2011 – Amsterdam Revisited

Who would have thought i’d ever be able to return to Amsterdam? Certainly not i. Oh no, i had got comfortable with the idea that i was simply too old, too weak, and too poor to be able to return, especially since i need a place where i can park and charge the Segway every night. And places like that are not easily found outside of four star hotels.

But Rina made it happen and i’ll be writing about it here.

To get ready for Amsterdam, here’s a pic i took a couple of days before i left San Francisco. No, that is not the flagship of the Texas navy but rather the Chilean four-master Esmerelda. They just dropped in for a short visit on their way to Sausalito.



27 July 2011 – Dateline Spuistraat

OK, i’m in Amsterdam and chaos reigns. I’m going to try to keep up with rough postings and polish them later, so this version that’s going up now will be unedited. The flight over was good, augmented by my stewardess spotting the Volkskrant in my hand and speaking to me in Dutch. Since my reply was sufficient to let her know i’d understood her directions to my aisle, she continued speaking to me in Dutch for the entire trip until just at the end she pulled rank by speaking in flawless, unaccented American English.

Oh, and another delicious language moment. I exchanged brief greetings with the older woman seated next to me, but we didn’t really talk until during the meal. Unfortunately we had a lot of trouble understanding each other until i determined that the problem was that she was Danish and was just cognating along in Dutch. She’d assumed i was Dutch because i was speaking Dutch with the flight attendant and had been reading a Volkskrant. What she didn’t know was that i was merely painfully picking around in the paper and reading only the articles that were on subjects i knew something about. It went much better when we switched to English and determined that she’d been in Oakland visiting her daughter and grandchildren.

P1000993At Schipol i was much relieved after retrieving my checked bag to see the Segway sitting over on the Oddly Shaped belt. Relief lessened when a cursory inspection revealed serious damage: Handlebar assembly broken in half and dangling by the internal wires, left wheel cracked nearly in two although the tire is still holding air pressure. I’m unable to determine if the left axle is broken, but the wheel wobbles badly when rolled.

KLM gave me a damage report with numbers (in the US!!!!) to call to report a claim, and i pushed the wreckage out through the Nothing to Declare Door to find Rina sitting in the cafe as planned. Then we made our way though the labyrinthine parking garage to her car, me on the Segway holding the handlebar assembly together with my right hand while steering with my left and traveling at a slow walk since the left wheel makes a grinding noise and threatens to wobble off at any moment.

Here on Spuistraat, Rina has tracked down the facility that Segway of Holland uses for repairs, and we’re going to drive down there (to Den Bosch) Friday morning to get them to do an estimate/enough repairs to get me thru a month’s use here. My fear is that the batteries are worth more now than the Segway.

But other than that all is well and i’ve been to Albert Heijn to buy essentials (on foot, which nearly killed me). No no, not speklapjes as Rina had some of those waiting for me in the refrigerator, but i did pick up a large bottle of that cactus sap that i’ve raved about for a decade as well as three kinds of chocolate bar, Zaanse mosterd, butter, pistolets, some Gouda, a bag of top quality kroepoek, and two liters of Mango Dream to cut that cactus sap with.

More later. Gonna have supper with Rina and then crash.

Oh well, hell, i gotta describe the supper. She cooked a pot of those “kruimig” Dutch potatoes with some generous scrapes of nutmeg and mashed them with milk and butter. They accompanied thin slices of ham on which she’d placed endive leaves and then rolled up and baked in a shallow pan of sauteed mushrooms. Oh, and gratiné.

To drink with it she gave me a can of Prosecco – a tiny little can, only 200 ml, and it was only as i was finishing it that i noticed that it was 10% alcohol. Quite tasty, and you could gulp several of these before all that alcohol hit.


28 July 2011 – Trained Attack Dutchwoman

The adventure continues. Yesterday i had dragged the pitiful remains of my Segway over to the baggage desk and got the nice young woman there to enter a damage claim into their system. And then here at Rina’s i repeatedly called the the American number that they had given me but kept getting voicemail.

This morning, though, my trained attack Dutchwoman took charge, tracked down the Dutch baggage claim office for KLM, and successfully pressed them to commit to paying for the repairs to the Segway.

Meanwhile, i’ve dragged the Segway out onto the sidewalk in front of the house and have turned it on its right side and determined that hopefully the axle is OK and the damage there is confined to the wheel. Rina’s having the garage door repaired, and i got a semi-concurring opinion on the axle from her worker, a Dutch man named Ruud (pronounced like the root of a tree but with a trilled r, and oh, do i love these Dutch names that are so different from English).

The bad news is that the Segway will no longer respond to the key, the trauma of getting it in and out of the back of her car apparently being enough to finish separating one or more of the wires in the broken handlebar. Oh well, that it briefly worked indicates that at least nothing is wrong with the motors, and the handlebar would have to be replaced in any case.

Oh, and a language item. One of the new features of Rina’s kitchen is this space-age combination oven/microwave/broiler. Rina has an instruction manual – twenty pages of fine print in Dutch, and some incentive – a package in the refrigerator of delicious little Kaiserbroodjes that must be baked.

And finally, a pic from Mosterdpotsteeg, one of my favorite alleys. Alas, Morcky Boy’s fine creation has been painted over, but here’s a doorway that blends into the terrain:

Mosterdpotsteeg doorway

En nu, iets nieuws voor mijn Nederlandse vrienden. Vandag heb ik mijn mobilefoonnummer gekocht. Mischien is email beter of sneller, maar de nummer is 0639570380…als ik herinnere te luisteren.

29 July 2011 – Den Bosch The Hard Way

What a day. Rina has a GPS navigation device that she used successfully to drive down to the middle of France and back, so how could there be any problem getting us 80 km down to Den Bosch? Well, it found a way, and we somehow ended up driving through a tiny village named Muiden well to the east of Amsterdam before we turned around, requeried, and finally regained a freeway (A27), which down below Utrecht finally crossed the one (A2) which we should have been directed onto in Amsterdam.

And nothing was lost but time, and it was a joy to see entirely new lush, green terrain with sheep safely grazing and the spectacular modern architecture that i so love here. Besides, the TomTom (used as a generic name, like Kleenex) behaved itself after that first glitch and led us to the Segway repair center out somewhere in the depths of an industrial park north of the central part of Den Bosch.

The guy we dealt with was genuinely nice and eager to help, but he did not have in stock either the correct size wheel or the correct handlebar assembly, so both have to be ordered. Worse yet, he fears that the left axle is damaged, which opens a can of worms.

The next step was to rent a Segway from the adjacent dealer, but when we got there i discovered what should have been obvious, that they did not have my old model (i67) for rent. Granted, the new I2, as they call it, has many improved features, most particularly the more intuitive steering and a couple of security features, but it reeks of ostentation while my old one presents more like an ancient, battered VW bug. And also, i find the old one more stable and easier to ride.

But i wasn’t thinking fast enough to just say i’d sit in my room until they could fix my old model, so i ended up renting the new model, and yes, KLM is supposedly going to pay for it, but it just hurts my old Scotch soul to be spending €35 a day on this thing.

And besides, i’m so freaked out over it getting stolen that i don’t know how in the world i’ll be able to leave it out of my sight. But tonight i’ll curl up with the user manual to figure out how operate the security features….and also i’ll make sure to use my cable lock on it.

To close, a language moment from yesterday when i was walking home from Albert Heijn. A young man was lettering something on the sidewalk in front of a cafe, and i stopped to watch. I stumbled over “vouw” before i realized that he was writing a mock prayer almost identical to the one Mark and Harm Jan gave me for my kitchen wall. What’s funny about this one is that he had chalked the “l” in before he realized he didn’t have room for the “igt” to complete the last word. His disappointment knew no bounds. And yes, in Dutch “igt” rhymes with “icht”.

Ik vouw

This poem is a parody of a nineteenth-century table prayer:

I fold my hands together

And close my eyes

And pray that after the Amen

My saté stick is still lying there.

Hmmmm.  loses something in translation.

Zero Day – 30 July 2011

Today was pretty much a zero day. Sat around trying to figure out what i’m gonna do, how i’m going to extricate myself from the bad choices i’ve made, starting with coming here in the first place. But i know i have to pull myself together and try to salvage what i can. Besides, on Monday i’ll probably be able to learn whether my Segway can be repaired and can then decide on my next move.

Meanwhile, i’m working up my nerve to leave the house on the Segway i foolishly rented down in Den Bosch, and i’ve borrowed a heavy chain from Rina to lock it up since i have no confidence in its security features. Besides, i have to go out because i want some of that Turkish yogurt from the Marokanse winkel on Haarlemmerstraat. This army marches on its yogurt.

Rina came in this evening with a couple of Bossche Bollen, the regional dessert specialty of Den Bosch. They were fabulous. The closest thing to them in my experience would be a cream puff, and they’re about that size but made of a dough that becomes more crisp on the outside. They are filled with a heavy, sweetened whipped cream, and then glazed with a generous coat of chocolate over the top, which makes them more like a round éclair. Well, except that the original éclair was filled with that fabulous French chocolate custard rather than whipped cream. The best éclair i’ve eaten outside of France 45 years ago was at a patisserie in Aachen in January, 1988. In the afternoon. On the east side of the central square. Under a green awning.

OK, I made the awning up.

But not that éclair.

A language moment Rina mentioned yesterday after listening to all those folks down in Den Bosch with their zachte g  (soft g) and vocabulary that sounds archaic to northerners: She knew a native Amsterdammer who was a taxi driver and told fares from Limburg, “Can we please just speak English so maybe i can understand you.”

And some more of the rarified Dutch humor that i so adore:

empty gallery

31 July 2011 – Back to Manic Mode

After a long sleep my situation doesn’t look as grim, so i pulled myself together and braved the Jordaan on the rented Segway. Got some much needed luck in front of Jumbo, the new supermarkt on Westerstraat that Rina likes better than Albert Heijn, and immediately found a place to chain the Segway.

That relaxed me so well that i scarcely registered any disappointment over their not having a resupply of the cactus sap that i’ve been enjoying for the first time since 2008. And besides, they had everything else i wanted, plus some things i didn’t know i wanted, like hot chocolate pads to go in the Senseo coffee machine, which i find an interesting toy although i’d never convert to buying coffee in pads at home because i get too much pleasure out of buying good beans and grinding them myself.

Perhaps the greatest joy of shopping in Dutch grocery stores (well, after the exquisite difference of everything) is the continuing jawdropping shock at how cheap almost everything is. In America we’re accustomed to paying higher prices for food so as to support our kleptocracy of billionaires. Here, as during previous visits, food is much cheaper: 335 gr. of that divine Zaanse mustard – €0,78. 450 gr. of kwark – €1,19. A 450 gr. box of frozen spinach €0,68. A liter of 2% milk – €0,78. A croissant – €0,49 and yes, not quite as good as the ones at Tartine, but theirs are $2.50.

And yes, the euro is now $1.40 or so, but remember that a liter is a bit over a quart and that 450 grams is about a pound.

I got even more relaxed on the new Segway on the way home, but i’m still not making much eye contact with folks because i cannot possibly allow anyone to try it whereas at home one of my great delights is talking folks into giving it a whirl. I’ve been doing this so much for so many years in San Francisco that i am constantly encountering people greeting me with big smiles saying that i’d let them try it at some time in the past.

Would never have thought that not being able to offer test rides would have been one of the greatest disadvantages of riding someone else’s. Still, i get chatted up. As i was opening Rina’s door a Dutch couple of roughly my age spoke to me. I didn’t understand her first question, but i responded by speaking of the wretchedness of my legs and the excellence of the Segway. Either my hideous accent or the butchered grammar clued them in that they should speak more slowly, so we ended up having a nice conversation.

I just love it that i’m finally able to get along on a rudimentary level although sometimes i panic and choke. Like at Jumbo earlier when the nice checker told me that i needed to weigh the single Spanish nectarine i’d picked up on spec. At Albert Heijn the produce is in packages with the price stamped, so i’d forgot the Dutch market custom of requiring the customer to weigh loose produce before he approaches the checkout counter. I didn’t understand the checker at all, but luckily there was only one guy behind me, and he didn’t seem too fried about having to wait a few seconds while she kindly led me to a nearby weighing station and showed me how to use it.

Nothing at all like falling into the clutches of those merciless clerks laying in wait for bungling visitors at the Dam square Albert Heijn.

The nectarine? Well, not sure anybody can grow ’em like we can in our Central Valley, so the most i can say for it was that it was good enough to eat…but way overpriced at €0,54.

But then by the time i tried it, i was already full. See, when came back in i finished off the last of those speklapjes that Rina had stocked my refrigerator with, and for a second course spread a piece of raisin bread with a thin layer of cherry jam and a thick layer of full fat quark. For a third course, i repeated the second since i had not had quark for several months.

It just struck me that although i’ve been raving about speklapjes since my 2001 Amsterdam visit, i’ve never taken a photo of one. These are kinda thin, but you get the idea:


1 August 2011 – Back to the Volendammer

Off to a slow start today after having sat up way too late last night in a dialog on Facebook with this Christian who’d stuck in a comment about how much God loved us on my friend Bob’s facebook page link to an essay on Christian terminology, I responded to him with a comment that for a gay man like me who’d been persecuted by Christians for seventy years, all their talk about love simply didn’t weigh out against decades of hateful actions. And it went back and forth until i got too tired and dropped out. But then of course didn’t sleep well, fretting over what i should have said. Maybe that’ll teach me to just ignore the crap Christians put out there, as in 2008 i finally got too angry after a lifetime of harassment to even listen to their attempts to gloss over the evils of their churches.

And yes, yes, i have a handful of Christian friends who love me in spite of the hate their churches teach, so i do listen to them, but of course they don’t go on about how much God loves me because they are acutely aware that their churches preach and practice otherwise.

But this morning i mounted the rental Segway again and rode off to the Albert Heijn on Haarlemmerweg for cactus sap, etc. and then across the street to the Volendammer Vishandel for a whole mackerel and 200 gr. of eel filets. The Moroccan place a couple of blocks further down was closed for vacation, also, but i went riding around a bit hoping to blunder onto Anjelierstraat but after i’d gone southwest as far as Marnixstraat finally gave up and got out my map.

On Anjelierstraat i immediately found the Philips store where Rina had bought her Sanseo. The nice young man instantly understood that i wanted to buy the pod holder for hot chocolate pods, but alas, i failed to understand his explanation of why he couldn’t sell it to me. So he switched to English. Well, hell, if he’d just said, “U moet het bestellen” and “Ik node de modelnummer” without all those other rapidfire sentences of extraneous explanation, i’d have understood.

So back to Rina’s for the model number and back there to place the order. And yes, i cheated by going online and determining that on the official Senseo website the part cost €6. It’s good to have little crumbs of success.

And speaking of success, the sun was out today, so i got some sunshiny pics:

sunshiny pic

The bad news is that we haven’t heard from Den Bosch about parts for my Segway, so i’m still twisting in the wind. I haven’t contacted any of my friends here yet since i don’t know what’s going to work out. I can’t take the risk of renting a Segway for a month, as if something went wrong on getting KLM to pay for it, the cost would be ruinous. As it is, the cost is already ruinous, as the price of Segway parts over here appears to be double their already astronomical level back home, who knows whether i’ll be able to get KLM to pay for the repairs.

I cannot believe i was so stupid as to not even consider that KLM would smash my Segway and how totally hosed i’d be when they did so. What i need now is a Christian to explain how God loves me so much that He’s gonna fix everything….starting with my damn legs, please. Wouldn’t that restore the faith of my youth!!! I’d be tapdancing for Jesus on streetcorners. Yes, folks, look at me now and marvel. I was half lame until i welcomed Jesus into my life, then i threw down my Segway and started running marathons.

I wouldn’t be so freaked about finances except that i’ve been looking at the news and see that the Democrats have apparently given in to the Republicans. And so at a time when, in countries that cannot touch our homeland, the US is spending over a trillion bucks fighting two overseas wars of occupation that have gone on longer than WWII, and when our millionaires and billionaires are enjoying the lowest tax rates they’ve had since the Hoover administration in the 1930’s, the solution our leaders are offering to our debt problems is to slash social security and medicare benefits.

Shine, perishing republic.

And while Washington burns, i’m over here taking whimsical pics:


2 August 2011 – While Washington Burns

It just struck me that the last time i came to Amsterdam was in September 2008, when i sat here looking at news reports of the collapse of the American financial system and its attempted bailout by the Bush administration. Since then, there’s been a gradual, partial recovery. but now that i’m in Amsterdam, the bottom is falling out again back home. Surely, surely, i say, this is purely a coincidence for which i cannot be blamed, but i fear that when i deplane upon my return to San Francisco a couple of large men in shiny black shoes will be waiting for me, stuff me into a sturdy canvas bag, and fasten it securely at the top. After an unforgettable journey i’ll awaken in my own cage at Guantanamo, where the questioning as to how i pulled off my plot will already be underway.

Meanwhile, Heimat Sicherheit will release periodic bulletins assuring the American public that Gray was captured before the worst part of his plot had come to fruition, and providing telling details confirming his guilt: that his luggage contained a wide variety of electronic instruments and much wiring, multiple devices capable of transmitting signals wirelessly, an electrically powered getaway vehicle, foreign language dictionaries and written materials, and an enormous cache of drugs disguised as prescription medicines but which will be revealed to be illicit narcotics upon sufficient analysis.

Furthermore, background investigations have revealed that Gray’s a practicing septuagenarian with close ties to others of that sort including some actual sexagenarians, which comes as no surprise considering his long residence in San Francisco.

Appended herewith is a report on Gray’s Amsterdam activity today:

11:00 – Departed Spuistraat and traveled to Anjelierstraat, where he picked up the purple podholder sold for use with the hot cocoa pods in the Senseo coffee machine. Unable to determine what he plans to use it for.

11:15 – Traveled in mostly direct route to the Borneo Eiland neighborhood, where his behavior became increasingly suspicious. As he rode into the harbor area, he made numerous photographs of bridges, looking under them for weak points where explosives might be best attached. Then, in front of the harbor, he nearly fell off the Segway in his attempt to photograph the operation of a drawbridge being opened by a pair of Dutch men in a small boat. The operator of the boat pulled it up to the side of the canal and the passenger leaped to shore. He walked onto the bridge and removed the pins locking the far end of the bridge in a level position. He then moved to a point beside the pivot of the bridge and pushed down vigorously on the counterweight, which raised the bridge, allowing the boat to pass under it while the passenger held the bridge in the upright position. Then they reversed the procedure and motored off. Gray carefully photographed both the operation of the bridge and the securing pins. He then met two new confederates, young female operatives from St. Petersburg who could not speak Dutch but who spoke English suspiciously well. The three of them spread on the terrace a map he pulled from his backpack and spent some time tracing routes on it with their fingers and possibly surreptitiously exchanging contraband material.

12:30 – Gray then traveled in an extremely circuitous route through the central part of the city until he arrived on Marnixstraat well to the west of the Jordaan area he typically frequents and then abruptly turned back east toward his room on Spuistraat. In all, a reasonable imitation of someone about half lost but unwilling to consult a map, made more convincing to the untrained observer by his periodically peering at the sun to check its position.

1:00 – He stopped at the bakery at the corner of Prinsenstrat and Keisersgracht and purchased three seeded brown croissants. Upon exiting he spoke in Dutch with a couple, the man using a cane. After some discussion of the Segway’s features, he mentioned in parting that he was from San Francisco, whereupon the man responded in English that it had been nice talking to him. Shocked at the man’s English, Gray exclaimed, “You have a wonderful accent. Where did you learn it?”

“Texas,” he said with a restrained smile.

Gray was laughing too hard to mention that he was from Longview….and clearly not the only Texan capable of learning some Dutch.

1:15 – He returned home and received a telephone call from his Dutch confederate Rina, who told him that his Segway had been successfully repaired and that it could be picked up on Wednesday if the paperwork from the office was complete.

Appendix A: Drawbridge photograph from Gray’s camera.


3 August 2011 – Free, Free at Last

We’re home from Den Bosch, having returned the rental Segway and picked up mine, so gorgeously repaired that i jokingly exclaimed, “Die is niet mijn Segway” when the manager presented it to me. Turns out it was in even worse condition than i’d realized. As i’d feared, the left axle was broken in addition to the wheel, and the right wheel was cracked on the inside, so i hadn’t seen that, nor had i noticed that the right fender was cracked. So for two wheels, two fenders, the handlebar assembly with new internal wiring, and an upgrade to the software that i’d neglected to get before, plus six days rental of a replacement Segway that i was too nervous to get much use out of, i escaped for only €2001,10, but they were the nicest folks i ever paid €2K to.

Their niceness plus my enormous relief in getting my wheels back somehow combined to make paying all that money painless, especially when i make myself think of euros as dollars.

As soon as we got back here, i jumped on my Segway and rode off at top speed (when polite) to Piet Hein Kade 25, where i had agreed to return the charging cable that i neglected to take to Den Bosch. Grrrr. Closed, with no opening hours posted. I’ll call ’em tomorrow and probably just end up mailing the cable down to Den Bosch.

Meanwhile, i am so exhausted from this week of stress, that i’m going to bed now. My trip here is effectively one week shorter, so it won’t be possible to do everything i wanted, but i’ll do my best to see all my friends, if only for less time than i’d hoped.

For a pic, another of those Borneo Eiland bridges. This one’s doable on a Segway although the descent on the far side would be hairy. I’d probably try it if it were in San Francisco, but i’m just a little too scared of breaking some bones over here since that would make getting home a major hassle.

Pythonbrug to Borneo Eiland

Umm, See below for another look. The third and fourth, sixth and seventh, ninth and tenth, and twelfth steps would be a little tricky, being so narrow. They’d have to be taken at speed with one bounce each, and that slope to the right wouldn’t help, either, since you’d have to compensate for it as it increased during your ascent. Good thing i’m not younger with more bone confidence. But aren’t those lovely light fixtures!

Python Bridge

4 August 2001 – Back in the Saddle Again

Well, if Segways had saddles, but you know what i mean. Actually, i spent a good part of the morning with Rina, who has been indispensable in helping me deal with the Segway. She spoke with a KLM representative about getting repaid for my expenses to repair the Segway and rent one while mine was unavailable, and has arranged to set up a direct payment into her bank account here, which seemed like a good idea at the time until i realized that i’ll either have to live like a pasha for my remaining three weeks or bring a wad of euros back to the US. As pessimistic as i am about the future of the dollar, i’m even more pessimistic about the euro.

After all, our plutocracy will certainly take care of itself. And by now it is abundantly clear that the Obama administration is quite happy to join the Republicans in crushing the middle and lower classes into the dirt to make certain that the top 2% do not pay an extra dime in taxes.

Bless the Icelanders. Somehow they, alone on the planet, rose up as one and simply refused to allow their government to assume the burden of bad debt that their banks had amassed. In other western countries, starting with the United States, the banks had enough control of the government that they were bailed out at taxpayer expense while the bankers themselves continued to draw multimillion-dollar salaries and bonuses.

End rant. (Late Note: A friend suggested that more useful would be a “Begin Rant” warning.)

Didn’t travel all that far today, mainly because i slept fourteen hours last night as i let go of all the tension over not having my Segway. And then went off getting copies of all the papers i need to substantiate my claim. And attempting to return the electrical cable i ran off with, i then made another fruitless trip to the local Segway rental office, which i have finally realized is open only when they have renters.

Centraal Station canopyWell, the trip wasn’t totally fruitless. They are building at the back of the Centraal Station an enormous canopy which covers not only an additional set of train tracks on the first level up but also a vehicular access area on ground level that i expect to be used for buses and taxis so that folks can transfer between them and trains without getting wet. And of course since this is the Netherlands, the canopy also covers a bike path. And is gorgeous.

And note the Dutch caution here on the date that they put on this thing!

Centraal Station canopy

And then this afternoon i rode over to Jumbo on Westerstraat for groceries for tonight’s dinner Rina is cooking for the finest grandchildren on the planet (well, except for yours). I’m throwing in spinach and for dessert a kilogram of gelato (half chocolate and half “American Cookies”, whatever that is) from this little store between Westerstraat and Anjelierstraat that Rina recommends and the folks out front agree is the best ice cream in Amsterdam.

So OK, i haven’t ridden far today, but at least i’ve ridden fast. Now that i’m on my own vehicle again, i open ‘er up every chance i get and run along at top speed between intersections. I got a vicarious thrill when i was down in Den Bosch and a guy in the repairs area showed me his highly customized Segway. One of the features was oversize wheels, and since the software that governs the speed monitors revolutions per minute of the axle, this gives him significantly higher speed. And since there’s not a hill in the whole country except down in the southeast corner, the reduced torque is not a problem.

Guy things, alike all over the planet.

I’m gonna try to corner Rina tomorrow and get in contact with Cora and Johnny, as they’re at the top of my must-cook-dinner-for list. And once i get them inked in, i’ll start connecting with others and schedule things. For that matter, i’m having trouble contacting some people, so if you’re reading this from North Holland, Erik and Barbara and Wouter and Wayne (and Edward, if you turn out to be in town after all), hint hint, email me at mattegray.sf on gmail.

5 August 2011 – In Training

Things are falling into place as i’ve contacted most people by now. Rina set it up for me to cook for Cora and Johnny on Tuesday, and i’ve been wanting to cook a mole poblano for them since events conspired and i didn’t get to do so in 2008. The only other time i’ve cooked for them was on a previous visit when Johnny won my heart by smiling upon his first taste of my chile con carne. Well, see, Johnny’s Indonesian and really likes chiles.

I went out down Haarlemmerstraat this afternoon to the Marokkaanse winkel, where the proprietor recognized me as i walked in the door after a three year absence. He’s a delightful guy and i picked up a 1 kg tub of that wonderful Turkish yogurt, which looks like this:

Yep, it’s 10% fat. You can slice it.

Turkish yogurt

Over to Westerstraat and a quick stop in Jumbo, where i couldn’t find the clotted cream Rina had spoken highly of, but perhaps that’s just as well, considering what i’ve been feasting on recently. Which reminds me that i hadn’t mentioned that a few days ago (it’s all a blur now) Rina took me out for dinner to the New King, where we feasted on babi pangang. The dim sum dishes they offer as appetizers are much inferior to those in San Francisco, but the babi pangang is still incomparable. Also, they’ve air conditioned, redecorated, and repriced.

But back to this afternoon, i made my second visit to Monte Pelmo, the ice cream store from which i bought the ice cream for the grandkids yesterday and which was so superb that we all had seconds, and that was OK since we’d all eaten our spinach. The chocolate yesterday vied with that at Mitchell’s in San Francisco, which is the highest possible praise. Today, i had a single ball of the Cream Caramel in a sugar cone. Foolishly stood outside in the sun, so i could barely eat it as fast as it melted. The deliciousness also had something to do with the consumption speed.

In the late afternoon i decided i should get in training for tomorrow, when i’m meeting Harm Jan and Mark at the Star Ferry Café beneath the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ for lunch, and then afterward joining them in the Westerdok area to watch the gay parade. Rina has suggested that i really must visit a recent contribution to the gentrification of the neighborhood by the name of Prik, which is, despite the name, a gay bar.

I explained to her that since i am a retired homosexual, i no longer frequent gay bars. Hell, i barely even seldom them, not having been in one in San Francisco for years. But she will have none of this owing to her pride in this new neighborhood feature, so i agree to drop in. I rode down there while ago and immediately saw that my visit will have to be for a nightcap before i go to bed since the place is on the east side of the street and the terrace has been baking in the sun all afternoon.

Look, i’ve lived in San Francisco for going on forty years now, so i start suffering when the temperature rises much above seventy (20 C), especially in humidity levels like Amsterdam’s.

And finally, an arrangement on the deck of a houseboat on Brouwersgracht, where i was thrashing around in a failed attempt to go the shortest route between the Marokkaanse winkel and Jumbo.

houseboat arrangement

6 August 2011 – A Canalful of Gays

Before i get started on today’s entry, i have to make a critical point. It has come to my attention that some people are reading this new Amsterdam tale every day, and of course i’m delighted at this. At the same time, i’m horrified because i’m just spewing out an episode every afternoon and posting it without polishing. When i look back at it i see a handful of anecdotes that i think would be entertaining, but i see way too much boring ‘and then i did this and then i did that’ blather that will get replaced with something worthwhile when i have a spare moment.

For example, yesterday’s episode made no mention of Rina taking me to lunch at this English place called Greenwood’s on Singel. To get there, we were walking down Korte Lijnbaansstraat when she pointed out that i was wearing my tee shirt inside out. It had been hot in the morning and i’d skinned out of it and neglected to turn it back right when i put it back on.

I was horribly embarrassed at walking around with the tag on the outside at the back of my neck, so i acted in a bit of a panic and ducked a few steps into this even tinier alley to the right where there were no pedestrians in sight ahead of me and as rapidly as possible skinned out of the shirt and put it back on. Whew. Got away with it.

We think of the Dutch as being unshockable, but when i turned around Rina was standing there in slackjawed amazement, as she had just witnessed me stop in front of a red-lit window and perform a strip tease for an unappreciative prostitute. Well hell, i wasn’t looking to either side but rather, straight down the alley, so i didn’t even see her sitting there until i had my shirt back on. She looked a little surprised, herself.

Sigh. You can’t take Matte anywhere.

The other high point of that lunch excursion was that not being gay, Rina never got much experience with brunch and thus had never eaten Eggs Benedict. She has now, and loves ’em.

Flash forward to today when i had a quite tasty lunch with Harm Jan and Mark on the terrace of the Zouthaven. Actually, more than quite tasty. My mackerel with a Dutch version of pesto was superb…and reasonably priced for such a stellar location. Afterwards they led me on their bicycles over to the Westerdok, where we found an excellent vantage from which to watch the boats as they entered the starting point, the mouth of the Prinsengracht.

This year’s parade was limited to eighty boats, which i appreciated by the time all had passed. Of course it’s illegal to watch a gay parade without taking pictures, so i took lots. Perhaps my fave is this shot of American Lt. Dan Choi, who is still fighting for reinstatement after being kicked out of the army after a tour in Iraq for saying too soon that he was gay. Last month, for the first time in American history, a contingent of gay men and women currently on active duty in branches of the US military marched, in uniform, in the San Diego gay parade. Choi was just a couple years ahead of his time. Here he is in his dress blues on a boat full of gay European service members. Hint: shoulderboards.

Lt. Dan Choi

Afterwards, we took refuge from a brief squall in a very interesting restaurant, one fashioned from a gloriously repurposed obsolete swinging railroad bridge over a canal and named Open. Delightful place. We had only beers and a plate of bitterballen, which are a Dutch food far too similar to the only Dutch food i can think of right now that i don’t like: kroketten. Both consist of mysterious ingredients of uncertain origin that have been somehow reduced to a smooth paste, formed into either little logs or balls, and then deep fat fried so that the outside is browned and deliciously crunchy while the inside remains a hot, thin, disgusting gray paste. No human food is like this.


But they didn’t kill me.

They? You ask. Well of course. I had to eat two to make sure.

7 August 2011 – Wil Wiegant Again

I have lost a lot of strength in the last couple of years, and this was sure apparent after the excitement of standing propped against a bridge railing for four hours of parade watching yesterday. Whew. I was so exhausted last night that i had trouble going to sleep.

So today i took it easy, riding over to the Segway office on Piet Hein Kade for my appointment to return the cable from the rental. Since i was just next door, i got a shot of the spectacular pedestrian bridge leading up to the Muziekgebouw Aan ‘t IJ, on the terrace beneath which i had lunch yesterday.

Muziekgebouw Aan 't IJ

Then i stopped at the Centraal Station to plan my trip to Nijmegen next Wednesday. You can buy your ticket from a machine, but if you’re willing to stand in line, you can talk with a pleasant civil servant who will explain that the Nederlandse Spoorwegen would not dream of inconveniencing you with a requirement that you change trains between Amsterdam and Nijmegen and will reassure you that your BART handicap pass from San Francisco will get your Segway onto the train in its own special compartment.

Isn’t it wonderful when things fall into place!

For my early afternoon adventure i rode down to the Spuiplein for the Sunday art fair. Alas, Sunflower, who i enjoyed for years, no longer plays there, but at least Wil Wiegant is still around, and there’s good news. In the first place, i’m embarrassed that i had not discovered his new website (click above), this one his own in addition to the material on the Gomera Art Forum. His own site not only has in the upper right corner flags you can click on to get the text in either German or British, if you prefer either of those languages to Dutch, but also it has an insightful analysis of Wigant’s work by Hubert Beck.

I wish i were younger and still buying art rather than disposing of it. As it is, i settled for a handful of his postcards, and he gave me a notecard of a favorite of mine titled “Little Red Moon”.

Besides, he’s a nice guy, and it was great to see him again. One of the joys of returning to Amsterdam is seeing my old friends and acquaintances. Now, of course, too late i realize that i should have taken a photo of one of the pieces in his booth and posted it here, but maybe he will be here another Sunday before i leave.

To wrap today up, a comment i should have included when i wrote of returning to the Volendammer Vishandel for the first time since 2008. I mentioned to Rina my happiness in seeing still there the pretty young woman who’d been nice to me since i first discovered the place in 2004. Rina wondered whether it was actually the same young woman. She says the Volendammers all look alike because they’ve been marrying their cousins since the 15th century.

Although that may just be a city take.

8 August 2011 – Boring Shopping

As global markets crash on the news that Standard and Poor has downgraded the US credit rating to lower than many of our corporations, I’m getting worried that Heimat Sicherheit may not wait to bag me until i deplane in San Francisco on the 25th. Instead, to learn more rapidly the exact methods i’ve used to cause this crash and to mitigate the growing global catastrophe, they’ll probably just grab me now and whisk me off to one of our secret prisons in Afghanistan where the details of my plot can be extracted much faster than at the tropical resort Guantanamo has become under the glare of all that publicity.

So you’ll know what has happened if Matte Gray suddenly goes silent, or worse yet, suddenly starts praising Homeland Security, echoing Sigmund Freud when back in ’38 he was trying to get out of Austria and as a condition of his release was required by the SS to sign a statement that he had not been mistreated. Freud signed, and added, with a flourish:

“I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone”—Ich kann die Gestapo jedermann auf das beste empfehlen.

Meanwhile, i was brought up short today by the realization that although everything has been going well the past few days, i am operating here with very little margin for error whereas at home there are layers of backups.

This morning i was going to ride down to the Albert Cuyp Markt and pick up the ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner but discovered that i’d neglected last night to make sure the Segway was plugged in properly and charging. At home i could just curse vigorously and take my car. Here, i plugged it in again, checked it thoroughly, checked it again, and killed the time for a sufficient charge by making a batch of chocolate sauce spiked with New Mexico chile powder. Too cautious with the chile, but it’ll do.

I pretty much remembered the route to the Albert Cuyp Markt, but had forgot that it’s really a flea market with a few food booths rather than a real farmers’ market, and as i wrote about my shopping realized that i was boring myself, so i’ll just say that between the vendors at the Albert Cuyp and Albert Heijn, i ended up with acceptable arugula, outrageously expensive blackberries, walnuts as good as you could expect this time of year, a medium size chicken, and some frozen spinach.

Well, and then to go under the chocolate sauce, a kilogram of Monte Pelmo ice cream: half hazlenut and half amaretto.

On the way home, this busker on the bridge over the Singel was so good that i stopped to listen….and noticed that everybody else was stopping, too.

busker on bridge

9 August 2011 – Dinner for Cora and Johnny

What with the world swirling down into financial chaos and London burning, i’m thinking maybe i should just go ahead and hop a train to The Hague, pronounced [dɛnˈɦaˑχ], and turn myself in to the International Criminal Tribunal so i can stand trial along with fellows like Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

I’ll plead guilty to financial terrorism but with the extenuating circumstances that i didn’t intend to bring the international financial structure to its knees by the mere act of visiting Amsterdam in September 2008 and that i had no idea that my coming here now would deliver the coup de grâce.

I’d turn myself in this afternoon, but i’m cooking dinner for Cora and Johnny. Rina’s bringing a gazpacho inspired by the dish they call “Prawns Cocktail” at Taqueria Pancho Villa in San Francisco, i’m doing a salad of arugula, blackberries, and Roquefort with some toasted walnuts to complicate it, a mole poblano over rice, and braised spinach.

For dessert, the Monte Pelmo ice cream with my chocolate chile sauce.

OK, and a desperate pic that i’ll replace when i’m editing this thing, another shot of the construction on the Centraal Station. I need to get over there in the late afternoon on a sunny day and frame this better:

Centraal Station construction

10 August 2011 – Spurned by the Spoorwegen

What was i thinking? When i was making the mole poblano yesterday all i could think of was making a fully peppered meal for Johnny. What somehow never crossed my mind was that Cora and Rina would be eating the dish, too. When Cora took her first bite, she gave a little squeal that i tried very hard to imagine was of pleasure but immediately understood that, no, Something Was Wrong.

Yep, by producing the dish at a pepper level i consider full, i considerably overshot both Cora’s and Rina’s comfort level.

And by that time, the soothing soup and calming salad were long consumed, so there was nothing to offset the capsaicin other than the plain rice and the spinach. Somehow, batting 500 at dinner (Johnny and me), doesn’t sound as good as in baseball. And then later i noticed that Rina and i sure did seem to like the ice cream from Monte Pelmo a lot more than Cora and Johnny.

Not a very successful dinner, and the great pity is that for such nice people i’d love to make a dinner they could completely enjoy.

And then this morning my train trip to Nijmegen got off to a bad start when i’d chatted up nice employees of the Dutch Railway System (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) all the way out to my departure platform, found the location on the platform where my train to Nijmegen would board, and approached an employee to ask how i would know which car is the bicycle car where i am to stash my Segway. He announced, none of ’em.

I inquired further and he rephrased, saying that Segways are not permitted on any of the cars. My mention that prior to buying my ticket i had asked the ticket clerk, who said otherwise, got a response that the clerk was mistaken. At that moment, i knew in my heart he was correct.

But i trudged back off the platform and to the ticket office, presented my case to a nice lady, who spoke to another nice lady, who spoke to a third while i collapsed on a banquette. Eventually the supervisor arrived, a beautiful and kind young woman who said she’d checked their online regulations to make certain there had not been a recent change, but that as of today they don’t take Segways even though bicycles and wheelchairs are OK.

The good news is that she got me my money back, and i rode back here and crawled into bed until noon, when i got up and attacked the mess from last night’s dinner. Well, OK, i gorged on leftovers before i went to bed and then went back to bed after the cleanup.

This afternoon i went over to Edward’s for a couple of beers and conversation. He’s as delightful as ever and i sure am glad he’s back in town although the reason, alas, is that the weather in the Baltic has been so dreadful that he cut his summer sailing short.

hair salon on SpuistraatAnd since yer not gettin’ no pics from Nijmegen, here’s a hair salon on Spuistraat.

And a closeup of their sign.hair salon on Spuistraat

I considered going in, but they want €49, and even i know it would take a lot more than €49 to make me beautiful.

11 August 2011 – We Know Where You Are

Well yes, i assumed all along that Google was tracking me, but that was OK since i also knew Heimat Sicherheit was listening to my telephone calls, reading my email, using my mobile phone to track my location, monitoring my library use to see what i was reading, etc. And i figured all Google would do with the information they gathered is target me for advertising to try to get me to buy something, ha ha, while if i provoked enough suspicion in the clean-living American patriots at Heimat Sicherheit, they could lock me up without charges in a secret prison for however many years it took for them to figure out something to charge me with.

And let me throw in as a parenthesis here that i just googled “Heimat Sicherheit” without putting it in quotes, and the sixth hit down on the first page was to the site at www.dhs.gov “Department of Homeland Security/Preserving Our Freedoms”, a friendly organization dedicated to serving patriotic Americans by protecting them, at the mere cost of their civil liberties, from all the forces of evil arrayed against them.

How accommodating of Homeland Security to read my German and direct me not to Herr Goebbels’ Heimatsicherheitsabteilung but rather our modern American version. Patterning itself after the beloved East German protective organization, the Stasi, the site has several convenient points where you can report suspicious activity and turn in neighbors you suspect of being atheists, gays, vegetarians, or anything potentially subversive. The site loves children, especially light skinned ones, and puppies, especially housebroken ones, just as they strongly prefer obedience-trained citizens.

But anyhow, back to Google. I’ve been noticing evidence now that Google is vigilant and has definitely figured out that i’m no longer in San Francisco. Well of course, silly boy, you say, all they have to do is take a look at the time zone you’re in now. But no, it’s more sophisticated than that. They’re tracking the local language, and with every day i remain here the percentage of Gmail and Google Chrome ads in Dutch increases. By now the majority are in Dutch, and some seem suspiciously well targeted.

I mean, is it that clear from the tracking cameras that i need a haircut and that they should send me an ad for local barbers? Or were they, like HAL, reading my lips when i was talking on the street the other day with Rina and mentioned seeing that barber i like in her shop on Lijnbaanssteeg?

And yes, the excitement of the last two weeks has caught up with me, and i did nothing of excitement today. Hell, i didn’t leave the house except for a quick trip to pick up my laundry at that wasserij on Nieuwezijdsvoorburgwal. Not sick or anything, just exhausted.

OK, i lied. Just remembered that i made a quick dash to the Volendammer this morning because i was out of smoked mackerel. Smoked mackerel takes precedence over exhaustion.

Scratching the bottom of the barrel today for a photo since there’s been no sun when i’ve been outside recently, but here’s one of Amsterdam’s stealth streetcars. I cannot understand how they can be so much quieter than ours, but it must have something to do with their tracks being laid more evenly and probably also that their trains are Dutch and ours are either Italian or antiques from all over the world (which are all so cute you don’t mind their being noisy).

green streetcar

The sign on the side tells you it’s running on green power. We don’t need to say that on ours because everybody knows ours run on hydroelectric power from Hetch Hechy, more than which you can’t get any greener.

12 August 2011 – Biertjes with Wouter

Today was mostly another day of rest, as the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be, even just three years ago.

The main event of the morning came when i decided to throw in my clever two cents’ worth as a comment on an American website pointing out that we would not have been nearly so outraged over China’s launching their first aircraft carrier if only they’d had the decency to buy the damn thing from us rather than the Russians.

When i clicked on Publish, i got the following message:

Uw reactie is opgeslagen. Het kan even duren voordat uw reactie op de website wordt weergegeven.”

Good grief. Google Chrome is now giving me status messages in Dutch when i post comments in English on American blogs!! And it would have helped if i’d known up front that “opgeslagen” and “weergegeven” meant “saved” and “appear”, respectively.

anno 1717At least i went out in the afternoon for a couple of beers with Wouter on Singel. And managed to get a pic during the brief moment of weak sunshine.

13 August 2011 – A Top-Level Conference

Matte won’t be posting as much the next couple of days. Seems that the American Secretaries of Defense and State read his comment yesterday about our not being offended if China had bought that aircraft carrier from us rather than the Russians, and they decided that well, maybe I’m not an economic terrorist after all and that they ought to jump on a plane and come over here to talk with me about China.

Spent several hours this morning in their room at the Amstel fleshing out the details, but my main train of thought was that America needs nothing right now so much as revenues, and what’s even better than selling zillions of low cost items like kernels of corn? Well, yes, a few high ticket items like aircraft carriers.

And to whom might we better sell this stuff than to the nation with whom we have a crippling balance-of-payments deficit – China!!!! I can’t imagine a more win-win situation.

After all, not only would it be enormously profitable for us, but also it would do wonders for our unemployment situation, what with our arms plants cranked up to 24-hour production schedules and ranks of happy riveters roaring into shopping malls in their new cars and stuffing them with consumer goods.

Danger? Oh please. Nobody attacks their primary arms supplier, especially since we could work out a gentleman’s arrangement involving our respective hemispheres of influence. Besides, we’d still keep the best stuff for ourselves.

Leon and Hillary (i begged them to drop the “Mr. Gray” and just go with “Matte”) sat there at first in open mouthed amazement that i – a simple tale-spinner, exotic jam maker, and Haworthia cultivator – could have singlehandedly come up with such a scintillating solution to his nation’s problems, and then, as the implications of it all sank in, began blubbering through tears of gratitude stuff about presidential commendations and medals of honor.

No no, i said, i prefer to remain as anonymous as possible, but knowing that word will gradually slip out that i’m the Savior of My Country, i agreed to let them provide at a discreet remove a handsome, buffed security detail.

14 August 2011 – To Hillegom and Back

This afternoon i shuffled up to the Centraal Station and took a train to Hillegom, where i was met by my friend Erik and taken to his house for a wonderful afternoon with his wife Barbara and their two young sons. Erik and Barbara are as enjoyable as ever, and the kids were great fun, too. Both had fine senses of humor and struggled manfully to understand my Dutch, not that it was necessary for me to speak Dutch with the 15 year old, as his English was impressive. He’s been studying English in school and, like all the young Dutch, had an excellent accent. Luckily, he’d watched enough American TV and played enough video games to counterbalance the British accent of his teachers. None of that creepy “shedule” stuff when he means “schedule”.

But before i talk about the fine time they gave me, i’ll back up a bit. After the nightmare of my attempted trip to Nijmegen that blew up in my face, i was determined to make sure this one worked right, so i ended up in Hillegom two full hours before Erik was to pick me up and decided that i could take a very slow stroll toward the center of town on Stationsweg, stopping frequently to take photos and to sit down, and making a 200 meter journey take an hour and a half. Some interesting houses:


And OK, the town fathers would come after me with pitchforks if i put that one in here without adding its neighbor across the street:


They took me out to dinner at a good local restaurant called Chefke’s, and it was an enormous pleasure to spend an evening in the company of such a loving family. There must be some rotten Dutch kids out there somewhere, but i have yet to meet them.

Meanwhile, a shot of the Hillegom station that i so love. It’s like a tiny little warmup for Sloterdijk, of which i’ve posted pics in a previous Amsterdam tale.

Here’s a shot down the tracks since i’ve posted a shot from the street before:

Hillegom Station

And since i’m at it, a closeup with tulip fields in the background. After all, the Keukenhof is only a couple of kilometers away:Hillegom Station

15 August 2001 – Bicycle Breakthrough

A major breakthrough . I have written before about how Amsterdam bicyclists drive me crazy while i annoy them to pieces. And i’ve probably mentioned that my Dutch friends from outside Amsterdam report the same experience. We always feel that the Amsterdammers are constantly on the brink of running us down, and we know for sure that we are continually getting in their way, what with all the bell ringing and shouting we get.

To make it worse, we can watch them zig and zag through each other like flocks of birds in an aerial ballet, missing by centimeters at high speeds but somehow, seemingly miraculously, never colliding.

But now i’ve suddenly understood what’s going on. They are plotting each other’s short term trajectories and ride with the knowledge that the trajectory will not change abruptly. I’m doing it now, and it works. And since my trajectory is now more stable, without all the unnecessary slowdowns and swerves, i don’t get in their way. We’re all winners.

It’s a wonderful feeling to run with the wolf pack, herding terrified tourists and snapping at stragglers.

But then of course i get put in my place, like the other day when i went to the Kinkermarkt, which i assure you is not specialized in pornography but rather more prosaic consumer goods and stalls selling food, for which i admit my pleasure approaches the sexual. And no, not just devouring the stuff, but the act of buying it, too. More, more, i’m still not satisfied.

On the way home i’m following an old woman peddling along cautiously on her ancient bicycle when the street narrows slightly just as we approach a doubleparked truck blocking the bicycle lane.

I glance behind me and see a streetcar rapidly gaining on us. I look at the space between the streetcar tracks and the parked truck and panic just as she looks back, sees me swerving to a stop behind the truck, and with a “damn tourist” sneer continues riding into the slot as the streetcar thunders past, missing her by a centimeter….as she knew it would.

mossy bikeThe pics for today are of the rusted remains of a derelict bicycle chained to a bridge railing and abandoned so long that moss is growing on it.

mossy bikeAnd here’s the closeup

Ummm, so this is why there’s so rarely a place to chain the Segway.

16 August 2011 – Further Behind

Yes, i’m further behind. Went out this noon with Rina for lunch at this tasty tapas place on the Singel at the beginning of Haarlemmerstraat and then since it was such a lovely afternoon rode around taking pics until time to meet Mark at Antiquariaat Schumacher, Geldersekade 107, where he works. An antiquariaat sells collectible books and other printed material, and Mark showed me through his, including a tour of the basement packed floor to ceiling with shelves of books. It was fascinating to see prominently displayed upstairs several shelves packed with first editions of the works of Willem Elsschot, the only “classic” Dutch writer i’ve read, and in his case only Kaas. Afterwards, Harm Jan joined us and they took me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant called A Taste of Culture, where we had excellent roast duck, babi pangang almost as good as the New King’s, and three other dishes that were better than New King.

When things slow down a little, i’ll resume writing, but just so it won’t be a total loss for anyone who looks at this today, here’s a shot of the terrace cafe beneath the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ with this enormous cruise ship sticking it’s snout out behind. And my apologies for lapsing into nautical jargon there with “snout”. You know, “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able. And on the seventh – holystone the snout and scrape the cable.”


That snout is just the tip. The rest of the ship goes up twice that high.

cruise ship

And that’s not a barnacle on the side halfway back, it’s an enormous bus.

17 August 2011 – A Feast at La Festa

Today’s main event didn’t happen until nearly dark, when Rina and i rode over to Ristorante Pizzeria La Festa for dinner. I had a good lasagne although nothing to rave about, but my inability to rave may be attributable to having had the best antipasta misto i’ve ever eaten in my life, every damn bite a thrill.


Ummm, well, actually, the main event the day had happened earlier when KLM came through with payment in full for the repairs to my Segway, so now i’m faced with the problem of what to do with this enormous wad of euros since i know they won’t keep.

And then on the way home from dinner fortune smiled brightly upon me again and i spied a pile of large cardboard cartons from which some furniture was being unpacked when we passed the store on the way to dinner. So i grabbed three, made a sling of the heavy nylon cord i always keep in my pack, and fought them the rest of the way home. Flattened out, they’re about 5′ x 4′.

And OK, since you ask, they’re to fashion a protective box around the wheel and platform assembly of the Segway at the airport after i’ve removed the handlebar assembly from the shaft that connects it to the platform, telescoped the shaft, and stuck both shaft and handlebars into my checked suitcase. No way i’m giving KLM a chance to destroy this thing again even though they’ve been princely about paying for the repairs.

This evening it struck me that i shouldn’t be concerned about not having energy to write recently because even my most dedicated fans would certainly rather see a couple of my pictures than thousands of my words. So here’s a shot of the Amsterdam city hall “with no apparent aesthetic value”, and please don’t nobody tell the cops.

city hall

But to get a little aesthetic value in, here’s a building down the block from it.


And hey, since i’m at it, this year’s shot of my favorite bridge in Amsterdam, on Staalstraat over the Groenburgwal.Groenburgwal bridge

18 August 2011 – Insert Catchy Title Here

Today i bought the remainder of the food for the meal i’m cooking at Edward’s tomorrow, and then delivered a lot of it to his place and relaxed over a couple of beers.

The real news is that i went back and wrote something for 17 August and added tidbits and links to the placeholders for 15 and 16 August.

OK, i finally got some decent shots of the new addition to the Centraal Station. Here’s one:

Centraal Station construction

19 August 2011 – Dinner at Edward’s

This morning i posted in the 15 August slot a tale about my bicycle breakthrough and then went over to Edward’s and started the chickens cooking for tonight. Went out shopping for a a decent bunch of fresh coriander and some more Roquefort to go with the cocoa nib and olive wafers i brought from Goody Goodie in San Francisco.

I’ll fill in the menu later, but for now, an Amsterdam architecture shot.


And one authorized by the tourist bureau:

20 August 2011 – Aftermath

Well, actually, the aftermath from dinner at Edward’s was less horrendous than i expected….or deserved, since i went wobbling out at about 2:00 AM, fully gorged and loaded with more alcohol than i usually drink in an entire week in San Francisco. And yet, apparently since the amount of alcohol required to be a major blowout for me is so small, i awakened with no appreciable hangover. Pity i waited until i was seventy to discover the joys of moderation.

The dinner, however, was anything but moderate.

For a starter, with glasses of Ricard, i served the Olive Cocoa Nib Wafer from Goody Goodie with an aged gorgonzola.

For a cold soup, a gazpacho patterned after the dish they call “Prawns Cocktail” at Taqueria Pancho Villa in San Francisco, which is actually a good gazpacho fortified with lots of avocado chunks, boiled shrimp, and fresh coriander (called cilantro at the taqueria). Alas, i couldn’t find the shrimp when i went to prepare the soup, but at least i had an extra avocado so the guests didn’t know what they were missing.

The salad was my Arugula, Blackberry, and Gorgonzola salad except that i made it here with Roquefort and went ahead and tossed a lot of freshly toasted walnuts on it.

The main course was a mole poblano made from a batch of the Tierra Vegetables “mole crumble” that Lee warned me was wimpy, but wimpy for Lee is as hot as most people like. For sure, it was about half as hot as the batch i made for Johnny and Cora.

Wouter made the rice and i braised a batch of spinach and put a jar of chile wine vinegar on the table for use on it…for the adventuresome.

For dessert, we had vanilla ice cream from Monte Pelmo with a batch of chocolate sauce i made from Droste cocoa powder and just the right amount of a New Mexico chile powder, enough to taste after first tasting chocolate.

Wayne brought an armful of excellent Portuguese wines and some excellent Portuguese sherry, and Edward had a refrigerator full of beer, so we all got at least a little tipsy over a long dinner with sparkling conversation even though i did best at understanding the part that sparkled in English.

Wayne brought his friend Diederik, who farms and teaches at an urban farm school that grows superb produce including a number of American tomato varieties. He’s also a beginning beekeeper and was thoroughly delightful to talk with, but then so was Wayne and everybody else there: Edward, Wouter, Harm Jan, and Mark.

I had a fabulous time feeding these guys, hope they’ll all forgive me for contributions i’m forgetting to acknowledge, and am pressing them all to visit me in San Francisco.

Interesting sandwich with modern filling over on Recht Boomssloot a few doors east of Geldersekade:

Recht Boomsloot

21 August 2011 – Amsterdam by Boat

Today Edward took me for a six hour boat ride through canals and the Amstel, across the IJ to a bar over on the northwest shore by a huge old dry dock, and then back across the IJ and through more canals home. It was a fascinating adventure, and unlike the boat ride he gave me several years ago, i remembered to bring my camera this time.

But just so you’ll know it’s still Matte you’re dealing with, i managed to have a tiny little button set wrong on my camera so that most of my pics were diverted into the internal memory of the camera instead of being saved to the little removable chip. And since the chip is removable i’d decided to leave the unnecessary cable at home. So i’ll have to wait until i return to SF to extract most of the pics from the camera. Luckily, i ran out of internal memory before the trip was over and thus was forced to fiddle around with the damn thing to set it to save to the chip.

Late note: Back in SF, i can’t seem to access the internal memory of the camera without reading the user manual, so for now here’s a shot of one of those modern pedestrian bridges i like so much, but this one they’ve engineered to turn on a central pivot to let boats pass.

center pivot bridge

There was a joke going around in senior circles recently asking us to remember the good old days when we were smarter than our phones. This holds true for cameras, also.

However, here’s a shot of the old mint from the middle of the Keisersgrachtold mint

And a shot of that new building over in Nord Amsterdam that i’m clearly not going to have time to go over and photograph from land:

new building in Noord Amsterdam

And since it’s a nautical theme, a shot of the Pelikaan Brug:

Pelikaan Brug

And finally, this parking garage visible from the Prinsengracht that i’m adding here because i love the graceful curves so even though those like Edward who love the traditional Amsterdam architecture can’t stand it:Parking garage

Later Note: After i finally got the pics i’d lost in the camera’s memory, i wrote more about the boat trip in my 2012 Journal.

22 August 2011 – Rotterdam

It’s Monday, so it must be Rotterdam. I’ve been reading for forty years about the fabulous new Rotterdam architecture for which the Nazis provided the opportunity in May, 1940. Harm Jan and Mark drove me down for an architectural feast today, starting with Piet Blom’s famous cube houses:

Piet Blom cube houses

along with the chance to see more cranes of more types than i’d ever seen in my life. Here’s a handsome pair:

Rotterdam cranes

And of course, what’s Rotterdam without the famous Erasmusbrug. Here’s the traditional shot


And a non-traditional shot:


But it’s not just cranes and bridges. Check out these confections:


And it’s not all new. Here’s one of the few that der Adolf’s boys missed in 1940. It’s the the Holland America Line building from which millions of European immigrants debarked for America:

Holland Amerika Lijn

monkfishIt’s also of interest in that it now houses the Hotel New York, named after the American destination of the line. On the ground floor, there is an excellent restaurant, where we ate what i think is the finest restaurant meal i’ve had in the Netherlands. Close attention to detail, and a place where you are quite full by the time you finish your main course but are powerless to skip dessert because you know it’s going to be so delicious. Here’s my monkfish after i’d already eaten one of the pieces so as to wreck the presentation. I might take decent food pics if i could just remember to do so before i started eating.

23 August 2011 – Trigger

Today’s adventures were lowkey. Went out to the Athenaeum bookstore in hopes of discovering that Geert Mak’s De Eeuw van Mijn Vader had been translated and was in stock, but alas, not yet. And then my eye alit on a Mak title i didn’t know, An Island in Time, and snatched it off the shelf only to discover that it was a new edition of Hoe God Verdween uit Jorwerd which i had just loved under it’s previous English title, Jorwerd, the Death of the Village in Late Twentieth-Century Europe. Since i gave my previous copy away, i bought it to have something to read on the return flight to San Francisco.

Then i went to a butcher on Kinkerstraat and bought a pair of horse steaks, just small ones that i’ll cook rare as a steak au poivre. I looked in vain for some cold smoked horse filet, thinking that if i were going to horrify my American friends by telling them i ate Trigger, i might as well take it over the top and eat Trigger raw. Oh, and here’s Trigger:

horse steaks

The reason the little steaks are all scrunched up over on the left side of the package is that on the way home i hit a piece of elevated roadway wrong and fell in the street. No harm. Only the tiniest little scuff on the Segway, glasses only bent rather than broken and easy to rebend, camera ok, neither shirt nor pants ripped although the shirt got all bloody from the scraped arm, minor bruising here and there. All in all a splendid reminder that i should ride with caution until i get back home since the airline would doubtless charge extra if i had to return on a stretcher. That’s three seats at least. Well, unless they could just sedate me and put me in with the baggage. Or more in keeping with what i’d deserve, not sedate me and put me in with the pets.

To end the day, beers with Wouter. We were later joined by Edward and Wayne, a wonderful goodbye.

24 August 2011 – The End is Here

My last day. What i’m posting today is a few highlights from my notes that didn’t get inserted at the appropriate place.

I have lamented that Dutch is much easier to read than understand when spoken. Then it hit me that its easiest form to read is advertising. Oh yes. Short, sweet, and aimed at the marginally literate.

I have written about my joy in finally achieving a rapport with Amsterdam bicyclists. To that i’ll add, except for those who are peddling along at a brisk clip with the right hand on the handlebar and the left hand clutching a mobile phone, on which they are vigorously texting.

But other than them, my rapport is now so complete that i have joined them in detesting tourists who cannot seem to grasp the concept that the bicycle lanes are for, gasp, bicycles and are not for use by strolling pedestrians. Of course even more hated than pedestrians blocking our bike lanes are the tourists wobbling around on bicycles the way i used to do. In the first place, they’re so damn slow that they’re infuriating, but worse yet they’re so erratic that you never know what they’re going to do next. I can now spot one at thirty meters and profoundly regret that i haven’t found a really loud, terror-inducing bell for my handlebars.

All too often i’m hoist with my own petard. Most recently by those awful things i wrote about bitter ballen and kroketten with their disgusting gray slime inside. Sensing his opportunity, Edward presented a platter of freshly fried Brabantse kroketten the other day. Large ones. And i’m thinking, oh, how can i keep a look of feigned enjoyment on my face while i choke down a couple of these things.

But to my astonishment, the first bite was delicious. Apparently there are regional differences, but in any case the ones in the Brabant style have flavor so rich and delicious that you can forgive them their color and texture. On the other hand, when we were at that bar across the IJ the other day, he ordered a plate of bitterballen that were as flavorless as ever. What i can’t really grasp is that my Dutch friends give every appearance of liking the nasty ones as much as the good ones.

And speaking of food, you were probably wondering about Trigger. Well, i gave half of Trigger to Elmo as a farewell present. Elmo? Ummm, Elmo lives with Edward and is a great improvement over his little white predecessor named Bobo, not that i don’t have a special place in my heart for Bobo since he once put his little life on the line in what he felt was an effort to save me from an onrushing great danger. In any case, Elmo jumped up and down with excitement and wagged his tail vigorously over my gift. I ground pepper over my half and sauteed it in butter and olive oil until it was seared on the outside and rare in the center.

You can imagine my disappointment when it wasn’t the least bit disgusting. In fact, it was delicious, very similar to beef but with a slightly different flavor that frankly i may like more than beef. So good that i’m sorry about my generosity to Elmo and hoping that Edward intercepted the pass.

I’m thinking that if word got out about how good this stuff is there’d be an underground market in it. Folks hanging around corrals waiting for those occasions when a pony broke his leg and had to be put down, and offering to haul him off for free and give him a Christian burial.

You attract even more attention on a Segway in Amsterdam than in San Francisco, and i would have given even more people trial rides if my beginner key had not failed a couple of days after i got my Segway repaired. Even so, a number of folks had fun on it. The young guy at Le Cellier, the liquor store where i’ve bought my pastis and much of my beer. Dieterik and Wayne and Wouter at dinner the other evening, a waiter at the Italian restaurant next door to the Wasserij, and a half dozen of the kitchen staff at Park Pacific who came pouring out of the place when i swung by the other day to take a bag of New Mexico chile powder to Wouter, the best of ’em a young woman who rode it with a fine combination of fearlessness and intuitive skill.

A note on Dutch cats, as least the bar cats and store cats: They are territorial and fearless, and i discovered this the other day when Wouter, his dog, and i walked down the street to a terrace cafe. This is not a little poufty pocket dog but rather a full size dog that looks like it’s part German Shepherd. The three of us passed two cafes and a store in which a cat sat in the doorway, and in all three cases, the dog lunged at the cat, not barking but clearly going for it until the leash brought him up short. In all three cases, the cats reacted the same way, by arching their backs, bristling, and hissing. Retreat a single centimeter? Oh please.

It just struck me the other day that i made a terrible error in rescheduling my quarterly appointment with my doctor to accommodate this trip. I called ’em up and asked for the first available appointment two weeks after my return on the 25th so as to allow the two weeks necessary to run all the tests on my blood and get the results to my doctor. So they set me up for two weeks to the day after the 26th.

You’ve read about how drug addicts who know they’ll be facing a blood test go off their drugs for a while before the test to get themselves “clean”. Well, i’ve been, almost unconsciously, doing the same sort of thing by cutting back on the amounts of forbidden foods i consume in the week or two before a blood draw. You know: minimal amounts of fat, sugar, starch, and salt.

So what have i been gorging on for the past month? Well salted speklapjes, cheeses, chocolate bars, pates, fried bitterballen and kroketten, pastries, 10% fat yogurt, Bossche Bollen, etc. And when do i go in for my blood draw? Oh, the morning after my arrival home. I am going to be so busted. My doctor’s going to look at my lab report in shock and horror, and then, as suspicion mounts, turn That Look on me. The one that made me stop smoking eight years ago. That glare. I may just fry on the spot.

We have all read about prophets without honor in their own country. I thought about this the other day when i ran the Google Analytics and discovered that for the past month i’ve had more readers in Amsterdam than in San Francisco. Oh, the shame of it all. Well, i fly back to SF in the morning and after a few days bed rest will resume posting in the 2011 Journal. Alright, San Francisco, here’s your chance to reassert your supremacy.

OK, one last photo, a sculpture in Rotterdam:
Rotterdam sculpture

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