The MS Victoria was in the Indian Ocean
...Prora Puppique Carentem...
The MS Victoria was in the Indian Ocean, prora puppique carentem, prow and poop careening in the waves, but the priest and I managed to stay engaged somehow in our precarious game of ping pong--he with his white tropical cassock, or whatever priests may call their gown, propped up in the pockets of his khaki pants, me--still at the age of twelve, but only a month short of being a teenager, doing my best to defeat him at this extreme deck sport.
Trying to hit a tiny ping pong ball under those conditions is quite insane, apart from the fact that the wind will easily make it go off over the railing--and you, quite likely, in thoughtless hot pursuit, diving right after it! But it kept the mind off a churning stomach at least. I am not sure who won, or who allowed whom to get the better hand, for just a glimpse of a recollection of that oceanic match has stayed in my fading memory over the years. I don't remember much about the young priest, what his name was, where he was coming from, or where he was heading--so I can speculate he may have come from Macao and was heading either for Goa or the Portuguese motherland to report the results of his missionary work in the colonies to the shade of Henry the Navigator, His Holiness the Pope and the head of The Society of Jesus (Jesuits)--who, let me just notice in passing, terloops, swear a very interesting oath, printed in its entirety at the aforementioned website, but which is prefaced by the inductory words of a Superior, which I will give you a flavor of hereunder:
You have been taught to insidiously plant the seeds of jealousy and hatred between communities, provinces and states that were at peace, and incite them to deeds of blood, involving them in war with each other, and to create revolutions and civil wars in countries that were independent and prosperous, cultivating the arts and sciences and enjoying the blessings of peace. To take sides with the combatants and to act secretly in concert with your brother Jesuit, who may be engaged on the other side, but openly opposed to that with which you might be connected; only that the Church might be the gainer in the end, in the conditions fixed in the treaties for peace and that the end justifies the means.
Now that's intrigue for you! And anyone reading Eugène Sue's novel Le Juif errant, The Wandering Jew, will get an idea of the implications that oath has had through much of Jesuit history--affecting individuals and families as well as the destinies of entire societies--and why the French Revolution, unlike the American one, was directed at both State and Church. I can't resist showing you a blurb from the above link because this three tome book (not the blurb) contains a couple interesting chapters on the Dutch East Indies in the early 19th century:
In this anticlerical novel of good and evil, Sue's villain is a Jesuit priest, Pére Rodin, who wants to become the next Pope, and is after the Wandering Jew's treasure, which has been gathering interest over the centuries. The seven descendants of Marius de Rennespont, who once aided the cursed wanderer, are summoned to Paris to be present at the reading of the will. The Jesuits, who represent the oppression of Church, conspire to get the fortune in their own hands.
In more recent times similar themes have surfaced with Opus Dei as the villain. See for instance a contemporary Flemish novel: NLPVF:: Jef Geeraerts: The PG (De PG) --PG means Procureur Generaal, or Prosecutor General. See further: Controversies about Opus Dei - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
That remark having gone well beyond passing, let me continue with my own story:
The MS Victoria belonged to the Lloyd Triestino, like the MS Oceania*-- on which my Dad had originally booked our sea voyage 'home'--from the former Netherlands East Indies, which had just recently become the Republik Indonesia (in 1949, i.e. five years prior to our trip in 1954) to Negri Koud, (Negri=Indonesian for Country, Koud = Dutch for Cold) dat kouwe kikkerlandje (that cold little frogland) of Holland, as we often referred to the Netherlands back East. But that ship, a Europe-Australia liner that made regular stopovers in Djakarta, had been involved in een aanvaring, a maritime collision near Aden and so we were rescheduled as passengers on the Hong Kong-Genoa liner Victoria. Normally the Victoria went from Hong Kong and Macao to Genoa by way of Singapore, Bombay, Goa and Karachi--and from there through the Suez canal to Naples and Genoa. But for us, indirect victims of the aanvaring, they swerved from their appointed route after Singapore to touch on Djakarta, then to continue through the Sunda Straights, right by Krakatoa, down into the Indian ocean and beyond.
*Just a correction: it may have been the Australia rather than the Oceania which we were originally booked on. In fact the collission, aanvaring, may have been between these two sisterships causing them to switch identity in my twelve year old mind! More about that later--keep reading.
This trip took a good three weeks and the passengers were an interesting mix of repatriating colonial administrators and long time settlers, members of missionary orders, scientists, Indiana Jones types, oil company employees and other business folk, military people and diplomats, you name it. In other words, a regular oceanic oriental express crowd with all the intrigue and mystery that implied, for there was a lot going on on such routes. But I was just a naive little kid--dealing with the newness of it all--for I had never made such a long voyage before, born as I was in the Indies, just before the Japanese takeover in 1942, and having spent my post war youth in the well protected enclave of Sungei Gerong, a large oil concession settlement in southern Sumatra, sometimes referred to as 'that guilded cage' in the jungle--accross the Musi river from Palembang--ancient Srivijaya, with its famous Buddhist university and library, once visited by Marco Polo on the way back to Europe, after his unsuccesful search through the Far East for The Kingdom of Prester John.
Of course I had no idea about any of that either at the tender age of twelve--even though I was born right there in Palembang, Srivijaya, exactly one month after that day which Franklin Roosevelt predicted 'shall live in infamy.'
I was still trying to acquire my sea legs after our first few Italian meals in the dining room, where the Neapolitan waiter kept saying 'mangia, mangia' to me in near futile encouragement, as I stared in desperation at the mountain of spaghetti in front of me, on plates which kept moving around in rhythm with the waves of the ocean.
A few trips to the railing upstairs were an absolute must before my stomach began to settle to some extent and allowed me to accept nourishment for the remainder of our trip.
These memories were suppressed in my mind for a long time but resurfaced quickly after my first LSD trip in New York City--where the world once again would spin around me like a merry go round and I felt my stomach churning like that time when I got so sea sick.
It was just as Alan Ginsberg said--cf: http://forthuyse.googlepages.com/muismuizeken--when you are on acid, everything is the same. He meant: everything turns into waves of energy--floors become oceans, minds become stomachs, people become fish and clouds form trees, so in my clouded mind I saw fishy people vomiting their minds all over the ocean floors--which also formed the ceiling and the walls. And I was no different from any of that in this relentless ocean of energy with its ebs, eddies and maelstroms and even tsunamis that carry you, or what is left of you, hither and thither and the best thing you can do is to relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the trip. And goodness gracious, I am still at it, no longer on acid, but still purging my mind all over the place--hoping people will lap it up. It's enough to make you howl. Alan even got them to pay mucho dinero for the privilege--and I should be so lucky. But anyway, we're all the same, toch? Dinero or not.
On another occasion, during another acid coolaid trip, my friend Louis and I had decided to take a little stroll around the neighborhood, which happened to be a kind of no man's land between Chinatown, Little Italy and the Jewish Orchard district, where my partner and I were living a rather bohemian life in a tiny cold water flat on Eldridge Street, just a block or so off the Bowery--that bouwerij, boerderij, or farm established a long time ago by Peter Stuyvesant--the early Nieuw Amsterdam Governor, sometimes known as Peter peg leg--whose brand is now smoked by millions of cancer afficionados.
Well, folks, a stroll around the Bouwerij may have been a bucolic experience in the 17th century, but in the 1970's it was quite different--it was a rundown area by then, notorious for its Bowery bums--those homeless people who slept (and maybe still sleep--I haven't been there for ages) amidst the ruins of ancient torn up or torn down buildings that once may have housed the city's upper crust, but which in our time had been converted into a district where all kinds of restaurant equipment was being sold--stainless steel industrial kitchen sinks, tons of silverware, stuff for use in bars, plumbing, you name it--and by the way, this was an especially great place for would be artists, such as we fancied ourselves to be in our spare time, to find all sorts of raw material and objects for inclusion in all sorths of creative projects.
Here are some websites to click on, if interested:
A picture of the Bowery from 1910
It happened to be the evening of July the Fourth (which is incidentally the day I was just told by the IRS clerk at the Federal Building around the corner from me on Polk and Turk that I will be getting my very own stimulus package check this year (we are talking 2008--hurray for Bush, yippee!) that time we went out for our lysergic stroll amidst the human debris and rusting kitchen sinks. We thought we could get a good glimpse of the fire works on the East River, for we were also not far from the Manahttan and Brooklyn Bridges, in between which the fireworks platform boat was located that year--in other years they sometimes use Governor's island, an old Dutch fortifcation in the Bay of New York.
And we did indeed get a good glimpse--and more than that, for in my oceanic state of flowing energy, where past and present mix and nothing has a clear identity--it wasn't the American Independence Day celebrations that announced themselves to me that evening when I heard the rat-tat-tat of gunshot-like noises and the booming sounds of cannonade explosions lighting up the darkening sky, much like the people of Baghdad must have seen more recently, with wooshing and weezing and sizzling sounds and streamers of firy lights of fury, revealing glimpses of bodies of the dead and wounded men in ripped up clothes, with bandages around their heads and limps, moaning and groaning, and yes, even screaming in my disintegrating mind, strewn all over the place around that broad, formerly elegant avenue constructed on the Bouwerij of Peter peg leg Stuyvesant. It seemed to me that we had to step over corpses like so many abandoned car tires--and crawl over and under crumpled hurricane fences to escape whatever enemies loomed up in the dark vestiges of my mind.
I don't know where my Mexican partner Louis went on that trip--thank God it wasn't the Aztec Empire that night, but for me it was Bandoeng all over, Bandoeng in the Preanger highlands of Western Java-- Preanger - LoveToKnow 1911--at the end of the Second World War.
I was about three and a half years old when the war came to an end in the Pacific--with the signing ceremony on board the USS Missouri. My mother and I had been in numerous Japanese camps on Java since the wihrlwind Japanese occupation. We had managed to celebrate Christmas (the first I was aware of, anyway) just a few months earlier. We actually had a small tjemara tree, the only kind of pine tree available to us then--but the candies and pastries, PASTEITJES had to wait for better times. We had an old picture of my Dad under the tree, from which I kind of knew what he looked like--something that came in handy later in Macassar, where it was me who saw him first out of hundreds of military people on the docks of Macassar--eager to rejoin their families. Quite remarkable, when you realize that I was an infant of a few months when my father had disappeared from view after the disastrous battle of the Java Sea--where it later turned out that my maternal uncle Arthur, my mothers youngest and favorite brother, had died the cruel death of a machinist stuck in the bowels of a sinking warship belonging to De Koninklijke Nederlandse Marine, the Royal Dutch Navy--and we had no idea for a long time that my father had in fact survived upon capture as a POW in the belly of the beast, Japan itself--working at various times in the mines and on ship wharves, in the Fukuoka Camps, the Ffffuckyouokay camps, as I still think of them sometimes in honor of the hospitality they showed my Dad--who himself still appears to have very fond memories of his extended vacation there.
However that could be due to an extended Stockholm Syndrome effect 'which comes into play when a captive cannot escape and is isolated and threatened with death, but is shown token acts of kindness by the captor. It typically takes about three or four days for the psychological shift to take hold.'
Fukuoka is not far from Nagasaki, CHRISTIAN NAGASAKI ,for it was historically the most Christian city of Japan. A sad reminder that everything comes at a price.
Facetiousness aside, my Dad's Christian forgiveness towards his captors may have had it's origin in the weeks and months he was able to roam around Japan after the war had ended, the POW were liberated--but had to wait their turn for transport out of Japan, first to Manilla--and then, in my Dad's case, to Makassar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (now Ujung Pandang) where we were at last reunited as a family.
My Dad still has not been able to say a word about the time he was a guest of the Mikado. He does express quite often his surprise at the kindness of the rural people of that country after the war--something I am sure would have been less pronounced if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, for recent evidence has shown that he--and all his fellow POW--had been scheduled for wholesale slaughter as soon as the Allies were to invade Japan itself. The same goes for me and my Mom, and all of Hirohito's guests in the camps of Java, Sumatra, and throughout South East Asia--including at least one uncle who contributed to the Burmese Railroad project. Something to remember when we speak of Truman and the Enola Gay. That's not to say I myself don't have great affection and respect for the Japanese of today, or admiration for their ancient culture. The Dutch after all were the only Europeans who were allowed any interaction with this country for some three hundred years, even if only through Decima, their trading post on an artifical island they were allowed to utilize--here's a view:
In fact, this tiny artificial island of no more than 120 by 75 meters was for a few years (during which all of the Netherlands and its colonies were annexed by Napoleon) the only place in the world where the red, white and blue of the Dutch tricolor, het rood, wit en blauw van de Nederlandse driekleur was still flying high. And for the three hundred years of Japan's policy of self-imposed isolation, sakoku, Western Studies were called 'Dutch Studies' or 'Rangaku' in Japan--see: Rangaku - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia --and it was these studies which enabled the Japanese to catch up with all the scientific and technological developments in the West--and also to eventually become the first Asian nation to disrupt the long domination of the West over the rest of the world. Don't you just love the poetic justice of it all? But now back to the Indies.
For a timeline on Indonesian History see: Sejarah Indonesia - http://www.gimonca.com/sejarah/sejarah04.shtml
If you look carefully on Sejarah Indonesia, you may even find one my ancestors (in a direct maternal line from my paternal grandmother, i.e. my Oma's mother's mother's father--or you might find him at: Imogiri - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia or also in the historcal synopsis at: Mataram Sultanate - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia --Imogiri (from Sanskrit Himagiri, Mountain of Snow, Sneeuwberg) is the name of the royal burial grounds where all the Susuhunans (the Emperors of Java) by the name of Pakubuwana (I through IX so far) have been laid to rest:
In 1645 Sultan Agung began building Imogiri, his burial place, about fifteen kilometers south of Yogyakarta. Imogiri remains the resting place of most of the royalty of Yogyakarta and Surakarta to this day. Agung died in the spring of 1646, leaving behind an empire that covered most of Java and stretched to its neighboring islands.
From the dates of interment at Imogri I believe that Pakubuwana IX was the most likely ancestor of Oma Dora--through a daughter who married a German engineer named Philips, whose daughter married a Belgian called Ingelaere, whose daughter married a Dutchman named Herman Nicolaas Hommes--whose daughter she was.
Remember this is strictly oral history--but directly from Oma Dora's mouth to my ear. I have an old pictutre of Oma Dora's mother (Mrs. H.N. Hommes, née Ingelaere) with husband, her many kids and numerous servants in which she looks quite respectable, so I'm sure she would not have just made up such a story about her own maternal grandmother being a Pakubuwana's daughter--but since we lack written documentation it remains just a spicy story and a fascinating family legend. Of course, with a lot of research in the royal archives of the Susuhunans of Surakarta or through mitochondrial DNA testing we could get to the bottom of this--but that is unlikely to happen, for a general lack of relevance and interest.
*Just a note on the chronology: Oma Dora was born around 1900--so counting back 75 years to account for three generations, we get a date of birth of 1825 for her presumed Pakubuwana ancestor and an age of 58 for Pakubuwana IX at the time of his interment in 1893, making him the most likely ancestor of Oma Dora in a direct maternal line. Numbers VIII and prior would have been too young, and Numbers X, XI and XII too old at their time of interment if they had been born around 1825.
For a picture of my spicy grandmother, see Young Oma Dora on Flickr - Photo Sharing! But now back again to my story about the aftermath--not of interment but internment.
When peace finally came to Java, it took a long time before the first truly effective allied troops showed up--and in the interim period the streets of Bandoeng, where we were apparently still being held for own protection in some local internment camp I no longer remember the name of, were awash with Indonesian guerilla fighters who sought to wrest immediate independence from the Japanese occupiers, now fighting Japanese soldiers whose duty it had become under the terms of unconditional surrender to try to maintain some semblance of social order until the allied forces could take over. And that took a while.
Roosevelt's policy had been all along that colonialism in the post war world should be dismantled--Churchill didn't like that and neither did the Dutch or the French. Needless to say, this may have been a reason for some people in the Dutch East Indies to develop a distinct distaste for the Democrats, but I am conjecturing here. Folks in my family have traditionally been members of the old Dutch ARP, de Anti-Revolutionnaire Partij, the Antirevolutionary Party (the one that once stood against the French Revolution and Napoleon that is)--I certainly was too young to have much of a personal recollection of that, but I can well imagine that both my grandparents and my parents may have developed certain leanings in that period not entirely favorable to the Democratic Administration--which was on the one hand instrumental in liberating them, but on the other hand forced them to give up what they thought had been 'theirs' for hundreds of years--those fabulous spice islands which so much of Western expansionism had been all about and for which Henry the Navigator of Portugal plotted his way around Cabo de Boa Esperanza, Kaap de Goede Hoop, the Cape of Good Hope, for the discovery of which Columbus himself had set out to find the westward route, for which our countryman Barents had been searching a Northeast passage--though only succeeding to get a sea named after him--and Hudson, (and Enlgishman working for the Dutch West Indies Company) a Northwest passage--exactly those fabled isles, juist die gordel van smaragd, that emerald girdle as our poets have called it, 'our' Insulinde, our home away from home for hundreds of years--that upstart U.S.president wanted to take all of that away from us! The reaction does seem understandable, but in retrospect hardly justified. Actually Holland had in just a few years after the end of the war been able to reestablish control over most of the archipelago, with the exception of Central Java--with the stated purpose of working towards autonomy within a Dutch-Indonesian Union in which the archipelago was to become a federal democracy.
That did not sit well with the Javanese nationalists who controlled central Java and preferred to keep a form of centralized control. Be that as it may, Holland was forced to cede unconditional independence to the Javanese Nationalists under Sukarno by 1949 under pressure from America--essentially giving the Dutch the ultimatum of either giving up the Indies or forfeiting any U.S. assistance for Holland itself under the Marshall plan.
And so my family and I ended up on the MS Victoria, prora puppique carentem in the waves of the Indian Ocean--and it seems I can still feel the after effect of those disorienting post war waves.
Maxima calamitas!--Winnie The Pooh might have said in Alexander Lenard's best selling Latin translation entitled Winnie Ille Pu: Liber Celeberrimus Omnibus Fere Pueris Puellisque Notus Nunc Primum De Anglico Sermone in Latinum Conversus Auctore O Maxima Calamitas--abest pretiosa India, our precious India is gone--ons dierbaar Indie is weg!
God must have a sense of humor. And since we are God's manifestations--so should we, muizekens--even if it be zuur/zoet, sour/sweet, for you can't fight historical change, no matter how behoudend or conservative you are by nature or by upbringing--everything changes, but also remember, plus ça change plus ça reste la meme, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Change is the only constant in this world of manifestations.
That dislike of Roosevelt I conjectured among some Dutch-Indies people was shared by many Americans as well.
I remember the story of a wealthy socialite, Mrs. Taylor was her name I think, who had rented her lavish Moroccan villa, with its grand view of the Atlas Mountains, to Winston Churchil at the time of The Casablanca Conference--but was so outraged when she found out that he, Churchill had let Roosevelt sleep in her bedroom that she immediately sold the villa.
To be honest, I never actually heard my Dad say anything good or bad about FDR--but he always seemed to 'like Ike' more.Maybe because there was actually a bit of a facial resemblance between him and Ike--at least always I thought so.
However, let's get back to my story before we get completely lost.
Imagine getting out of the Green Zone in Baghdad (as a kind of equivalent to the camps, where we, Europeans, at least were protected from the violence in the street) and venturing out to visit friends who had stayed outside the camps, in largely unpoliced and unprotected areas--because they were not considered enemy aliens by the Japanese during the war, i.e. people with non-allied nationalities, German, Austrian, Italian, Swiss, Swedish, etc., many of whom had long since become inculturated into Dutch colonial society, in no way different from the rest of us, but because of their national identity, for better or for worse, not placed in the Japanese run internment camps.
My mother and I went to visit one such family and on the way we experienced an all out street battle between the socalled Pelopors, a name given to or assumed by the bands of Indonesian nationalist militia--either derived from the Dutch word revolvers and the plopping sound a revolver makes or the Dutch word voorloper, a 'foreloper', someone who walks ahead (i.e. een verkenner, or a scout, un avant garde)--and groups of Japanese soldiers, many on horseback, and I can tell you--there was a lot of bloodshed, people were cutting each other down left and right before our eyes, and we were extremely lucky to make it to the relative safety of our friends' residence--where we dove under the bed, behind the furniture, underneath the windows, whatever, to try to stay out of the lines of fire. It was not pretty--it scared the shorts of me and what it did to my Mother I can't even imagine. But she was a very courageous lady and we both lived to tell the story--as should be obvious--for I am not making this up like some kind of proto Hillary Clinton claiming to have been under sniper fire in Bosnia. Yeah.
Meanwhile, back on the Bouwerij in 1973, there was no friendly family residence, other than our own tiny little cold water flat four flights up, and so, Louis--who must have noticed I was not in a good place--took me by the arm and guided me back home. Something we always did for each other when one of us was having a bad trip. I too must have rescued Louis on a number of occasions, once out of a swimming pool in the Continental Baths at the chateau-like Ansonia Hotel, a place of legend and sumptuous facilities in New York's upper West Side, when Louis didn't realize where he was and the concept of drowning was simply not a part of his lysergic experience--another time as he was climbing out of the fourth floor window on Eldridge Street down the rickety fire escape--and God only knows what he was thinking of then. Perhaps he was trying to get off the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan! Those are the times you just have to be there for each other, like buddies in war time, or anytime, really. That's what friends and brothers are for, to be each other's keeper.
The truth is that we did keep each other safe for over sixteen years. And gender had nothing to do with that. It's all about caring, love and loyalty--if not necessarily conventional 'faithfulness', which had never been a part of our relationship. In fact sex between us had pretty much dwindled to nothing by the time Louis succombed to a severe asthma attack in 1989, about a month before the Loma Prieta earthquake severely shook the four small apartment buildings we had acquired together--as well as what was left of my financial security after his premature demise, for we were too highly leveraged for me to continue our real estate ventures on my own. Plus my motivation was pretty well gone by then. Something not well understood is that a real relationship (gay or straight or whatever) is never based on sex alone--and can in fact only survive when it is based on caring, love and loyalty. Sex is often merely the initial catalyst.
But let's return to the MS Victoria, still careening prora puppique carentem in the rough Indian Ocean.
One of the ceremonies I still remember somewhat was when we crossed the equator, when every one who had never crossed that line before had to be baptized by Neptune, who looked a bit like Sinterklaas to me in his costume, except for the trident--the Saint of course has a staff, but no trident. Neptune also looked much more unkempt than the Saint, as I observed at the time, plus I remember thinking, Jeetje, Jee-whiz, he's supposed to be a God, just like Jesus!--obviously he far outranked a simple Saint. So I was duly impressed, even though the God of the Oceans had no devils and no Zwarte Pieten, (the colorful Black retinue of Sinterklaas, dead ringers for the Swiss Guards of the Pope, though they are generally White: Swiss Guard - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - here's a picture of the Pope's Swiss Guards:
and another of Sinterklaas and two Zwarte Pieten:
Of course there also was no schimmel, white horse, and no palomino, golden horse, or horse of any color, for that matter, maybe just a few dolphins, but I could not see any--and even more: there were no gifts. That of course was quite disappointing--but allez, I was almost a teenager.
It must have been even more disappointing for my little brothers, Bob, age eight, and the twins, who must have been no more than four at the time. I guess Bob at age eight would have been the hardest hit that Neptune did not bring gifts, like Sinterklaas always did. Four is probably too young to be aware of the calendar dates and Omnes Dies Sanctorum Totius Anni--All the Saints Days of the Whole Year, that was the name of a heavy leatherbound tome printed in 1648 which I once got from a Jesuit Library which threw it out because of its deplorable condition. For me it was nevertheless, desalniettemin, neansmoins a prized possession for a few years--for I love those kinds of ancient things, delapidated or not--but it got lost during all my bicoastal moving around.
Remember, it was about that time of year these events on the Victoria took place--we had left Tandjung Priok, the Piraeus or harbor of Djakarta (old Batavia) on or around December 4th (my parents wedding anniversary, by the way) and the eve of the sixth would have been that great fest of Sinterklaas in the Dutch speaking Universe. But we were not in the Dutch speaking Universe anymore--we were on an Italian vessel--and the Saint's bones may rest in Bari, but he is no big deal on an Italian ship in the mid Indian Ocean. The Roman God Neptune was. Hence--no gifts. Darn it. Saint Nicholas ::: Bari Images
(To be continued either after my coffee break with my friend Brahm downtown at the Venue Cafe across from the Old Mint, or tomorrow, Saturday. Meanwhile, enjoy what's here already, muizekens, for instance:
I am back after my coffee break and the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, or 'Herr Lehrer'--that's how we used to call the German teacher at Eastern Christian Academy in Haledon New Jersey, where I spend three whole months to get my high school diploma back in 1960--the only other thing I remember of 'Herr Lehrer' (actually I took American Literature with him--my German was sufficient already) was that he was very gemuetlich and sold socks after school hours--imagine dr. Pleket doing that--there is definitely something wrong with education in America if teachers have to sell socks to supplement there meager earnings. But then--every school kid knows that....
There is another thing that came up while I was otherwise engaged with my friend Brahm, though unbeknownst to him, for I keep the private ruminations of my mind under cover much of the time--except when I write about them, like here and now: upon due consideration my shamefaced mind tells me that it was not the Oceania but the Australia on which my Dad originally booked us. Now I could of course replace the name, but to tell you the truth, I just don't know for sure--and I doubt anyone would remember such a detail now anyway. Besides what would be the fun in being overly (and overtly) factual.
A tiny bit of the uncertainy principle ought to be applied in creative writing, don't you think? Besides writing is a process of discovery and it's the actual process that is so much fun--so rather than pretend I never made the mistake, I will correct it here for all to see, voilà--with the proviso or caveat that maybe it wasn't a mistake after all--and to make up for this terrible sense of insecurity and uncertainty, I will supply you with a picture of the alternately correct vessel that we might have been on had it not been for that aanvaring or maritime collision in the gulf of Aden.
As you can see from these pictures there was besides the Australia indeed also an Oceania and even a Neptunia (named after that Great Sea God) and all three stopped over in Djakarta--but only on the return trip back to Europe. Few Dutch people in 1954 were making the outgoing journey east to the Indies anymore--au contraire, in tegendeel, everyone wanted to get the hockey puck outa there, for the political and economic situation was becoming untenable for us Indische Nederlanders, East Indies Dutchmen after the transfer of sovereignty in 1949.
Times were rough--and who can blame the Indonesians: 300 hundred years of foreign domination was more than enough, so we Dutch simply had to go--forced, as explained before, to do so mostly by that great Dutch American President Roosevelt and the United Nations, whose Human Rights Declaration had been pushed through mostly by that great Dutch American First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. If that wasn't poetic justice, then what is?
OK, it's roll back time again:
Two of the pictures, I provide hereunder, dated 1953, were actually menu covers, by the way--you can still see where they were folded--and I remember that kind of menu cover on board to this day.
This second menu cover is from the Lloyd Triestino's South Africa Express--also dated 1953--we had very similar menu covers.
The reason why so many Dutch people were using this Italian company was because Dutch liners like the MS Willem Ruys which later became the Achille Lauro Willem Ruys - Achille Lauro and the MS Oranje, which later became the Angelina Lauro MS Oranje - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia were fully booked up at the time. A good half of a million Dutch settlers who had lived and worked in the East Indies for generations had to repatriate to the motherland in the space of a decade--and Holland, especially so short after World War II was really is too small a country to suddenly provide housing and jobs for that many repatriates. And remember how densely populated Holland already was even then.
But hey, they did a heck of a job--no really guys, no snickering. We'd all still be living in toxic trailers today if some one like Brownie or Bushie had been anywhere in the picture. In Holland we never had to live in trailers--in fact my Dad had a job within a few months and we had a four bedroom house within half a year.
Now that's truly a heck of a job. Bravo, Dienst Maatschappelijke Zorg, Dutch Social Care Service--chapeau, hat off, petje af. And bravo, boleh, or vale, Dad, as well. Terlalu bagus! Very good!
But then, it has to be said--my Dad is not always an easy person to get along with, but he always was a conscientious hardworking pater familas--and he kept us safe while we were growing up in very trying circumstances. Still you can imagine the turmoil all of this must have caused to one's family life.
Of course some of us Indische Nederlanders, East Indies Dutchmen, eventually ended up elsewhere, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even Brazil--but our own family, thanks to the Pastor-Walter Act, was able to go to the United States of America--after only a five year stay in the mother country.
We really would not have had to go at all, for my Dad had a decent job as a chemist with the Caltex Group in Pernis--but my parents got kind of antsy in that cold little frogland--coming back from such a large geographical expanse as Indonesia (from one end to the other it extends the same distance as from New York to San Francisco) --after four or five generations to, such a tiny place as the Netherlands (about the size of Maryland)--well that was kind of traumatic--you could barely stretch your legs, let alone your mind. And the Netherlands had not yet gone throught its own 'new enlightenment' in the fifties--by no means. I remember only seeing one black in five years, on the tram in Rotterdam--and was quite amazed at the sight. I also was hardly aware of any Jews, to say nothing of gay people. I remember once a sailor asking me in Rotterdam where he could find Nyudist magazines--I thought he asked for Yudist magazines, and was unable to refer him to any place where one could get the desired Jewish publications and nudist magazines didn't even exist in my mind. Society was still very much 'verzuild' meaning built on separate but equal religious/ideological zuilen or pillars. Everyone stayed withing their own little group. Ours being the conservative Calvinist/Anti-Revolutionary sector. It was a kind of voluntary apartheid. That changed only after we had left for the U.S.--and how.
Apart from that social confinement, the climate was just not comme il faut for folks born and bred in the tropics. The twins appeared to be asthmatic on top of it all, and my father figured that he could stay a chemist in the oil industry in the U.S. Actually he ended up joining a detergent company in New Jersey--Tide and Mr. Bubble and the like.
The dirty little secret of that soapy business was that most detergents are essentially the same--just the boxes look different. And Mr. Bubble--so wonderfull for soft baby skin!--was pretty much like the stuff they use in car washes. Ouchh! I know, I worked in his plant for a few summers, and when we switched boxes at the packing line, pretty much the same powder got fed into them as soon as we were set up for it.
The Ultra Detergent plant was right on the Passaic River--one time we were even assigned to clean up all the debris from the river after it had flowed through the worst part of down town Paterson. Yikes!--But we were covered to the hips and armpits in rubber attire, so apart from the smell, it was actually work like that of a louse on a sour head, een luis op een zeer hoofd, as we say in Holland. A nice leisurely stroll through the water on a hot day picking up used condoms, rusty beer cans and the like is a lot better than getting yourself covered in itchy, fine detergent powder during the late night shift. That really would bring tears to your eyes.Of course the following day--in such a situation--I'd drive out to Terrace Lake to sleep in the sun till it was time for dinner and the next shift. Also not a bad routine--apart from sore arms from packing, plus red eyes and itchy skin from the powder.
But hey, it helped pay for college and law school at the time--and besides, I kind of got back at the company one summer when I very accidentally dropped several huge jars of ammonia right in the middle of the main office and the lab--everyone had to leave the premises for hours. No one was amused. Not even my Dad.
Oh, now I remember another great assignment--at the end of the week the last shift would get to hose down all the accumulated detergent dust from all the nooks and crannies of the plant--and off your fellow summer student workers . Oh yeah, that was my very favorite thing--although driving the little fork lift trucks backwards through all the narrow, crooked and poorly lit passages in the plant--hey, that was a lot of fun as well. I don't think my Dad had nearly that much fun back in his lab--but I could be wrong.
The plant was so old--let me tell you how old it really was: the Smithsonian Institution almost snapped up this creaking soap factory because it had such an ancient look and feel to it that it seemed straight of some Dickens novel, or maybe I should say--out of that Thomas Rosenboom novel, Gewassen Vlees--I still shudder when I recall the descriptions of what poor orphans were subjected to at the time in the province of Friesland, which was probably only a little bit worse than in other provinces. It was grim, grausam, gruwelijk. At least in Fez when they step on hides in pools of human filth and pigeon shit to soften animal skins into leather for ladies purses or men's gloves they do so voluntarily, out in the open air and in the sunshine, not inside dim, dank basements filled with human excrement. That awareness makes me think back to my detergent plant days with a great sense of relief--things could have been so much worse.Tanning - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A last word about the capital of Passaic County, our initial destination when we came here under the Pastor-Walter Act, sponsored by the Christian Reformed Resettlement Service Committee of Prospect Park --bless their good old Dutch American souls! It used to be pretty much a Dutch place, church services and schools were in Dutch till the 1920's I think--and the memory of this is still visible in the windmill on the emblem of this tiny borough, as you can see in the abovegiven link--but the place now has quite a different ethnic make up, mostly Arab and Albanian American--and I assume that some of our churches are now mosks. That's America for you.
While everything is the same when you are on acid, nothing stays the same when you are not. And on acid everything can make you sea sick, if you don't know how to swim in the waves of oceanic reality. It does feel a lot like having died and either gone to heaven, or hell or somehwere in between. Except you never stay there.
But allez, here's some more facts on the borough of Prospect Park, New Jersey - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Remember Paterson was founded at the behest of Alexander Hamilton right after the American Revolution as the first industrial town designed from scratch, mostly because of its location on the Passaic river falls, which were to be used to power new industries when we were still an infant industrial age society.
Let me also make crystal clear that the water goes through the falls before the Passaic reaches downtown and is therefore, especially today, I trust, of unexceptional cleanliness.
So enjoy the view, feel the flow of those energies rush through your entire system and let the waters cleanse you of negative thoughts, memories and impulses. Don't let them fester unacknowledged in your mind and your body. Get them out in the open--examine them and then throw them out and keep them out. That's the way to go.
That's right, muizekens--gnothi seauton--know thyself--if you don't, no cleansing can be complete. The reason why I myself for instance have a hard time cleaning my apartment is because I have to make an inventory of what I need or want to keep and what needs to be tossed out. I have way too much junk in my place but how can I get rid of stuff when I am not even sure what is there? Some of it is likely to be of value. And everything in my place has an emotional overload that makes it very difficult to deal with. Books, papers, pictures,clothes, the whole lot.
But the self examination, the room examination the cleansing and the cleaning have to take place sooner or later.