November 28, 2008

Quick update from the Kriterion

Updating this blog was on a bit of a hiatus due to lack of internet at home (which I think is finally getting fixed, once and for all, this weekend). In the meantime, I've been keeping unbelievably busy with work, the IDFA, Dutch classes, Italian lessons, climbing, parties, planning trips, and so on.

I had a lovely day off from work on Thursday and spent a lot of time preparing for the Thanksgiving dinner I'm hosting tonight. I went over to a butcher at the Albert Cyup market who gave me my lovely 10-kilo turkey, a chicken, and 3 kilos of chicken livers. My goals for tonight's dinner, besides the turkey, are matzo ball soup and chopped liver (liver pâté). I have never made any of those things, but after spending most of my life watching my grandmother make the exact same foods every thanksgiving of my life, I figured that somewhere inside me this knowledge has become ingrained. So I strapped the turkey to the back of my bike, put the chicken and bag of livers in my backpack, and pedaled home.

I couldn't believe it when, last night around midnight, I tasted the chopped liver... and it was exactly the way it was supposed to be. Success! So when my roommate got home and asked me how my day was, I stood in the middle of my incredibly messy kitchen - borrowed appliances all around me - and all I could say was "it was really fun!" All I really want this Thanksgiving to be is a long, lingering night over tons of food that creates a huge mess. It should be too loud, very confusing, and everything should start late. That is all I need to remind me of the Thanksgivings I grew up with.

Ok, I'm giving myself about 30 minutes to learn everything I can online about how to cook a turkey and download all the podcasts I've been missing out on. Ready... go!

November 21, 2008

And on the 20th/21st of November, it snowed in Amsterdam

Actually, I can't really say for sure if it's snow. Hail, absolutely, yes, that's there. But what's happening outside right now is more than just freezing rain and it's not only hail... the tops of cars and metro stations and trams are now covered in a thin white layer of something very snow-like. Yes, that's snow coming down. I'm sure it won't stick, but at least for a moment, it's there.

And what a day for it! I heard about the snow in New York City and Philadelphia all day, and even got a message from a friend in Germany telling me about snow there. It was weird, actually, to all of a sudden hear from a bunch of different people in different places "hey, it's snowing!" When I got on my bike this morning, the sky was clear and blue and it was insanely sunny, so much that I wished for sunglasses. By the time I arrived at my office - 15 minutes later - the sky had turned dark and cloudy, the wind picked up, and it had begun to hail. 30 minutes later, I was standing near the windows admiring the clear blue sky. So strange.

And what is happening tonight is just beautiful. I am very, very happily spending the evening in my apartment after a few hours at the climbing gym. I was in the middle of catching up on a weeks worth of personal emails when I was distracted by the sudden hail/snowstorm going out outside my living room windows. All the cyclists were hunched over their handlebars, and the passengers sitting on the backs of the bikes were trying to use their "driver" as some kind of shield from the elements.

From my living room window, I can see one of the Weesperplein metro exits. A group of 20-something tourists came above ground, and started to freak out about the weather (as I'm sure when they got on the metro, it had probably been totally dry). One of the guys ran away from his friends to embrace the storm, then he made his friends go out from under the roof so he could take their picture. Everyone that I could see from my window was having fun with the weather, and I really enjoyed watching them. After about 10 minutes it calmed down, and the tourists put away their camera and went running to wherever they had planned. And of course, through the wind and snow and hail and rain, there were always people on bikes going back and forth along the wide bike lanes on my street.

I don't pretend to be a huge fan of cold, rainy, windy days. But there's something really nice about catching the first snow of the season, however brief it might be, and know that friends in different countries and different states in the US were all experiencing the same thing.

November 20, 2008

Something just seems different

The International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam begins today (20 Nov)! I have been swamped at work lately, which means I haven't found the time to sit with the program and read about every single film, circling which one I want to see, and order tickets in advance. Note to self: next year, take this time off from work.

I'm in the midst of one of the busiest periods I've had in a really long time. Other than pulling a lot of really long days and nights at work, I just started a new round of Dutch classes (every Wednesday night) and signed up for private Italian classes twice a week. I'm starting to miss my apartment... the idea of spending time at home with a DVD or book on a Friday night is sounding better and better (though let's be honest, it probably won't happen).

I've mentioned this before, but it's something that has struck me every night this week as I'm rushing to class or work or pedaling home at midnight - as soon as I get outside, into my city, I'm feel relaxed. At the end of a busy day, I have that time on my bike to cycle though Amsterdam. My ride home is always peaceful and quiet. I sing along to my favorite songs or listen to podcasts and often take a detour through the museumplein. The bridges that run over the canals are lit up all year round, and when I get to the Amstel I always have to slow down - or stop entirely - to admire the view. That ride home always, always makes the day worth it.

Back in NYC, I used to have to go back and forth all the time from my office to our edit house (for work reasons) on the subway. I took that F/V train from Broadway/Lafayette to 23rd street at least a zillion times, cramming myself on to packed subway cars, dealing with delays, construction, the after-school crowd, crazy people, skipping stops and ending up in Brooklyn, or whatever else the MTA (that's the name of the metro system in NYC) wanted to throw at me. Here in Amsterdam, when I run back and forth between an edit house and my office, it's a 5-minute bike ride.

That right there makes all the difference. I'm still busy, I don't get to see my friends as much as I would like, I don't travel as much as I want, I have to cancel plans at the last minute, I'm always wishing for more sleep - but busy here is still drastically different than busy in New York City. I prefer it here.

November 13, 2008

This is a post about bloggers, driving, whisky, and travel

Things have been busier than usual lately with the usual life/work/friends kind of things, but there's a few random things I wanted to share with the internet.

Meeting real-life bloggers:

This past Sunday I was standing on line at Batavia with a bunch of other foreigners who had all signed up for Dutch classes being administered by the lovely folks at Couch Surfing. We were all introducing ourselves and starting the usual get-to-know-each-other conversations. When I introduced myself to one of the two non-Italian people standing around me, his response was "Tamara? Do you... have a blog?"

Turns out that Mr Glen and I were signing up for the same Dutch classes! He's another new-to-Amsterdam blogger and all around nice guy. It took me a few minutes to get over the small-worldness of the situation, but what a cool way to meet someone. I mean, "cool" if you um, think bloggers are cool. Anyway, I really like the way Glen writes about Amsterdam, so check out his blog and then maybe one day you'll meet both of us at some random cafe.

Getting a drivers license in Holland:

I know how to drive (and yes, I can drive a stick shift) and have a valid US drivers license, but I haven't needed to drive since arriving in Europe. A few days ago, I got a really cool offer to do a ride share to Italy in December, which I thought sounded way more fun than flying. Only deal is, I would have to share some of the driving responsibilities, which makes sense. Turns out there's this law that says Americans who move to Holland can obtain a Dutch drivers license without having to take any lessons, if they do it within the first 6 months of their arrival IF and only if they're employed and subject to the 30% ruling. So while I am employed and have a contract and a legal residence and all that, I am not eligible for the 30% ruling, and for some reason THAT is the reason I can't get the Dutch license the easy way. As the nice woman who works in the HR department put it "so basically you're screwed." Well, it's not really that big of a deal. If I desperately need to get a license here one day, I'll take the classes and do it the "hard" way. But for now, it doesn't really matter all that much, it just means I can't (legally) help drive a car to Italy.


Yes, a topic that deserves its own paragraph. Tomorrow night I'm going to Leiden for the International Whisky Festival and I am psyched. The admission fee of €40 includes unlimited tastings from 19.00 - 23.00, during which I plan to taste everything I can while still being able to stand upright. There's two major reasons I'm exited about this - #1, I'm going with someone who really, really enjoys whisky, possibly even more than I do, and who knows way more about it than me - so I'll get to learn a lot. #2, an event like this would cost ten zillion dollars if it was in New York City. Or at least $150. Or $500. I don't know, really, but there's no way on earth I could do something like this in New York for 40 bucks, so that's all the more reason to take advantage (and visit Leiden for the first time).


For as much as I love Amsterdam, I have been feeling a little claustrophobic lately and anxious to get out and be somewhere different. I'm going to do my best to visit Antwerp next weekend and Paris sometime in early December if I can find a rideshare or an amazing deal on tickets, but I also keep reminding myself that I'm very close to having all my debts paid off (lingering moving costs) and that having a zero balance on my credit card - especially these days, as the interest rate is skyrocketing - is worth postponing a trip to Paris. I also have to remind myself that I have a 16 days off in late Dec/early Jan, and I'll be spending the entire time traveling around Italy, hopefully entirely debt-free. I've started looking for Italian lessons in Amsterdam to add to the list of things I do besides go to work - climbing, Dutch classes, movies once or twice a week, and just the basic fun stuff with friends and hosting guests.

Anyway, since I've decided to stay in Amsterdam this weekend, I'm going to try and take care of the most important ingredient needed for the next big event: ordering a turkey for Thanksgiving.

November 7, 2008

...The train off in the distance, bicycle chained to the stairs - everything, it must belong somewhere. I know that now, that's why I'm staying here.

Thursday night is one of my favorite nights of the week - it's the only night that I don't have reoccurring plans, and it's the night all the stores are open late. This is important to know, if you're visiting for relocating to Amsterdam - things close early in this city. Very early. Shops and department stores shut their doors between 17-19hr (19 if you're lucky). On the plus side, there's way more open on Sunday in Amsterdam than there is in a lot of other European cities - and we have one one night of the week where all the stores stay open late, and that night is Thursday. Getting used to that has made my life much easier.

What doesn't stay open late is restaurants or supermarkets, which always causes me a bit pain when I think about the 24-hour organic supermarkets that existed all over my former Brooklyn neighborhood. Going out to dinner even at 22hr is taking a risk, and if it's getting toward 22.30, you're basically out of luck. Hours do run later on weekends, and there are a few gems out there that serve late, but in general you're completely out of luck if you want anything that resembles decent food after 22.30. On the plus side, even if you get stuck eating street food, you're doing it in an absolutely beautiful city. I sat with a friend last night as he ate something unidentifiable at about 23hr, and after making jokes about the food and holding myself back from going on a long rant about how not getting decent food at 22.30 was taking away a basic human right, I looked around and noticed where we were. We had walked down quiet, mostly empty streets, in a beautiful neighborhood. We laughed at two adorable dogs (of course not on a leash), playing with their owner. As we wandered, we tended to walk right down the middle of the street, only getting out of the way for a passing bike or two - I didn't see a car drive by all night. And when we sat down to eat, we chose a bench on a beautiful canal in the Jordaan neighborhood. Streetlights were reflected in the water, all different types of boats were parked along the sides of the canal, and then a family of ducks swam by. I mean, really. The crappy food seemed very unimportant.

There are two other only-in-Amsterdam moments I've been meaning to write about. Earlier this week I was riding home along the Stadhouderskade around midnight, which is a pretty major road for traffic, buses, and bikes. They had shut down a very long piece of the road for construction and put up metal gates and signs to keep the cars away and the bikes from using the bike lane. But as a cyclist, I had nothing to worry about - the bike detour signs were also up and pointed me toward the middle of the road, where a temporary bike lane had been constructed. Even in the most bike-friendly areas of the US or Paris that I've ridden in, this just simply wouldn't happen.

Another thing that you might notice if you're out late is that all the traffic lights are out. This isn't cause for alarm, this is normal. I don't know what time they get turned off, but after a certain hour there just seems to be no need for traffic lights, and everyone is just expected to use good judgment and watch out for each other. Honestly, it completely works. Cars slow down at intersections and look both ways before going through, always, of course, yielding to cyclists.

It's been a really beautiful week here. As I rode into work this morning, the sun was shining, the yellow and orange leaves were falling lightly off the trees, and I was singing along without shame to Simon and Garfunkel playing on my ipod. No one looked at me strangely or gave me a hard time for A) riding a bike B) assuming I had the right of way in every situation where there was an automobile or C) singing out loud. These are the little things that I never want to take for granted, yet now it all feels so entirely normal.

November 5, 2008

The 6AM victory - watching Obama win the election from Amsterdam

There will be approximately one zillion blog posts about the US elections, but what the hell, I'll add mine to the mix.

For a few days I just want to be happy about this. I know, Obama is just a politician. I know that there's no way he's going to come through on all the promises he made, I know that just because he won it doesn't mean that the world is saved and everything is sunshine and roses from here on in. I know all that. However, I am completely caught up in the moment and only have the energy to think of the positives right now.

I met up with a bunch of people last night and watched the election results until about 6am this morning. I was the only American in a room of Dutch, Austrian, and Germans, and we sat in my friend Laura's apartment in the Zeeburg watching CNN & BBC over a couple bottles of wine and beer. Throughout the night I ran between the television and Laura's computer to double-check everything CNN was reporting on various different blogs. When Obama was declared the winner, it was about 5am, and four of us were still awake - me, two Germans, and a Dutch guy.

It was a different type of energy, obviously, than being in a huge crowd of people in New York City. But I have to say, standing in that apartment last night with three Europeans, all of us watching history unfold - that was amazing in its own way. No one would believe Obama had really won until McCain started to give his concession speach. Again, it was very late, we were all feeling slightly loopy from lack of sleep and wine, but we waited anxiously to see the acceptance speech. We killed time by making fun of CNN's holograms and the dry tone of the reporters on the BBC.

However, when Obama started speaking, we all fell silent. During McCain's speech, it was easy to talk back at the television and make comments as he spoke. But while Obama was talking, none of us said a word. It was six in the morning, and I could see lights turning on in other people's apartments as they got up to start their day. Obama's speech was beautiful, and when he was done, the four of us all just kind of looked at each other. One of the Germans started to clap. Then we all started clapping, high-fives were exchanged all around, more wine was opened, more SMS messages were exchanged with our friends in the US.

I replayed the speech this afternoon and felt chills go down my spine when I heard my favorite part again:

Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America - that America can change.

Today I am exhausted but elated. My friends in New York told me stories of hugging strangers on the street, fireworks, celebrations. My Dutch friends started sending me messages of congratulations early this morning and parties have been going on all night and all morning here in Amsterdam. Obama didn't just win, he won early and by a landslide. I honestly can't remember the last time the entire world was this happy because of something the United States did right.

To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

It is a really, really good day.

November 3, 2008

A bit of the American-abroad experiance leading up to the US election

My first Halloween in Amsterdam was a complete success. I made it to two different parties and was invited to a third around 4.30am, but I had to give up around that time to head home. The most important part of my first Amsterdam Halloween - well, besides riding around like a lunatic with two people on a bike dressed as monsters - was the fact that clearly, there is an all-night party scene for this holiday, which means I can live here for the rest of my life quite happily.

So with Halloween behind me, the only thing left to do is stress about the US elections. I've been asked countless times what I'm going to do on Election night, and the answer remains the same: I have no idea. I do know I'll go to work during the day and I'll go climbing in the evening, and when I get done with that it will still be prime voting time in the US and I will be cursing the time difference. If you listen to BBC or Radio Netherlands podcasts, you hear all kinds of positive things about how Obama is ahead in polls and it's impossible for McCain to win, but I just can't buy it. I have been living in a wonderful bubble for most of my life, surrounded by educated, liberal, like-minded people. I like my bubble, it's a happy place. But because of that bubble, I had no idea what the rest of the United States was really up to back in 2004 when Americans elected Bush again. That was a very, very depressing day.

A recent Deutsche Well podcast featured interviews with people in Africa and Europe talking about how they're volunteering for the Obama campaign. These volunteers are not American, have never lived in the US, have no plans to live in the US, and obviously can't vote for the US president. Yet they're taking part by encouraging their American-abroad friends or American tourists to register and vote for Obama with absentee ballots. Here in Amsterdam there are countless different events and parties going on. Things like this make me feel an intense pressure to have my country deliver the candidate that the rest of the world wants so badly, but I just have no idea if the same country that voted for Bush twice can turn around and vote Obama. I also have no faith in voting machines and I worry about an electoral college tie and find myself saying and thinking things I'd never thought I'd say. Like - good, I'm glad Obama is spending a zillion dollars to saturate the market with advertisements - you know, zillions of dollars that could be feeding starving people all over the world. In fact, let him raise even more, whatever it takes, hopefully the American economy will get even worse because that seems to help him out in the polls. I mean, honestly, I've said that stuff out loud! I can't wait for this to all be over so I can start thinking rationally again.

I also tell myself this: if McCain wins, my day-to-day life - and the lives of most of my friends - will not really change for the worse. It can not possibly get worse than Bush - that's the good thing about hitting rock-bottom with your elected officials, there's really no lower you can go.

So what's it like being an American abroad during this election? Well, while I don't get hit with radio and TV ads every other minute, the news about the US election is in every paper I read, in every (European) podcast I listen to, and is talked about extensively on the Dutch radio station I listen to every morning and night. I do get asked by strangers if I've voted and who I voted for once they find out I'm American. I get asked what I think is going to happen, and what it's like in the US right now - which I can't really answer since I'm not there. I can only tell my friends (and random strangers) here that everyone I know in the US is voting, and they're voting for Obama. There are already stories of people waiting for 6 hours on line to cast their ballots (early voting... though those votes won't start to get counted until the 4th of November). The Americans I know won't let anything get in their way of voting, even if they're overseas - from Columbia to Korea, they're all voting.

But that's just the Americans I know. I can't speak for the rest of the country. I just hope that we - the global community - get the result that will be best for the world. For now, we wait and keep our fingers crossed.