Saturday, March 15, 2008

First Day in Amsterdam

The Quarterback and I flew KLM to Amsterdam and arrived this morning at about eight. The flight was uneventful, except I spilled white wine over myself, and the Quarterback spilled red wine over himself. Non-related incidents, except in time and place, and, no, we were not drunk—though we each had a glass at JFK—just clumsy. The flight attendant was outstandingly helpful and polite. He brought stacks of napkins and a can of soda, so that the Quarterback could wipe some of the red off his jeans, and then gave the Quarterback a new pillow in exchange for the one he had bloodied. The airline food, though not great, was ingeniously packaged in rectangular boxes. I felt very virtuous when I handed back to the flight attendant my finished tray looking the same as the one she had given me.

The house on the Nieuwe Prinzengracht, like most houses in the Centrium, had a narrow front. To take the most advantage of the sunlight coming in through the two front windows, the ground-floor apartment had three levels. On the highest was the kitchen, on the middle level was the study, and on the lowest level was the master bedroom. The kitchen led into a deep living space, accented by green-gray walls and wooden flooring, and into a backyard flushed with palms. The study was small, but its open design made it less claustrophobic. Shelves of books ran round the walls here, and among them were copies of two novels the woman published. (She is visiting NYC, with her partner and their daughter, to research for her new novel, and then is flying to Las Vegas to marry her partner of 12 years quietly, with no family fusss.) Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kafka, Dickens, Marquez, Sartre, Stephen Hawking were familiar names on unfamiliar covers. A low bed with a wide frame took up most of the space in the master bedroom. No sheets.

In our first walk together, we strolled along Nieuwe Prinzengracht (roads and canals were called Nieuwe on the east side of the Amstel) to the Skinny Bridge which crossed the Amstel. We walked up Utrechtsestraat and found a nice bar and restaurant for coffee and pancakes. The girl serving had a sweet smile. We sat outside because the bar was smoky, and looked at the canal while we ate. Then the sun broke through the clouds. The check was for EU19, which to my mind was way too expensive for what we had. Walking up Utrechtsestraat after brunch, we came to Rembrandtplein where an imposing statue of the artist towered over a sculptural re-creation of his famous painting, The Night Watch. We walked around Reguliersbreestraat to recce a few of the gay bars in that area, before turning back home.

In the afternoon we wanted to hear the carillon of the Oude Kerk. We strolled up to Waterlooplein, walked through an open air flea market there, passed Rembrandthuis, and went up St Antoinesbreestraat. On that street, we popped into a bakery and had a spinach and a sausage pastry. We walked across Nieuwmarkt Square, and into Chinatown. Hearing the church bells, we walked towards the sound, and found ourselves in the red light district. Directly across from the church was a coffeeshop and juicebar offering weed, and diagonally across were the shop windows in which the sex workers stood. The church itself seemed cobbled together, with distinctive late additions.

We went to the Web to get a drink, but did not stay there very long. We were hungry by then, and the Quarterback led us to a tapas place called Joselito, by the Singel. We had pork fried with Spanish sauce, grilled squid, lamb and vegetables. The portions were decent, and the taste good, especially the grilled squid. After dinner, we walked along the Singel and then decided to visit the private gay club, 21. A young black man opened the door, and led us up a steep flight of stairs to a small bar with a heavily furnished lounge area. A young Columbian man came to chat us up, and then the young black man, who told us that he was visiting from London. He is London-born. His parents were from Jamaica.

We left after finishing our drinks, after the Quarterback explained to me the difference between seltzer and soda water. The latter has salt in it. We walked through the Oude Kerk area again. Groups of men had gathered in front of the sex workers to joke with, mock, or just stare. We retraced our steps, the streets now looking more unknowable, and the plazas more desolately romantic than in the day. I said to the Quarterback that we sure worked the Centrium thoroughly today, and he agreed and added that it was the arsehole of Amsterdam.

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