The International Writers
Hours In Amsterdam
Subhash, and I arrived in Amsterdam by bus through France and
Belgium, after wandering through empty train cars in the Chunnel.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel appeared directly across from the station
and we stumbled wearily to our rooms.
Gargoyles by Michael Parkes
Then, we visited a coffee bar to perk up, and wandered the gray lanes
until dusk, digging the neon Dutch-language signs and brown winter canals.
The sprawling town seemed in the cloudy dusk of January to be a ruin,
inhabited by sparse ghosts left from the New Years celebration.
As my two friends and I stepped over the litter of the huge parties, we
discussed other endings and beginnings, historical eras of excess and
the reflective soberness that followed.
On the first night, we decided to eat at the old-Dutch Dorrius Restaurant
that was attached to the hotel. After we ordered a bottle of wine and
traditional Dutch dishes, the waiter dropped a bread basket on the table.
But instead of bread, something fried lay within, with a white dipping
bowl filled with a yellowish substance. When the waiter came over again
with the wine, I asked him what it was. "This is
" he said
in broken English, "lard, and these are pork rinds." Right.
We dug in, commenting that the health food revolution clearly had not
After a deep and dreamless sleep, we entered the gray, Rembrandt streets
at dawn, seemingly very late at this latitude. After a brief search, we
found the Steltman Gallery, home to Michael Parkes wonderful, magical-realist
paintings. A print of "Gargoyles" had hung on my wall for years,
and I was eager to see the original. The thin European woman running the
gallery let us in, surprised to see someone so early in the morning. After
a quick, useless search, I asked the woman where "Gargoyles"
was. "It has been loaned to the New York gallery," she asserted,
turning to dust more paintings. My heart sank. By the time I would return
and get the chance to visit Manhattan, the painting would no doubt be
Bicyclists careened past us as we continued past leafless parks and over
arced bridges. We traveled toward the museums, on the hunt for art. We
viewed the dark old masters of the Rijksmuseum, stopping before the famous
painting of "Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem,"
which my like-named friend solemnly paid homage to. Next were the broad
stroked paintings of the Van Gogh museum, self-portraits and landscapes,
peasants and flowers. I stood a long time in front of the famous "Wheatfield
With Crows," a cloudy reminder of the thin line between genius
and madness. Van Goghs thick, almost three-dimensional paintings
were so different than the prints it was shocking, and I hesitated before
Hungry now, we stopped for croissants and coffee at a small shop, and
attempted to read Dutch newspapers.
Art dominated the day, and we felt that somehow we were betraying the
usual American pursuits in Amsterdam. As we sipped the dark, rich liquid,
we discussed future possibilities: the unique sex shows and famous marijuana
bars. But exhibits like Michael Huismans disturbing collection,
"Garden, Night, and Farewell," had given us more than
enough pleasure already, here in the heart of old Europe. So, we found
an empty Indonesian restaurant, a relic of former colonial imperialism.
Downing more wine, sampled a huge selection of spicy eastern dishes, pondering
the venerable art we had worshipped that day, the productions of a great
culture. Only twenty-four hours had passed so far, and who knew what the
next day would hold, here amongst the canals and alleys, the paintings
and architecture, the last remnants of a sea-faring people who had long
since passed the torch to others.
© Eric D. Lehman Feb 2007
University of Bridgeport
elehman at bridgeport.edu
a hotel in Amsterdam here
Eric D Lehman
Karma and friendship on White Mountain Trails
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