Downwind of Amsterdam
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June 2003

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June 30, 2003

The food here

I remember back in the US, in the weeks before I moved, that I expressed my concern over the food I would eat here in the Netherlands. Everyone told me I was crazy: It's a wealthy country, they said. The Dutch have taste, they must have a lot of seafood, and my friends know I love seafood. Larry said something like: They make great beer, how bad can their food be?

Still I was concerned. I turned to ask my American friends some questions of my own.

"What is your favorite Italian restaurant?" and they always had a quick answer.

"What is your favorite Mexican restaurant?" An answer. "Your favorite French restaurant? Spanish restaurant? Chinese restaurant?..." and they always had a happy answer.

OK, smart guy--name your favorite Dutch restaurant." Blank stare.

Uh oh.

posted by eric at 20.11 CET | Permalink | Comments (7)

June 28, 2003

Rolling By, Beneath My Window

A lazy Saturday morning. During breaks from setting vertical the bookshelves (the floor sags away from the wall about 2 degrees--nothing the supporting the base with an old issue of Wired and a cheap IKEA rug can't solve), I watch the morning traffic by. Meaning: bicycle traffic. Ja, ja, OK: fietsenverkeer.

There's a moral to this post, a decision made. Wait for it.

Cup of coffee in hand, I realize that it's true what they say: Bicycles Rule in the Netherlands. (That's critical, but it's not the moral. Wait for it!) I set up the camera, on a tripod. How long did this take? A pot of coffee, 3 CDs--choose your measure. The results:


We start with a couple of ground rules. FIRST: Bicycles Rule Over Automobiles. This proximity, and the bicyclist's nonchalance is normal here, unnerving to buitenlanders (Dutch word meaning "foreigners" or--equivalently in their language--"barbarian"). Try trusting drivers like this in the US and you'll be flattened before sunset.
 


More often than not, the cyclist is unconcerned enough to look the other way.
 


I suspect that this nonchalance would be easy to get used to. So far as I can tell Dutch drivers are well trained and can be trusted for the most part.
 


I frequently find on auto trips around town that the cyclists and I arrive at the same time. I have to stop for everything; they stop for nothing. Envy sets in.
 


Just when one cyclist has passed from in front of your car...
 


...another comes by. Yes, you could be there all day.
 


Everyone waits. EVEN Porsche drivers wait.
 


SECOND ground rule: Bicycles Rule Over Pedestrians! There is no slack in this rule whatever along the red-tile bicycle paths, and this baffles all newcomers. So before crossing a bike path, do as this wise pedestrian demonstrates: look both ways. You'll live longer.
 


This exquisitely comely pedestrian is doing it right. She will live long.
 


This hapless sap, obviously a stupid buitenlander (but I repeat myself) is doing it all wrong. The next sound he will hear will be the tinking sound of a small bicycle bell. Caution: Do not mistake this bell's sound as a charming Dutchism: it is the Sound of Death. When you hear it behind you jump over the nearer edge, out of the red. If you (like the pictured fellow) are so unfortunate as to find yourself in the red path's center, ACT! Choose left or right without thinking: at least that way you'll have a 50% chance of surviving.
 


Walking the edge is a nice game, but also not recommended.
 


There's no ground rule about bikes' yielding to bikes, which leads to interesting situations like this.
 


Hand signals are sometimes appreciated but strictly optional.
 


Typically, other riders sensibly yield to kids regardless of the paths.
 


So, since bicycles move through town as fast as cars, are easier to park, and are sturdily built in the Netherlands, it's not surprising to see them used to haul cargo. This gentleman has purchased a box of something...
 


...this one hauls home fresh bread...
 


...and this one's just been to Blokker.
 


I'm not sure why this one's wearing a heavy coat,...
 


...while this tennis player is wearing almost nothing.
 


This gentleman carries a wheel...
 


...while this one prefers a darling purse.
 


And of course this is the Netherlands, so everyone's taking home flowers,...
 


...flowers,...
 


...flowers!
 


These wonderful town bikes will carry a little,...
 


...more,...
 


...or way too damn much. Or maybe shopping just depresses him.
 


Kids count as legal cargo,...
 


...though they aren't always carried the way I would do,...
 


...though--what do I know?--maybe this is how Dutch children learn the sense of balance they'll need through their cycling life.
 


And Dutch kids definitely need a sense of balance, which they exploit out in traffic and on their own, from very early in life--young,....
 


...young,...
 


...very, very young.
 


And they continue for all the decades of their lives, as long as they have adequate lungs and legs,...
 


...after which they continue to claim their rights to the red paths with bromfietsen, as long as they have balance to stay upright,...
 


...after which they then order a motorized claim to the red paths and continue, commanding all the vehicular rights and respect they have enjoyed since they could first balance on two wheels.
 

And in the meantime, the Dutch beneath my window make for an unconcerned, wheeled cavalcade, for as long as I care to watch.











 

OK. So here's the moral. There doesn't have to be a moral to every story, much less a moral to every randomly selected collection of images like this. That would be tedious, wouldn't it? But though today's entry doesn't require a moral...still, it has one. So, OK, the bicycle is central to a life in the Netherlands as a Netherlander. I'll be damned if I'm going to let all this just pass by under my window while I sit up here like some old man watching life pass him by. There is observing life, and there is living it. And things are too far to walk, and too hard to drive, and if I'm going to understand these curious people among whom I'm living, I'm going to have to be part of it, do what they do. A bicycle would seem like an excellent start. What's stopping me?

WHAT INDEED? Resolved: Onward to the next chapter of my Dutch life. I'm going to get a bicycle.


posted by eric at 15.47 CET | Permalink | Comments (12)

June 27, 2003

The Last of the Unpacking

Ha. YOU probably think nothing could be less interesting than unpacking a bunch of boxes, right? Well, how about this--today I put up the bookshelves and got to unpack the books that will nourish my next twelve months' intellectual life.

Every box had at least one surprise. Some books I would never relocate without taking. Other books I look forward to reading over the next year, especially over the long winter of long nights.

Some of the most exciting examples:

On Moral Fiction, John Gardner. I have always wanted to read this, and I found a copy of the new 25-year edition just before I left the US. As I understand it, his thesis is simply that life is too short to write or even much read worthless fiction. And worthless fiction to him is anything that doesn't conscientiously stand up for what is right. At first this looks like a hazardous position--who's to say what is right? But on second thought, perhaps fiction is the best arena in which to hash this out. After all, its subjects and modes of expression are practically limitless, and it beats the hell out of wars.

The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien. Those who believe that topical fiction can never be deep might want to read this book. Yes, all the stories are about men, essentially men in their twenties, and about the Vietnam war or its aftermath back home...but this is terrific, deep, eminently readable fiction.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum,, Heinrich Boell. A piercing short novel of the media hounding a young woman out of her mind. I remember being devastated by this when it came out in the 1970s, and I want to read it again after all the reading I've done since, to see if that effect was warranted. Part of this story's power comes from the author's maintaining an almost unbearable sense of fury and outrage just beneath the surface of the text. I wonder how his lawyer survived reading the opening disclaimer: "The characters and action in this story are purely fictitious. Should the description of certain journalistic practices result in a resemblance to the practices of the Bild-Zeitung, such resemblance is neither intentional nor fortuitous, but unavoidable."

A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family, Peter Dimock. A recent and hard-to-find novella. You can read it at one sitting--and once you start in, you probably will finish it in one sitting. I had always been unimpressed by most fiction written in a hypnotic, incantatory style, but My God this guy got it right. Halfway through the book, once I realized why the narrator told the story in the repetitive, roundabout way he does, I was crushed. A huge influence on my own writing.

It seems that I'm on a roll here with the momunental, sad stories. Bear with me one more. These are all hugely great stories.

The House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus. I have passed many a long plane or auto trip trying to decide if this is the greatest novel I have ever read. (And I think it's safe to say that I've read a bunch.) Of all the stories I know set in America and written about it, certainly it is the most tragic. I dare you to read it without moving imperceptibly from outrage to bitter tears. And for me, the tears over the story's content gave way to tears from knowing that I will never, ever be able to write like Dubus. By the way...Andre Dubus certainly wrote the best short story I have ever read, and considered by many to be the best short story in English: "A Father's Story."

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver. I always wanted to read more of Carver, and this collection of short stories seemed a good way to do it.

OK, all clear. This afternoon I also unpacked some nonfiction that I want to read.

From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun. I'm not exactly sure how Jacques Barzun has avoided winning the Nobel Prize, except--in what? The man seems to be expert in a number of subjects, and not in Azimov's "My only talent is that I can look things up in encyclopedias faster than you can" manner. Barzun knows a lot and thinks them through in startling ways. And any 95-year-old who can finish a highly informed, heroic book on the past 500 years of Western Culture has my vote.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I had a pretty good start in Florida on tackling this monster from about the year 1900. Thousands of things I never knew but should have, and an stupendous source of allusive place names for my own fiction.

And then a whole host of books that I probably won't reread here, but that I'm glad to have with me, that were worth lugging across the sea:
Doing it With Style and Manners from Heaven, both by Quentin Crisp.
Collected Poems, E. E. Cummings.
The American Language, H. L. Mencken. Yes, I have all three volumes in a matched set. Eat your hearts out, collectors.
Figures of Speech, Arthur Quinn. The slim, hard-to-find explanation of 60 rhetorical structures. Epanorthosis is my favorite. Or not.
Far Tortuga, Peter Matthiessen. I don't know how this guy writes like this. And I canNOT believe the Nobel committee passed up Matthiessen last year in favor of that relentlessly confused phrasemonger V.S. Naipul.
Simple and Direct, Jacques Barzun's excellent book on writing style, surely one of the 2-3 best on the subject.
Style: Towards Grace and Clarity, Joseph M. Williams. As Williams is concerned with macro issues of compositional structure and writer's intent, this book makes an excellent complement to Barzun's book on words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs.
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern. The crown on the career of this idiosyncratic and highly underappreciated teacher of writing. A virtual dictionary of fictional situations. But far from feeling confined or limited, the writers I know who have read this book couldn't wait to get back to setting down words, and more meaningful, involving ones at that. What higher praise could there be? My first writing laptop was named after Jerry Stern. May may he rest in peace.

And maybe 150 other books arrived safe and sound. Hooray!

And YOU thought box-unpacking was boring.

posted by eric at 20.41 CET | Permalink | Comments (1)

June 26, 2003

Unpacking gets deep

Another evening of unpacking. Hauled some boxes downstairs, a long, dark, steep, narrow, slippery, knuckle-skinning trip for each one. Opened some boxes down there in storage, and discovered that the movers in Florida threw every damn thing in. I can't believe they didn't ask me before they packed for a 5000-mile move:

  • 12 rolls of paper towels.
  • 12 1/2-liter bottles of spring water
  • a large box of wrapping paper. Nothing else--just paper.
  • a six-pack of Diet Coke

...and on and on. Oh well, as a percentage of the weight sent, it's not much, but since my new company was charged by the kilo...I don't want to think what the paper towels and water cost. There are six more boxes to open. I wonder what novelties I'll find in there.

Came upstairs tired and satisfied. Poured the (very old) sodas down the drain. A lot of good that did. The second floor ceiling was glowing red, so I pulled a Heineken from the tiny fridge and went to the top window to watch the sun set from on high. Time for lots of thoughts. For example:

It is good to be tired and to climb stairs and to anticipate and then take that first drink of beer. Good to feel the cool breeze in the window on my hot, overworked self--simple pleasures of being alive. I'm going to miss them when I'm dead.
It's the first day of summer, and the sun is setting farther north than it will until a year from now. Where will I be a year from now, when the sun next sets on that particular tree? Will I be watching it set on that particular tree again? If I've finished my work here, I'll back in the US, and since it would be a Friday at 3pm I would probably be in an Illinois office, ready for a summer weekend. But with or without me, from this window the sun will set on that same tree. Maybe the apartment's new tenant would see it. Maybe no one would see it. I would never know.



 

posted by eric at 22.53 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 24, 2003

Last moving day

The sea shipment arrived today, the last stuff from America. Whatever is coming to the Netherlands is here now. We moved boxes all morning and half the afternoon. I hurt all over. I expected to be happy today, but something is wrong, and it's not my car mirror (see below).

This the last shipment from America. Whatever I need and don't have right now, it will have to fit in luggage in my next flight from the US (whenever that will be), find it here (unless it's electrical, or otherwise Euro-incompatible), or order from America which is certainly attractive in these days of cheap delivery services--but how to get them through Dutch customs? I have no idea, and the Netherlands' Customs website is no help. I have some Tiffany lamps, but no way to light them up. Oh well, no space to set them up in this apartment, anyway.

We spent most of the day unloading the truck, and dodging the traffic on my street, all of which had to squeeze, with just centimeters to spare on each side, between delivery trucks and cars including mine. Twice we saw drivers back up and try the squeeze again. Someone was going to lose something. You could just tell that some drivers were tempted to close their eyes, charge ahead, and simply hope for the best.


The good news is that I brought over just about the right amount of stuff. Not that you could tell from the picture at left. Too much or too little was the #1 risk in moving from 8 years in a large house to an apartment of small (and at the time of packing, unknown) size. I think that part went pretty well.
 

I brought some stupid things, like 5 reams of American (8.5" x 11") paper, when A4 serves perfectly well in my laser printer. Of course I didn't know A4 would fit in American file folders, so that was not a terrible decision. Well, it's not like the American paper will go bad before I move back; it's just one more thing to step over in the storage room, and one more sore muscle from box-hauling. The movers in Florida also packed a lot of stuff I just didn't think of being in the house, but I think I'll I stop there, on that subject.


Though I'm mostly glad to have brought what I brought, about some things I have very mixed feelings: I brought all the framed pictures, and they will certainly help with the apartment's sterile white-paint and -tile feel, but pictures I bought in Florida, even of Florida places, are not helping with my mood just now. The movers did what they are charged with doing, but this meant that the pictures ended up stacked in corners like so much firewood, all still bearing "NL" stickers that one April night I ran around the Florida house sticking on, to make sure each possession ended up in the right hemisphere. It was all so close together, just a short time ago, and now so, so scattered.
 


In compensation, I unpacked some happy surprises! Like the GLORIOUS quilt Mom made for me a couple of years back. It's perfect that it's here. I treasure it, it brightens my bed, it looks terrific, and it will keep me warm during long Dutch winter nights. For a bachelor, that makes for a very close second.
 

When the movers pulled away, it was all I could do to make myself each lunch, clean up and dress, and start downstairs to a few hours of work. Not in the best of moods, I crossed the street, pulled out the keys, reached for the door handle, and...


Anybody notice anything missing?
 


Whoop, there it is.
 

Perfect. Just perfect.

posted by eric at 22.37 CET | Permalink | Comments (1)

Chat with Madame N.

Un evenement tout a fait inattendu! Je viens de bavarder avec mon amie de l'internet (du net jusqu'ici, au moins), la reine de Nancy. Tout en anglais--elle avais pitie de moi--mais je me trouve ravi tout le meme.

Merci beaucoup pour ton appel, N., et a bientot j'espere.

posted by eric at 20.37 CET | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 21, 2003

Can't Argue with the math... A thought

OK, I admit, this is the funniest thing I've seen on the web for quite a while (from the bizzare www.hytti.uku.fi site).


Not that there's anything wrong with a bit of evil, you understand...
 

posted by eric at 19.11 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)

June 18, 2003

Meekijken Gewenst

Someone needs to explain Dutch TV to me.

Daytime and evenings consist mostly of:

  • news shows (nice to look at, but hopeless),
  • talk shows (fat chance I'll follow anything there),
  • game shows (even fatter chance), and
  • and classic American movies like Footloose and Dumb and Dumber.

Whereas "after hours" tends toward:

  • even worse American and (horrors) British movies,
  • US-style infomercials (gad, it's contagious!), and
  • famously, soft-core sex shows

Which presents a problem: what kind of program could possibly segue each evening from the early clean to the dirty late shows?


The brilliant Dutch solution, courtesy of the Veronica network, is Meekijken Gewenst. This, Gentle Reader, is a seriously warped program. You Americans can think of it as something of a cross between Bloopers, Jackass, Kentucky Fried Movie and the worst bowel movement a Candystriper ever cleaned up. I love Meekijken Gewenst. I wouldn't miss it for anything.
 


The name would have to be translated to something like "Discretion Advised." The host takes you through about 10 minutes of short video clips, which he and his friends found God Knows Where, and which he and his friends presumably bilk the network by categorizing and stringing together. Ten minutes an evening is enough. I don't know when I have laughed so hard in all my life.
 

Consider just one week's damage:

  • Skateboarding dogs,
  • Dancing Baby with a machine gun,
  • Motorcycle jumper doesn't quite clear the last truck,
  • Endless commercials and commercial parodies in several languages,
  • Exploding toilets.

You get the idea. Actually, you probably don't.

Culled from some archive is this typical sequence, from a commercial parody. (1) "Kidstoned Valium, pleasure for the entire family." (2) "Once the valium works, you no longer have kids all over you.

 


You probably don't even want to hear about the utterly dumbfounding "Give me chocolate ice cream!" episode, do you?

You
do?

Pervert.
 

I can forgive Meneer Grob his endless fetishes for helicopter and motorcycle crashes (though, it's true: no two are alike!), enormous body parts, and zoo copulations. Whatever the case: Meekijken Gewenst serves its purpose perfectly, since the soft-core shows that follow it couldn't possibly shock anyone.

In short, the show's logo (first picture above) is dead on: you want to cover your eyes, but...you have to see. Whether the shock value, searing humor, and pandering to short attention spans is the Future of Television is a different question. But the next evening: there I am, watching.


Tot morgen!
 

posted by eric at 23.45 CET | Permalink | Comments (4)

June 14, 2003

Vignettes: an evening in Amsterdam

My first visitor from America. John, whom I've known for 24 years, happened to have a flight out of Schiphol the next morning and an evening to kill. We haven't seen each other for months, maybe a year, and after my quick train ride from Bussum station, right there, in the lobby of the Swissotel...there he was. Surreal.

Here are a few vignettes of the day.


Much beer + long walking = a need for...relief. At one point we avoided commission of the dreaded Dutch crime of "wildplassen" by my happening to know of "openbare toiletten in the Rijksmuseum area. When you've reached a certain state of distress, otherwise innocuous signs like this one jump out as though a beacon were shining on them and a band playing under it.
 

I had to nag John over and over that you never walk in bike lanes, or even cross them without looking down them as your life depends on it, which it does. We cheated death from the Dam to the Rijksmusem and Concertgebouw, back north to the Red Light District, up and down Kalverstraat, and back across Rokin for dinner. When our light turned green at Rokin a pair of girls rode their bicycles past us, quite illegally through not dangerously fast, and a kindly old Dutchwoman swatted one of the girls' hands with a rolled up paper. That was perfect, because...


...it further supports my miniature but growing conviction that a distinguishing characteristic of the Dutch is that they Love Rules but Hate Authority. I offer this picture ("rijwielen" is bicycles, "plaatsen" is to place, "verboden" is...well, you get the idea) as yet more evidence.
 

Dinner at the Indonesian restaurant on the Rembrandtplein, and then at an outdoor cafe on Rokin: "tweemal kopje koffie en tweemal armangac." Sitting at nine o'clock in the evening under a blue summer sky, we talked and admired two small dogs, quiet at the feet of an older couple who eagerly downed large beers. John remarked at dogs in a restaurant; it didn't seem odd to me, and I asked him to consider that Dutch dogs were better behaved in a restaurant than are American children, so which should be allowed? In Dutch the waitress asked this couple if they had been walking around Amsterdam a long time-- and Ja, they had. John and I caught up with our last news as the sky dimmed and the traffic thinned and quieted. The waitress came back out to the couple, carrying two hand-painted porcelain bowls of water. She crouched and set one before each dog. They looked up to her with big eyes as they lapped. John sipped and nodded: "This is the way life is supposed to be."

I left him at the hotel, uncertain when I would see him again. Caught the 21.39 train at Amsterdam Centraal and we started east to Bussum. Just before Weesp, the train slowed and then stopped. I expected an Intercity express train to go by in the opposite direction, but instead a conductor hopped down and across the other tracks to a narrow path alongside and a child's bicycle laying in the middle of the path. He looked ahead towards Weesp and shaded his eyes against the setting sun, back to the west from which we'd come. He looked across the polder. There was no child anywhere. A train came in the other direction, slowed, stopped. The engineer opened his window and talked down to our conductor. The sun set as they talked. The engineer talked on some kind of phone, and our conductor picked up the bicycle and came back on board. The bells rang, the doors closed, and train traffic resumed in and out of Amsterdam.

Off the train. On my walk across Bussum to my apartment, the air was cool, and I was tired enough to sleep, and I was thinking: nothing speeds your feeling at home in an new area faster than showing it to a visitor, showing it to him as your own. I climbed the stairs, pulled a beer from the tiny fridge and climbed the rest of the stairs. I watched the sky darken from my high window, breeze in my face. For now, yes--this is the way life is supposed to be.

posted by eric at 23.01 CET | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 8, 2003

Passing for Dutch, #1

I write "#1" because there'll be more to say about "passing for Dutch" later. I can't yet speak Dutch quite functionally, so for now I'll write only about "passing for Dutch" on sight, at first glance. (Don't minimize first glances: The Dutchman's ability to guess your language within two seconds of seeing you is spooky.

SO: how to defeat this guesswork, how (for more than two seconds) to pass for a local? First: our idea here is not to fool anyone, but simply to keep from distracting or even alarming the locals. If they aren't distracted by your weird clothing, etc., maybe they will actually look at you as a person. MAYBE even let you speak Dutch to them, which is our goal if we intend to speak it better. Call it conformism if you will, but language itself is the ultimate conformism, so if you want to communicate at all, it's best to worry about something else. Like finding WCs on Sunday.

So, how to pass for a local? Well, there are some things not to do, so as not to distract the locals. I give here two clues, each from a widely accepted American cultural icon:

  1. From a very popular American book of the 1980s Dress for Success... "An American executive's hair is always combed, and his shoes are always shined."
  2. From popular American songs of the past century... "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!" ... "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" ... "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles" ... "Don't Worry, Be Happy" ...Uh, anyone see a pattern, here?

Theoretically the Europeans in this holiday picture (Kalverstraat, Amsterdam, on Pinksteren Saturday) should be as happy as Europeans can get: it's a warm day, they are in one of the world's great cities, and it's a Saturday, and the next Monday is even a holiday...


 
 

How might this differ from a similar American scene?

  • Smiling: "They're all headed for a funeral" is the first thing most Americans would say about the above picture of Dutch On Holiday. Yes, there's the one smiling boy at center, but he's young and not yet culturized and so doesn't know any better. Or maybe he's an American with bad hair. Still, on the whole, what they say is very true: if you walk up to a Dutchman and smile, he will run. He won't necessarily be able to tell you why--he just knows something is wrong with it. If you want to announce your nationality as American, smile first. You won't be mistaken for Dutch. If you want to pass for Dutch while approaching a Dutchman, try to look as as though it is your current duty to arrest him for something. It's not personal.
  • Clothing: Amazingly, it's exactly what you find on any American street, particularly in the drably dressed Midwest or Northwest. I think I even see a Tampa Bay Buccaneers t-shirt in there. All the "How to Live and Get Along in Europe" books seem to have this wrong. The Parisians dress a little better than American city-dwellers, the Dutch a little poorer, but overall if you just leave your canary yellow Nikes and "I'm with Stupid" t-shirts back in the States, you'll do fine. Even better, leave all your bright colors behind (and if you're over 35 leave the sporting clothes behind), and you'll blend right in.
  • Hair: Dutch hair fashion resembles Yasir Arafat's shaving fashion. If you comb your hair, or even cut it carefully, you are obviously a vain foreigner. Likewise: if your shoes are new or otherwise free of mud, cuts, and scuffs, or holes, you are obviously trying to impress someone--stop it.

So last Sunday I applied the checklist to myself: (1) I don't smile much, so that's not a problem. (2) From previous travels, I knew about the clothing thing, so that was no problem. (3) Shoes--omigod!!! I had new shoes, and this Will Not Do. I rushed to Hilversum for shoes, and to waste no time I wore them right out of the store (by the way: hang on to the receipt if you do this, but that's a different story). I found a place between two buildings and risking arrest for wildplassen, toussled my hair savagely and then halfheartedly palmed it back, making sure to use the hand that had just held the sticky chocolade broodje. When I then reemerged back into the crowd along Kerkstraat and tried a couple of shops, INSTANTLY it was: "Goeie middag, meneer." I stood transformed. Dutch. I could pass for Dutch until I opened my mouth. My horizon had widened a little. A milestone.

Digression: let's review cultural differences as revealed by BUSINESS SHOES:


My Florida business shoes. Looking at these shoes now, after a month in the Netherlands, they look impossibly snappy. You might see such shoes in Paris, in the summertime. Lightweight and woven, which are very practical for the hot Florida climate.
 


My Chicago business shoes. Heavy, warm, ready for anything, yet shiny and without blemishes. Expensive, but that's the territory in Chicago. You might see such shoes in Paris in the autumn and wintertime. Here, obviously the mark of a buitenlander (a charming word basically meaning: non-Dutch).
 


My Dutch business shoes. Kindly note the prominent orange price tags, thoughtfully left in to inspire thrift. Hey, don't laugh--these shoes have changed my life here. I want to draw an analogy with Dorothy's magic shoes in the Wizard of Oz, but this morning I haven't yet had enough coffee to manage such.
 


Sometimes the whole thing is too much trouble, and I consider adopting this guy's style. (At least one would surely address him first in Dutch.) Think it would work?
 

posted by eric at 10.39 CET | Permalink | Comments (10)

June 7, 2003

It's a beautiful spring in NL...


...and even bicycles fall in love.
 

posted by eric at 22.03 CET | Permalink | Comments (3)