A New Countdown/Canals and Van Gogh

This’ll be another quick one because I’ve got only twenty minutes before this internet cafe shuts down, and since I train back to Paris tomorrow to get started with MSF in earnest, I want to post once before leaving. The clock is now ticking for real; though it’s all been real so far, there’s been an indefinite quality to the nature of my China posting until I found out, yesterday (Friday) morning, that I have a flight booked and it leaves at 3:15 (15:15) Wednesday afternoon. To be honest, up until this point — despite the seriousness of my work in France and the intensity and so forth — the past three weeks have been alomost as much a partially-paid vacation and language practicum in Europe as anything else. But now I know I’m really leaving Wednesday and will, as soon as Thursday afternoon or more likely Friday morning, be working hard to get the books ready to close for March and to learn what I’ll need to do once the woman I’m replacing leaves after a week or two…it’s all seeming mighty serious!

So anyway, a few more quick images. Three nights, roughly four days, in Germany were highlighted by high quality time with the exchange family with whom I lived twenty five years ago for a year. Having not used my German for fifteen years, it was good to see that it came back very quickly and I was pretty conversant and even almost fluent quite rapidly. Highlight: a fantastic late afternoon and evening with Mutti and Vati (that’s mom and dad in English) walking around the historically important and very beautiful Baltic seaport city of Luebeck. It’s a city we visited often when I was a student living nearby, but now that the border between East and West Germany, which used to run very nearby, has come down, I have the sense that the city is somehow a bit more lively and alive. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant there and then walked around after dark a bit on a warm evening and saw the city lights reflected in the moat/river that surrounds the main part of old city…it was a really great afternoon and evening.

Other highlights: both the sister and the brother of “my” family have had two (more, in her case) children since last I visited, and what GREAT kids they are! Meeting them, having a chance to hear Daniel practice piano and watch Jan figure out the best way around a board game challenge; chatting with Fabian and Miriam and being treated to a dance performance by Miriam (thanks!) and shown the impressive programming books that 11-year-old Fabian is working on…these were treats! Only sorry Jens and Birget (also a delight finally to meet Birget, with whom Jens has built such a wonderful home and family in the beautifully green coastal and canal area of East Frisia) and I didn’t manage a game of Skat…though we did solve some of the of world’s problems!

Now I’m in Amsterdam. Having gotten to know much of Europe reasonably well, one way or another, it’s a treat to find such a completely DELIGHTFUL city that I’ve never been to before. I’ve long assumed I’ll love Holland and the Dutch, since those I’ve met are so interesting and cultured and multilingual. It’s nice to find my best expectations fulfilled. What a great way to spend my last weekend in Europe — the Van Gogh museum (lots of time to ponder the fact that the man really accomplished most of what we know him best for in fewer than six years,and that his whole painting career was ten years…ponder that, says Paul to himself as he sets out on his new journey)…time to have lunch and a nice city walk with my old friend Bart…and above all to relax and walk the canals and see all the gorgeous bulbs start to bloom.

Gotta go. There are pictures of all this that will post from China. The place is shutting down. Sorry. Bye.

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