Summer is drawing to a close. You blink, and suddenly it’s the end of August already, and your shoulders are tan and your hair is lighter and you are always in a constant state of wetness from swimming, or from showering after the gym, or from the Dutch summer which means the heavens are always opening up when you are on your bike not even close to home.
I think I have had the most nostalgic summer since summers weren’t yet a thing to be nostalgic about.
I tried slacklining in the park. I went stand-up paddling along the Amstel river. I went to the beach. I joined the pool and have been going swimming. I’ve been hitting the gym all the time. I’ve stocked up on books from the library and have been reading and reading and reading. I watched a favorite old movie from childhood with a friend. One time I stayed up all night writing with the windows thrown open to the cool night air and the moths fluttering around my head, for once not because I had insomnia but because I was too excited and didn’t want to sleep. On a particularly hot and sweltering weekend (the hottest since 1994), I went swimming with a friend in a pool at a bar, then went cycling to the Amstel river where we went swimming off of a wooden dock. After swimming we had a picnic in our wet bathing suits, there on the banks of the river until the sunshine started to wane.
There has been a lot of activity this summer- mostly on my bike and in the water, and surprisingly (and happily) very little alcohol. Every night I have gone to bed feeling like my body was spent, like I had run around playing all day with friends.
Just like summers when I was a kid.
I’ve eaten my weight in watermelon, and probably more ice cream than was good for me.
Just like summers when I was a kid.
There has been a lot of griping this summer about how bad the weather has been, and indeed it has been a very wet summer. But the breaks of sunshine and warmth in between have been glorious, really something to swell the heart and keep me thankful that I live in such a beautiful (and water-based) city.
Since living in Northern Europe for so long, one of the few things that I really missed was the warm summer rain in New Jersey. It’s a rain that falls heavy and tepid, something that makes you want to run out and splash in puddles and lay in the grass while it beats down on you. Summer rain in Northern Europe is very seldom that warm, but this summer it was. This summer on more than one occasion I was drawn into the street during a torrential downpour so that I could just stand there and feel drenched, or I was caught on my bike and got soaked through to the skin and didn’t care in the least because it was summer rain, an altogether different thing.
Just like summers when I was a kid.
Nostalgia. It really got me this summer.
(Photos from Suuz’ iPhone, except the last one of my feet.)
While walking the dog through Vondelpark, he did what he always does, what dogs always do, and that is pull tricks in whatever ways they can pull them. People were spread far and wide across the whole park, but when it came time to hunch up and do his business, he stopped right in front of someone on a bench. Call it a canine sense of humor, or just call it bad manners, either way he gets us every time.
This guy was maybe in his early 20′s, sitting in the shade of some bushes on a park bench, leaning almost into the bushes themselves. He had his headphones on, a spliff in his hand, and was probably really enjoying life until the dog and I entered stage left.
I stood there about three feet away from him while Mylo hunched over. I had my bag in hand ready to be a responsible dog owner, and was trying my damndest not to make eye contact with the guy. After a few moments, I thought, “Oh to hell. I’m practically standing on the guy’s toes, I have to say something.”
So I looked down at him on the bench and indicated towards the hunched over dog, “Sorry,” I mumbled. ”Bad timing.”
“It’s not bad timing, it’s perfect timing,” he said. Then he smiled. ”Sometimes life can be shitty.”
Normally after a night spent awake, I look back in bleary-eyed wonder about what could have kept me up for those extra 8 hours.
This time, I know.
It’s the people who walk down my street at all hours of the night, talking to the person three inches to their left as if they were three miles away.
It is the heat of the city, which makes me sleep with the windows open, which makes it that much easier to hear all of them shouting to their friends.
It was the douchey douchebags who were sitting on the tram stop in front of my apartment blasting horribly repetitive tap-on-my-brain-with-a-hammer techno music.
It was me furiously dialing the police non-emergency line, scrambling in my brain to come up with the proper way to say in Dutch, “There are two douchebags on the tram stop in front of my house CAN YOU PLEASE ARREST THEM I HAVE TO BE IN WORK SOON.” (Luckily their tram came before the police picked up the phone; I didn’t quite have the sentence fully formed and it would have just been me yelling down the line “EIKELS! EIKELS OP DE TRAMHALTE! VOOR MIJN DEUR! DOE IETS!”.)
It is this pain in my shoulder returning after a three year absence. Can’t say I missed it much, or the havoc that it wrecked on my life at the time.
It is shin splints.
And it’s this song, the chorus of which keeps repeating ad nauseum in my head.
So, if knowing is half the battle, what then have I won?
First of all, the second issue of The Stone is now out! You can download it here. My story this time is very different than the first, if you happened to read the premiere issue, which by the way is available for free until 19 May if you are interested!
The connecting factor in my two stories is, I guess, Amsterdam. What can I say? The city, she inspires me. She is my muse.
Speaking of writing, I formed the Amsterdam Writer’s Group on meetup.org, so if you are Amsterdam-based (or neaby enough) and also like to bust some prose now and then, please feel free to join. The first meetup was last night, more to come shortly!
And the last thing that is getting me all hot under the collar is concerning The Colours of Amsterdam, but that announcement will be made shortly.
Today…..hmmm, today. There’s something I’m supposed to blog about today, as a blogger and specifically as an “expat blogger”, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Probably specifically because it is expected.
Besides, you can find that kind of post elsewhere with other expat bloggers who do it so much better than I can, that expat thing. Like Stu! Stu will tell you why today is special in the Netherlands.
Instead, I have two other things to tell you about today.
Today would have been Lola’s 8th birthday.
Last year on her 7th birthday.
I still think about her every day and mourn the loss of one of my truest friends every time I have a spare moment to think.
Her sixth birthday is here. Oh and hey look her fifth birthday is here!
And for something much less sombre, today marks exactly one year that my bikini bottoms have been wrapped around the handlebars of a bike in front of my house (not my bike, and I didn’t put them there).
I’ve been secretly rooting the whole year that they would last- that come this year’s 30th of April they would still be flying proudly there, and there they still are. No one has taken them down, no one has dared to touch them (would you?).
I won’t bother with the story of how they got there, because frankly I don’t really know all of the details. But I will show you.
One Year Flying Proud
See? Still there. Worse for wear and totally weather-beaten, but still there. I shouldn’t feel this proud, but there you go.
When I was little, I always thought it would be a good idea to have a restaurant in a house, with tables set up in every room: the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms, even the bathroom (cleaned and appropriately designed of course, but still a bathroom). I even thought there should be tables in the attic and basement, and that the whole experience would be crazy and kooky for the guests.
Fastforward twenty years, and I now know that no one in their right mind would ever agree to go out for a meal and then be forced to sit in a bathroom to eat it, or a table set up next to a bed in a bedroom, much less a dusty attic or the remains of a moldy dank basement.
But you don’t know these things when you are little, and deep down some part of me still sorta kinda (ok really) thinks that it is a brilliant idea.
On the plane home from Edinburgh two weekends ago, I was looking at my friend’s Grazia UK magazine to pass the time when I came across an article about a restaurant in someone’s house. This someone (Marit) had worked as a designer for Tommy Hilfiger but then left the fashion world to open a vegetarian restaurant in her own home.
I only skimmed the article, but read that Marit herself was a vegetarian and had been less than impressed with the vegetarian options in restaurants. Thinking she could do it better, she found a new home with appropriate dining space for several tables and chairs, and opened her restaurant.
It all rang so true for me- veg food in restaurants is pretty dire, and the concept of a restaurant in a house got my 12 year old self in a tizzy- so my interest was immediately piqued. Everything about the article- photos, the names of the journalist, Marit’s name- felt so oddly Dutch, but I couldn’t see where this restaurant was supposed to be, and surely a UK gossip magazine wouldn’t have a Dutch restaurant in a feature article?
“Where is this magical place?” I said outloud.
My friend looked over my shoulder and pointed to the very first line of the article. “It says RIGHT HERE that it is in Amsterdam,” he said.
Oef. What good are Dutch friends if not to point out your shortcomings, right? (This friend is particularly good at that.)
I wrote down the name of the restaurant, and made a reservation as soon as I was back home in Amsterdam.
Last night rolled around, and it was the night that I had booked a table at Marit’s. Even my 4-day Wallowing in Infinite Sadness wasn’t enough to stop me from getting out of bed, throwing on some gladrags, and heading on my bike across town towards the East.
The concept of Marit’s is quite beautiful in its simplicity: delicious but beautifully designed (and mostly locally sourced) vegetarian food in a 3-course menu. You have a choice from a selection of starters and desserts, but the main course is set. Friendly service comes in an intimate atmosphere (it is her house after all), with a friendly, fluffy poodle named Tilly to greet you and entertain you between courses. And all of this comes delivered in a beautiful living room decorated with antique furniture and mid-century charm.
Perhaps inspired by Marit’s own story, the talk around our table curled mostly around what we would do if we could leave our jobs tomorrow and follow our dreams. Such inspiring and uplifting talk (mixed with the shared bottle of white wine) was enough to dispell the sorrow that has been hanging on my shoulders of late. (And that was even before the excellent food arrived: more photos below.)
I can’t fault Marit’s for anything, I honestly couldn’t even if I tried. The entire restaurant/home breathes an air of contentment with life, of offering to others what Marit herself has discovered on her own, and that is: a taste of following your dreams and making them real. The inspiration to follow your heart was so tangible, that we left feeling as if we had been served a secret fourth course somewhere between the main and the dessert: a course that satisfied not our bellies but our souls.
Before this gets any more poetic and cheesey, and I end up writing a love sonnet to Marit herself (what word rhymes with ‘Marit’?), I’m going to wrap it up: Amsterdam has a wonderful new addition to the vegetarian scene, so please go check it out and let me know what you think! And in case you were wondering, no there were no tables in the bathroom.
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?
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.
Facebook right now is flooded with photos of friends on Amsterdam’s frozen over canals, happily slip-sliding away, or skating, or falling probably, if my experience with ice is anything to go by.
So that’s how I know that the canals are frozen over. I feel like a bit of a spoil-sport that I haven’t gone out to check it out for myself. After all, this is something that hasn’t happened in years, and the city is absolutely ecstatic about it. There are concerts on ice! And races on the ice! An ice skating disco…on ice!
But me and the cold, we don’t mix well. I have a seeping cold in my bones already, so I am chilled from the inside out. (Cold hands, warm heart, that’s what they say right? Right?!) That’s probably an exaggerated way of saying that I have piss-poor circulation, but you get the hint. No amount of socks or gloves can keep my fingers from feeling like someone is shoving knives up under my nails and then chopping the tips of my fingers and toes off.
In addition to that, my eardrums get so piercing cold that it feels like they are being stabbed, which in turns makes me feel nauseous. (I would be so shit in a torture scenario. I’d tell everything, whatever they wanted to know.)
So to willingly put myself through that pain by heading out into this biting, freezing cold? No, thank you. I see everyone’s facebook photos and it’s quite nice on the ice, yes, but that’s as close as I’ll be getting while I sit safely inside with my bowl of hot tea and three (THREE!) hot water bottles.
On the subject of poor circulation, I just read an article that said that if you put your feet up against the wall it helps poor circulation.
I wonder how the hotel would take that though, during working hours?
Try and follow my train of thought here, it takes a couple of weird turns.
Let me preface this post by saying that this is not an expat blog. I don’t wax on and on about how the Dutch do this or why the Dutch do that. I prefer to spend my time trying to blend in and experience life in the Netherlands rather than ostracize myself by pointing out how Dutch people are different than me because of x, y, z.
THAT BEING SAID, I was on the way home from work tonight after an event (Dutch company, mostly Dutch guests) when it hit me that there is nothing quite like a Dutch person at a bar at the end of the night after the bar closes. After last call, whether it is out of sheer stubbornness or a complete lack of shame, you will always, ALWAYS get a few Dutch people begging at the bar for more drinks, no please just one, aw come on you can sell me one, it’s just me, one beer won’t hurt, etc, etc, etc. They even have the nerve to get annoyed with you if you are firm, but I imagine that’s mostly the alcohol speaking at that point in the night.
In my 13 years of bar work (in 4 countries), I have served citizens from pretty much every member state of the United Nations. In Brussels the bar where I worked looked onto the EU parliament building- a parade of Europeans would come there to drink after work, so I had a lot of time to study the different countries’ attitudes and habits in a bar scenario. I tried to think: was there any other culture that is as annoyingly persistant (from a bar work perspective) at the end of the night? Nope, really not. I can pick out some other strong seemingly country-specific traits, such as: Spanish customers- always order tea or coffee, always come in a large group but pay separately, never tip. But that end-of-night begging for drink thing? That right there is very Dutch.
I tried to think of how it is in the States, but that’s when it hit me that I really have no clue. My entire adult life (from the age of 20 to 31) has been spent in Europe, the European bar culture is what I know. What I know of the American bar culture is from my few trips there as an adult, basically a tourist experience. At one point, in New York City, I had to sheepishly ask my bartender friend (Irish born and raised but he’d spent 5 years bartending in NYC at that point) how I was supposed to tip in the States. I left the country before I was old enough to drink in bars. I have waited on Americans in Europe though. Their country-specific trait? They ask a lot of questions (“What brand of water do you serve?”).
And yet, and yet. Back to my earlier point. That begging for drink at the end of the night, after last call, after the bar is closed? That is something that I don’t think I will ever get used to, nor will I ever do, no matter how long I’m here, whether I am drinking with or serving alcohol to the Dutch population.
And that’s about as expat-y as this blog will get.
A- AmandaBlog&Kiss: This year I bought the domain for my blog and gave it a spiffy new makeover. And then shortly thereafter completely fell out of tune with blogging. My timing is always impeccable at best! But as the year draws to a close I find myself drawn back to blogging more and more, so here I am again! ….and now the domain registration expires in less than 20 days. Did I mention my timing is brilliant? Because it is. (Note to self: Let’s remember to update that, hey?)
B- Barcelona: A wonderful trip to Barcelona with friends this summer. What a great city! Even more great when you throw away all intentions of doing anything touristy, and just relax and spend some quality time with friends. That’s what life is all about, right?
Barcelona Alley at Night
C- Camera: Probably one of the nicest birthday gifts I have ever received: my new Canon camera. Dave knew that I regretted ever giving up photography, so for my birthday he surprised me with a new camera. I totally wasn’t expecting it. I’m having a lot of fun with it. Am I good at it? Nah. But it’s a learning process, and I’m okay with that.
D- Driver’s License: I finally put one foot in front of the other and went down and took the exam for my Dutch driver’s license. I passed! …And since then I haven’t gotten into a car at all, except for maybe a taxi here and there. But damnit I have that little piece of plastic, and that’s good enough for me. And if anything, it’s made me a completely better cyclist. True story.
E- Events: I organize the events now for the hotel. It was an unexpected but welcome turn of events (no pun intended) and I’m loving it!
F- Family: Family in Ireland, Family in Scotland, and Family that visited Amsterdam. A lot of family time this year. It was lovely, and something that cannot be underestimated when you are an expat who lives far from home.
Family Time in Amsterdam
G- Games: Mediamatic gave me a huge present this year wrapped in the shape of an exhibition on nostalgic arcade games and a three day conference on mobile gaming. I went several times, and several times more, to play games that I used to love before video games became crap, such as Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt (video here). Yes, this was a highlight of my year, you’d better believe it.
H- Hotel: I bore everyone to tears saying how much I love my job and the hotel where I work. So I’ll skip this and just say: Best. Job. Ever. (Damn I did it again didn’t I? Sorry!)
I- Ireland: We made a last-minute trip to Ireland this year for family purposes, and while the aim of the trip wasn’t that great, hanging out with everyone was, as always.
J- John/The Colours of Amsterdam: The joint production with John of our new blog blew back some creativity in my life where it was sorely lacking, and from that spark many others followed. Now if only John would contribute some more! (HINT HINT JOHN.)
The Colours of Amsterdam
K-København: I got you this time, K, you tricky bastard. A wonderful trip to Copenhagen with 2 friends to visit a friend that was studying there for the semester! This was my first foray into Scandinavia, and it’s true what they say! It’s a very clean place.
Three Girls on a Boat in Copenhagen
L- Lola: My lowest low of 2011, maybe of my entire life. She’s almost always been the L when I do these posts. I still miss her daily, and cry for her often. I can’t get a respite from the guilt that came with her death, or the big hollow hole inside of me since she’s been gone.
Lola sleeping whereever the hell she wanted to. One of the many things I loved about her, and what I miss today.
I have to double up on M here, because I have two important ones:
M- Mylo: I have spent the last half of this year with just one dog, and seeing how Mylo’s personality has changed as a result of going from a 2-dog to 1-dog household has been fascinating. And he’s been an important part of the support that I needed after Lola died. I guess having no other dog around to compete for my attention has given him one hundred percent access to me, and sometimes I feel that this has overwhelmed him. I can’t help it, I just have a lot of cuddles to give, and now one dog less to receive them.
Mylo, will you be my new best friend?
M- Milan: Twice. Once with Angela where we yapped for 36 hours straight and never once got tired, and once to meet up with my cousin from New Jersey. Both times were great, and I cried when I had to leave my cousin. It was really special being with family in Italy, that’s all I’ll say. …And I might have been a bit drunk. And holy shit do you know about aperitivo? This Milanese tradition should be spread worldwide!
Angela overlooking the Duomo as the sun set
I told my cousin to meet me on top of the Duomo. A happy and very high reunion!
N- Nederlands: I’m not sure if I’m learning the language, or just fooling myself, but twice a week I sit through a three hour class, so surely some of it must be seeping into my brain by osmosis, right? My exam is in January, guess I’ll see then.
O- Overtoom: Still kicking it on the Mighty Mighty Overtoom, 6 years running. Best street in the Dam.
Q- Queen’s Day: The best Queen’s Day I’ve had in Amsterdam, mostly because I wasn’t trying to fight through crowds of drunks. Instead we sat at the bottom of our stairs and had friends drop by to drink. What stuff we didn’t sell in the rummage sale was taken away by the crowds after we left it there, and I am judging this Queen’s Day as the best by how a pair of my bikini bottoms are still wrapped around a bike’s handlebars in front of my house, nine months later. How my bikini bottoms made it outside and around the handlebars is anyone’s guess, I really don’t know. But it makes me laugh every morning to see they are still hanging there, waving like a flag.
R- Rome: This year we went to Rome and soaked in some heavy sun (blimey that’s a hot sun down south) and some ancient culture. We also met up with our old flatmate Veronica, where we continued our tradition of jumping in front of some of the world’s best landmarks.
Coffee in Rome, because that's just what you do.
Jumping in Rome with Lake
S- Scotland: Met up with my parents in Edinburgh for a 5-day break. It was nice to get back to Scotland, and even nicer to spend time with the old folks. A lot of drinking was done. A lot.
T- The Stone: I have an old friend to thank for getting me writing again, at least writing fiction, and I look forward to more editions of The Stone literary magazine.
U- Uncategorizable: My 11/11/11 Party, aptly titled “The Return of the Hat”. Everyone played along nicely with the theme.
11/11/11 AND hats! What better excuse to throw a party?
V- Valtifest: The festival that marks the end of the summer festivals, and for me it also marked one of the few times this year that I overdid it so badly that I was in tears the next day. There’s just something about a party with a dress-up theme! Gets me every time. (See 11/11/11 Hat Party, above). This year’s Valtifest theme was “All in the Family”.
We dressed, we went, we partied.
W- Writing: I fell out of love a little with blogging this year, and immersed myself more into writing offline. It’s an emotional process, which surprised me to find out. You have to put yourself into the characters and feel what they are feeling in order to write about them, which doesn’t always translate into good writing, but is interesting to experience nonetheless.
X- Xpat’s Life for Me: As an expat, you simply learn to live with the fact that your other expat friends won’t always be there with you, that in most cases, one day they will move on and the tide that brought them to you will just as easily take them away.
Y- Yankee: More and more as each year passes, I feel a little less American, a little more country-less. Although based in the Netherlands for the foreseeable future, I don’t feel very Dutch. So where does this leave me?
Z- Zombie Geisha: This year’s Halloween costume had to fit into the Zombie Walk that I was going to, but I didn’t just want to be any old zombie. So I stepped it up a notch and went as a geisha zombie. I wore a kimono, carried a parasol, and had brain sushi on a plate. It was definitely in my top three Halloween costumes to date. Except when I had to take the makeup off and took half of my face skin with it. OUCH!
Mmmmmm brain sushi!
Sooo, that’s a wrap! See you all in the new year! Roll on 2012…