Monday, January 2, 2012

Featured Author: Lodewijk van Oord

Happy New Year!
Throughout 2012, Absinthe will feature selected authors on the blog, so if you are interested, feel free to send selections of your works with a short bio and author photo to the editor or please contact Anne Marie Sumner at

Our first featured author is Lodewijk van Oord with an excerpt from his work Thesmophoria, translated by Paul Vincent.

photo by Jennie Frampton
Lodewijk van Oord published short stories, poems and essays in a number of literary magazines in Holland. The original Dutch version of Thesmophoria first appeared in the Dutch literary magazine KortVerhaal in June 2010, and won the Dutch New Prose Prize for emerging writers in 2011. Born in Madrid, Lodewijk van Oord lived in a number of different countries, most recently in the UK, where he taught at Atlantic College. He currently lives in Swaziland, where he works at Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA.

Paul Vincent is one of the most renowned translators of Dutch literature. His translations include novels by Harry Mulisch, Louis Paul Boon and Willem Elsschot. He was the first recipient of the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize for his translation of Hendrik Marsman's poem 'Memory of Holland.'


He heard the bell, Lieneke opening and exchanging a few pleasantries, footsteps in
the corridor, a zip being opened, a sniff.
The door was pushed open and Taziri Azulay came in. He quickly went up to her.
‘Doctor Snelman,’ he said. ‘It’s been ages.’
She shook her head.
‘Since you’ve been here. It’s almost fifteen years.’
‘I can’t remember,’ she said cautiously. She smelled of cigarettes, a scent that
Snelman, as an ex-smoker, could still appreciate.
‘No, no, of course not,’ he laughed, ‘I understand.’ He pointed to the patient’s chair
and holding her scarf in her hand she sat down. As Snelman closed the door and
walked behind her back to his chair his eyes scanned her head and back. He saw how
around her ears and at the back of her neck her dark-brown curls burst out of a tight
dark-purple headscarf. She wore a light green coat with a slight sheen.
He sat down and looked at her. Her eyes were chestnut brown, her eyebrows
sharply etched. The purplish lipstick she wore matched her headscarf perfectly,
fashionable colours that recurred in her nail varnish and in the scarf that was now
lying in her lap.
‘You’re still living with your parents in Bentincklaan?’ asked Snelman in a
friendly tone. As soon as she confirmed this he circled the address on her card, and
wrote ‘OK’ beside it.
‘And you’re still at school?’
‘I am at university,’ she said gruffly.
Snelman looked up, and laughed awkwardly. ‘And how are your studies going?’
‘Your Dutch is excellent.’
Taziri’s lips formed a suspicious grin, and crow’s feet appeared around her eyes.
‘I’ve lived here since I was two.’
‘Ah,’ sighed Snelman. ‘And what exactly are you studying, if I may ask?’
‘Archaeology, in Leiden.’
‘That’s wonderful! I assume you’ve already chosen your special subject?’
Taziri nodded, and for the first time she smiled. ‘Classical Greek. I actually went
on a dig in Athens this summer.’
Snelman’s mouth fell open with enthusiasm. ‘Greece is marvellous! Those Ancient
Greeks fascinate me enormously! And did you find anything interesting?’
‘We certainly did,’ she answered calmly, ‘we uncovered a cave we suspect was
used for the Thesmophoria. That was an important festival in antiquity, a kind of
Snelman nodded and said that he’d read about it in the past.
‘We mainly found lots of pig bones.’
‘Oh,’ said Snelman in surprise, ‘and was that unpleasant for you?’
‘Oh no, it was very instructive. I’d never done it before.’
‘That’s terrific, terrific,’ muttered Snelman, after which the conversation petered
out. A few seconds later he said in a serious voice: ‘Right, let’s get down to business.’
She looked at him in silence and with her left hand briefly scratched her right calf.
From reception Snelman could hear Lieneke emptying the dishwasher and rinsing the
coffee jug.
‘Not that I’m not enjoying talking to you, but of course that’s not why you’re here.’
She still said nothing, and looked him straight in the eye.
‘So…’ he continued, ‘what’s wrong?’
She had to digest the question for a moment. ‘Nothing’s wrong exactly,’ she said,
‘it’s more that we have to put something right.’ She paused and then said confidently:
‘I want to be a virgin again.’
The front door closed with a bang. Lieneke had gone.
‘Well, well,’ muttered Snelman. He crossed his arms, pushed his back against the
chair and looked at her indulgently. ‘And what exactly do you mean by that?’
Snelman had been a GP for almost thirty years, and only very occasionally did
someone appear at his surgery with an ailment he’d never treated before. Taziri
Azulay was one of them.
‘It’s a long story, actually.’ Taziri shifted in her chair. In six weeks’ time she was
getting married to Ab, her fiancé, and they liked the idea of having her hymen
restored for the occasion.
‘The two of you like the idea?’
She nodded.
‘Are you marrying here, in Rotterdam?’
She shook her head. ‘In Tétuan, where our parents come from.’
‘So is Ab Moroccan too?’
Taziri burst out laughing and explained the misunderstanding: ‘Abdelrahim! His
name’s Abdelrahim, but everyone calls him Ab.’
Snelman joined in the laughter. ‘Are you doing this for your parents? Do they think
you’re still a virgin?’
‘Of course. Actually I’m not quite sure what they think. The whole subject is a
non-starter, you see.’
Snelman pointed to her headscarf and asked if she was still a Muslim.
‘I go to bed with Ab, just as I did with my previous boyfriends. I go out and
sometimes I get drunk, and though my father works in a halal butchers I could eat one
of your pork sandwiches without any guilt.’ She pointed to the sandwich that lay half-
eaten on the desk. ‘This headscarf is not some kind of statement. Here…’ She pushed
the head scarf back with both hands, her wavy hair freed itself and leapt up in all
Snelman looked in astonishment at the wild mop of curls. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I
wasn’t trying to interrogate you.’
‘You’re not. For women like me the headscarf is more practical than a matter of
‘But,’ said Snelman hesitantly, ‘to be quite honest with you, I don’t understand. I
don’t know what it is you want.’
‘I want to become a virgin again,’ she said for the second time. ‘It’s called
hymenoplasty. All you have to do is refer me to the Erasmus Hospital, nothing else.’
‘You know all about it, I see.’
Taziri laughed in embarrassment, and told him that she had surfed extensively on
the internet. She had found scores of websites and forums, which discussed the pros
and cons. ‘This is a hot topic with us, you realise.’
‘Tell me about it,’ he said, ‘I’d like to know what considerations you’re taking into
‘We want to do it mainly for the wedding guests. After the wedding night they
hang out the bloody sheet, so that everyone can see the deed has been done. It’s the
tradition there, you see. We don’t want to deny them that pleasure.’
Not even if it’s fake, Snelman was about to ask, but he kept the idea to himself.
‘And what about Ab?’ he asked. ‘Have you discussed it together?’
Taziri turned up her nose and said: ‘A bit. But to tell the truth, he doesn’t like
talking about that sort of thing. As far as he’s concerned we can simply fake it. We
prick our fingers and let a few drops trickle onto the sheet.’ She laughed, as if she
could see it in front of her.
‘Basically,’ said Snelman, unfolding his hands, ‘basically hymen restoration is also
faking things.’
She looked at him understandingly. ‘Perhaps. But if we’re pretending anyway, you
see, I want to make it as real as possible. It’s playacting of course, like the rest of the
marriage. I want to play it as realistically as possible.’
Snelman reached for his notepad. ‘Fine,’ he said gravely, ‘but before I give you a
referral, I shall have to examine you. Just to be sure.’
Taziri asked what he had to be sure of.

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