September 25, 2006

Jewelry and book

A couple of weeks ago at lunch, I was telling a colleague about my frustrating search for jewelry to wear to the wedding we'll be going to in the US. I found a nice-enough necklace, but my search for good earrings was hopeless. Big and ostentatious is what is in, so after visting at least 4 shops, I couldn't find something that didn't look like it was something to wear on a night on the town or to an 80's party. Fortunately this colleague told me about a website where she'd bought a few pieces of jewelry (including the ring she was wearing). They're an art deco shop near Utrecht, selling just about anything in an art deco style (furniture, wallpaper, lamps), and I could order online, so no need to drag myself to another shop! Plus I love that style, it was just what I was looking for. I had a look at the site after she sent me the link and, though the prices were a bit higher than what I hoped to pay, there were some pieces I already really liked. In the end I bought a set of matching earrings and necklace, in silver and crystal to go with the black and white of the dress I'm wearing:

I really like them; O, who doesn't like any jewelry, said "At least it's simple." Thanks. At least he appreciates the dress a bit.

On another topic, now that I'm on to a new book, which I didn't choose but am reading for a book club which L has put together, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the book I just finished, Saturday. It had been on my wishlist, mostly based on what I read about it when it came out. I've not read anything by Ian McEwan before, but I thought this was an excellent novel and I don't enjoy novels very often anymore. I think I enjoy fiction more when it's less serious or less likely to really happen, like Christopher Moore books or I really liked the last Harry Potter that I read, Order of the Phoenix. When I read fiction that has more of a basis in everyday life, I usually find that it's too hard to suspend my disbelief and really get into it. Either the characters feel all wrong, or their actions, and I'm just disappointed. But Saturday, which was very much based in everyday life, felt so real and so true that at one point I was thinking about how weird it is that this whole world can exist only on the page, that these people aren't real and what happened was all made up. The book is so detailed and so well written that you really believe that these people's lives are carrying on still. It's been a long time since I not only liked a novel, but also admired it.

September 24, 2006

This week

Later this week, from Thursday to Saturday, O and I will be taking a short trip to London. Some of you can probably guess why we'll be in London, so it'll be an insane trip, but very exciting. A quite stressful week overall coming up because we return from London on Saturday morning and then leave for the US on Monday morning. Not the best timing, but at least we have the Sunday in between there. It means though that I only have 3 days at work this week and a few things to do and prepare before I go, plus I'm trying to think out two different trips in my mind, and I'm a bit on edge, let's say, and easily frazzled, like when my doctor didn't fax over my prescription to the pharmacy after I called on Friday, so there were no pills to pick up on Saturday, I'm just unduly stressed by the fact that I have to call him again Monday and then go to the pharmacy again, blahblahblah, instead of just having that thing taken care of.

To add to the worries, I'm now coming down with a cold. I'm not surprised, last week for 2-3 days I had this weird feeling in my throat and chest, not the normal sore throat I get before a cold, but an annoying, tight feeling that felt like I might be getting some bad chest infection. Finally yesterday I could feel it turning into a cold, and I feel more sick today. I'm really just glad to get sick now rather than right before we need to go to London, I just hope I make it into work since I'll already only be there 3 days this week. And I hope O doesn't catch it since he needs to be in good shape for London.

September 19, 2006

Aches and pains

Bikes have become a bit more of my enemy since I wrote about riding at night. O and I both have had a few bike issues in the past few days. It started on Sunday when I kinda ran over the toes of a pedestrian. I admit it was my fault, I was running a red because I knew no cars would be coming (the cross street was blocked off), but I didn't think about the pedestrians and then this guy starts marching across the street from my right and I couldn't brake hard enough so I ran into him, rolling over his feet. He was this brash-looking Amsterdammer with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and suddenly I was face-to-face with him and horrified that I'd just run into someone. I really expected him to have a go at me and call me all sorts of names I didn't understand, but he just looked at me with a bit of a put-off look, pointed at his green light and said "Kijk 's!" and I said "Sorry hoor!" and managed to bike off. I felt horrible though, I still cringe at the mental image of watching my tire roll over this guy's toes and not being able to stop it.

O was biking with me at the time, but we soon spilt in different directions to go to different shops. No more than half an hour later, he calls me and asks if I'm busy because something happened with his bike and he's hurt and trying to get his bike to a repair shop and wondering if I can help him. His pedals kind of just stopped working, but he was on his bike at the time, so he ended up crashing to the ground. In the end, he decided he didn't need my help and got to the repair shop on his own, but he was sore and bruised when I got home. The bruises are of course getting worse. There's a massive one on his right thigh, which was what he landed on; various smaller, but darker ones, on other parts of his legs where they hit against his bike; plus a scrape on his knee.

The repair shop he went to couldn't fix his bike, so yesterday he had to go get it from the Leidseplein and somehow get it home. No one with a car was available, so he wanted me to meet him at the repair shop and somehow pull him home with my bike. I wasn't exactly sure how that was going to work, but I headed over after work. ...And on the way, I ran into a pedestrian and fell off my bike. I mean, really. It was sort of both our faults this time. The guy was crossing the street from my left, going behind a car that was stopped at a red light. I kept waiting for him to look to his right to check for any bikes, but he never did and I waited too long to either slow down or warn him I was coming. I tried ringing my bell, but it didn't work (and seems to be broken now, I'm not sure when that happened) and then again tried to stop but wasn't able to and felt like all I could do was watch my front tire collide with his leg. This time though with the way I hit him and his forward motion in front of me, I got pulled sideways and fell to the left off my bike. I amazingly didn't really hurt myself, I mostly landed on my bum and I remember hitting my left elbow on the ground, but it wasn't scraped. Two guys were sitting nearby on the sidewalk and they came over and instantly started pulling me and my bike up and asking if I was ok. When I was back on my feet, I said sorry to the guy I hit, and one of the other guys said "eh, shit happens..." I was really shaky but otherwise fine, though I think somehow in falling or landing I did something to my hurt toe and it was quite sore.

So I met up with O and, feeling really confident now about biking, asked how I was supposed to pull him home. Unfortunately it was a busy bike path, the one right through the Leidseplein, and it was hard to try to set off slowly and it just was not working. He tried riding his bike while grabbing my seat, but it was hard to get the speed right and he was bumping into my bike. We tried switching bikes, but his is too high for me and I didn't feel safe on it. So O was all frustrated and said he'd just push it home, it looked like the only way, and so he got on and started riding it by pushing with his foot on the sidewalk. I was behind him a bit because I had to wait for a bunch of bikes to go past, but I caught up with him and asked if he wanted me to bike with him. He said yeah, and then I saw that it would be quite easy to grab his handlebar as I rode. Since he has one of those cruiser bikes, the handlebar sticks out farther than normal, so it was easy to hold it without bringing our bikes too close together. So that's how we got it home, I pedaled my bike and pushed forward on his handlebar, while he steered and balanced his bike. We couldn't get over hills that way, I couldn't push us both uphill for long, but he would paddle his way up and then was able to coast on his own down the other side. I would match his speed, grab his handlebar, and started towing him again. It was a bit slow, but it only took about half an hour to get home. A few people were of course impatient and huffy because we were clogging up the bike path, but more people than I expected seemed to see that we couldn't go single file and there wasn't too much bell ringing at us.

I was an exhausted wreck when we got home and then we spent the evening complaining about our aches and pains. My shoulders are of course quite sore, as well as my legs. Because of the rain this morning, I didn't bike to work today, and I was actually rather relieved by that.

September 15, 2006

Bicycling at Night

(The title is meant to conjure the R.E.M. song Gardening at Night, but it might be a bit of a stretch.)

I love riding my bike home at night. I usually love riding my bike in general (except for the times when I think I'm about to be run down by a taxi or tram or other bicyclists, but when I'm in a quiet, non-traffic area, things are good), but at night it gets especially wonderful. I don't know why, but it seems easier to bike at night. Maybe it's just in my head, or maybe it's because the traffic is less or the air is cooler, but I seem to be able to go faster with less effort and everything just glides along so easily. One thing I like about biking is that you get to hear and smell things that you wouldn't if you were in a tram or bus, and this seems to be intensified at night. The cars going next to you seem louder, you notice the smell of the canal water more, you can smell the cigarette someone walking down the sidewalk is smoking... There are these extra sensory bits, but mostly I notice how easy it feels to pedal along. Up a hill over some water, no problem, and a long glide down the other side, just slightly shifting from side to side to navigate through a curve, the wind cooling me off, welcoming on a warmer night... I love it most when I start getting closer to home and the streets I use get smaller and smaller, so they're quieter and quieter. Then there's a bit of bike path that was recently repaved, it's so smooth. All there is there is the sound of my pedals going round and round and the occasional crunchy "fffht... fffht... fffhtfffht" when I happen to roll over the leaves that decided it was time for fall to start and dropped from their tree. And then I coast at the end of the path to weave between some poles blocking off the bike path to cars, and it gets even quieter, just the sound of the rubber of my tires gripping the pavement and pushing me along, and it's darker there so I can actually see a bit of glow from the weak, little clip-on light I have. Unfortunately I'm only a fair-weather bicyclist, so this isn't something I will be able to enjoy for much longer, but tomorrow is meant to be warm (still!) and I'm going out at night, not far from home, so I'll get to have that lovely, little ride past all the sleeping houses, slipping through the night air and coasting home.

September 4, 2006

Another mystery solved

Bless the internet. I was reading The Vine column on Tomato Nation and someone was asking the readers for help to find a book they remember reading as a kid, but they had no clue what the title was or who the author was. I was just about to email Sars with my own question about a book I've tried to track down for years, but then I thought I'd better Google it first. Sure enough, on a site called Ask MetaFilter, someone else had asked about the same book I was trying to find. It's called The Girl Who Owned a City and it was read to my class by the school librarian when I was in 5th grade or so. I quite liked the story (obviously, since it's stuck with me for almost 20 years) and I actually meant to get ahold of it back when I was still a kid because the school year finished before we could finish the book, so I never got to find out the ending. But now I know what it is called, and I can even order it from for only 7 euros, which I may just do. Or I may wait to buy it at Powell's in Portland where I can get a used version for as cheap as $2.50.

September 3, 2006

My toe again

How it looked this afternoon when I changed the tape. Oh yeah, that's looking happy.

(The lines that look like scratches are just gooey bits left from the tape.)

City in the Sky

Yesterday I finished City in the Sky, a detailed history of the World Trade Center. It is a thoroughly researched and well-written history of the buildings, written by two New York Times reporters who started investigating the towers on 9/11 and who wrote tons of articles between them on various aspects of the buildings. The book gives a very complete picture of the towers: why they were built, how they were designed, what happened to them when they were hit, and ideas of what caused them to collapse. The beginning of the book was a bit slow as it went into the politics of getting a World Trade Center built and deciding where to place it in Lower Manhattan. But the story picked up when it got to the chapters on the design of the buildings and all of the engineering tests that were done to be sure that such massive buildings would be safe. For instance, ground-breaking wind tests were done with models of the towers and the first results were not good: the tops of the towers moved way too much in the wind, a distance that would translate to 20-40 feet of movement in the real buildings. You just couldn't work at the top of building if it was like that, so modifications were made.

After one relatively short chapter on the 30-year life of the Trade Center, there are two chapters about the details of what happened on September 11, and how the clean-up of ground zero was carried out. They are haunting and sometimes very hard to read, but they are written in a very journalistic way, calmly presenting the facts without any editorial comment. It is almost refreshing to read about the events in this sort of stripped-down way, erasing all of the politics of the last 5 years and just looking at what the people in the towers had to deal with. Terrorism and the reasons why the planes were flown into the towers aren't discussed, the book doesn't get all patriotic, it just presents the details of that day, and the clean-up and investigations afterwards, in a stark, thorough manner.

Reading about the events did almost create a sense of disconnection from what happened, somehow, like it all seemed so impossible that it started to feel like fiction. Also it all feels so long ago, perhaps because it can sometimes be hard to remember life before the "war on terror" and irrational fear and foolish rules for flying on planes. I didn't mean to read the book so close to the anniversary of 9/11, it was just coincidence, but it means I'll be viewing the various anniversary programs in a different light.

September 2, 2006

My toe

Here's a photo taken yesterday after I took off the tape on my foot that the doctor had put on.

Icky toe

My poor little toe had gone all purple and blue since I was at the doctor's. Anyway, I've had it taped up better since then and it felt a bit less painful this morning, probably thanks to not walking on it for a few hours.

September 1, 2006

Stupid, stupid, stupid

I am home again, off work sick because of an incredibly dumb little accident I had in the early hours of the morning during which I really injured my left little toe, which sounds even dumber, but it still really hurts and it's hard to walk.

What I did was I was heading to the toilet at about 5 am and I was half asleep and out of it, my eyes only half open, and on my way across the bedroom to the bathroom I sort of lost my balance and stumbled sideways, catching my little toe on the drying rack holding our laundry, and then stumbling more and falling on the floor. At first I thought I just stubbed it really bad, but when I went back to bed the pain wasn't subsiding, so I was out on the couch for awhile with ice on my foot, wondering what to do. The doctor's office wouldn't be open for another 3 hours, but I didn't want to go to the emergency room for something so stupid. Fortunately the pain went away to the point where it didn't hurt if I didn't move my foot and I was able to get some sleep eventually.

I ended up calling in sick to work because I wasn't able to get a doctor appointment until after noon and I wasn't sure what would happen with that, so I thought it'd be best to just take the day off. The doctor didn't do much except PULL MY TOE. TWICE. Which, you can imagine, really fucking hurt. Then she called in another doctor to have a feel and check it out, and by this time I'm sitting there with my hands to my mouth, cringing and tense already, waiting for him to have a tug as well, but luckily he mostly just looked at it and asked questions and then said there's not much I can do but keep it from moving much. So the first doctor wrapped some tape on the side of my foot, said it should be better in a week or two, and recommended that I take some paracetemol. Bah. I don't think there is really much else I can do, like she said putting a cast on doesn't work with your toes, and I wasn't really expecting that, I just want to know it'll be ok.

So now I walk around at about one-third speed, which takes like three times the energy. Now I know what being old is like, taking ages to get anywhere. Such a stupid thing to do...