It’s not you, it’s me… I just need some space.

I often complain about the Dutch lack of kinaesthetic awareness. I think that in two and a half years in the Netherlands, I’ve been bumped into by more strangers than during all the other years of my life combined. I accept that sometimes this happens because the top of my head sits so far below the standard Dutch eye level. But mostly I think it’s a matter of personal space.

Australia has a population of 23 million. The Netherlands has a population of about 17 million. However, Australia is about 205 times larger than the Netherlands, which means I require about 160 times more personal space than the average Dutch person.

Australia vs. Europe

You would think that with a large population in such a tiny area the Dutch would be more, not less considerate of getting in other people’s way. But having spent the Christmas break (plus a bit more) in Australia and being instantly overwhelmed by the crush of people upon my return to Den Haag, it has been illustrated time and again that this is not the case.

I’ve identified four public spaces that are favourite congregation points for Dutchies:

1. At the end of an escalator. Because it’s inefficient to move to the side to figure out which direction to take, in case you end up on the wrong side. Much better to deliberate exactly in front of the escalator.

2. In the middle of a flight of stairs. A perfect place to catch up on some gossip, make Saturday night plans, or ponder the meaning of life.

3. In the crossroads of busy pedestrian corridors. With relentless tides of foot traffic coming from every direction, the best approach is to plant yourself like a rock in the middle of all oncoming traffic in order to consult Google Maps.

4. Immediately inside or outside a doorway. It would appear the Dutch value the ambiance of a shop as much as the products they sell, as they prefer to step just inside a shop in order to decide whether they actually want to peruse the merchandise. And if they do perchance make a purchase, they will hover immediately outside for a few minutes, just to be conveniently close in case they end up with buyer’s remorse.

I often end up startled and alarmed whilst out and about in the Netherlands as people encroach upon my personal space . To those Dutchies that I jump away from with a look of horror and disgust, it’s nothing personal. I just need my space.

Space that happens to be the exact same height, depth and breadth as you.

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In vino veritas.

I will freely admit that I am someone with a rather unsophisticated approach to wine. I do not see it as a magical elixir derived from a tradition honed and perfected over millennia. I do not see it as divine nectar, the swirling of its veiled complexities an expression of its inherent virtue. No, in my world wine is grape juice for grown ups.

However, I feel that having a developed palate and some kind of knowledge about wine are markers that prove you’re an intelligent, independent, well-rounded adult. The fantasy of being the perfect hostess, able to provide the ideal pairing of excellent wine to compliment every stage of an exquisite (but not excessively elaborate) meal holds fairly strong appeal for me. I once did a wine-tasting tour in Chianti in an attempt to develop my wine appreciation skills. All that happened is I got incredibly drunk before noon on a Wednesday. You can take the girl out of Australia…

There is one area in which I can claim to be an expert however. Years of post-performance, post-exam, post-opera, pre-lesson, what-the-hell-it’s-a-Tuesday drinks with a wide range of singers has given me a good understanding of some pretty basic principles in the conservatory singer – wine relationship. For instance:

  • If your favourite wine is cheap and/or comes in a cardboard box: you are a musician.
  • If your favourite wine can be described by any combination of the words fruity, sweet or sparkling: you are a soprano.
  • If your favourite wine is beer: you are an alto.
  • If your favourite wine is a 1973 Domaine de la Romanée Conti Grand Cru: you are a tenor. Nobody else gets enough work to afford such expensive taste.
  • If your favourite wine is whiskey: you are a bass.

Through extensive research (both active and observational) I have been able to identify a peculiar phenomenon that occurs far more frequently among singers than among the general populace. When normal people drink wine, they use their senses to draw conclusions and pass judgement on the wine. When singers drink wine, the overpowering insecurities that have driven them to alcohol in the first place mean that the wine ends up acting as some kind of oracle, drawing conclusions and passing judgement on the drinker.

In order to help singers everywhere make full use of the opportunity for self-discovery each glass of wine occasions, I have developed:

B’s Helpful Guide to Wine Tasting.

  1. Look at the wine in your glass. What colour is it? Is it murky and unclear, like your coloratura? Or is it pretty and bright, like the singer that got booked at the audition you did today? If your wine is in a teacup, bowl, or goon sack, feel free to skip this step.
  1. Swirl the wine in your glass. This will help liberate your inhibitions from any vestiges of good judgement. If you spill the wine at this step, you might want to slow down.
  1. Take a deep sniff of the wine. Do you smell the aroma of disappointed dreams? Of unfulfilled potential? Or do you smell the enticing scent of future possibilities? If the last one, you are probably a first year student, and should be aware that your naive remarks are probably annoying the older students who have developed more sophisticated palates capable of discerning the full range of cynicism offered to them by their wine.
  1. Sip the wine and swirl it around your mouth. What flavours can you detect? Is there the metallic tinge of crushing student debt? Or the syrupy flavour of guilt for not having learnt your aria before your lesson this week? How would you describe the texture? Is it full bodied, like how you feel in your concert dress after gaining the fresher five? Or weak, like your commitment to practicing?
  1. Swallow the wine, and pay attention to the aftertaste. Is it unbalanced, like you in movement class? Is it awkward, like the Monday following an opera after-party when everyone pretends they didn’t hook up with each other 48 hours earlier? Does the aftertaste linger, like the student in the lesson before yours, who always asks your teacher complicated questions right as your lesson is supposed to begin?
  1. Repeat steps 5 and 6 ad libitum. This is the most important step, and deserves much practice.
It's medicinal, I swear.

It’s medicinal, I swear.

In vino veritas, in cervesio felicitas.

On a scale of one to what?

So, the other day I was discussing exam results with a friend, and we were remarking upon a common but confusing occurrence, whereby the jury says:

We feel you’ve made a lot of progress this year. We hear many different things happening in your music making now, and we feel that you have really developed yourself as a musician and performer. With this in mind, we have decided to award you exactly the same mark we gave you last year.

It can be somewhat disheartening to us poor, downtrodden music students to be given the same result year after year, especially when that is somehow supposed to reflect the improvement and development that we have (hopefully) achieved.

This is when my friend and I came to a very simple, but life-changing realisation.

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Reality Bites.

Five facts of life that I dislike intensely:

1. One starts to get wrinkles before pimples have ceased to occur.

2. One cannot eat endless amounts of chocolate and maintain a decent figure.

3. One cannot watch four seasons of Mad Men in a week and hope to turn up to singing lessons with new repertoire prepared.

4. One cannot return library books three weeks late without incurring a hefty fine.

5. Winter is coming.

Reality is exceedingly unfair.

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Indicating is optional.

I made it.

I have survived a full academic year in The Hague. Well, full is possibly a bit of a misnomer. Sure, up until my singing exam at the end of May I was all into practicing, studying, rehearsing and being a good little student. But since that was over and I gained acceptance into the Master’s programme for next year, my level of dedication has been noticeably lower. In fact, I’ve pretty much been on holiday since then, despite June being the month of all other exams. My mind just decided that my life outlook would henceforth look a little something like this:

The barren field...

So I went to all my other exams with a minimum of study or care, handed in assignments and did presentations with the bare skeleton of preparation, watched movies and fuelled my addiction to peanut M&M’s. I have also discovered a few new things about Holland, the main ones being:

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The Wasp, M.D.

Sometimes it takes very little to evoke the memory of someone. A smell, a tone of voice, a quote from a movie, an act of public stupidity that you wished they had witnessed. The Wasp, M.D. has been on my mind a lot lately, brought to the front of my mess of a brain by sometimes the most unexpected events.

Perhaps this has been brought on by the fact that I recently flew back to Australia in order to be the totally useless* maid of honour at her wedding. Maybe it’s the visiting Australians, maybe it’s the stress of my exams making me revert back to my childhood, I don’t know. All I know is that I have to resist the impulse to WhatsApp totally nonsensical messages to her every other day based on some tenuous link between that thing I just did/ate/saw and that thing that happened at some point in our childhoods that she probably has forgotten and I’m probably remembering wrong anyway.

* I was three hours late to the hens night; I improvised my speech on the spot; I napped through the day-after-wedding-bushwalk; I had laryngitis and couldn’t sing during the ceremony. Bringing me back from The Netherlands = worst investment ever.

Seeing as I can’t think of any cleverer way to present this, I hereby present the top five triggers that get me thinking of the Wasp, M.D.

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The Swarm

I am sitting in Schipol airport, about to board a ridiculously long flight to Australia. My sister is getting married in about a week, and I am ditching school and the northern hemisphere in order to go get drunk with relatives. I’m also taking a road trip to see my friends from university, and go on a café crawl with them. They know how much I can eat, and won’t judge me when I throw myself with abandon into a day-long brunch involving multiple locations and far too many chai lattes.

My friends here in the Netherlands have had to put up with me randomly rambling about foods they’ve never heard of that I will eat in places they will probably never visit. Apropos of absolutely nothing, I have been punctuating conversations with statements like “I’m going home in x number of days”.  Naturally I’ve been thinking about how I will describe my life here in a more evocative way than “pretty standard really” and how to give an idea of my friends here in a more accurate way than “yeah, they’re pretty cool”. And seeing as there is a possibility that I will be jet-lagged out of my mind and too busy eating to talk properly, I decided that mumbling “see the blog post” might be a more efficient and eloquent way of providing this information.

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