A quieter Christmas

Christmas this year was quite lovely albeit a little more low key than usual due to Covid 19 restrictions. Thankfully everyone I know is in good health, so we actually could still have a nice Christmas and see a few people.

This year we didn’t get to go to a Christmas market in Germany with two good friends of ours from college, like we do every year. At the Christmas markets we sometimes keep the commemorative mug from the Glühwein (mulled wine) that we usually drink then. This year there would be no Glühwein in mugs at markets like we’d been having for more than 20 years. So, I had our own commemorative mugs made with selfies from Christmas markets past, for Mr Esther, myself and for our two friends.

The text translates to “Due to Covid 19, a mug instead of a Christmas market. Merry Christmas 2020!”

We were going to try a socially distanced get together instead of a market at one of our friends’ houses about a week before Christmas but then the other friend canceled because she had some cold symptoms. Good thing she did too as she tested positive for Covid 19 a day later! She and her husband both had it, although luckily only mildly. I still wanted to get my mugs to our friends, so last Monday mini me and I drove to the healthy friend, handed her her mug and spent half an hour drinking tea with her at a distance. On Christmas Eve Mr Esther, mini me and I drove over an hour north and dropped off the other mug. We set it down infront of our other friend’s door and then, keeping a good distance outside despite her not having any symptoms anymore, we chatted across her front garden with her for about 15 minutes. It was good to bring a little Christmas cheer that way.

We had a nice drive back home coming through some typical Dutch landscapes and the picturesque town of Volendam, which was quite deserted due to the lockdown we’re now having…

Back at home again, we had a quiet Christmas Eve dinner with Junior’s girlfriend also present and we unwrapped a few small gifts with her as he wouldn’t be seeing her for the rest of Christmas. Afterwards I dedicated myself to finally reading the rest of my Michelle Obama “Becoming” book that I had bought second hand a while back and had started reading the first 3 or 4 chapters of but still needed to finish. The cats seized that opportunity to lie on and next to me.

One of my favourite things that day was my brother sending us a video of my mother reading the Christmas story from our old family bible. On Second Christmas Day (or Boxing Day, December 26th) we usually have a big family get together where she does that but, as the whole family get together wasn’t happening this year, I loved that my brother (who’s temporarily living with her) made that little video and sent it out. It’s one to cherish for the ages.

On Christmas morning, Mr Esther made us a nice brunch, we then unwrapped our gifts. I got lovely cat socks that I adore and chocolates from mini me, Junior got me Barack Obama’s “Promised Land” that I had wanted and Mr Esther got me a Audrey Hepburn calendar and a portable record player, so that I could play my old Bowie records. My fave thing that I got for Mr Esther was a “Blessed are the cheesemakers” t-shirt (a line from the brilliant Monty Python’s The Life of Brian). As Mr Esther is a cheese nerd, it felt like a very fitting gift for him.

Mr Esther has no siblings so we could adhere the ‘no more than 3 guests’ rule easily by inviting our in laws (whom we hadn’t seen in months) over for dinner. We table grilled. On Second Christmas Day in the afternoon we went to my mother and my brother and had a low key delicious turkey buffet dinner at her house.

In between these social activities we played a game or two and I read and read and read, really enjoying the Michelle Obama book. Today is a lazing around day, I finished the book a few hours ago but, even though I love the Obamas (even made a video once as they left office in January 2017), I need a little Obama break before I start Barack’s book.

Anyway, I hope all of you who celebrate in one way or another had a nice Christmas too. Now it’s back to the real world again, I guess. For me that means that from tomorrow I should become productive again (we have some storage clearing out to do). For now I’m loving the down time, though, so we’ll see if that happens.

Sunday

After going through depressing news and some Twitter this morning, and enjoying Linnet’s little song lyrics adaptation…

… I decided that today was needed to lift some spirits. Going out for a walk is always good as a mood lifter except that today I really didn’t feel like it and let Mr Esther go off alone on the long walk he had planned. I decided on a lazy Sunday at home instead.

I leafed through some more Letters From Hollywood, a lovely book that I had bought a few weeks ago while browsing through a book store.

There was also Sunday cuddling and playing on the couch with my black cat (I love those tiny vampire teeth) which was fun…

Folding laundry became a bit of a challenge when my ginger cat decided that lying in the middle of the bed, which also doubles as my folded laundry sorting station, was a good way of keeping me company…

And I also had some time for my latest Lucas Bryant fix, he had a new Hallmark movie out called The Angel Tree.

It was of course pretty standard Hallmark Christmas fare but really not too bad, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s been kinda quiet on the Lucas Bryant front. He did a Chrismas movie last year called Time For You To Come Home for Christmas which was alright but missed some spark for me (more due to the story than the leads). This fall he had another Hallmark movie called Country at Heart which was alright as well, but he wasn’t the lead guy, so that was a pity. This recent Hallmark movie he did that I saw today I liked best, so I took this screenshot for my screensaver (I love those flecks of grey in his beard)…

It’s dark now, Mr Esther’s cooking dinner and I’m looking forward to a nice glass of red wine to round off this lounging-around-the-house Sunday. Hope you are all having a good one as well.

Feierabend

The German word above, literally meaning “celebration evening”, is a good word. It’s what you call the end of the working day in Germany. Busy work week again for me and especially today was filled with lots of video meetings. Those really do get quite exhausting. Mr Esther must be even more exhausted, because he’s been at it with the video chats even longer than I have today and is now (at 6.45 pm as I type this) still working.

I worked some on my day off yesterday as well, so I stopped an hour early today, did the weekend grocery shop (supermarket gets much quieter here at the end of the afternoon) and now finally my Feierabend has come. I’m ready for the weekend…

… but, unlike Mr Esther, I still have work to do tomorrow. Maybe wait with the wine until Feierabend tomorrow?

Decided to enjoy my cats outside for a few moments (OK, picture of my black cat was taken yesterday but it sure is a really pretty picture of her!)…

… and I’m gearing up for a new book on my e-reader…

I’d gotten pretty worked up about that Audrey Hepburn book I read recently and I get very upset by the news (even though I’m not looking at social media so very much nowadays) and work is busy, so I want and need something calming now. My e-reader houses a whole collection of Georgette Heyer books that I’ve never read, to be accessed on just such an occasion when I need something light. I’ve only ever read one or two Heyers, I think now might be a good time to try a third.

Of course, just as Feierabend hits and I finally sit in our garden, the first drops of rain are starting to fall. Well, time for getting dinner ready anyway. Looks like my e-book needs to wait until this evening…

Dutch girl Audrey Hepburn

It’s no surprise to anyone reading here that I love Audrey Hepburn. During the Second World War she lived with her Dutch mother in and around Arnhem here in The Netherlands and last year I even made a little pilgrimage to see where she had lived exactly during the war. I also learned then that a book had just been published about those years in Audrey’s life, called “Dutch Girl : Audrey Hepburn and World War II” written by Robert Matzen. I bought it and it’s been laying around here for months, waiting to be read. Last week I finally did.

Audrey is important to me and reading this book was important to me, hence this long post about the book that in the end left me with very mixed feelings. Let me start with what I liked about the book.

The book gave me answers to my timeline questions I had about when Audrey lived where. She moved to the Sickeszlaan in Arnhem in December of 1939 (that much I knew), then 3 months later moved to apartments in the center of Arnhem at the Jansbinnensingel and was living there when the German invasion of The Netherlands happened in May 1940. Soon after August of 1942 she moved to the nearby town of Velp, where her grandfather and aunt lived, and stayed there till the end of the war in May 1945.

I also liked that the book gave more of a background to Audrey’s family. Her father was out of her life when she was young, so it centers around her mother, her aunts and her grandfather, who is a baron but not rich. Her half brothers Alex and Ian, born to her mother during her first marriage, are also mentioned and how one was sent away for forced labour in Berlin and the other had to go into hiding to escape that same fate…

… and there’s a big section on her aunt’s husband, Otto van Limburg Stirum who had been a prosecuting attorney but wouldn’t cooperate with the Nazis and was fired. He was later arrested and shot to death as an example and in retalliation to resistance activities that he had been no part of.

Audrey’s mother’s Nazi sympathies were also examined and it turned out they weren’t just sympathies. She wrote glowingly in two newspaper articles in the mid 1930s about Nazism and these sympathies continued till at least 1941.

Even after reading this, I’m not sure whether Ella really turned away from Nazism or whether, because of the war, it was more prudent to become anti-Nazi. Maybe she turned away from Nazism after the execution of her brother-in-law in August of 1942, after which she and Audrey moved from Arnhem to Velp to be with Ella’s father and newly widowed sister. Fact is that she did have a Nazi boyfriend at the beginning of the invasion and that Audrey did do dance recitals in Arnhem for Nazi audiences organized by her mother.

Audrey’s own brief mentions in various interviews about working for the resistance are also examined. There was an exhibition in 2016 at the Airborne museum near Arnhem about Audrey and, leading up to that, research had been done about claims that Audrey had worked for the resistance. If you read Dutch (or you could put it through Google Translate if you’re interested), there’s an article from 2016 which says that “Audrey Hepburn was not a resistance hero” as no evidence whatsoever was found for that in documents and archives. This book refutes that, due to interviews held with the children of Dutch resistance workers in Velp, where her activities were said to have taken place. She did dance to raise money for resistance activites when she lived in Velp and she did run errands for the nearby hospital which housed the resistance and she was in especially close contact with Dr. Hendrik Visser ‘t Hooft, who ran many resistance operations, and his children. Or so the author says from interviews he held.

I also appreciated reading more about the shelling and fighting Velp experienced at the end of the war, how close to where Audrey lived everything happened, how during the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 (of a “bridge too far” fame) hopes for liberation were dashed, how everyone in Velp took in refugees from Arnhem as the city was evacuated including Audrey’s family, how for a short period an airman was hidden in Audrey’s house (according to an interview with Audrey’s younger son). The last winter of the war was described, the famous “Hunger Winter”, and in some descriptions I also recognized stories my mother has told me of that time. Of how cold it was, about using tulip bulbs for food, there being no heat and every scrap of wood that could be found would be used for heating, how the V1 bombs sounded overhead and when the noise stopped suddenly, you knew it was dropping. Some of these things were brief Audrey quotes, most of the descriptions were of other eyewitness accounts in Velp which I found valuable to read. So yes, I did get a much better picture of what Audrey’s life probably had been like during the war.

Next to the positives of the book there were also some huge downsides for me. In hindsight, reading the jacket text on the author should have warned me, where it said Robert Matzen combined “airtight research with spellbinding narrative.” While reading the book I often wondered whether he was trying to write a novel based on facts and interviews or whether this was a proper study he was publishing. I had hoped for the latter.

I started to question the “airtight research” on page 3 where he referenced the 1935 Leni Riefenstahl Nazi Parteitag propaganda film as Triumph des Willen, without the ‘s’ at the end (it should be Willens). I figured maybe the editors had just missed a spelling mistake. A little further on he referenced the Dutch Heineken family (of the beer fame) as Heinekin. I mean, come on, the beer is so famous, can’t you even spell the name right? Such little mistakes started to annoy me. In an attempt to sound Dutch he said that Audrey had moved to “Arnhem Centraal”. That doesn’t sound right. Arnhem Centraal is what you would call the central train station. If he had said “Arnhem centrum”, that would have been correct. He references the Dutch beach town of Noordwijk as being “just north of Rotterdam”, which in US terms of distance might be OK, but in actuality it would have been far more accurate describing Noordwijk as just north of Leiden (or even north of The Hague if you want to reference a large city). Somewhere in the text he writes something about the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas and conjugates the name as “Sinter’s bag of toys and candy.” I have never heard it conjugated as “Sinter’s” before, “Sint’s” would be accurate.

I also questioned the Dutch researcher he used. There is this section in the book about Audrey’s mother, Baroness van Heemstra, seeking lodging via an ad in a newspaper in The Hague in 1944. There is discussion on why she would pick The Hague, some possible old connections are mentioned and then this quote comes along from the Dutch researcher who helped with the book:

When you enter the name ‘Van Heemstra’ in the digital pedigree system of the [municipal] archive, about 157 results pop up. I don’t know how they are exactly related to the baron or Ella, but is shows there have always been some connections between the city and this noble family.

Just because there are Van Heemstras in Den Haag doesn’t mean there is a direct family connection and even if there is, it’s quite a jump to think Ella wanted to move there because of them. I have direct cousins with my surname that I do not know at all. If I were her, I would have put far more research into that. So, with this statement even the Dutch researcher’s credibility was weakened for me.

I know these are just tiny details and why get worked up over those? But then, if these small, common details aren’t correct, what liberties were taken with facts that I know nothing of? So, throughout the whole book I was questioning this so-called “airtight” research.

In addition to my qualms about details I also got annoyed with the huge amount of embellishment in the text. Each section of the book starts with a section in cursive. Those sections take a part of Audrey’s later life and reference back to her war years. The author uses quotes from interviews and newspaper articles to paint a certain picture and because of the cursive you take it as a fictionalized description based on actual events. I was fine with those. The author, however, does this in the whole text as well. He is constantly trying to put himself in Audrey’s place and writing from her viewpoint, embellishing what he thinks happened but presenting it as fact. I sometimes felt he was quick to jump to certain conclusions. It’s as if he’s writing a novel at times. For instance, during a bombing when the family hides in the cellar…

The air raid siren had fallen silent and no none so much as breathed. All that could be heard now were aircraft motors and the occasional purring of German-made Spandau machine guns pointed skyward. Did the men in the planes know about the radio station upstairs? Would they go after that? There! There! The whistle of falling bombs! The four van Heemstras could not but cover heads with arms and pray, Onze Vader die in de hemel zijt…

How does he know these thoughts and what they did or didn’t pray in the cellar? And in another section he writes this after a bombing:

“They stepped outside into daylight. While the Baron surveyed the latest bullet holes and shrapnel damage to the structure and property, Audrey looked about her. Down the street toward the center of the village. a building blazed. It was somewhere around Thiele’s book shopperhaps the shop itself. The other way, up the street toward the north, one house on each side of the street was burning, and farther up, somewhere around the intersection with Ringallee, a building was fully engulfed with black smoke billowing skyward.”

How, I wondered, did he know that Audrey and her grandfather saw all this at that exact point in time? I turned to the notes and there it said,

“The picture I painted on 14 April as Audrey and the baron ventured outside is drawn from what was known to be going on that day. I can’t say for certain that Audrey stood on the street and looked left and right, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that she did, and if she did, that is precisely what she would have seen – based also on my many visits to the spot.”

I guess that really sums up the book of me – it’s a book full of painted pictures and jumping to conclusions, based on facts and interviews, but with so many thoughts and feelings added by the author. These two quotes are just small examples of what the book does on every page! Admittedly, most of those thoughts and feelings could be true, and Audrey has often said how much the war affected her, but I wished that the author had distinguished within the text itself what was fact and what was his own embellishment. I guess making those distinctions would have made the text not as literary but I would have trusted it more.

And finally, the source listing left much to be desired. Sure, there is a nice summing up of literature, but I would have liked more details on the interviews (who he spoke to, when, where, what was discussed?) and which archive sources he used. Were there no more details to be found as to what was happening with her brothers (maybe in letters or interviews with the brothers’ children) or even what their perspectives had been on their mother or baby sister Audrey? Did he have contact with the researchers from 2016 who said Audrey was not a documented resistance worker? I’m sure if I really took the time I could form a million more questions. So much was left open and not “airtight” to me.

The book has too many holes in it for me to be able to take it as the whole truth about Audrey’s life during the war. I’m sure large portions are accurate but I can’t unquestioningly trust it. The author completely emulates Audrey and thereby the book loses all sense of objectivity to me. I love Audrey Hepburn, I love seeing pictures of her youth…

… I love hearing about the context of her family, I love when positive and good things are said about her, but I also want the truth and I’m not sure I really get that here. In the end, this is an interesting book that writes in embellished fashion about what Audrey did and what Audrey possibly could have experienced during World War II.

I don’t regret reading the book but I did close it with a whole bag of mixed feelings. In the end I think I would have preferred just reading interview transcripts (from what Audrey has said herself in interviews, from what her sons said, from the interviews Robert Matzen held) with added known archival and literature references to give some context. For me that would have painted a far more accurate and trustworthy picture than this book did with all it’s embellishments

Grab six books

This morning before I started work I saw on Twitter that Dawn French had joined in on a Twitter hashtag called #grabsixbooks and that Jennifer Saunders had answered with her six books.

I only know a few of the books / authors the ladies mentioned but it was fun seeing their choices. I haven’t really looked at many other responses to that hashtag on Twitter yet, but thought it was fun anyway and this evening decided to pick some books as well. This is just a first gut-reaction, if I had to grab six books right at this moment it would be these…

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I’m sure after I post I’ll suddenly think of others. I haven’t read the Audrey Hepburn book yet (been meaning to for a long time) but it does symbolize my love for actors and for her, so she’s in.

Yesterday my brother showed me a picture he had found of me at 17 years of age, looking up from reading a magazine, and I thought it fit well with this post…

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He said to me with amusement, “This is still so like you today!”, which basically translates to a person who likes to sit on the couch and read. The medium is more often a laptop now than a magazine or book but he’s got a point. Showed the picture to Mr Esther and he laughingly agreed.

Speaking of laughing and reading, just spent some time reading and laughing about Guylty’s post comparing Richard Armitage to Dutch breakfast sprinkles. I could totally eat a sandwich with dark chocolate sprinkles while sitting on the couch and reading one of the #grabsixbooks books above.

2020-05-18 22_09_16-RA As Breakfast Sprinkles _ Guylty Pleasure
Picture source: screenshot taken from Guylty’s post

I’m not a huge Lucas fan, but it is Lucas sprinkles all the way for me!

Anyway, back to the topic: if you’re so inclined, I’d love to know in the comments or in a post of your own what your #grabsixbooks would be.