About Downwind of Amsterdam

What is this site?

The unfolding, photo-illustrated story of my 2003-2004 sabbatical in Naarden, a village in the Netherlands. I recorded my life there while I lived it.

Why did I leave the US?

Actually, this was my fourth offer to work overseas.

Pre-1975: A young friend Michel offered to get me a job with him in Toulouse. I didn't take him up on it. I've never forgiven myself for that.

1975: A college friend called to ask if I wanted to program in APL (an old array-based programming language I knew), in Saudi Arabia. A few questions later, it did not seem like an altogether legitimate undertaking. Oil was the hot ticket then, and of course computers turned hot a decade later; that job would have been a head start on both. It might also have made me very rich or very dead.

1999-2000: When the head of Coca-Cola-Europe/Asia's chemistry group resigned, Coke asked me to go to Brussels and set things up there. (Coca-Cola had also had a little trouble in Belgium that you may have heard about.) I had resigned my position at Minute Maid, the movers had been to my Florida house, and I had already secured an office, phone number, computer, apartment in Brussels. Whereupon a couple of Coke VPs changed their minds--Poof the job was gone, and I've never forgiven them for that.

2002-3: Eight years as R&D chemistry section manager for the Minute Maid Company, working in downtown Plymouth, Florida, living in wonderful Winter Park. In 2000, 3 of my 5 people took retirement packages, and I had to replace all 3-- I'm still not sure what that accomplished. In 2002, Coke decided to throw Minute Maid to Procter and Gamble, throwing all our jobs in jeopardy, then just decided not to. In 2003, Coke decided to fold us, Minute Maid (4000 employees) into Coke North America (8500 employees). Big company, small company: guess who loses. My people and I essentially had to audition for our own jobs. Third strike, they're out. I declined to.

That is to say, in 2002 I stopped turning away phone calls on the employment subject. One of the companies was Quest International, a very smart Dutch/British flavor and fragrance company, the fourth largest globally. The Quest folks (both Dutch and American) and I got along tremendously well, I thought. What they needed was someone who:

  • Knew citrus chemistry well,
  • Knew chromatography well,
  • Would move away from Florida (citrus country) to Chicago,
  • Was probably American but got along well with Europeans, and
  • Would relocate 1-2 years to a small town in Netherlands.

For better or worse, there might be 3-5 people on the planet who satisfy these requirements. The situation summarized: Quest needed a miracle...and I was probably going to need a job.

All it took was Quest's first call to me, a secret trip to Illinois, a nice accidental dinner in Florida with their scientists, an interview in Chicago and then another in Naarden, and lots of paperwork. Done.

The rest of this unfolding story--and what I think about it, what I feel about it--is the subject of this very blog.

So...why did I go?

Sometimes I ask myself that.

After all, Florida--and particularly my town of Winter Park--can tug very hard. I had lived most of my adult life in Florida. My friends were in Florida. All year it is green, and all year the birds sing. The sky is always interesting.

But when your life is at a dead end, it's strange-- the greenery's invisible, bird songs more mock than sing, and you don't much bother looking up to the sky any more.

I didn't have a wife, and I didn't have a dog, and the housing market was more than rewarding to sellers right then, though a new war threatened even that. If not then, when?

Why call it Downwind of Amsterdam?

  1. Naarden is 20 kilometers east north-east of Amsterdam. The Atlantic's strong prevailing bear out of the west or southwest. The math is not hard.
  2. Amsterdam's reputation of releasing to the wind--upwind of Naarden--all manner of psychotropic agents. You judge whether my writing suffered from its effects.
  3. Of course, the acronym DOA (dead on arrival) refers to jet lag. Ah well--think of the frequent flyer miles.

Wouldn't my stay in the Netherlands be full of problems?

Not the problems you might expect.

First, Quest was a great company, doing the right things as far as I could tell (happily, that turned out to be very right). Yes, I had to do without a home, or US phone number, or my piano, or a US address (or any permanent address), or direct contact with my US friends, and I had to sell my car.

Learning a bit of Dutch language was an interesting prospect. Their famous G sound nearly put me in the hospital, but in time it came. Het gaat mij glad af.

All problems were handily compensated for by having found such marvelous friends, in Quest's US and European sites, both. I was lucky for the chance to live in such a lovely Dutch town and to do work I love, even if I missed my home in Winter Park, Florida, and some Florida friends I've known for decades.

But I went.

Why this online diary?

Everyone told me to stay in touch. But how? I thought I'd try this blog. Here's why:

  • Phone calls to my friends and family in the US are complicated by 6-9 hours' time difference.
  • E-mails could do the job, but peoples' addresses change, and at work they can't easily read e-mails sent to their homes. Plus, long e-mails are a drag, and anyway I don't care to be confused with a spammer.
  • Paper mail: way too slow across the Atlanic.
  • Now, this online diary--well, here you could read a blog anywhere you can log on, and you don't need an e-mail account or program. You only need a browser, and you can read it when you want to. Gentle Readers could even post comments [since closed].

The MAIN PAGE gives everything. Just read down to the date where you left off last time, and you'll be sure to see everything.