Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gables in the Jordaan:

I continue to learn more about this fine city I've chose to call my new home, at least for now anyway. The gables that adorn the tops of the stately houses, which line the canals in the city center, sweep me off my feet. Each one is so unique; so fluid; so extravagant. Yet others are not. It would seem that the wealth of each house's owner directly correlated to the amount of abundant ornament composing their house's gable: the more expressive the gable, the more wealthy the city merchant. Amsterdam's fascinating history, awaits me.


Friday, August 29, 2008

A Perfect Weekend in Amsterdam:



I now live in Europe–again! And in a very nice city, too. How has this happened?!

How is it that I’ve managed to live on the Continent three separate times in my life–in three different countries no less. I’ve also lived in New York City, San Francisco, Düsseldorf, Copenhagen, and I have yet to figure out what direction my life is going in terms of my career. Although it will certainly involve writing and architecture/design. But the possibilities of life are endless. All of my different positions in each city have been design and arch/interior related, but right now I’m working for an architecture magazine based in Amsterdam. Oh yes, all of this by the time I’m 22 years old. This, is not normal, but welcomed indeed. And I consider myself, if not fortunate, more a proponent of standing in the right places, and talking with people who have all made my life a bit better in the long run. Not that I don’t acknowledge that, yes I have done some things that have gotten me where I am, as for the most part of the past three years of my life, I hate to admit, I've sort of brushed these self contributions to my current state, to circumstance.

It’s only now that I’m beginning to realize that yes, I have met some influential characters who have helped me out along the way; but for the most part… there was always a desire on my part to do some pretty great things. I realize I am where I am, by previously choosing to make things happen. And it all began when I read Oprah’s book club book: The Secret. If only...

In all honesty I’m not quite sure about the chain of events that have lead me around the world (to be more specific Europe and the USA), but I’m quite thankful for the opportunities that have more or less, always seemed to have present themselves to me.

I’m currently reading a book a colleague of mine lent me entitled ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt. It’s about a young man who grew up in California and somehow ended up going to college on the East Coast (to which he had never set foot on until he arrived), and his musings around campus. I might only be about 30 pages deep–but I couldn’t help throwing that little bit in there–similarities much? Like me, the details regarding his current status in life have come in trenches. One hurdle after another has all been cleared to place him where he is now. Where I am now–the Netherlands, is a fact that still amazes and continues to amuse me to this day; and I’ve only been here for two months.

For the most part, no one really knows who they are or what their purpose in life is–even those who seem in control. First of all, I feel that the whole idea of a ‘purpose in life’ is such... a human invention. Do what you do, do it well, and success and happiness will come your way. It’s just a matter of how exactly you define success and happiness that tends to make things a bit fuzzy.

I’ve always tended to downplay the accomplishments that I’ve done in life. For instance; studying Scandinavian Design while living in Denmark for the summer of 2008. Great. I studied Scandinavian Design, while living in Copenhagen. Great. While I’ve always been one to recognise a feat when I accomplish it; I’ve always tended to sort of look for the next event; the next adventure you could say. I’m not sure if this could be equated with the whole ‘live in the moment’ mantra that so many people seem to try to follow; usually with no success, or if it’s just me–being me. Who knows? And who knows if I’ll ever know?

One thing is for sure though; I absolutely love the Netherlands, and Europe. Another thing that’s for sure. As I continue to live and work in Europe for the past year of my life (with short breaks/returns to the USA for school), I’m starting to realize that Europe too has it’s own problems. Though these problems are usually obscured from view to the casual visitor, mainly by the façade of the European Welfare State model, they slowly begin to reveal themselves after living in a country for an extended period of time. You begin to notice class differences, the slum neighborhoods, the less desirable (or musical) accents and dialects of the language that the locals will point out as being–unrefined. Small things.

And, most importantly–I’ve realized that Europe is a continent full of people who for better or worse live at the same level of social status as their peers. Of course there are class distinctions like every other country in the West. But Europe is no place like home. Meaning: Europe is not the place to come to get rich unless you already have your foot in the door. Not saying that you can’t do anything you put your mind to (which clearly I’m a firm believer in and always find to be true: Things do happen if you visualize them and make them your priority in life); but for the most part money wise things are much easier in the USA. In terms of material wealth, and company hierarchy that is. In the USA, for the most part, you will always know your place in life (the company hierarchy and salary counterpart) if you follow the traditional model of: college graduate, degree holding member of society. This statement can be considered even more true if you graduated with a degree in architecture. In the USA, where most of the nation is driven by the ‘bottom line’, companies just aren’t what they ‘used to be’ in my parents and grandparents younger years–or so I’m told. After much research it would seem that this would all venture back to the likes of Ronald Reagan and his slow depletion of the USA’s version of Europe’s Social Welfare/‘safety net’. Thank you Mr. Reagan.

Back to Amsterdam. I really do believe that I live in a complete utopia–or at least my version of utopia; the imperfect-perfect world. Amsterdam, especially at night, and especially along the ring canals, the Oud West, and the Oud Zuid portions of the city surrounding Vondelpark may just might be some of the greatest places I’ve ever been to. That’s saying a lot. The streets are paved in burnt maroon bricks, lampposts flicker on around 21:00, and the frogs and insects begin their symphony another half hour later. It’s beautiful. One of my favorite things to do here in Amsterdam is one that I enjoy doing just about anywhere, but something about this city makes it even more special, possibly the location of the activity, I absolutely adoring going to Vondelpark in the late evening. Adore.

I’m training for the Amsterdam Half Marathon on October 19th, and have been running (for the most part) about five or six times a week, usually after work or on weekends in the afternoon. Since my working day ends at 17:00, and as my magazine just moved to a new office conveniently located (literally) 300 m from my house, my evenings tend to be a bit lengthy. So much so that after running, after coming back home, it’s only 19:00. This leaves plenty of time for the park–Vondelpark. When I first arrived there was this one expansive field in the park that always tended to call my name. The guys and girls of my generation tended to congregate on this field, surrounded by beautiful old looming trees, three ponds (complete with fountains in earshot), the grass is intentionally left uncut, and there’s a delightful sculpture on the edge of the field on the edge of the trees. It’s beautiful. That is until I found my new favorite spot; on a small pond/lake with these quite large (for the NL housing standards at least) houses on the opposite edge of the water. It’s picturesque and I’m going to paint it someday.

And speaking of painting, and beautiful things–the clouds, or more specifically the sunlight on the clouds during sunset–is one of the many reasons this tiny country takes my breathe away. The Dutch light (next to the Nordic light) is one of the most entrancing aspects of nature that I have been exposed to in my life. The clouds that tend loom over Amsterdam are always present; always. For the most part, they tend to block out most of the light that the sun would normally offer any other breathtakingly beautiful city–San Francisco for instance. But no. In Amsterdam, I must admit–the weather here leaves more to be desired. And since these clouds are cumulus clouds (the kind that hang low and carry rain in them), they tend to always bring down water on this tiny city. A lot if it actually. It rains here a lot. Ok I’m, just going to say it. The weather here sucks a lot. It rains a ton, and the city is seemingly stuck in a permanent state of autumn. True. People always seem to dress in layers; scarves are always acceptable year round, and people have (over time) learned to bike around the city with an umbrella in possession; as you never know when it might rain–even if it’s sunny when you leave your home.Even when you can see the sun, the clouds still cover it, and it’s never really warm in Amsterdam. In short: I love it. It’s just like San Francisco, except less hot, and with the rain. I imagine, then, it’s sort of not really like San Francisco after all. Oh well.

But when the weather is nice; and the sun is setting, and the clouds are hanging low–you can always expect to find the most beautiful sunsets in Amsterdam. Since the clouds are always so low they seem as if you can just reach out and grab them, the sun bounces off them during the evening like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a sight to behold, and an event that regularly occurs right outside my bedroom window–easily viewable from my balcony, and free admission to the show. And an event that I watch quite regularly. Seeing the sun bounce off the clouds, emitting waves of purple, pink, and golden hues is like no other sunset. With the sunset lasting for so long in the day due to the high location of Amsterdam on the globe, the light at sunset is a soft light, gentle almost. A light to be enjoyed while reading a book on a cozy blanket spread out in the park. A light that is more or less indescribable in words, except for maybe this; it’s a light meant to be shared with someone special. Truly.

I’ve partaken in activities that I could say I’ve always wanted to do/have never been made readily available, in my life. They’ve been enjoyable and usually involve an enjoyable crowd, and I would venture to say that they’ve helped me figure out a bit me about myself. The people I’ve met so far have been nothing short of welcoming and warm and ever so willing to accommodate or assist my in any way; especially people at my work. I’m not sure if it’s the people that I’ve chosen to surround myself with, or if once again, this scenario has just fallen into my lap–but my stay here in this tiny country of about 16 million has been wonderful so far.

First of all my roommate has been nothing short of once of the nicest people that I could have ever chose to live with; without ever meeting him in real life before I set foot on Dutch soil. I found him through a website called kamernet.com; which basically translates to roomnet.com in English–the Dutch equivalent of an apartment finding service.

Though may apartment isn’t the biggest in the history of the world, clocking in at 50 m2 (or 500 ft2), it’s just big enough without being overwhelmingly small. My tiny room is just big enough to be warm and cosy, and I’ve spent many a night falling asleep on my bed watching the sunset, though I must say the view form my bed in San Francisco was by far the best view I’ve ever had in any apartment; I could see the whole San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge–all from my bed. Very gezellig as the Dutch say; an untranslatable word that more or less means ‘cozy and instantly inviting’. (The Danish have a similar word ‘hygge’, which is also translatable–love those Danes).

My kitchen on the other hand is a tad less gezellig, but adequate none the less. I love to cook, bake, you name it; I love being in the kitchen. It’s so frustrating not being able to buy things for my apartment as well, because come December I’m (once again) not sure where I’ll be living–as in which country in the world.

It’s such a heavy weight to have on my shoulders–right now I’m only working at my magazine until December, with the possibility of staying after that date. But nothing is absolutely for sure yet. My ultimate goal–and what I will make happen–is that I’ll stay in Europe, even if being in Europe means not being in Amsterdam; I don’t mind. I moved here knowing that (as my best friend so eloquently put it); ‘If you move to Europe, you’re going to be there for the next five to ten years of your life’. What a huge decision for someone to make–and looking back at my final days in Cincinnati it was sort of underwhelming quick how I decided I was moving here. I pretty much got the position and booked my flight. Who does that? Me. But at the same time it’s those who don’t take risks who never get ahead in life–and I’m a pretty strong proponent of the risk taking. I’m sure I would have had a lovely time in San Francisco  or even Cincinnati if I had chosen to live there after school. I know that if I had stayed in Cincinnati I could easily have a nice apartment, car, and a decent paying position. But would I really have been happy? I’m, not sure that I would have, and I’ve never once looked back on the decision I’ve made to move to: ‘The Kingdom of the Netherlands’.

My good friend gave me one of the most well designed cards I’ve ever received right before I left for Europe. It has some of the most heartfelt and touching prose that anyone has every written to me; and occasionally here in Amsterdam when I miss everything that accompanied my life in the USA (including most of my personal belongings which I left behind; my bed, pictures, books–everything), I read that card–and suddenly the sun begins to shine. There’s absolutely no reason to be sorrowful over the past, for each day is new and ever so exciting. Plus there’s always email, social media, and of course, the phone. The world is so small these days and I still find it almost unfathomable that I can pick up the phone and call someone in California and talk to them in real time. But it really is wonderful, how connected the world is. And it will just continue to get even more connected as the world progresses. How exciting.

I’ve been running a lot lately and I‘m currently running around seven to ten miles on each of my runs. yesterday I even ran twice, once in the morning and once in the evening. How nice. So perhaps I exaggerated. I tried to run twice but my knee hurt too bad the second time around. I’ll be trying again today.

I miss my family–though not too terribly much because I know that they’re always just a plane ride away; coupled with the fact that I’ll probably be going home for Christmas as well. Though one of the worst parts about moving to Amsterdam was the fact that it would put approximately 6,000K in between my grandparents and myself. I adore them both dearly and miss them everyday.

The weekend has arrived in Amsterdam and I’m not sure what it is going to bestow upon me. Usually I plan out my days before they even happen, which I’m realizing is quite a boring boring way to prance around town. The weather in Amsterdam has been so drab, dark, and dreary for the past two weeks and it’s quite upsetting. When the clouds hang low they block out the sun and bring the rain with them–and not the rain that’s fun to sit on your porch and watch; the awful drizzling rain. No fun. The sun is shining and today I’ve decided to head to the park for some much needed sun and relaxation… not that relaxing (next to running) isn’t already the top priority on my list most of the time. What can I say; I like to be comfortable. Tomorrow I’ll find myself at the market for some fresh sunflowers for the new vase that I have yet to purchase–but Albert Cuyp (pronounced as 'kipe', similar to 'ripe', and it's the main market in the city, in my view) always has rare, bizarre, and sometimes just the strangest things… the perfect place to buy fresh bread, flowers, a vase, and anything else you could possibly want. And the even better part is that you can probably get it all for under €10. Cheap! Sunday I’ll find myself on the beach with a co-worker, before heading back inland to eat some tasty goodies with a friend, while we sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing. A perfect weekend, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008