Prehistoric Diplomatic Dinner Party

After returning to my home country, I find myself looking back at living abroad as a diplomatic spouse. By writing fictional stories, I play with the idea how different my diplomatic memories could have been.

Prehistoric Diplomatic Dinner Party  

I lived with my husband and daughter in Asia, East and Central-Europe. Our most recent posting was Ireland. ‘Natalie’, the fictional character in my Prehistoric Dinner part story stands for all remarkable and very kind people that I met abroad. Suzanne is real and still today a very good friend.

Whilst enjoying tea in our local tearoom, Suzanne asked me how the dinner party last Saturday had been.

‘It was lovely’, I smiled and my mischievous giggle didn’t escape her. A gentle smile appeared; ‘Tell me!’

The barista brought us coffee and nut cakes.

‘Well, the party was very well organized and the Finish Embassy is just so lovely. You know that, don’t you?’ Suzanne nodded and reminded me that she had a National Day reception there last year, so there was no need for me to describe the dining room.

‘I sat between two quiet people. I tried to make conversation, you know; the usual polite opening questions. On my left sat Mr. Park from South-Korea. This was his last party before moving to Genève. He gave the most polite answers possible which hindered my attempts to engage him in conversation. You know these parties, don’t you? Everything is utterly perfect but there is no esprit’. Of course, Suzanne knew. She had been, like me, a diplomatic spouse for ages. ‘And on my right side, I had a Latin-American lady of about 60-65. Initially, she was very withdrawn and reluctant to tell about herself. I forgot to find out to whom she was partnered.’ Suzanne encouraged me to get to the point.  

‘It seemed like ages before the second serving arrived.  I felt so desperate for some enthusiasm.  I felt my mood change and..’

‘Yes, yes… so what did you do?’ Suzanne asked impatiently knowing that not much was possible because I was well educated, well prepared, well balanced…basically a lot of ‘well’s’, and thus caught in a web of well behaving-ness.

‘My mind wandered to my prehistory course, you know; my all time favourite subject, but I could not just blurt out something Neolithic and expect them to be interested. And yet, that was exactly what I longed for to do. Just for once! So, ……I made up a recent archaeological discovery. Yes, I just did that by drawing inspiration from the prehistoric excavation in France of the Lady of Vix, Germany’s Hochdorf Chieftan’s grave, combined with the famous British Amesbury Archer, all real graves but no one knows about these anyway?’

‘I have never heard of these famous individuals. Are you telling me you just made up a whole story?’ Suzanne asked with a mixture of disbelief and amusement.

‘Yes! By the time the second serving was finished, I had enthusiastically explained highly significant artifacts, linguistic evidence supporting archaeology, carbon dating accuracy, rituals, and battles. I impressed my listeners with throwing in lots of names, locations, Celtic styles, Viking trade routes, even names of highly respected archaeologists like Barry Cunliffe. He is real, by the way. I talked myself through dessert. If no-one inspires you, you basically have to inspire yourself!’

‘So true’, Suzanne said.  I could tell she was eager to hear more. 

‘Mr. Park, the Asian man, politely endured my monologue but the Latin American lady became livelier even eager to learn more about prehistoric battle victims.  The more I went into this imaginary world, any inhibition to stick to scientific evidence left me. I even became theatrical and emotional as I described Iron Age superstition and reenacted some funerary rituals focusing on the cause of death of famous shamans.

‘They had not the foggiest idea you were …uhm…. ‘storytelling’, shall I call it?’ I loved Suzanne for her unwavering diplomatic word choice. 

‘That’s right. Instead, I found the Latin-American lady asking me stimulating questions, many reflecting on the cause of death of Iron Age shamans. I sat through a jolly good dinner after all, in the company of a lovely, enduring audience.’ We laughed like young girls about my silliness and got ready to leave the tearoom.  

We were well on our way to the parking garage when Suzanne inquired whether I had first checked the background of my dinner companions. Of course, I had. The Asian man was a publisher; the Latin American woman was a doctor.

‘Imagine, telling your fantastic story to an archaeologist and finding yourself debunked!’ Suzanne giggled with the prospect of my making an unforgettable blunder. 

‘How clever do you think I am?’, I boasted.  

Before we stepped into our cars, Suzanne asked whether I would come over a bit earlier the next day to help lay the coffee table for her guests.

‘I particularly look forward to meeting Natalia again’, Suzanne said.

‘Why?’, I inquired absent-mindedly, getting into my car.

‘I met her a few days ago at that Swedish Santa Lucia reception -which you sadly missed- and she told me she felt lonely. She is older, you see. This is their last posting abroad. Apparently, she feels somewhat inhibited to tell about her job that she held till a few years ago. She is the second partner of the Peruvian ambassador and her job is often regarded as somewhat gruesome’.

‘Suzanne, could she be the woman who sat next to me last night?’, I asked disbelieving.

‘Well, she has very straight, thick black hair, a bob’, Suzanne mentioned. I started to feel uncomfortable; I had counted on never seeing my audience again!

‘Could she be the Latin-American doctor? No, it can’t be, that would be too coincidental. But darn-it, she had a bob too’, I said, placing my handbag on the car’s passenger seat.

‘I must have Natalia’s name card…, Suzanne said; ‘It is a bit of a mouthful but wait..’. Suzanne grabbed in her pocket and lifted out some name cards. After checking a few, she said; ’Here it is. She told me…. till recently she was internationally renowned … she is…here it says; a paleo-pathologist’. I gasped. Suzanne saw all my colours disappearing from my face.


The next day, Natalia cancelled tea at Suzanne’s house and I felt enormously relieved. But, inevitable as it was, I met the formerly renowned doctor in the study of diseases of ancient man a month later at the Presidential New Year’s reception.  She smiled at me as we shook hands.

‘I had hoped you would not remember me’, I said with a growing blush of shame on my cheeks.

‘I never forget faces. See, I remember somebody’s skull’s features’, she replied. And just when I was about to make a prolonged excuse, she took me by the arm.

‘Stop apologizing. You were wrong by about 5000 years on the timeline regarding a few burials, but otherwise you warmed my paleo-pathologist’s heart’.

‘You are very forgiving’, I said softly. ‘When I learned that I had been blabbing to a professional, I felt an Iron Age axe landing on my head’. Natalia smiled very kindly: ‘I was just pleasantly waiting for you to drown in a misty, prehistoric peat-land full factual and fictional sedges and shrubs.

‘To become a famous bog body on display in a national Museum of Ethnology?’, I asked. We both laughed. For as long as we were together en poste we would never skip a chance to meet at receptions and have a passionate, prehistoric chit-chat.  

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Utrecht 2020    

Forest Scene: Mandarin Ducks Resting on a River Bank

The mandarin ducks (Aix galericulata) have carefully chosen a place to rest. They seems to blend in with the dark background, thus if necessary, they will respond quickly by taking to the waters and thus escape predators. The river is calm, the forest is rich in sounds and smells, and all is well. The reflection of the lovely couple is visible in the calm water. Birds are flying over. 

The duck and drake have just decided to take a rest and have already positioned themselves on the bank. The duck is checking the left, the drake checks the right, if all feels safe they will soon tuck their bills into their wings and take a nap. After that they will look for food again, synchronized as they are. They are life long partners, like swans. In Asia mandarin ducks represent love and loyalty. On the photos of this drawing, you will notice a few wooden ducks. They are used, in Asia, like drawings, prints and paintings, to enhance feelings of love and loyalty in homes and rooms between couples. Seeing bonding ducks, seeing how synchronised they are, makes people long for a deep belonging, a deep bond between lovers.

This is a softly rendered graphite drawing. On my Etsy home page and Instagram you can watch a video of the making of this drawing. I have done many Mandarin duck commissions for homes, weddings, engagements, stationary, or meditation/sleeping rooms. Contact me should you have specific wishes regarding a mandarin duck drawing. Also, have a look at my shop where you will find mandarin duck mini-prints, cards, and full colour drawings. May I advise to have a full colour drawing of mandarin ducks in a monochromatic coloured room and a softly rendered graphite drawing in a colourful room?

Artist information: Derwent graphite H-series pencils on Arches hot press paper 31-41 cm. Winsor & Newton Varnish Spray.

Ornithological information: Although Mandarin ducks are Asian ducks, Dutch park and estate owners buy these ducks to add some bright colours to their duck ponds or castle moats. Mandarin ducks then need nesting facilities because in nature they breed inside tree cavities. They seem to do well in Dutch weather. I am very lucky to have spotted them nearby my home town. One thinks that they stand out splendidly, but I can assure you that even the very colourful drake often seems to blend in its surroundings perfectly.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

@mindfulfdrawing on Instagram (video  link)

Etsy (for video watching scroll down till ‘About Paula Kuitenbrouwer’

Cernunnos Inspired Stag in Ancient Worlds

Cernunnos small cards.jpg
The oldest (Celtic) god is Cernunnos, depicted with the antlers of a stag, seated cross-legged, associated with animals, and holding or wearing a torc (is a large rigid or stiff neck ring in metal, made either as a single piece or from strands twisted together).
Not much is known about Cernunnos but interpretations identify him as a beneficent god of nature, life, or fertility. I find it interesting that Cernunnos is half man, half stag. We clearly like to relate ourselves to such a magnificent animal. It looks well built yet elegant, noble and humble, strong but vulnerable.
I remember driving on Island of Mull and being redirected due to roadworks. As we continued our journey on small roads, all the sudden a huge stag stood in front of us. My husband stopped the car and for a moment we looked in awe at this mighty animal. It looked at us and we looked at him with instant respect, so close and intense was the encounter, that we can still recall the moment, decades later.  It will linger in our memory probably forever.
It is therefore that I have drawn stags and deer often. The challenge is always to capture the strength and elegance. Recently, I drew a full stag but I was disappointed because it didn’t stand out. It did not have the mightiness that I was looking for. I then applied the ‘Celtic’ method of looking which lines and shadows were essential and which I should leave out. Say 90% of my initial lines were erased and as a result I not only ended up with a more powerful stag, the space that became available allowed me to work on applying beautiful lines and figures (see how the eyes of the stag are also birds). Thus, the stag is composed of many seemingly loose elements, connecting and giving it form..
Ancient Stones
Ancient Stone Graves Copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer
I placed it in an ancient Upperworld, Middle world, and Underworld. The Upperworld shows the sun and the moon and the antlers of the stag shapeshift into birds that fly away, symbolizing a shamanistic journey to the Upperworld. The Middle world is shown as tree branches and tree trunks. The Underworld can be entered by visiting an ancient burial site, or being close to dolmens, as is the belief of ancient peoples. I knitted all worlds together by using patterned borders.
Should you like art cards of Cernunnos, contact me freely.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

Artist Info:  I used Derwent Graphite H7 and H3 only, on Winsor & Newton cold press paper. Using only Derwent H pencils gives a drawing very soft tones. Personally, I favour this, but others might judge that it needs more enforcement of darker areas. A few small prints of my drawing show a more enhanced or ‘harder’ version. There are many ‘Celtic’ pattern vectors freely available but I decided to design my own irregular patterns.