Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Menno Kroon's Flowers:

Tucked away at Cornelis Schuytstraat 11 in Amsterdam Oud-Zuid is the most intoxicating flower shop in the entirety of the Netherlands. Stepping through the front door into the dimly lit space, greenery and flowers hanging from every imaginable surface, encourages leaving the city behind. A swirl of beauty surrounds everything inside the shop, and many of the flowers are imported from literally all over the world on a daily basis. Should you ever find yourself in Amsterdam and in need of flowers–or just a dash of beauty and stillness to sprinkle into your day–stop by Menno Kroon and immerse yourself within a surrealist world of beauty so striking, that it just asks to be painted. Yes, it's that intense. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunlight and Snow:

Sun-rays have already been noted on this finest, laziest, of Amsterdam winter Sundays. The sun occasionally shows its face; piercing through criss-crossing raindrops; the chill of winter subduing and the temperature beginning to creep along its rise above 0C. All the snow has melted overnight, hastened by the down-pours of heavy rain. Amsterdam was only yesterday covered in a white blanket; today that snow has gone.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Three Olive Trees:

Three olive trees, due to the frigid-cold-winter-weather outside, are currently standing inside. Inside my living room. While watering them, early on this Thursday morning, I stepped back to admire just how beautiful they truly are. Nursing each from a small sapling last summer, they now stand proud in their oversized pots; yet confined by those same pots at the same time. Each has been exposed to different amounts of sunlight over their past year of potting (the state of being potted, that is), and each presents itself differently: the first is small; the second larger yet; with the last growing in all directions. Clearly one tree has been seeing more sun than the others. Proud as I am, the olive trees have yet to expand their roots, or even bud. But they've also taken off! Growing surprisingly fast for such slow growing trees. Yet these trees persist onward, marching forward to their destination-less destination, while their growth continues in small but noteworthy ways. Only over time will their roots expand; should I dare to re-pot them. If I did, would they grow further? Or would they struggle to find new soil in such luxuriously expansive pots? Never knowing until I replant; the trees, for now, continue resting indoors and away from winter's chill. Until the spring and summer sunlight returns to Northern Europe, the trees will stay dormant, active in their spirit yet calm and steady in their growth; their full energy returning once the world completes its annual turn. Never knowing how long they will survive; never able to see their honest reflection; never able to truly comprehend their genesis and instead able to continue forwards. Onward to their future, never reliving the past; never knowing what their future may bring. Yet, through their growth, the trees, each and every day, offer up their beauty to all–expressing themselves for the curious. These three olive trees, I feel, share much in common, with me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Passing Dutch:

I woke up this morning and was the happiest I have been in quite some time. You see, my end-of-2012 was a whirl-wind of a half-completed marathon, hurricanes canceling flights, multiple trans-Atlantic flights, many frozen nights in Berlin, and after all that–a very large and looming exam on all the Dutch knowledge that I've been acquiring, practicing and studying more or less since I first arrived.

Today, I am happy to say, that the Netherlands' government officially considers me a Dutch language speaker (and writer, listener, and reader!). I have passed my 'Nederlands als Tweede Taal/Dutch as a Second Language' exam, administered by the Dutch government. No more seemingly endless Dutch lessons, ever again.

Ik ben een echte Amsterdammer.
I am officially a real Amsterdammer.

Starting to grasp the basics and diphthongs of Dutch?
Browsing through Wikitravel Phrasebook Dutch is very helpful.

Looking to learn Dutch as viewed from an English perspective?
Purchase this PDF and unravel that tricky Dutch grammar. Or just read it online.
To its creator–Bieneke Berendsen–I am very grateful. Thank you!

And now, Dutch self-study (and thus improvement) continues!
Hello, the Netherlands! I belong within your borders, officially!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Blue Hour:

The blue hour is a very special time, made even more special by living in the Netherlands. The atmosphere is unique in that it's not quite dark, not quite light–making for a short period of time, each and every day (and especially during winter)–where everything natural light touches, assumes a soothing shade of not-quite-blue.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Paris and Amsterdam:

I feel as if I am growing older, both physically and mentally. I can sense that my mind is becoming refined, as are my senses, as is my heart. Perhaps it is because this heart of mine has felt so deeply here in Amsterdam; sinking to the lowest of depths, and also soaring above my previous maximum known height. Amsterdam does that to a person. Mostly this city lifts me to new heights; I've made it that way, I've deduced. Stay true to Amsterdam, and myself, while giving back to this city in the best of ways I know how–steadfast, strong, and spearing.

Since 2011 I've been devouring podcasts and more recently I've discovered the lecture podcasts of Yale University and absolutely every minute of the few courses I've engulfed have so far proved enlightening. I have such a quench for knowledge and often have fantasies about getting lost in both old creaky libraries, as well as shiny new ones, here in the city while doing research. Mostly, I must admit, my library research is limited to the Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum on Spui–an ever changing magazine exhibition.

A blanket of snow has fallen on the city, turning everything still and lending an insulating silence to the city, now, day and night. Amsterdam is stunning in the snow and luckily the temperature will stay at or just around 0C, meaning that same snow will be around for some days. I've made sure to make vegetarian lasagna tonight (because it's wonderful!), and will be lounging and pondering as the evening continues. But, it's now back to Paris is Burning–because it, too, is wonderful.

...New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s must have been such a confusing and yet beautiful place to find one's self during that period–such profound changes, such snapping modernity, and such positive transformation. I have this book that I was given four years ago, and reading it instantly transports me back to the streets of Manhattan; it's called New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg. It, too, is wonderful and it highly recommend it to anyone interested in New York City during the 1970-1990's.

When living in Manhattan, after first lugging my belongings up my less than desirable many-story-walk-up brownstone-building, I set foot out onto the streets of Alphabet City. Distinctly, I can recall: New York City made me nervous. The energy almost overwhelmed me; was one meant to fight against one's city, I considered? Certainly this mustn't be the case. Yet in Manhattan the city is a jungle and its inhabitants its explorers. Urban order lends itself to all aspects of life, including fashion; and apparently, man-leggings are in.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Amsterdam Dreaming Deep:

I've just returned home from a 6K run that took place when the weather around me was around 0C. Once out the door, music in my ears, clouds looming above; I headed through Funenpark, past the canals, past the flamingos at Artis, and eventually found myself jetting through the beginnings of the eastern stretches of Sarphatistraat, back home. Gazing over the water that was, at one point, to my right –the Scheepvaart Museum stood stately on its plinth. Seeing the museum from that particular angle made me realize that I hadn't previously seen this angle of the building's façade, from a road that wasn't next to it–as simple as that may sound. At that moment I slowed my pace, tending to sort of jog-in-place, and took a look around me–a canal along a road that I had run down far too many times, which I have never seen onto. Thus, a part of the city I thought I knew, was given a myriad of new meaning and perception, just by branching off into Amsterdam's side streets–small and narrow as they are. Amsterdam mesmerizes, and tiny as it is, the city can be experienced in a myriad of layers; from water, from land, from street, from inside-looking-out, and from above. Falling into the same patterns of cycling path makes one's days repetitive and routine. May Sarton proclaims in Plant Dreaming Deep: 'I knew, from having watched my father hack down an incredible amount he accomplished day by day and year by year, how supportive a routine is, how the spirit moves around freely in it as it does in a plain New England church.' Amsterdam can become routine; the city's glamour commands transcendence, especially when along the grandest of Grachtengordel canals. Amsterdam allows the spirit to move, within its city borders. And so, Amsterdammers have the unique ability to plant their dreams deep–the city would expect nothing less.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Welcoming Back Winter:

After a few days of false-hope-inducing sun, Amsterdam is sauntering away from sunlight, and welcoming back winter. This coming weekend the temperatures are supposed to drop to near 0C, and the rays of sun that warmed Amsterdam's streets this past weekend, will be slightly more difficult to experience in the days ahead. A chill has been slowly descending upon this city, over the course of this past week. And soon, it will again become quite cold, welcoming back winter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 in Review:

'There's always a question of the efficacy of anything that we acquire to somehow change our position in the world.' Dori Tunstall

Last year came and went as I moved one year further toward... the future.

As predicated, 2012 really was my year; my professional-self progressed, while my personal self (the two selfs being totally one in the same) decided to become entwined (because gays can do that here in the Netherlands!), while sitting on the edge of Denmark, looking out over and onto the shores of Sweden in the distance) to the most beautiful person–with the most magical self–in the while-wide-world. As one might imagine, summing up those experiences and feelings and the thoughts that come with such profound experiences, as those of the past year, has proven to be slightly difficult (see the archives: August-December 2012).

What I can say, is that 2012, with all its thrust, turned out to be just swell. I had rolled back in Amsterdam after first flying into it, just on the eve of 2012, fresh from Gdansk, in Poland. The fireworks flew, and the year turned with a bang–2012 was here! January came and went, and the days were gray and dark; my nerves shattered; myself standing in the rain (metaphorically here, eh) looking down a 'crossroads' where two wonderful options stood before me. Both took courage and one would entail consuming and employing my bravest of bravest of self moments. Afterwards, that self jetted off to the German-Czech Republic border, where it literally ran across the border (fun!), Elbe in sight. Romanticism was surely at its finest, within those woods. But out with romanticism, in with 'nomadism'...

2012 moved forward and May came arrived. Off was I to Scandinavia: to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway–the most magical and mysterious cluster of places on Earth (in my mind at least). Millennia-old churches dot the hills of provincial Norway, while in Sweden birch-trees are abound–Denmark is just flat. The Nordic has trapped my gaze and mind; thus I travel back at every chance (my initial three months in Copenhagen, years ago, solidifying my passion for that region of the world). Too bad, still, that I simply forgot to bring a coat with me to Norway, where lakes are still frozen over at beginning of June. Norway: colder than one might think. Bring a coat, I say.

The non-existent summer came, and went, and every-day, so it seemed, the rain came down–non-stop. And so the summer passed, without ever setting down on tiny Amsterdam. The few days that the sun did shine, I meandered in the park, cycled through the city, or headed to beach–the latter happening more often than one might think. The Amsterdam Marathon took place in October; a marathon I  decided to compete within, just three months earlier; a smooth move, one could say. Around the last turn of the Amstel, the Indische Buurt clearly in sight; the muscle to the left of the top of my right leg, right above the knee-cap, decides to stop working. So I stop, first aid helps with a shiny plastic aluminum colored 'blanket', while I scream, as I attempt to relax on a stretcher as the professional sport-medicine paramedic massages my right leg. It hurt; it was awful; and worst of all, I can't say that I completed my 2012 Amsterdam Marathon. This year though, I will.

Sandy, that feisty one which ravaged the United States, canceled my plans to travel to Cincinnati, in November. December proved to be 'flying-friendly', from Europe to the Northeastern United States, and so, to Cincinnati we were off. That being my first trip to the United States in about 2.5 years, the people, places, spaces, and language all both intrigued and delighted me; the latter due to the fact that, while now somewhat mysterious, the culture is also familiar, and so I reveled in fluently operating within it: 'Yes please! Thank you! Hello (in a retail environment), I'm looking for! Another refill please!'–it was wonderful. More or less, all of aspects of American-life that do not accompany my life, here in Amsterdam, I amplified and intensified as often and as much as possible throughout my time in North America. English being the most enjoyable aspect of the trip.

Back in Europe, I jetted off yet again to Berlin almost immediately after returning from the United States. Berlin was cold and dark and, not surprisingly enough, almost everyone spoke German, and I do not (rather, only the basics needed in public spaces). My NT2 (standing in for Nederlands als tweede taal–Dutch as a second language, that is, in English) Dutch language exams were scheduled for the day after my return to tiny Amsterdam, and I must say that my results are still unknown, but at the time I was relaxed, spirited, and concentrated. I expect the results to prove passing, as I know my knowledge of the Dutch language is finally one giant step further along its (never ending) journey toward fluency. After four years of writing about my times with this most joyous and expressive of Western-Germanic languages, I am proud to say that writing, reading, speaking, and listening, all occur naturally. Yet another herculean task that I am proud of myself for accomplishing in 2012: learning my first, second language.

Then, appropriately, I anticipated the New Year–2013!–roaming the streets of Paris, mastering the modes of chic, and delighting in the offerings of that most magical of cities.

Back in Amsterdam, 2013 rasped within the streets of the city–fireworks burst over the nighttime air–while I (or should one say we?) was(/were) tucked safely in bed...