by Anne van Oorschot
On the last day of May this year, loyal members of TIC’s Book Club met to discuss our latest book, The Japanese Lover, by Isabel Allende. We were fortunate to have nice weather, which allowed us to sit outside and enjoy the peaceful spring evening.
In keeping with the theme of the book, Sondra brought Asian treats: Sake – which we warmed and had out of beautiful, white porcelain cups – and mix of wasabi rice crackers and nuts. While our back garden, does not approach the beauty of the Japanese gardens described in the book, it still helped to complete our Japanese experience. A hot air balloon even floated silently high overhead during our discussion which added to the special atmosphere!
All of us had enjoyed the book – then the conversation paused… When we got past our initial assessment and talked further about the book, it was clear there were many small details and story lines that had been introduced…but never really went anywhere. We were actually left with a lot of questions: Could Irina really enter into a relationship with Seth without going through therapy to deal with the horrors of her past? There were many different stories of religion and spirituality – what message was the author trying to pass along? Why was Alma’s brother only ‘brought back from the dead’ in 2 brief instances and their relationship not developed further? Why did Alma choose to abandon her beautiful home and comforts when she lost her lover?
The information about the internment camps that Japanese Americans were forced into during WWII was disturbing. The injustice of locking up fellow citizens based on their ethnic background and the indelible effects that resulted were profound. All of us around the table were Americans, and we agreed that little had been said in our history lessons about this dark page in America’s past. (The comparison with the present treatment of American Muslims seems too close for comfort…)
As usual, the good book resulted in an interesting discussion – which led to conversations about chicken pox and walking toddlers, a Wedding with family visits, trips to Japan and Rome, months in Milan, and how distressing that every day seems to bring incredible new low points in the constant stream of embarrassments from the US President. In short – it was a fun evening. A good close to this club year for the group.
On March 8th , shortly before the Dutch were due to go to the polls, Hein van Oorschot, formerly the
Mayor of Delft, gave an excellent TIC Talk on the Dutch electoral process. Today, the day following
Theresa May’s comeuppance, here’s what I remember: The main law making body, the House of
Representatives, is the Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber). Representatives are not elected to it by
gerrymandered district like in GB and the US, but instead nationwide and at large. You choose a
candidate from a tiny-tiny- print list, although in fact, your vote will go to the political party of which the candidate is a member – except in the case of Wilders as he is the sole member of the Party for Freedom (pretty name, not so pretty party). All the votes for every qualifying candidate are tallied. This total is divided by 150, the number of seats in the chamber, with each party receiving its proportionate share. The parties send the representatives from their list in the order they appear on the Ballot. (There are
complex rules to determine who gets leftover votes — there being no partial seat.)
Unlike the British first-past- the-post system and the American Electoral College one, both of which are virtual road blocks to smaller political parties, the Dutch proportional system encourages a proliferation of parties. Last March there were 28 of them on the ballot, including ‘50 PLUS’ that looks after the interests of pensioners, and ‘D66’ founded by a group of young intellectuals. (Much to my chagrin there is no party for pensioned intellectuals.) With such an extensive menu of parties to choose from, it is almost impossible for any one party to get a majority sufficient for passing laws by itself, so the parties have to negotiate with one another to form a coalition. The bargaining typically proceeds at a leisurely pace—talks are still going on now, three months after the election. Winner-take- all systems lead to things like Brexit, but the need to form a coalition and to then to keep it intact by getting along with the other partners means that in the Netherlands extreme parties are usually frozen out. The chances of Nexit were probably about the same as in this age of global warming there ever being another Elf-Steden Tocht ice skating race, that is, when Hell freezes over.