Friday, April 22, 2016

An artist and his solar-powered vision

A positive vision is being realized this afternoon with the museum opening of the SunGlacier solar-powered art project in The Hague.  I was introduced to Ap Verheggen about four years ago, and my first impression was some kind of crazy and loud Dutch artist wearing big glasses, big humor and a big imagination. He turned out to be all these things and our neighbor.

In the three plus years that I’ve been working with my good friend toward the launch of this project, I have seen his consistent optimism, fascination with natural forces and innovative vision of “what if we could do that?” He’s a guy who airlifted sculptures onto a drifting iceberg in Greenland, designed a system to build a glacier in a desert, and has a drive for searching for positive solutions in what seem like bleak situations. There have been many late-night discussions outside on our street in The Hague about how to use natural resources and climate changes for human benefit. 

It has been interesting so far to say the least. Ap and I have met with governments, big companies, organizations, media, rock stars and royalty to try to build support for this solar-powered atmospheric water production that could be a real step to help people in dry, off-grid communities. We have found both encouragement and disappointment in surprising places. Ap gets downright frustrated when he sees lack of action from people in power who can make a positive difference, and he somehow turns this into motivation to capture ideas on adapting to a changing planet.

The sculpture prototype DCO1 of the SunGlacier project will be presented today, on Earth Day, at MuseumBeelden aan Zee. People can now come see and touch an idea that was born from wanting to do something different and better. While the SunGlacier project is not intended to be the one solution to water resource needs, it can show, in Ap’s words, that we need to “see things from a different perspective” because “climate change = culture change” in many ways. This museum exhibition is only the start, and we’re looking forward to seeing the project in other world locations to be built upon and keep exploring possibilities.

It’s art as a way to interact with nature, and as is unique because only solar is used to produce water from air. A well-deserved congratulations goes to Ap for sticking to his vision through a jagged and twisted road of work to see it in reality!  Let’s see where this leads from here.

For more information on the project:

Monday, January 11, 2016

"I Shaved My Head when David Bowie Died"

I never met David Bowie, but he impacted my life as a kid and later as an adult. My older sister showed me the Ziggy Stardust album in the ‘70s citing Bowie as something of a genius. “Major Tom” and then Star Wars helped propel my intrigue into ideas of outer space, well beyond the concrete, trees and ponds of Jackson, Mississippi.

For me, there were different stages of Bowie: the Major Ziggy Tom days that gave way to what I thought was merely alright in the 80s with “China Girl” and others. But somehow I didn’t take the 80s Bowie very seriously. Maybe Bowie was too glamorous on the fashion scene and playing to the new MTV wave. Even so, the song from the film “Cat People” (Putting out Fire) was an eerie sort of powerful base that firmly branded Nastassja Kinski and the idea of wanting to explore more about European things into the front of my imagination. Those are two frontiers that Bowie had an influence on opening – without me really thinking about it at the time.

More than 20 years pass. Very little Bowie. I had forgotten mostly about the early impacts and categorized him into glam pop-rocker of an earlier time.

Around 2011, after living in Europe for more than 10 years, I was touring a city open art gallery evening with my European (French) wife and some friends in the Netherlands. “Young Americans” was blaring in one of the last galleries in which we visited. I froze when Bowie’s voice reached into ranges that not many humans have ever been. Everyone else from my group poured into the street but I stayed inside listening and realizing that this was indeed something that I had not seen for what it really was. I then started putting together pieces in my head that maybe I had always known that this artist was some kind of explorer, innovator or shape-changing genius that defied categorization. It was much more than glam tunes, and this began the third stage of Bowie’s influence in my life.

About a year later, after buying Bowie CDs – yes I still buy CDs – and sharing the music with my oldest daughter, I continued to ponder the influence that this one person has had on myself and millions of people. It was like finding an old item that I had once owned but dismissed because I thought it was too…something. 

The intrigue of his influence grew into an idea for another book that I will probably never write: a story about someone who had been exposed to Bowie’s music when younger but never latched onto it and then was struck after the (then fictional) artist’s death with a realization that the music and lyrics led somewhere he had dreamed of or wanted to create. This was about 2012, and as far as I got was the premise and title, “I Shaved My Head when David Bowie Died,” based on how a fictional character transformed his life into yet-unknown ways after realizing someone died who he had just discovered. No this character was not me, at least not how I saw myself. I don’t particularly idolize celebrities. In fact, I liked the satire on media personalities in one of Bowie’s later, and quite good, songs “Stars.”

Bowie’s music continued in our home and in our car on family trips. A number of songs brought back old wondering, ambitions and frustrations of my teenage years. Many, many times songs like “Ashes to Ashes” evoked a feeling when my daughter and I would listen to it, in such a way that other media would be challenged to achieve.

Am I sad for the passing of the person? Well, only in a normal way because I never really imagined Bowie as anything more than a normal person with a gift to reach far out and sometimes shocking areas and “kept getting it right,” as described by British PM David Cameron.  Perhaps the biggest impact is that a tangible part of a few stages of my young and recent life have now been relegated to perhaps another time and place. Gone, but still there somehow.

Bowie always pushed the limits. Maybe he’s only entered the next phase of existence, and maybe that Mississippi teenager still exists in a way that we don’t understand, dreaming about space and Europe, and hoping to explore both one day. We can only imagine, and David Bowie has put a lot of gasoline on people’s fires of imagination.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Less sexy, more Times

Tomorrow the International Herald Tribune will wear a less sexy brand as it becomes the International New York Times.  In many ways it’s still the same paper, but the change will take away the romantic sort of detachment that readers have experienced when looking at the world through a less evident American lens. 

Of course Jean Seberg’s character helped create the chic image of the IHT by selling copies on the Champs Élysées in Godard’s 1960 film “Breathless.” In fairness, the name was then New York Herald Tribune, but there was perhaps more cosmo-chic by not including the Times in the brand. Years later, the IHT suprisingly maintained its same status of “cool” even after being prominently featured in the painfully bad 2009 Julia Roberts film “Duplicity.”

There was a panic in the Paris IHT newsroom in 2002 just a few weeks after I started my first job there reporting on bonds and financial markets. The New York Times had just bought the Washington Post’s half-share to become full owner of the paper. Editors were screaming aloud of impending doom of the publication, even as NYT staff visitors attempted to reassure a skeptical editorial crowd in meetings that business would remain as usual for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the mother ship in New York was ever pondering what to do with their European child publication that was hugely popular, but not profitable.

Jimmy Buffett "selling" the IHT on the Champs Élysées 
after his 2007  interview for a feature article.

The NYT brand began to consolidate with the insertion of its name in the publication. Then came the death of as an autonomous website to become a mere page on I was working with the growing website at the time, and it was a blow to see everything taken out from under us. I’ve heard that the NYT since said this move was a mistake, but hindsight is not a luxury that journalists normally get to use.

I left the paper in 2009, then left Paris for the Netherlands in 2010, and I still think of the news room banter and the after-deadline beers at the nearby Le Village café.  I don’t believe I’ve ever met a more irreverent, pessimistic, smart, sarcastic and humorous bunch of professionals as in the IHT newsroom – and I am indeed glad that I did.

I suppose that authors of international thrillers may hesitate to reference the International New York Times as they have the IHT in numerous books. It’s just not as sexy as the Herald Tribune. And what about the luxury goods businesses that have been a pillar of IHT advertising and image? Are they going to hop on the NYT subway to continue their love affair?

I’ll still look for my online news from the same main sources, but it won’t be the same when I’m at a news stand and want to reach for the familiar name of the IHT. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Luna "South" Holland?

To say there's been a gap in blog posting would be an understatement something on the scale of saying that the U.S. Congress is not very good at what they do lately.

The Hague, South Holland, is the new headquarters for this North Holland blog if that makes any sense. What the city lacks in canal-charm is made up through it's beaches and fishing port at Scheveningen. I still can't pronounce the name, but I like the place.

In the meantime, Peter Mayer and his brother Jim Mayer are returning to the Netherlands to play a concert this Thursday night 3 Oct. in Amsterdam. It's worth a short or long trip to see these brothers of the Coral Reefers Band jam their way seamlessly through an evening.

More info here

or here

With any luck and some precious free time, I will be coming out of "congressional blog shutdown" to post views from here and other miscellaneous items. Check back in soon to catch back up.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Road Trip Photos from France

France has nearly everything: beaches, mountains, farms, culture-rich cities, caves and so on.  There were a number of times last month that I wished I could have stuck my camera out the window while driving through.  The five plus hour drive from North Holland through the North of France can go from boring to bodacious in the space of one kilometer.  Below are a few sights that I was able to shoot while I wasn't behind the wheel. 

Lots of color at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

Summer in November at Jardin du Luxembourg

Entering Notre Dame Paris

Inside Notre Dame

Very inviting restaurant entry at St. Michel

We joked about specialty stores in Paris.  Here's an umbrella and cane store.

Near Jardin du Luxembourg

Night fog at Place St. Michel

St. Michel

Vélib' bikes outside the café

Red Cross volunteers checking on poor street artists

Old country house at Verberie

Sun room on back of country house

Rouen, the city where Joan of Arc was burned

Leading out of city park in Rouen

A dog getting a  €130 haircut in Rouen

The city is known for its cathedrals
On the banks of the Seine at Rouen

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Birthday tales from the USMC

It’s 10 November again and time to wish a happy birthday to the United States Marine Corps.  This seems like a good occasion to recount some interesting and bizarre memories of marine life:
#10 – A passerby hippie shaking his head saying “Oh man, good luck!” as I was preparing to board a bus with several other recruits in South Carolina en route to boot camp at Parris Island.
#9 – Learning new words and terms:  CSMO = Collect (your) Shit (and) Move Out, Marine-proof = a device that is not able to be broken or operated incorrectly, Bulkhead = wall,   Head = toilet,  Shitter = more specific part of the toilet area,  Grape = head (on a body),  Dick-skinners = hands,  Marine Recruit = a subhuman existence, Hog board = barracks photo board of girlfriends in various poses, Drop-kick maintenance = banging a PRC-77 field radio to make it work,  “Drink water” = the most common first aid to cure anything short of a severed head,  Light green = Caucasian marine, Dark green = African-American marine,  Quarterdeck = exercise for punishment area, Alcohol related incident = the most common phrase muttered by an angry first sergeant,  Liberty is secured = not able to go into town for the weekend.
#8 – Discovering there is a reason to open field meal packs – as ordered – just one food packet at a time.  I ignored this order in the field and opened everything to have a nice varied meal, only to immediately hear the “move out” order.  I was left with open food spilling everywhere.
#7 –  Being welcomed at a large, rocking hotel party in Palm Springs, California, by a bunch of strangers once they found out that we were U.S. Marines.  And, being turned away from entering a bar in Okinawa because we were U.S. Marines.
#6 – Sitting at a reggae bar in Okinawa with a young lady when two ‘tough guy’ marines came in and wanted to fight. These two ‘tough guys’ bragged about beating an Okinawan civilian and a few others on their rampage that evening.  They then informed me that I was next on their assault list.  Not wanting to - but not having much choice – I rose from my bar stool to defend myself.  At that instant, a frantic Okinawan man with two local police officers entered the bar pointing and shouting at the two marines.  I watched as the two jar head thugs were arrested, and then I observed – with drink in hand standing outside – as one of them was beaten by the police after he violently resisted being taken to jail.
#5 – Running in group formation on the morning after a holiday past a chow hall with the smell of frying bacon in the air.  One marine in front began to vomit and a domino effect followed with about 15 “hurlers” stopped shortly after on the side of the road.
#4 – Watching a Highway Patrolman write a speeding ticket to me after I presented my USMC identification in effort to get out of being given a citation. (this often worked) He smiled and said, “Yep, I was in the army.”
#3 – Wading in knee-deep flood water while playing billiards, listening to Bob Marley music and hearing parts of the building blowing away at our barracks in Okinawa – about a half-mile from the beach – as a typhoon was making landfall.

#2 – Being taken injured and bleeding into a nearby strip club after I had a motorcycle accident in Okinawa. I was shoved into a booth and given first-aid by several topless dancer girls who stopped their shows when they saw me being helped in.  Thanks to Cajun marine, J. Campbell, for being so popular with those ladies to have convinced them to ‘save’ me.

#1 - Hearing the“click, click, click”of attaching bayonets around me after the injured, heavily medicated radio operator back at base ordered our squad out in the thick forest of Okinawa to “fix bayonets and attack” the marine unit from another battalion that was trying to harass us.  The “fix bayonets” order was quickly countered by the late Gunnery Sergeant Keyes  who helped us avoid a friendly force blood bath when he shouted back over the radio for our squad to “stand down!”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

American Reefer(s) in Holland

There is still a buzz around this part of North Holland after Jim and Peter Mayer from Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band came to town a few weeks ago.  The brothers had played the big show with Buffett at the Olympia in Paris, and then set their course North to the Netherlands.
Jim with IM4U in 3 languages
‘Uncle’ Jim Mayer wound himself up and let loose with five workshop concerts - complete with French and Dutch translations - at the European School in Bergen over two days.   The primary school kids were bouncing on adrenaline during his shows, and the secondary students were a tougher crowd at first, but Jim had them  dancing on stage in about two shakes of a three-legged dog’s tail. 
So what the heck was Jimmy Buffett’s bassist of 20 years doing at the European School in the small town of Bergen, North Holland, performing for these kids?  It is indeed an unlikely happening when thinking about Buffett, margaritas and his escapism for grown-ups.  Jim started his Uncle Jim children’s music about ten years ago, and he’s done pretty well while bringing some positive and absolutely silly songs to lots of kids.  Two hit CDs, television show appearances and numerous school performances are shaping him into something of a Captain Coral Reefer Kangaroo for this generation.
We first met Jim at an after concert dinner party that Buffett put on in 2008 in Paris, and Jim's enthusiasm was clear from the start. We kept in touch and have made it a yearly happening for Uncle Jim to perform for  kids in Europe when he comes over for the yearly Buffett show in Paris.
IM4U – This is the hub of what Jim sings and shouts to the kids.  The groovy song by Jim, featuring another Coral Reefer, Nadirah Shakoor, tells kids to stand up for one another against schoolyard bullying and other challenges where a friend is needed.  Self esteem and community involvement - while learning how to have fun growing up - are qualities embedded in the lyrics of the songs that get the kids dancing.   His shows were a success at the school, and also appeared in the Alkmaar Courant local newspaper.
And,  Jim’s very cool and talented brother Peter Mayer (below in photo at the Provadja with Jim)  also landed on our Alkmaar doorstep this year after a quick detour to play a show in Switzerland.  One of Uncle Jim’s songs is Peanut Butter and Jelly, and that’s what the brothers were like when they hit the stage for a show at the Provadja theater on the following Saturday night in Alkmaar.  They fell into a seamless groove that has evidently been jointly crafted over the years. Their set included many songs from the Peter Mayer Group, a few from Uncle Jim and some from Peter’s recent Beatles project.  I think the Provadja crowd quickly realized from the first song that they had some professionals on stage. 
Meanwhile, Jimmy Buffett - previously rumored to show up at the Provadja-  was not far away on this early October evening while the brothers from his band were causing waves on the canals of Alkmaar.  In fact, was that Buffett that was seen snooping around some club venues in Amsterdam looking for a place to play when he sails back to Europe next year?  I believe that the captain was doing a bit of reconnaissance.

One of Uncle Jim's top moves

Uncle Jim demonstrating bullying on blog author