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.”
Ireland is NOTHING like this! I want my money back! My money on all those bars of soap my family bought (in bulk) when I was growing up, and all those trips to Ireland that I’ve since taken. I reckon it’s about 65 bars of soap and 12 trips.
In fact, we are going there again next month for a wedding. So I am giving it one last chance: If I don’t see half-dressed muscle men wrestling in the fields, I am going to be VERY disappointed.
I recently found out that an acquaintance on facebook lost his dog. From what I could see, it was in March, but I had apparently missed that post at the time, so just the other day (a month later) I commented on it. I wrote something short along the lines of, “How sad.”
So there I was in London, a huge, sprawling, diverse city whose history dates back about 2,000 years, a city founded by Romans, plagued by fire and Jack the Ripper and, well…the Plague, and what was on my mind?
I passed the Tower of London, where Elizabeth I was imprisoned and Anne Boleyn executed…
We went for a drink at the George Inn, which is a beautiful old coaching inn from the middle ages and boasts past visitors such as Charles Dickens (who wrote about it in one of his books) and Shakespeare…
Me in the George Inn
And we were all in a flutter because sitting at the table behind us was Brian May, the guitarist from Queen. We know this was Brian May, because he wore a shirt with a huge photo of himself on it, with the words “BRIAN MAY” written in large black letters across the top.
Sneaky Phone Cam Shot of Brian May
I saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, which is considered the Mother of Parliament, as many governments are based on this system, and was the location where Guy Fawkes tried to assassinate King James in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605….
But all I could think of was that scene from ‘National Lampoons European Vacation’. (Still makes me laugh to watch it.)
"Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!"
(Video embedding disabled but you can watch it here.)
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.
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!
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…
My blog search results tell me that someone found my blog via “blond american babe Amsterdam”.
You’ve found me!
I may not be so “blonde”, and the “babe” is debatable since I’m plus 30 now, but damnit I’m American and I’m in The Amsterdam. Close enough, hey?
After my last post, I wrote that I would let everyone know how my diary reading went. You can stop holding your breath now.
It went well! I stood in front of one hundred and thirty five people (yes, I counted the seats) and I didn’t shit myself! And people laughed when they should have, and listened when they should have, and overall it just went as well as I had hoped it would.
It was a great night, I loved everyone’s stories and I was on such a high afterwards that I kept asking my friends, “What did you think? Was I funny?” and that lasted about, ooooh ten seconds before they were rolling their eyes like, “Yes, yes you were funny, people laughed, get over yourself”.
Nothing like friends to keep you grounded!
I hope to do more with Paulien, Micha and Kevin in the future, but more on that if and when it ever comes around. In the meantime, it’s back to the every day hotel grind that is my life.
I didn’t write this before, but I am now the Events Manager at Hotel V. Which means I throw parties! Best job ever. This position brings me into contact with so many interesting people- I love it. I didn’t think it was possible to love a job like this, but the hotel just keeps getting better.
But don’t tell them I told you that, they don’t need the extra leverage, know what I’m saying?
So this November is turning out to be as wonderfully exciting as I had hoped. I wrote a blog post about it over at Hotel V, because I have been looking forward to November like a kid waiting for Christmas….one month early.
So much has been happening!
You see the thing about Amsterdam is that you have to participate to really reap the benefits. There is so much happening all of the time, but if you sit at home and never leave, then you miss it all. And really what’s the point then of living in a great city like this?
There is a long-standing joke with several friends of mine who are under the belief that I don’t ever leave my house, and don’t ever leave the street where I live. To be fair, I don’t call it The Mighty Mighty Overtoom for nothing (look ! Webcam!)- it is a fantastic street to live on and has everything that I could ever want in a street. But this joke started when I worked from home years ago. So I worked for 8 or 9 hours on the Overtoom, went to the gym on the Overtoom, and drank in my favorite bar (R.I.P. Tig Barra- gone but not forgotten!) on the Overtoom, walked my dogs on the Overtoom, and rested my head on the Overtoom.
But now I work across town, and tend to throw myself into the deep-end of what’s going down in Amsterdam. So much so that my home time is precious to me. More precious than gold and diamonds. I need that quiet home time to gather my strength, and I take it and cling to it whenever I can, which isn’t much lately! But sssshhh, don’t tell those friends! I wouldn’t want to spoil their joke!
So, for the announcements:
If you want to see a handy guide of what’s going on in town each month, I write one up over at the Hotel V blog in the “See/Do” section. So if you’re missing my writing (you know you do) or want to know where to find me (you know you do!) then check there for both!
My good friend John from the blog John Does Amsterdam and I have started a blog together. This is something that we have had endless conversations about over the last half a year over endless lunches of bagels and soy lattes and endless mojito dates. And we finally got off of our bagel-loving-and-mojito-guzzling asses and set it up! So please head on over and check out The Colours of Amsterdam. Here you will find our special way of honoring this city where we live and love- through the medium of colour! Enjoy!
You might remember back in 2009 when a few passages of my teenage diary were published in the book Cringe. Well, here I go beating that dead horse again! (Not really- no horses will be harmed during my reading.)
Also reading, hosting, or telling their own stories that night are author Paulien Cornelisse (the brains behind this event and this monthly event), comedien Micha Wertheim, and comedy actor Kevin Allison. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m the one credited as “someone reading an excerpt from their adolescent diary.” (Mother, I’ve made it! I’m “someone”! It says so in the description!)
These are like…real people, real funny people. I’m nearly afraid that they are going to find out that I’m just an angsty, hormonal 14-year-old stuck in a 31-year-old’s body, reading from my diary, and try and keep me from getting on stage. (Sshh don’t tell them until it’s too late! I won’t go down without a fight!)
What really tickles me, however, is that Kevin Allison, for those who don’t know, used to be in The State, that somewhat short-lived comedy show that was on MTV back in 1994/1995. The irony of all of this, is that me and all of my friends (like all other suburban American adolescents at the time) were quoting that show constantly during 1994 and 1995. And the diary that I am reading from just so happens to also be from 1994/1995. And now here, some 17 years later, one of the actors and I will be sharing the stage! Isn’t that a completely rad coincidence?
Maybe not for Kevin Allison, I’m sure he doesn’t give a damn, but holy shit man, my head is spinning over this!
Anyway, a few of my friends will be there to support me (laughing WITH me of course, NOT AT ME) and if it weren’t for them I don’t think I could do this. I’ve never been on a stage or read to a large audience before, EVER.
Anyway, if you are in Amsterdam and want to join us, please feel free! More info here on tickets and whatnot. Just remember- it’s okay to laugh. My therapy has gotten me through the worst of it!
OK that was it for the announcements, but I will be back after Wednesday to let you know how it went!
I just woke from a dream where I gave Lola, my dog, to a friend to bring her to her new owners. The friend left, and Lola walked out behind her, not looking back.
After a few minutes, the panic started to rise in my throat. I turned to Dave. “But….can I….will they ever let me come and see her? As often as I want?” I asked.
He tried to explain that it might be hard to see her again, and the sad look on his face brought the panic in my throat rushing upwards. I started to choke and sob as the realization sunk in. What had I just done? Had I given her away for good?
And that’s how I woke up, choking on tears.
I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep again tonight.
Since losing Lola in early June, I’ve been having a pretty hard time. It’s not easy spending months on the verge of tears, waking at night from nightmares or not being able to sleep at all from thinking of her (and her death). Even now, going on 5 a.m. and 5 months after the fact, I am sitting here trying to see my typing through the tears. I’ve tried several times to blog about her, I’ve tried to give her the eloquent eulogy that she deserves, but in this one crucial time, the proper words have failed me.
How can I possibly summarize in one blog post what she meant to me? The words end up clunky on the screen, inadequate and dull for a dog who was so full of love and sweetness and who made me smile every day for the seven years that we shared this life. (Every day.)
We started a list of all of the small and funny ways that she made us laugh and what we will miss about her. The list goes on and on.
There is so much that I miss.
There is a lot of advice out there about getting a dog, raising a dog, living with a dog, training a dog. But what they never tell you about bringing a dog into your life, is that one day you will have to say goodbye. How are you meant to deal with that?
I am working through a lot of sadness, emptiness, and guilt. Her death, too soon and too sudden, was harsh and unfair for a dog who was so mild-natured and delicate. I didn’t have a proper chance to say goodbye, it was over before I realized that it had even started. How am I meant to deal with that?
I wish that I had the energy to write more about her and what she meant to me, but for now I have to make do with the fact that she was no stranger to this blog. I hope she knew how much I loved her, and that I continue to take her with me everywhere I go.
So you know that trip to Edinburgh I took over a month ago? Well I just got around to looking at the photos….you’d think that, because I hadn’t seen my parents in months and months, I would have taken lots of photos of my parents and the fun we were having.
I took photos of me with small things.
Here we go!
And then I went to the Museum of Childhood and found a whole floor- A WHOLE FLOOR- of dollhouse things! After I keeled over and DIED, I stood back up again and started pointing….
And then in the next cabinet I found something not so cute, yet still tiny….
Bitty Butcher Shop.
And then I went for a coffee and found quite the opposite of small. The biggest mother-effin cup I’ve ever had a soy latte in.
Big Bucket of Coffee. Like Whoa Man.
And after this coffee things got a little blurry as I dinged from one end of Edinburgh to the next, hyped up on caffeine overdrive, chattering a mile a minute. I think in the end I was restrained with a leash. And I’m not sure, but maybe a muzzle too.
In other news, my little cousin was just here for the weekend from Paris where he is spending a semester abroad. At least….I think he was here. That might have been him sleeping on my couch when I peeked out in the living room at 5 am, but I guess I can’t be sure.
I remember my first trip to Amsterdam when I was nineteen (his age now in fact), and from the look of his trip, it went pretty much the same- stumbling around in a stupefied daze, enjoying just being here and enjoying all of the oddities that Amsterdam has to offer.
Who am I to intrude on that experience? I’ll make him spend time with his older boring cousin on his next trip here.
And one last thing, now that I’m blogging and I have no idea when the next post will come.