Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Amsterdam 6.7.1998: Little Grachten and Old Lace

Second day in Amsterdam. We arrived early afternoon yesterday, finding our way to Bloemengracht, where our hostess, Suzanne H., lives in a 17th-century house, Jakob’s Droom. She’s a friend of R. and C., and an artist, and has kindly put us up in her boyfriend’s apartment in Oud West.

When we arrived, Suzanne showed us her beautiful house, which is long, narrow, and multi-storied, as those craftsmen’s houses of the 17th century are. Suzanne believes hers was built by Portuguese Jews. She’s painted it bright yellow inside, with blue accents—colors she loves (and which also appear in van Gogh’s later work.) She tells me the yellow began to appear after her oldest son was killed in a fire in his teen years—colors of light and transcendence.

What to say? It’s all so interesting. A little lunch and tea provided by Suzanne—delicious Turkish bread, along with Dutch, and ham, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, jam, peanut butter, cookies (including an almond-paste one that’s apparently very Dutch).

Afterwards, Suzanne’s boyfriend, Karel, a retired and seriously ill (sarcoidosis) carpenter, walked us around the city, along Prinsengracht and Kaisergracht, and into Leidesplein. We visited a café—i.e., pub—that’s exhibiting some of Suzanne’s work, which I quite enjoyed: old wood paneling and ceiling, and lots of atmosphere in the patrons.

After that, a wonderful Indonesian dinner Steve and I treated Suzanne, Karel, and Suzanne’s son Darius to, in a restaurant near Suzanne in Jordaan. I had bahmi goreng with shrimp and pork, and Steve had a vegetarian dish of bean curd and vegetables. Best food I’ve had in Europe . . . .

Today, a flea market near here, off Prinsengracht, full of people of every hue and language. We enjoyed the fabrics, the stalls selling lumpia (loempia to the Dutch), tables of assorted junk. One table had old and new linens, and it was a madhouse of women fingering fabrics and casting them in every direction. I competed with a very pushy black woman for some odds and ends of lace, which the saleslady, who seemed to like Steve, sold us at discount, throwing in two pieces as gifts.

Bought, too, a tin lantern to add to our tin collection, and some little birds crafted out of wood, feathers, and wires from a booth that had hundreds of these, of all sorts. We looked at beautiful quilted fabrics from India or Indonesia, of many bright colors, but didn’t buy any, since we couldn’t agree on them (and they were expensive). But did buy a bit more lace from booths that had it for sale by the meter.

After that, back here to eat Indonesian leftovers for lunch, and then back to town to walk into Rembrandtsplein. There, we saw the Jesuit church of Francis Xavier, full of color and character. I liked it very much, though Karel tells us it’s very conservative.

Rembrandtsplein was sad, with tourists everywhere, mostly young, and sex shops to allure the tourists, one of which Steve and I gazed into. Then back here, by way of a Turkish restaurant, where we had pizza and salad, along with good Dutch beer.

I like Amsterdam, what I’ve seen of it. The Dutch seem admirably democratic, plastic in their ability to accept other people and their cultures. Here there’s not that German Ordnung that makes everything dance to the German tune, so that other cultures don’t “pollute” the dominant one.

I can see why artists like Suzanne love this city. It’s dirty and probably has problems I can’t begin to know about, as a transient visitor, but something about the vibrant cultural mix, the little grachten, the live-and-let-live attitude, seems to stimulate creativity. Colors everywhere—in dishes, light fixtures, fabric shops, galleries. I like it.

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