by Derek Phillips and Klaske Muizelaar
"Neither of us was much interested in money, status, power, possessions, fame, posthumous reputation, or other achievements. But we were both, in a sense, in love with love. To love and be loved well in return was, to us, the supreme accomplishment." – excerpt from A Good Life
This is the touching memoir of Derek Phillips and Klaske Muizelaar, and the life of love and travel they shared together. Derek, an American, had been living in Amsterdam since 1971. Klaske, born in the north of the Netherlands, had been there since 1972. Their life together centered on maintaining dignity, self-respect, and, most importantly, mutual love. At home in Amsterdam, they shared passions for work and reading, good food, music, art, walking, and travel.
Despite their love of travel, such sojourns were often beyond their means. But this was to change in 1988 when, by happenstance, they learned about the phenomenon of house exchanges. Thus began their good life "at home" on foreign soil, spending five or six weeks each year living in the homes of strangers in France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Costa Rica, the United States, and elsewhere. They describe in detail thirty of the more than fifty house exchanges they experienced.
The Prologue introduces readers to a particularly enjoyable exchange:
"In the Spring of 1997, we spent a month in paradise. Or so it seemed to us. We were in Plan-de-la-Tour, a small village in the Massif des Maures hills, just inland from Saint-Tropez and Sainte-Maxime. The Massif is sparsely settled, and much of it is inaccessible by car or public transportation. But two long-distance footpaths are close by, and we had a glorious time walking parts of both. Walking in nature was something we loved.
From mid-May to mid-June we lived in a large, handsome, tastefully furnished house with lovely tiled floors and fine windows. Like other houses in that part of southern France, it was colorfully painted. A secluded and private garden gave us beautiful views of the countryside and the Mediterranean in the distance...
In the daylight hours, we had views of the green countryside surrounding us. Even with clouds, we caught glimpses of the Mediterranean. Darkness brought views of the lights in the village below. We often sat out until quite late, breathing the sweet-smelling air, watching the lights in the distance and the moon and stars, and listening to the sound of crickets and the high whistling of swallows as they swooped and darted overhead.
We went out walking almost every day, often right from the house. Going up the road behind us, we had a choice of trails. All produced good views of the Golfe de Saint-Tropez and Sainte-Maxime. With little rain, we had blue skies, intoxicating smells from wildflowers and herbs, and colorful butterflies along the way. On many walks, we were able to help ourselves to cherries growing in the middle of nowhere.
We sometimes came across streams and sat with our feet in the water, enjoying the soothing feeling and musical sounds of the water flowing over the rocks. Besides our local walks, we drove north a couple of times to hike at somewhat higher elevations. We rarely encountered any other walkers...
Living for a month in Plan-de-la-Tour was something special. Together, the grace and calm of the lovely house and its furnishings, the charm of the villages and small towns in the area, the climate along and behind the Mediterranean, and the chance to be so much in the open air and to savor the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of nature had a salutary effect on our minds and bodies. It was one of the high points of our good life at home on foreign soil."
Weaving together topography, accounts of daily life, personal observations, and social commentary, this memoir offers an intimate portrait of two people enjoying their life and love together before time runs out.
Derek Phillips is emeritus professor of sociology at the
University of Amsterdam and has published books in the
fields of sociology, philosophy, and history. Klaske
Muizelaar (1947-2009) was an independent scholar,
accomplished furniture maker, and weaver. Together they
co-authored the book
423 pp. 6 x 8 1/2 inches
32 color photos