Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

Argentina – no country for vegetarians
February 20, 2010, 18:50
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Placeholder for essay to come later.

Cigar smoking in Amsterdam
September 6, 2009, 18:27
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A man wearing a panama and a very ‘loud’ fully buttoned up long-sleeve shirt sits next to his wife outside a cafe in the Jordaan. She wears a sensible wrap high around her neck. The grey dull day is still cool and a wind from somewhere east of the North Sea is heading south in a hurry. They are aged in their early sixties. He holds a cigar between his teeth, unlit, and raises one arm, like a student might in class, in search of service, but the service is slow coming so he gets up and enters the non-smoking area inside the cafe and picks up a chair and takes it outside. He places it opposite his wife allowing him to stretch his long legs and large frame right across the footpath. The chair’s armrests contain his girth.
Not the man in the story

Not the man in the story, but similar

He lights the cigar and leans back in the chair and takes in the passing parade along Prisengracht where parents push prams and Suriname immigrants carry shopping bags. He does not speak to his wife. She does not speak to him. He leans forward and speaks to the waitress. After that he sits back and puts his arms behind his head and puffs on the cigar.

Soon their coffees arrive and a slice of appeltaart, the size of an outstretched hand, with a pile of whipped cream rising off the plate like a snow-capped peak. He starts to devour the tart, fork in one hand, cigar in the other holding the plate as he stabs and scoops and cuts and chops the appeltaart.

The first attack ends and he places the fork down and returns the cigar to his mouth. They speak for the first time, momentarily, as she motions to a teenager struggling to free his bike from its lock. He hardly uses his hand to smoke. The lips and jaw part and tilt instead, the red-tipped stub moving up and down as occasional plumes of smoke get whisked away past the cafe patrons sitting windward of him.

He returns to the taart for another session. Rests, relights the cigar then goes again. After that he is done with the taart and soon so too the cigar; it only ever leaving his lips to let food through.

His hand shoots up again indicating a need for the rekening. His wife speaks to a woman of a similar age at the table next to her while he leans back in his chair, arms folded, then places his elbows forward on his knees as if to hear what his wife and the woman are talking about. He pays with cash and takes the change when it arrives but leaves the thin biscuit wafer that comes with the coffee.

Grote Bickersstraat 70 A
September 3, 2009, 21:28
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From the guidebook: The Westerdok comprises 3 islands built on the IJ (the bay that Amsterdam ‘turns its back on’) in the early 17th century to provide space for shipyards. Bickererseiland was bought in 1631 by the merchant Jan Bicker, who then developed it. Today the island is mainly residential with a mix of converted warehouses and a jumble of tugs and houseboats.

Realeneiland, the largest of the Westerdok islands, has one of Amsterdam’s prettiest spots: the waterside street of Zandhoek. Here, a row of 17th century houses built by the island’s founder, Jacobsz Reaal, overlook the sailboats moored along the dock.

Home is where the A is. Use the zoom (+) or ‘click and drag’ functionality to get a closer look at the neighourhood.

Time to stop and smell the tulips
August 30, 2009, 20:11
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OK, it’s not exactly prime tulip time, as a young Japanese couple discovered at the hands of a rather forthright tourist information office officer today: “No tulips now. It’s out of season. Come back in the Spring.” And with that dismissal they meekly turned and departed. “You could try the floating Bloemenmarkt, down on the Singel,” the official yelled after them.

Analysing amaryllis bulbs, floating Bloemenmarkt

Analysing amaryllis bulbs, floating Bloemenmarkt

It’s Sunday, my seventh day and the end of a very eventful week. For the first time since arriving, I purposely have nothing to do, with the intent of wandering aimlessly, no guide book in hand, no schedule, no to-do list and while on this wayward path the bells of St Nicholaaskerk ring in the distance summoning the pious to prayer so I follow my ears (and not a map) bearing along Prins Hendrikkade (imagine Eddy Ave near Central Railway but about 5 km long) to who knows where. Is the Nieuwmarkt this way? Who cares!

Sunday is a day for families it seems but you are never far from the sorrows of last night’s intoxication as still drunken punters sing praise, not to God but to Grolsh and it’s just gone 10am.

The next bridge beckons so you walk alone soaking up the vice until the melodious harmonies of an a cappella draw your curiosity, but hark, a bookshop, The Thieving Magpie, stops you dead in your tracks, like a red light (predictable simile) and it stocked Patrick White’s ‘Flaws in the Glass” for only 4 euros and you buy but don’t know why.  Then adjourn to a bakery/cafe for pastry and coffee to discover on a shaded bench you share with children licking ice cream the true meaning of indolence and you feel a sort of rarefied blessedness and lightness observing others observe the rituals of the Sabbath.

And on the seventh day I rested.

‘Tender is the Night’
August 29, 2009, 18:52
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Begijnhof, a 14th century sanctuary for lay Catholic nuns, now houses some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

‘Tender is the Night’ is the title for the upcoming Waterstone’s Book Club. I saw a sign in their window late the other night. I’d always wanted to read it and what better incentive than to discuss what some argue is Scott Fitzgerald’s most accomplished prose – and meet some literary locals too – in the convivial ambiance of Waterstone’s giant bookstore on the Spui.

Having found a second hand copy at The Book Exchange I headed towards the 7×4 cell and as if by homing beacon, Cafe Thijssen loomed large. I would have kept going, perhaps sought out Cafe de Orangerie instead, but a vacant outside table on a balmy evening was too good to pass by. Had just started reading when the garrulous din of post-work discussions was interrupted by a busker. Tall, thin, bearded, scruffy-looking, the sleeves on his sweater stretched and curled and frayed way past his wrists, and then he broke into song:

There is a house in New Orleans …

His catalogue was classic rock ballads and his voice, like somewhere between Cobain and Orbison, certainly outshone his appearance. The glas of huis rose arrived. Rugged. Gets better with each sip, doesn’t it?

Her body hovered delicately on the last edge of childhood – she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her … When she walked she carried herself like a ballet dancer, not slumped down on her hips but held up in the small of her back. Tender is the Night

The glas of huis rose did indeed improve.

This is ground control to Major Tom …

No one paid a skerrick of attention; the forty or so punters encamped on the terrace in the median strip seemed to regard his covers as muzak.

Roxanne, you don’t have to put on that red light …

Was this his signature tune, I wondered? A song for the location: Amsterdam teems with ‘Roxannes’. A short bracket of maybe 10 classics and he was done. Not a single acknowledgement. Next came the collection. While previously oblivious , most dug generously into pockets or purses and handed over coins into his dirtied, stained outstretched hand. He didn’t look at the amount – just shoved the metal pieces into his trouser pocket before moving along and thrusting his cupped hand out ‘for more’.

After that he ‘rattled’ over to an abandoned guitar case and half zipped the cover around his battered instrument, mounted a bike and pedalled off to the next gig! And the punters continued their eaten and drinken as if nothing had happened.

In transit
August 23, 2009, 18:02
Filed under: Amsterdam, Travel, Uncategorized

We somehow seemed to be chased by the sun across west Asia and Arabia. The flaccid sky stayed the same shade of pearly grey for hours as if Cathy Pacific’s Flight 271 was keeping pace with the rising orb; not getting lighter, not getting darker, until the last hour or so as we traced an arc from Hong Kong via the Baltic and the planet’s femoral artery that is the horizon began to slowly swell into life.