The Dutch aren't stupid and I don't hate them.

Except the guy who almost ran me over with his car. Him, I still hate.

It has been a week of exhaustion, anger and hopelessness, as month's worth of paying lip-service to patience and optimism came to an end. And it became abundantly clear that I had been keeping my head in the sand, perfectly happy to let others tell me what to do and where to go when. Results like I had at the neurologist appointment last week were inevitable -- sooner or later the ball was going to drop because I wasn't making any effort to ensure it stayed up.

A fruit basket goes to that neurologist though, because he kept his word and followed up on my case, writing all my doctors a fairly scathing letter, and forwarding my case to a top neurosurgeon in the Netherlands. He even called me back to tell me about it. The neurosurgeon's office called me last Friday with an appointment to see an endocrinologist at the hospital they all work in today. I was frustrated because I thought I was starting all over again, but optimistic because I confirmed that all my files had been sent and received BEFORE going. And they all had. This is progress.

Today was the appointment and here is what I know:
- the tumor is attached to the pituitary gland
- the tumor is so small that operating is high-risk because chances are very high that part of the pituitary gland will be taken off in the surgery
- the tumor is benign
- the medication I was on before may have been reducing the amount of prolactin in my system, but the blood tests that I had been given don't measure exact amounts of that hormone. A >47 shows up if the level is greater than 47, so even if my level had gone from 193 to 48, it would have shown up as no change
- the lab in the hospital measures exact amounts of prolactin in the blood, so I will have a real baseline
- I have been given new medication that is stronger than what I was on before and will have blood taken again in five weeks
- If this medication works, I will have to take it forever
- No matter what, I need to lower my prolactin levels
- In seven weeks I meet with the endocrinologists again as well as the neurosurgeon if needed

So I now have a plan and a time line. Tom, upon listening to everything the doctor said, looked at me and said, "OK. Surgery is off the table." I tend to agree, and am hopeful that this medication will work and cut this tumor off.

I received so many messages of love and support from my friends which were just amazing. Special love returned to my Dutch friends who put up with my disparaging their entire culture and to the four who are equally funny, patient and fierce.


The Dutch are stupid and I hate them

[caveat #1 - I am very angry]
[caveat #2 - none of my Dutch friends are like this]

It's true.

I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Tried to understand their obtuse rudeness.

Tolerated their non-existent work ethic - in restaurants where I have to beg for service, in shops where it is better to say "not possible" before lifting a finger to help, on jobs where they leave promptly at 6pm with work unfinished and no sense of responsibility.

I have had strangers wag their fingers at me for nothing - scold me for the littlest thing and I have not said a word. Not a word. Because I am a guest in this rotten excuse for a country and that would be rude, ugly-American behavior, and it is up to ME to adapt to THEM.


Today, after waiting almost two months for an appointment with a neurologist to talk about my brain tumor...yes, my BRAIN F***ING TUMOR, the doctor sat me down and asked me, "Why are you here?"

He didn't have a clue. The other doctor never sent the MRI or told him about my situation and he never asked. Nothing. A complete waste of time, energy and emotion. This country is filled with sea cucumbers. Seriously. They don't care. They don't act. They don't do anything except use up oxygen and wear bad shoes. The doctor seemed embarrassed that this had happened to me -- and he seemed to be motivated to take action, but honestly, I think he will be distracted tomorrow by a new type of sprinkle to put on his buttered bread at lunchtime and forget all about me. And then it will be up to me again to call, nag, plead and beg to get something done. Except it won't be done...it will be promised and once again forgotten.

Imagine living in a culture without empathy. Then add cheese and laziness.
I hate it.


From the work vault...

Trolling the net for myself during a lull in editing, I found images from the Nike Italy football campaign I worked on the summer I moved to Amsterdam with W+K. This one is my favorite. You can see the entire series here.

The Dom DeLuise Effect

Combined brilliance from Joshua, Steven and Holly on a Saturday night:

DDLE (Dom DeLuise Effect) is a visual effect that works on our society's standards much like the Doppler Effect works on sound, changing the way we view Fat People. For instance - viewing Cannonball Run in the '80's, we all considered Dom to be obese. But now, 30 years later, in our mind's eye we remember him being obese, but viewed with the modern (read more) Fat People Standard (FPS), he's not even 'Fat-fat'. He's just 'Normal (Fat)'. As proof, DDLE also works on other stars in the past - for instance, seeing John Candy star as 'Ox' in Stripes - not 'Fat-fat', just 'Normal (Fat)' - but we all remember him as being obese.

I am in awe of their collective awesomeness.


Brain update

My appointment with the neurosurgeon is next week but I am trying to stay in the optimistic here and now. When I invariably head down the darker road, I embrace the violins AND electric guitars AND dancers AND a chorus of it all. Now is the time for one amazing, gut-wrenching production number!


Long overdue holiday journal

The trip started with Tom and Rabito escorting me to Weeze, Germany, a former air force base turned low-cost airline hub just over the Dutch border. The fares may be low on cost, but are more than abundant on regulations - it is a demoralizing trade off to make, and one that temporarily halted my usual "wait until the last minute then show up smiling and walk right on board" tactic of air travel. The fear of being sent to the back of the line because my checked bag (that I paid 10e for) is one kilo over the paltry 15 kilo limit. Or my one allotted piece of cabin luggage was a centimeter too large, causing me to leave my essentials behind. So much sternness stressed me out and, as a result, I was checked in (without incident) two hours prior to departure and the three of us sort of stood around and stared at each other.

A note for cultural anthropologists: the way to make Dutch people crazy is to divide the line for boarding an airline into "Priority" (people who paid to reserve a seat) and "General" (those who didn't). Then watch the people in the "General" line, which you know is the vast majority since the Dutch are loath to part with a euro, cluck their tongues and crane their necks as they watch other people go first. Every minute that they were prevented from moving forward, my personal space got smaller and smaller as they pressed forward. This time, instead of taking it, I used
wildlife safety knowledge and pretended I came across a bear in the wild. Like the handbooks say to do, I made myself twice as big by pointing my elbows out and widening my feet as far as possible, which kept them at bay long enough to make a break for it, run for the plane and score a seat by the window.

I slept through much of the flight, waking up to a view of the Mediteranian Sea and sunshine. The vacation was underway! The caravans are everywhere, as France vacations for the month of August. Paziols, the town I am staying in, is a few hours from Beziers, the town I flew into, and
the drive takes you through vineyards and gorges and dusty towns. Now that I am here, I am having a hard time not staring at the swallows that are darting back and forth outside my bedroom window and falling into an early sleep. The lady up the road offered to take me to the neighboring town for a concert tonight -- it starts at 11pm and she told me to knock on her door around 10:30 if I want to go. I know I should because it would be so nice, but I am doing what I do when I travel alone, and playing it safe inside the four walls. Perhaps I will break that pattern! Or perhaps not...

Cut to over a week later.

I read that entry and think I sounded bitter. Sort of sad too. It has been such an amazing vacation in all sorts of ways. I will give a summary.

Got up early and ran to Tuchan, the next village over and back, using the roundabout as my turning point. It was hot but so beautiful, and the air smelled like sunshine. Had morning coffee on the roof terrace overlooking the village and neighboring hills and then went down to the local market to buy necessities like bread and cheese. Then packed myself up and drove to the beach without a specific town in mind, just following my gut. It may have been Port-Barcares, but it felt vaguely Jersey Shore. Which I didn't mind because there were handy places to buy beach umbrellas and cheap towels.


Bought meat from the mobile charcuterie man who comes to the village on Tuesday mornings and sat a bit in the sun, waiting for enough time to pass for me to go to Toulouse to pick up mom. The airport is a few hours away, so I left early, but a bit too early, as I had many hours to kill before her plane arrived. I wandered around Toulouse, finding the Galerie Lafayette as if by some strange psychic pull, and took in as much as possible in between looking at my watch and nervously hoping my bangs didn't get stringy in the heat. Mom got off the plane later than expected, but my worries about her not being able to reach me and wandering the halls of Heathrow for a week were happily put to rest when I saw her beautiful smiling face wheeling the luggage cart out of arrivals. I cried because I was so, so, so happy to see her after eight long months. We made our way back to Paziols, I made her dinner and we went to sleep.

DAY 4 (serendipity ruled the day)
I had grand plans of taking mom to a major Wednesday market just up the road in Villeneuve, but when we got there, there was no market to find. Discouraged, I drove us to Durban, the next town up, where there was a smaller, but lovely gourmet market. The world should all know the joy of heirloom tomatoes for 2 euros a kilo. There was also the ubiquitous rotisserie chicken man, who threw in a bottle of cider with purchase of a bird and roasted potatoes. As we walked to the end of the market, we were approached by a woman selling raffle tickets for a trip to Morocco. When she realized we didn't speak French, she passed us off to an English woman named Maureen who has lived in the village for 20 years. Maureen not only got me to buy a ticket, but got mom and I to buy tickets for the town Sardinaire on Friday night. This was a good chance for us to see the famous regional dance at a traditional fete, we thought, and Maureen was so lovely, we figured it would be our best chance to mingle with the locals.

Chateau d'Aguilar

After leaving Durban, we explored some towns up in the hills, stopping for a picnic where mom saw how freaked out I am by bees. Then back for a nap, and then a drive up to Chateau d'Aguilar, our local Cathar castle. The light was amazing, and we made do taking photos instead of trying to climb up the path in inappropriate shoes. I thought we'd go to a medieval festival somewhere to the left of Tuchan because I'd seen lots of signs for it and thought it could be cool, but since I had no idea really where we were going, we stumbled upon the gorges as the sun was going down and were stunned by how beautiful the area is -- huge rock formations and a river way down at the bottom. It was actually car-stop worthy, which is saying something. Then we drove and drove and drove, up to the Chateau Peyrepertuse, but we turned back before even getting close because the hordes of people flocking to the fest. On the way back, we noticed a Don Quiote windmill in a town we had driven through on the way to Peyrepertuse. It was so cool that we parked and walked up the hill to photograph it in the sunset. Amazing. This all happened in one day!

We had our dinner of cold chicken, potatoes and tomato salad on the roof terrace, where it stayed balmy through the bottle of wine and meteor shower. I saw my first real shooting star - so bright and low that I thought some kid had let off a bottle rocket. The tail stayed in the sky for a long time after the star faded out. Now I know that star was named Guy.

Lunch at Chateau de Jau. Amazing setting, amazing food and wine.
Tomato bread with serrano ham
grilled lamb chops (I had three) with fresh tomatoes
roquefort cheese
orange sorbet

I was very good and merely sampled all the wine parings. Delicious 2008 rose aside... when we got back to Paziols, mom went to take a nap and I went down to the cafe du sport for a pastis and read in the sunshine. A lovely day.

Lazy day of reading. Went to the river to cool down in the afternoon, and after making mom slip and slide down the bank, I was quickly disenchanted with the nature of it all. The clay soil becomes blue mud and was a ready made mask for my t-zone. The water felt great, but the little fish nibbling on my toes didn't. And did I mention my fear of bees? We picked blackberries and figs, eating both on the walk back to the house, which was perhaps the most decadent thing in the world.
Dinner in Durban

After our requisite naps, we showered the river off and went to Durban for the fete, where we were befriended by the English contingent who lives there. Such nice people!!! The sardinaire centered on sardines caught that morning and fried whole. It was all you could eat, quite literally. The sardanare, is the Catalan dance that we didn't see. What a difference a letter makes! We were well cheered by the night and thankful that we didn't find the intended market on Wednesday.

Got up fairly early for our climbing day and started at Chateau d'Aguilar. Amazing. Went to go to two more chateau and thought I followed the map correctly, but the little twisty turny road didn't lead where I thought it would, so we went up to chateau Peyrepertuse. We picnicked on hay bales left over from the medieval days. The fortress is built quite literally on the edge of a cliff and was a heck of a walk up, though we were aided by a recorded guide who made comments about eating "a delicious weeld boore and drinking the verry nice locaal wins." We deserved a nice meal after all the climbing and sweating so we went to our local restaurant for dinner, which sort of sucked, to be honest. But there was some very nice cheap cheese (aka sheep cheese) that brought the day around full circle.

Another lazy day focused on making a nice Sunday lunch. For dinner we went into Tuchan for tapas which were delicious, rivaled by seats outside on the terrace next to to boules court with lights strung over head and music coming from the community center next door - great jazz and classics. Completely redeemed the meal from the day before and reminded me again how great it is to hang out with mom.

Drove to Collioure which was just amazing. We got there after much traffic and stress around the roundabouts, but the hotel setting put all the tension to rest - on a low rise overlooking a cove/beach. We happened to be in town during the St. Vincent festival, which could have been the reason there were so many people and traveling groups of horn players. We stopped at the first restaurant we came to on the water and lucked into a table right on the beach with a view to absolutely love and remember. We ate salads and drank rose and watched people and pinched ourselves because it was all too amazing. And then there was a bit of shopping before going back to the hotel and going for a swim in the ocean.


And THEN dinner at the highly regarded hotel restaurant. It was an incredible meal - fancy plates and even fancier view of the battlements and castle overlooking the water from dusk through sunset to night. Instead of going right to bed, we walked down to town and danced to a band for a while. Such a good time!

DAY 10
Breakfast on terrace, swim in ocean, a bit of a wander in town, stumbling into the Templars for citron presse and art viewing before some more sun on the hotel lounges and a stress-free drive back to Paziols. Does mom really have to leave?

DAY 11
Early morning drive to Tolouse to take mom back to the airport. Had it really been a week already? It was so sad to say goodbye, made sadder by my first foray into Facebook in a week, where I found out that my friend Guy Champney died suddenly the week before. I booked a train ticket back to Amsterdam for Friday because I couldn't stand the idea of being without Tom any more. Beauty is fine, but being with the people you love is better. I left the airport with a heavy heart and went to the original market town from the week before, but had just missed it, so drove to Port-La-Nouvelle for some beach time. Unlike the other beaches I had been to, this one was soft sand with waves perfect for body surfing. I played in the ocean for a long time, laughing and crying at alternate minutes - thanking God and trying not to ask why.

DAY 12
Warm air that feels like the softest sweater. Watching stars and bats. The taste of really good rose, butter and bread. Finding the Roman bridge and standing in the middle of a dirt road with my head back, eyes closed and arms outstretched, trying to embed the smell of the air in my memory.

DAY 13
On a train all day, watching France change before my eyes. I watched the sun rise while driving to Beziers and felt strong. It was the right decision to come home today.