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.