Category Archives: Culture

On passions

Stormy Night
© 2016 by Monique Hendricks


Those of you who have read my posts must have gathered by now that art is my passion. But I have another passion: writing. What prompted this love affair with Shakespeare’s idiom? None of his plays, I assure you.

In 1976 I went to live in Iceland with husband #1. It didn’t take me long to find out that as a “Third national”–neither Icelandic, nor American–I stood very little chance of getting a job at the American base in Keflavik, where we rented an apartment off base. I briefly considered taking a class in Old Norse at the University of Reykjavik, but the only course offered to foreigners who didn’t speak Icelandic started at 5 pm. Night school was not what I had in mind. This is a country where, in the dead of winter, darkness descends upon the population in the early afternoon and lingers until the next morning, circa 11 am.  On a good day you might get three hours of daylight.  You do not fight darkness in Iceland: you befriend it and your reward (if you remain on the island long enough) is that in the summer you will enjoy an abundance of light and much frolicking under the midnight sun.  Anyway, I didn’t register for the course because I didn’t want to get stranded on the lone Reykjavik-Keflavik road in the dark, having to change a flat caused by the puncture-happy spikes that line the tires of every Icelandic vehicle in the winter. Instead, I started to borrow books from the American Library on base. Driving back from the library I never failed to stop at a bakery that sold a long, flat danish pastry decorated with either pink or yellow icing. A dilettante with a knack for grammar and a penchant for pastry, I sought refuge in both sweet treats and salty English novels.

The story is far from ending here. However, I’m afraid I cannot digress further on the topic of Iceland for fear that my posts on art will suffer from neglect and become even more infrequent.  I will address the infrequency issue in my next post. In the meantime, I leave you with a painting that could presumably depict the Icelandic landscape, but has in fact nothing to do with Iceland at all.

What equifinality means to me

The word has been on my mind lately. Is it because of my mother’s recent passing? Equi=equal; finality=the end. Was coined by Bertalanffy in reference to systems theory, which in turn became the foundation of family therapy. Simply put, equifinality means that there are multiple ways to reach the same end (however you define it). What I like about the term is that it discredits the view that there is only one way to do things.

This has been a difficult time for me. First, I had to accept the fact that my mother was mortal. I had barely wrapped my head around that notion when she informed me that she planned to choose the time of her “exit.” Not only did I have to accept the fact that she would die one day, but now I was asked to lend support to the idea that she would know when that event took place. To make matters worse, maman kept asking me what date would be convenient. How do you tell your mother what day you would like her to schedule her own departure? You don’t.

So here we are, five days after the deed. All I can say is this: She went out with a bang, partying until the last minute and leaving life as you would a banquet. This was my mother’s motto:

Je voudrais qu’à cet âge on sortît de la vie ainsi que d’un banquet, remerciant son hôte, et qu’on fît son paquet.    (La Fontaine, Fables, Book 8, Fable 1)

My mother left on her own terms while she was still self-sufficient, mobile, and cognitively sharp. That’s how I remember her. Anything less than that would have devastated her. I respect her decision and admire her will to carry it through. I am also grateful that she lived in a country that enabled her to do so legally.

Dear mom, you chose the path that took you where you wanted to go; others may choose a different route. That’s the beauty of equifinality.

Halloween: An American Artifact

Halloween is approaching. Giant plastic spiders hang from roofs, rows of pumpkins adorn front porches, paper ghosts and black cats litter lawn. Yes, it’s time again for this quintessential American celebration. Halloween, like Thanksgiving, is an American holiday.  Other countries have tried to appropriate the tradition, but failed miserably. While living in London, my children and I witnessed attempts by a handful of neighborhood kids to “do Halloween.” They came to the door, not wearing any costumes, and stretched out their hand, demanding candy. Now, that did not go over well with my sons, then aged 7 and 8. That’s not Halloween, they said.

They were right. Americans, as befits members of a culture with a penchant for superlatives, have mastered the art of celebrating Halloween by constructing an entire industry around this special day, not only for children but for adults as well.  Elaborate costumes, spooky house decorations, bags and bags of candy, themed parties–those are the trappings. One of the reasons October 31 is so exciting for young and not so young alike is the anticipation of finding out who is wearing what. Mothers blessed with sewing skills start gathering materials to make their own children’s costumes. Ideas are thrown around, minds are changed, hopes are raised, disappointments are voiced, until finally a decision is made: You are going to be a [….]. That’s the first step.  Then come the accessories–magic swords, glittery tiaras, rubber masks, make up (it could be Dracula’s pasty face with fake blood dripping from his fangs), props (witches in pointy hats inviting kids to taste their brew: peeled grapes that feel like eyeballs).

Preparing for Halloween is a serious affair. Friendly competition exists among neighbors wanting to show off the “best” costume or having the “scariest” lawn display–say, a make-believe corpse rising from a creaky coffin as unsuspecting trick-or-treaters pass by. Entire neighborhoods gear up for the holiday by putting up decorations with sound effects, setting up inventive devices that move, shake, hiss or cackle, engaging in theatrics and generally trying hard to repulse while humoring their audience for one day. Schools hold parades, shopkeepers hand out goodies, working parents leave the office early to join their children on their rounds before it gets dark. During the day, one might encounter adults in outrageous outfits, looking completely at ease, going about  their business.

And then there is the inimitable, irrepressible, invariably controversial Gay Parade in Greenwich Village. New York at its creative best: Anything goes, everyone glows.

The moral of this post is this: Don’t try to import/export a cultural artifact. It won’t work. Halloween is a celebration that is embedded in American culture. As such, it cannot be transposed to another country without losing its original meaning.  The English have Guy Fawkes Day. On the fifth of November, at dusk, they build bonfires in designated areas and chant:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot. 

I can understand children around the world wanting to get candy, any way they can. But Halloween is not just about candy. It’s also a reflection of American values–friendliness, initiative, openness, optimism, multiculturalism. That, at least, is how I view it. Feel free to disagree.

 

 

 

La Copa del Mundo: all bets are on

belgium

My youngest son is a devotee of fútbol and an ardent follower of La Copa del Mundo. He is, among other things, analytical, very well informed, and often correct in his predictions. His take is that the finalists will include Belgium, Holland, Germany and Brazil, with Belgium leading as the favorite.

According to my son,  Belgium will be truly unstoppable in four years!

Exciting times ahead! Watch this space for more revelations!

 

World Cup 2014: Allez, allez, allez, allez!

swissflag

YEAH, SWISS TEAM!

 swisssoccerlogo

Have you seen the hotties on the Swiss National team?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video

Chocolate Striptease

 

 A visual presentation of Pierre Marcolini’s superb assortment of artisan chocolates, a hand-delivered birthday present from my dear Belgian friend Katrijn, who has since relocated to Vietnam with her family.

Music by Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias (Kissed by nature © 2002 BMG).

 

© 2014 Monique Hendricks. All Rights Reserved.

Fatherhood, revisited

credit: pinterest/t2.gstatic.com

Credit: Amber Cusack, t2.gstatic.com Pinterest

In the course of my life I have met fathers of every ilk, starting with mine, a brilliant man, scientist-cum-artist, who, lacking the ability to engage with non-adults, left the childcare to my mother while retaining veto power. My father and I had our share of conflicts, stemming in part from his desire to mold me into his own image and my resistance to it. But his shortcomings as a father didn’t prevent me from loving and admiring him. The turning point in our relationship occurred when I finally realized he could never be the father I wished him to be, which left me with two options: accepting him the way he was, with his strengths and limitations, or avoiding contact with him. I chose the former, and by the time he died we had resumed a warm, if not profound, relationship.

Rumor has it that women instinctively know how to be mothers whereas men need role models in order to be good fathers. That is a lot of hooey.

Fast forward to the father of my children, my current husband. This is a man who did not have the benefit of role models (his mother died shortly after giving birth to him and his father remarried, leaving his son to be raised by relatives), and yet when I met him, a widower with two infants to take care of, he knew how to be both father and mother to them. The sight of this grown man feeding his babies, bathing them, changing their diapers, reading them bedtime stories as if it were second nature to him moved me and made me fall in love not only with the father, but with his precious sons as well. We got married a year later and I immediately started the process of adopting the boys.

So, on the day set aside to celebrate fatherhood, let us remember the nifty little cliché: Where there is a will, there is a way. Fathers who want to be good at parenting don’t need to rely on role models to achieve success in that domain. If they can find, within themselves, the resources to be good fathers, they will be.  The key is not to seek perfection–which, in any case, is unattainable–but to remain unwavering in their commitment to fatherhood.

Heresy on Mother’s Day

 

"Mother and child" by Juan Gris

“Mother and child,” Juan Gris (1922) Source: The Athenaeum

Bear with me. Here are some thoughts regarding this sacrosanct day:

Sure, I love flowers. Sure, I could go for a nice meal and no cleaning-up afterwards. Sure, I love the attention. Sure, I could use a day of being the object of people’s admiration, adoration, adulation even. I’ll accept gifts. And cards. And phone calls. Not to mention chocolates.

But you know what? If I was a good mother to my children, then I already have all that. So it’s a moot issue, isn’t it?

Yes, I understand the principles of economics.

Yes, I understand that conventional Mother’s Day celebrations are a welcome relief for some of us.

Yes, I understand that recognizing a mother’s accomplishments with a day dedicated to her is an important statement, considering the invisibility of womankind throughout history.

Which brings me to the gist of this post.

We women living in what was commonly referred to as “the West” (the distinction between East and West no longer applies in our globalized, digitalized, twitterized world) lead privileged lives. I usually try to avoid generalizations, which tend to feed into stereotypes that the culturally savvy (like the followers of this blog) abhor. However, it behooves us, women whose basic needs are met, whose aspirations are realizable, women with access to education, legal representation, healthcare–in short, women who have choices, to acknowledge that freedom of choice is not a given.

On Mother’s Day, rather than to partake in the fleeting rituals called for by our consumer society, I will be thinking of women around the globe who do not have the luxury of resting, even for a moment, let alone a day. These women are in survival mode: They do whatever is necessary to stay alive, taking care of their children as best they can.

Should we feel bad that we have so much and they have so little? Far be it from me to tell you what you should feel. But being aware of our privileged position might be helpful.

This Mother’s Day, do something different. Help another mother, one who is not as lucky as you.

Easter egg hunt in Ticino

 

My best memories of Easter involve a tiny bungalow overlooking a large, sloping garden ablaze with colorful spring blossoms; stone steps winding their way through the plants and shrubs to a grassy waterfront brimming over with yellow forsythia and shaded by a massive weeping willow, the tip of its branches grazing the water. At the end of the short dock is a small boat, gently bobbing in the breeze of Lago di Lugano.

That was Easter at its most glorious! My brother and I, eager to start our egg hunt, would gulp down breakfast. Then, armed with empty baskets, we searched high and low for the chocolate eggs our mother had hidden in the garden the day before. We ran up and down those stairs, lifting rocks, pushing leaves aside, inspecting every bush, even climbing trees. Maman had to be pretty creative to keep ahead of us since each year we got closer to figuring out where the treasures lay hidden. And treasures they were! Chocolate eggs with assorted fillings (gianduja was a favorite), mini-eggs coated in nougat, white chocolate rabbits–the sugary treats collected, counted, compared and sampled on the spot.

For years, during spring vacation, my parents rented the modest abode near Lugano, in Ticino, across the water from Italy, and this idyllic place looms large in my recollections of a happy childhood. The property came with the bare minimum in terms of mod cons, but made up for it with sweeping views, direct access to the lake, plenty of outdoor space to play volleyball, hide and seek, boccia, plus the occasional company of the owners’ dog, a tired, old, black terrier we adored. When it rained, we stayed outside, sitting on the sheltered terrace and playing cards until we got so cold that we had to go inside. In the minuscule room that served as living, dining, and eating space, my brother and I, wrapped in wool blankets, huddled on the narrow benches built on each side of the chimney, no doubt drinking Ovaltine and munching homemade cookies as we watched the dancing flames in the fire.

When my children were young, I tried to recreate my mother’s awesome Easter egg hunts. They were never quite up to snuff. One year, while we lived in England, my husband and I took the boys to Leeds Castle where they participated in an organized egg hunt on the castle’s grounds. As promising as it sounded, it turned into a disaster when our oldest son threw up after ingesting too many Cadbury’s creme eggs. Ever since then, in this family, the Cadbury creme egg has come to represent all that is bad about chocolate–although the winner on that front is still Hershey.

The moral of the story? At Eastertime, stick with Swiss chocolate.

Buona Pasqua!

cadbury

What is it about St. Patrick’s Day?

ShamrockAs you must have gathered, I am not Irish.

One day I would love to visit Ireland–if for no other reason than to see the grass, which is alleged to be an extraordinary shade of green. For someone who was looking for greener pastures, how could I have missed the Emerald Isle?

Sadly, I know very little about the country, and since what I think I know is based on other people’s experiences, books, films, the internet, and so on, it is highly subjective and possibly suspect. When I think of Ireland, I picture a jolly farmer walking down a mossy hill towards me, cap sitting askew on his balding head, stick in hand, dog in tow. He interrupts his whistling just long enough to say “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, miss!” as he makes his way to wherever he’s going.

Is that a true representation of Irish life? Is the grass that green? Are the sheep that woolly? Do Irishmen really break into song at any given moment? Those stereotypical images of Ireland will remain with me until reality, through my own observations, shatters or confirms them.

A common stereotype of the Irish is that they drink a lot. Which brings us to St. Patrick and the eponymous parades held in large cities and small towns across the United States at this time of the year. Parades are interesting. I don’t particularly like them–too many restrictions on where you can park, walk, stand, and pee is one reason–but I can see how people would enjoy a parade: the flags, the floats, the fanfare, all in good fun, a street fiesta for young and old, celebrating a holiday, an achievement, an ethnicity, whatever.

My oldest son is a graduate of UMass. So when I saw a headline in today’s paper about police in Amherst clashing with students at a pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration called the Blarney Blowout, I was curious. In the article, it is reported that 55 people were arrested, not all them students, on “charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assaulting a police officer.” At least, I thought, no one got hurt.

And then I asked myself: What is it about college campuses and alcohol? I do not recall such rites of passage when I attended university in Europe. But that’s because I never lived on campus. There were no campuses at any of the universities in Switzerland: Students either lived at home, or rented a room somewhere in town. When, years later, I studied in England, I commuted daily.

“It’s just us trying to go outside and have a party, drink outside, have a good time,” a student is quoted as saying in the article. Okay, I’m all for a bit of outdoor fun after a long winter being cooped up in a dorm room, studying. But the Blarney Blowout?  No, that wasn’t the students’ idea. It was the local bars’ idea. Surprised?

Alcohol, when consumed moderately (yes, that is a matter of judgment), is enjoyable and legal in this country. When it is abused, it can produce all kinds of hellish outcomes–fatal car accidents, domestic violence, the destruction of entire families. I’ve seen it in session: that is the other side of drinking, after it has already caused damage.

I wonder: By getting drunk in honor of the patron saint of Ireland, aren’t we taking the saint’s name in vain?

I wish you all a safe St. Patrick’s Day!