Trienke and Barbara

Sixty years ago, I studied textile design at the Art School in Amsterdam. On Tuesday mornings we gathered at the entrance of Artis; the famous and oldest zoo in the Netherlands. We would sketch for a full morning our chosen animal under the strict eye of Mrs. Hund, our drawing teacher. This was ideal for me, because I lived in rented rooms just one street off the zoo and could sleep late. I would rush on my bike with my drawing map under my arm to be in time for our morning session in this wonderful zoo. This zoo was and still is special with its many old buildings and wonderful animals.

Artis is short for Natura Artis Magistra “Nature is the teacher of the arts”, which was written above the main entrance).

artis entrance.

The Artis Entrance in 1887

artis 1

And today

The first years I drew insects and other crawlies. Later I was assigned apes and crocodiles. I still have a whole map full of those drawings somewhere up in the loft. These amphibians are terribly long and cumbersome: It was impossible to fit those monsters on one piece of paper and when showtime arrived at the end of the morning, I needed a lot of floor space to lay out my crocodiles in segments.

Those reptiles were in a beautiful landscaped house; like a big terrarium with palm trees, greenery, lots of shallow water and a very pleasant warm temperature. In the far corner hiding behind all this lush growth lived a parrot, totally invisible. He had been very sick long ago and to let him recover they had placed him in the rather warm and humid crocodile house. Since then he lived there in a far corner. One could not see him, but one could hear him! Every time the door was pushed open, the newcomer was greeted with a cat call. They looked suspiciously at me, but I kept busily drawing and often the women left the house very quickly! Everybody, the keepers and I, pretended to be innocent (which we were). Who taught this bird this very provocative whistle?

Textiles was a four yearlong study and all those years we sketched this one morning in the zoo. Thinking back to that time, it was a marvelous experience. Also, because my best friend Trienke and I had a very well-guarded secret. At exactly ten thirty we both disappeared. After having checked that nobody was around, we slipped into the stables, were all the precious oxen, yaks and water buffaloes were housed. Trienke had befriended the keeper Jan and his assistants. They awaited us at 10:30 for the midmorning coffee. Mrs. Hund never discovered our clandestine coffee break, although she once in a while asked where we had been. The toilet was always a good excuse.

Artis-day was coffee-day in the tables. One Tuesday morning, when we arrived for our coffee, the keepers where very enthusiastic and excited. The Yak had given birth to two calves! Those nice keepers decided that they wanted to call the calves after us, but first the main office had to give their consent. As yaks are not an endangered or rare species, the office agreed.  There you have it: a few months later a little note hung on the fence, that the two Yak calves were named Trienke and Barbara!

This happened in 1959. After I left Art school and started a career in the wide, wide world, I heard that little calf Barbara was sold to the zoo in Moscow and disappeared behind the iron curtain, which in those years separated Western Europe from the Eastern half.

trienke and yak

The keepers, Trienke and mother yak with one calf

That was sixty years ago. Alas, as I live in Israel, I have never been back. But Artis will certainly be on my program when I visit the Netherlands again and I hope, that there are still many descendants of this Yak in Artis.

Read also my blog about the rhinoceros beetle. Artis played a big role in that story!

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Nearly a year has passed and I am back with a story. Until now I had no inspiration and no motivation but magic happened. Inspiration blossomed. The month October was a busy festive month with many birthday celebrations and dinner parties. Especially my own; I passed a mile pole of an age: I am 80. When I look in the mirror the proof is there. My hair is white, my wrinkles are many. Also, my aches and pains are pronounced, but that will not stop me from swimming, working in the garden. Especially enjoying family, grandchildren, and friends, and returning to the computer to write my Relatively-Relative blog. It is fun if the muse rouses me.

All these festivities were celebrated with dinner parties. Speeches were made and wonderful unexpected surprises popped up on those festivities. It was an exhausting time and I indeed felt my age, but it was fun. In spite of being fêted, I did cook a few diners myself. That is where my cookbooks (I have many) were useful.

The basis of my own culinary ramblings is from my mother. She was a terrific cook. We were always welcome in the kitchen and I was allowed to help. At quite a young age I could bake cakes nearly independently.

A meal in our house was always an important occasion. It was prepared with care and one had to be in time for the meal. We always ate in the dining room and sat down together. It was a time to meet each other and share our daily adventures. Over the 60 odd years that I stood every day in my own kitchen, I continued this tradition and have cooked endless meals.

cookbook 1.jpg

The other day I wanted to bake my date and walnut cake, usually no problem, I know that recipe by heart! Well, there I was wrong. It was quite a while since I had made it, but still …. forget a recipe? There is your proof that I am eighty. Still no problem, I just had to look it up. After so many years I don’t have just one cookbook with clippings and notes I have many. But happily enough, I still can remember where this recipe was. I had to go to a top shelf to find my first book.

I bought this scrapbook an odd sixty years ago, when I started my designing career in Denmark. It was a simple book with a dark blue binding. UDKLIP (clippings in Danish) printed in gold in the right-hand corner. It is chock full with cuttings; the spring binding was coming off:  the pages were loose and it was held together with a rubber band.

This book is a true museum piece. Some recipes are handwritten, many are newspaper clippings, cutouts from advertisements, from the back of a box of spaghetti or bag of flour. Cakes, lasagna, soups, Chinese dishes, risottos and stews, many with a twist from the original stew or soup. They are in 6 languages. In Danish and in Dutch. Some in my mother’s handwriting, a few in German and French, many in Hebrew or English. Some are torn and others I cannot read anymore, because the ink has faded away, or there is a huge grease spot or other very weird and colourful stain decorating the page.

This book has traveled with me to many countries and is a kind of “diary” for a long period of my life. Now it lies there upstairs on a top shelf lonely and forgotten, which it does not deserve.

The date and walnut recipe I found in all its glory somewhere in the middle of the book and the cake was as delicious as usual!

Date and Walnut Cake ( I usually double this recipe!)

½ cup selfrising flour

¼ cup sugar

1 egg

1 ounce butter

2 ounces walnuts

4 ounces dates

1 cup water

¼ tsp soda

Line a tin with grease-proof paper. Soak dates in boiling water with ¼ tsp soda for 3 minutes.

Melt butter, mix flour, sugar, walnuts in a bowl. Add egg and melted butter to dry ingredients, then the softened dates with the water. Fill the tin with this mixture and bake in 350 degrees C for one hour.
Bon Appetit!  


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The rhinoceros beetle

Opa and bar

my grandfather and me

Before we tell about beetles, I have to tell you about my grandfather, Ernst Piel. We grandchildren loved him and admired him, although I was always a little bit afraid of him. He was a stubborn, obstinate and assertive man, very active and busy. His life was a hectic whirlpool and he could not sit still. He loved and embraced life. He was well read, and was an ardent golfer. Played the cello and had often friends over in the evening to play trios. Before he became a civil engineer, he studied art, specialising in illuminated drawings; similar to medieval art. This tulip he drew for me when I got married.

opa's painting

He loved his food and his wines. Every year he made his own sauerkraut down in the cellar. He was an avid gardener. He could not drive but had Piet, the chauffeur, to drive him everywhere. He smoked cigars and I remember the pungent tobacco smell when one entered his living room. Off and on he stopped smoking, then Piet also stopped (I guess Piet got a cigar or two). He loved dogs and there were always scots terriers in the house. In his last years he had his beloved brown poodle, “Tinka”.

Family birthdays and special occasions were celebrated in chic restaurants. We grandchildren sat at the far end of the table and Opa sat at the head. The moment bread arrived, he would roll little bread pellets and shoot them towards us, but we were not allowed to shoot pellets back!

Whenever he came for a visit to our house there were kisses all around and Opa’s kisses smelled of course of cigar smoke. Then, before he took his coat off, he fished a brown paper package out of his right pocket and another out of his left one: the best smoked mackerels his fishmonger made and nobody could rival that! It was tradition to have them with the “borrel” (drinks before dinner).

For his 90th  birthday we gave him a new bicycle, the old one was too old and he still rode it every day to the nearby shopping center!

EA Piel (3)

He started his career in Germany with a construction  firm building factories and bridges. After the first World War they branched out to the Netherlands and Ernst moved his family there in 1920.

1924 is a very important year. Ernst made himself independent and started his own firm. He called it; “De Nederlandse Betonmaatschappij Bato” (The Dutch concrete company Bato). He had his office in The Hague and he became over the years the best expert of reinforced concrete in the Netherlands and abroad. The quay wall he built in 1921 in IJmuiden, the Netherlands, made him well known. After the first assignment he was swamped with commissions.

Whenever we were driving and passing over a specific bridge, my mother would shout from the front seat of the car: ”Hats off, Opa built this bridge!”

In early 1950s  Ernst got an enormous commission; a contract to work on  the construction  of the dam at the north end of Victoria lake in Uganda together with 5 British firms.  The consultant engineer on this big project was Sir Alexander Gibb & partners. The dam was completed in 1954, submerging Ripon Falls. It supplies electricity to Uganda and parts of neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania.

Before the construction of the dam, water levels on Lake Victoria were moderated by a natural rock dam on the North side of the lake. Rising lake waters would spill over the natural dam into the White Nile, which runs through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt before emptying into the Mediterranian Sea. When water levels dropped too low, flow into the river ceased. When the dam was built, a treaty between Uganda and Egypt ensured that the natural current of the Nile would not be altered by the dam.


Construction of the Owen Falls dam in early 1950

One day in the 1950s  when Michael and I returned from school a parcel had arrived for Ms. Barbara and Master Michael. We were terribly excited. First of all, there were wonderful exotic stamps from Uganda stuck on the brown paper and of course the sender was our Opa! When we tore the paper off a Player’s cigarette tin was revealed with a lot of holes pierced in the lid. We opened the tin very carefully, out crawled this enormous beetle. We managed to get it back into the tin and were most surprised that it survived this trip. What to do with it and what does this poor beetle eat? He must be hungry after such a long journey.

players cigarette tin Rhinoceros beetle

Then Marga had an idea. Why don’t we phone Artis, the famous zoo in Amsterdam and tell them about this wonderful beetle?

The result was instantly. A very nice gentleman came the next day to fetch this extremely big beetle. After examening it, he told us that this was a rhinoceros beetle named for their body armour, and for the hooked horn that graces the head of the male. Some species can grow up to 6 inches/ 15 centimetres in length. Our beetle was not 15 cm., but big enough to impress two young kids! Despite their large size and ferocious appearance, rhinoceros beetles are completely harmless to humans. (I am sure that our grandfather knew that before he sent this specimen to us.) They are herbivorous and eat fruit, nectar, and sap. The gentleman took the players tin with its precious cargo with him and gave us children an invitation to visit the zoo to see the new habitat of “our” beetle.

Within a week Michael and I went by train and tram to Artis in Amsterdam. Don’t forget that we were 10 and 12 years old and this was quite an adventure on our own. We had the letter with us, that invited us to the zoo to see the beetle. (It was the official thank you letter from Artis). After showing this, we got VIP treatment. Our beetle was in the snake house at that time with all the other insects in landscaped terrariums. We were impressed. The keeper of the snake house showed us all the habitants of this warm and sunny place. Afterwards we got an ice-cream and returned home. It was a lovey present from our grandfather, even if we could not keep it. But we had quite a wonderful story to tell in school.

Alas no cell phones existed yet and we did not photograph it!

Later Opa brought us beautiful corals from Curacao, when he built a quay there in the harbour.

He was indeed a FAVOURITE grandfather.

ernst a




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Dulcinea in Memoriam.

Dulcinea is no more.


Dulci, a month before she died

Our lovable 14 year old wire haired dachshund died today, the 9th of January, on the exam table at my Vet’s. In January 2015, two years ago, I was there with her, she was not feeling well and after Segal, my veterinary for many years, had examined her, she suggested that we go a little further and have an ultrasound done. After that exam the prognosis was cancer of the spleen. Dulci was then 12 years old and I
decided that an operation was out of the question.

This last week she was very ill. At the end she stopped eating (it was her greatest joy to
get food) and I just wetted her lips. She hardly drank. She lived with this cancer for more than two years and as the vet said: she broke a record living so long with this growth in her tummy.

Dulcinea was born on October 18 in 2003. At a tea party we met one of the guests, who
enthusiastically told us about their wonderful new wirehaired dachshund puppy. I always wanted a wirehair and a few days later we went to have a look at the rest of the puppies and immediately fell in love with the smallest of all.

When we brought this little puppy home, holding also all the official papers telling that her name was ” אנקי ” which means giant in Hebrew spelled wrong! It should have been “ענקי   “. A humoristic way to call the smallest of the nest “giant”. We decided that she should not carry such a stigma all her life and since, according to her papers, her father was from Spain, we thought that Dulcinea was a fitting name!

Don Quixote describes his virtual lover in the following terms: ” … her name is Dulcinea,
her country EI Toboso,
a village of La Mancha, her rank must be at least that of a

princess, since she is my queen and lady, and her beauty superhuman, since all the
impossible and fanciful attributes
of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are
verified in her” …
Well in this case we agreed with Don Quixote and our dog was indeed

a beauty and a princess! But certainly not an image of the mind like Don Quixote’s.

dulcinea beauty. jpg

Dulci was quite a character with a beard and bushy eyebrows, floppy ears, short legs and a happy wobbly tail. She was fun and a real extrovert, loved all games, even inventing them and she had a wonderful sense of humor. She was part of our world and didn’t want to miss out on anything. She would be offended if she could not join us for a trip and sat on the back seat like a queen.

She had a red squeaky ball she could play with for hours. We rolled it over the floor and she would race after it until she was totally exhausted. She invented a twist to this game and rolled the ball under a chest so low that she could not crawl under to retrieve it. She sat next to the chest and cried until we would lie on our stomach to reach under and give it back to her. Five minutes later it was under the chest again and she would bark happily when we gave her the ball.


If one of us left the house for a long period of time, she would sit on the back of the sofa watching the front door until we walked in.

Our telephone and our front door bell had the same sound but a
different ring. She could distinguish between them and when the doorbell rang she would run enthusiastically to the front door greeting the caller, because she knew that he came solely to visit her!

Early in the morning when I walked Dulci, we met  other dog walkers. The 14 years that I was walking Dulci we made many friends. We all said hello and greeted their dogs by name. Dulci had her likes and dislikes. Big black dogs she snapped at but others she could be very interested in and played with many.

She loved people and she loved little children. We often passed kids on their way to school Dulci would stand in front of them and wag her tail. She got an immediate response. They stroked her and asked for her name, which of course resulted in a discussion of Don Quixote and his virtual lover.


Dulcinea was never trimmed in winter and she would have the wildest, longest hair possible, but with such a fur coat, she had nothing to complain about and the cold did not bother her when we went for a walk.

May 2007 Dulci and Nick

8 years ago Nick the cat next door died. He was Dulci’s best friend. He reached the old age of 12 and had the most beautiful white coat, one blue and one green eye. Dulci adored him, nudged him, nuzzled him and ran after him, while Nick totally ignored her. Nick would leave his backdoor, jump over the fence and instead of continuing and jumping over the next fence to reach the street. Oh no, that would be too far. No he would jump the fence and stood next to our garden door, which is usually open and announced his presence. Dulci of course ran to him and greeted him; Nick totally ignored her, walked into the room, entered the hall and waited until I would open the front door. Shortcut for reaching the street side! This would happen often, at least five times during the day. It could be a nuisance to stop whatever one was doing to open the door for Nick, but we still miss him.


When Dulcinea was middle aged she started to limp. She had a hard time, mainly because Haifa is built on the Carmel Mountain. Climbing up and descending is tough work if one’s back hurts, which was the vet’s diagnosis. Amazingly with a few cortisone pills and vitamin B she got over it for awhile, but the problem kept returning. Painkillers did help, the last year she could not climb stairs anymore and her walks became shorter.

The final months were not easy. She slept most of the day in her basket. She peed in the house, the tiled floor was bare: all the carpets were rolled up. The following was the last entry about Dulci in my blog:

9 Nov. 2017. At six thirty in the morning I am usually downstairs and wake up Dulci. I
open the shutters and let the sun in. First I check if there are puddles. The mop and
bucket stand permanently just outside the backdoor and it is usually the first thing I do; slosh water and clean up the mess, while Dulci is waking up. Then she slowly unlocks her joints and slogs behind me. I open the front door and pick up the paper from the mat. Outside I walk on and sit down on the wall of the neighbour’s house to wait for her until she reaches me. She is really not well: her cancer has grown and her belly is very swollen. Our daily walk nowadays is about hundred meters long. If she does all her necessary businesses, we can return. In spite of her illness she has a tremendous appetite and when we arrive home she’ll sit next to me in the kitchen to wait for her meal. If I am too slow she’ll bark to tell me that I should hurry up; all this before 7 in the morning and we hope that nobody wakes up from all this noise. The amazing thing is that in spite of the big amounts of food she does not seem to gain in weight.

How I miss her. The early morning walks, her games,  How I miss her greeting us with her tail going 100 miles per hour. How I miss her barking if the food is not served AT ONCE! How I miss her not finding her in her basket, not being able to say hello when I return home. How I miss her not being here anymore.

She was such an adorable, intelligent, loyal and especially a lovable dog.

Dulci's birthday Oct 2012

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Early in the morning.

At six thirty in the morning I am usually downstairs and wake up Dulci. I open the shutters and let the sun in. First I check if there are puddles. The mop and bucket stand permanently just outside the backdoor and it is usually the first thing I do; slosh water and clean up the mess, while Dulci is waking up. Then she slowly unlocks her joints and slogs behind me. I open the front door and pick up the paper from the mat.

2014_2_22 Eyal's birthday picknick 096

Outside I walk on and sit down on the wall of the neighbour’s house to wait for her until she reaches me. She is really not well; she has cancer of the spleen and our daily walk nowadays is about hundred meters long. If she does all her necessary businesses, we can return.

In spite of her illness she has a tremendous appetite and when we arrive home she’ll sit next to me in the kitchen to wait for her meal. If I am too slow she’ll bark to tell me that I should hurry up; all this before 7 in the morning and we hope that nobody wakes up from all this noise. The amazing thing is, that in spite of the big amounts of food she does not seem to gain in weight.

One morning not long ago something special happened. I had left the back door open after I had returned the bucket and mop.

While I prepare the dog food, in flies a bird and settles on my shoulder. It cocks its head and looks into my face. “Hello”, it seems to say. It is a Bulbul, a very common local song bird. This one was probably brought up by somebody, it was definitely not a wild bird. Had he escaped or was he just on a tour of the neighbourhood? I had never met a tame bulbul.

white spectecled bulbul

White-spectacled Bulbul, Pycnonotus xanthopygos

They are gorgeous birds with their blackamoor faces and their yellow underpants,  wonderful songbirds with a wide range of chirps, thrills and warbles. The word bulbul derives from Persian, meaning nightingale.

I walked with him on my shoulder to the patio, and put him on the table there. He promptly flew inside and settled on the back of a chair in the living room. He did not want to leave. A very sweet bird that once in a while cocked its head and chirped as if he agreed with everything I told him.

I prepared a meal for him (or was it a her?) of some cut up fruit and  breadcrumbs. Bulbuls are fruit eating birds. One of the reasons why we cover our grapes with a net is to prevent them to gobble up all our grapes. He hardly touched the food but felt very much at home.

I had a meeting early in the morning and had to go. I left him in the care of my husband and our guests from abroad, who were still fast asleep. They had a big surprise when they woke up and shared their breakfast with the bird. Afterwards they filled a bowl with water to the delight of the our feathered guest, who took a bath, flapped its wings and made the surroundings dripping wet.

They left the bird on the patio, when my husband took out the guests to the main bus station for a day trip in this wonderful country.

When he  returned, the bulbul was gone. We just hope that he found his home and his boss, because there are too many stray cats around and this tame bird is of course easy prey for them. Perhaps the owner reads this and knows that we admired his bulbul and he was received with open arms in our house.



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Haifa winemakers

When we moved into our house 21 years ago, we planted a Hebron vine. It is a light pinkish coloured Israeli grape. Alas from the beginning it did not do well. By midsummer it was mildewed, lost its leaves and produced shriveled grapes. One day in my anger, I took my clippers and cut it off at the roots, pulled those out too. No grapes.


Isabella, Vitis labrusca

A year or so later a friend told me about a wonderful grape called “Isabella” which was more or less immune to diseases and produced a small dark blue grape with a distinguished taste. She took me to a neighbour, originally from Georgia, who grew this vine in his garden. It was early spring and he was busy planting bare sticks by pushing them simply in the ground. He was generous and gave me three vines. I planted all three and today I am happy, that only one succeeded, because the garden would have been a grape jungle. It is a very vigorous one, grows very fast and produces a large number of grapes. We estimated that this year we harvested altogether about 90 kilos grapes.

The earliest evidence of Isabella, Vitis labrusca, has been found near the village of Imiri in Georgia, about 6000 BC. The Georgians still make wine from this grape, and the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam described Isabella as “fleshy and heavy like a cluster of night itself”.

Three years ago our Isabella had managed to cover our entire balcony and the harvest was tremendous. My husband decided that he would try to make wine. He asked Google for advice and friends also shed their knowledge. He found a specialist shop and bought all the equipment: a funnel, Demijohns in different sizes, chemicals and special yeast to get the grapes to ferment.

Now we were set. All the grandchildren promised to help crush the grapes with their feet, but happily enough we did it without them. We thought with horror about our house with sticky red footsteps all over and certainly dirtier then we would make it ourselves.

By the time we wanted to start picking, the balcony was a big mess. We did put a net over the whole lot so the birds and especially the fruit bats could not get in, but we could not prevent the rats (they are fruit eating tree rats about half the size of a normal gutter rat), they made an enormous mess. Many grapes when ripe just fell down. The rats also picked them and dropped them. They are very neat eaters, who spit out the skins and the pips and eat only the beautiful tasty pulp. The floor was covered with grapes, skins and pips. Happily we learned and the last two years we covered the balcony floor with plastic sheets.

picking grapes

We picked all the grapes, then we sat down and chose only the very dark blue grapes from each bunch and dropped them in a big bowl. The problem with the Isabella is, (see the picture above) that the grapes do not ripen at the same time and we throw the light pink and the green ones away. By the time they all are dark blue; half is rotten and full of crawlies. From the ninety kilos we used only about 30 kilos to make our wine.

man in barrel

We do not have a crushing machine and neither do we want to smash them with our feet. When the bowl is full, we squeeze it with our hands and drop the crushed grapes in the fermentation barrel. I will not bore you with all the details of how to make the wine. After 5 or 6 months we bottle it. We possess now a corking machine and store the approximately 20 bottles in the wine fridge.  It is a “vin ordinaire”, very drinkable and it improves with age. We had a bottle of 2015 just a few days ago and it was very delicious.

This is the third year that we make this wine and every year we say that it will certainly be the last one.  It is exhausting, dirty and messy, the study smells like a real wine cave, we are filthy dirty and very tired after the grapes are in the barrel. But when we taste the result, we enjoy it and are proud of it.

Next year again?!





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Of cameras and telephones

Dulci july '17

When we were planning a holiday, we wondered what to do with our 13 year old dog, Dulci? She is deaf, with cataracts on her eyes, a terrible cancer in her belly and she cannot control her bladder. Who would want to take care of such an old peeing dog? The vet even declared, that she won’t live much longer, and suggested that it might perhaps be time to give her an injection? We refused, picked up all the carpets and gave the tile floor a good wash when there was a puddle.

After many phone calls with dog sitters, it was clear, that nobody was ready to take her for nine days. They all said that they did not want her to die in their place, too much responsibility and they surely did not want such a peeing dog. Then my daughter jumped in. She really would like to look after Dulci. “Listen Mum, I have already a nursing home for animals. My 16 year old dog is not well and my 14 year old cat drives me crazy with his meowing. Dulci is welcome”.

That was the prelude to our Russian holiday. The day before we left we drove to our daughter with all the paraphernalia such as basket, leash and food for Dulci’s “summercamp”.

Before one leaves there are lots of preparations to be done. This was a guided cruise, starting in Moscow and ending in St. Petersburg and packing was a headache by itself. Will it be cold, suitable for winter sweaters or wet, umbrellas and rainwear and shoes? All bulky stuff to take and as we come from a subtropical country,  we check Google for temperatures, we seem to have it always wrong. Besides packing, one has to prepare one’s phone and buy a number of gigabytes or a Simcard, so the cost won’t be excessive. We decided that my husband would do that and then it won’t be necessary to take my phone. It is old and very slow. I might as well leave it at home. Big mistake!

Of course I packed my beloved camera too. I don’t like to photograph with telephones anyway, because one cannot zoom and the pictures are better (so I thought).

On the day of departure we took the train to the airport, each with a suitcase. Zwi had his backpack and I carried my museum chair and dropped it in the overhead luggage rack. It is an hour and a half to the airport, but I have my beloved Kindle with me and am not bored. To get into the Russian atmosphere I was reading “Peter the Great, his life and world” by Robert Massie. It really helped to understand all the sites in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Great to see all that one had read about and knew the reasons why St Petersburg was started by Peter the Great. It is a very readable and wonderful book.

 museum chair

Approaching the airport we were anxious to leave the train quickly. Halfway through all the checkpoints I realized that I forgot my museum-chair in the train. Is it still riding the rails two weeks after our return?

When we at last arrived in the departure hall proper, I asked Zwi for the phone. I wanted to call Yael to hear how Dulci was settling in. Zwi made a long face and even before he checked his bag and pockets he knew that the phone was still lying on the table at home! In these times one cannot live without communication, whether it is a simple phone call, a WatsApp, or Google….

First we tried to rent a phone, but in the departure hall that is impossible; you could buy a Sim card, but without a phone? We went to the tax-free shop and bought a phone for me! The old one was anyhow no good, I deserved a new one.  Off to the place to get a Sim card, so we could use it for calls (if I could remember the phone numbers). That was more or less what I could do on this one, because I still had to transfer all the information from my old one to this beautiful Chinese one with the impossible name  “Xiaomi” and that could only be done at home. The first call was to our daughter. She was most surprised to see a strange number on her phone and hear me. Listened to the whole story, laughed and told me that Dulci was great.

This is not the end of our troubles. In the middle of Moscow I tried to make a beautiful picture with the Zoom of the camera. It made strange noises, muttered and complained and died! The camera went into the wastebasket in the hotel after I removed the memory card. Hurrah for my new phone. It makes beautiful pictures.

All this happened, because we are not getting any younger and certainly more forgetful! Dulci joined us again after the holiday and is as well as she can be.


St. Basils Cathedral in Red Square in Moscow.

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The caper bush and dogs

capers 001

In front of our house grows a wild caper bush out of a crevice in the wall. They only sow themselves out; you cannot plant or propagate them. One finds them in odd places growing from rock outcrops and walls. There used to be a huge one on the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem!  


Western Wall

They have the most gorgeous flowers, like fluttering butterflies, but it is the buds that are the edible part. I used to pick them in quantities and then pickle them, but nowadays it is much easier to take a jar off the shelf in the supermarket.

capers 003


This is the story about Marga’s dogs. After Ted had died in 1965 she was never without a four legged companion.

The first one that joined her was Pjotr. He belonged to Marga’s son Michael and his wife. He worked as a civil engineer in West Africa building harbours. When he was posted to New Zealand, they first returned to The Netherlands with all their goods and the dog. Of course Marga was willing to take this immigrant in.

Dogs Pjotr1

Pjotr with doron and yael 1972-3 a

Pjotr, the star in both pictures.

Pjotr (or Potter) lived many years happily together with Marga and was loved by the grandchildren who were also given shelter whenever their parents were globetrotting.

The next dog to arrive was also an immigrant. Norbert named after a Dutch politician Norbert Schmelzer, notorious for bringing down the Dutch government. The dog had had a very colourful life: originally from Namibia, a crossbreed between a bushdog and a Corgi, he was a ships dog, who sailed for years on a ship of “de Koninklijke Java-China Paketvaart Lijnen”. One day arriving in Jakarta, he was thrown off the ship by the captain. Theo, Marga’s other son, working in Jakarta as a shipping agent, found a very unhappy looking boarding clerk on the quay with the dog in his arms, who accosted Theo with the words: “Do you want the dog?” Norbert lived happily with Theo and his family until they were posted to Nigeria in 1981. What to do with Norbert? He flew first class by KLM to Amsterdam and found of course shelter at Marga’s.


Norbert left and Diana right.

The next dog was Diana, a brown sixteen year old dachshund.

An acquaintance of Marga moved into assisted living and could not take her dog with her. This dog was on a special diet, because she had kidney trouble. The owner paid Marga all medical costs including her diet needs. This was a dog with quite a character. She loved to eat and steal food, which of course was strictly forbidden (it would kill her).

There are a few wonderful anecdotes about Diana: one afternoon Marga had friends over for tea. The trolley was loaded with cups, teapot and all. The cake stood on the bottom tray. When Marga said goodbye to her friends at the front door, it took Diana only a few minutes to gobble up the rest of the cake.

tea trolly

When one of her grandsons came to visit, Marga took him on a sightseeing trip. To have something to eat on the way, she brought a roll of biscuits and placed them between the two front seats. Of course Diana went with them, but stayed in the car, when they looked at the site. When they returned to the car, her grandson grabbed the roll, which looked completely intact, but every biscuit had disappeared. Diana on the backseat had a good time while waiting for them and had hollowed out the wrapping.

Both Norbert and Diana passed away, and in 1983 Marga moved to another smaller house and garden in the same town. She soon felt at home and made friends with people in this street. One day a neighbour came and told her a gruesome story. She just discovered that the people next door, American pilots working at an airbase in the Netherlands, had returned home to the States and left their dog locked up in the house. I cannot remember the details, but I think that Marga and her friend together with the police entered the house and found a total hysteric dog, starved, dehydrated and neglected.

He was a Maltese terrier: A dog breed who is gentle and fearless, the Maltese greets everyone as a friend. His glamorous white coat gives him a look of haughty nobility, but looks can be deceiving. This dog excels as a companion.

oma with pluis

Shoo after his hair was cut

Of course Marga would take him, after it was confirmed that the dog was abandoned.  First she went to the vet to check his health. He was flee ridden with a coat so neglected, that he had to be shaved. But after a bath and a good meal he pepped up and never left Marga’s side again.

The pilots had named him Shoo, as in “shoo” – go away. The name stayed, although some thought it meant Shoe. Anyhow the way Marga pronounced it was far from shooing the dog out of her house!

When his coat had returned to its full splendour, he was a beautiful dog and lived many years with Marga.

Dogs Mammie Choo

shoo 1

He was even allowed to lie on her handmade patchwork cushions.

Now Mozart entered her life. I think that she got him from the dog pound, but am not sure. By this time she wanted only middle aged dogs, because young ones would have been too frisky. He was eight years old and also very lovable.

strauss and Mozart jack russel

Marga’s last name was Strauss. This inspired a granddaughter to give Marga a special birthday present. She had a name plate made, which indicated, that “Strauss and Mozart” lived here. It confused quite a lot of people who delivered things at the door: “Mrs. Strauss who is Mozart?”

Mozart loved to fetch the newspaper from the letterbox.  As soon as he heard the rattle of the box, he ran to the hall and tried to “kill” the paper. This resulted usually in a race between Marga and the dog and a struggle to save the paper.

Mozart passed away and Marga was dog less for awhile.

One afternoon I got a telephone call:”Barbara I got the hundred thousand lottery ticket. I have the loveliest 8 year old Scotch terrier. He is a beauty and he is so sweet. And she went on and on. So I told her:”Listen Mum, please don’t love him too much, he will die before you.”

“Oh no, this time I will be first” (she was not).

Dogs Blackie2

Blackie had a very tragic end; In front of her house, while the dog was on the leash, an irresponsible motor rider ran Blackie over and he died instantly.

baarnse bos5 met scottie 2004

The last dog was small and about 14 or 15 years old and ever so nasty. If you tried to stroke him, he bit and at night Marga locked him up in the tiled hall, because he peed all over the place. Nevertheless Marga loved him and he lay in his basket next to her chair. She stroked him absentmindedly and once in a while she would say “AU”, when he bit her. But he was with her until she died on 28th of January 2007 at the age of 93.

We tried to find a home for this dog (I forgot his name), but in the end the dog compound put him to sleep.

All dogs loved Marga and Marga certainly loved all dogs, even the last one.


“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
Roger Caras

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Hermaphroditus and more dogs

I love cacti. Whole rows of terracotta pots stand in a sunny place in my garden. They are easy to propagate  and don’t demand much attention. A few years ago I got a little cutting from a friend and the result you see in the picture! My son and I called it our “Hermaphroditus”.    hermafrodites cactus
I can go into details and tell you the story from the Greek mythology about  Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite who had both male and female sex organs,  but the photographs speak for themselves.




So I worry.
Sleep with my ears up, not soundly.
When I’m not watching I’m greeting.
People are not grateful enough
for visitors. I am. I worry
about them not being grateful enough.
So I make up for it by howling
till they get up off the couch
to shake hands. Between the dangers
and the greetings I am simply exhausted.

Arthur Miller 
From  “Lola’s Lament”

In the fifties my parents had moved house to the centre of the Netherlands. Of course our cat Tommy came too and settled quickly in. Half a year later an acquaintance asked if we were interested in a boxer, remembering that my parents had a boxer before the war (see blog). Thus “George Washington” entered our life. George was a well brought up gentleman with clipped ears and tail and a little bit too short an upper lip. His teeth always peeped out.  His American diplomatic family had to return back to the States and I guess out of national feeling the boxer was called after the first president of the United States.

DOGS George Washington1

George Washington

One Sunday shortly after George came into our life; we all left to celebrate our grandfather’s birthday and the cat and dog were alone at home. When we returned, we found George sitting in the hall with the saddest expression on his face, whining softly. He had a cat nail on either side of his nose and was very upset, while Tommy acted as if nothing had happened. But we can imagine the fight that George definitely lost! From then on there was a kind of truce between them. Tommy made the kitchen his territory and slept on top of the central heating which kept him warm. Tommy died a few years later of kidney failure. Just before he passed away he hardly got off the central heating; the warmth kept him going.

George lived in the living room where his basket was and where he loved to roast in front of the fireplace in winter when a few blocks of wood kept us all warm.

There exists a wonderful story about George. Even if he was well brought up and behaved like a gentleman, he was a beggar. Marga used to let him out early in the morning and he went for a walk by himself. That was long before one had to keep dogs on a leash and pick up their business. He was well known in the neighbourhood and known as a friendly dog.                                                                                                           One morning when Marga looked out of the kitchen window, she saw George going to the back garden with two big sandwiches in his mouth. Marga followed him and saw him burying them on the compost heap. When we investigated later, there were quite a few decomposing sandwiches around. It was a mystery and we had no idea, where he found them.                                                                                                                                             One day when Marga went for a walk with George, a Salvation Army lady from the Orphanage near our house accosted her and said to her: “Are you the owner of this poor dog? He really does not get enough to eat. We give him every morning, when he comes to the kitchen door, two sandwiches.”                                                                                   Marga burst out laughing and told her that he was a first class beggar and hoped that they would stop giving him food!

George was an old dog. When Marga heard of a young boxer, she decided that that would be good company for George Washington.

Dogs Ecco 2

Ecco (2)

Now Ecco (number two) entered our household. (The first Ecco lived with Marga and Ted before the war) . This one was an energetic but lovable dog and very good friends with George. In later years they slept together in one basket. I believe it kept George comfortable and warm. He passed away in old age.

Dogs George Ecco 1

Ecco on top of George

Ecco sired a tub full of puppies with a wonderful boxer bitch. The owner, Gera, was a good friend of Marga’s and from this tubful we chose Alex. The father has always first choice.

DOGS Ecco puppies

Those two dogs loved to roll in stinky messes, jump into muddy ditches and run after rabbits. To take the dogs home afterwards, was a noxious and smelly business and they had a bath immediately.

Ecco gets a bath

Marga bathing Alex

Ecco and Alex both suffered from epilepsy and within a few years of each other they were given an injection by the Vet. They both died quite young.

Dogs M T Ecco Alex

Ted and Marga with Alex and Ecco.

In memory for all the boxers in the Strauss’ house.








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„Au fines herbes“ and dogs in the family.

Two years ago we made a lovely trip in Ireland. In Cobh we found the ultimate of Irishness in the back of a courtyard. How the Irish love their pubs and how friendly and happy they are. After a good night out there she was in her bath of “au fines herbes” (with fine herbs). The whiskey bottle was empty alas, but she waved happily to us! She must have had a marvellous time with lots of booze and Irish songs the night before.

au fin herbes!


“A house is not a home until it has a dog”.

Gerald Durrell

There will be lots of pictures in this blog. This is the story of all the dogs in the family: From my mother’s side there seemed to be dogs forever. Her father grew up with dogs and in this early photo from about 1890, my grandfather Ernst Piel and his siblings are memorialised with a dog at their feet. The dog must have been loved, if he was allowed to be in the picture!

From r to l: Paul, Karl, Anna, Fritz and Ernst Piel
Paul, Karl, Anna, Fritz and Ernst Piel circa 1890

When Ernst married Grete Schlesinger they had a Dachshund, I don’t know the name, but here is a beautiful picture from 1912, when Grete was pregnant with Marga.

Grete Piel 1913 pregnant

A few years later this dog had apparently puppies! Marga carries two of them. She is here three or four years old.


Grete circa 1917 1

When they had moved from Germany to the Hague in the Netherlands, Ernst returned home from one of his business trips and brought a scotch terrier from Germany. That was Hexe (“Witch”). One year later he brought from the same kennel three more puppies, which the children promptly called Piff, Paff and Puff (bang, bang, Pow,pow) . If it had been 30 years later, perfect names would have been Snap, Crackle, Pop, but rice-crispies were not yet invented.                                                             Grete revolted: 4 dogs were too much for her. They sold Piff and Paff to acquaintances and for three years Puff fathered each year a nest full of puppies that were sold like hotcakes. Alas he was run over in 1934 and Ernst was terribly sad.

Evi, Ilse and Mia with Piff, Paff and Puff

Evi, Ilse, Mia with Piff Paff and Puff.


Marga with Hexe

There followed more Scotties over the years. Also during the war he had one. I have a vivid memory of being allowed to walk the dog on the square in front of his house.

me and scottie

Ernst’s last dog was Tinka, a brown Poodle, and most beloved and spoiled by my grandfather.

Tinka and Scot


From the Strauss family I have a great picture of Ted just in front of his house, I am guessing that it must have been on a Sunday, as Ted is dressed quite elegantly. 

Teddy and dogs 1

Ted with dogs

Ted and Marga got married in December 1937. In spring 1938 they decided to have a dog. Ted loved dogs, so did Marga. They chose a young boxer and called him “Ecco”, which is a kind of expression in Italian of “so there” or “here” , but I am sure that my parents meant “here” or “come here!”,  remembering their Capri holiday. (see link).

( see link1) When I was born in October, it was a home delivery:  Ecco decided that I needed protection. He either sat next to the cradle, or when Marga put the basket with baby (me) in the back of the car, Ecco jumped in and would not let a soul look at me or touch me. He was innocence himself, but could produce a threatening grumble! Marga used to leave both of us in the car while she did her shopping. Nothing would happen with Ecco next to me. Nowadays she would have been put in prison for neglecting her child!

Diana and me1

Barbara 9 months, Ecco and my grandmother

Alas Ecco was run over in front of the house just before we moved to Zaandam in January 1940. All during the war we did not have a dog, which was a good thing, because during the last year of the war the dog would have died. There was no food and we all nearly starved.  We did have a cat! (See link 2). During the last months of the war we fished small fish from the ditch in the back of the house, so Tommy could also eat something. After the war many dogs were loved and cared for in our 1                                                                        To be continued

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