Wednesday, May 8, 2013



On April 30th Dutch Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son Willem-Alexander who at age 46 became the youngest reigning monarch in Europe and the first king Holland has known in 123 years. After she signed the formal abdication act the 75-year-old queen, now Princess Beatrix, stepped out onto the balcony of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam with the future king and queen, Willem-Alexander and Maxima, to say farewell to a huge and cheering orange-clad crowd gathered on the Dam Square below. Beatrix was a popular queen during her 33-year reign, but the people seemed quite happy to see a younger generation take over, especially when Willem-Alexander announced that he wants to "modernize" the role and be a less formal monarch for the 21st century.

Queen Beatrix passes the scepter

During his student days, Willem-Alexander was known as a hard-partying, beer-guzzling frat boy who acquired the nickname "Prins Pils" (lager). The nickname stuck and it took years for the party-boy image to make way for that of a more mature, well rounded person with the requisite qualities of a future king, no doubt helped along by marriage and fatherhood.

It has to be said that one of Willem-Alexander's biggest assets is his Argentine-born wife Maxima who has turned the down-to-earth Dutch into adoring fans. More than her beauty and intelligence, it is her spontaneity and ready smile that worked magic and broke down the initial resistance to "the daughter of a junta-tainted former Argentine minister" who might one day become queen.

Willem-Alexander, Maxima and children

Now that that day has come and people in Holland have taken Maxima to their hearts, they are proud and happy to have her as their glamorous new queen, and all seem convinced that it is a tremendous benefit to laid-back king Willem-Alexander to have the clever and beloved Maxima by his side, even though their role is largely ceremonial and the new king has very limited powers. But the unifying role of the royals should not be underestimated in this small country of nearly 17 million people of many ethnicities and at least ten political parties. In times of crisis or political upheaval, the monarchy has more than once proved to be a stabilizing factor.

King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima

I was in Amsterdam during their wedding in February 2002 and even then passions seemed to run high for Maxima mostly in favor, but with a vocal group of dissenters. A few smoke bombs were set off along the wedding route and some paint was thrown at the Golden Coach carrying the young couple. Similar incidents had marred the wedding of Queen Beatrix and German-born Prince Claus in 1966, with protesters denouncing his war-time record of young Nazi officer. [In his youth Claus had briefly been a member of the Hitler Youth and of the Wehrmacht. He was 19 years old when the war ended.] He did, however, win the trust and backing of the Dutch people and as prince consort became a much-loved figure in Holland.
L'histoire se répète...   

As in 2002, there exists today an element of anti-royalists in The Netherlands, but a recent IPSOS poll showed that 78% of the Dutch are pro-monarchy an impressive figure when one considers that some 20% of the country's citizens are not Dutch born.

One Dutch subject, who professes to be neither pro- nor anti-monarchy, is my Argentine-born husband Oscar. Opting for a Dutch passport once we settled in Europe, he has since acquired an Argentine queen and an Argentine pope. Can't run away? I prefer to think that he is in good company. 


From the joyful atmosphere in Holland we move South to another happy event: this time in Marseilles. On the evenings of May 3 and 4, the Vieux Port of Marseilles was transformed into a magical world of flame-lit wonder. No expense was spared in the creation of this MP13 celebration that involved 12,000 fire pots installed along the Vieux Port and on a specially constructed footbridge that allowed visitors to walk across the water from one bank to the other.

Large metal frames in various shapes and sizes supported the fire pots (flower pots filled with wax) that stood, hung or floated everywhere and were lit by 60 official lighters who, equipped with long lighting poles, set fire to the pots at 8:30 PM and kept vigil until the fires were burnt out three hours later. 

Unlit fire pots
Floating fire pots

Vieux Port entre Flammes et Flots

The "Vieux Port Entre Flammes et Flots" festival drew 400,000 visitors who spread across the main Esplanade (with Norman Foster's popular "Ombrière") and the closed-to-traffic boulevards flanking the port like a slowly moving human carpet. The 160-meter-long pontoon bridge, designed to carry 4000 people at a time, was particularly appreciated and soon had waiting lines of over an hour. But nobody seemed to mind and those who made it across called it well worth the wait.

The bars and restaurants lining the Vieux Port were packed and we finally got an outside table at a place where we found out too late that they served no alcohol and that the specialty of the house was "chicha" smoked through a narghile pipe. Many young couples around us were ordering chicha, putting to bed my notion that the water pipe was mostly for older men in the Middle East. Too happy with our table, we wouldn't think of leaving and stuck to fruit juices as we enjoyed the gay and festive mood all around us -- and marveled at the fact that this huge and ethnically diverse crowd peacefully and happily partied together, without incident, as had been the case in Amsterdam a few days earlier.


Enrico Letta
Italy finally broke the political deadlock, but no one is cheering.
Within days of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano's re-election on April 20th, the fractious Italian parties managed to agree on a candidate for Prime Minister:  Enrico Letta, 46, who was vice-president of the center-left Democratic Party (PD). He quickly formed a compromise government from the left and the right, and won a vote of confidence after pledging to focus on growth.

Significantly, he named as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano, former Justice Minister and main "fixer" for Silvio Berlusconi, said to be the architect of laws to benefit Berlusconi in his legal battles. It should also be noted that Enrico Letta's uncle is center-right politician Gianni Letta, a long-time advisor to Mr. Berlusconi.
And the winner is...

Further evidence of Berlusconi's influence can be found in the fact that Enrico Letta's first act was to scrap the IMU housing tax instituted by Mario Monti, which Berlusconi had vowed to nullify.

Score one for Berlusconi and a loss to the government of 8 billion euros a year.


After Berlusconi, do we really want another insult?  Oh, let's...

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: 
"Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease".
"That depends, Sir", said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress". 


  1. I think it's lovely that The Netherlands still has a king and queen. Of all the permissive and democratic countries of Europe, the Netherlands has stood for individuality and freedom of thought more than any other.

  2. Let's hope it lasts, Kitty, 'cause the world it is a'changin. ;-)

  3. I am always happy to read about large-scale celebrations that go off without a hitch, filled with camaraderie and good will. The event in Marseilles looks absolutely breath-taking! Thank you for sharing those photos!

  4. The event was too beautiful not to be shared and I am delighted whenever Marseilles gets some good press (it's not often). It was well deserved, and those happy crowds give us a reason to keep our hopes up. ;-)