October 16, 2018
“This is overstimulation.”
- Deni, following ten minutes of stunned silence watching cyclists in Amsterdam ….
I’m eating lunch on a sidewalk patio in central Amsterdam, Netherlands – one of the most compelling and notorious cities in the world. A city of stories. A city of lanes and alleys paved with memory and magic and regret.
No city I've visited feels quite like this.
All around me I hear voices. Languages. Dutch. Arabic. English. French. There is laughter. There are shouts. People of seemingly every ethnicity bustling along the street. Tourists with cameras pointed. A man smoking a joint. And another. And another. They blur against a backdrop of buildings so stately and old that I can’t decide which photos to take. Everywhere is breath-taking and mysterious and just a little bit tainted somehow, in the most exotic way.
There are smells, too. Middle Eastern food. Vehicle exhaust. That ubiquitous, vaguely nauseating smell that drifts around all big cities. Sewers, maybe. The smell of time. I sit back in my chair and take in this scene and think, “Oh, the places music can take you.”
Europe. Eastern Canada. Western Canada. I’ve played in pubs in Victoria and clubs in Vienna. Music gave me the Rocky Mountains and The Reeperbahn. The bones of Kutna Hora and the Berlin Wall. Music has been my conduit. My window to the world. Two hours ago I saw Greenland’s snow-capped peaks from 30,000 feet. Music gave that to me too. How blessed am I?
Yesterday we awoke with nothing to do. Well, almost nothing to do. We had to take all of the gear back to Joost’s place, but otherwise had no schedule to keep. Nowhere to be. The shows were finished. Sarah suggested we find our way to Amsterdam for the evening and the lads were quick to say yes. Our experience of that great city has been limited to the airport, and we wanted to see it when we had the chance.
And so, after breakfasting at the hotel, we drove to Joost’s place in Oosterbeek to drop off the gear we’ve used for the past month. I want to give a shout-out to the fine people at Mapex Drums. I used a Mapex Orion kit on the tour and it was fabulous. The drums looked and sounded great, even with me tuning them (the mark of a quality kit). When Joost found out we planned to take the train to Amsterdam, he piled us all into his car and said he would drive us to Utrecht to save us some time. What a generous guy. In the end he drove us all the way to the outskirts of Amsterdam itself and dropped us off at a train station. He didn’t need to take that much time out of his day on our behalf and we very much appreciate it. Thanks Joost!
We rode into the city and got off at Amsterdam Centraal station. What a building. What a city. You know by now how enchanted I am with old architecture and history. Amsterdam is a paradise for people like me. We stepped out of the train station and onto the street and, yet again, I had the sense of walking onto a movie set. Beautiful old buildings with their character and charm.
Close your eyes.
Picture it a hundred years ago. Three hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago. Can you imagine the people building those structures? Can you imagine the depth of history in a place like that? It’s a postcard come to life (a faded postcard with curled up corners, found behind a display case in an old cigar shop, dropped by a man with dirty hands and dirtier thoughts, reaching for a bag of coins won in a knife fight or parlour game).
We had quick lunch at a shawarma shop and then set off to explore those busy, winding streets and alleys. I was about to compare Amsterdam to The Reeperbahn, but it’s not the same. At least not in the daytime where we were. Amsterdam manages somehow to be just as tawdry in a more classy way. A tart in a prettier dress. But yeah, it’s all happening there. They’ve actually managed to turn the world’s oldest profession into a tourist attraction. Follow the red lights. Stroll down that dusky lane and there are the girls behind glass.
An occasional cigarette.
You make eye contact with one of them and then what do you do? Smile sheepishly? Wink? Look away with a face more red than the light above the window? Those girls have seen it all. Here and there the curtains are closed and you wonder.
We stopped at a patio to have a drink and watch the controlled chaos of ten thousand bicycles and scooters playing chicken with cars at an intersection along a gorgeous canal. We stood on a bridge and waved to smiling girls floating beneath us in a small boat. We watched the sun begin to sink all pink and beautiful behind the buildings. We stood in the square. We wandered past the infamous Bulldog – the first café in Amsterdam (“café” meaning weed café). They’ve turned that into tourism as well.
You learn to be a tourist in a hurry on the road. As I’ve written before, if we have any spare time it’s usually only an hour or two. You figure out how to get a sense of a place, breathe it in, and move on. We did something like that in Amsterdam. We spent a few hours making and avoiding eye contact with the window girls and just marinating in the city’s unique vibe. Its history. Its energy. It was time extremely well spent and, like so many other wonderful memories and experiences, I owe Amsterdam to music.
Thank you, Sarah, for taking us there.
After our dance on the dark side, we boarded the train again for the ride back to Ooosterbeek and Joost’s place to pick up our van. Then it was an hour’s drive to our hotel in Gouda, where we set about packing and getting ready for an early morning airport run. I was sorting through my stuff and it was like a trip through time. The Bayern Munich mug Schimmi gave me for my birthday. The bottle of Schlossgeist that Helena brought me. The memories come back. I think about them now and I smile.
Blue skies over Toronto today.
We’re home, friends.