Monday, May 12, 2008

These are the Pinksterdagen of our lives...

Within the first few months of living in Amsterdam, we had abandoned our original intention of turning our lives into a Dutch Submersion Project...the idea that we would only make Dutch friends, only watch Dutch tv, only eat Dutch food, etc.

But one thought did remain...we wanted to get to know someone who lived on the canals and owned a boat. Because spring and summer are all about cruising around on a boat with friends and beer, blasting Jan Smit at obscene volumes, giving drunken waves to the folks on the bridges.

Fantastic. Sign us up.

Boat ownership has a slightly different flavor here than back home. Parking places aren't secured. Your boat is subjected to passersby, every day of the year. The canals aren't so very big, so boats don't reflect wealth in size or speed, but in beauty. In other words, no open-bow massive Bayliners around here.

And the practical matter of where the boat goes during the winter (not to mention how it would get there) is enough of a concern to inspire many to buy simple fiber-glass models built to withstand Amsterdam winters. (And for those with the grave misfortune of owning a less-than-water-tight vessel, there is always room at the bottom. There is a website dedicated to the sunken boats in Amsterdam: click here)

Yes, being in the boat scene would indicate a certain level of assimilation, and we're all about it.

Since our original attempt at blanketing local vessels with our request ("American couple desperately seeks adoption by boat-owning friend") not only didn't pan out but also wasted a lot of paper and masking tape, we changed our tune and decided to wait for Fate to intervene.

And if it rains, it pours!

All in one day, after three years of waiting, we began not one, but TWO maritime relationships!

Friends Daan and Rodrigo (Piraat's parents, the neighborhood Jack Russell who had a litter last summer) took us (Five included) out for a morning cruise on Pinksterdag (Pentecost).

And after a fortuitous run-in with Ashley and Gero at our friends' daughter's birthday party later that same day, we were invited for a nighttime sunset ride (which ended up with a stop at a local watering hole, resulting in some entertaining interactions with intoxicated Frenchmen...A story for another day.).

It was a fabulous weekend. The sun was shining. The boats were cruising. And everybody's happy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Corporate Wii...

Dave and I hosted a dozen suits for gourmet hospitality and epicurean amounts of beautifully-presented burgers and fries. And no gathering of highly-powerful conference-goers would be complete without an artificial tennis game.

(Oh yes, we did.)

We handed these seasoned business professionals a new weapon...a Wii control...and let them battle it out. Not caring whether their Mii was a little blonde girl in a pink dress or an electronic Mel Gibson look-alike, these guys played like pros.

And to help wash it all down, good friend and Heineken executive John Ricketts hooked us up with a tap for the evening.

These guys are accustomed to corporate dinners that begin with raw meat, continue with assorted fish accompanied by salsify or something to do with foam, and is ended by cheese platters and cappuccinos served in fine china.

But Dave wanted to give them some in-house comfort. A place to shed your tie and leave your business cards in your pocket for a night.

And we had a great time.

Meeting the Ghosts

A few months ago, Dave and I discovered that the house we live in was a place of resistance activity during the War. So moved by this connection, I decided to investigate further the history of Amsterdam during the occupation.

After many weeks of research, interviews, writing, editing and composing, what resulted was a 30-minute documentary with live original music, titled "Meeting the Ghosts."

We presented the film to an audience of about 40 people on 4 May...Dodendherdenking Dag ("Remembering the Dead Day"). It is the day before Liberation Day, the day which commemorates the official end of the Nazi occupation in Holland.

Needless to say, the project was a heavy but worthy effort.

An excerpt from the program:

"Amsterdam’s history branches out over eight centuries. She has known kings and queens of all shapes and sizes...been a model for city planners the world over...and was at one point the leading financial center of the world.

But it’s her history from only sixty years ago that brings us together tonight.

My quest to know more about Amsterdam during the war began with the discovery that our home – this home - was, at one point, a place of resistance activity. Several Jewish people were hidden in the attic four floors above the living room. And for a time, resistance weapons were stored in what is now our basement.

Mr. Bontekoe, the owner of the house, was interrogated by the Nazi police several times. He denied accusations and was able to avoid fatal penalty.

Soon after hearing about this, there were moments when I could hear the sound of Gestapo boots pounding through our hallway. I would put my hand on the doorknob and feel my heartbeat quicken, as though I were afraid to walk outside and betray my secrets.

And as I continued to dig into the past, I would find myself standing in front of buildings and landmarks, transplanted to another time. I’ve now seen many pictures and films from the war years, and aside from the clothing and hairstyles, everything looks the same. It isn’t difficult for my imagination to place me there, in the middle of fear and confusion.

It is my sincere desire to honor the victims of the war by re-telling their stories.

Holland’s conflict during the war was not just with the Germans, it was also with each other. At first, Germany’s tactics in Holland were not thoroughly evil, so there was confusion over who to believe, who to side with, and how to respond. Should I collaborate? Or should I resist?

So, when I say “honor the victims,” I don’t just mean those murdered, or those who starved to death in the five years of occupation. I also honor the survivors and the generation that followed. It is easier to count dead bodies than to accurately identify the amount of hurt, fear, and distrust that resided in Dutch families and communities in the years that followed.

My second desire is to be able to participate in the act of remembering. To put faces and names and context into the observance of Dodenherdenking Dag.

Amsterdam is a city that inherently recognizes the value of the past within the context of living in the now. Significant historic landmarks are the places we live, shop, and visit on a daily basis. History isn’t contained to one section of town. It IS the town.

Countless acts of bravery – big and small - took place in Amsterdam during the war. On the way to the market, you could unknowingly pass a place where a Jewish family was hidden, an underground newpaper was printed, or fake id’s were forged.
Local people committing acts of bravery.

There were also countless numbers of victims. People targeted for their religious beliefs or heritage, who had no safe place to go. People executed for attempting to stop the persecutors. People brainwashed and manipulated into committing acts of hate against their neighbors.

And there were villains. People who knowingly chose to create or follow evil.

These are the ghosts of this city.

To attempt an unabridged account in one evening of what happened in Amsterdam during World War 2 would be an exercise in futility. But I offer now an introduction to some of the key events and players, so that you may also get to know her better.

The live music you will hear is what I have written along this journey of discovery. The notes and phrases accompany the patterns of my reflection."

Queen's Day once again...

It's hard to believe, but this was our FOURTH Queen's Day here in Amsterdam. Unreal. Time has flown.

We kept it to a dull roar this year, going out for an hour or so in the morning, but then returning to the house and going into full lock-down for the rest of the day, so we could work on our WW2 documentary I'm sure so many other Heineken-laden Queen's Day go-ers did...


By some magical twist of fate, Dave and I were able to get away and enjoy a few nights in a boutique hotel on the ocean shores of Caiscais, a small town 30 miles west of Lisbon.

We ate well, drank well, and reacquainted ourselves with this foreign object called "the sun." Hallelujah for the unseasonably warm and sunny days that met us in Portugal. Amsterdam had been hiding under a wet wool blanket for the previous four weeks and we couldn't wait to dry out and take in some Vitamin D.

And Dave was able to add Guincho - his first Euro surf - to his wave log.

A beautiful part of the world, this place. And the people were as warm to us as the sun.

We'll go back, for sure.