Saturday, October 6, 2012

Winter's Clouds, on the Horizon:

I sit outside under the constantly changing rays of sun on this early October autumn day. The sun has literally just returned, as the clouds that were blocking it's rays from kissing my skin, blow further eastwards toward Gelderland. I'm presented with a view over the southern skies of Amsterdam allows the consuming of endless layers of cumulous clouds, recalling compressed yet oversized cotton-balls. Often these same clouds are overtly textured, but other times not, instead having a dark belly of gray softly sweeping the underside of their giant white mass. There's something consumably refreshing about the air in the city this time each year. The sun's light, shining strongly on often cloudless autumn days, dries out the leaves that are just now beginning to fall in-mass from the trees lining both streets and canals, as well as those within the city's parks. A change is coming and you can feel it in the air; Western Europe is at the edge of a tipping point in the planet's rotation, and we European residents are; ushering out autumn, and preparing for the long dark days ahead, when the planet takes its final plunge, bowing down and continuing its spin to say, 'Oh hey and hello there, winter.' Yet, even with all the city's inhabitants scuttling about in warm coats, winter has not arrived and will not arrive for at least a few more weeks. But even if the calendar says winter begins on December 21st, the dark days and endless nights will arrive in mid November in Amsterdam, along with the cold and the bone chilling rain. Though, this blustery rainy-wintery mix can surprisingly be quite refreshing. Life in the Netherlands can be so breathtakingly gorgeous that there's just no way to put it in words. And that's why most people don't bother; instead leaving it to artists to work with the Dutch landscape as the central theme of their work. The landscape here is fascinating for its complexity of tunnels, bridges, and multi level solutions to infrastructure that would, in other cities and countries of this size, seem unthinkable. Yet next to the infrastructural and technological innovation in my adopted homeland, a certain stillness can be found all over the country in pockets and swaths, within the endless polders float across seemingly endless landscapes of pristine agricultural areas, complete with preserved farmhouses (Friesland is especially stunning for this). With no elevation changes, other than the occasional dike in sight, and the endless sky above unfolds unbroken. It's this visual identity that has so profoundly influenced Dutch art, and I love it. So, here's to the cows in the polders, of North Holland, as well as the other remaining eleven provinces, of the Netherlands.

What is it about this tiny city on the North Sea that excites me so much? I'm equally as dedicated to the country that Amsterdam sits within, which is a fabulous place wrapped in endless layers of centuries of historical and cultural output. I'm in love. But perhaps that's also it; if you fall in love with someone new, when you move to a new country, does that make you're affections for that said country stronger? Probably. And by that I mean; probably and totally 100%. But I'm ok with that, as it only makes it easier for me to tuck myself within these esixting layers of history, and by doing so–that is, merging and assimilating into the local culture–I'm also brining my own culture with me, and thus applying it to the Netherlands. In the USA this action is practiced heavily, which is what makes the USA so ethnically diverse in its festivities; foreign-born residents or citizens are encouraged to apply their culture to American culture for a whole new fusion that the masses more often than not embrace as: American-(Insert-Ethnicity Here). A whole new cuisine, or holiday to take-part in, yet again. But this action of application of brought principles and skills is also applied beyond the realm of food, certainly in the USA, and accepted as part of an area in the country's culture, which sometimes spreads to the whole nation. In the Netherlands when something is 'ethnic' is will almost always be labeled in the minds of 'natives' as so–thus, never truly assimilating. I'm not really sure what it is that's American that I bring to Amsterdam; most of today's larger corporations have already done most of the work for me, in terms of material goods. Thus what I can bring to Dutch culture is more than likely going to be communicated through spoken, and sometimes written, word. What American values can I share with the Netherlands? Well, both country's racial history is less than wonderful, but at least the USA acknowledges theirs. The Netherlands, and specifically Amsterdam, has the NINsee, (and even it just closed!), the only 'museum' dedicated to slavery in the country that's never displayed on museum guides and publications published by the city, yet somehow the 'Museum of Bags & Purses' always finds its way onto the publication list. Further, there are lots of art installations in Oosterpark; the only one without a label is the one dedicated to Dutch slavery–this last bit of knowledge you must either infer or guess; how chic!

The clouds here amaze me, and the proximity to the rest of Europe makes me giddy at all times. Driving to Bergen earlier this year might have been the highlight-holiday for some time; and even though I didn't bring a coat to Norway during its seasonal march toward spring, I still loved every bit of it. Though the longer I stay in Netherlands I become more aware of the fact that I really am American, and I don't just mean that because my passport is blue. Rather, I hold the area where I'm from close to my heart; its ancestral inhabitants marks clear, the antebellum relics proudly revitalized and in-use, and the industrial and now post-industrial ruins and re-uses give a lovely character to the edge of the Midwest, which is just west of the Atlantic coast of the USA. But, just in the way paintings of American explorers and their early history excite me, so too do the stories of the Netherlands' endless struggles against the water, as well as the country's adorable gabled brick (and in North Holland, wooden) houses. Moving outside of your 'home' country isn't easy and it isn't for the faint of heart. However, I can't help but feel that with a rather large bank account, moving to a new country would be fabulously easily, yet at the same time be less-rich in its experience precisely due to the lack of 'everyday' experiences and encounters that would be missed if 'everything were arranged'. I very much enjoy living in Amsterdam. At this point I'm not sure that living in the USA would even be easier than it would in the Netherlands. I mean, with who would I even speak Dutch?! These years of lessons; for what? Oh yes, to be able to understand my partner and his family fully–regardless of the continent I find myself on. And besides, what harm can speaking two languages do? It only makes me a bit more exotic, at least in America; perhaps I should go for three someday. French? Politics within the USA, as seen from Western Europe, are really interesting. Of course, the only aspects of the 2012 Presidential Election are all views pumped through the pipeline that is the internet, lacking any sort of verbal one-on-one commentary or chatter from fellow citizens. Living not quite alone, and surrounded my so many people, in the Netherlands. And so, I am really excited to go to the USA for a week at the end so this month. Hello all things American; endless refills, smiles and hellos and thank you's–such manners!

Back in Europe the gray days of October are here and the rain seems to have come down in a constant stream since last week. Amsterdam can be wonderful around this time of year, especially on those rare days when the sun does shine–because then the rooftops of the city, and the many spires atop them, sparkle. The city will soon put up its plastic 'lighting' holiday-decorations that hang above the city's tiny side streets, with a heavy concentration over the 'nine streets' in the Jordaan, as well as above Dam Square. Sometimes they feel cheap, especially after the snow has melted in mid-January/February. But mainly, they make the city look even cuter than it does without them, even if the total collection of decorations doesn't produce the most sophisticated effect–that would perhaps be achieved painting the existing supports of the holiday-decorations a tan-maroonish color, rather than their current white. That way, they would blend in with the tiny houses they're strung perpendicular from, rather than visually popping-out. Either way, tan or white–and perhaps white for the foreseeable future–the holiday-decorations that will soon adorn the city, will be much welcomed by me. Yet, simultaneously in my anticipation, I am pining to jet-off somewhere this holiday. Somewhere with either lots of snow, or a population of millions... so either Oslo, or Stockholm, or somewhere in the Nordic, juxtaposed with, perhaps, London, or Paris. I want beautiful twinkling light and endless streets, and lots of wrought iron. Though, it seems that Amsterdam will be this year's Christmas destination, and that's totally ok with me. Look for pictures of my much beloved yearly-ritual of decorating a wonderfully real-looking artificial Christmas tree, and making it look as it if stepped out of the pages of glossy magazine, or Saks; I've 'got the skills', and I know how to use them. Christmas, bring it on–I'm ready to start baking the seasonal cookies. Autumn; move over.