Listening to the band Suicide in an Amsterdam loft


The bridge we thought we couldn’t drive across

When we leave Germany, the vines growing up my mom’s house have lost most of their leaves and her courtyard has a battered look to it with all the dead and the dying lying on top of each other — ‘that’s why they call it fall,’ mom says. Goodbye takes longer than any of us wanted it to but by 4, we’re at our friend Laurent’s house in France in the kitchen with a glass of red wine watching him brown meat. There’s something about the French, or maybe it’s just Laurent, that makes simple acts of cooking look magical, how he stabs the lamb and flips it with a two-pronged fork and just spools the salt out without measuring it, uses a tea kettle to add water to the broth.

We dismantle our things in the driveway because we’ve packed for a three-month road trip through the UK in the winter and tried to go lean, but it’s hard, we can’t bring our three-month bags in with us everywhere, especially in Amsterdam where we’re on the fourth floor of an old apartment — and Dawn and I are both rattled from the gravity of it all, me sometimes doddering, groping at my pockets and complaining about needing to relax which is funny, since I haven’t worked in almost a year now.

DSC_0006But a five-hour drive to Amsterdam takes closer to nine and comes as expected with accidents and detours, navigational problems and the device finally leading us right smack into a pedestrian zone after dark, insisting we go across a narrow bridge over a canal that looks like it’s meant just for pedestrians, near collisions with people on bikes who appear like it’s a video game, none of them with lights, you just have to jerk the wheel and commit — but when we get here at last, to Prinseneiland, an outer ring of the old town, I’ve got a big bottle of Belgian blond I bought at a rest stop near Bruxelles and an hour to get to the supermarket before it closes: just go over the bridge under the railroad tracks and turn right, the woman says.

In the morning the Dutch lady who’s taller than me, covering for her friend the landlord who’s gone to Italy to pick olives, says I don’t need to be afraid to drive over the bridges and smiles in a way that could be maternal or perhaps flirting, or maybe it’s just me.

When I warm the stove in our apartment it smells like someone cooked weed in it, and I have to play with the light and plumbing fixtures to master them before anyone else does, and a bath sounds good but when I get inside, there’s a smell like the one in my mom’s laundry room that creeps up, a peat bog of sphagnum moss de-gassing that’s just the way things smell down there, for however they manage the waste and the water.

The neighbours downstairs introduce themselves and say we’re too loud, it’s an old warehouse loft space and they can hear everything, but I’m too tired and polite to care or be a dick about it and just apologise and make small talk and say we’re from Seattle, ask the woman her name but immediately forget it, it’s Dutch.

We have a view of the canal below and the soft, pink-orange street lamps that reflect off the water and make the clouds glow at night, giving everything a milky look after dark, good for late night brooding.

All the Dutch women remind me of our painter friend Barry’s wife Tineke, the rings around their eyes like the canal system’s concentric loops you can get lost in, their skin like Marsepein — and all the guys wear scarves on their bikes and have that permanent, dangling cigarette — they ride with the grace of geese going in and out of each other, some on cell phones and steering with one hand, some with young children on the handlebars or girls riding side-saddle on the back, none of them in helmets.

Dawn and I walk our kids into town toward the train station and realise soon it’s kind of weird to have your kids here, which I knew going in, having been here twice before, never having considered bringing my children to what feels like an adult amusement park — later, needing to have a chat about legalised weed and prostitution over lunch which Dawn executes in a way I never could and makes them trust and feel good about it, which they should, but stigmatises me and has me biting the tips of my moustache hair through lunch, prompting me to excuse myself for some fresh air and go outside to enquire where I could buy pre-rolled joints, if they still do that here for tourists because I heard in Germany they’ve stopped, with all the Americans ruining everything — and it becomes clear right away that’s just a rumour and everything’s going to be alright.

I write my grocery list on my palm and Dawn and I split up, and I have a seat outside a café with a beer to people watch, and try to relax: taking note of my valuables, double-checking where everything is, writing in my notepad and thinking I probably look like a writer sitting here writing, trying to just be a part of it, wrapping my bag around the chair leg, adjusting my watch to the church bells.




Categories: travel

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22 replies

  1. Oh heavens. You’re on the road. En route. Travelling. Heading out. Bon voyage and all that. It’s sounding a bit stressful so far.


    • Thank you Tish – no great journey without some stress, right? Some narrow, dark passages and figures creeping about in the dark? I’m in, life is good. Creeping closer to the UK, like fog tendrils.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Whoa there. Too much creepiness with your tendrils. You’re making me think of Klaus Kinsky in Nos Feratu – he sailed out of Rotterdam if I remember rightly and have spelled it properly, which is doubtful apres le diner.


      • I had a lot more in this I pulled out, which is probably best for everyone. An image of some Dutch woman emerging from the dark in leather pants, who looked like either Alice Cooper or Howard Stern, and said something that sounded like a come-on, but maybe she just needed my help.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff, thanks a lot for a platform of how my blog’s post should be, I am really learning a lot on this blog.
    Sent from meshack’s BlackBerry®

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It just occurred to me that you’re going to be driving a left handed car in a right handed car country. And you’ll be doing it on the right/wrong side of the road, depending on your perspective, no offense to those who do so regularly. Oh well, I guess you’re not the first to attempt this stunt. I can totally see Laurent cooking magically and the Dutch riding as one with the earth and sky on their bikes. Howard Stern as a Dutch woman I cannot see, nor would I want to. That would be horrid. It’s bad enough to see him the way he is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t map my mind to that yet but yes, that occurred to me too. Should be especially strange, and a new level of stress. Why not? Throw it into the bag! Who am I to complain about this anyway. When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful – a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.


  4. This seems very far away in place and time. Then, I’m on a school bus in Montreal traffic after a Raptors game trying to type this but the bumps are making it impossible. How do the Dutch do it on bikes?


    • Thank you for writing me whilst in traffic Ross. Another place that seems far away, there. Like New Found Land. I’m just going to keep splitting the country up like that, or the county, or the province. I had to go on the Chicago Manual of Style yesterday to look up some hyphenated rules. You can really lose it, even with your own language. I’m not sure I ever had it. The Dutch on bikes is a wonder to see. I was thinking, how wonderful it is for our kids to see these different people and culture yesterday, and all these storefronts with cannabis leaves and so forth.


      • Our new PM is thinking, “You know, pot’s not that bad…” The right is worried about our children. Now I’m thinking we should be worried about the tourists.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The pot thing is weird. I’m very conflicted about it, and it makes me a bit jagged and cynical too, that ‘money talks’ thing – whereas these Puritan values we have seem to go by the wayside, which is maybe a good thing, maybe not. But walking the streets of Amsterdam, doesn’t seem too bad really. High quality of life too, no pun intended.


  5. Why am I feeling sort of envious about your trip, but grateful (at the same time) that I’m here in my own home? You are scratching my travel itch, my friend!


    • There will be no parts of me left to itch, I get that Kevin. That point it’s part envy and part horror, which is what I’m going for here, so glad you are reading. Home is where the heart is (even if you forget which box you put it in).


  6. How do you manage to write so well when you must be absolutely shattered and a bit stressed out? Really felt I was back in Amsterdam, crossing the canals, getting a bollocking for jay walking, nearly getting run over by a dozen bikes … Nicely done


  7. i think it all adds to the allure and mystery of a trip and a place. otherwise it would have been fine to stay at home. all good in my eyes.


  8. What an awesome looking place!!! I need to do some traveling.


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