Saturday, November 24, 2007

Goldilocks and the 3 Bears

The young ladies and gentlemen from Miss Everson's British School of Amsterdam's Reception classroom promised a hearty rendition of the classic "Goldilocks & the 3 Bears" and "Billy Goats Gruff" stories, and they delivered with performances that were Oscar (Meyer Wiener) worthy.

Cole had the distinction of playing the role of Baby Bear, while his good friend Sonia played the lead role of Goldilocks. Eschewing the blond wig for her naturally exquisite jet-black hair, Sonia was captivating as she tasted porridge, sat in chairs, and tested beds. Cole was equally convincing with his performance as the youngest of the three Ursidae, exclaiming in shocked horror when he discovered that a young girl was still sleeping in his bed.

Daddy takes full responsibility for the lameness of the young Mr. Pressler's bear costume, but in my defense, have you ever lived in Amsterdam for a month and tried to track down a bear costume for a 4-year old? I didn't think so. His teacher came to the rescue with the application of face paint and some fabulous bear ears.
A furry scarf that I found at a market completed the kit.

Congrats to all of the students for a very fine performance indeed!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sinterklaas & Zwart Piet

Nothing quite says “Christmas” like reggae music and blackfaced court jesters!

Most European cultures have their own holiday traditions, and the Dutch are no different. Every year, “Sinterklaas,” a tall, white-bearded bishop with a red cape, arrives in the Netherlands from his home in Spain. The day after his arrival, he makes his way to Amsterdam, first on a boat via the Amstel River, and then on the back of a white horse through the middle of the city.

Of course, Sinterklaas has his helper, Zwart Piet (“Black Pete”), in tow. ZP, as I’ll call him, was once upon a time a slave. Now, ZP’s black face is explained by parents as the “soot that he gets when he comes down the chimney.”

Sinter and ZP travel across the country, landing on rooftops on the white horse, then coming down the chimney to leave chocolates and almonds, etc. for the children who have behaved well. The kids are encouraged to leave carrots and straw to feed the horse.

The troubling part of the deal is ZP. For whatever reason, ZP is a Caucasian person wearing “blackface” painting. It’s more than unnerving, and for most Americans (I think) borders on being outright offensive. And there’s not just one ZP. The official ZP crew appears to be two or three, but every single helper, entertainer, driver, band instrument player, parade horse shit scooper, side of the building rapeller, and acrobat is outfitted in the standard ZP garb: A multicolored, silk court jester outfit, complete with feathered hat. Go ahead, Google “Zwart Piet” and see what you find and make your own call!

Anyway, back to this past Sunday, when we took the kids to the Dam square in Amsterdam Centrum to witness Sinterklaas’s arrival. As a reggae band (?) performed traditional “WE LOVE YOU, SINTERKLAAS!” songs, the kids had a blast, especially since the legions of ZPs hand out the traditional Sinterklaas cookie, the pepernoten. These are little crunchy ginger cookies (not to be confused with the German pfeffernusse) are handed out in the Netherlands and Belgium, carried in enormous burlap sacks. All of the kids along the parade route can be heard screaming “Piet! Piet!” so they can get a few handfuls. Plus, the weather was beautiful.

Here's a short video clip that I captured of the man himself riding into Dam square:

We’re settling in well, with most of our furniture in place…we’re just awaiting the delivery of our family room couches from Ikea. A bunch of boxes still need to be unpacked, which might take a bit of time to complete.

I took my road bike out of Amsterdam for a 50k (31-mile) jaunt today, and really enjoyed some beautiful pastoral scenery. I’ll have much more on the Amsterdam cycling scene in an upcoming post.

Tomorrow: Another meeting with government officials to get residency cards; finding a chiropractor; finalizing Christmas travel plans.