Living in Central America (in my case Honduras and Guatemala) is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pet Paradise

Dog (owner) meeting place in the Vondel Park, Amsterdam
Last week I wrote about how children born in Honduras are (in some ways) less privileged than those from Holland, but that’s absolutely NOTHING compared to the way pets are treated like royal family in my home country. The contrast between how animals are cared for here and there couldn’t be bigger. If you ever consider reincarnating as an animal, making sure you don’t do it in Honduras!

Pets in Holland are considered part of the family, if not completely taking over the place of (non-existing) children. I thought my dog and three cats back home in Honduras are well off with plenty of food, daily walks along the river and a place on the couch (and yes, I admit, the bed too), but I’m glad my dog isn’t here to see everything she’s missing out on. First, my Luca doesn’t have a designer outfit for every occasion. Neither do my pets have a whole closet or crate full of toys. (Actually, a friend brought a toy mouse for my cats the other day. They were not interested. And why would they, there’re plenty of real ones outside!). I also like to think of my apartment as my apartment, so it isn’t littered with an array of different cat baskets, dog mattresses or pet beds. No toys either, except for the occasional dead lizard, bat or rat. And I thought I was feeding them exceptionally well with their daily doses of dry food and leftovers, compared to the tortillas their fellow Honduran pets usually survive on. But apparently dry food is really bad and you should give them canned food at least once a day (Sheba, for example, with a tuff of parsley on top), and of course special food for older cats or dogs, puppies and kittens, middle-aged pets, pets with liver problems, pets without liver problems, pets that are too skinny and pets that are overweight. Of course there are food supplements in the form of cat candy or artificial bones. A bowl with water is not enough; a real fountain with continuously running is the thing. For cats that lack exercise there’s a special, ball you can put dry food in that falls out if being played with, so the cat actually has to work for its food. Not to mention the enormous amount of money my friends spend at the vets and the entire warehouses that sell everything from tiny stairways to help your dog getting on the bed (I’m considering buying one to get my dog off the bed) to diamond studded leashes.
In Holland we have a political party for the animals and instead of Children’s Day we celebrate Animals’ Day. If a person gets assaulted in the park, well, bad luck. But if you hit your dog in public, you likely end up in jail.

Now, Honduras. A whole different story and definitely not a better one. There’s this habit in the town I live in to kick just any animal that walks past. Why? I have no idea. I guess just because you can. Pets are generally not well taken care of, being fed with occasional leftovers and they are hardly ever trained, let alone vaccinated or neutered. That last one is a sensitive issue in Honduras, a country where nobody cares if you let your dog starve, beat it to dead or let it roam the streets. But in Macholandia you cannot touch his balls! So what if your dog stalks a bitch in the heat and comes back home with all kinds of venereal diseases, if he hasn’t been run over in the mean time?
 Being a cat or dog in Honduras is not a lot of fun for most, I guess. But then again, I think that cats named after philosophers that have their own personalized diet, caretaker and classical music to listen to, is the other extreme.

I think my cats and dog could consider themselves lucky. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind more treats and more fluffy blankets, but they’re doing fine just without it. And I’m lucky too, because at least in Honduras I don’t have to walk after my dog with plastic poop bags to pick up whatever she drops.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Privilege of Art

There are dozens of ways in which children born in Holland are privileged over the majority of those born in Honduras (although sometimes it’s the other way around!), but one that struck me specifically now that I’m back in Amsterdam, is their access to the arts.
Two days ago I was painting a small mural for the four-year old of one of my friends, when his nine-year old brother walked in the room and said: “You paint just like Van Gogh!”
This completely baffled me, because first of all it was a tremendous compliment, but also because in Honduras no child would ever refer to Van Gogh, or any other painter for that matter.  And it wasn’t just a random remark either (not much of a compliment either, I realized), the kid meant that the short brushstrokes I and thick layer of paint I was using at the moment to make a monkey look fluffy, actually resembled the technique of Van Gogh whom he had just studied at school. 

The incident made me think. Did I know Van Gogh when I was nine? Actually, I did! Intimately too! But then again, I guess I’ve been exceptionally lucky in growing up where I did.
My home was at less than five minutes walking distance from the three main museums in Amsterdam, the National Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum. My elementary school was in a side street just  across the latter two, and since we didn’t have a school yard, we always played in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art (grade 1-3) and later (grade 4-6), outside the garden, at the famous Museumplein square.
In the garden of the Museum of Modern Art was a sandbox, but that was just for kindergarten kids, the “little ones”, as we disdainfully called them.  There was no playground for older kids, but we didn’t need one. We climbed on and jumped off the “diving board” that was actually a famous steel sculpture by Henry Moore.
Another one I know by heart (and touch) was a sculpture consisting of all kinds of open and half open cubes. It was a terrific place to play house and “cook” the leaves, berries and sticks we found in those cubicles. At the far end of the garden was an immense sculpture by Richard Serra, consisting of three enormous steel plates leaning against each other. From the inside you could look up at the sky, a small triangle of passing clouds that appeared there where the plates balanced one against each other.   I remember the rough texture of the surface, I can still smell the oxidized steel and vividly recall the bright orange colour of it all because I saw it from up close many a time, whenever the mean boys would catch us and “lock us up” in the structure. 

Years later, during an art history class at Art College, a professor showed us a slide of that exact same sculpture by Serrra, Sight Point. I was completely flabbergasted. At that time, Richard Serra was already a favourite artist of mine, but I had never made the link to the artist and that one work of his I knew so well.
As a kid I often visited the museums too. The Museum of Modern Art was my favourite since I was three, with the crazy machines of Tinguely and The Beanery, a complete bar full of people, but with clocks instead of faces. The museums became so familiar, such a home to me, that I kept on going there long after those many visits with my parents. Even in my adolescence I often skipped school to meet my boyfriend at the cafeteria of the museum. The entrance was free with our museum passes and going there was as normal as going to a lunchroom or bar. 

Being so unconsciously surrounded my so much art might have played a role in me becoming an artist. Or maybe not, because definitely not all my classmates have become artists. But I can’t deny it has surely influenced my live.
Today I visited the Museum of Modern Art again. The museum has been closed for nearly ten years, due to remodeling. The new wing and Mike Kelly exhibition were impressive as hell, but what truly took my breath away was walking up the same marble stairs I used to climb so many times, my hand over that same brass railing. And seeing all my all friends again, that one painting of De Kooning in yellow and pink. The Rauschenberg  you never get tired of, so much to see in that painting! And not to forget the immense collage of Matisse, Mermaid & Parakeet! 

It truly felt like coming home… And I wish I could share this with my Honduran friends…

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Vondel Park 12-3-13

It’s been a few days now that I have been all wrapped up in scarves, long underwear and thick woolen sweaters, keeping as close to the heater as possible . It’s unusually cold in Amsterdam for the time of the year and going out hasn’t been much of an option. The little time I spent outside didn’t do anything to change my mind. The nearby Vondel Park looks miserably deserted with just a handful of dog owners, the trees obscenely naked without their leaves, at least to someone used to the lush green of the tropics. The cold gnaws at every square centimeter of exposed skin, bites around the eyes, numbs cheeks and lips. My nose feels like it is no longer a part of my body. Despite gloves and triple sock wear, the chill seeps into my extremities and settles into the bones of toes and fingers, an uncomfortable nuisance for which there is no remedy but a hot steaming bath. 

I wander streets and canals, regularly stopping at stores that don’t sell anything I’m necessarily interested in, but the blasting heaters at the entrance haul me in. Once inside, the sudden heat is overpowering and it takes a while before scarves are loosened, gloves stored away in pockets, zippers undone, hat taken off, hair teased back in something near-decent. I pass isle by isle, pretending to be interested in Nespresso coffeemakers until fingers and toes are unfrozen again, just to repeat the whole process in reverse. 

Once back home, it’s a relief get out of the prison of jackets, legwarmers, mittens and boots. Next to the heater, fingers tingle slowly back into useful body parts while my cheeks start to burn as if on fire. I have lived more than half of my life in Holland and can’t remember to be too bothered by the cold in the past. But now, after sixteen years in the tropics, it most definitively does. Funny though how you forget about what cold actually feels like. Once you learn to live without it, the cold becomes an abstract concept that is hard to imagine. Time after time, on my way to Holland or Canada in wintertime, I convinced myself that an extra long-sleeved shirt and sweater would be more than sufficient. And time after time, a few hours at the air-conditioned airport of San Pedro Sula quickly cured me of that misconception, long before taking off. 

But more than the cold and miserable drizzle, what I can really do without, is the greyness of it all. Whether the sky reflects the faces of the people or the other way around, in the end everything is just a big grey soup: people’s clothes, houses, puddles on the streets, miserable looking dogs, the hunched over elderly. Nothing as exciting as fifty shades of grey, just boring grey, grim and grizzly. In Honduras we have those days too, and after only a day or three I get antsy and depressed. But then, always, the clouds make place for a blazing sun and everything is good again. A day later we’ll all complain about the heat, but well, complaints about the weather are universal. Could I ever go back to live in Holland, with six months a year of grey misery? No way! 

But just as I’m writing this, the sun comes out. Heavy grey overcast is being replaced by a pale but gorgeous springtime blue. The sun brings out the colours of the brick houses in the street. Through the window it even warms my chilled fingers on the keyboard. It’s probably my imagination, but the buds on the branches before my window all of a sudden look eager to pop. Amsterdam is incredibly beautiful when the sun shines. I think I’m going to pull my old rollerblades out of the closet and go for a spin...