Tag Archives: canals

2014: learn it all again tomorrow

glassy canals in amsterdam

the new year tends to be a very polarizing event for most people, and it’s no different for me.  when i was a high school kid, my new year’s eves were typically spent trying to find ways to raise mischief at little house parties that i may or may not have been invited to, often by crashing parties dressed in stupid outfits or running through parties screaming stupid phrases wearing only my underwear with women’s leggings over my face to conceal my identity, quickly escaping into the night moments later.  i wish i could say i was lying about that, but i’m not.  what a jackass.

anyway, as i got older, i had my fair share of standard new years parties for college-aged kids, usually semi-responsible affairs with mostly-irresponsible amounts of alcohols or substances, and those behaviors continued on for most of my twenties, some a little rougher than others, but mostly forgettable.  i remember always having this sense of hope that the new year would bring some sort of genuine experience or meaningful memory that would somehow help me find purpose or direction in my next go-round the sun.  unfortunately, that never seemed to materialize and i’d usually spent the night drinking and dancing my way into idiotic oblivion, and by the time the central moment of the night came and passed, my attention span was paper thin and the brain cells holding any memories were long dead.  i always awoke with a headache and a taste of disappointment.

in my last few years of life, i’ve resorted to less-crazy and/or booze-fueled holidays, and opted for more private affairs; small gatherings with close friends and games.  or last year, when i spent the new year watching fireworks on the beach in peru.  these smaller groupings take a lot of the focus off the need for “something big” to happen and they opened up room for self-reflection and authenticity.  and that’s something i’ve learned about myself, is that these are 2 things that i desperately need to make time for, or i become restless and unhappy.

and so i find myself back here for the 31st time in my life (in this blog’s 31st post, how clever), new year’s eve, in the charming city of amsterdam, the first city that made me feel at home and comfortable in my own skin here in europe.  the first city that i wandered in europe without knowing where the hell i was going or what i was supposed to be doing.  the first city where i didn’t speak the language and was legitimately scared to interact with people.  the first city where i was visibly disturbed by a local food custom (mayo on the fries?!?!  NO!!!).  the first city to give me an eye-opening appreciation for visual art (the van gogh museum).  the first city where i met a community of locals that happily accepted me and invited me places.  this place holds a special spot in my heart, and i am happy to be back here among friendly faces, ready to ring in the new year.

but before the fireworks pop and the bubbly flows, before the music bumps and the sky glows, i take a look back on the year that was.  what i thought it was going to be and what it became.  and everything i learned in between.

i learned how to express my feelings instead of bottling them up.  i learned how to deal with loss.  i learned how to accept that i wasn’t happy with my life, and i learned what it meant to do something about it.  i learned what it meant to actually be in love with someone, and how to let go of them when you knew they weren’t coming back.  i learned how to move on.  i discovered my own self worth, and what i am & am not.  i learned how to let go of the wheel, how to stop trying to control everything (okay this one is a constant struggle).  i learned how to search for new horizons.  i learned the importance of “do,” and the danger of complacence.  i learned how to jump without a parachute.   i learned that its okay to not know exactly where you’re going.

i saw so much of the world.  i met so many amazing people.  i cried.  i laughed.  i lived.  i made dreams come true.  i lived life in the present, instead of the past or future.  i took deep breaths. i stopped being afraid.  i listened instead of competed.  i walked.  i stopped planning.

and as the day descends into night over the sleepy canals of the vibrant and pulsing city above them, and i count down the minutes until midnight, when i stand with one foot in the past and one in the future, desperately trying to maintain a grasp on the present, i want to impersonally thank every single soul that has graced my presence this year.  regardless of the interaction or its significance, i assure you it contributed in some way to a life-changing year that no amount of words could ever capture.  but i will keep trying, every week, and i will continue to thank the stars that someone out there is even interested in what i have to say or see.  thank you, every single one of you.  you’re all beautiful.

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i thought long and hard about writing some sort of “year in review” section for the music portion of the blog, but ultimately decided against it.  mainly because i feel that the most important aspect of music these days is how it makes the individual feel, not the “message” that it’s trying to send or the movement it’s trying to start.  there are legions of blogs out there whose sole purpose is to explore such topics, but the music component of this blog tries to take a more simplistic appreciation of music.  songs are the soundtrack of our lives, and all our lives have a different path.  what a song means to me is different from what it means to you, so instead of talking about it til we’re blue in the face, let’s just listen to it.

so that being said, i’ve chosen the last we philistines song of 2014 carefully.  it’s a newer song from an old sentimental favorite of mine, ben harper, and the lyrics sum me up pretty well at this stage of my life.  it talks about learning how to accept who you are, faults and all, and being okay with each new day being it’s own step to climb, no matter the past or the future.   while some might find this song a little depressing, i find it to be comforting.  enjoy…

 

and the we philistines 2014 playlist.  tomorrow we’ll start a 2015 playlist if you care to follow along.  i’ll share that in the next post…

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canal boats, dad jokes, and an expat gathering, part 1

the next morning I awoke to an eager sam & jenna.  they were ready to go already.  they had a surprise.  we headed for a local grocery and picked up some juice and fruits, some fresh bread, a few deli meats, tomatoes, lettuce, and mustard.  never forget the mustard.  groceries into the carriage box on the front of jenna’s tank of a bicycle (this thing doesn’t need a bell on it because you can hear it coming from a mile away), and we were on our way again.  10 minutes later we pulled up to a little dock, locked up the bikes and stepped out onto the water.  we had rented a canal boat for the morning.

glassy canals in amsterdamone of sam & jenna’s friends, pierre joined us after a couple minutes and then we were on our way.  we cruised around, lazily motoring up one canal and down the next, watching the maze of moored boats tied to the canal walls drift by, admiring the diversity of style among them all.  pierre, sharing my enthusiasm for capturing the moment on film, joined me in obsessively snapping photo after photo as we made our way along.  the sunshine was perfect with nary a cloud above, providing ample opportunity for viewing and exploring.  eventually I put down the camera and decided to just enjoy the moment.  I swung an arm out and hooked it over the side of the boat and took a deep breath.  I didn’t really ever want to exhale.

smiles on the seaafter a couple hours we returned the boat and stopped at a cool little bar in the area that sits right out over the water called “mata hari.”  instead of a parking lot for cars, this place has about 5 spots where boats can pull up and get a beer.  well, the passengers can, I’m not really sure why a boat would be drinking beer.

and I’ve just worked my first “dad joke” into a post.  check that one off the list.

as we sat on the comfortable patio furniture, I got to know pierre a little better.  A soft spoken gent from south africa, pierre managed some sort of logistics or something or other for a company here in amsterdam.  he had a gentle approach toward conversation, never needing to be the dominant personality and always patient to hear what you were saying.  as the day wore on he became more comfortable with me, I could see his sense of humor slowly making its way out as he got more and more goofy and enjoyable.  I could also sense that he was loosening up a little throughout the day because he was actually going on his own vacation the following day to greece.  I expressed my jealousy.

after the, we parted ways with pierre and planned to meet up with friends later over dinner.

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today’s audio gem is from my favorite band right now:  the barr brothers.  their new album, “sleeping operator” just came out yesterday and it is a solid album, top to bottom.  their first album is also incredibly underrated and i highly recommend it as well.  they’ve got a great rootsy americana sound, complete with slide guitars and mandolins and rusty background sounds, accompanied by thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies.  enjoy…

welcome to amsterdam: land of low-key

After my quick jaunt of londontown, I hopped on a quick flight (quickest flight ever.  $55usd got me there in less than an hour on easyjet.com, compared to a 3 hour train ride for 180 euros. That’s a head scratcher) to Amsterdam to see my great friends sam & jenna.

I really didn’t know what to expect from Amsterdam.  Depending on who you’re talking to, it’s either a cultural icon that has produced 2 separate generations of groundbreaking visionary painters, as well as generations upon generations’ worth of knowledge and expertise on the topic of water engineering (seriously, the dutch were called upon by new Orleans for help to set up a better system after katrina.  Venice has also been ringing them in recent years for help with how to save their city), and a general sense of incredible business efficiency orrrrrr… they are a haven for those who are prone to all manner of sinful vice, like legal prostitution or legal marijuana, and just a general attitude of apathy toward how someone wants to live their life, making it perfect for someone who wants to pursue somewhat questionable moral behavior.

And there’s also the canals.  And the bicycles.  We’ll get to those in a minute.

My plane landed almost before I could even get comfortable on the flight.  I had zero chance to write (which is why there was a good week or so of silence on the blog. Sorry fans – all 3 of you who read this, including my mom and dad).  I breezed through customs and waiting right in the sunlight were my friends sam & jenna, looking just as fashionable as they always do.  Jenna with a sweet smile and a big hug waiting, and sam with a wry grin that almost makes you think he knows something he’s not telling you.  It had been almost 2 years to the day since they left Denver in a whirl, leaving almost before anyone had noticed when sam had jumped at a chance to work in Europe. They handed me a metro card and we hopped on a train.

i amsterdam I met jenna in my orientation group in college.  We went to a very small private Christian university in Arkansas called john brown university, and their orientation was obnoxiously like summer camp for church youth groups all across the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy the weird relay race games that included hula hoops and potato sacks and team cheers, but I also really wanted to think that I had finally broken free from my childhood and was now a “man,” and men don’t play childish games.  I also really wanted to look cool for the new college chicks I was meeting, and a “man” couldn’t possibly be bothered with such silly games.  I had a lot to learn.

Anyway, jenna and one other girl named Emily were the only cool people I really identified with in my orientation group, and we would remain acquaintances for awhile until a year later when sam would arrive, sweeping jenna off her feet and simultaneously removing a preciously sought commodity from the jbu dating scene.  Sam and I became fast friends when, according to multiple sources, I was apparently a bit of an intimidating character for all the RA’s at the jbu dorms, and the only person who was a regular “prayer request” item without an actual reason.  I guess I was a bit of a dick in those days.  Except sam got it.  From day one.  I was a caricature.  My behavior was a filtering mechanism for who I should and shouldn’t spend time on/with, and sam never batted an eye.  He could always reply with a quick retort, usually faster than I could even think what my next quip would be.  He’s probably better at the game than I am. Anyway, he was never intimidated by me and we got along famously, always on the same intramural sports teams, always down to sit around and shoot the shit.  Sam’s “in tune” and so is jenna.

Sam and jenna both have very strong business minds and would continually bail me out of anything that involved an accounting or finance exam or project, while I could usually be counted on to show up for a presentation of some sort and rock it with nearly no preparation.  I’m not sure if I should be bragging about that.

Sam & jenna were also two of the people who really helped me get thru some of my tough times when I moved to Denver and things didn’t really pan out for me the way I had hoped.  We played for a couple years on a competitive volleyball team (along with another close friend, leah) that would really be a therapeutic outlet for me.

They also have one of those really balanced relationships where both parties truly seek out the other, both challenging and helping in ways that just wouldn’t be possible for one to be as great without its counterpart. Suffice it to say that they truly are incredible people and I could never say enough about how I look up to them.

Anyway, sorry, you want to hear about Amsterdam, not some sappy love affair among two jerks living out a daily romantic fantasy in Europe.

We wasted no time at all.  As we pulled away on the metro, I noticed a tri-level parking structure thingy for thousands – literally thousands – of bicycles.  I’ve never seen so many in my life.  Until the tram pulled into sam and jenna’s neighborhood.  I stepped off the train and immediately almost lost my life to a gaggle of ruthless bicyclists barreling their way down the street to some life-or-death situation which I’m sure demanded their ability to run anyone off the road in their pursuit of whatever crime they were trying to stop or baby they needed to save from a burning house.  I quickly forgave them with a few choice phrases under my breath and followed my friends to their place.

The modest apartment boasts a fantastic top level view over a beautiful canal intersection with a nice hotel across the street with a patio across the way, providing a scenic backdrop that one might only see in dreams if they never ventured out.  I really didn’t have time to enjoy the view, however, as sam tossed me a set of keys to the apartment and beckoned me come follow him and the wife to go see my wheels for the next couple days.  We hopped on bikes and headed out

sam & jenna didn’t let me become intimidated by the biking system in the dam, they simply forced me into it immediately.  Luckily I had them to follow around, because I was a little on sensory overload trying to figure out when to go, when to stop, who had the right of way, when to watch for a train, when to watch for pedestrians, when to not ride straight into a canal (well, you should probably avoid that at all times, really).

But seriously, I think this is something that people are unaware of.  I knew people rode bikes here, but I didn’t realize how dominant it is as a transport system.  EVERYONE bikes here.  It’s inspiring.  Even bike city havens like Portland, Denver, and others in the US can’t even come close to how heavily adopted the dutch are into the biking culture.  And none of the bikes are these flashy contraptions for show that might show off in some fashion.  the bikes in Amsterdam are mainly for function, lest it gets stolen or someone accidentally kicks it into a canal, there’s no pragmatic reason to spend a boatload of cash on a bike so people just keep it straightforward.  in fact, if there’s a word i’d choose to describe the dutch in my experience, it’s just that:  pragmatic.

We arrived at a tiny cocktail bar that only fit a max of 12 (my estimate) people and had been in the family for over 7 or 8 generations called “the doctor” (or T’doktor, locally)  Seriously, this place is awesome.  I have no pictures of this place, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Great cocktails, and the guy who runs it is this old man who is retired and does it for fun.  He makes time to talk to his local patrons, so when sam and jenna arrived, he came over to chat for about 5 minutes before shuffling on to his other guests.  We then headed over to some pizza place for a pie and some beers, and then eventually also went to “Winkel 43” (which just means “store 43.”  remember what i said about pragmatism?)  for some delectable apple pie, as jenna knows I never say “no” to dessert.

On our way home, the night air was crisp but not cold as we glided thru it, around tight turns down narrow cobblestone streets and up arched bridges over reflective canals, bouncing the moon’s light off the water and back up onto the old buildings around us.  Just before we reached the apartment, I had a sudden pronounced inkling that I was really going to like this place.

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this week for your musical arrangement, we have an obvious selection from Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s new side project with his son on drums, “Tweedy.”   i love this song, and the recently produced music video directed by nick offerman is both quirky and hilarious.  listen to this whole album, it is excellent.  aptly titled “low key” for this blog post (okay, it’s the other way around), enjoy…