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Saskia Wagenvoort - Girl with Fresh and Dried Flowers No. 1

Shanghai Noir

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle: publication date 01.04.2017

By the time you read this newsletter, the outcome of the local Dutch elections will be known. According to the latest opinion polls, GroenLinks (the left-leaning Green party) stands to become the largest bloc in the Amsterdam municipal council. The same polls indicate, however, that the big winner will be Forum voor Democratie, a xenophobic wolf hiding in sheepskin loafers. I've done what I can to help GroenLinks win but I don't have a very good track record with voting.

Being a dual citizen of the US and the Netherlands, I get to vote twice as often as a normal human being. And though I've only been a Dutch citizen for a few years now, I've lived here most of my adult life. So this seemed like the right time to start writing about this place I call home.

My original plan was to write about Mata Hari. You know, the exotic dancer, courtesan and WWI spy? But did you also know that Mata Hari was Dutch. I was in Leeuwarden last weekend to see the Fries Museum exhibit The Myth and the Maiden. This is the story of Margaretha Zelle, born in Leeuwarden in 1876 rose to fame in Paris. She was a constantly evolving creature of fantasy: Balinese dancer, Indian slave girl, daughter of Scottish nobility. There is some doubt, however, about her dancing qualities. According to Simon Kuper writing for the Financial Times, Zelle:

"sensed western demand for fake orientalism. Even more importantly, during her dance of the veils, she stripped naked."

Maybe it would have been better to leave this myth intact. Zelle's true story is a sad one and commonplace, too. The moment in her life that lifted her out of obscurity was also her last one: executed for being a German spy by a French firing squad on 15 October 1917.

But perhaps this is the way of all myths. The truth is too boring, insufficiently sordid or aspirational to warrant attention. Myths make for better marketing like the target of this week's blog post. The myth of Dutch tolerance: The Low Countries.

We humans seem to find it impossible not to embellish, whether it's the truth or the beauty pictured above. This lovely artwork is the work of Saskia Wagenvoort, who describes her work as "mixed and stitched photography". She writes in the brochure for FRIA Photo '18:

"at first glance, [my work] is about beauty, but beneath that lies death and despair, a bittersweet reality."

Bittersweet is exactly the flavor of Ghachar Ghochar, a novella by Vivek Shanbhag. To a family living hand-to-mouth in Bangalore, a room of one's own seems like a luxury beyond comprehension. And yet how quickly they adapt to their newly comfortable middle class life and in the process lose all touch with themselves. Here's my review: Happy Family.

BREAKING NEWS: thanks to the wonderful Tori Egherman, my blog post The Low Countries has just been republished on Global Voices, a borderless, nonprofit community centered on citizen media reporting. This organization

"verifies and translates trending news and stories you might be missing on the Internet, from blogs, independent press and social media around the world."

And now I'm part of it. Woo hoo!

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