Sunday, November 25, 2001

On the Seventh Day, We Rested

On the Seventh Day, We Rested

Last night, I had to stay up to finish reading the book, “The Night Listener” by Armistaud Maupin. Ron had picked it up in Bath since we thought that it may be our last chance for finding books in English and it was on sale. We are dumping the novels as we read them so that we are not carting them with us. Well not really dumping them, rather trying to pass them on to people we think would enjoy reading them. However, it doesn’t help when we renew the supply elsewhere. Anyway, I have never read any of Maupin’s books before and was thoroughly impressed with his style of writing, the story line, and the ending that leaves the reader to interpret the outcome in various ways leaving you with a puzzle to be discussed with other readers of the book. Ron and I were able to dissect the ending discussing the possible realities and what the author had intended. So, therefore, I did not start off to sleep until around 2:30 am, but then the one man orchestra started with the wind instrument section and I was still staring at the clock at 4:00 am.

At 8:30 am it was a rerun of Mr. Map meets Mr. Grouch. The plan had been for us to go to breakfast, I was going to return to the room and write and Ron was going off to a Dutch mass. With four hours of sleep, that was not my plan when the time came. I stayed in bed and waved joyfully waved good-bye in my dreams, but in reality just rolled over and fell asleep once again. After almost nine years, he has almost perfected his radar that gives him a warning signal when it is not good timing to speak to me in the morning. He was on target this morning. However, I did initiate meeting to tea at 5:00, since he was going to a concert that I had no interest in. Eleven o’clock rolled around and I rolled out of bed and showered, wrote some and then went to purchase a Dutch children’s ABC book.

Nothing happened the rest of the day that was newsworthy. When we met at our agreed upon time, it had started to mist. It was clear when each of us left the hotel, so neither of us had thought to bring an umbrella. The mist turned to rain, but we walked streets that we had not explored before, went into different department stores to get warm, and to see how they decorated for Christmas. They don’t! It seems that Christmas is not as commercial here as it is in the States. The streets are decorated with lights and bows of greenery strung from one side of the street to the other, but the stores are void of festive holiday fare. What we have seen and still not in excess are pictures of Sinter Klaas and Black Pete. The name still makes my skin crawl even if there is some historic significance. Pete is getting more coverage than St. Nick. My guess it because Pete is the United Parcel Service delivery guy of the duo where St. Nick is only the driver. It is not clear which one is the map-reader and navigator. There is no sign of Christmas wrapping paper such as we in the States know it. The paper we have seen has large colorful flowers, just solid colored paper, or paper with Pete on it. There are no snowmen, no fun Santas, nothing truly festive. We have not been able to find a Christmas ornament other than in the souvenir shops and they have Delft look-alike Santas and Snowmen that are tackier looking rather than adorable. From what we are able to ferret out of people in conversations, Sinter Klaas or St. Nicholas Day, which is December 5th, is the primary focus of the holiday season. Children receive presents for three weeks, but presents consist on tiny cookies, candies, and other small treats that are placed in the shoes they leave out for Pete to fill. Why Pete would want to continue to do this every night for three weeks is beyond me. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are family times celebrated with food and less focus on presents than we have in the States. Adults who exchange gifts do so on December 5th also. In contrast, it does seem that they exchange cards. We have seen lots of Christmas cards for sale in the stores with traditional themes. I would be hard pressed to say that I have seen any religious subject matter on the cards; they are all secular.

By the time we decided to check the e-mail, I was soaked to the bone. My leather jacket was so wet, it felt brittle. No wonder the cow did not survive with it. Dinner was at our famous Febo food joint, where you plunk in your coins and choose some mystery food from behind the glass window. For $3.00 for two, you don’t get a gourmet delight, but it is surprisingly tasty and filling. How can you lose on that? I was able to get Ron to go to one bar I had wanted to see and have a beer, a short one. They don’t have half pints and pints here like in the United Kingdom. It is either small or a mug that Hercules would have trouble lifting to his mouth. Needless to say, I always order small ones, since drinking beer through a straw is too embarrassing. The only thing more embarrassing would be the attempted to lift the damn thing to my mouth.

Since this was a slow day, let me take this opportunity to tell you more about Amsterdam. All of the streets here and in most other cities in Holland have cobblestone or brick streets. The streets are separated in three areas. There is a pedestrian sidewalk on either side of the streets, which is usually brick, then there is a lane specifically for bicycles also on each side of the street and in the center are two lanes for cars. Most streets are brick also, but some streets are cement. Bicycle riders have to follow the same rules as a driver in a car including turn signals. If you are jaywalking, you can get hit by a bike rider as easily as by a car. Amsterdam is the city of 500,000 bikes. There is bike parking all over the city as well as a guarded bike-parking garage next to the Central train station. Thousands of bikes are permanently parked outside the train station where commuters come off of the train, grab their bike and ride off to work. There are cone poles with rounded tops that are permanently planted along the sidewalks to protect pedestrians from the cars on narrow one-way streets and it also prevents parking on one side of the street. Canals run along one side of most streets. These poles have three x’s in a vertical position. They are from the coat of arms of Amsterdam and come from St. Andrew’s cross, the patron saint of the city. The x’s go back to 1275 and stand for the three enemies of the city: water (flooding), fire, and the plague. Due to the acute housing shortage, Amsterdam also has over 2,500 houseboats permanently docked on the canals. Two thousand, five hundred are licensed by the city and have sewer, water, gas, and electric, but others are squatters and have no city services.

Trams circumvent the city and outer regions. Almost anywhere you want to go can be accessed by tram. Multiple day tickets are available at the tourist bureau, but you can also buy trip strips that are valid for eight rides if you stay within one zone. Buses go where the trams don’t and they take over all routes after midnight. There is also a subway that makes a straight run through the city from North to South, so it is limiting.

Amsterdam was started as a defense moat in the 16th century and from 1612 it expanded outward. The city is built around three concentric canals: the Herrengracht or Gentleman’s canal, the Keizersgracht, Emperor’s canal, and the Prinsengracht, the Prince’s canal. There are hundreds of miles of canals that transverse the city and continue out to the sea. There are dams, locks, and 220 bridges around the city to create a charm that is not comparable to any other city.

The favored form of transportation of the Dutch is the bicycle. The country has over fifteen million bicycles and it seems that most are in Amsterdam. Bike theft is a major problem and the thieves seem to be getting better chain cutters, so the locks are getting progressively thick.

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