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2008-08-08 20:42

The radio, its silence

Notwithstanding the storms, we're on holidag in Zonnig Twente for a week from tomorrow.

Don't let Belgium do anything we wouldn't do while we're gone!

2008-08-07 19:57

Smrgaaspost

1. Slavering Slavoj!

It's been too too long since our favourite Slovenian Lacanian-Hegelian showed up on the 'bladet, and our Varied Reader will be especially delighted that he has chosen the Zwedish language for interview.

Our Varied Reader may or may not in particular be especially delighted that we no longer feel up to translating it: our Zwedish is not what it was by a long chalk.

2. Belgium, man! Belgium!

If you've ever wondered what Ian Buruma makes of Belgium, you're in luck!

His opinion (which we're sure we've read somewhere else recently and which is more or less also ours) is that Belgium is in fact a Good Thing because it is one of the few Western European nation-states that hasn't fabricated a false mytho-history of Glorious Ethnic Homogeneity, and that the nation states which have bought into the Blood and Soil stuff have not in the past especially covered themselves in glory along the way.

Still, Loser-Boy Leterme is still in place, and the king is undoubtedly looking forward to more long nights of inconclusive negociation the next time he tries to resign. (They can't have new federal elections because the arrangements of certain constituencies have been found unconstitutional, and that is one of the stickiest sticking points. Only in Belgium, eh?)

(If they'd just kept voting for our personal polical hero, Groovy Guy Verhofstadt, none of this would have happened of course. And let that be a lesson to them.)

3. Why we were so late home last night

Smurrie on the road:

Het verkeer op de rondweg rond Groningen heeft woensdag aan het einde van de middag langdurig hinder gehad van smurrie die uit een tankwagen was gespoten. De ellende begon rond 's middags om vier uur en eindige tegen half acht 's avonds.

Traffic on the Groningen ringroad was disrupted for a long time on Wednesdag afternoon by smurrie that spilled from a tanker. The trouble started around four in the afternoon and ended around half past seven in the evening.

Apparently it was organic waste on its way to be turned into biofuel, so we for one feel entitled to blame the hippies. They were probably too stoned to put the lid on properly.

(Disclaimer: we have nothing vigorously against sane biofuel plans, if in fact there are any.)

2008-08-04 14:33

Holidag fotossay

Tageblatt, a Luxembourg paper:

A Luxembourg zupermarkt's display of Champagne and zparkling wineage:

A breather at the aires:

There is a romantic notion that the French shop at markets and boulangeries and piceries and maybe in some parts of the country they do: our little sister tells us that the street markets in Provence (the old Tuscany, Our Varied reader surely remembers it) are spectacular.

In Vitry-le-Franois, however, they are not.

Where the French actually shop is at hypermarkets, such as this one at Vitry-le-Franois:

and inside (the bier aisle, as it happens):

The rondaboute de triomph at Vitry-le-Franois (note: vous n'avez pas la priorit):

(Incidentally, we didn't get a shot of it, but there was a McDonalds just next to the rondaboute de triomph and it looked to be doing brisk business. You can eat a lot better in France than McDonalds - and we did - but not for 99 cents a burger.)

The internal configuration of the tent:

Some champagne, as seen in Champagne. We don't think it's quite ready yet, though:

The beach at Presqu'le de Larzicourt on Lac du Der Chantecoq on a zonnig dag. It isn't exclusive to the campsite or anything so by all means help your many selves if you're ever in the area:

Trier and its Biergartens. This was right next to the Gate of Blackness, and as they always do, the Chermans had thoughfully arranged for refreshments to be at hand.

Trier and its Gate of Blackness, being what the Romans ever did for them.


2008-08-04 12:25

In which I belatedly administer some administration

Only a year or three after the old one terminally broke, we have rushed to install a new guestbladet.

Let's see how long this one lasts, h?

2008-08-03 16:22

What you mean "us", Silly Engleesh?

[Title joke ruined, if required]

It is tehgrauniad having a jolly old huffenpuff about the decline in langwidge-learning in dear old Blighty's so-called schools:

In 2002, secondary schools were relieved of the obligation to make students take at least one foreign language at GCSE. As a direct consequence, as a report in The Observer today shows, language learning is in crisis. The numbers of children sitting French and German GCSE are in freefall.

(GCSEs are the exams typically taken at 16. About 8-10 per pupil is normal, before - for the "academic" pupils 3 or 4 A-levels are taken at 18. This is a pretty stupid way to run an education system, but there you go.)

Our theory - which is ours - is that the UK government felt insulted and demeaned by the many studies that have claimed that Blighty is only the second worst in Yoorp at languages - after Hungary, of all places - and has taken this bold measure to restore the country's natural leadership in insularity.

2008-08-03 16:00

Moondag review of stuff - kitchen gadget special

1. Panasonic the-one-with-the-seed-dispenser bread machine

[This is the latest, bought ("purchased") yesterdag and tried out overnight.]

So far we've only tried Supermarkt Bread Mix, but we have to say it is very very delicious. What we want next is to source some flour to make that Cherman bread with just enough rye to make it interesting without turning into the full Dwarf (rgge?) bread

2. Random rice cooker

We got this a while ago, largely because it was very cheap indeed, and it quickly achieved Most Favoured Gadget status. All it does is cook rice, but it takes all the skill and judgement out of the process, and we love it dearly for that.

3. Random espresso maker

We got this as a "free" gift with a subscription to the popular science magazine Quest, and we use it on weekdags since - to our surprise but as the name in fact suggests - it is quicker to make espresso than gewone koffie.

4. Wooden Cherman breakfast tray

It remains a mystery to us where you can get a proper Cherman breakfast tray with a little hollow to serve as a neggcup, but in the meantime we have one (each) without a little hollow to serve as a neggcup, and that is at least better than just a plate if your breakfast - like ours - is mostly made out of bread with Stuff and Other Stuff on it.

5. Schnitzel hammer

Another reason to cross the border, since these are hard to come by on this side of it, this is only really useful for hammering schnitzels. But an unhammered schnitzel is after all unthinkable, as is a schnitzel-free life, so we didn't really have much choice with that one.

2008-08-03 14:50

On the shocking neglect of Bottom-Saxon

It is the Gelderlander, since that is what our friends at Google found first, with tidings of some sadness:

Nederland moet meer doen aan de bescherming van de officieel erkende streektalen Fries, Nedersaksisch en Limburgs. Dat vindt de Raad voor Europa.

The Netherlands must do more to protect the officially recognised regional languages Frisian, Bottom-Saxon and Limburgish, according to the Council of Europe.

Before we go on, two(2) points of terminology. First, the Council of Europe is not part of the EU. (Everyone always thinks it is, but it isn't. Check your preferred source for further details as required.)

Second, a "regional language" is, by definition, not a dialect of the national langwidge. There is of course no satisfactory linguistic definition of a "dialect": this is essentially a political question. But since we are in fact doing politics this is perfectly OK.

Third (we miscounted), Frisian enjoys "Level 3" protection, which actually counts for something and is accordingly doing OK. Bottom-Saxon and Limburgish have Level 2 protection, which has so far amounted to approximately nothing.

The gist of the story is that the national government has punted on doing anything for the Level 2 langwidges and suggests that the provincial governments should take up the slack. The Limburgish government more or less has, but Bottom-Saxon has the misfortune of being split across the provinces of Drenthe, Groningen, Gelderland and (um, we think) Overijssel, which have not got their act especially together either collectively or individually.

"In het taalgebied van het Nedersaksisch hebben ouders de neiging die taal niet meer aan hun kinderen te leren. De mondialisering speelt een rol. Mensen vinden n taal vaak ook genoeg. Je ziet dat typisch lokale woorden steeds minder gebruikt worden", zegt Lex Schaars, de Achterhoekse dialectoloog van het Staring Instituut.

"In the language-area of Bottom-Saxon parents tend not to teach their children the language. Globalisation plays a role. People find also often find one language enough. You see that distinctively local words are used less often", says Lex Scissorses, the dialectologist of the Backcorner (region and dialect) of the Staring Institute.

We'd rather Bottom-Saxon thrived and/or prospered, for sure, and we have no problem at all recommending that taxpayers (dont nous) should cough up to make it possible. We wouldn't even really mind if a mild form of Bottom-Saxon (sub-)nationalisme came as part of the package. (Some of the more amusing Dutch Limburgers are firmly persuaded that they would be better off secceding and teaming up with the Belgian Limburgers in a shiny new Greater Limburg. So far they haven't taken to blowing things up or burning them down so as far as we're concerned they are mostly adding to the gaiety of nations.)

Meanwhile, if you fancy an earful of the local flavour of Bottom-Saxon (known imaginatively as Gronings), you can treat yourself to the weather reports from our local TV channel. This is simultaneously the only useful programme they make and hilariously indecipherable to the cosmopolitan Johnny-Come-Lately's (like us) that make up most of the population of "Stad" (as the city of Groningen is called in Gronings.) Beware though: there are two(2) weathermen, and only one(1) of them has the Straggly Walrus Moustache of the true weather prophet. If you get the baldy guy don't feel you have to believe anything he says (in the unlikely event that you actually understand anything he says).

The Countess understands it OK, and occasionally obliges us with a summary, but she grew up with the Twents flavour of Bottom-Saxon and even then it took her a while to retune.

2008-08-01 21:27

Mondag Review of Stuff, special holidagbladet edition

(We will blog the holidag itself at some future point, honest.)

1 Tageblatt [lu]

Luxembourg is - as our Varied Reader may possibly be aware - a country so small that if an area of tropical rainforest the size of it was cut down every week everyone would be all "well that's really not so bad then, is it?".

Nonetheless, Tageblatt feels very much like a Serious National Bladet - it reports on governments and international affairs and kulture and The Economy and the banking sector and all that sort of stuff and other stuff just the way that national papers in more extensive countries do.

It also has one very endearing novelty: it mixes French and Cherman stories at apparent random even within pages. There was very little sign of your Actual Ltzebuergesch, though - only the death announcements and the box inviting the submission of same were in the demotic vernacular. (The free newspaper in the dispenser outside the supermarket was exclusively in the Frenchy-French, but the periodicals inside were pretty much 50-50.)

2. L'Union (the department of Marne in the Champagne region)

This was something else altogether. The bulk of the paper was a collection of single-pages, each dedicated to one of the region's small towns or its environments, where we learned of the reception by the local mayor of those pupils who had obtained distinctions in their baccalaureates, the speech of the local mayor on 14 July, the promotions of firemen and - on one memorable frontpage - of a local man's unusually interesting collection of tobacco pipes. (We regret that we cannot tell our Varied Reader what was unusually interesting about that - we found ourself quite usually indifferent to it.)

The national and international news - including particularly the coverage of Le tour de France, which we were attempting to follow - was all squished in at the back.

Once we'd got the hang of checking the updates on radio RTL France (they're half hourly, bundled in with the news) and got also an ear for the radio weather report, the newspaper became an occasional luxury, not least because the nearest outlet where it was sold was a bit of a bike ride along a road where the speed limit was 110 km/h and cars were often doing just that.

3. Trierischer Volksfreund

Cherman local dagbladets are reliably a source of great joy for us: they have section after (admittedly very thin) section, covering (inter)national, broad local and microlocal news, motoring, property, (mostly local) arts and culture and sport. The Volksfreund sits squarely in that tradition - we like it just as much as the Hannover Algemeine Zeitung or the Oostfriesen Zeitung or any of the others our travels have put us in contact with.

For someone like us whose Cherman remains stubbornly ropey, this is a cornucopia of mostly decipherable tidbits, and a fine way to spend as much of your time as a travel-fatigued baby will consent to leave spare.

Plus, as some Dutch commentators have taken to pointing out with concern, a serious local press is a sine qua non for serious local democracy. (Neither is prospering in the Netherlands, although to be fair it is slightly smaller than Bottom Saxony.)

The Cherman model seems to thrive approximately nowhere else in Western Yoorp (the possible and fading example of the Free and Democratic Republic across the Atlantic might make an interesting comparison for someone competent to make it), and we for one don't think it is unrelated that Chermany is also approximately the only Yoorpian country in which the economic growth of the capital city of the nation is not also outstripping everywhere else by rather a lot. (We neglect the Barcelona of the Cataloonies: we find them tiresome. And we don't know a lot about the Switzyland, although we don't strongly object to it.)

2008-08-01 21:01

Mondag Review of Stuff

1. Michel Houllebecq, Particles lmentaires

We'd avoided Houllebecq for ages, on the grounds that accounts of his deviant misanthropies suggested he was some kind of Frenchy-French "Pingo" Amis.

But actually, he's what Pingo might've been like if he was any good. And there's a remarkable gentleness and wit to his nihilisme, which is a remarkable thing to have achieved.

It doesn't seem to go down all that well in Francophonia though - we had a devil of a time finding his stuff in France.

2. Fred Vargas, Un peu plus loin sur la droit and Sous les vents de Neptune.

We used to read old crime novels by the metric shedload - Agatha Cristie, Conan Doyle, and Ngaio Marsh, and even Ruth Rendell and P.D.James until they started to believe the Gumbies who kept telling them they were actually Serious Novelistes - but at some point we stopped in favour of actually Serious Novels.

And when we wanted to start again the field was dominated by the likes of Mankell and Rankin, who (if the blurbs are anything to go by) specialised in gritty social realism, which is fine, through the medium of grotesque serial killings, which are not.

We don't do serial killers: they are nasty, but (and which is worse) they are boring. "Boo hoo society is full of meanies I will kill a selection of strangers" doesn't really do it for us.

So we've been on the Cherry Cotton romanhefts and occasional Maigrets instead.

But Fred Vargas is genuinely big in France - every hypermarket has her [sic] stuff - and she turns out to be also really great.

The prematurely redundant civil servant turned loose cannon Kehweiler in Un peu, is our new favourite contemporary detective (like us, he is preoccupied with cuttings from provincial newspapers; unlike us he puts them to good use). The space-cadet commissaire Adamsberg in Neptune is a little less wonderful, but the plotting there is also bafflingly odd and (with hindsight) quite coherent.

Given that we only managed to read two and a half books on holiday, the fact that two of them were hers speaks for itself.

(We've had mixed reports of the Englishings, though.)

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