Thursday, November 22, 2001

Post Happy Thanksgiving

Post Happy Thanksgiving!!

When you tell friends you miss not being home for Thanksgiving or some other holiday that includes the reverie of years past and the good times had, does not elicit a great deal of sympathy when you are in a foreign country of your own volition. I can hear people saying in response to my wish to have friends over for a home cooked turkey dinner, “Gee, my heart bleeds for you. You are in Amsterdam and are missing a holiday. What a life.” But the holidays are those special times when you go try to outdo yourself in the kitchen out of guilt for being a slug the rest of the year. For the last eight years, we have always had people over that did not have plans with family, did not have family, or were just alone in life for their own reasons. Each year, we had company and each year, I tried making the dinner as close to the memories of what I grew up with, but without all of the Italian foods that my grandmother contributed. In the absence of family at the holiday, I needed to make an extra effort to make sure that our dinner companions knew the effort was the same as if they were blood relatives. It was important to continue a tradition with this extended family around our table. This year, there is a piece missing, a big piece. We are in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving and most people don’t even understand what the significance of it is. We are not celebrating with friends. Tradition is out of the question for the most part. It does leave an emptiness, which is not the holiday itself, but the loneliness of not having friends with which to share the day with. Well, okay, the kid in me does miss the parades on television and my own tradition is to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” every year. Then the Friday after Thanksgiving, Ron and I would spend the day at the Sonora Christmas Fair, downtown Sonora, and Jamestown, quaint old gold mining towns that get one in the Christmas spirit with the decorations, a Christmas parade, and lots of little shops that are not franchises, in which to browse.

So what did we do for Thanksgiving? For obvious reasons, nothing was closed, hours were not shortened and everything was running on schedule like any other Thursday, here in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum Museum was in the top five list of things to do in this beautiful city and this was a wonderful day to go. The museum was built in 1885. The section of 17th century Dutch paintings is what the museum is famous for, but there is a plethora of other treasures to tickle the senses. After reading “Girl With a Pearl Earring”, I was very interested in seeing more of Vermeer’s work, though the title painting is in The Hague, but ‘Maidservant Pouring Milk’ and others were here in the Rijks. Their collection of Rembrandt’s work is spectacular and worth the visit just to see his work. Who could not look at the ‘Night Watch’ and not stare with admiration at this man’s talent. For those of you who remember the Dutch Masters Cigar box, back from the 50’s and 60’s, the painting from which the box cover was taken is exhibited in this museum also.

We took the tram to the museum and disembarked at the stop behind the museum, so we had to walk through the bicycle tunnel to the front entrance and went in. After having been to this museum six times in the past, the entrance could have been that of an entirely different museum for all I recognized. The Twilight Zone music started playing in my head and I thought I was having more memory lapses. Nothing was familiar and I had examined my pictures of this museum from past trips as I was packing the photo albums before leaving. What was wrong with this picture? What I had remembered was the entrance had long panels of beautiful stained glass with each panel dedicated to an area of the Arts and Sciences. They were not to be found. The current exhibition was on Rococo work in the Dutch court during the reign of an earlier King. Rococo reminds me of some of the pieces my grandparents had in their home before they decided that the depression was not going to return and they could afford to modernize their surroundings without having to go to a debtor’s prison. I did not find the colors or flamboyance appealing then and I still don’t think it is that attractive. After we looked at the different pieces for about an hour, Ron announced that he had had his fill and was ready to see something else. Gratefully, I agreed that I was ready to move on too, not wanting to be the first to cry ‘Uncle’.

When we found the Dutch masters, we went our separate ways to view the art at our own pace, but first I needed a cup of tea and a cigarette. When I went out the door and wandered, I realized that we had entered by the West entrance. The entrance that I had always used in the past was the East entrance. Upon re-entering, it was the familiar surrounding I had held in my memories all of this time and that creeping fear of senility faded away. We spent another two hours gawking, admiring, staring, and observing other’s reactions to the works of art. It was wonderfully fulfilling and hours more could be spent there, but there is a problem with cultural overload. Residents are lucky that they can do this in sections at a leisurely pace since it is in their own city. When we regrouped, we discussed what we had seen that impressed each of us individually and then brought the other back to share in it. It is such an incredible place to spend time.

Ron wanted to check some concert information for Sunday. There were a couple listed in the month’s events newsletter, but the costs or where to buy tickets were listed. He waited in line and I went to a souvenir shop. After a three quarters of an hour passed I was afraid the shopkeeper was getting nervous with me hanging around for so long, but Ron had not appeared. When I went back to the tourist agency, he was still in line, same place in the line I had left him in. Exacerbated, he decided to come back later and that we should go for coffee in the meanwhile.

The bakeries here have such an assortment of sweets, rolls, and breads that you could develop a hunger just from looking. The cakes are mostly some variation of apple. Apple pie, apple strudel, apple Danish, apple tarts, apple cake, apple with crumbs, apple without crumbs, apple with and without raisins are common in just about all of the bakeries. Then there are the cheesecakes with fruit and with chocolates, tortes, bombes, muffins, and the list goes on and on. On the savory side, they sell sandwiches on small tube rolls, small pizzas with fruit and with meat, cheese, and sundry other things. It is a wonder that people can make up their mind as to what they want. I would have one of each if I could taste, so it is fortunate for my waist that I cannot. Ron asked the woman behind the counter if they ever had pumpkin pie? She said that they didn’t, because pumpkin is not used in Holland. The woman was really enjoying the conversation and continued to say that the cooking shows on television are always promoting it in soups, cookies, and cakes, but pumpkin is hard to come by and it is expensive. At which, she said this is a holiday in the States isn’t it? We went on to explain to her the significance of Thanksgiving and how pumpkin pie was a tradition. Both she and her co-worker had never tasted pumpkin.

Venturing back to the tourist bureau, Ron fell into place once again. I roamed the street again returning after a good portion of time. When he finally arrived at the window, the young clerk who had remembered him from past visits smiled and commented, “Oh, it is you again!” She was pleasant, but could not find any information about the concert he was interested in.

Our saving grace for a holiday dinner was the Hard Rock Café. They are the only restaurant in the city that was advertising a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy, but no pumpkin pie. They were not taking reservations; it was first come first served. We arrived at 8:00 pm and were told that it would be an hour and a half wait for a table. They encouraged us to sit in the bar and have a drink, so they could find us easier. Instead of taking names, they gave each waiting group an album cover. Ours was a Bob Dylan album. We took this opportunity to purchase the pins for our collection. Being the capitalists that they are they had special pins for Thanksgiving. A fat brown turkey was playing a guitar while wearing his Dutch wooden shoes and his guitar had Thanksgiving 2001 on it. We each had to have one and then a specific Amsterdam pin in addition.

We did submit and go to the bar for a beer. Exactly an hour and a half, we were told our table was ready. Warned that the Thanksgiving dinner would take at least a half hour, we were encouraged by the waiter to order a starter. The meal looked very traditional with the addition of snow pea pods. The turkey was a turkey roll, so it was only white meat the preference of us both. Ron said the meal was very tasty and I certainly enjoyed the textures, but the visual appeal was enough to satisfy me, but no turkey sandwich with mayo and stuffing for snacks later. We should have ordered an extra dinner to go. Hindsight is 20/20. We both longed to be surrounded by friends and loved ones, but we did enjoy each others company and were thankful for being where we were and knowing that all of you are in our lives even when not in our presence.

Making our almost daily pilgrimage to EasyEverything, we found an e-mail from our friends Myrtis and Randall, who are living in the northern part of Slovakia. Myrtis is very excited about our plans to rent an apartment in Budapest for two months. It is not far from where they are living, so we just might get to see them more often than when they were living in San Francisco. Knowing Myrtis, though, she maintains a full social calendar regardless of what country, city or hamlet she is in, so that may not come to fruition until we move to Slovakia later in 2002. As well, Sandy and Leinani, two of Ron’s former co-workers are making plans to come visit us also. Any other takers? The apartment we are planning on is two bedrooms and fully furnished. What that means by Eastern European standards will be interesting to discover.

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