Friday, September 26, 2008

Sweden Continues to Haunt My Life:

I've been writing on and off for about a week now; thoughts just kept coming to be. This is the product of all of them–sometimes random, sometimes fun, and sometimes quirky. Complete with lots of pretty pictures. It's a long one. So, here goes:

Oh man (a phrase commonly employed by me when about to tackle a large feat; such as eating a grossly large meal like the ones I used to cook with my friends in Cincinnati). About once a week in the summer months before I left Cincinnati, my friends and I would all take turns cooking dinner for each other, about six of us in total usually. And what a nice time it was; warm summer earnings spent passing the time over friendly, silly, and witty conversations. The kind of conversations that can only take place when you truly know someone. I really miss it, and them. But getting to know people naturally takes time, and I am slowly but surely meeting interesting and entertaining new people as I continue to stumble around Amsterdam–the city I live in, and a city that still continues to amaze and enchant me with each new day. I returned from Copenhagen last Tuesday, and to my shock it was raining in Amsterdam.

And I experienced much fairer weather in Denmark. A beautiful sunrise; complete with church tower and chiming church bells. Of course returning to the rain in Amsterdam wasn’t shocking at all, but rather expected. And until this week I almost forgot I was living in the Netherlands and then the rain came. And came. And it’s still coming. My first month here all it did was rain. It was depressing and made me want to do nothing but simply stay inside, which was a shame since I was in a brand new city/country. But I did explore when it wasn’t raining, and that was the beginning of the whimsical love affair that continues to take place between Amsterdam and I. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating on Copenhagen. It should be noted however, that it’s forecasted to rain everyday from today until October 10th. No wonder Dutch people are intrigued by the idea of a foreigner wanting to live here. The weather is horrible and full of… rain. But one good thing did come out of this scenario; one that the rain was ultimately responsible for. I have become a master in the kitchen, and still continue to churn out new creations and recipes each night. I bought a bunch of spices, seasonings, flavored salts, and like before I left Cincinnati in June–and I brought them all with me. Come to think of it, I managed to pack some of the oddest things in my suitcase, while leaving out items other people might find puzzling. For instance, I knew it was bad when I was pulling sweaters out of my suitcase… to make room for a cookbook I received as a gift last Christmas,  on eggs. Yes, a cookbook entitled eggs’ took priority over, oh you know, clothing. In case you're curious: Eggs I highly recommend it.

I’ve discovered how much I really do enjoy cooking, and cooking for people is something I miss. I love to entertain people, and it’s almost unbelievable, how food and drink pull people together. On Sunday a friend had me over for dinner. He mad this very very simple dish–complete with mozzarella and basil, and a bottle of red wine. Tasty. I'll have to have him over. Maybe I should be a chef if I ever change careers? I’ve always felt that deep inside me–a pastry chef is waiting to emerge. Oh yes.

Anyways, for the month of July I became the master of my kitchen; and had the chance to perfect my version of baked macaroni and cheese. Your probably wondering how this simple dish could ever be perfected–but let me tell you it can. Nothing beats baked macaroni and cheese, right hot out of the oven. Especially when it’s coupled with an intense movie session. Baked cheese-goodness is something I’ll be continuing this week–as the rainy season in Amsterdam has begun it’s casual creep toward its conquest of Autumn–a season I love, and have been ushering in for about a month now. A few nights ago it was baked macaroni and cheese and ‘American Beauty’ night.

But as the seasons continue to change, the chill in the air is coming even more pronounced, and lingers on the fine line between chilled and frigid, with each coming day. This quote from Carrie Bradshaw sums things up perfectly: 'There is a time of year in New York when even before the first leaf falls, you can feel the seasons click. The air is crisp, summer is gone, and for the first time in a long time, you need a blanket on your bed.' The same has just become true of Amsterdam.

Last week, in Denmark, I acquired a new word; one I’m still surprised wasn’t in my vocabulary before:

Autumnal; aw-tuhm-nl – adjective
1. belonging to or suggestive of autumn; produced or gathered in autumn: autumnal colors.

Now, to illustrate with a picture and sample sentence usage: 
the autumnal side of the city continued to reveal itself to me with each passing cloud.

What a fun word; one that describes so many characteristics of Amsterdam and the accompanying weather. And since I love the autumnal mood filling the air, this weekend I’m going to bake a bunch of delectable and tasty treats. I can’t wait. I’m not sure what, but I’ve been wanting to try my hands at some fresh baked bread, and I think it’s time to make some more sugar cookies–and bagels. Homemade bagels, as I’ve discovered, are perfection. I also have a pumpkin laying around–and I found this great recipe for pumpkin pancakes. And since I just happen to have a pumpkin... Such possibilities. 

The slow change of the seasons in Amsterdam makes me miss a lot of the activities, food, and people in my memories that have helped to make my connection to the season so strong in the past. It’s so strange that around this time last year I was going to seasonal celebration with friends, carving pumpkins, baking cookies for Halloween parties, and of course attending those parties. I think it’s good to keep the season and the accompanying activities present in my life here in the Netherlands. Applying customs to those local, in order to create something new.

I sometimes have to wonder if any Europeans out there (which I’m sure they do) have the USA as an integral park of their life; just as Europe has been an integral part of mine for the past two years. Really, who would’ve thought? A friend back home recently emailed me saying he’s so tired of boring Americans and how they’re uncultured and what not. It’s completely untrue. America is such a great country, inhabited by friendly people who will (for the most part) go out of their way to help others and talk to anyone without thinking twice. Sometimes I miss how friendly and open Americans are, but not so much that I feel compelled to return anytime soon. I do hold an American passport–the country will always be there.

In most parts of Europe, this friendliness is not quite the case; people are much more reserved. On the streets people keep to themselves, and if you were to ever strike up a casual conversation with someone while out and about they would look at you like you needed to be shipped off to the nearest mental institution. Strange. I once had a Dutch friend tell me that they grew up being taught that you just didn’t talk to people you didn’t know (an obvious and smart move for any parent). But it would seem this whole ‘don’t talk to strangers’ manta that parents teach their children, somehow managed to cross over into their children’s adult lives. It makes for a society that’s much less open and welcoming–in a sense. In most places in the USA (bars, restaurants, etc.), you could easily walk in with your friends and meet countless others in the course of an evening; something not quite common place in Europe. At least not in the cities I’ve lived in. Obviously there’s a fine line for this scenario, and not everyone refrains from talking to others or being overtly friendly. In fact, it’s quite obvious how eager people are willing to talk to people they don’t know here in Amsterdam–it’s just that first step of staying hello, the first introduction, that tends to be the hardest for most people to muster. But this scenario has some truth to it. Just ask a Dutch person.

It’s just one of the few things about Europe that really confuses me, and there are a few more. When I first arrived in Amsterdam my roommate told me if he could describe the USA in one word it would be (brace yourself)–convenience. So very true. Last week in Denmark someone asked me if there was anything about the USA I missed. It took me a while to come up with something. Obviously family. Some candy would be nice to have around, as I have a huge sweet tooth. But really, how big of a deal is not being able to buy a pack of Starbursts. Not a big deal at all, and in all honesty there’s so many tasty delicious Dutch snacks to try; coupled with the fact that my sweet tooth have sort of subsided over the past year (it used to be really bad, as in I had six cavities filled in about a year ago). Here in Amsterdam have to force myself not to buy ten packs of cookies whenever I go to the grocery store. But one thing I do miss is American retail. Quite a bit.

Americans are constantly reminded how they’re too fat, how a certain shampoo will make their hair shine in unthinkable ways, and how this or that car will redefine their lives–and help to compensate for the other shortcomings in them–the ones that companies and the media constantly remind them of. Due to the capitalist market and the excess money the average American consumer has to spend on goods, companies place so much emphasis on marketing and consumer culture in general. In a way, Amsterdam is a nice escape and removal from the excessive attack of consumerism and marketing. But with the downsize in my country of residence, comes the decreased investment of marketing and consumer culture in general–which is a nice change.

But it’s one of the things that make the USA sort of fun. Shopping in the USA is a unique experience and sensory overload of consumerism. There’s always some new food to try at the grocery, some new tasty snack or type of drink being tested on the market, for example. But above all, the friendly and helpfulness of the USA customer service is of the utmost importance, and one thing the USA does right in my opinion–customer service, that is. Last summer in Denmark I found it so strange that when I walked into a retail environment, no one said hello to me, or even asked if I needed help finding anything. Whoa. Sometimes, even if the greeter at the front of the store could really care less about you, it’s nice to have someone standing there–smiling–and say in a cheery chipper voice, ‘Hi! Welcome! Is there anything I can help you with today?’ And you reply, ‘Why yes. Actually there is–I’m looking for _____’. And then they happily direct you to what you need, and proceed to see if they can be of any other assistance to your every need. (This scenario can be applied to most USA stores.)

It’s not a big deal obviously–just a minor difference that I could honestly care less about. Different countries have will naturally have difference cultures–clearly. That’s what makes the world so much fun. But this one minor difference really got to me last week. I was scouring this city for running gear, and since every store is limited in space in Europe (unless you have a car or take the train to the large ‘big box’ stores in the suburbs) you have to shop at multiple stores to really round up everything you need. Fun if you have the time on a lazy weekend (of which I have many). But what if you’d just rather get in and get out? Nope–not happening. At least not in Amsterdam, and definitely not with my resources.

I’m really realizing how small Amsterdam is. I guess that’s one of the drawbacks of Europe–small capital cities, but each equally rich and exciting with history and culture weaving their (cobblestone) streets. Cities of 1.5 million seem like small towns to me–as a city of 1.5 million in the USA is considered relatively small city.

I was talking with a Dutch friend a few nights ago and was explaining to him how I couldn’t imagine growing up in a country of only 16.5 million people. 11.5 million live in Ohio alone. Whoa. In the USA, no matter which coast you go to, everyone will (for the most part) speak the same language–and the whole country is your play ground–you’re free to make any city you wish your home. What a strange feeling it must be to have a limited selection of cities to make home within your countries borders–without leaving your country and residing in another, where the language is drastically different (for instance Germany or France, or the UK). But at the same time, the Dutch might not even think of this as being any thing to get flustered over.

The typical Dutch guy has this slicked back haircut, usually blond, and a bit longer on the ends.I was discussing this phenomenon with a Dutch friend the other day–and he wasn’t even aware this was a Dutch thing. It’s really something that I’m not used to, that is, seeing such a densely clustered group of people sporting such similar physical characteristics. The opposite of this is something I do miss about the USA. That country truly is a melting pot, which is so cliché to say, but it makes things so much richer and well rounded. I can really tell I live in a small country. And of course fashion, hair cuts, and mannerisms will change from different parts of the country/world to others–but for the most part, people in the USA are really, very, truly–different. That’s why it’s such an intriguing place. And that’s why going on a quick holiday up North was so nice–a nice break from the Dutch culture, and an immersion into another–Danish–that excites and amazes me.

But in no way should the previous paragraphs imply that I don’t love this tiny city. Amsterdam truly is magical and so special and unique. Sometimes when I’m cycling around the city I have to pinch myself to see if this is really my life–do I really live in Amsterdam? This question, coupled with the pinch, usually happens when I’m cycling over some of the cities hundreds of bridges that connect the even more numerous islands that make up the city of Amsterdam. It’s breathtakingly magical, almost too much at time. Sometimes I feel like I’m cycling through a postcard. It’s sort of unfathomable at times. But I love it.

I’m slowly meeting more and more people outside of work, and last night I went to dinner with a few new friends at this ever so enchanting Spanish tapas restaurant in De Pijp. Tapas are great–when done right. It’s the perfect type of eating experience. For one the small portion of the food means you have less of a chance of over eating. But also, it enables you to order so many types of food; and I always have the hardest time deciding what to order whenever I eat out. Such choices. And since the tapas arrive on tiny plates, everyone is constantly reaching for the different assortments spread over the table–creating a very relaxed and lively dining experience. I loved it. I think I would love Spain. I’m surprised I haven’t been there yet to be honest. One day.

Outside of my days–and when not consuming tapas–I’ve been swimming a lot. Subsequently, running much less than I should. Especially considering the half marathon is in 18 days. But I’m more than excited for the upcoming run. I thrive off these sort of physical activities more than anything; the sports where the main controlling factor is the mind over the body. I’ve really missed swimming and my body is finally used to being a little fish again. It took me a few practices, but my arms are getting back into the swing of things–so to speak. I love being in the water. Some people tend to just look like they’re dying when they swim, but I’ve always managed to cut through the water like a knife; pretty seamless and effortlessly.

Swimming to me is also like being in a meditative sate. You’re completely underwater for most of the hour or two of practice, which creates an indefinite white noise that I love. And there becomes a point where your body just goes into overdrive; you just swim laps back and forth. Though the overdrive isn’t a good thing at times; it makes me forget the small details of my stroke: fast and quick flip turns, no breathing directly (before three strokes) after turning and pushing off the wall at the end of a lap, making sure I flutter kick when pushing off the wall. These aspects are quite easy to forget. But once they become second nature, swimming is medatative. I’ve missed it and it’s so nice to have a coach again, as swimming by yourself for exercise is only so fun. But I must admit it is a bit of a strange feeling to not be able to understand most of what the coach is saying when they’re (the coaches rotate with each practice) rambling off the next set, which someone usually translates for me. I guess it’s time to learn my Dutch ‘numbers’–which I am slowly learning. They’re pretty easy actually.

I’m still focusing on endurance more than speed–as this is the first time I’ve been on a team in four years, but there’s a meet at the end of October in Amsterdam, so hopefully by then my endurance will be up to competition level. A slow transition back to swimming that I’ve been looking forward to for some time now. The pool’s about a 15 minute bike ride away. I can already see my hair freezing on the bike ride home form practice, once the weather gets a bit colder that is; around the time the Christmas season begins to dominate my thoughts–so, that should begin around the end of this month.

And now finally onto Denmark. What a great trip it was. Things were quite autumnal–which set the mood for the entire trip. And considering the weather in Copenhagen is pretty much always awful, it was quite a nice surprise as well. I finally had the chance to run around the city's lakes (twice actually) during my stay; which was one of those goal I've always wanted to complete, since I lived there last summer. Check. We also wandered through Tivoli Gardens on Sunday night. A enchanting theme park of romantic scale, that I love to visit so much–it's delightful. I'd rather walk around and enjoy the ambiance than ride the rides. I had a season pass when I lived there. But being that it was the last day of the summer operating season–that is until they reopen in a few weeks for Halloween, all the rides were free from 19:00-20:00. I rode their famous roller coaster Dæmonen, which was created by the Swiss coaster design agency Bollinger & Mabillard. Roller coasters, are so much fun.

Welcome to Denmark. In my mind, the Copenhagen Airport is truly welcoming in all aspects, and such a nice welcoming point to all the visitors and locals alike that the airport so gracefully ushers in on any given day. It’s small, but sufficient for the amount of travels actually willing to go so far up North (with most using the airport as a gateway and connection to the rest of Scandinavia; if they brave to venture even more North that is). Most people, especially Europeans that I’ve had the chance to chat with, have never had an urge to venture into Scandinavia. And seeing how close it is, why not. What a shame. It’s gorgeous, and only continues to excite and reveal itself the further North you travel; in other words those who venture beyond CPH, Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki will uncover and be treated to landscapes, small towns, and customs not found in the capital cities. Sort of similar to only visiting NYC and LA and never venturing into the middle of the USA; where the true heart and soul of America lies. The same is true of Scandinavia, except there’s no ‘middle’ of Scandinavia to venture into–instead you venture North. I can’t wait to go back someday here in the near future. But back to the CPH Airport–it’s perfect, and rich in materials. Have you ever seen an airport with hardwood floors throughout? Didn’t think so.

I arrived around 22:00, which meant there was just enough time to shower and enjoy the evening in my friends new flat–which he just move into in April, and it’s located in Vesterbro; the area of the city directly behind the city’s central station–which makes it centrally located. How perfect.

Though all my friends had to work during my stay, it didn't damper my time in the city–it probably heightened it. Friday I went off on my little architecture tour that I had planned. I had the chance to visit all the buildings on my list–and was quite surprised by some to be honest. Seeing a building online or in print, and actually experiencing it in it’s true realized context on its site (through photography, physical exploration, drawing/sketching, and musing), are two completely different things. And I really enjoy the latter. It’s so odd how when you attend architecture school you notice small things about your surroundings that others often overlook. For instance, how often do you notice aspects of public spaces such as: where stairs and ramps begin and end? What about the nominal differences between each tread; or even how on the corner of a street–where the sidewalk dips down to meet the street–how it is exactly that happens. Do they line up and meet perfectly flush? Sometimes not. Or for instance aspects of a building in relations to the surrounding context, lighting orientation, and overall landscape design and craftsmanship). Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to never have been trained to see the world in this way, but then again, I think a piece of me never would have had the chance to bloom, had I not attended higher education.

Progress on the Copenhagen Concert Hall by Jean Nouvel continues. I used to be able to see that building form my bedroom window, and I used to love to watch the progress being made. I always photograph it when I go back. The rest of the time was pretty much spent enjoying the company of my friends. I really miss them all, and it was so nice to have the feeling of a real group of friends present in my life once again. In Amsterdam this isn’t exactly the case and I must admit I was sad to leave that aspect behind when I flew back to AMS. There’s nothing like a having a group of people in your life who genuinely care of your well being and vice verse. Ones who know your personality inside and out. People who can make you smile at the sight of their face.

I stopped by the the Nørrebro Bryghus on Friday afternoon for some tasty local beer; in a bottle whose label couldn't be any more heavily (but successfully) branded. Good to see small businesses employing graphic designers. I had never been to Copenhagen during this time of year and there was an fleeting feeling in the air. The leaves were becoming crisp and beginning to change colors, the lakes on the edge of the city center were back dropped my beautiful skies of blue, and a light wind that ribboning through Copenhagen’s city streets was in full effect. The perfect weather for sweaters and scarves, mixed with a soft sunshine. Perfect. A few nights were spent out on the CPH nightlife scene, but one night was dedicated to my very first Rocky Horror Picture Show party. If you've never been to one, or watched the movie before–like I hadn't–you need to as soon as possible.

One night we went to this middle eastern restaurant rich in so many great options. Good thing it was a buffet (which in Denmark means you fill your plate once: no fatties please). But that buffet was filled with stuffed red peppers, and other vegetable creations I would have been clueless as to how to prepare, colorful arrays of olives, rice, and various pastas and sauces. My friends in Copenhagen are all swimmers, so everyone from swimming went to dinner this night and I met a guy who was cracking me up as he dispelled the various stereotypes that the Nordic countries all have for one another (having yet to visit Iceland and Norway I was naturally intrigued). Did you know Sweden is where Danes consider Europe to meet Asia? Me either–I’ll let you figure it out. But besides great food and ever intriguing conversation with friends, there was one small setback. The bill. Denmark is a country in which a beer at dinner will cost you €6/$10, and your total bill will easily run to 150 DKK with just the basics (entrée and drink)–which amounts to about €20/$25. Keep in mind this meal is just your average everyday dining experience. This is one of the minor setbacks of visiting CPH–the cost. 

And speaking of Kroner, I was slightly upset to learn that my favorite ice cream shop in the whole city raised their price for ‘2 Krugler’ (2 Scoops) by 3 Kroner–from 25 to 28. A complete rip off. It should be noted my favorite bakery–who rotates their daily special from everything to focaccia pizzas, to muffins, and pastries–from 10 DKK to 12 DKK (5DKK=$1). Needless to say I was a bit disappointed. But good news, I found a new–better–ice cream shop just around the corner from my friends new place. And it was cheaper and so cleverly entitled ‘Paradice’–Get it? True geniuses they are. Needless to say the had a dedicated, repeat, customer for five days. As did the bakery. When in Rome, I say.

The friend I stayed with lent me his extra bike during my stay, and it was nice to cycle around the city all day. Cheap and easy entertainment that allows you to take in so much of any city–wherever it may be–while being able to hop off at any moment and explore even further into the city streets. Surprisingly I’ve never had the chance to bike around Copenhagen more than a handful of times, even when I lived there; which when I look back is quite strange. But what was interesting was to note the differences between the bike cultures in Amsterdam from that of Copenhagen. After careful analysis of both, I’ve taken note of the major differences between the two–with one underlying theme: In AMS you can leisurely ride anywhere you please for the most part, go your own pace, and do your own thing. As long as you’re to the right hand side of the bike lane you’re good. 

Danes tend to think a bit differently. Speed demons they are, stick to the right or get run over, and always watch out behind you–people are much more likely to ‘clip you off’–the use of the ‘bell’  barely made any appearances during my extensive rides. At least here in the Netherlands we’re polite, even if on the inside we secretly mean, ‘Hey you! Get out of my way you driver!'). 

In AMS all the bike paths are paved (adding to the ever present and sometimes disgustingly overdone charm factor of the city), and mindlessly wonder onto the street, back up to being elevated above the street, and sometimes even split off into right and left hand turning lanes. It’s sort of surreal now that I type this description, but I barely notice the whole biking culture anymore. It’s just a part of my daily life. But back to CPH, the physical platform of the biking system is much different. In a sense you (the cyclist) are much more separated from vehicular traffic. In Amsterdam sometimes the lanes disappear (mostly on the smaller cobblestone paved streets, which are disgustingly adorable), and you’re thrown right in with the cars. Not so in CPH. The bike lanes in CPH are about 2.5 m wide, and are all blacktopped. A bit boring, but very efficient as here in AMS some of the bike path’s pavers have been pushed out of place by tree roots and the like, sometimes making it quite dangerous. And lastly, in CPH, if you want to turn left at an intersection, unlike AMS, you can’t simply venture into the left hand turn lane used by cars. This is very important. If you do, as I quickly discovered, chances are you might die via being hit by a car. In CPH you must cross the intersection of the street you wish to turn left at, and then shuffle into the bike like of the street you just crossed, wait for that traffic light to turn green, and then proceed onto your destination. A small very important unwritten rule.

But with the different bike culture comes a different city altogether, one that I love and really do consider a second home. Which would make sense considering when I lived there it was my second home. I miss the view from my old room in the city. It was lovely. But I’ve finally figured out why I love it so much when comparing it to AMS. CPH feels like a big city, while still maintaining only a small population of 1.5 million or so. The streets are grand and wide–sometimes even tree lined. The buildings are large and prominent and ever so colorful (but capped to around five stories tall), and the presence of brick is somewhat limited. Even though CPH is a small city, it has space, and lots of it. Large open squares, and tons of vehicular traffic–only adding to the feel of the city and making it seem like one, instead of the village façade that AMS has so heavily produced. Amsterdam really does feel like a small village–and I do love it–by sometimes the Dutch preoccupation with self imposed space limitations confuses me.

I had a chance to stop by the Danish Architecture Center and pass one afternoon reading through different design books and magazines in their expansive shop (which was basically the whole center), and had a chance to check out their exhibit entitled ‘Building Sustainable Communities’. A great exhibit–but what an odd title. Anything with the word sustainable in it makes me want to. Where’s the creativity here? Clever titles people; clever titles. But it was nice to see a model of Oslo’s New Central Station. And speaking of architecture, I didn’t get the chance to stop by the magazine I was planning on visiting, but I did talk to my contact at the magazine over the phone earlier in the week and he said to make sure I left him know next time I’m in the city so that I can stop by. Something else to look forward to when I go back–I think it might be nice to visit around the end of December, when even more festival feelings are in the air–and the Christmas trees are up. I’m sure the city is beautiful around Christmas. 

But at the end of my trip, I surprised myself even, by being ready to come home–and when I say home I mean Amsterdam. I really do feel like I live here, and as I continue to explore the city and meet new people, and try to various new ventures this tiny magical city is slowly becoming my home. I can navigate my way around the city rather quickly and could tell you whisk you around the city with ease. Even when my mom came to visit at the end of July, she was amazed at how quickly and easily I was able to navigate. It’s just really easily for me to visualize a map in my head and place myself on it. Now, actually knowing the street names and memorizing their location; that’s the part I’m working on now. For a while there it was strictly landmarks. And it should also be noted that certain names are easier than other. For instance Emmaplein (Emma Square), is much easier in comparison to–say–Derde Kostverlorenkade (no idea). 

In other news I’ve become quite the barista with the coffee machine at my magazine. It’s one of the monstrous espresso machines–the stainless steel type. You know, the ones where you have to foam the milk by simply using compressed air blown into a stainless oversized cup; ultimately producing what is known in most American offices as ‘the scream/hiss of death’. Subsequently my teeth–though probably unnoticeable to others–have become a bit less whit than usual. Something most Europeans have no problem with. Americans have a strange obsession with whitening their teeth. I’ve even ignored phone calls before because I’m in the process of whitening them–no sense in talking anyways. But this constant application of peroxide to the average Americans’ teeth is just another product of the massive consumerism present tin the country. Something I lightly touched on before. Americans are constantly reminded how our teeth could always benefit from being a bit more white. But Europeans have never even heard of Crest Whitestrips. Strange–but I have 20 with me here in Amsterdam–and they’ll be in full use over the next week, as the barista inside me retreats to the shadows once again. It's the product that contributes to making the USA a friendly smiling nation of 330,000,000.

And besides lifting the darker shades from the front façades of my teeth–another event from my past continues to haunt my present–this time in a more positive light: Sweden. I heard back from the editor of the Nordic design magazine that I had I sent some of my writing samples to. He liked them–which is always nice to hear, and he would like to form a relationship between my writing and the magazine. Exciting.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John does Copenhagen:

I'm back from Copenhagen–and my trip just reaffirmed how much I love so many aspects of DenmarkThere are so many thoughts swirling through my head, and I can't wait to channel them into words. Here's a few pictures–until I finish penning all my thoughts. I finally ran around the city's lakes, 12K in total–the most beautiful run through tree lined avenues. I ended with the city's best ice cream.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Helsinki, Meet Autumn:

Who doesn’t dream about what their flat is going to look like when their beyond their youth? I’ve never had a real salary in my lifetime (there’s time for this), and ironically every position I’ve had since my stints in SF, I’ve taken a pay cut for each. This supposed to work the opposite way. Right?

When I do finally settle down (who knows which country it will be in), and have a small surplus of $/€/£/DKK’s (who knows which one it will end up being) to spend on my home–it will be the greatest place in the world. So many people’s home’s I enter are boring and completely lacking in personality–or seem to be ripped straight from the pages of various home décor stores. Strange and boring.

An accent wall–easily done with paint–is a great example of how some paint and inspiration can add some color and pazzaz to any otherwise boring (but nicely designed space). A classic example of 'Gay Spray'–small touches to a home originating from the ability to transform any space easily and without effort (lighting included).

The home is where most of your time is spent, so investing in it only makes sense. And this doesn’t have to come at a price. It can be done on a budget–one or two great pieces of furniture can really anchor a room and set the tone for anything else you my bring into it.

And of course, my home will change with the seasons when I finally do settle down. I even have a pumpkin in my flat right now; modest but cosy. And I really want a cookie jar resting on my future kitchen counter. Clear glass, chunky, with a hit of copper or stainless steel. Perfect.

I found this great image online of a perfect dining room table decked out of Halloween. The dining section of my future flat will resemble this, almost exactly, during the Autumn season, though my dining chair swill be a little less Art Nouveau and a bit more chunky. Solid and substantial–while still being warm and inviting. Check out all those festive autumn touches. Oh what fun I'll have in the future.

Also, though I don’t consider myself an overtly trendy person (Update, December 2013: I am quite stylish these days, though)–I do enjoy those who are. Enter HEL LOOKS, a great digital fashion publication based in Helsinki that features candid photographs of everyday people on the streets of the city, in their everyday attire, with a brief explanation from them regarding their outfit. A funky fun site that’s always entertaining and inspiring.

Last night I had my second swim practice, and my body ached this morning. I’m obsessed, sort of because I’m an obsessive guy, and one something sparks my interest or really gets me motivated, I’m all over it with a streamlined force. Like white on rice so to speak (I couldn't resist typing that). Also, I talked to one of the Danes I’m visiting last night. There’s a themed party in Copenhagen on Sunday. (And I live for themed parties.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sweden Haunts My life:

What an exciting week it has been. First off I’m feeling crazy energized these days and as strange as it may sound, my musical tastes are once again undergoing a major transformation. The last time this happened was in 2004-2006, when I could tell you the name, artist, as well as recite the lyrics to all the newest dance music hitting the scene. This was mainly due to both of my stints in San Francisco, where every weekend was spent dancing in the Castro. Usually evenings ended with a quick cab home–with a quick pit stop to ‘Broadway and Columbus please!'–which are the directions to the cab driver–and also the location of the city's greatest drunk burgers, fries, and coke. From there it was just a quick stumble back up my neighborhood, and to my house, within Russian Hill–before my head hit the pillow. How times have changed.

I’m leaving for Denmark tomorrow night and I can’t wait. Five whole days of Nordic design. Carlsberg/Tuborg, good food and friends. I’ve been trying to decide in which direction to take my life come December. The prowl/search for the next step of my life has begun. I was in contact with the editor-in-chief of a Nordic design magazine based in Sweden last week. The editor said, ‘judging from your CV it looks like you know architecture and design.’ He's very correct. And what a compliment. I don’t think I’ve ever been so touched or struck by such nice regards in accordance to my life and it’s relation to architecture and design. And in all honesty it was one of the few times I’ve ever heard it from someone else. Even if I feel I know architecture and design, it’s always nice to hear it reverberated, which only makes my stance in my self confidence, even firmer.

Speaking of Sweden, it’s pretty much haunting my life. I'll elaborate.

The more I think about it–a large number of the artists in my music library are Swedish, my very first CD as a kid was Swedish band Ace of Base’s 'The Sign'–(because, don't we all own that?). So Sweden has been attacking me because: This Nordic design magazine made an appearance in my life, I saw the new theatrical version of Mamma Mia last week, I’m going to Denmark tomorrow (from which you can see Sweden), and to top things off, I had my first IKEA experience a week or so ago. I’ve been all over Sweden and it really is a beautiful country inhabited with beautiful people to match. But it’s the architecture, cities, and the atmosphere of the country that make it seem such a world away. And that leaves me breathless. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to return to Stockholm in the near future.Magical Stockholm, a city made of an amalgam of over 20 islands. I have a massive architecture tour planned for this weekend in Copenhagen. So many new buildings have gone up in the city, since I left. 

Bringing my thoughts back to Amsterdam and pulling my heads out of the clouds for a second. The Amsterdam Half Marathon I’ll be running is four weeks away. I can’t wait. I ran 10K last night with a friend–who is also my partner in crime for all my athletics adventures here in Amsterdam. There’s this really great website called that works with google maps to plan your running routes, tell you the distance, time routes take based off your speed, and tells you how many calories the run burns. Genius. You can even create a profile and save your routes, which I’ve naturally done.

Also, I joined a swim team here in Amsterdam. Pumped. I had my first practice last Friday and my second tonight. I forgot how much work competitive swimming is and have no idea how I used to swim nine times a week: two and a half hours a practice, three morning practices a week (which I had to wake up at 4:00 to be at the pool by 5:30. Was I insane? No–just driven. But since then 4:00 has become and always will be my favorite time of day. Still early enough that the day is unspoiled and practically desolate–few people are out and about, and the sun is just beginning to creep over the horizon. It’s just beautiful).

I absolutely love being in shape again. My body just feels great, and healthy, and my body now naturally craves healthy food/fuel. The idea of a cheeseburger/fries/or other heavy meal does not sound sexy to my ears. And so I’ve basically stopped eating processed foods–with the exception of yoghurt, crunchy muesli, and chocolate. Quite a transformation on my part. I just really enjoy making my own food. And why not really? Baking and cooking is so much fun. It’s such a different form of creative outlet than anything I’m used to. I’m discovering all these food publications these days, also. One of my favorites is Smitten Kitchen. The bread she makes is wonderful.

I’m currently working on a feature article for the next issue of one the magazines I currently write for, that I couldn’t be any more thrilled about. Thrilled: that seems to be the general theme of the thoughts weaving through this post, but hey, I’m in a great mood and I guess when that happens. I really enjoy writing. The article: it’s a photo essay of shorts. A five or six page spread highlighting abandoned amusement parks with a one or two page introductory article by yours truly which will raise questions about the parks in relation to the ideas of public space, the idea of cities as theme parks, how unnatural and controlled theme parks really are, as well as the idea of nature reclaiming them–since they’re abandoned. Just how normal/natural is the theme park? Not at all. The article will feature abandoned amusement parks in Japan, Korea, Russia, the UK, and–Ohio. As much as I’m firmly rooted in Europe for the time being, I jumped at the chance to include a park from the USA in the piece. And the photos I found of the park in Ohio are incredible. I found them on a Flickr site maintained by a woman from Ohio–who just happens to be studying in Utrecht. 

My future always seems to work itself out somehow–though usually not until the last minute. But somehow things always fall into place for me. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be in a year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Fabulous Architecture of Utrecht:

This past Sunday I had the chance to see some really wonderful buildings in the Netherlands with a friend. I've been wanting to see these spaces forever–more or less since I knew that they existed–and even more so since a friend once mentioned that my early design work seemed to be very De Stijl–a few years back. How my visual output has changed since then. Enter Utrecht: the fourth largest city in the Netherlands and I would venture to say one that rivals, if not surpasses, Amsterdam in terms of charm factor. Well, then again, maybe it doesn't. But it is cute; mainly because of the lack of tourist. A welcomed change indeed, not that I hardly ever encounter any tourists because of where I live in Amsterdam, though still nice. Utrecht is the the location of the Rietveld Schröder House, the only piece of architecture to ever be designed in accordance to all principles of the De Stijl movement. The house was, more or less, designed with me in mind as its future tour guide. That is, once the building would become open to the public. Every wall, door, drawer, chair, window, you name it; moves, can be rearranged, open-closed, everything. I love anything with buttons, components that transform, etc. Our tour guide left a bit more to be desired, as he was a bit shy on moving the walls of the house around, and such. I joked with my friend, who headed up the architecture tour that day, that if I were the guide, I'd practically be dragging the guests around saying, 'Ok now come over here and see what this wall can do. And this shelf. Oh, and this too!' So true. The Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld: there was an original in the house, and when we were touring the home, and everyone was in another room. I was this close to sitting down in it. But then my super-moral conscious kicked in. And it told me that the chair was an original, tiny, and that if I did sit it it, that it would probably break–I didn't want to break it. If I had, I did I would forever be known as the 'guy who broke the 'Red and Blue Chair'–so I opted instead to admire it from a close distance. Utrecht is delightful; it's architecture, fabulous.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coffee & Bagels:

The perfect saturday morning: homemade bagels and store bought coffee, poured straight into my mug from Paris. I enjoy life's little moments of splendid beauty; collectively, they're just one more reason that life is so worth living. I find comfort within the beauty of the everyday.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

There's a Chill in the Air:

And you can feel the seasons changing. It's as if the second hand has suddenly struck a new hour, and the new hour is the next season: autumn. There's something that happens around this time of year that gets me excited. The leaves are changing colors, slowly sauntering to the ground, and Vondelpark is revealing a side of itself that I have yet to lay eyes on; the advent of autumn is here. The weather’s just perfect–not too hot, not too cold. And when the sun shines the smell of dried leaves fills the air. The days are getting shorter, the sunsets even more spectacular. Sometimes I ask myself if they’re even real. I’ve been taking picture of the Dutch light from various places around town, mostly from my back terrace. I’ve amassed quite a bit so far, but only time will tell what I’ll use them for, if anything. They make me smile when I look at them, and remind me of just how spectacular the world really is.

I'll be going on a short trip north from September 17-23; back to the Copenhagen, and I can't wait. There's just something happening in the air in Scandinavia that I love. Compared to Continental Europe, things just happen at a different pace; slower in my opinion. All of Scandinavia is just breathtakingly mooi (the Dutch word for beautiful), and I appreciate the lack of triumphant arches, baroque architecture (which I do love), and classical architecture that comes from such hot headed kings and leaders from Europe's past, and dominates most other European capitals. It's as if Scandinavia itself is another place, complete with (depending on your definition of Scandinavia, by number of countries) four out of five countries currently not within the Eurozone. The fact that most of them still have their historical currencies makes the trip seem a world away–and I can't wait till I board my flight at Schipol.

The fact that I used to live in Copenhagen means that I already know my way around the city, the best bakeries, how public transit works, and the street where the city's best ice cream shop is hidden. Exciting. In addition, some pretty great things have been happening in the city; art installations have been installed, museums have change their exhibits, and new buildings have been constructed since my last visit in March. What fun I’ll have when my friends are at work. There’s nothing like exploring a city alone and taking in everything it has to offer. Sights, smell, sounds. This weekend will be devoted to the two great loves, currently on prominent pedestals, in my life; Denmark and Baking. The latter being a desire that the autumn weather has suddenly awoken inside me, to me nothing says ‘autumn has arrived’ like the scents and smells of cinnamon, pumpkin, oatmeal raisin, and all the other delectable edibles that accompany the season.

Denmark will be a driving factor of this weekends events. One Danish architecture publication in particular has captured my eye, and I would love the chance to stop by their office, see more of what they do and the environment they do it in, and hopefully have a nice chat over a coffee. Just me taking a genuine interest in a few companies with parallel interests to mine. A normal human interaction fueled by a collective of individuals who all share the same interests and passions about what they do on a daily basis. I would like to interview the office and then write about them, for some publishing platform, that is. I’m excited to say the least. Now that my articles for the magazine have been published, and I can officially call myself a ‘published writer’, I’ll be able to show my work to various studios in various formats. I’m so exited for my future, and it propels me forward every day.

One of my life goals used to be, to once again live in Denmark, as well as speak Danish (and with a working knowledge of Dutch and German behind me, the learning process should prove to be quite easier as all of the languages above, as well as English, are of Germanic origin. Languages are so intriguing). But I think that goal's ship has sailed. I am firmly in the Netherlands. Hopefully I succeed in all my life goals (and my life continue much longer down the road, but if for some reason it were to ever stop short–my life has been immensely fulfilling to this point and will continue to be with each new day). The weather this week has been less than desirable, as is most of the Dutch weather; but this weekend it's supposed to reach 22C and the sky will undoubtedly by fill with crepuscular rays. Rays which I will be enjoying from one of my the most beloved spots I've staked out here in Amsterdam–my back terrace, conveniently located right off my bedroom. Teacup in hand. A somewhat lazy weekend this shall be. This weekend my interest in Denmark will merge with baking, fusing into one ever enjoyable non- stop weekend festival, with only one party-goer in attendance–me. Something about this time of year just makes me want to stay inside, curl up with a great book, and lounge around the house in. The back of my closet will see the light of day as I fish out my ‘lounging around the house’ attire–that ever oh so comfortable outfit that makes you feel so warm and relaxed, you could just melt into your surroundings. For me, this attire consists of my colorful and festival San Francisco socks (which I purchased in Chinatown last time I was in San Francisco a small token from my travels to remind myself that I will once again return to one of my most beloved cities), my ever so comfortable gray cotton pants, and a sweatshirt that fits just right. Not too tight, not too baggy, and ever so cosy. Perfect.

Other than the occasional trip to the market, stroll to the grocery, and possibly a quick run or cycle, this weekend will be ever relaxing and ever so enjoyable–and I can’t wait for it to begin. Tomorrow brings fresh flowers from the market named after the famed painter, Albert Cuyp, and just in time. My sunflowers are just now showing signs that their lives without roots firmly planted in soil, are coming to an end. Lilies I’ll be looking into, but who knows what I’ll buy. Only time will tell–perhaps a vibrant color of another flower will spark my interest more.I need to purchase a bread pan, but other than that I’m completely set for the cook off that will be occurring in my kitchen this weekend. Though I do think I need to purchase a few apples and possible some brown sugar–oh, and some vanilla. Well, the list continues to grow. I made bagels a few nights ago, which is actually quite easy believe it or not–and the fun begins once you’ve mastered the recipe and then experiment with different add-ins such as granola or sesame seeds. Fun fun. My roommate had one and said it was great, and I also brought a few in for a co-worker of mine who also had great things to say. I’m sure my roommate will be quite shocked at the amount of activity taking place in his kitchen this weekend; as he’s not one to cook too often, let alone bake for that matter. But, I’m sure he’ll appreciate all the great things that will be pulled from his oven once the timer goes off. There’s something about giving that makes me so incredibly happy. Even the smallest things–cookies for instance. You never know what people are experiencing in their daily lives, but even the tiniest act of kindness, be it a cookie, always brings a glimmer of brightness to someone’s day–and I love it.

This weekend I’ll be trying my hands at a few of these autumn inspired recipes:

...and possibly an apple pie if I'm ambitious.

The Dutch don’t celebrate Halloween, and I think that might be one of the reasons that I’m so consumed with the notion of Autumn. Due to this lack of festivities, or even recognition of the season change on part of my new nation, I’ve decided to venture across the English channel for an extended Halloween weekend, to visit a good friend of mine who just moved to London last week. Something even more exciting to look forward to.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Advent of Autumn:

The season are changing here in Amsterdam. A bit earlier than what I'm used to as well. The days of laying in the park and watching the sunset are coming to an end; at least without a light jacket that is. This past weekend was one of the most beautiful I've experienced since being here, weather wise, that is. It was 25C, sunny, and not a cloud in sight. I spent last Saturday wandering the city on my bike, riding aimlessly over bridges and canals. I stumbled upon the Noordermarkt, where I found some wonderful tea, and some eucalyptus essential oil. More stumbling lead me to Albert Cuypmarkt, where I picked up a oil burner for my prior purchase, a glass vase, and five fresh sunflowers. Saturday morning flowers; my new Saturday morning ritual. Next week I'm looking into lilies. Sunday I could be found laying on the beach with a friend. After which, we headed back inland, to her apartment, where her roommate made us an wonderful Italian dinner–because she's Italian. As in, from Italy. I love this city already; if only for the interesting people it has, so far, allowed me to meet. Real Italian food, made by an Italian; the only way to go in my opinion. Even better: she wrote down the recipe, for me. Delectable indeed.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Plantage in Amsterdam East:

As I am most often in the western portions of the city, or those of south, it's not everyday that I find myself in Amsterdam East, otherwise known as Amsterdam Oost. When looking at a map of Amsterdam, it's easy to see the city's outgrowth during the seventieth century, when most and many of the inner city canals were created. yet on the eastern portion of the city this patterning of expansion is not so readily deduced. Occupying a large strip of land on what otherwise would have been an extension of the canal ring, on the eastern position of the city center, is the Plantage: the location of Artis, the city's zoo and botanical gardens–an all-around generally beloved space and place. They even have an aquarium. Aligning the zoo is Plantage Middenlaan; a lovely boulevard the trails off into the distance, with an old city gate at its end–the original Muiderpoort–as well as the Tropenmuseum, housing treasure retrieved from the tropics, just behind that.