the tram and the train to the airport, and then spending six hours at the Atlanta airport because San Francisco was all backed up because of the storm.

And we’ve unpacked, and sat stuck in the house two or three days because the river was up over the road, and six days in the Netherlands seem an awful long time ago, until I look back over my notes, to find:

A'dam details home mentally ill; hotels tech (iens, metro...)

Yes, that strange and beautiful building across from our hotel room was a mental hospital. Richard and Marta found that out the day we went to Hans and Anneke’s anniversary party: that night the hospital had a party of its own, with musicians in many of the rooms, and apparently even outside, and everyone staff patients visitors and all seemed to be having a good time; What’s going on, Richard asked someone, Christmas party came the answer, and the other details.

I may not have mentioned (though perhaps I have, in which case forgive me) that the Dutch have four days of Christmas: St. Nicholas’s Day on Dec. 2, I think it is, when gifts are exchanged; Christmas Day on the 25th, when one visits one’s parents; Second Christmas Day on the 26th, when one has a nice quiet day at home; Jan. 6, Epiphany, when one celebrates the end of Christmas. This is all part of that Dutch fondness for gezelligheid, for comfort and company and snug domesticity -- “values” more bourgeois than Calvinist, perhaps; but values it’s hard to argue with.

* * *

I DIDN’T WRITE MUCH about Hans and Anneke’s celebration, because, well, one doesn’t write publicly about the closely-held narrative of one’s friends. (I already felt I’d overstepped propriety a bit a few pages back, in writing about Kees’s restaurant Marius.) But our friendship with this family has given us some insight into what seems to me a characteristically Netherlandish approach to weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas: and over and again I come away from these insights, and the experiences suggesting them, with real respect for the “values,” the attitudes and even the institutions, that underlie them.

I am not religious myself, and certainly not monotheistic; but I don’t begrudge others their rituals. Heer, dank U voor het lekkere eten (Lord, thank you for the delicious eats) doesn’t seem a bad beginning to a comfortable meal, once past the first word. And a longish but not quite too long disquisition on Generosity and Gratitude at an anniversary was certainly something to think about.

The speaker, in fact a minister, suggested that a good marriage is a gift; we ought to be grateful for it, and recognize the generosity of the source of the marriage -- after all, no one forced any power to grant it. But one ought also to recognize that with the gift came a responsibility to make the best of it, to tend it -- even to improve what Nature, as I prefer to think of it, has given. I thought, of course, about our own marriage, and those of a number of close friends and relations; and I looked around at the guests -- over a hundred people, nearly all at least as old as we are (excluding the children and grandchildren of the anniversary couple). A surprising number had celebrated their own golden anniversary, or soon would; though a number of course were widows or widowers, and the event had its bittersweet quality when one saw one of those wiping away a tear or two.

* * *

THAT PARTY WAS IN Apeldoorn, as I’ve said, a hundred kilometers or so east of Amsterdam, and we stayed there one night at the Kaiserskroon Hotel, where the party was given. Quite a contrast with the Prinsen! Spa, pool, gym, restaurant, bar; busboys and waitresses; easy chairs and couches... and a bed nearly as big as our room at the Prinsen, and a room nearly as big as our floor at the Prinsen. You begin to think in terms of area, of square feet, when you spend much time in Amsterdam, where real estate, being confined, is precious. (One friend recently bought a house in a tiny town in Friesland. Why Friesland? A house there cost the same as a single garage in Amsterdam.)

But the Kaiserskroon, like the Prinsen, like all hotels I’ve stayed in in the Netherlands in the last few months, has no free highspeed internet connection! In the States we’ve come to expect that as a given at the cheap motels we stay in, the Comfort Inns and Econolodges. In Apeldoorn as in Amsterdam you are invited to sign on to a Swiss provider that costs as much for a day as ISPs charge here for a month. I think I know why: Internet connectability has become such a popular request that the providers have realized there’s money to be made here: why give it away free, or at a minimal charge?

And to compound the irritation, the Amsterdam internet parlors don’t allow you to bring in your own laptop, as I’ve done in Italy and Spain and here in the States. So we get our e-mail in the Netherlands the old slow way, connecting to the telephone; and we have to forgo web-surfing.

That’s too bad, because the Netherlands has two or three first-rate restaurant-listing websites. I use one a lot: IENS, named for its proprietor Iens _______; you can find it at The reviews are not wholly reliable, coming from apparently too small a Zagat-like sample of contributors; but as usual reading between the lines helps sort things out, and the hard information -- hours, phone number, address -- are indispensable.

I use IENS rather than Simple Bites, whose reviews are more reliable, because you can put IENS on your Palm, and I’d never go anywhere without the Palm -- in a pinch it sends and receives e-mail, it keeps my journal, our address book and calendar, the Oxford English Dictionary and a fairly adequate Dutch-English dictionary.

And a wonderful thing called METRO, which tells you how to get from A to B via tram or metro in any of 329 cities, from Aachen to Zwickau, and including Tampa, Tashkent, Tbilisi, and Timisaora. One of these days I’ll have to install the BART database, to see how well it works here: the Amsterdam one is first-rate, giving tram options for all sorts of places -- it’s how we decide how to get to Marius, for example, from our hotel near Leidseplein.

With all this equipment in your belt-pack you can look up a restaurant in the next town, phone it and make a reservation while you’re walking out in the heath or dunes or forest, and we’ve done this from time to time on our rambles across the Netherlands -- though this six-day jaunt scarcely left time (or weather, come to that) for rambling. The country’s flat enough that cell phones and wi-fi work very well indeed. On longer trips, when we cross a border, we simply change phone chips in our little phone, so our calls are never international; you can get a chip with ten minutes of calls for ten euros or so, and recharge it as necessary. On this trip I spent twenty euros, I think, for the phone, and didn’t come close to exhausting its credit, which will be there for me next time we’re in the country.

* * *

AND WE WILL BE in the Netherlands again this year, no doubt; we’re drawn to it by a mysterious attraction. As I apologized in advance to Richard at the beginning of our Amsterdam visit: I am tediously enthusiastic about the country. After all these years there are still corners we don’t know at all. And the literature continues to turn up, in the library, in used-book stores, among the latest publications. Of them I would particularly recommend:

James Boswell: Boswell in Holland. Edited by Frederick Pottle as part of the Yale edition of The Private Papers of James Boswell, this volume appeared in 1952. In it the 23-year-old Boswell is in Utrecht, sent there by his despairing father to study law; and in addition Dutch, French, Latin, and love, all of which he records with charming detail.

Simon Schama: The Embarrassment of Riches. This study of what the Dutch call The Golden Century -- the 17th century,when a country of farmers, fishermen, sailors, merchants, and clerics somehow made the first modern Republic -- truly a sort of Venice of the north, founded on trade, exploration, and expert seamanship, enabling them to war successfully with Spain and then England. Schama explores the Dutch temperament across this century, across the complex social classes (never quite rigid in this country), disclosing the national qualities that still inform an enlightened populace.

Geert Mak: Amsterdam. Alas I read a library copy of this book, and took few notes -- because Mak, a popular Dutch journalist, writes so effortlessly and charmingly that you just keep reading and before you know it it’s finished. Mak focusses on the city, but writes about its entire history, from its founding in the 13th century up to the great social changes of the 1970s. We plan to spend a month in Amsterdam one of these years, and this book will be an indispensable guide, not only to the geography but also and especially to the temperament. Amsterdammers have lived through incredibly hard times, and probably have hard times still to face -- don’t we all? But they have responded with a unique kind of tenacity, combining fierce defense with pragmatic tolerance. Mak discusses this, and the great Dutch preoccupation with societal provisions (prisons, almshouses, public housing), and the preoccupations with comfort and collecting, turning up fascinating individuals along the way, drunks, bigots, heroes, and ordinary people with extraordinary detail.

Sacheverell Sitwell: The Netherlands. Sitwell concentrates on art, costume, and social life, describing maritime Netherlands (he does not visit Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland apart from Het Loo, or Limburg and North Brabant) as he found it just after World War II. I know I’ve used the word “charm” a bit too often, but it’s needed again here.

And I must include a book that meant a great deal to me when I was ten or twelve, and which continues to fascinate me, and which undoubtedly began my extravagant love for things Netherlandish:

Hendrik Willem van Loon: Van Loon’s Lives. Stuck in the little town of Veere, in the remote maritime province of Walcheren, during World War II, the author invites a series of great historical figures to dinner, writing a little biography of each of them to introduce them to his cook and houseman, then describing the evening that follows. Rossini cooks dinner for Chopin who serenades Emily Dickinson one night; Torquemada and Robespierre squabble another; Leonardo, Mozart, Peter the Great, St. Francis, Thomas Jefferson -- all appear; only one guest refuses. The jacket squib calls the book a Handbook of Intellectual Liberalism, and that’s not a bad description. It’s also a testament to the Dutch intellectual and moral tradition, for van Loon wisely chooses Erasmus as his advisor in all these proceedings. It’s a wonderful book, witty and discursive, with comments on food, art, music, governance, and history of course, and charmingly -- there it is again! -- illustrated by the author.

And with that, finally, you’ll be happy to know, I end these Amsterdam dispatches, and 2005. We’ll stay home for a few weeks, and then go back to Portland. Maybe I’ll write you from there.

Previous dispatches from this trip to Amsterdam:

Sunday, January 01, 2006

High Water

THE RIVER’S UP again here on Eastside Road. The road itself is about five feet below that brown water stetching out across the road, the vineyards, the new county park, the river itself, and the vineyards on the other side of the river -- I suppose about a mile and a half altogether.

We’ve been here before, and the drill is familiar. Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, Therese and Eric spent the day moving everything upstairs from downstairs. We helped; so did two friends from Healdsburg. A couple of thousand books, but they were the easiest part. Furniture that couldn’t be moved easily -- the dining table, for example -- was fitted out with garbage-bag booties. Sawhorses and scaffolds were set up in the living room; we took all the interior doors down and laid them across them, and piled the lighter furniture on top.

We still have power and telephone, as of 10 am New Year’s Day, so we’re better off than a lot of people. The main immediate problem is that we’re isolated; it will be a couple of days before we can drive out -- unless it continues to rain badly upstream, in which case it will be longer. We can walk out across the hill behind us; it would take about an hour or so to walk to town, longer if it’s raining of course.

The other immediate problem is that our well is under water, and the water is full of unpleasantness -- I won’t go into that, except to note that Santa Rosa’s main sewage-treatment plant, well south of us, was breached. That won’t affect us, but closer leachfields, barns, fertilizer and insecticide stores are undoubtedly making their contribution.

It’s funny to look out at all this water less than a week after flying home from the Netherlands. Clearly we have a lot to learn, in this country, about governmental administration of floodplains, roads, levees, bridges and the like. Perhaps after we get through rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq we’ll have time to deal with this.

Speaking of the Netherlands, I’ll try to post the dispatches written from there on my website soon -- when I get to a high-speed internet connection. That may take a while!