As you may now, I live in a sleepy little town not far outside Amsterdam. A little over 100 meters from my apartment’s balcony is the Catholic church you see to the right – the Sint-Laurentiuskerk. It’s the new church in town; built in 1876. Across the canal and a couple blocks away is the old (now Protestant) church – the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk. It was completed in the mid 15th century.
Every Sunday at 9:45am, the bells in both towers go absolutely bonkers. And it’s loud. It damned well will wake you up if you’ve slept that late. If you’re hungover, it’s a nightmare cacophony of maddening racket that will have you crawling under the bed.
I’ve determined that this call to the house of god is little more than an antiquated variety of SPAM, and should be illegal.
See, if you were to pick 20,000 E-mail addresses and send them disturbing, unsolicited messages once a week, you could get in serious trouble resulting in hefty fines. But if you irritate the fuck out of the same amount of people once a week with the kind of brain-cleaving cling-clanging that removed the alien symbiote from Spiderman and call it tradition? Oh, that’s fine!
Every Sunday, I end up pondering how this is somehow considered anything less than annoying (much less charming) in the 21st century. Would my neighbours be as charmed if I were to open all my doors and windows every Saturday morning at 9am and played Slayer’s Raining Blood (easily among the most irritating songs ever recorded) at top volume?
I fucking doubt it. In fact, I’m pretty certain the homeowners association would be on my ass before the second incident even took place.
For many Americans, Boxing Day is a tradition they’ve heard of, but never truly understood.
Today, Boxing Day is just a day off from work and an opportunity to unwind while watching football (soccer) on television. It almost works out like a Second Christmas Day, as it’s called in the Netherlands, for instance. However, the origins of the holiday are shockingly violent and the tradition was the cause of several deaths in the early days.
The story starts in South Kensington, London in 1897 with a disagreement between next-door neighbors Reginald Higgins and Jonathon Stone. The two men and their families resided in a row of townhouses just off Sloane Road (a major thoroughfare in the relatively new neighborhood). It was a pricey area, mostly inhabited by upper-middle class families. Many of the houses there also served as second homes to the wealthy who still had manor homes in the countryside.
Higgins and Stone were quite similar in many ways. Both were retired junior officers in the British Army with Stone having served in India. Both were married with primary school-aged children, were well-paid and revered in their occupations (Higgins a well-connected architect, Stone a physician), and the two belonged to a well-respected gentleman’s club.
However, while they seemed to get along well with everyone else in their social circles, it was widely known that the two couldn’t stand one another. They had each spread accusations and rumors about one another. Stone had claimed Higgins had been bribing local authorities in exchange for consideration on the design of public buildings. Higgins accusations against Stone were less malicious. He claimed his neighbor had often stolen coal from his outdoor delivery box, didn’t dispose of rubbish properly, and that his unruly children had caused quite a bit of property damage (broken windows, fence slats, etc.) to his home.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back occurred on Christmas Eve 1897.
The following is to be read in the narrator’s voice from one of those 1950’s educational films:
The Dutch are a proud, hard-working, and rather tall people. They’ve made many contributions to global culture, particularly in the arts, water management, seafaring, and the slave trade. The Netherlands is also well-known for the use of bicycles in their bustling cities rather than automobiles. The result of this two-wheeled transportation point of view is that the fine, fine ‘Nederlanders’ who do operate motor cars can’t park them worth shit.
Of course, the above is hyperbole and intended to induce a chuckle or two. But the fact remains that if there’s one skill the Dutch lack, it’s the ability to properly park an automobile. Continue reading