Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Open the Door

Cheese tasting/filming in the Leiden market
  After months of agonizing anticipation (kinda-sort of, but let’s just go with the dramatic flair – it suits this post), we finally have our House Hunters International episode air date!  Set your DVRs America, for Tuesday, December 3rd at 9:30 p.m. CST (or for any of those night-owls out there, it also repeats later the same evening at 12:30 a.m.)  A Lengthy List of Demands in Leiden is the title of our episode (Seriously, we wanted 4-bedrooms with a pee-space for the dogs. If you call that lengthy, fine. There are worse titles out there. I checked.)  Consistent with most big events in my life, I haven’t actually absorbed the fact of what is going to happen.  Maybe it will hit me the day-of/night before.  Am I seriously going to be on international television?  Nah, that it just too crazy to comprehend.  
  Considering the Netherlands does not have HGTV, we originally were going to have to wait until the network will sent us a copy of the DVD 3-4 weeks after the original airdate.  V is much more motivated than I am, and recently posted a S.O.S. to our friends in America for streaming options.  I think we’ve got a solution.  Considering he (we) stayed up until 2:00 a.m. last weekend to watch the LSU-Texas A&M game, we’ll probably be able to manage a 4:30 a.m. wake up call to check out our debut. 
   I have no idea what to expect.  The film crew was here for four very long days the weekend before Memorial Day. It seems like forever ago.  (Cue icy strong wind, dreary rain-soundtrack, and blurry picture – prompting flashback). 
   May 2013. We received our very intensive schedule a few weeks before the film crew arrived.  (Wardrobe 1, 2, 3, 4. Switch back to wardrobe 2. Wardrobe 4. Introduction scene. House tour 2. Meet & Greet. With kids. Without kids. House tour 3. Switch to wardrobe 4. Etc., etc. etc.) After my initial I excitement, I realized that I was in serious trouble. I had been “making do” with my American-imported wardrobe for a year for a few reasons: A. Business for profit, considering the customer, and other fun commerce-driven habits are seriously lacking in the Netherlands, thus shopping an absolute chore.  B. the Netherlands has a target-market of 6-foot tall women. C. Confusing European sizes. D. A double-stroller in tiny European stores. E. Two kids in the double-stroller.  I realized I was in trouble.  I needed clothes.  My daily wardrobe of an Abominable Snowman t-shirt I stole from my sister 8 years ago was not going to cut it.  Neither was my dusty Corporate America suits and heels.  My husband gave me a handful of cash with a promise to keep the kids entertained, and I set off for Den Haag/The Hague.  Thank goodness for Lady Sting.

  Next, we all had to get our haircuts.  Again, I had been avoiding the issue with my children.  After failed attempts at cutting her bangs, Baby Girl’s bangs were grown out.  Little Man’s hair was a disaster, and although it suited him, record goes to show that his first haircut was prompted by a film crew.  My Mom was visiting us and witnessed the occasion.  His beautiful blonde curls didn’t fall to the ground as the Dutch woman snipped.  His curls became tighter and more pronounced.  The first haircut photos showed a happy (and confused) Mama.  Perhaps the curls are a tribute to his Dutch genes.   

Flower purchasing/filming
The morning of the first day of filming, V and I dropped the kids off at daycare at the end of our block.  (For all those parents out who beg the question – where are the kids during all these house tours?  They’re with the daycare/sitter, for four days straight.)  We headed to the hotel to meet the film crew.  It was a freezing cold, blustery day.  We saw a friend struggling, leaning as close to his handle bars as possible and squinting against the wind as he pedaled by on his bike. “Hi, Vincenzo!” we waved.  He was on his way to work and waved back.  That’s one thing I love about Leiden.  I only know about 20 people, but it’s small enough to run into my friends on a daily basis.  Our waving hands clasped each other’s and V and I headed into the hotel to meet “the crew”. 
They were scoping out locations for the ‘interviews’.   The interview is part of the show where they ask you about how you met, why you’ve moved, etc.  I liked the entire team, instantly. The cast consisted of (In my accountant-lingo):  a sound guy, a video guy, and the on-scene-director-lady.  There was also a local-liaison guy.  He was responsible for talking Dutch to everyone we had to deal with, scoping out restaurants for lunch and/or filming, and buying snacks to keep our energy level up.  They were all friendly, personable, and relaxed.  More importantly than all of this though, was that most of them were parents of small children.  They understood naptimes, bedtimes, dinner times, etc. – which, as silly as it sounds, helped immensely.  I had to pick my kids up by 6. I couldn’t be filming around town at 8:00 p.m.  While the people in London proposing and changing the schedule may not have understood these little fun facts, the people I was working with did. 
V with the Go-Pro camera
After scoping out ‘the specs’ we moved our entourage from the IBIS to the Golden Tulip in Leiden.  It’s an old-school-looking location.  The management had promised cooperation. (Fun fact: when filming, you have to have total and complete silence – if you’re outside and a plane is flying overhead, you have to stop filming)  In the middle of our “interviews” in the restaurant, background music suddenly starts playing overhead Another Fun Fact: in the Netherlands background music in any store is nearly non-existent. I’m sure we’re known around Leiden as the woman with the lion-imitating children. Everyone has heard them with piercing clarity. (Overhead music is yet another marketing tactic stores haven’t embraced.)  But nevertheless, we’re in the middle of filming, and the background music for lunch starts playing over the speaker system.  The director’s jaw drops in disbelief.  She signals liaison-guy to go have a chat.  Liaison guy, who is Dutch, comes back with no solution.  There are rules.  The rules are, the music starts at 11:00 a.m. in preparation for lunch.  Everyone shrugs (including me and V – we’ve been here long enough to understand the stubbornness).  The British director-lady is irate.  We go to a very long lunch, complete with happy dance to get the waiter’s attention to take our order.  After lunch the liaison-guy is run down and ticketed by a bike-riding policeman.  Liason-guy had walked through the crosswalk when the light said ‘do not walk’.  There are rules.    
For the next few days, we walk all over the Netherlands. We view multiple houses. We film in lots of locations. We learn how to get ‘miked-up’, the inside secrets like – how they actually get those scenes when people are driving their cars, and lots of other fun truths about the show.  We act naturally the first time, but then they say, in their lovely British accents “Alright – that was brilliant but now can we get it again so we can get the opposite camera angle.” And then it’s questionable acting (I mean, come on, we’re two business majors).  They took about 10 hours of film and condensed it down into 22 minutes – we’ll see how it goes.

V and I with the crew outside our house
After the final edits, we received an e-mail.  Our casting director in London called our episode “a cracker”.  My American response was “tee-hee-tee-hee-OMG-what-does-that-even-mean?!?!? “ Nervous, I looked up the term on-line.  Cracker: “insane, bonkers, and unhinged”. Huh.  At least my ‘authentic self’ has been documented appropriately for all of the world to see.  Enjoy, America and I hope our sling-box option works okay.       

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Diamonds and Dust

Moonshine Road - Kix Brooks

West Texas (TheSeafarer, Flickr)
   I landed in Dallas greeted by a warm, bright Texas sun after being in transit for over twelve hours.  My body felt like it was 2:00 a.m. and the happy energy radiating from the balmy globe in the sky was not returned.  The jet-lag headache felt like a hang-over but I hadn’t even had a drop of alcohol. (U.S. carriers, unlike their European counterparts, do not have free drinks on international flights.)  I eyed the other passengers at Dallas Love field waiting at the shuttle stop. It was October, but most everyone else was dressed appropriately – in shorts. My boots, jeans, and jacket were overkill. I made friends with the Hungarian rental car shuttle driver.

  I entered into the Avis rental car place and was heartily greeted by a large woman with a strong Texas accent. I reached into my purse to get my wallet and pulled out souvenirs and placed them on the tall countertop. “Oh mah’ goodness! Are those pe-caaan praaa-lines!?” she hyperventilated, her pudgy hands waving.  “Uh. No.” I said slowly. “They’re stroopwafels. I live in the Netherlands. They’re for my friends.” Between the sun and this lady, I was having trouble shielding myself from the balls of energy being thrown at my head.  Her eyes grew wide. “The Netherlands? That’s where you live? But you don’t have an accent?” she scratched her head. I sighed. “No. No. I used to live in Dallas, but now I live there, but I’m back for a visit. Here. Here’s my husband’s credit card.” Throughout the next ten minutes the overly friendly conversation flipped as she explained the rules about matching names on credit cards, drivers’ licenses, and reservations. A Dave Ramsey graduate – I have no credit card in my name, my Dutch bank card was unacceptable, cash out of the question, and so I blew dust off my ancient and nearly empty American debit card.  The final blow was a lecture on how my maiden name lingered passively on the card, although my married name is hyphenated.  The correspondence left us both sour. Keys were exchanged, a credit check scar on my otherwise pristine credit record, and I huffed out of the car rental place with my head throbbing even more.  Welcome to America. Geez. (Yes, I realize now that credit cards to rent a car is standard policy around the world. . . but it did make me miss my bike and public transportation.)            

As I exited the Avis rental car parking lot, the man in the booth asked if I wanted a map.  “Oh no.” I scoffed. “I used to live here!” I headed west in search of 114.  I missed it by a block. Zooming up I-35 I marveled in the wide lanes, the excellence of my stereo system, and was thankful the sun was finally starting to set. My mind a jumble of confusion, I became repeatedly lost. Exits have changed, lanes widened, and my mental map of DFW in my head was rusty like a bike chain in need of WD-40. 

The Groom's Dad & Brother (not) calming Nikki's nerves before the ceremony
Eventually, I arrived at Nikki’s.  We smiled, dined on pizza delivery and wine. She took photos of me, covered in plane-funk and all, and posted them on Facebook. I quizzed her on all her family members who I would see that weekend at Cody’s wedding. She was determined to make me stay up until at least 10:00 p.m. in efforts to get over the jet-lag. “How are the wedding plans going?” I asked and she groaned. “What. What’s going on? Is there some drama or something?” I pried.  “No, no. It’s just – I’m so nervous. If I mess up you know my family is never going to let me live it down. They’ll tease me about it forever.” She shook her head and sighed.  Nikki, a licensed attorney in the State of Texas, was going to officiate Cody’s wedding.  I wish I could offer her condolences, but I knew she was right. She has a large, rambunctious, playful Hispanic family.  If she tripped over her words during the ceremony, they would tell stories about it at her funeral.  I smiled sympathetically and shrugged.  “You’ll do great.  I know you will.” 

I first met Nikki’s family in our apartment in Waco in 1997. She and I were roommates at Baylor University and in the marching band together.  Eleven of them had come into town for a football game and as we were wrapping up things at the stadium – packing up water coolers and other band equipment - she informed me that they were already at our house, hanging out.  “Oh, okay! They didn’t want to wait for us?” I asked. The mysterious Rubio clan had arrived into town during the game. I hadn’t actually seen any of them yet. “Nah, I just gave them a key and they let themselves in.” 

I parked in our broken parking lot in front of our apartment with blue carpet, wood paneling, and bars on the windows. Two large Hispanic men were squeezed on to the cozy white swing outside (Management’s attempt at making the ghetto cozy, I guess.) They both held bottles of Coors light in their hands.  I uneasily stepped out of my car and started walking towards my own apartment. They smiled and introduced themselves.  After a little more small talk they asked me, “So. Is Waco dry?” It caught me off-guard. “Well, it rains here quite a bit.” I answered, confused. They exchanged glances. Later, Nikki explained that they were asking about alcohol. 

“Where are they all going to sleep?” I asked her. Eleven people were snuggled into our tiny two-bedroom apartment. “Oh you know, here, there, wherever.” My junior year in college, I learned the carpet is a suitable place for sleeping when hosting a large family get-together. I slept at my boyfriend’s house that weekend.  

After that initial awkward meeting and my first trip home with her, I realized what I had inadvertently stumbled upon – a new culture. Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, I was immune to a truly Texas lifestyle much less a Hispanic one.  I took off my white-girl suburban glasses and observed, learned, and started to embrace.  Her family is so big. So close. So welcoming! They have their quirks and squabbles like any other family, but they also joke, tease, drink, and dance. Over the years, I became a regular attendee at her family’s functions and her family would often come and visit us in Waco

Her cousin Cody is about my brother’s age, four years younger than me.  He spent a high school spring break with us in our apartment in Waco.  Nikki worked at Red Lobster and had scheduled “babysitters” for him each night when she had to be away.  Each of us had our own itinerary and I decided to play off Waco’s and my own strengths: a trip to the Waco Zoo and a home-cooked meal!  It was the first time I’d really spent any time with him. We laughed a lot and he appreciated my cooking (and he at least pretended to like the Zoo.)  He was artistic and creative – something an accounting major found fascinating. He played football and had plans to go to Texas Tech. I spent years on in the stands watching football games.  My Grandmother lived in Lubbock.  He is easy going, has a quirky sense of humor, and a genuine interest in the people around him. Over a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, it was apparent that he and Nikki were very close.  Cody quickly became one of my favorite people in her family.   

Cody and I, 2008
I attended his high school graduation ceremony in West Texas. He went off to Texas Tech, graduated, and I danced to rap, Mexican, and pop music with his family at the celebration party in Big Spring. He moved to Dallas and we spent more time together, especially after Nikki moved back to Texas after graduating from law school in Kansas.  The best times we had together though, were in Big Spring, that magical place away from everything and everyone. It’s a tiny town, run-down and seemingly lonely.  But I found it to be the exact opposite.  His Dad turned 55 and everyone came into town for the party – more dancing, more laughter, more stories told.  Thirty people crowded into Nikki’s house after the party and lay sprawled and sleeping wherever they could find a spot – bedrooms, living room, even the dining room.  It was fall, football season.  When West Texas sports is at it’s finest – homecoming mums, football helmets, and school colors.  “Celeste! Celeste! Wake up!” Cody was shaking me awake – whispering as to not alert any of the other sleeping family members around me on the dining room floor.  He puts his finger to his lips as my eyes pop open. He then points to the window.  I raise myself up on my elbows for a better view.  A fireball, as large as the sun, is alight across the road.  I jolt upright and we head out past the screen door and onto the porch.  The crackle is loud and the heat can be felt from where we stand.  The wind whips across the plains, rearranging dust.  It rustles the trees in front of the tiny house, which sits on an acre of land.  The sky looms above us and is speckled with thousands of stars.  My mind races – I see headlines “Fireball Smokes Out Thirty Sleeping Hispanics!” (and one white girl).  I grab Cody’s arm for reassurance. “What is that?” I whisper.  “It must be Cahoma, the rival high school.” he calculates. “Forsan High, where Nikki went, built that bonfire a few days ago for the homecoming game this weekend. Cahoma students must have found it and decided to burn it before the festivities.” Amazed, I stare at the profile of Cody’s face as he spoke.  The light from the fire glows on his cheeks and I smile.  I know there is nothing to be scared of, now.  The fire will burn itself out.  Together we watch the glowing orb.  My cultural education continues. 

Cody and I on his wedding day
Fifteen years after our trip to the Waco Zoo, I enter into the sweeping grandiose of the Magnolia Hotel in Downtown Dallas.  Energetic smiles are exchanged with Nikki’s aunts. Hugs are given to her siblings. My beloved Uncle Oscar helps me with my hair.  Everyone thanks me for coming.  I’ve been excitedly greeted by Nikki’s entire family at the hotel, all except one.  My palms are sweaty when the hotel shuttle drops us off at the wedding and reception venue.  I take a deep breath of the warm air and walk down the worn brick stairs to the old speakeasy in Downtown Dallas. I’m excited and nervous, and the fact that I’m even there seems like a dream.  As I’m distractedly observing the family photos on display, I see Cody enter the hallway out of the corner of m eye. The fabulous cake display is between us. I stand upright and smooth my dress. He sees me and I smile the smile of a girl who’s just traveled five thousand miles to see her long-time friend get married.  He looks great, relaxed as always. We embrace and then he holds me back at arms length. “Thanks for coming,” he smiles and pats my shoulder. “No problem.  I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.” I shrug as if it was nothing. 

The ceremony is beautiful, heart-felt and warming.  Nikki’s delivery of every line is perfect, erupting in congratulations and tears from everyone. The bride, Kristy, a native of New Orleans, is smashingly beautiful. The reception, like all of their parties, is an outrageous success – complete with cocktails, music, and laughter.  I took tons of photos, danced, and met significant others and children previously known only via Facebook. 
Cody and Kristy dancing a New Orleans tradition - The Second Line
   In the dim lighting of the speakeasy, I reflect on the glowing faces around me. It’s a strange half-life I lead – embracing culture while holding on to your own. I have to thank Nikki and her entire family for embracing me and my naiveté. Reason stands to chance that if my eyes hadn’t been opened at such a young age, I might never have braved a leap to the Netherlands

  I’m in the middle of answering questions about House Hunters when the jazzy sounds of Second Line stop my conversation with Nikki’s aunt mid-sentence.  My eyes alight with recognition and I grab the closest napkin and join the parade. I giggle as Cody, the groom from West Texas, waves his umbrella awkwardly next to his New Orleans bride.  I smiled with appreciation. Texas and Louisiana – just like me and V, is a cultural fusion that makes for some good times ahead. We’re all still learning, adapting, and embracing.