24 April 2009

The Character Sketch, Not the Plot Thriller

These past two days have been the perfect balance of the ambitious tourist, quietly enforcing each and every cultural stereotype of Netherlands, and the calm, placid native, taking the tram, going grocery shopping, sitting at a café on the canal while fretting tourists race by on yellow tour bikes, trying to squeeze every last second in to their trip.

After LB + I realized that the Dutch hipster company, G-Star, which happens to be our favorite clothes company in the whole world, was closed for renovation on the cheeky PC Hooftstraat, a two-block section of Amsterdam where the fashion giants basically line up their stores, one after another, like slices of white bread, we decided to replace vapid consumerism with schizophrenic art. In so many ways, they are practically the same thing. So, we went to the Van Gogh Museum, shelling 30 Euros. After the initial shock of paying forty dollars sunk in, we spent the next two hours looking at some of the finest—and in many cases, most famous—Van Gogh art the world has ever seen. Some highlights were: Sunflowers, Starry Night (which was on loan from the MOMA, where I saw it back in 1997), the Potato Eaters, Irises, two important self-portraits, the Bedroom in Arles, the Pink Peach Tree + Wheatfield under Thunderclouds. In short, the collection was fantastic + temporary

Later, LB + I decided to visit our first—and as it turned out, only—coffee shop in Amsterdam called originally enough, Smokey’s. I bought a fat joint that was mixed with organic herbs: it was light, smoother, soft, nothing too intense for either us. LB, it should be noted, was smoking weed for the first time, and I wanted it to be a positive experience. After we felt contet and light, we finished our too-sweet and too-cold smoothies, and walked home. Then we made love, ate a bunch of healthy snacks we’d bought at Biomarkt (organic paprika potato chips, organic dark chocolate, fruit cocktail juice), and got dressed. We walked for forty minutes to several Thai restaurants before finding one that was still open that late, and then we devoured our Pad Thai, and chatted with the friendly waitress for a half an hour. When LB + I told her we were originally from Chicago, she said, I love Chicago. I lived there for one year. Kuwait, + Amsterdam, she knew well, but Chicago she loved. Interestingly, LB + I felt the exact opposite. We were slowly falling in love with Amsterdam, wondered how much rent went for an apartment in Jordaan Plein, whether LB could find a job, all sorts of crazy counterfactual scenarios that spelled out love in make-believe.

Today, we relaxed. We took the Tram to Prinsengracht, walked around Jordaan Plein, drank orange juice + ate pesto Caprese sandwiches on tables bordering the Prinsengracht Canal, bought some snacks for our long train voyage tomorrow, then we sat on benches at Museumplein, nibbled on organic potato chips + drank agave and cola nut flavored soda that was fantastic, surprisingly, before making our way to Golden Temple, this vegetarian restaurant near Frederiks Plein. The food was light, delicious; the mango chutney was so hot it had burned away the fruit by the time it had made it to our mouths; the waitress was sweet + forgetful. Tomorrow we take the Thalys train back to Paris, and from there we take another high-speed train to . . .

Ultimately, it's not the big things that make us love Amsterdam so much, it's all of the little details, the miniature idiosyncracies of this city: Dauchsands sleeping in windows, the decoration on people's bikes (plaid vinyl book bags, flower bouquets--and sometimes, tiny girlfriends), all lovingly tied around the handlebars along with statues of Norse Female gods, used a battle rams, and wire + wooden baskets attached to the front, it's the colorful things like tiny apartments, clean air + safe sidewalks, it's smelling freesia growing around an apartment door, noticing dwarf figurines dancing on the sill, a button-down table cloth, eating Pad Thai next to a naked cherub light on the restaurant table, and it's all the other stories I've seen with my own eyes, a mother peddling furiously while her two kids hang from either side of the bike, a hundred crystalline canals, each one with a different name + personality, it's about seeing Hare Krishnas dancing near Rembrandt Plein, the lush, soft, earthy perfumed tones as you wisk through the Flower Market, the boat houses rocking back + forth as the streets wane, it's indelible oddities like the Marijuana, the Torture + the Sex Museum, and above all, it's the Dutch people: so kind + helpful, so considerate + friendly, so approachable + relaxed. Amsterdam is like a clean Venice; it's the racially and cultural diverse older sister of Portland (Oregon) without rain or heroin junkies. Amsterdam is everything I'd want a city to be: beautiful, clean, friendly, progressive, multicultural, rich historically, transit and bike-friendly, stylish without being pretentious, and above all else, so unbelieably charming.

Here is the last roll of Amsterdam:

Canal 1
Freesia in the Window
Tiny Apartment
LB + I Almost Cried We Loved This Place So Much: They Even Had Organic Dog Food
Where All the Organic Snacks Are Hiding
Near Museum Plein
Near Museum Plein 2
Walking from the Van Gogh Museum
Dutch Phone Booth
Our Consolation Prize after Walking down PC Hoofstraat Street Sans Goodies
Museum Plein 1
Museum Plein 2
Museum Plein 3
This Is Like That Part in Fight Club Where Objects Speak in First Person
Street 1
Inside the Van Gogh Museum 1
Inside the Van Gogh Museum 2
A Close-up of the City
Canal 1
Hare Krishnas Dancing
The Joint
Damn, It's Been A Long, Long Time
Happy Times
Dazed, but Not Confused
LB Is So Damn Adorable. Notice the Cause . . .
And Effect
Cause . . .
And Effect
And This Was Before We Even Smoked
Inside Smokey's 1
Inside Smokey's 2
For LB's First Time, She Smoked Like a Fucking Pro, Man
Ah, Happy Times
Okay, One Last Time. Cause. . .
And Effect
Then, There Was Just a Stub
Our Walk in Search of Thai Food at Ten at Night
The Holy Bridge
Canal Reflections
One of the Lights inside the Restaurant
The Tablecloth
Just Guess How You Turn the Lamp on
LB Contemplating
Not Sure What the Hell I Was Doing
Cheese Glorious Cheese
Canals 2
Graffiti 1
Graffiti 2
Street 2
Canal 3
Street 3
Street 4
Graffiti 3
Bike Decoration
Chilling at a Café on Prisengracht Canal
Our Café
Canal 4
Cheese Glorious Cheese 2
Graffiti 4
Golden Temple Restaurant
LB Reading the Menu
View from inside the Restaurant
The Golden Temple's Tea Selection
Canal 5
Bike Decoration 2
Finally, a Windmill


Devin said...

Jackson thanks so very much for posting this! LB is so beautiful-great smile-I was in Amsterdam for nine days when I went to Europe for three weeks in 1995 and fell in love with the city. During my stay there-I actually think it was the people I rented to Hotel room from The Dikker &Thijs-told me that it was somewhat unusal for tourists to stay that length of time in the city. I made a mistake (this was in my drinking days) of thinking that the mini-bar was gratis-haha You should have seen my face on checkout from the hotel-when this lady in a perfect Dutch accent said "I see we have a few drinks at mini-bar" I was charged for each and every little bottle of beer and vodka-and others that I drank-I thought the invoice was never going to stop spitting out of the printer!! Great pictures and thoughts about a great city!! Van Gogh is one of my favorite-if not my favorite artist and I so enjoyed the museum-best to you as always-great blog!!

Fernanda Ibañez said...

se fumaron un re faso

que locos :P

JACKSON BLISS 水と魂 said...


Thanks so much + I totally agree. The Dutch people may be the best part of this season. I have to say, it's a city that works (some cities, as cultural experiments simply don't work). I'm totally serious that LB + I seriously considered moving here in 4-5 years, though I'm sure that's just wishful thinking. Your minibar story is funny. Yeah, the Van Gogh Museum was fantastic.


Jeje. Sí, pero fue relleno de yerbas orgánicas también, no sólo la planta verde ;)

leighmckolay said...

I have been singing the praises of amsterdam since that first trip so looooong ago. 1997. Cripes- seems just like yesterday.
I absolutely agree with your call on the kinship between AMS and PDX.

love that place- i am very happy you had such a nice time. so happy.

barb and i were just kids back in 97 (19!)- we were on our two and a half month tour o' europe- some of the best memories of my life- really.....

Oh Amsterdam-
(that first trip we actually were chased down by some weirdo/freak guy AND barb got her pocket picked - yet we still had a really lovely time...) BIG HUG! BIG SMILE!

JACKSON BLISS 水と魂 said...


I know. I thought about that when LB + I walked around, how young you were then, how weird it is that I'm 35, visiting Amsterdam for the first time. But I have to say, I think Amsterdam is amazing for every age bracket. I really do. At the age of 20, I would have loved it for a completely different reason than now, but I would still have loved it then. . . LB + I loved Amsterdam so much that we even talked about moving there someday if one of my novels makes it big, and she's finished with grad school. That's how much we liked it. Someday, maybe. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the pics. They do the city justice I think.

Besos for now.

leighmckolay said...

Totally agree-

I have always had a fantasy of living in amsterdam too!

I think many great things converge in that city....really.