On days like this I have to really thank myself for landing in Amsterdam those handful of years ago (nearly 7 if anyone is counting) and having the perseverance to stay here through all of the good times and all of those many bad times.
In the short time that they have been open, G&T’s is receiving a lot of attention and acclaim, even making it into the very first edition of VOGUE Nederland, which premiered this month.
Not bad, not bad at all.
And yet G(eorge) and T(anya) remain down-to-earth and personable, and always completely welcoming. And they have since expanded into movie nights, socials, and events.
G&T's...wait is that gin? Hendrick's gin?!?!?!
Normally blindsided by their really nice Bloody Mary’s, today I noticed (with shock and a bit of a squeal) that they also serve a Hendrick’s gin and tonic with cucumber (and thyme). Well slap me silly and call me Sally, but wasn’t I just talking about this? How did I ever miss this before?
Appropriate quote for this occasion:
“I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.” -W.C. Fields
And so that’s exactly what I had, a gin before my breakfast.
Brunch of Champions
After brunch we just wandered, keeping eyes and ears open, and I happily reminded myself that this is Amsterdam, and I live here.
CD's & Tulips. But of course.
Cat on the ledge of a creepy shop window selling old sunglasses
The Wild Mushroom Stall at the market
The color! A rainbow of veggies.
For a post-brunch dessert I stopped at Diana Store‘s raw food stall in the Noordermarket for a piece of raw chocolate cake- so rich and tasty you wouldn’t believe it was vegan, raw or good for you!
Raw chocolate cake
On a side note, I have taken Diana’s raw food workshop awhile back, where we learned the concept and how-to’s of a raw food diet and saw a few live recipe demos, including a raw lasagna, which is also sold at her stall on the Saturday biological Noordermarkt. If you have any questions or curiosities about the raw food lifestyle, you should definitely stop by this stall on Saturdays for a peek.
Fresh roses for the mantle
Tea & Books
Then we headed towards home, stopping to peruse a few book stores and buy a few flowers for the mantle.
And now here I sit, and curled up on the couch with the dog, a tea and my new book, ‘A Short History of Amsterdam‘. I figured, as in love as I am with this city, I should probably learn more about its history. So that’s what the rest of this afternoon will be dedicated to doing.
If life were always spent like a Saturday afternoon, then wouldn’t the world be a happier place?
Sitting on the train on my way to the airport in Amsterdam to meet my friends before our weekend in Edinburgh a few days ago, my head started spinning with so many thoughts. I grabbed the notebook that I always carry with me, but only ever use when I am travelling. Inside is filled with random pieces of thoughts that I want to develop into ideas which will eventually/hopefully/probably-never turn into projects (“Rome story idea”, “epic TV drama”, “improv comedy course?”). Also interspersed throughout are quasi- and somewhat vague motivational phrases: “Time to Live the Life!” (ed note: what life?), “I have finally begun to SEE again!” (ed note: see what?).
This time, however, overcome with too many ideas and too little train journey time, I only flipped through the pages and marveled at all of these ideas that I am not developing. I wonder how great it would be if your main purpose in life is to focus on your ideas and make them happen, to undertake projects with the only outcome being the satisfaction of seeing your idea completed in full. My ideas are almost never completed in full. Who has the time/money/space?
At any rate, I realized that this is always when my mind races: when I am bags-packed-and-ready, on a train or tram or plane, heading towards a destination that might be new or revisited. It is that very small and specific time- the inbetween- that is really it for me. That is when my brain relaxes between the planning for the trip and the unknown expectation of what is to come, and I have no dog to cuddle, no dinner to prepare, no hotel work to think about, no husband to attend to (for lack of a better word that doesn’t sound as negative as “nag”). In that small window of relaxation, my brain clicks on and it is rapid-fire. This is the only time I really ever use that notebook.
On the subject of Edinburgh itself, there is not much to say: good food, good friends, beautiful city. I spent most of the time as I do in any foreign city, which is thinking “What would it be like to live here?” I also discovered the awe-inspiring new twist on the gin & tonic, which is to use Hendrick’s gin (which is apparently infused with cucumbers) and served not with a slice of lemon but with slices of cucumber.
I kid you not when I say this blew my mind. And I thought the Spaniards had a good gin thing going!
Hendricks Gin & Tonic with cucumber: Life will never be the same again.
At this very moment I am back in Amsterdam and sitting in a bar writing this blog post (not surprisingly also sipping on a gin and tonic, sans concombre). All of the above made me think of a quote, but I couldn’t quite get the wording right. Was it “Half of the adventure is in the journey”? Or “The journey is half of the fun”? Something like that, you know the saying, and you get what I mean. But I went online to find it, and instead immediately found this one which felt more appropriate:
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
This better describes what I meant by all of the above, and does it concisely and more accurately, which I suppose is the mark of a great writer such as Robert Louis Stevenson.
And Stevenson, to bring this blog post neatly and coincidentally full circle, was born and raised in Edinburgh, and I passed his childhood home with my friends while in Edinburgh’s New Town last weekend.
Last night around 1:30 am, I was plagued by thoughts of Lola, and how much I miss her (more than I have ever experienced before), and the hole that is in my life these past 10 months that she’s been gone (a big hole, a huge hole). This happens often when I have a spare second of thought, and most often when I am laying in bed trying to fall asleep. (That would have been when I would have been drowning in the sounds of her snoring.)
(It’s so quiet now.)
Knowing that I would be facing another sleepless night if I didn’t do something, I call in the reserves: I drag a peacefully sleeping Mylo up from the foot of the bed to my pillow, and I cry quietly into his furry neck. At any other time if I drag him to me he bears it for a moment and then squiggles away, but these times I think he senses the sadness (I feel him turn his head and peer at my face) and he lets me cry it out without fuss.
Within minutes I am calm again, and he tosses and turns for a moment before going back down to the foot of the bed, away from all sad insomniacs who wet his fur with tears. We both fall asleep.
In my dream we are all by a lake, and Lola is in the water swimming. Only the deepest water that she was ever in was the bathtub (which she loved) and she isn’t quite strong enough for full-on swimming, so she dips under, fights her way back to the surface, dips under again. I am watching her from the shore close by, watching for the moment where she won’t make her way to the surface, won’t be strong enough to come up again, watching for when I will have to jump in and save her. But she swims.
When I wake up, it reminds me that I never brought her swimming like I wanted to. I always thought she would love that, attracted as she was to the water.
Her Happy Spot
Then still later in the park I run into my neighbor who also has a Cavalier King Charles, called Lady. We bonded over our cavaliers before on walks in the park, laughing over their breed-specific traits while the two cavaliers would sniff eachother in greeting and then ignore eachother completely (another cavalier specific trait- they don’t care for other dogs, can’t be bothered with them, much prefer the company of humans).
Now, however, catching up with her and Lady is always painful. I see Lola in Lady, in how she looks and acts. I lean down to give Lady a little cuddle (her fur is so soft, Lola’s used to be that soft, etc) and of course my eyes mist up.
I see, or at least I think I see, a spark of recognition in Mylo’s ears and stance as he sees Lady and runs towards her. Does he miss Lola too? Miss her like I miss her? I worry that he is lonely with no other dog in the house, that he is left wanting now that half of his pack is gone.
He sniffs at Lady and I guess that tells him all he needs to know: No, not Lola.
If you were lucky enough to ride through Vondelpark at night some time between early to mid March, you would have seen a pretty spectacular sight: Blues Before Sunrise, a temporary Stedelijk-sponsored light installation by artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen.
Every street light in Vondelpark, including those under the bridge, were covered with blue film, giving the whole of the park a surreal tone when the sun went down.
The effect was beautiful, and when I went to take these photos I noticed that everyone was a lot quieter while cycling through the park that night, I’m sure as a direct result of this exhibition.
What I guess people don’t realize, when they first start learning a foreign language, is that it is something like a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t learn the correct grammatical form of a sentence in the past (“I watched a film”) and then remember it completely each time after that. This is because you don’t automatically know each verb right away (“to watch, watched”, “to fall, fell”, “to go, went”). So you pretty much spend a lot of time searching for the missing puzzle pieces, trying each one that seems like it might squeeze in there. (Whoops, no, that’s an eye not a flower.)
And you get it wrong lots of the time. Even know, six years later in the Netherlands, I feel I am only just starting to wade in the waters of Dutch. I have an inherent shyness that prevents me from trying Dutch with those closest around me. I’m perfectly fine trying it out on strangers, I can blabber away at someone I don’t know- other dogwalkers in the park, shop assistants, waiters, bartenders, not a bother. I see the looks on their faces (confusion mixed with a bit of dismay) and it doesn’t bother me (Abandon all hope, all ye Dutch strangers who enter my vicinity). And besides, if a stranger is the only one to see me fall flat on my Dutch skills, then in my book it never happened, end of story/einde van het verhaal.
However, with my Dutch friends and coworkers- all who are waiting patiently for me to try my Dutch on them- I clamp up. I suppose it’s something about them seeing me as inferior, or stupid, or unprofessional. I just can’t seem to let them know (yet) that they’re right on all above counts.
Japan was the first time that I was really immersed in a foreign language, day in and day out. I threw myself into learning the language, but quickly got further along with learning how to write Japanese than how to speak it. The difference in how women and men spoke the language, and how younger and older people spoke the language, only added to the confusion and I spent a lot of that year not knowing what was coming next. Where were they taking me? What were we supposed to do next? What page should I turn to in the textbook? Why are we here again? Everything was a surprise, and my shyness prevented me from asking too many questions. I suppose while there I developed a very laid-back let’s-see-what-happens-next attitude. Because I had no choice, most of the time I just had to see what was happening next to figure things out.
I also did a lot of nodding. I nodded to show that I understood, but more often than that I nodded to show that I had heard the speaker say something….but what that something was was anyone’s guess.
(I was that strange foreign exchange student that everyone seems to have in their school. There I was, smiling and nodding, saying “Yes, yes” and going left when they had just told me to go right. It was a confusing year, but also one of the best of my life. I wasn’t held accountable for anything, not even for having a clue. It was brilliant.)
Here I thought I was going on a nature hike. Turns out we were trying on kimonos.
My group of Japanese friends and I were sitting around our hotel room in Tokyo one night, having taken an overnight bus across the country on a girly trip to Tokyo Disneyland. I had bought a small rainbow-colored bag that hung around my neck like a necklace, only big enough for money, change or a small telephone (none of which I ever really had, but I loved the rainbow look). One of the girls, Yukuri, was admiring it, and quite in keeping with Japanese politeness, told me that it looked very good on me.
I nodded my agreement (“I heard that you said something, yes, but….”) before my brain had the chance to register what she had actually said.
You see, in modest Japan, if someone compliments you, you deny whatever it is they are complimenting. And you do so politely and demurely.
“You are very beautiful.”
“Oh, no, no, that is very kind of you, but I am not beautiful. My face is shaped like a pig and my legs are stumpy.”
“You write Japanese so well.”
“Oh, if only that were true. I aspire to one day write a great novel in Japanese, but until then I hope you can help me write my own name. Right now it looks like mud on paper.”
But you should never agree, or even thank them and leave it at that, as that would be seen as very rude and obnoxious.
So for me to nod to Yukuri’s compliment was essentially for me to say, “Yes it does look quite fetching around my neck, doesn’t it?” And that was just not on.
Yukuri threw a shifty glance at me, and that would have been the perfect chance to correct myself, or to deny it as was the polite thing to do, but that would mean admitting to the fact that I walked the days and nights of Japan not having any sort of clue whatsoever, and so I clamped up and cringed inwardly, preferring her to think me obnoxious rather than stupid.
I think that’s when she realized that Amanda no comprendo Japanese-o. The gig was up.
Many is the time that I will be with a group of friends, or in a business meeting, and will be honestly trying to concentrate on totally understanding the Dutch that is flying around the room. But you know how things are: your mind skips a word, and then a sentence, and then starts to wander (“Ooo look, there’s a bee on the window…spring really is here….”). The next thing you know, everyone is laughing at a joke, and it seems like it was such a funny joke! They all look so happy!
So I laugh too, and I smile too. Aren’t we all happy right now? Isn’t it good to be alive? We’re laughing!
And inevitably someone will see me laughing and ask, “Did you get that?” This is a polite Dutch thing to do, to make sure everyone (every-foreign-one) understands, it is not to be mean or to call me out.
But call me out it does. My smile freezes, before completely natural, now made of hard cement. And the trusty old Japan trick comes back: I nod. ”Yes, yes, I got it.”
Meaning: I heard that you said something, and I understand from those around me that it was quite so very funny. And so I, too, got caught up in the moment.
Meaning: I “got” it, like you get measles or the flu. It was a matter of contagion, not comprehension.
Luckily, now that I am an Official Dutch Speaker with an Official Dutch Speaker Diploma to prove it, these awkward occurrences are happening less frequently. But it is taking a lot of mind-power to stay mentally In The (Dutch) Game, and so I fear that now I scowl in concentration more often than nod in happy confusion.
I’m sure most people speaking to me would prefer friendly-looking ignorance to angry-looking comprehension, but they luckily have no say in the matter.
And come to find out, the joke is never really as funny as I had hoped.
Sangria & Olives in the Spanish Sunshine, so cliche!
While normally I spend a holiday snapping photos like it’s no one’s business, my short time in Madrid was spent mostly soaking up the conversation (and admittedly- the gin and tonics and pitchers of sangria) with two friends that I haven’t seen in ages. These two friends, by the way, had never met and got along grand, something that always makes me happy (Worlds Colliding!).
You might not know this (and I found out on the flight to Madrid) but Spain is experiencing something of a Gin & Tonic craze right now. More to be found on that here, here and here. And as Gin & Tonic is, in fact, my weapon drink of choice, it was quite easy for me to do like the locals.
I call this "View from a Gin & Tonic"
I call this one "View from a Gin & Tonic, 2"
Required Shot of Plaza Mayor, Hangover Edition (Thanks to the previous Gin & Tonics)
Despite what the photos say, we actually did do more in Madrid than eat and drink. We perused the amazing Prado Museum, focusing mostly on the Spanish artists, wondered at some of the thought-provoking work in the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and we popped into the very busy El Rastro market on Sunday. We also shopped (fancy that!) and wandered.
However, there was a surprisingly lot that we didn’t get to do, and it is for that reason that Madrid is still on my List. As a big, bustling city, it definitely deserved a lot more time, and I can’t cross it off until I get back there and give it more of the attention that it deserves.
Tiramisu in a Jar
Angela playing the part of Madrileña quite convincingly
A sugar-packed breakfast of churros & chocolate. YES PLEASE.
In a refreshing change of pace, I got the following spam comment on this blog, and for once a spambot actually made me smile:
Jack Handey Deep Thoughts: “Why do the caterpillar and the ant have to be enemies? One eats leaves, and the other eats caterpillars. Oh, I see now.”
And then later on the Internets, I came across the following. This video captures it so well- not only the great song and the dude dancing around in his undies (because seriously now…that is one cute ass), but also that happy carefree, smash-shit-up feeling.
This is me getting ready to head out on a good day. ’Cept he dances better.
Tomorrow I head off for a long weekend in Madrid. There goes another happy thought!
When you’re reading a book (which I do a lot now that I am off social media) and you realize that you really don’t like the writer’s writing (which I do a lot because I’m just so damn picky) and when you realize that you actually write like that yourself. And you realize that you hate your own writing. And then you think, “How did this writer become SO. DAMN. POPULAR?” We’re talking international bestsellers here. There is no beauty in what they write, no poetry in the words, no new concepts with that they are doing on the page. It’s everything you hate about your own writing when you are your own worst critic: it’s flat and it’s forced.
And then you realize: it’s their ideas. They have amazing ideas that they simply spell out on paper.
And then you realize that that is the difference between them and you.
This quote from Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’:
“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
This quote from Nicole Krauss’ ‘A History of Love’:
“I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I’m out, I’ll buy a juice even when I’m not thirsty. If the store is crowded I’ll even go so far as dropping change all over the floor, nickels and dimes skidding in every direction. All I want is not to die on a day I went unseen.”
In a break from our usual bagels-for-lunch-dates, John and I today met for a bagels-for-breakfast date. Sounds like a small change, but it was the first time that we had seen eachother at such an early time, and I have to say, a great way to start a working day.
After meeting John, I always feel revved up on positive energy and maybe a little too much coffee. (He is heavily influential in both of those departments.) More breakfast dates in the future, that’s what I say!
After settling in and ordering, I started to tell John about my recent 10-day juice fast, which lasted all of 2 days before I caved in and shoved carrot sticks into my mouth faster than a starving rabbit in a green grocers.
“Um….with you….” John began. I could see he was trying to figure out how to say it politely, but I knew what was coming. “Well, I’m seeing a recurring pattern….”
Let me fill you in on this pattern.
The pattern, for 2012, at least, has all been about cutting out crap from my life, although I think John called it “denial”, as in “denying myself of x,y,z”. We’re only just in the third month of the year, and so far I have attempted to cut out the following, with varying degrees of success: alcohol, all drinks except water, pasta, bread, french fries, most carbs, sugar, coffee (except on rare occasions), cooked foods, food in general (during my failed 10 day juice fast), all social media sites, half of my wardrobe, tons of old bags and shoes, and much of the clutter that was laying around the house for…..oh, I dunno, about 6 years.
This all sounds extreme, but actually these have been some of the best decisions I have made in awhile. After the last few months of 2011, I began to take stock of what was going on in my life: what was coming into my house, my body, my atmosphere, and what effect that was having on my mental state.
It sounds like I am punishing myself, that I am denying myself so many things, but really I am just cutting out the crap from around me so that I can simplify my life, and focus on what’s more important: being mentally happy. Feeling balanced, rested, and stable. Feeling clear.