Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Berlin

Tomorrow morning my cousin Erin and I are flying to Berlin for two days. She has to meet with some clients on Monday, and originally the purpose of my tagging along was to watch baby Matthijs, who was also joining us. But now Rembert's parents are coming to Amsterdam to take care of him, so we just get a fun mini-vacation instead.

I've never been to Berlin--I've never been to Germany at all, actually. For those of you who have been to Berlin, I'd love to hear suggestions about things to see and do there--keeping in mind that we only have 48 hours. What are the essentials?

So far our list includes: beer, sausage, pretzels, and people-watching.

We need some more ideas.

What have I been up to in Amsterdam, you ask? Erin spent most of last week at a conference in London, so I spent a lot of time babysitting the boys, especially Matthijs. I think he finally likes having me around; the other day when I tried to leave the house without him, he cried. I felt both terrible and accomplished.

Yesterday afternoon I walked to the Van Gogh Museum, which is open late on Fridays. For some reason, people always seem to assume that I'm really into visual art, that I'm some kind of expert on art history. This could not be more untrue. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists because he uses bright colors, and I love bright colors. There are probably other, less famous artists who also use bright colors. I don't know who those artists are.

I very much enjoyed the museum, especially seeing Van Gogh's work from the period immediately before his death. Those paintings are especially wild and vivid, the paint smeared on in thick dabs. It's a shame he had to lose his mind in order to produce them.

This morning Erin and Matthijs and I visited Noordermarkt, a popular street market in Amsterdam's historic Jordaan neighborhood. We pretended that we were there to shop, but in reality we just wanted to grab free food samples from the vendors and then stop at Winkel 43 for a piece of their famous apple pie. I mean, really. Look at this pie:

apple pie amsterdam
We waited in line for this pie. Totally worth it.

Afterwards, Erin took Matthijs back home for a nap while I popped into nearly every vintage store on Haarlemerstraat searching for the yellow cardigan I saw one day a few weeks ago and stupidly did not purchase. Alas, I did not find it. But that's okay--I don't have much room in my suitcase, anyway. 

I have no idea how I'm going to bring back Christmas presents. I'll have to ask the internet how to pack more efficiently. 

Tonight we're going to an expat Thanksgiving dinner hosted by some of E&R's friends. Turkey and mashed potatoes, here I come. 

Monday, November 21, 2016


(of a storm, wind, or rain) blow or beat fiercely and noisily.

Yesterday was a strangely windy day in Amsterdam. The weather here is often gray and gloomy, but twenty-four hours ago the wind was howling past the apartment windows, untethering vines from the brick walls and toppling people's bicycles.

Despite the unusual gale, I walked a few miles to the brand new MOCO Museum to meet my friend Wendy. On the path along the Amstel, the gusts picked up the yellow leaves and whirled them in dynamic crowns around my head. The houseboats bobbed gently in the water, which rarely stirs.

The MOCO Museum is brand new only in the sense that it opened this year; it sits on the edge of the Museumplein, just a few yards from the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, housed in a mansion built in 1905. The parquet floors, gilded fireplaces, and stained-glass windows make it an odd location to showcase pieces of contemporary art.

Their current (and very first) exhibit features both Banksy and Andy Warhol--Banksy on the first floor, Warhol in the basement. But whenever they have a Banksy piece that clearly pays tribute to a Warhol piece, they hang them together. Because the museum is so small, Wendy and I were able to walk right up to the paintings, examine their neon-bright colors from only a few inches away.

talk in a loud, aggressive, or indignant way with little effect.

I can hardly stand watching the news about President-Elect Trump--it's as though I'm reaching out to save someone from getting hit by a car, but someone else is holding me back. Not that I could do much even if I were home, but I do feel especially helpless across the ocean.

I can hardly stand the manner in which he talks--so childish and hypersensitive. If he can't handle it when SNL mocks him, how is he going to deal with criticism from other world leaders? The worst part is that he may be doing it on purpose; as many others have pointed out, Trump sent Mike Pence to see (and get booed at) Hamilton on the same day that he paid $25 million to settle the Trump University case. What was essentially the admission of his guilt in defrauding hundreds of people got drowned out by debate over whether or not actors should also be activists. (For the record, they should.)

I wish I could just put him on mute, remove any mention of Trump from my social media feeds. I think I'd be a lot happier that way. Unfortunately, our country has put itself in a position where every single one of that man's ridiculous, petty words matters.

I'm still floored that we elected him. I hope I never get used to it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Beer & Ice Cream

Beer and ice cream have become a slightly larger portion of my diet since last Tuesday's election. Not together, of course--although Erin assures me that a scoop of ice cream tastes great in a stout. I have to cope somehow. And there are surely worse ways to cope, right?

On election night, Erin and I went to Boom Chicago to see an improv comedy show, followed by a nightcap at Gollem, which is gezellig, as the Dutch say--cozy and friendly and warm. Oh, how happy we were, how blissfully ignorant. Little did we know how soon our fates would change. 

When we got back to the apartment, it was still early evening in the States, so they hadn't started reporting the returns. We decided to doze on the couch and livestream the results on YouTube. 

This was a mistake.

Erin and I slipped in and out of consciousness, the map on the TV screen growing progressively redder each time we woke up. It was like a fever dream, an irrational nightmare bleeding into our reality. And when the morning dawned gray over Amsterdam, when the kiddos jumped into the living room looking for their breakfast, we were forced to accept the truth: Donald Trump had, somehow, been elected President of the United States.

I must admit, it was helpful having cute little kids around. They're completely unaware of world affairs, so they spent the next day being utterly themselves, running around with boundless energy and smiling and screaming, either not caring or noticing that we met them with bleary eyes. They may have wondered why we were giving them so many hugs, or why we cried during Hillary's concession speech. 

I'm not necessarily surprised that he won--it was always a possibility. But I am disappointed. Many people who voted for Trump claim that it was all about the economy for them--they don't approve of his racism and sexism, but they felt they would fare better under a Republican administration. I don't think this is a good excuse. If you're willing to ignore racism and sexism (not to mention ableism), you're part of the problem. I'm sad that so many voters care only for themselves and their immediate needs, that they don't consider how others may suffer. 

I'm sad for them, too--they've been duped. Donald Trump doesn't care about working people. He cares only about himself. He wants to win, he wants people to cheer for him, he wants the title of President and all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with it. He'll leave the real work to his cabinet and other advisers--and that's the scary part. Mike Pence's political record shows very clearly that he will work against women and gay people. Steve Bannon is a white nationalist. It's Trump's administration that truly frightens me. 

Right now I'm in the process of determining how I can help guarantee that Trump's tenure will last no more than four years. I arrive back in the States on December 13th for the holidays; I'd like to stay at least through January so I can attend the Women's March on Washington

I'm torn--I love traveling, and I still want to head to New Zealand next, as there will probably be few other opportunities in my life to be equally mobile. Furthermore, if the Trump administration damages America's relations with foreign nations, traveling in general may become difficult. But I also don't want to abandon my country in its time of need. That seems cowardly. There may be ways I can be useful outside of the States, however. I'll have to think it over while I'm home. 

If you're looking to take action, Jezebel has compiled a list of places to donate and/or volunteer. If you're having a hard time and you need someone to talk to, feel free to get in touch with me. My body may be in Amsterdam, but especially at the moment, my heart and mind are in the United States. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day Thoughts. Also, Cows.

Dear America*,

Please vote today. I mailed in my ballot from Amsterdam several weeks ago. If I can vote from thousands of miles away, you can take the time to walk over to the closest polling place. Even if you're not thrilled with your choices for President (I'm not sure anyone is), there are still plenty of local races where your vote makes a difference. These candidates may not be as conspicuous as those in the presidential campaign, but local government has the largest direct impact on your life. States and counties determine what happens in your schools, on your roads, with your water. It's up to you to select the representatives that will have power over these issues--that's why your vote is crucial.

If you're not planning on voting because you're fed up with both Clinton and Trump, take a moment to consider the privilege that allows you to make that decision. You're essentially saying that regardless of who's elected, it won't affect your life--at least not in a significant way. But there are lots of people whose lives could change drastically under these candidates' policies--women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, the disabled. For all these people, what happens in this election is important. You should think about what kind of country you'd like everyone to live in. Voting (or not voting) does not have to be a selfish act.

Thanks for reading. And now, since we're all stressed out about the election, here are some cows:

E&R's friends Klaas & Wendy own Het Koeienhuis, a farm where they raise Wagyu cattle. Every year when it gets too cold in the pasture, they run the cows through the streets of tiny Benningbroek back to their barn, and then they host an open house for those who come to watch--an open house that includes grilling up some tasty Wagyu beef burgers. It was a rainy day, but lots of fun nonetheless. 

Twisty apple trees on the boerderij (farm).

Someone's thirsty.


I'm glad I got to experience the rural part of the Netherlands as well, even though it was a little damp and chilly. We drove back to Amsterdam afterwards and had hot cocoa, so all was well. 

I suppose that's a good moral for the election, too. Whatever happens, even if things go bad, we can always make it better. 


Erin and I are going to Boom Chicago, a Chicago-style improv comedy club, for an election party tonight. I hear they're good--we'll need them to keep us smiling as the results roll in. Happy voting!



*I cannot write "Dear America" without thinking of the prolific historical children's book series. My favorite was Standing in the Light, in which the young female narrator was captured by a Native American tribe and then was slowly integrated and accepted into their culture, before being cruelly re-captured by her white family. Wow. That was a book, alright. I bet I would have some opinions about that now. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Chicago Night in Amsterdam

I may travel all over the world, but the city of Chicago will always have my heart. It's the finest city on Earth--period. Chicago produces the best food, the best sports teams (GO CUBS!), and the best music. Also, the best people in general. But let's move back to music for a second.

One particular Chicago artist with whom I've been enamored lately is Noname, a female rapper I first encountered on Chance the Rapper's forever-brilliant mixtape Acid Rap. I've never quite heard a voice like hers before--it's honest. It has little swagger because she doesn't need swagger to make her point. And sometimes her points are gut-wrenching. She finally released her own mixtape, Telefone, earlier this year, and I've been listening to it virtually nonstop since. I recommend you check it out immediately, not only because her voice is important, but also because I'm pretty sure she's the Next Big Thing. And you don't want to be left behind, do you?

I've never been able to see her perform in Chicago, but in a funny twist of fate, she's playing Melkweg in Amsterdam tonight with Mick Jenkins. Guess who has a ticket? (It's me.)

It's a nice day for a walk yet again--it has been for most of the week. According to my cousins, the pleasant fall weather is unusual for Amsterdam. It seems I picked a good time to come. On Saturday night, I walked over to De Pijp, where I met my new friend Wendy for a few beers at Brouwerij Troost. Their Saison was delicious. At one point I was handed a giant bouquet of sunflowers by some drunk guys, who then demanded multiple hugs, which Wendy and I refused--a depressing reminder that it's not only American men who have little to no regard for women's personal space. But hey, free flowers.

Sunday evening, Erin and I walked to and from the Koninklijk Theater Carré to see David Brighton--supposedly the world's greatest David Bowie tribute artist. To be honest, I felt his Ziggy-era impression was forced, but when he changed into the oversized yellow suit of 1980's Bowie, the similarities were uncanny. The Carré is a gorgeous old venue, more appropriate for musicals than for rock acts. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time singing along to my favorite songs, and the walk home along the river was beautiful--all those lights reflected in the gently waving water, the soft sounds of bicycles occasionally zipping by.

Theater Carre Amsterdam
Appropriate glamorous for Bowie, if not appropriately spacious for dancing.

Yesterday I walked down to Haarlemerstraat and Haarlemerdijk, a trendy neighborhood full of vintage boutiques and cafés. Also, coffee shops--the smell of weed was so strong at 11:30 a.m. that I nearly gagged. I wasn't in the mood to try on clothes, but I did take plenty of pretty pictures. Observe:

Life on the canals.

Graffiti Alley Amsterdam
A colorful alley.

History Building Amsterdam
The first stone.

I'm looking forward to this evening's walk to Melkweg--I haven't walked that way before. So much more of Amsterdam to explore.