H2H Interviews the Women Behind “Nectar From Holland”

Photographer Vinita Salome and writer Persphone Abbott

Persphone Abbott and Vinita Salome are the duo behind the AngloINFO South Holland blog Nectar From Holland: The Bee’s Tour with Vinita. They also collaborated on the 2012 book The Bee’s Tour of Gouda: Buzzing Through Vinita’s Lens

H2H: Persephone, I know you’re an American expat. Tell me a bit about your life… where you grew up, how you ended up here in the Netherlands and,  more specifically, in the Groene Hart of South Holland?

PA: For the most part of my young life you could say that I grew up in Albany, California near Berkeley in the 1970’s.  Somehow the idea entered my brain to go travel for a long period of time, or it could be that when young I even unconsciously considered immigrating to another place.  I always felt more drawn to Europe than the United States.  When the first opportunity came I left America to become an au pair in Paris.  In France I began to study voice and opera, eventually coming to the Netherlands to continue my studies with a prominent teacher in Utrecht.

H2H: Vinita, you’re an expat as well. Can you fill me in on your life? Where do you hail from and how is it you are sitting here with me today in Gouda?

VS: I was born and raised in Japan, and lived there for 17 years. Thereafter I moved to India for the next 13 years. While in India I met my Dutch husband at my best friend’s wedding and by the year 2000 landed here in Gouda.  I haven’t moved once since arriving!

H2H: Persephone, you are a talented writer…extremely creative. When did you become interested in writing and what outlets do you use to express that creativity?  You’re also a gifted singer I hear. Fill me in on that.

PA: As long as I can remember I’ve always been a frustrated writer, i.e. writing my friends relentlessly and berating them for not writing back enough information or fast enough so I could write more to them.  Five years ago I finally gave myself permission to stop abusing my friends and start writing in the form of a blog.  In a way I am glad that I waited until (well based) maturity, and on the other hand I realize through my rampant ambition that I would like to achieve a certain level in the craft. Having now found my style and interests as a writer, I certainly don’t regret starting to write!  I’ve been led to understand that the creativity that I possess is not unique, but certainly not commonplace.  You can sit me down anywhere and I can just start rolling, whether or not it’s all good is another matter!   As a compulsive reader I am most delighted when immersed in the engaging world of complex literary and poetic writing styles.

Music is a great inspiration to write.  Whenever I attend a concert I bring along a pad and pencil and, if possible, just scribble in the dark while listening.  At home I also usually write, poetry or prose, when listening to music.  Music, I feel, is deeply connected with writing, certainly in my life of being a singer using the combination of lyrics and notes together to “talk to one as one” is both exciting and challenging.  As a singer I am multi-lingual and can read six languages, this of course, is somewhat handy to access different manners of thinking and expressing emotions.

H2H: Vinita, you own a successful photography business. When did you first become interested in taking photos and at what stage were you able to transition that “interest” into a “business” ? What type of photography do you specialize in?

VS: I was introduced to photography in high school and instantly fell in love with the medium. Since then, photography was always a part of me and I avidly took photos whenever I was traveling. I later moved to The Netherlands and was working in The Hague.  One day I walked passed ABC Books and thought it would be a great place to have an exhibition of my travel images. That was in 2004.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I started my actual business, and not until 2012 that I started specializing exclusively in the photographing of children and families exclusively.

H2H: Persephone, you and Vinita worked on a project together in 2012. How did the two of you meet? How did the idea to create an English-language guide book of Gouda [The Bee’s Tour of Gouda, Buzzing Through Vinita’s Lens] come together?

PA: Vinita and I met through the Gouda expat group Living with a Dutchiewhich has a large number of members and assortment of activities.  We met and hung out together but our lives are quite different. It seemed we both wanted to “meet” each other on some other common ground. Since I was fantasizing about accomplishing various book projects, I decided to just ask her if she would be interested in making a walking guide.  To my astonishment, she immediately said yes.

The English language guide book was an idea I conceived of while walking my dog each day in the city center of Gouda. I love history and wanted to know more about the Netherlands myself.  It also was apparent that there really wasn’t a good English language guide for Gouda, and by a good one I mean one that wasn’t dull and laden with dates and pages of advertising, or swamped with bad literal translations, proposing cultural leanings that could be easily misunderstood or incomprehensible, aka “what are we supposed to understand from this?” – and on this subject may I add that most guide books are piece meal and end up “no-where” while ours is different.

H2H: Vinita, was The Bee’s Tour… your first book? What did you find most rewarding about the experience? What did you find most challenging?

VS: Yes, The Bee’s Tour is my first book. I talked about that a bit here.

The most rewarding result about this collaboration is the freedom that I have in expressing what I want to express. What I found most challenging was the technical part of getting a self-published book down and how we really had to both draw on our strengths to walk that last few steps to the finishing line.

H2H: Persephone, the following is a snippet from The Bee’s Tour book. Can you tell me a little about how it was decided which landmarks would be featured in the book, and where the inspiration for this particular passage came from?

PA: Because the book is focused around the magnificent stained glass windows in the church, I choose locations that could explain the time frame of when the windows were produced.  There are hardly any Dutch “Renaissance Period” windows left in any of the churches in the Netherlands and yet Gouda has all of hers. The guide book uses the city center of Gouda to explain a certain period of Dutch history.  In fact, you could probably apply the idea of the book to understand any older Dutch cities.  Re the following snippet of the book: I polled both of our husbands about this matter and they both liked the information about the locks!

After a short walk along the dike… “The footpath ends up at the only working combination lock in Holland, which has revolving gates that use the river’s own water pressure to operate.  The river ebbs and flows four times a day, and should a boat longer than the pound’s length want to pass, the ebb and flow doors (two sets per side) can be completely opened during one of the times in a day that the water is level on both sides.   There isn’t much more than a ten minute time period for a long boat to pass through and if the timing is off, the ebb and flow doors cannot be closed because of the water pressure.  In this case of emergency the revolving side doors in the middle of the pound, like wings, can provide the necessary action to close the lock.  The revolving side doors use water channels or passages built into either side of the lock that can be opened so that the water rushes into the reservoir behind the revolving doors.  It is then that the water pressure keeping the ebb and flow doors open can be used to shut the emergency revolving doors. 

The passage of birth of the Republic of Holland was a phenomenal event in the 16th century world.   Holland became a mercantile republic surrounded by monarchies, and the Dutch felt that their struggle was akin to the tribe of Israel and the story of Moses.  They often rejuvenated their identity using chapters from the Old Testament as heavenly proof and support of their new found liberty. 

Owen Feltham, a 17th century English writer, wrote of the Dutch in his work “A brief character of the Low Countries” in 1652: “They are the Israelites, passing the Red Sea.  The waters wall them in and if they set open their sluices shall drown up their enemies.”   (The Bee’s Tour of Gouda, Buzzing through Vinita’s Lens”)

H2H: Vinita,  you and Persephone produce the blog on AngloINFO South Holland called Nectar from Holland: the Bee’s Tour with Vinita. You provide an image which inspires Persephone to write a poem about it. Since the blog, or creative diary I like to think of it as, started there have been over 20 images used. Which was your favorite and why? How did you come about photographing that particular scene?

Golden in the Dark

VS: This is one of my favorite images. I love when Gouda lights up with so much grandeur during the month of December on Kaarsjeavond. To get this photo, I had to wait until the square in the city center was fairly empty (read: a very long while) and I’m not one who does well in the cold, but all I kept thinking is how grateful I was for my special photography gloves which only exposes my index finger when I needed to press the shutter. It was a cold night!

H2H: That’s a great story and I totally get what you mean. I happened to be there myself for the Gouda by Candlelight event last year. It was my first time, and aside from the festivities which make the night so special, I remember exploring some of the city on foot after the tree lighting in the square. A light snow had started to fall and after wandering for a bit, I thought I should probably head back to the station. Then, as I turned the corner, I saw this most enchanting holiday scene in the Museumhaven

Winter in Gouda (Museumhaven)


H2H: Persephone, tell me about the creative direction for Nectar From Holland: The Bees’s Tour with Vinita for the coming year.

PA: Well, this month happens to mark the one-year anniversary of Vinita and I starting “Nectar from Holland: the Bee’s Tour with Vinita” here on AngloINFO South Holland.  Hopefully everyone enjoyed reading and seeing the 26 poems and pictures as much as we enjoyed posting them. We are thrilled to be continuing our artistic and informative collaboration into a new year, but thought we would try something new.

What Vinita and I would like to do for this second year, is to provide even more info about our hometown of Gouda. Starting this month, we’ll be posting various items about this beautiful, historic city.  We’ll talk about some fun and interesting facts about Gouda, such as what the names of certain streets actually translate to in English and why the name was chosen. Because readers in other Dutch cities are likely to have a similar street name where they are, it gives insight into what that name actually means…what the origin is. Our very first Nectar From Holland post with this new direction, just went live yesterday. It is called Karnemelksloop – Buttermilk Ditch 

H2H: That’s great! I love the first one I just read. So you ladies are quite busy than, because isn’t there also a new book in the works?

PA: Yes, the new book is also based in or on Gouda, but instead of travel guide writing, I have let myself loose within a fictional cadre exploring cultural identity, the expectations that come with different ways of viewing the world. You could say I’m even taking into account what the origins or requirements are to finding a new home base, through the eyes of international characters and their experiences.  The texts are short, postcard shorts to a photograph of someplace or something in Gouda.

VS: Lead by Persephone’s knowledge in architecture, the images have a very strong presence opposed to the soft vintage style that was used in The Bee’s Tour of Gouda.  The idea of the book is postcard shots, a shared moment reaching out to express being someplace.

The book is due out in early 2014! It’s very exciting!



Related information…