Trying to Learn a bit of Dutch

bicycle sign from the Netherlands
I’ve been trying to improve on what little Dutch I know, mainly adding to my vocabulary. And I’ve discovered something baffling. Words that have an interesting sound are more likely to be retained. For instance, the word “fietsen” which means to bicycle. Now I don’t plan to bicycle in the rain forest. Or even in the city of Paramaribo, for that matter! And I’m sure I won’t find anything in the old Dutch records of 1699-1701 about bicycling, either. Yet that word clings to my brain while more useful words just slide right off. What’s up with that?

Visiting Surinam

Suriname map highlighting regionsI am excited about the trip I’m planning to Surinam. This trip will be different from the one I made to Germany. There I was more familiar with the language. But I don’t speak Dutch which is the official language of Surinam. So…I will take an experienced translator with me. (I learned in Frankfurt and Nürnberg that you never know where or when a casual conversation will reveal or lead to a real “gold nugget” of information.

I am looking forward to researching in the libraries and museums of Paramaribo. I am also looking forward to again walking the streets Maria Sybilla Merian walked, seeing some of the buildings she saw, experiencing new foods and new sights, sounds, smells, and textures. Trying to describe the taste of something totally new must be interesting. (I’m not sure I would have recognized the taste of pineapple from Maria Sybilla’s description, but then I already know that taste.)

I have no idea what the rain forest is like, so right now I cannot adequately write about that. And a writer needs to know the location used in the story. Actually going to the location leads to more authentic descriptions and feelings.

With passport, visa, camera, and notebook in hand, I am eager to gather sensory as well as documentary input. With that I can get back to writing!

Nürnberg’s Christmas Cookies

Nürnberg’s famous Christmas cookies, called Lebkuchen (or gingerbread), were first baked in that city in 1395. They were made with expensive ingredients – spices brought in the Middle East Traditionally Lebkuchen are large cookies (4″ or more), and were made by hand until 1867,

When Maria Sybilla Merian (Mrs. Johann Graf) and her family lived in Nürnberg, Lebkuchen were made only by master gingerbread bakers who were members of the Lebkuchen Baker’s Guild.

City Walls

What would it have been like to live in a city surrounded by walls? It is difficult for me to imagine living where the entire city was locked up for the night, much less guarded twenty-four seven. I cannot imagine traveling to a city and then being turned away, not allowed inside. In Maria Sybilla’s time the guards at the gates would check travelers’ papers, and those papers had to be in order for those gates to open. Not everyone was allowed in.

When I traveled to Frankfurt, I had hoped to gain a sense of size of the city back in the 1600s by where the walls were. Alas, there was only one small piece of the old wall left standing. I was shocked, however, at how short the wall is. The apartment buildings behind it are taller. (For some reason I thought the city’s walls would be much higher.)

Armed with notes I had made from old maps, I began walking around. Whenever I began to feel a bit lost, all I had to do was look for the tall steeple of the church called the Dom. I might have to walk to a cross street, but it never took long to find that tower and figure out where I was. It didn’t take long to understand how close everything must have been back then.

Remnants of old city wall
I was disappointed that there was so little of the city wall left. That comes, of course, from someone whose city was not totally destroyed by war. In fact those were just words without any real meaning until I entered the city museum and saw a model of the old city, and then in the next room saw a model of the city after WWII. Only one building was still intact! That had quite an impact on me, and it was awhile before I mentally shook myself and got back to my research.