April 27, 2009

Another American Expat in America

Finally! After a cold and rainy week, the weather in New York has gone from winter to summer overnight, and I spent the past couple days in shorts, dresses, and even bought a new pair of sunglasses - for $5 on Broadway in SoHo. Sunglasses should always cost $5, always be purchased on the street. That's just the way it is. I've probably bought 15 pairs of sunglasses from the same guy at this point.

This past saturday morning in Brooklyn I walked though my old neighborhood to meet a friend for breakfast (iced coffee and bagels!), and it seemed like every single person in the entire neighborhood was outside. There were the groups of big, fat, tough guys, drinking beer out of paper bags and listening to rap blasting out of their illegally parked car. One block away, there was a group of skinny teenage boys, yelling at each other as they listened to Spanish music blasting out of their illegally parked car. Old women sat on their front porches, bicycles of all shapes and sizes were zooming down the street, every single cafe had their doors and windows wide open and outside seating was full. Summer in Brooklyn had begun, which is an odd thing to say in late April.

When I was done with breakfast, I took the subway to Grand Central Station (I was headed to my hometown in upstate New York, about 2 hours from the city). When I transferred at Union Square to head uptown, I picked up my suitcase to carry it up the 3 flights of stairs. A guy walking behind me said "here, let me help you with that." My reaction as a New Yorker was to think immediately, "why is this stranger talking to me, what does he want, and no way am I letting him touch my bag which has my computer in it." My 2-second delayed reaction as a ... person who tries to trust that there is good in this world is what came out instead. "Thank you! That's so nice!" I said.

The guy didn't want anything. He was just being nice. Maybe he knew he could get up the stairs 3 seconds faster if he carried my suitcase, and that's why he offered. Either way, I said thank you again when we got to the top of the stairs. He said no problem. And I was on my way. When people in Europe ask me about New Yorkers and I talk about how nice they are, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about.

While I waited for the 4/5 express train, I stood next to a dad with his 7-year-old looking son. Me and the dad must have both spotted the rat (that's a big, gross, rat, not a cute little mouse) running around in the subway tracks at the same time. I looked at it with a bit of disgust, but the dad said to his son "hey, look!" The kid got really excited. "Oh cool! Look at the rat jump! Come on, rat, jump over that puddle. Dad, what if the rat can't make it over the puddle?" "Don't worry, that rat is having a great time, he's happy." "Look dad, there he goes! Cool!"

When the train came, I pushed my way on with hundreds of other people and went to the Grand Central. The ride upstate was lovely - there's really nothing better than staring out a train window and looking at a river with mountains in the background.

Since I've been away from the states for a year, it's hard to properly catch up with everyone. Sometimes it seems like this trip is flying by, other times the days feel long and slow. I don't really feel any significant culture shock, but there are little things here and there. 1 parking spot in NY could easily be 2 parking spots in Amsterdam - two parking spots with room for a scooter and 5 bikes, actually. I hate how everyone here gives me 10 napkins and a plastic bag if I order a sandwich. I've never had to ask someone in Amsterdam to please not give me a bag and insist that I can eat a sandwich without the help of 10 napkins.

I love that there are ATM machines everywhere (Amsterdam has an unbelievable shortages of those). I love disco fries, mexican food, the availability of perfect avocados, a never-ending supply of amazing pizza and I love seeing all the new bike lanes in the city. I even spotted 2 people on one bike - in lower Manhattan! It was definitely a mom and a child, the child sitting on the bar between the seat and the handlebars. I do keep thinking I'm accidentally walking in a bike lane when I'm on the sidewalk, and I haven't stopped looking both ways to cross the street, even though most of NYC has one-way streets.

Now while everyone else gets ready to go to work on Monday morning, I'm back to taking trains and subways and visiting family and friends. Not a bad way to start the week. Vacation, week two: begins now!

April 24, 2009

One year in Amsterdam

It's April 23rd 2009 (or at least it is to me, as I type this), which marks exactly one year since I've been living in Amsterdam. I know, I know, I haven't updated this blog in a really long time. I meant to write about a million things - the opera, visiting a windmill in Haarlem, how it felt when the sun started to set at 9pm, the trip to Paris, the new/temporary Van Gogh exhibit, and so on.

But that's all in the past now, and while I do wish I wrote about it so I could look back and remember, I'll probably never really forget my first opera experience in Amsterdam anyway. So here I am, in New York City. In Brooklyn, to be precise, resting comfortably at the home of some friends in Williamsburg. Whenever I stand on the street here at night and admire the view of the bridge with the Chrysler building in the background, it only takes about 20 seconds before a taxi slows down and beeps at me. No, taxi guy, I don't want a ride. I'm actually just standing here admiring the view, and yes, I realize I'm not in a touristy neighborhood and most people here don't do this, but I'm actually quite content.

It's insane to think that it's been a year since I've been in New York. I'm just here to visit this time around, and when I stepped off the plane, it felt like I had been gone for about 5 minutes. This is an important fact because I had slept about 5 minutes in the entire week leading up to coming to New York, and being able to arrive here without thinking - with knowing exactly how to get to where I was going - it was wonderful.

So my 1-year anniversary of living in Amsterdam is being celebrated in New York City. But I thought about Amsterdam a lot today, about how much I still completely love that city. I love my apartment, my job, my bike, the lifestyle, the sunsets, everything. But the reason I feel that Amsterdam is my home is because of the people I've met. When I arrived in Amsterdam I was totally alone. I was hungover, actually, having just taken the train from Paris with 2 giant suitcases. In some ways, I think this was an advantage - I was too tired to fully understand that I just showed up in a new city where I didn't know anyone, where I didn't have a job, and I had no idea how to actually fill my days.

I got to know people. I looked for a job. I freaked out, many times... MANY times about my decision. The day before I accepted the job offer, I went over every mistake I had ever made in thinking that living in Amsterdam was a good idea. Every person who told me that it was a bad idea, or stupid, or impossible, or if they gave me that look of "oh, so you're another one of those non-EU people who think they can just up and move to Amsterdam, that's so... cute," these people all affected me.

But it turns out I was right the whole time, and I love being right. Amsterdam is the city for me. It's home. I love it there. So all those freakouts, all that stress, all that uncertainty, it was all worth it.

I'm home here in Brooklyn, but when I go back to Amsterdam, I'll also be going home. How lucky am I, that I get to have more than one home?


Happy one-year anniversary to me!