Amsterdam. I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe the beginning?
I arrived on January 23, excited, wishful, and (at least I thought) ready. I was met with snow, ice, and uncertainty; a list of things that didn’t mesh well with my initial unforeseen loneliness. Some days later, I explored you on a long tour (from which I remember little directionally). My attempts to memorize street names reminded me never to learn gibberish, and my mild hypothermia reminded me to buy warmer shoes. That was the first memory I made with you.
Fast forward to warmth. It was a Thursday, I was free of a number of chains (albeit they were chains I loved, they had to be sawed for your sake). After a small cappuccino and a smaller Dutch lesson (alsjebleift), I was finally alone with you. My bike and I rushed home - the wind in my hair, the bike’s wheels just happy to be turning. The sun joined our little freedom fest as we zoomed by tourists and transformed into citizens, beseeching me long after I had returned to my room: “come play.” I laced up my running shoes, and come play I did. (Jay-Z came too.)
We were in the honeymoon phase. It had to go sour soon, I thought, I know how love works. It was the calm before the storm, it had to be, bliss could not be perpetual, for by its very nature it had to be fleeting, unless it was truly possible to live everyday with such a high quality of life. Enlightenment? Perhaps - I didn’t buy it.
I expected my bike to get stolen - it never did. I expected rain to ruin my day - it never did, as I always got to use my cute umbrella. I expected bookstores, bars, coffee-shops to be less than perfect, as if they could never understand my cosmopolitan needs and complex desires. But they never were. In fact, they were always perfect, each one somehow understanding my needs better than I did, each understated and appropriate, somehow being all I wanted.
The honeymoon phase continued, and the best metaphorical sex was had every time the sun came out. The Dutch windows suddenly opened, cafes suddenly had crowded patios (but never any wait time), and a smile suddenly hit everyone’s face. Children were everywhere, always oblivious or indifferent to the prostitutes a few streets over, their innocence louder than the screaming tourists. The sounds of Dutch now rang out like birds chirping, a stark contrast to the earlier, colder days when it sounded somewhat like Nazis sneezing.
Perfection is simple. The Dutch know this, they’ve mastered this. They know what it takes to lead a good life, this is exemplified by their crime statistics (all of which hardly exceed 0). Satisfaction is in abundance in the Netherlands, somewhere the rest of the world wouldn’t necessarily expect to drill for it. It’s hard to be unhappy here, because, though it rains all the time, the storm you’re waiting for will never come. The funny thing is, some people wouldn’t like it this way. Give them a magic pill and they’ll say sure, but tell them its buried in the Netherlands and they won’t go digging. And, unfortunately, I think I’m one of those people, and that’s why I’m ready to leave.
Amsterdam, you are my soma. You are all that I need, and you make things easy on me. No one has ever done this before. You are the geographical equivalent of a back rub. You supply me with cheap food and fun facts and the meaning of life on a daily basis. You let me do whatever I want, and you never make me feel guilty about my decisions. You give me endless opportunities to reflect, to laugh, to help, and to explore. But, unfortunately, you are not real.
I want god, I want poetry, I want sin. I cannot have this from a culture that only produces 20 national films per year. I cannot appreciate no traffic on a Los Angeles freeway when there’s never any. I cannot fall in love all over again if we only have one wedding that lasts forever, and I cannot spend my life with you.
When I want to feel happy in the way Webster’s defines it, I will turn to you. There is nothing wrong with perfection, aside from my attention span. You’ve done nothing wrong, but just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with soma, you are not my authentic life. I love you, but I’m not in love with you.
But please, don’t take it personally.
Last Friday: Finally made it to NEMO Science Center! I went with Dominique, Aliza, and Vivian to this children’s museum suited for adults. I took some photos of the exhibits (they were pretty random, so bear with me):
Saturday: Visited the Castle in Amerogen with my Dutch professor and some other students. It was under renovation, but we had a really nice day anyways. It was fun to hang out with our professor, too — Bonny Wassing! He is really cool. Here are some pictures, the last one of Bonny:
Monday: I finally felt at home again in the city! I had been out of town and hosting visitors for such a long time that it was great to be settled. I had a midterm so instead of going to the Noodermarkt (which I usually do on Mondays), I studied and proceeded to (likely) ace it at 3. Then I had dinner at Soup Enzo, one of my favorite little joints around the corner, and then Dutch class. After Dutch, Aliza and I walked to Bimhuis to see William Van Ekeren recite Bukowski’s poetry to the music of Bach. It was absolutely awesome, and I wish I had had enough money to buy his album! The venue was incredible too—it was up over the IJ water, and we could see the entire city. A great setting for music of any kind, I will definitely be going back!
Tuesday: Tuesday was mainly spent in class and working on a presentation, it was made by the way I spent the evening — went to Overtoom 301 to play ping-pong and hang out. It was really cool, with graffiti on the walls and hipsters abound. Next time I’ll be sure to wear my coolest sneakers!
Wednesday: Wednesday I took it nice and easy. Gave my presentation (rocked it!), studied some more, and had dinner with Dominique and Ali at the pizza place around the corner. It was delicious as usual.
Thursday: I slept in nice and late, then rolled out of bed to go check out the Waterlooplein Market. It was nice and had some cool vintage, but it was so windy that most of the vendors had taken down their stands. I’ll have to go back another day. I walked from there to Dutch class, which was nice and made me hungry. At the cafe on the ground floor of the school, I bought a sandwich with “ossenwost,” a meat that looked like salami. I soon discovered it did not taste like salami, and looked up the word in my Dutch dictionary — turns out I ate ox! Yet another linguistic foul messing with my stomach (the meat was gross, by the way). After Dutch, I got word from Annelise that a party was happening (as in happening at that moment, right then). I bolted out the door and we biked north of Prins Hendrikkade to a party at some Dutchman’s. It was fun; I met a bunch of people from different countries within the first five minutes, and soon after we got kicked out by the apartment complex owners (it was 10pm and noise was an issue). We hung out in the room of a nice Polish girl (Nina) with a Nederlander originally from Scotland (Sean) and a guy from Poland (Jaceck). We went with Jaceck to another party in De Pijp (a neighborhood), at a kid named Riochard’s (he was from Berlin). Annelise and I left soon after to check out Club Rain, where the ISN party was taking place. It was full of trashy techno and was everything I wanted out of a Thursday. We met a Croatian and Annelise got to practice her Dutch. We eventually biked home and had some good conversation, hitting the hay soon after.
Friday (Yesterday): I sat in bed all day, watching How I Met Your Mother and only leaving the house once to get (and devour) a Milka chocolate bar. It was not looking like I had another nighttime activity in me, but something told me I needed to jump at the opportunity to experience this city a little more. I ended up going to a concert at Trouw with Jaceck, the Polish guy from the night before. I met up with him and his friends (May from Switzerland, Todd from Chicago, Andrea from Portugal, and Liana from Romania) and we took the Metro. The place (at which we arrived around 12:15) was a giant warehouse-like building, covered in graffiti. It had two floors, and each one had a DJ playing fabulous dubstep. In the basement room, there were glass bottles on the floor. It was pretty wild, even though all of the Europeans I was with felt like it was just their average evening. I had a phenomenal time!
Saturday: Today, we were supposed to go to Zaanse Schaans, the small town with windmills and cheese museums. However, Ali woke up sick (and I woke up tired) and so Dominique and I found random ways to occupy ourselves. We checked out the Amsterdam HIstorich Museum and the Torture Museum, both of which were very enjoyable. On my ride home, I stopped in droog to look at some design — they have some incredible stuff!
Tomorrow we go to Zaanse Schans (hopefully), and I can’t wait! Let’s hope everyone wakes up in time.
(via:nicephilosophy:iwantyoursoul: A bookstore in Amsterdam. “Just the notion that you hop on your bike, and as you peddle around gorgeous canal streets, you occasionally stop to browse books left out on the ledges of the perfect little bookstore. And then you hop back on and head on home with your new treasures.” (quoted from the author)
DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT STREET THIS IS ON?
I’ll post my adventures in Barcelona soon, but for now, here are some updates on my life back here in Amsterdam:
- I am a fabulous cook. Tonight’s meal: a salad with arugala, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, feta cheese, and warm chicken in a balsamic glaze with some olive oil and a pinch of salt. Yum.
- Noodermarkt is still my favorite - bought a nice leopard print jacket today for 5 euros! Such steals. However, I have also been exploring the vintage stores by my apartment… good stuff is all around! Jodenbreestraat also has some rad music stores - if only I was living here long enough to invest in posters!
- The Heineken Brewerij was fun, but incredibly touristy. I went with Jamie because she was in town for the weekend, and she pointed out how every exhibit, fact, or video was only in English (a stark contrast to the Anne Frank Huis, which translated everything into at least 5 different languages). It seems like somewhere the Dutch would never go, but I learned something about beer-to taste the barley (sweet), taste in the front of your mouth. To taste the hops (bitter), taste in the back. Seems so obvious, but makes me feel so smart!
- Got a haircut in my dorm today when our RAs made-over the common room into a chic salon. I look European, and it only cost me 25 euro!
- FOUND: A great hip-hop spot, Club Bitterzout, on Spuistraat 2. Walking distance, 5 euro cover, and an almost guaranteed good time? Expect to see me there semi-regularly.
- ALSO FOUND: Cute little coffee shop, La Tertulia, on Prinsengracht 321. I knew my guidebook was awesome, but this confirmed it. The place was small, unmarked, priced-reasonably, served toasties, played In Rainbows & Odelay.
- Pancake Bakery remains the number one tourist attraction for my guests, stroop waffels their ultimate souvenir. Everyone leaves with a good taste in their mouths (and yes, that is a metaphor), but that’s not entirely my doing: when it comes to having visitors, Amsterdam pretty much does my work for me.
Yesterday I went to my first flea market since I’ve been here. I was expecting to be a bit disappointed, as the Doppermarkt (where I buy my food) only has trashy gloves and summer dresses that would be sure to break after a few uses. Thank you, Noodermarkt, for being all my hip guidebook cracked you up to be. The selection of clothes was fabulous, even if you did have to weed through piles to find something wearable. Great fabrics, great conditions, nice people, decent prices - I really couldn’t have asked for more from a weekly street flea market. Taking home with me two sweaters and some boots I will be sure to wear until they break, I finally feel like I can walk around close to the level of style that these Europeans exude. Even if I am out a few euros.
In other news, I will be going to FLORENCE this weekend! I’m staying with Tristan’s home stay family, which should be awesomely authentic and a very unique experience. I can see he’s having the time of his life, and hopefully we’ll be doing that together this whole weekend.
It seems like I’m running out of weekends. I never want to leave. Thank god school doesn’t start until August. Unfortunately, I should start worrying about money again if I want my summer to be as extravagant as it should be.
And I forgot to mention I’m trying to read a book every 2 weeks. One has been read, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggaring Genius. One is being read, Brave New World. I will continue to update you on my mundane facts of life once something remotely interesting occurs. Until then, folks.
- Prostitutes that work in Amsterdam pay taxes, receive regular medical checks, and have their own trade union. Talk about legitimate.
- The Netherlands supplies free heroin to addicts, and, while the country receives much criticism for its’ policies on drugs, it has lower rates of drug use, addiction, and drug related deaths than Britain, Germany, France, and many others.
- “Dutch” is actually a semi-derogatory term, stemming from the common mistake of the medieval English who couldn’t tell apart the people of Germany and the Netherlands. However, because the Dutch rock and are a “practical people,” they just kind of decided to use the term.
- As a reward for their resilience during the 1574 Spanish siege, Prince William of Orange offered the people of Leiden (suburb-thing about 22 miles south, where I went with my family when I was 13) a either a tax cut or a university. They chose the university.
- Netherlands means “low land,” referencing the fact that the city is below sea level. Which in itself I guess explains all the canals.
means “goat” in Dutch, apparently. That would explain why the milk I have been drinking tastes like a worse version of whole milk. For those of you who know of my experience with goats in Africa, you will understand why I am on the verge of throwing up. It’s going to be a little while before I get the hang of grocery shopping here.
Went to the Van Gogh (pronounced “Van GOUGH” by the dutch) museum last night. This one is called “irises.”
Amsterdam! My haven, how I love thee. May I never return home, may America be crushed to death by all of its oversize shampoo containers and left unrinsed for eternity. For this is where I want to stay, in my larger than life room that is actually normal sized, with this appreciation for human interaction as I once was when I had my own personal space. I had forgotten how much of my self my lonesome can carry, and how experiences apart from everyone and everything are where I become whole. I only wish, however, that I did not spend as much time on the computer. Unfortunately, blogging is way more efficient than journaling, but ironically, this entry says way less than my letters to Colin.
I embark now, to read my guidebook and hopefully understand the twists and turns of this city (named for the dam on the Amstel River. Did you know that?) as it twists and turns my psyche. With its sporadic weather and somewhat unglamorous nightlife, its windy roads and its graffiti overkill, there is nowhere I’d rather be.
Except for maybe Barcelona. I want to see Julia.