I couldn’t even begin to tell you where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing or what is preoccupying my mind of late. Mostly because 3 and a half months is a long time to cover, and the distance feels vast.
But where to pick up then?
It is 3 am on the morning of Christmas Eve, and things are quiet. Now is as good a time as any I suppose.
I’ve fallen out of love a bit with blogs lately. With my blog(s), with other blogs, with blogging in general. I was considering shutting up shop, when I got a lovely comment from Julia.
“perhaps you have found an exciting new life following your holiday, but in case you have just not felt motivated to write…. you should know people out there are reading”
Julia, if you are still reading this, a full month (almost to the day) after you commented, then thank you. Your comment came at the right time, right when I was thinking “What’s the point?”. And then I realized that there is no point to blogging except blogging itself, and that never stopped me before. So I decided not to give up on blogging just yet. An eight year hobby deserves a better chance than that.
But it’s not just blogging that is falling to the wayside: I am not returning phone calls, not even picking up the phone most times. I don’t email back. I forget to text. It all just feels so….so…..not what I need right now.
What I do need is anyone’s guess. If you find it, can you let me know: a) what it is; b) where to find it; and c) if it costs much (because times are tight right now).
In the meantime, I will tell you what I have been busying myself with while I’ve been avoiding phone calls, emails, texts and this blog:
Yoga. (Specifically hot yoga.)
Taking my dog to the park.
So, as for an “exciting new life”, Julia? Not so much.
A quiet, serene, maybe too-boring-to-blog life? Yes, maybe that. Maybe just that.
I’ll be back before the end of the year with the year’s alphabet roundup, my own little blog’s traditional nod back to the year that just passed. In the meantime, if you need to brush up: 2006, 2007,2009, 2010, 2011.
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?
It’s a Sunday, and the mandatory cup of tea is by my side. The windows and balcony door are thrown open, and a light breeze is coming through the house, carrying with it the fresh scent of the rain, which I can hear falling quietly on the windows and leaves outside. Upstairs, my neighbor gently strums his guitar and in my apartment David Gray’s album ‘White Ladder’ has just come to a stop. Birds are chirping. The dog is sleeping.
This all paints a very zen picture, but then I look across the room and see all of the clutter that I just created and my chest starts to clench up again with that suffocating feeling.
So. Much. Stuff. Where did it all come from? How can I get rid of it?
A few months after my mother and I moved to Belgium, she went away for a week to Germany for work.
For a few days I wandered the floors of our new house rattling around like a penny in a coffee tin. It was a big house, the largest we had ever lived in. Our meager belongings, which had been shipped over from New Jersey, barely filled two rooms. Including the kitchen, this was an 8 room house spread over four floors with a further 5 bathrooms and a basement with garage. It was a lot of space, way more than I was used to, and walking from room to room admiring the crown molding and oddly tiled bathrooms did little to clear the house of my loneliness.
I wasn’t working yet, and didn’t know anyone, so had nowhere to go and no one to call. At 20 years old, this was also the first time in my life that I had lived without a pet in the house. It felt so lonely.
So I went to the animal shelter to look for a housemate.
I think I went with the intention to take a look, but within a half an hour I was heading home on the tram with a very heavy and very vocal black and white cat in a small crate. The ladies at the shelter told me that he had been there for years, was very smart and friendly, and I should take him. He had done his time and deserved a loving home. ”Say no more,” I said, and took him home with me.
For the next few days, having Louis as company helped. Now there were two of us wandering the expanses of the large house, getting lost in the nooks on the staircases, calling out to each other when the quietness became too quiet, when the vastness too vast.
My mother came home within a few days, and I met her at the front door with every intention of confessing that I had just made such a large decision for the both of us without her knowledge, that we were three now. “Don’t be mad, but I have something to tell you…” I started as a greeting.
Just then her gaze dropped to the floor behind me, where Louis had come to see who was at the door with a questioning meow? I watched with bated breath as my mother’s eyes widened and her mouth opened into a perfect oval. She dropped everything there on the landing- her bags, her briefcase, her purse- and started to crawl towards Louis on her hands and knees, cooing a high-pitched, “Heeeeeeeeeey. Whoooo iiiiissss thiiiiiiiiis?”
And from that moment on, Louis was no longer my cat, but hers. Having kept me company for a few lonely days, he focused on a bigger challenge: keeping my mother company while she worked through her own issues- an ending relationship, culture shock after a move abroad, a huge career shift, and like me, loneliness. He was a great cat, and he took his job very seriously.
I can say without a doubt that Louis became one the Greatest Loves of my mother’s life and lived a comfortably spoiled ten years with my mother until his passing early last year.
As for me, I found work, met new friends, and eventually started dating.
Dave has been away to Ireland since Tuesday on a week’s holiday, gallivanting with friends and family.
For the first few days I relished the silence, and having the apartment all to myself. My choices on the TV, my dishes in the sink, me stretched out across the whole couch, me stretching across the bed, four pillows to myself, my, my, my, mine, me.
I went to work, I went to the gym. I took Mylo for walks. I tried something new. But then the rains came, and after a few failed attempts at going out, and maybe one too many rented movies, I started to wonder what it was that people did in this city for fun, and why I wasn’t with them. Which is ironic, as I write a blog telling others what to do in Amsterdam for fun, but could think of nothing enticing enough to drag myself out of the house.
This apartment is much smaller than that first house in Belgium; I could fit four of these apartments into that house, and my things fill this place much more than it did the house in Brussels. I have a job, I have friends. Plus, I have Mylo here for company.
And yet I still rattled around the house this week, moving from room to room and back to the first room (because there are much less rooms). The dog moved with me- to the kitchen, to the living room, back to the kitchen, back to the living room.
What I was looking for, I don’t know. But suffice to say, I couldn’t find it.
On the fourth day that Dave was gone, I got a flatmate. She moves in on Monday. I told Dave by text while he was somewhere on the west coast of Ireland enjoying the scenery and probably a hangover. I thought it was best not to surprise him at the door like I did my mother all those years ago. He was surprised, but not upset.
So I’ve been spending the day clearing out the spare bedroom, taking all of that clutter and dispersing some of it throughout the apartment, and some of it into black trashbags, which as I mentioned above is serving only to cause me to suffocate and want to burn it all in a great big bonfire. When you have four rooms and then suddenly must fit into just three, a sort of imbalance happens. So much stuff. Where to put it? (FIRE!)
I’m not sure there’s a lesson in this post, but if there were I think it would be something like, “Don’t be left alone for a week” or “Don’t make decisions based on loneliness”, or maybe just a simple “Don’t collect so much”.
And now I have to go and finish making room for one more person in the house. And take the dog out one more time, and go to the gym one more time, and maybe rent one more movie. As of tomorrow, it will change, and by that I mean it will all go back to normal. Until the next time I’m left on my own.
I’ll just go ahead and show you this time. This is what went down between 3 am and 5 am. This is what happens when I can’t sleep.
This is the raccoon face I practiced.*
(*When staying up all night, I should remember to bring the dog out of the bedroom with me. This time I didn’t, and of course he had to come out with me, so he whined until Dave woke up and let him out. Dave opened the door just as I was practicing this raccoon face for the camera, and I was caught in the act. We have lived with each other for seven years, so we know the other’s habits and quirks. Making raccoon faces for a camera while I take photos of myself at 3 in the morning was one of the harder ones to explain. I sort of wish I had just been watching porn.)
This is when the dog laid down by the front door and I joined him for awhile.
Let's chat, dog.
This is me laying on the floor with the dog, all up in his grill, and this is the dog looking none too pleased about that.
Let's chat a little closer, dog.
This is the bowl of cornflakes that I ate.
These are the pyjamas I wore. (Mens’ Christmas long johns from H&M, don’t hate.)
This is the kettle boiling.
This is the interpretive dance I made for you while the kettle was boiling.
dancing in the kitchen
practice makes perfect
This is my reflection in the balcony door as the tea brews. A proper cup of tea should steep for three minutes.
This is my cup of tea.
my tea is bigger than the dog.
This is the dog again, falling asleep with his head up.** I guess my dancing wasn’t exciting enough for him. Maybe I should throw in a few more elbow moves?
fighting sleep...must stay awake with Amanda...
(** It must be exhausting being the loyal dog of someone who has sleeping problems, as you never really get to sleep yourself, and instead follow them around the house into the late hours of the night while they take photos of themself and their cups of tea.)
This is the story that this blog reminds me of. Do you know it? My grandmother had this storybook in her house, and when I was little my cousins and I would read over it again and again and again. I can still recite the whole thing. Except right now it would be more like this (it doesn’t rhyme as well):
“This is the house that insomnia built.
This is the raccoon face I made
in the house that insomnia built.
This is the dog, down by the door
while I practiced my raccoon face
in the house that insomnia built.
This is me, laying on the floor
with the dog down by the door
while I practiced my raccoon face
in the house that insomnia built.
This is the bowl of cornflakes that I had
after I laid on the floor
with the dog down by the door
while I practiced my raccoon face
in the house that insomnia built.
etc, etc, and so forth.
This is my dog giving up on me ever going to bed tonight, and passing out. I am officially Last Man Standing. I win! I feel like I should draw a penis on his face with black marker or something. Shall I? Naaaah, I won’t. This time.
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.
The only time I have problems is when I sleep.
Damn that Tupac really knew his shit, you know?
Thug niggers don’t die…we live the good life. -Tupac Shakur
Or, you know…maybe not.
There is a small window of time that I pass through when falling asleep for the night that determines whether I will, in fact, fall asleep for the night.
I’m not sure when it is, but it looks like tonight I passed through it without realizing, without whispering the secret password, or giving the secret handshake, or whatever it was that was required to ensure my safe passage into Sleepytime (or Beddyboos, or ‘The Body’s Natural Suspension of Consciousness‘, if we’re getting technical about it).
And so tonight, it seems, no sleep for me.
If it’s nearly 2 am as I write this, and I have to be up at 6 am, then it just doesn’t make sense to get a half-assed night of sleep. That would only make me crankier.
So instead, I am up. I blog. I drink tea. And I wait for the morning.
This seems like a perfectly logical thing to do…until about 1 pm, when it doesn’t.
This momentum of caffeine and waiting for morning, and the momentum of a busy hotel on a Monday, will keep me going until about 1 pm tomorrow (today), two hours before I stop working for the day.
After I drag myself through the last two hours of work to 3 pm, when my heart is feeling squeezed (squozed?) and my throat is feeling choked up and my eyes are raw and sore and my thoughts are complete and utter bonkers (these are my sleep-deprived symptoms), then I can come home and nap.
This is how I divide the night (and morning and following day) into chunks of manageable bite-sized portions when I have trouble sleeping. Like little bitty baby steps to conquer one-by-one, steering me through the night (tossing and turning in bed), through the day (functioning at less than 5%), and then finally back to bed again.
Full sleepy circle. Cradle-to-Grave, or so it feels.
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.
Not many of my friends here in Amsterdam read my blog.
I know this, because they tell me so.
“I don’t read your blog,” they might say.
Or if they are being less direct, they say, “I haven’t ever read your blog…yet.” And I know to take that with a silent, “…and I probably never will.”
This is ok in my books, for two reasons.
Number One Reason is that I don’t necessarily blog for my friends, they are not my target audience. I blog for a faceless mass that I don’t know and maybe will never meet, and this makes blogging easier. In this way, I can be more free with what I want to say.
Imagine trying to spill out your deepest thoughts (or ok…sometimes just a pretty vapid thought) and having the knowledge that all of your friends and family will read it.
I mean, that’s pretty much what facebook is for, right?
And if I ever do have a blog post that I want to share with friends and family specifically, I will post it on facebook and let people choose to read or not, no biggie if they don’t.
And if they ever do click on the link and then tell me, “Hey, I read your blog post on such-and-such-a-nonsense,” well then I am flattered. Because I know they are in the minority, and I’m happy they took the time out to read and I’m hoping they brushed away some of the cobwebs around here on their way out.
Number Two Reason that it’s ok that my friends don’t read my blog is because, just as online, in real life I am a blabber.
This is new to me. I would class myself as a Born Again Shy Person. For years and years I was shy, and for more years and years I told people, “I’m a shy person,” until one day someone replied with, “No, you’re not.”
“I am,” I insisted, “I’m shy.” But then another person said it, and then another person.
“No, I wouldn’t call you shy at all. You’re very much not shy,” they said.
And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t shy anymore. It just took someone else to point it out for me. Now I am trying out this new “I’m-not-a-shy-person” thing, trying to get rid of the label of myself that I carried for so long.
So, like a baby learning how to walk, I’m stretching those talky-talky muscles at every opportunity.
“Blah blah blah,” I say to my friends. “Blah blah blah blabber blabber,” not stopping to take a breath or ask, “And how was your day?”
(Those friends that told me that I wasn’t shy have created a monster.)
And so the less my friends read my blog, well the more I will have to tell them in person. Lucky them!
I am also of the opinion that the most loathsome question one can ask is, “Did you see what I wrote on my blog?” It’s right up there with the even more irksome, “Did you see what I posted on my facebook?” And so I try not to ever ask either, and automatically assume the answer would be a negative on both counts.
So who, you might ask, actually reads this blog?
Well. I happen to know from behind-the-scenes that the number one commenter on my blog goes by the name of “YoMama”, so put your sleuth hat on and figure that one out. I always know when “YoMama” is checking up on me, because after weeks and weeks of silence, in one hour I will get a comment on every post that I have written in the past month.
“Oop,” I’ll say, as I watch the messages roll in (One comment- ping! Two comments- ping! Three, Four comments- ping-ping!) “Mom’s checking up on me.”
I’ve asked her in the past to comment less on my blog. It sounds rude, but it has to do with that censorship thing again. “Look, read it as much as you like,” I whined to her on Skype chat, “But the less I know that you are reading, the better I will write.”
She relented. “Okay,” she sighed, “You big meanie.” Then she gave me shifty eyes.
Sure enough, a month later: Ping! Ping! Ping-Ping!
It is all to no avail. You can just as easily ask the sun to call it a day early as you can ask a mother to change her motherly ways.
And the funny part…and for god’s sake don’t tell her this…but the funny part is that it’s nice to know, when those comments do come rolling in, that someone’s actually out there paying attention.
There was a discernible quietness over the city this past weekend, at least the parts of the city where I went, which was the South, the East, and the West. I have a feeling that the tourists, having come to the city not realizing that most restaurants and shops shut down for Easter, all migrated towards the Center of the city, shuffling around looking at buildings through the drizzle and wondering where they could possibly go to have a meal.
Staying away from the center of town all weekend meant staying away from the hoards of roaming tourists, and this gave the distinct impression of a Quiet Amsterdam, of what the city would look like were it not so popular a destination for weekend warriors.
Saturday dinner found me at the home of a South African friend who served up amazing chakalaka, and on Sunday I brunched on the rooftop terrace of a couple that I know who lives in the East, and discussed the finer points of life, such as just how much vodka can you get away with in a Bloody Mary, and how terribly handsome Patrick Swayze used to be.
When not with friends, I spent the rest of the weekend mulling over the fact that I am nowhere near where I want to be, in any sense of the word. I have so far to go, and lack so much direction, that it exhausts me to think about.
As far as Easters go, it wasn’t terribly ‘traditional’, but then again how many years make up a tradition? Or rather, how many years are spent not doing the ‘traditional’ before it no longer is ‘tradition’?
Normally my “A Song and a Memory” posts have to do with songs that have ingrained themselves with a specific memory without my having a say, songs that have forced a way into my permanent memory collection by the sheer fact of being played at a specific moment in time.
This time I am going to do something new, and create a memory from a song, hatch the chicken before the Easter egg, if you will. The quietness of the city this weekend and the brooding over my life brings this song by Radiohead to mind, and so I am merging the two together: my memory of another Easter weekend spent with friends in an oh-so-quiet Amsterdam, and this song.
Don’t bother with the lyrics this time, they don’t fit what I am trying to describe. I often ignore lyrics when I listen to a song; it is the melody that really captures a moment for me. I can make up my own lyrics, and create my own story from the sound, if it fits.
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.