Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Amsterdam Christmas Day

We met him as we walked along a canal. He had a pot that contained a few missed kernels of rice that he had fed to birds. He asked if we were from the best part of the US. Thinking I knew where he was going with the question – anywhere we named would be the best part – I responded by asking him which part is the best. He replied “north Texas” and the conversation was off at a run. I doubt that he said Texas because recognized Julie’s Texas accent. We confirmed some Texas roots and, in a humorous gambit, he turned the conversation to Bush. Even though the Dutch are involved in Iraq, he thinks “Bush should be back in Texas signing death warrants for a few people rather than signing warrants for so many in Iraq”. I asked “What’s your opinion of other US presidents?” He liked Eisenhower! Patting his head in a dramatic gesture, he replied “Eisenhower wouldn’t have a war. He would have used his head.”

Regardless of your political position and regardless of your evaluation of the war, I think you would like Jung. He is a photographer and appears to be 70 or, perhaps, 80 years old. Before we parted, I asked if Julie might take our photo and he agreed. “Jung, I wish we had a few hours to sit and talk. I hope to meet you again, my friend.”

Christmas was a sunny day with a blue sky. As we walked toward Central Station we found an open square that had booths and a carnival atmosphere. Children and adults were ice skating. It was entertaining to watch them. Some were experienced and some held fast to a rail for balance. Children always laughed when they fell. There was much laughter.

We stopped by a café for lunch and ordered the egg breakfast. We were delivered one egg, over easy, two slices of cheese, a thin shaved piece of ham, coffee and about eight pieces of bread that had been toasted on one side. Food isn’t important to me and, when we ordered, I didn’t notice that the waiter didn’t ask how we wanted our eggs nor did I question how many we would receive. In my opinion, the meal was excellent in quantity and quality.

We met Abby and Shaun to attend an Anglican service at four o’clock. The older I get the less I plan ahead. I don’t feel stressed about blundering into new or unknown situations so I didn’t ask questions and assumed we were attending a traditional Anglican service in a traditional church building. When we arrived, it was a building like hundreds of others. We climbed a four story spiral stair case into a relatively small loft room that appeared to have no organization. It contained a sound system, some tables and chairs, a few couches, large pillows on the floor, a few children and several twenty-something young adults. Coffee and hot chocolate were available. In the end there must have been about 50 people in attendance. We sang traditional Christmas carols with the support of guitars and a violin. The entire service was in English with the exception of “Silent Night” About half of those who attend are Dutch and the remainder are international students. I spoke with a man from Los Angeles who is in Amsterdam to speak at an international conference on some subjected related to church work. He and I were the old guys in attendance. He must have been all of 42. The parts of the experience that will remain in my memory are the youthful enthusiasm, dreams, sense of group identity, desire to change the world and blind faith in their abilities. Where will they be in twenty-five years? Will they be attending church with a more sedate attitude or will they be tired, less hopeful and perhaps cynical? It doesn’t matter. For the moment they are young and somewhat naïve. Life is as it should be for them. I’m glad I had the opportunity to take part and be reminded of a period of my life many years ago.

Forget that Christmas goose with side dishes and plum pudding. We chose to follow the ecclesiastical hot chocolate with pizza and a visit to Australian Chocolate and Ice Cream. As we left, a thin man of about fifty who was pushing a bicycle approached me and said “give me something to eat”. I was in the middle of a conversation with Shaun and didn’t handle the situation as I normally would. Rather than attempt to begin a conversation and offer to buy a meal for him, I quickly decided he didn’t appear to be an alcoholic looking for money for another drink and gave him all the change in my pocket – perhaps about five euros. He thanked me and went on his way. Later, Julie and I stopped by a fruit market and walked down the same street and I was approached by the man a second time. I reminded him that I had given him some money earlier. For a moment he appeared confused. I’m confident he didn’t remember me. Alcoholic? Mental problems? Other health problems? I don’t know.

Amsterdam has a red light district that’s noted in all the travel guides. Julie wanted to walk through the area. As we walked along she made the statement “I wonder how sad it will make me?” I questioned why the wanted to go there if it would make her sad. My personal thoughts were that Christmas was the perfect time for this experience. We’re spending money on entertainment and travel and Christmas gifts and live oblivious to the day to day existence of women who live what I perceive to be horrible liives. Maybe Christmas night is the time to be brought back to reality. We walked and searched for about thirty minutes before the cold led us to turn back to the warmth of our hotel. I regret that we couldn’t find the area. We’ll find it on another search but I don’t think the experience will be as dramatic. I wanted the contrast between children ice skating, young adults attending church and victimized women ignored and abandoned.

On the return to the hotel a woman in her early forties spoke to us as we walked near a residential area. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if she was speaking Dutch or English. As she repeated herself, I struggled to understand. It appeared she needed money for a hostel that cost nine euros. She had four and need five more so she wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets. She didn’t appear to be homeless. She pulled four euros and a debit card out of her pocket and explained that the debit card was being rejected for some reason. Was I being conned? I had three euros in change that I received at the fruit market so I gave them to her. She thanked me and made an effort to ask about us – were we Americans and were we on holiday. Was I scammed? Don’t know, don’t care. I’d prefer to lose a few dollars occasionally and maintain some of the youthful idealism that I had seen among the young Anglicans – the same idealism that I used to have in abundance.

Christmas day came to an end. It was a good day. Julie and I didn’t exchange gifts this year – not physical gifts. Instead we gave each other memories of experiences that we shared together and memories of people who crossed our paths briefly. Yes, it was a good day.

I've posted 23 photos in the gallery (http://paju.us/gallery)


Blogger Bob said...

"Children always laughed when they fell."
Amazing how different they are to most adults!

12/27/2005 04:19:00 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

You and Julie look and sound like you are having so much fun!! What a wonderful way to spend Christmas...traveling and being with the one you love.

I love the pictures and cannot wait to see what else your travels bring.

12/27/2005 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

I am reading. Thank you for sharing this adventure.

12/27/2005 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I am enjoying your trip very much.

12/27/2005 11:32:00 AM  

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