The best way to do this post is a two-parter.
Part One: A proper summer weekend
This weekend was insanely beautiful in Amsterdam, and everyone rushed out to enjoy. It feels like the city has come back to life, and all the students have returned (which explains why it's now almost impossible to find a good bike parking spot near my apartment, since I live right next to the University of Amsterdam). The Uitmarkt festival, which ran this past weekend, opened up the start of the Dutch cultural season. Cinemanita starts again this Monday at De Nieuwe Anita with a screening of Faust (!! Jan Svankmajer). After a quiet August, I'm really excited to have too much to do again, too many things to choose from, and acknowledge that my biggest problem is figuring out how I can fit all this fun stuff in my schedule.
In my case, the best part of Amsterdam this weekend was hanging out with my good friend C. I fully intended to give her my guest bike while she's in town, but unfortunately, the back tire needs to be completely replaced and the bike is parked somewhere completely far from where I live or work. Luckily, our friend Mark was quick to offer his guest bike, and said it would be fine for C. to go pick it up around midnight on Friday. "I'll give you a ride!" I offered, and as we were getting ready to go I felt obliged to admit to her that I had never actually rode anyone on the back of my bike before. I have been a passenger many times, but never a driver, so to speak. C. allowed me to use her as my guinea pig, and I happily rode her from my place (which is in the Center-East of Amsterdam) to Mark's house in the Oud Zuid - a fairly significant ride! The first few minutes were a little wobbly, but we made it through crowded intersections at Leidseplein and Vondelpark without incident and both of us arrived at Mark's house safe and sound.
It was a good thing we picked up the bike on Friday night, because on Saturday the two of us spent a huge chunk of the day cycling. We used C's very helpful Voordeelurenabonnement to purchase train tickets to Santpoort Zuid at a 40% discount (tip: you can always take your bike on a train in the Netherlands, but you have to pay for a bike ticket at well). From there, we rode a few kilometers to Brederode Castle -originally built in 1282 - and admired the ruins. After a drink in the lovely little terrace, we rode through the woods for a while, going up and down what I would be tempted to call actual hills. Okay, for the Netherlands, they WERE hills. In a flat country, you take what you can get. We ended up at a lovely beach, spread out our towels, and enjoyed the sun. There were tons of dogs running around chasing balls, topless women, little naked kids building sand castles, plenty of folks enjoying a beer or sharing a bottle of wine - and I thought to myself that all these little things belong at a beach. But the beaches that I've been to in Long Island, Los Angeles, or New Jersey don't allow dogs, would charge you to just walk on the sand, many discourage alcohol, forbid dogs, and certainly don't allow topless sunbathing.
I love living in Europe.
Part Two: American issues
I'm mailing out my absentee voter registration tomorrow. It's crazy to think that in 65 days, the US will have a new President, and I have no idea what's going to happen. Everything about American politics is a mystery to me - McCain picking Sarah Palin as his running mate? Where on earth did that come from? I'm trying not to get my hopes up on two fronts. #1, I don't want to assume Obama can win. I mean, we're talking about a country full of people who elected Bush into office in 2004 (the popular vote did NOT give Bush the presidency in 2000, so I try avoid saying that the actual American people voted him into office twice). I also don't want to assume that if Obama wins, everything will magically get better and Americans will suddenly be able to have access to education and health care. So I remind myself of these two things often.
But you know what? When I voted for Kerry in 2004, I was doing it because he wasn't Bush. That was it. When I vote for Obama this November, it's because I actually think there is a possibility he could do a really good job as president. For any Americans living abroad that need to get their absentee ballots, you can go to fvap.gov to figure out what you need to do. Some states let you do everything through email, but annoyingly, California is not one of those states (and even more annoyingly, even though I spent most of my US life in New York and only 10 weeks living in Los Angeles, I'm registered to vote in California).
However, the much more pressing issue right now in the US is Hurricane Gustav. People have already died in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica from this hurricane. The devastation in Cuba has been terrible. Gustav is due to hit New Orleans tomorrow (Monday) morning, and as I watched a clip of Nagin's (Mayor of New Orleans) press conference, all I could think is "this can't possibly happen again." But it can happen again, can't it? The thought is petrifying. I'm following the Gustav Reporter twitter page this evening, and as I combed through different reports in the media, I found an article titled "In New Orleans, Blogs become crucial decision-making tool" from the Chicago Tribune. I trust blogs and twitter feeds for a more real-life account of what is happening right this minute, and it helps me feel more connected to what's going on at home.
Technology has changed the expat experience. Perhaps a topic worth going into more, but this post has gone on long enough as it is. I'm going to try to post a little more frequently this month, maybe three times a week, so I don't have to just unload everything all at once.