Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tonight, tonight

I went to the IJ brewery, on account of Stross mentions 'em in Accelerando. Ended up sitting with some computer science from Finland. He didn't speak dutch either, so we were a fun pair of ex-pats.

Somewhere around our 3rd beer, this American classic car pulls up on the sidewalk. A convertible with the top down, maybe a Camaro or Mustang of late 60s pedigree, I couldn't tell. The boys inside hopped out of the car, plugged speakers into a post onto the exterior, set up a drum set in the back seat. One stood on the hood with a guitar, the other on the trunk with a base. They wore leather jackets and sunglasses. Their hair was perfect. They started a rambling dutch introduction I couldn't catch a word of. The crowd seemed amused though. Then they started their first song.

It was an electrified version of "Love the One You're With," they were a cover band.

Two songs later they launched into "Country Roads," and the whole bar sang out the refrain. They played a short set, maybe 8 songs. The lead singer came through the crowd with a little red pail, collecting Euro coins. A waitress brought them beers and left them on the hood.

When they were finished they gunned the engine and roared off down the street, an act that, given Dutch gas prices, must have set them back at least 5 euro.

Amazing. Like something out of Godard. So strange to see "American-ness" in the funhouse mirror of New Europe.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reboot the Reboot - First Thoughts on Amsterdam

Ok, so maybe I want a personal blog. I need a "professional" blog somewhere, but the concavity should be for, shall we say, creative non-fiction.

I've been in Amsterdam for about, oh, 4 or 5 hours now... managed to stretch a conference visit into a 5 day trip! I'm almost delirious from lack of sleep, I never sleep on planes, but I know I have to keep going, if I fall asleep now I'll be back up at midnight and all out of whack tomorrow.

When I get to someplace new, I like to walk a wide circle around the place where I'll be staying, like a cat turning circles before laying down to sleep. I like to do this for several reasons. On the practical side, it orients me to the area, helps me learn north from south and keep from getting lost. However, what I really like is the thrill of strolling through ordinary neighborhoods in an ordinary way thousands of miles from my home, like an extraordinarily unlikely extra in someone else's movie. Guy on street #234, Amsterdam exterior day, is just an ordinary guy with no significant role to play in this movie, oh, but he's 6,000 miles out of place.

Oh and you are in a cast of thousands on the street here. Not like Atlanta where you are rarely, if ever, in a cast of dozens on the street. Bicycle friendly cities are awesome. I was enjoying a Heineken at a cafe near my hotel when school let out, and families and knots of children of various ages came bustling down the (subtly marked! careful about that!) bike paths, laughing and chattering in dutch. It felt deeply right somehow, the mix of people of different ages riding together, the discussions between riders... like a proper, living community.

Oh and I'm sure I'm not the first to notice that the simple, upright design of what seems to be the default bike here is awesome. You are almost in a standing position riding it. Looks comfortable and easy to maneuver. I wouldn't want to do 30 miles on one, but that's not what they are for.

Pics from my trip on Flickr at