Friday, October 2, 2015

déjà vu

I'd meant to continue with the #eurotrip adventures, but current affairs have stopped me in my tracks.
Two days ago, I learned yet another classmate of mine had passed away. She committed suicide. She left behind a young daughter and numerous loved ones; depression as well. There are nearly a dozen men and women I graduated high school with who are no longer living. And I graduated with 95.

The following day, yesterday, I received a news alert I wasn't immediately startled by. President Obama condemned how "routine" mass shootings have become. Indeed, 2015 has been the worst year for such horrors in the United StatesAmerica has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and 15 times as many as Germany; and despite repetitive arguments, armed civilians do not stop them from happening. I encourage you to watch the President's statement below. He's angry and frustrated, too.

This past weekend, I finished Secret Son, a hauntingly beautiful read by Laila Lalami (thank you, Little Free Library). It has an engaging albeit fictional storyline, but I was most interested in how it reflected "the desperation that grips ordinary lives in a world divided by class, politics, and religion"--very much a characteristic of the modern condition in Morocco... and everywhere else.

Our reality weighs heavily on my heart. My childhood friend recently had a baby boy, and my excitement to meet him is stained by guilt at the world he has so innocently entered. I worry we've become too disconnected, too numb, too untrusting. In that "debate" I mentioned having at a cozy bar in Amsterdam, Lorelei and I tried to explain the individualism at the core of American identity; how it's responsible, as we believe, for our economic success, revolutionary inventions, powerful global standing, and increasingly unacceptable social ills. "Our thoughts and prayers are not enough," President Obama declared; I'm afraid mere kindness isn't either.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

happy hours in amsterdam-oost

I stood at the door. The host had given me clear directions to the flat and promised me his friend would meet me at 3 o'clock with the keys. It was 4:18pm (or, 16h18). I called the friend. "Oh, your friend should be inside. She was on time." Which friend, I wondered. Following his instruction, I buzzed up to the flat. It wasn't long before I heard feet running down the stairs. Marie's cousin greeted me. Though I'd never met her in person, I was relieved to immediately recognize Charlotte. She felt the same; little introduction meant she could rest her lost voice. She turned to lead me up three steep and narrow flights. I practically held my suitcase above my head.
Fortunately, the airbnb was as cute and airy as expected. Worth the hike, in other words. My brother rang up a few minutes after I'd caught my breath. Soon after, Marie followed. Properly reunited and introduced, we set out on a leisurely walk to the De Gooyer Windmill. We had made plans to meet Lorelei for happy hour al fresco at Brouwerij 't IJ, Amsterdam's leading organic microbrewery.
The evening advanced organically (pun intended) from there. Thanks to Lorelei's local scoop and Dutch data, we tipsily strolled over to Roest. The laid-back industrial setting was perfect. We enjoyed a couple more beers with a casual spread of picnic food. We also boldly participated in the inflatable backyard fun--a bungee run and a two-man joust--until we discovered it'd been rented for a private event...
Eventually, the night winded down with gin cocktails, whiskey, and wine at Walter's, the Walter Woodbury Bar. It was a classier yet just-as-local haunt with a beautiful interior that was clearly influenced by its namesake--the 19th century English photographer who was one of the first to capture the "exoticism" of the Dutch East Indies. Given the atmosphere and plethora of libations, our conversation became a debate on culture and identity. My brother was absolutely enthralled. "The wonder of grad school abroad," I told him with a smile as we walked "home" to the airbnb. What a special thing Jorgie and I now share.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

tour de den haag

Rachael headed out for a meeting on Thursday morning as I packed up my things. Suitcase in hand, I stopped into Quarantacinque for a quick coffee before making my way to King's Cross-St. Pancras Station. Hurrah. It truly is satisfying to be self-sufficient in a new city.
After soaring beneath the English Channel, across a sliver of northern France, and through Belgium (with a brief stop in Brussels), I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal. And though I'd originally intended to go directly to the Hague from there, I waited in the station for a familiar face. My brother had asked if he could please meet me for dinner. My heart nearly burst as he revealed how much he already understood the highs and lows of living abroad. He went on to treat me to the Vietnamese street food I'd introduced him to.
I don't think Jorgie realized how much that one meal and conversation means to me. My almost-23-year-old little brother (his birthday's this weekend) is growing up! I'm so incredibly proud of him for taking on the challenge and enrichment of life abroad as he does.
With all that warm sisterly pride in tow, I finally took the train to meet Lorelei (who I hadn't seen since this past New Year's in Brooklyn!) in The Hague. We had a couple of glasses of wine in a cute city square as we caught up. Being with friends is so much sweeter than keeping in touch by email and the occasional phone call, for the record :). From there, we took the long way back to her apartment so she could show me around the third largest city in the Netherlands. It's beautiful yet quaint--an expression of Dutch humility perhaps?
As we got ready for bed that night, we made a plan for tomorrow: We would meet for lunch after I had a leisurely morning of wandering my way back into the city center. Then she'd return to work and I'd go back into Amsterdam to meet up with my brother and ma soeur.
I almost wish I could spend my time like that always. Lorelei had warned me about the adorable boutiques I'd pass along the way, as well as the endless possibilities for coffee (and sandwiches). She'd also commented on the Dutch commitment to "cozy". It was so cool to see it all firsthand on that sunny morning. By chance, I ventured into the Namasté Café for tea, where I had a lovely conversation with the Dutch-Indonesian owner. It left me just enough time to check out Lola Bikes & Coffee on my way to Hometown Coffee.
I passed on more quality caffeine while Lorelei had an espresso. Then, we leisurely made our way over to a café with an open terrace for... sandwiches. I appreciated the simplicity my dear friend has tired of; more than that though, I appreciated the glimpse into her daily life and current home, just as I had in London with Rachael. Our whole worlds have changed so much since graduation. I was struck, too, by how amazingly "at home" I felt. The sentiment must have little to do with where one is, and everything to do with who one is with.
It's as if I'd forgotten such a heartwarming fact, and my entire time in the Netherlands generously reminded me of it. More to come.