Amsterdam is Homeland of the Smug. Here people believe that by replacing expensive rococo furnishings with expensive sleek furnishings, they have overcome materialism. There is a sense, from the open drapes of the canal-front houses to the politics, of a people bound and determined to show off their modesty and abnegation. Instead of saying, “I have a Humvee and you just have a shitty Land Rover” they seem to be saying, “I have a refined spirit and you just have a shitty bourgeois mindset.”
Despite the ready availability of drugs and prostitution, it is one of the blandest places I’ve ever visited. Even the language, when they’re not speaking English, seems like a dull German. The canals are nice to sit by, but how much stylish sitting can you do? One good thing is the food. It’s not great, but the vegetables are fresh and the coffee is decent. And, most importantly, it is definitely The West, a fact that is hard to overplay after nine days in Latvia.
The varied ethnic mix is due to Holland’s former colonial properties and its wide-open immigration policy. This policy has been criticized by some as having gotten calcified into a kind of rigid and institutional indulgence. Holland imports imams, for instance, due to its long-term cultural value of tolerance, who say thanks by advocating the murder of homosexuals and the over-throw of the West. A hard balance to keep and the danger is of laying down and sacrificing yourself for your uncritically extended values, or clamping down in such a way as to destroy the legitimate values you built your society on. (Sounds familiar for some reason…)
Yesterday C. took S. and I walking back and forth within the Center, the area of the “four canals.” It was a good thing to do, and Sh., C.’s wife, joined us for lunch. I was somewhat distracted however, as I had injured myself the day before. We had gone down to a canal-side café, the Ysbreker, to eat. We had Caprese salads and tapenade. We couldn’t eat it all, so asked fi there was something we could carry the leftovers away in. instead of saying “no,” one of the waitresses said, “I’ll check.” I’ll check? That was odd, I thought. It didn’t seem like something one would need to check. “A doggie bag,” said another, not asking. “I lived in the U.S. We don’t do that here. It’s not very Dutch,” she said admonishingly. Seemed wasteful to me, but then I’m pretty materialistic.
A few minutes later, the first waitress returned and held out a mozzarella tub as big as a garbage can. “It’s washed.” We shame-facedly scraped eight pounds of mozzarella and tomato into the tub and snapped down the lid. We thereupon discovered with were 20 cents short on the bill and the restaurant did not take credit cards. With a showy sigh, the majordomo proclaimed that he would cover it. It was understood that his mother would have to eat cat food again that night due to his extraordinary selflessness. Naturally I insisted to S. that the first thing we do is find a bank machine and insert 20 cents into the dirty baby’s coin mechanism.
So we headed off to find a flamboyantly thrifty, ostentatiously modest Dutch ATM. We crossed under an elevated pedestrian walkway that turned out to be a major bicycle freeway. (Everyone travels by bicycle in Holland!) When we came to the Sarphatistraat I saw a delivery van down the street, so I jogged across, catching both feet, barely off the ground, on the raised center where the tram tracks ran. I rocketed to the ground, barely getting my hands in front of my face before I struck the pebbled surface, tearing great chunks of Curt-meat out of my hands in a reverberation uproariously described by S. as the fish-wiggle. “You looked like that statue of Saddam Hussein coming down,” she said.
I never fall down. So to fall so hard left me literally stunned. I didn’t know what had happened for a moment and for another moment couldn’t get upright again. Mercifully, the delivery van opted out of running my carcass over. After S. visited the ATM we made our way back along Professor Tulpplein to the Hotel Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam, where visitors like Madonna and even the Dutch royal family occasionally stay. When S. asked the doorman for a band-aid, he hustled me, blood rolling down my forearms, through the ornate lobby and back into the back employee room where, after distressing one overdressed guest in the bathroom with my howls as I washed the gravel out of my wounds, no less than five (all immigrant) hotel workers proceeded to bandage my wee mitts, for which I will always be grateful. I can recommend the Hotel Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam without reservation on the strength of its staff.
Wounds dressed and face drained of blood we made it back to the Ysbreker and paid the head turd.
I’m looking forward to Berlin. I must make train reservations and we may go on a walking tour of the Red Light District. We are tourists after all.
The negatives of this place are humorous and I think I deal with them alright. I just don’t find myself very attracted to the place. I have found myself a bit alienated on this trip, overwhelmed by the Tower of Babel.
Everybody floats into the air
(That is the reality of things),
A common man may rise up off a chair
Or from a chair of state if he’s a king.
Either way, they’re equal when they fly.
The earth has grown disinterested in them
And let them go, to drift across the sky,
Content to let them turn in the currents of heaven.
Or perhaps it’s that their spirits grow corrosive
To the bonds that bind them to the earth
Until, dissolved, they’re launched explosively
Back into their medium of birth.
But whether home or Heaven, this is clear:
Everybody floats into the air.