Sunday, December 29, 2013


Despite the cold temperature, Amsterdam is warming up to me. I’m currently sitting in a restaurant, drinking Amstel upon the bartender’s patriotic recommendation. I had to visit three museums before I could admit that Amsterdam is not a carbon copy of Portland, Oregon. I think ever since the 24-Hour Church of Elvis closed down, Portland is lacking in museums. And, although both cities are bicycle crazy, Amsterdam trumps Portland in the bicycle category too.

On the subway, a woman sitting across from me leaned forward and spoke to me in Dutch. When I said I didn’t understand, she switched to English. “Is there camouflage on my face?” I figured she meant foundation and assured her that her makeup looked nice. We talked for a little bit and she told me I have to go to the Red Light District. “You have to see the ladies,” she said. Well, I never got around to that, but here’s what I did accomplish in Amsterdam. 

Last night, I finally got into the Van Gogh Museum. It has a really hip ambiance with a DJ playing new wave music and stylish people drinking cocktails. Seeing everything over the course of Van Gogh’s ten-year career, I could see the work improve and become distinct and the colors go from subdued to electric. I was interested to learn that Van Gogh not only put a lot of thought and preparation into his paintings, but he also planned the way they should be hung. He did two versions of The Bedroom with a yearlong gap between them and it’s the first version that is the most well-known. 

I read an article recently that revealed a new theory into Van Gogh’s death, that he didn’t kill himself but rather allowed himself to die after some boys accidentally shot him. I don’t know what’s true but the people at the Van Gogh Museum stick to the traditional story that Van Gogh committed suicide.

Another museum I went to was the Anne Frank museum. Visitors can see where Anne Frank, her family and another family hid from the Nazis, until they were betrayed and sent to concentration camps. A revisionist like Van Gogh, Anne Frank wrote a second draft of her diary. Her bedroom walls still have the pictures she put up, including one of chimpanzees having a tea party and a self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. Her height chart on the wall revealed that she was tall for her age. She was my height (5’6) the last time she was measured. 

At the Rijks Museum, I felt dizzy and a little overwhelmed by the maze-like building and the masses of people. I saw the Rembrandts and Van Dykes and then I left. I wish I had more to say about the Rijks Museum, but I wasn’t in the right mood or state of health to enjoy it.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city. I hope to come back, but it will have to be with friends.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas in Paris


I’m missing Paris already. Before going, I had heard differing views from friends and acquaintances. One friend who visits Paris often told me, “Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.” A guy I met at a party in Portland, Oregon, took a drag on his cigarette and said “I was definitely NOT impressed with Paris.” A Qatari woman I met while working in Doha told me, “Paris does not have nice restaurants, but be sure to go to Disneyland.” I don’t know if her prognosis of Paris dining was based purely on a Muslim viewpoint. I myself didn’t have a problem ordering French dishes au jambon. I loved the food and I think Disneyland was the one attraction I did not check out during my five-day stay in the city of art and love and all things fabulous. The only person I concur with wholeheartedly is my friend who said Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.

I rented a tiny studio through the website Airbnb. Viktor, the man who rents out the apartment, met me bright and early so he could give me the key. He gave me directions for where to get a SIM card, a travel adapter and other essentials. He had prepared a fruit basket, a bottle of wine, bottles of water and orange juice to make my stay more comfortable.

On my first day, I went to Notre Dame and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Later, I was in the subway rifling through my bag for my guide book. I had written the code for entering my apartment building inside the book. At the same moment that I was struck by the realization that I had left it somewhere and had therefore locked myself out, a man approached me and asked me out for a drink. “I’m not interested,” I said, as I walked away in a panic. The man followed me, “You’re American, yes? I want to get a drink with you.” At this point I turned to him and yelled, “Leave me alone!” I had learned this phrase in French and had even practiced it with a French friend, who said it was more likely to make men laugh than obey the order. Saying it in English had the desired effect. The man quickly altered his path to get away from me, so that if anybody turned to look, they wouldn’t know who I had yelled at.

I retraced my steps, looking for my guidebook. I tried to call Viktor, hoping he could give me the code to the building. My attempts to call him only added to my panic. It seemed my new French SIM card wasn’t working. I went back to Shakespeare and Company.  I didn’t find my guidebook, but my search led a nice woman to ask me what was the matter. She offered to let me use her phone to call Viktor and I was able to get through to him. Then the nice woman, whose name was Terry, invited me out for a beer. We went to the Latin Quarter and chose a sports bar that was very American. Finding a place that served beer proved to be harder than finding places that served wine. At the sports bar, I think all the French people there wanted to pretend they were American, whereas I was more interested in pretending to be French.

Terry, who is a PhD student in geology and astrophysics, was so friendly and fascinating to talk to. In return for her favor of letting me use her phone, I helped her choose last-minute Christmas gifts for her niece and nephew. She wanted to buy them children’s books, and on that subject I happen to be an expert.

The following night, Terry and I met in Montmartre and went to a brasserie decorated with antique clocks and cool art. And because we were right next to the beautiful Sacre Coeur church, which is the highest point in Paris, we attended a service there. A nun sang hymns in French, which was lovely.

During the time I spent alone in Paris, I went to the Louvre and the Luxembourg Museum. I loved seeing the paintings from the Italian Renaissance. The paintings at the Luxembourg Museum were especially meaningful for me because they were part of an exhibition on dreams, which is one my fascinations.

Walking along the Champs Elysees past all the Christmas booths, I felt so happy and lucky to be in Paris, I actually cried a little from joy. I was also drinking a warm red wine, a traditional winter beverage, but I don’t think the tears that fell were influenced by alcohol. I was really just overcome by how beautiful Paris was. I wish I could have stayed longer. Even with the typical tiny apartments Parisians live in, I would still love to live there. The metro is so easy to use, that even someone as directionally challenged as I can get around easily. People are friendly, contrary to the stereotype, and even though Paris is the City of Love, I did not feel lonely being there by myself.