October 2009

Washandje Redux

I like having guests, i love having foreign guests, and i most especially love foreign guests who haven’t been here before. Fresh and impressionable. And under ideal conditions, they see or hear things for which i can supply a translation. Harm Jan and Mark meet all these criteria except for virtually never needing a translation, so i’m having a blast.

Actually, the blast started on their first morning when, after they’d showered, i jumped in the bathroom for my shower and discovered that their towel bars had sprouted washandjes.

I had written about Rina bringing her washandje last year, and this is clearly the final piece of evidence required to prove that the Dutch consider it so unspeakably barbarous to bathe without one that they carry their own wherever they go.

And damn me. I have at least three of them in my towel cabinet, all given me by Dutch friends in an attempt to civilize me, but somehow i forgot when i was putting their towels out that my visitors were Dutch and that i had the opportunity to blow them away by providing an unexpected amenity.

No, wait. I wouldn’t have put washandjes out even if i’d thought about them because i was trying to make the visit as strange as possible for them. So i thought it was a nice touch to make their bed up using a top sheet in the American style rather than having the comforter directly on top of the bottom sheet in the European style. And to make sure they didn’t cheat and just crawl in on top of the top sheet, i stuck a really hairy blanket in there beneath the comforter. The bed linen Nazi, that’s me.

I had great fun with them and ran them around the city to as many farmers’ markets and grocery stores as they could bear, having to remind myself that all tourists are not as obsessively focused on local foods as i am. To give ’em a break, i took them to the Marin headlands. Here they are with the Point Bonita lighthouse just barely visible above Mark’s head in the background:

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This remarkable video of a polar bear playing with a sled dog got me to thinking about our relations with the animal world and how we categorize various animals differently.

For example, Rina loves pigeons and throws food scraps to them over my protests that this is a violation of San Francisco’s health code. Well, she’s Dutch, and one of the things i love about them is their brazen disregard for little rules. What i don’t love is pigeons. I hate the damn things and consider them flying rats but without the high level of personal hygiene observed by rats.

But then one day during her visit last June we were out in the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, and there were these cute little squirrels politely, even graciously, accepting crumbs from kind strangers. They were just adorable, and even i could grasp the hypocrisy in my desperately wanting to feed one as i sat beneath a “Please Don’t Feed the Animals” sign knowing full well that if i had had a single crumb on my person i would have tossed it to the cutest.

And now my sister has just left after a brief visit during which she updated me on the progress in her decades-long war with those rats with fluffy tails that occupy her backyard trees and have made her life miserable by getting into the walls of her house and other atrocities.

So i’m sitting at the kitchen table this morning and look up to see a new sight: one of them sitting pretty on the banister of my balconette. Remembering my sister’s warnings, i grabbed a piece of bread out of the refrigerator. Alas, he was gone before i could get to the door with his treat.

The Welcome Wagon has placed on the balconette an introductory platter containing a wedge of cheese, a chunk of bread, and a few almonds to let him know that my balconette is an excellent place for a mid-day snack or an afternoon nap curled up cutely and safe from cats.

Actually, i’m getting ahead of myself there, as it’s now late afternoon and the food is untouched. Of course if he comes back i’ll be headed out to Costco for a fifty pound bag of Purina Squirrel Chow.

And since i don’t have a pic of my little bushy buddy, here’s one of yellow door i like:

yellow door

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