Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Trip Report Part Three: Amsterdam

I'm going to resist blogging about fashion, teaching ESL again, health care, the f-ed up state of California, Flarf, and disjunction and instead focus on the third part of my trip with Mark: Amsterdam. When we were still in the planning stages of the trip, Tom Orange said (over the phone) "well, are you going to Amsterdam?" We blinked, a little stupidly perhaps, and started planning to go to Amsterdam. And I'm so glad we did. While I loved Paris, I felt quite at home in Amsterdam among the bicycles, cheese shops, drugs, prostitution, pragmatism, canals, fries, art, boutiques selling fashionable bicycle-friendly clothing and the fabulous socialist health care system.

On the 13th, we took a very easy train from Ghent to Amsterdam, through Brussels. In theory, it's quicker to go through Antwerp, but in reality it rarely is--Helen said that the train connections in Antwerp don't always work very well, and the communication between Belgian and Dutch trains is often, well, off.

After a disorienting exit on the south side of the train station in Amsterdam, we found our way to our apartment in the Jordaan district, which was close enough to the city center to walk but far enough away so that it was a bit calmer and there were fewer 20-some British youths smoking up. All of Amsterdam is ridiculously beautiful, Jordaan in particular--it's full of canals, bars, cafes, vintage clothing stores, boutiques, and cheese shops (more on those later). We walked around the neighborhood, bought a few things to keep in our apartment refrigerator (beer, milk, cereal & bananas). That evening, we headed down to De Pijp to meet with Cralan Kelder.

Cralan was one of the editors of Versal, the print publication of wordsinhere, a writer’s collective based in Amsterdam. Cralan grew up in Amsterdam, if I remember correctly, went to school in the states, and then returned to Amsterdam. It was interesting to talk with him about the different writing and arts communities there. He pointed us towards Boekie Woekie, an artist-run bookstore of artist books and visual poetry. It was closed every time we went by, but it seemed very cool.

Although Cralan, his partner and his children were all getting reading to fly to the US the next day, he still made time to hang out with Mark and I. The three of us and his daughter went in search of some Ethiopian food, but unfortunately the restaurant was closed. Never mind. Instead, we wandered through the Sarphatipark to a falafal place not far from the Albert Cuypmarkt. It's too bad that I don't have a decent picture of Cralan, or of the falafals or the french fries we had, which were easily the best we ate on the entire trip. But I do have a picture of the park:

The sun was out even later in Amsterdam than in either Paris or Ghent, so we still had plenty of light in the sky when we had to eventually leave Cralan to his packing. We headed back to our neighborhood and found a bar in which to spend the rest of our evening hours. I love travel because it brings be in contact with ideas, things and people that are unfamiliar to me, but I also love the way time slows down in a new place. While we sat at that bar on our first evening in Amsterdam, it felt a bit like we'd always been sitting in a bar on a pleasant summer evening in Amsterdam. It was a pleasant feeling.

The next morning we walked down to the Van Gogh museum--Cralan had lent us his annual passes, so we didn't have to wait in the long line to get in. The museum has an impressive collection of Van Gogh, obviously, but also a collection of other 19th-century art--mostly by Van Gogh's friends and contemporaries. I'm always disturbed by the story of Van Gogh's life--and thinking about it makes me thankful that I am both physically and mentally well--but I was happy to see several pieces I'd never seen, including "Wheatfield with Crows."

After the museum, we walked back up into the Jordaan district, and stopped at De Kaaskamer Van Amsterdam, a cheese shop that specializes in local Dutch varieties--I wanted to buy something of everything, but instead I limited myself to several different types of farmhouse Goudas--one old (Rypenaer V.S.O.P.), one young (Le Vieux Gris) and then an organic medium-soft gouda-like cheese called Boeren that the cheese guy suggested. How happy am I in this picture?

We eventually made our way to a small bar called De Zotte that stocked a variety of Belgian beers (no, we weren't sick of Belgian beer. In fact, we are still not sick of Belgian beer). The bar was quiet, and a good place to spend a rainy late afternoon.

We ate a very basic and healthy dinner of sandwiches at a sort of loungey place by a canal. More memorable was the very tasty cold jenever we had at a very cozy brown cafe later that evening.

The rain stopped rather late in the evening, so our last stop was at a lively outdoor cafe back in Jordaan. I was done with alcoholic at that point, so I got some fresh mint tea--something that people all over Amsterdam seem to drink at any time of day.

The next morning (the 15th of July), we headed to Cafe De Balie to meet Megan Garr and Sarah Ream, both writers, and editors of Versal magazine, which I mentioned above. Versal seems to do a good job of being a forum for many of the translocal European literary communities as well as other writers and writing communities outside of Europe that have a complex relationship to being local or, er, not local--there are commonalities that exist which aren't necessarily the same as a totalizing kind of globalization. Megan's editorial in issue 7 of Versal has some interesting thoughts about translocality and is worth getting a hold of.

In my post on Brussels, I'll talk more about how relatively calm and at home I feel in communities and places where there's a kind of localism that isn't completely based on geography, culture or even language. For now, here's a picture of Megan, Sarah and Mark enjoying mint tea and translocal conversation:

Eventually, Megan and Sarah had to head on their way, and Mark and I wandered down the road to Cafe De Jaren for some lunch and to meet Jaap Blonk, Rozalie Hirs, Samuel Vriezen, and Frank Keizer. Mark blogged in some detail about the sound, music and poetry work that all of these writers do. I began thinking more about some of my own attempts to work with sound and music in recent performances--some more interesting than others, obviously--and again came to the conclusion that I would like to work with some of the languages I know other than English. But how? Well, we'll see. I'm looking forward to playing with some of these ideas when I start at UCSD in the fall.

After lunch, Rozalie had to head off, but Samuel, Jaap, and Frank took us over to Poëzie Perdu (above), a bookstore and performance space that hosts writers, musicians and other artists throughout the year. There's a fairly extensive archive of podcasts from previous events on the website. Here's a picture of Frank and Samuel showing us around the bookstore, which left me wishing that I could read Dutch, and also eager to start some translation projects from languages that I actually can read:

That afternoon, we wandered back to our apartment via the red-light district, which was noticeably full of British people and actually quite tame. In the evening, we headed back to the edge of that same district for dinner, where I ordered a "goat cheese burger" that ended up being made entirely of cheese, instead of just a burger with goat cheese on top of it. Next to us at the restaurant was a table of about six or seven standardly handsome young men who kept up a running commentary of all the women who walked by. They were offensive, but I liked how the moved between Dutch and a very American style English. After dinner we went into another brown cafe for some jenevers. You can see the old bottles of genever in the window of this picture:

As I've already said, I'm glad that we went to Amsterdam, and I'm glad that we managed to connect with so many writers and artists there--not an easy thing to do during the summer when many people are on vacation and out of town. Since this post has taken me forever to write, I'm now going to try and end it quickly (and gradually correct typos later): I loved being in Amsterdam, was really excited by the poets and musicians I met and could easily see living there.

In the next few days I'll post something about Brussels!


Supervillainess said...

Of course, perversely, now I want to hear all about: fashion, teaching ESL again, health care, the f-ed up state of California, Flarf, and disjunction. In that order.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Soon, soon.

Spooninmybrain said...

Great that you met up with Cralan and the other Versals :-)
They used to have a great poetry stage in the Sugar Factory!
Van Gogh Museum is indeed a must! I remember that, when Rozie and I visited it, we both had tears in our eyes.
His paintings at the end of his life, the Tree Roots, Wheatfield with Crows, Ears of Wheat are such intense paintings.
Looking forward to reading more.