Once, many years ago during my first year in Holland, my landlady proudly presented me with what the Dutch know as a “kerststuk.” This is a decorative Christmas arrangement using greenery, flowers, candles and maybe a Christmas tree ball or a plastic snowflake. Rest assured this did happen in December, and I, having managed to move from Paris to Utrecht was still recovering from the difficulties that had been previously present in my life. For instance, I had spent the last year in Paris in an unheated garret and was yellow from malnourishment. I had experienced my first couple of months in Utrecht sleeping on floors and sofas until I managed to find a place, a little more than I could afford, in a nice solidly middleclass neighborhood. My landlords, an elderly couple, had a three story house; they occupied the ground floor and the attic floor. I occupied most of the first floor. I had a large room, ill heated by a gas stove, and a kitchen with a shower in it. My small fridge was located on the landing. I must not have looked that thrilled at the “kerstuk.” It goes without saying that had she handed me a ham, I would have been more appreciative. I left the “kerststuk” on the fridge so that we could all enjoy it. I only brought it into my room at night and lit the candles, and then brought it back to the landing so she could see I had enjoyed the “Christmas thing.” I was suffering from depression or what you might call “a slight case of getting used to a new country,” I didn’t yet speak the language, and every time I did or said something my Dutch landlady would look askance. I discovered that it was ridiculously easy to steal groceries from the local Albert Hein shopping market, but I didn’t push my luck too often. To save money on the gas heater that Christmas holiday, as the Conservatory was closed, I went to the public library for hours on end. At last I was invited by kind friends to spend a few days at their house with their family. I got gastric upset at all the rich food. To this day, every time I see a “kerststuk,” a slight feeling of outrage comes over me.