Sunday, March 23, 2008

Queer Eye to Supersize the Small Fry

Style. It transforms the mundane into the marvelous.

Here in the land of Nethers, evidence of this ab fab phenomenon abounds.

Chanel has taken the Oma Fiets (literally Grandma Bike - think of it as the Ford K-Car of the Netherlands)

Grandma, what a dull sedan you have.

The better to haul my huge grandmotherly bloomers in.

and made it Haute Couture
Note the signature Chanel leather on the paniers, seat, handle bar grips, and pump.
Who says fashion can't be practical? This is the perfect vehicle . . . if all you ever need to transport is your lipstick, your cigarettes, and your extremely small lap dog.

But it takes more than just your average sense of style to turn this

into this

Able to mute primary colors into pastels . . .
Aesthetically powerful enough to turn McDonald's Playland into Camp Play

Is it a songbird?
Is it a flight attendant?

Is it Superman?

No! It's even gayer!

Gayer than a man who flounces around town in tights?
Prithee tell, what is gayer than Superman?
That would have to be - Sissyboys!

And they are more powerful too. Par example:

At brunch (the gayest of all meals), George ordered the gelati of the day without the waitress telling him what they were.

But Oliver took just one lick of each mystery ball, and his superpalate was able to detect all the subtle flavorings, from amaretto to apricot.

George and Oliver's design firm UXUS has designed the new look for McDonald's Playland. So thanks to them, we can all start calling those Happy Meals by their rightful name.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Amsterdam 90210

Everyone in Amsterdam speaks English.

It is exceedingly convenient.

It also makes me feel like a heel.

Here I am, third trip to the Netherlands, and I don't even try to say two words in Dutch. I know people from the US, England, Australia - even people from non-English speaking countries - who have lived here for years and haven't bothered learning Dutch, because they know they can get by with English.

I want to believe I'm different, that I really care about other cultures. So yesterday, on a long train ride, I grabbed the local newspaper and vowed to decipher as much as I could.

It turns out, my Dutch is better than I thought. I was able to understand this entire article of huge international import.

Here I sit, in the land of dairy, contemplating the cognate boobjob and bewonderen to myelf about the multiple and possibly terrifying meanings of the phrase "breaking news."

Monday, March 17, 2008

You Can't Spell Justice Without US.

I am feeling like a regular Macaronileine Albright. I had a meeting in the Hague today.

Okay, so it was a meeting with a Dutch branding agency to discuss copy for a limited edition run of Jenever (if you don't know what Jenever is, think of it this way, Jenever:Dutch::Gin:English, as they'd say on the SAT, if the SAT had more questions about drinking . . . which would really skew the grading curve).

Still, I couldn't help but feel a thrill at being in the Hague. It's such a historic place. The seat of the World Court. The place where crimes like genocide and illegal war are tried. Where justice is meted out against the evils of the world. It makes me wish more Americans could be here.

Like maybe W, Dick, Karl, and extra-especially Rumsfeld.

Although in truth, the American imperialism I've witnessed first-hand this week has been of the cultural rather than military persuasion.

Note this bit of graffiti
Not quite the Anarchist A, is it?

As they said during the 1968 student uprisings in Paris, Sous la pave, les television reruns!

And speaking of routines, say you want to learn the latest dance routines. Come right over to the Amsterdam dance school, where you can learn to boogie woogie to this fine music.

In an effort to escape American cultural imperialism for an hour or two, while at the Hague I visited the memorial to George Maduro, a Dutch Resistance fighter who was murdered at Dachau.

This is the memorial.

It's a small Netherlands after all.

It is, to be precise, a 1:25 scale Netherlands. Yes, a scale model of the entire nation.

And it is being dominated by an oversized monster.

No, not a Texas-sized W at a mini International Court of Justice.A large Elmo looming behind the Madurodam shipyard! It is indeed an evil dance of global domination those muppets do.

Friends of mine from LA struggled not to expose their toddler to any branding or marketing (presumably so that later in life the kid wouldn't be easily pressured into buying limited edition Jenever). They referred to Elmo only as "a red monster." But they couldn't keep their nanny from using his real name. Which the nanny, being a Latina immigrant, thought was Memo (a common nickname for Guillermo).

Dateline, The Hague.
Memo to the World Court
When it comes to the global struggle between justice and evil, we're giving you the, it's not you, it's US routine.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Winkel In My Eye

Winkel means store in Dutch.

Make you wonder why Henry Winkler played this guy

and not this guy
But (Mr. Hooper's shop on Sesame Straat not withstanding), the Dutch have the best stores.

My favorite is HEMA, which is the Target of the Netherlands, except met sausage in the underpants aisle.

Fred Meyer, which is the Target of Portland, has the slogan What's on your list? You'll find it at Fred Meyer! The implicit slogan of HEMA seems to be What's so whackdog you'd never think to put it on your list? It's at HEMA. And it's so freakin' cute you'll be compelled to buy it!

Glass bunny plate and lid?
Sure! I can use that for my bunny butter dish.

Oversized foam bunny?
Hard to choose between pink and yellow. Better get one of each!

Other transnational winkelen and commodities comparisons from one of my first days here:

In America, Dutch Boy is a brand of paint.

In the Netherlands, English Guy (or, as they say in Dutch, Engels) is . . . a brand of paint!

In 1990, I visited St. Anthony, Labrador, the town where my honey Chuck the Canuck's mother went to high school.

In showing me around, said mother pointed out a dry goods store that she informed us had been, during her residence, "run by a nice Jewish man, very fair with the prices."

It's not anti-Semitism if you say the Jew wasn't a goniff, right?

I was just strolling down the straat the other day, and I noticed this winkel.

Yeah, the name is properly pronounced kike shop.

And, it turns out, Chuck's mother was right.

They ARE very fair with the prices!

Wouldn't any American Jew be proud?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Birds and the Bees

Travel is so edifying.

Here is what I learned in my visit to Museumplein today.

The Dutch are very strict about access to construction sites.
But do not worry. Although you cannot drop in to visit the construction site, you can send it a nice letter, as it has its own mailbox.

There are many museums and memorials in Amsterdam that honor Dutch resistance to the evil German Third Reich. Then on the Museumplein is the Rijksmuseum (same root word), which honors Dutch world dominance, displaying centuries of splendor in art and material culture while conveniently overlooking centuries of colonization, exploitation, and enormous Dutch culpability in the international slave trade. Germans invade, bad. Dutch invade, check out the fabu silverware!

The most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum is Rembrandt's The Night Watch.This is clearly size-queen curating. Sure the painting is 12' x 15' (and that's after someone lopped off a couple feet when the painting was removed from its original location and put someplace smaller). But really it looks like bad stage lighting with even worse stage direction.

The coolest thing about The Night Watch is that there is a mini-me version by Gerrit Lundens, just 2' x 2.75'. One of the guys who posed for the original painting liked it so much he commissioned Lundens to make a smaller one for him to hang around the house.

If only the Night Watchmen had gone over to the K-Mart Portrait Studio, they could have gotten one of those packages that come with a whole bunch of wallet-sized reprints, and saved Lundens the trouble.

I think the most exquisite thing in the Rijksmuseum is Caesar Boetius van Everdingen's Winter.It is such a simple image, crafted with such amazing detail. Although you would expect no less than genius from someone named Caesar Boetius van Everdingen.

I imagine they teased him something fierce in grade school.

Both Gabriel Metsu's The Hunter's Present and Pieter Codde's The Return of the Hunters have naughty visual puns on "birding" which the Rijksmuseum informs visitors (twice) is 17th Dutch slang for getting it on.

I find this very troubling. My limited exposure to birding suggests it is the most anaphrodisiac of pursuits.

The birding thing haunted me the whole way back to the apartment where I'm staying. I couldn't help but wonder if this fellow was taking the name of the Vondelpark (pronounced Fondle Park) a little too seriously.
And were those some sort of incognito sex toys they were selling at the Dirks, our local discount grocer? If only the museum had been full of less sexual imagery, like nudes or something.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's a Small World Cafe After All

It is gray and rainy.

I rode my bike to a client meeting.

Life as usual for me - EXCEPT it is happening in Amsterdam rather than Portland.  

But aside from everyone speaking Dutch and being taller and blonder than usual, how different is Amsterdam?

Here are some clues from my first few days here.  

One of my colleagues left some peanut butter in the fridge during a recent visit.  It was very confusing because I could not tell if the expiry date of 02.08.08 meant "February 8, 2008" or "August 2, 2008."

I was in a quandary until I remembered:  I pay absolutely no attention to expiry dates.  So I ate the peanut butter.  

That which does not kill us can be used to make a tasty sandwich, as Nietzsche said (I believe he said this right around lunchtime).

I took a walk just after arriving.  As I passed this van, I noticed two naked people in the front seat having sex.  
Which seemed odd inasmuch as if you have a panel van, you might perhaps duck into the back for a bit more privacy.  Or at least they might go for a tasteful bumper sticker.  Don't come a-knockin when the van is geslacht-in.

But who wants an infernal combustion engine?  I needed to buy a used bike. I shopped at several fiets winkelen, and if you happen to be in the market, I highly recommend Otto Fiets on Overtoom.  As the salesguy was showing me fietsen, I told him my brother repairs and sells bikes.  "I hope you will treat me just like your sister," I said.

"I have no sisters," he said.  

"I am the sister you never had," I promised.

"I have four sisters.  All older.  You are not missing anything," his colleague, who turned out to be Edwin Otto, owner of Otto Fietsen, told us.

I ended up with a Batavus, which is a very respected Dutch brand of bikes.  The model I got is the Navajo, apparently the lost tribe of Dutch bike builders.  Turquoise is the new Titanium, I guess.  The bike cost 150 Euros.  The bike lock cost 39 Euros.  Quite a bargain when you consider the lock weighs about as much as the bike.
The Dutch love to bike.  This is historically true - after invading, one of the first restrictions the Nazis placed on Jews was forbidding them to ride those bitchin' oma fietsen around town. 

These days, you can see an entirely family of four on a single bike, mother pedaling three kids along.  This is the mini-van of the Netherlands (kids go in the basket):
And just like any minivan, it is littered with kid-shlepping detritus.

Once I had my new used fiets, I was free to roam the city soaking up culture.  

I learned from a listing in Amsterdam Weekly that there was a special exhibit here this week on my fave nation, Canadia. 

As you can see, they got the finest graphic designers in the frozen north to create the program.  

The Saturday evening event was advertised as an opportunity for "learning all about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, alternative uses for money, and our unique Parliamentary structures for authority."   In fact it was three Canadian dudes conning a bunch of women into playing quarters.

They were clever lads, but not ultimately successful in the art of seduction.

The fake woods with maple syrup tapping and make-out tent was, though underutilized, a nice touch.  

Canadia was just my first meta-international experience in Amsterdam.  Sunday I went to A Small World Cafe to meet a client, Sofie, for a fabulous late lunch.  

The Small World Cafe is an Amsterdam institution. The owner is Australian.  The staff on Sunday was Minnesotan, English, and Israeli (one of each).  When Sofie was ordering, the Israeli woman behind the counter said, "Are you Israeli?  Because I hear you have an accent, and I am speaking to you in English, but maybe we could both speak Hebrew?"  

Sofie confessed she is not Israeli.  "People here ask me all the time if I'm Israeli," she told me.  "I feel bad when I have to admit I'm actually German."

"Yeah," I said, "it's sort of the opposite of Israeli."

I tried to cheer Sofie up by telling her the Small World Cafe reminded me of the bagel store where I worked when I was in high school.  "I was actually the only Jew there.  Everyone else was Italian."

"There are a lot of Italians in New York?" she asked.

"Yeah, my town was basically half Italian, half Jewish.  We're very similar.  A lot of guilt, a lot of food.  When you'd meet someone, you'd say 'Which are you?'  Because we all kind of looked alike, dark hair, big noses."

Sofie laughed at that, which I thought was nice.  As Anne Frank, SuperJew of Amsterdam, might have said had she been there with us, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.  And these muffins, they are even better."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Most People Here Have the Monkey on Their Back

I am feeling very intercontinental.

I am in Amsterdam.

I just came on the airplane machine.

It was a fairly uneventful flight. Technically a red-eye, although for me it turned into a red-nose, because while I was in the bathroom I got a nosebleed.

To make myself feel even more intercontinental, I thought about how to say nosebleed in French. I was inspired by the teen who was sitting next to me (not in the bathroom, I mean in my assigned row) who was French.

I thought, if only my rowmate and I were bonne amies, I would return and tell her, "J'ai un sang de la nez."

Then I realized that I wasn't sure how to pronounce sang, and it might sound like I was saying "J'ai un singe de la nez."

So in case you are wondering, a quick recap:
1) am in Amsterdam
2) am very intercontinental
3) may have a monkey up my nose

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Polymorphously Per Verse

Why I Haven't Blogged All Week, Reason 2

Avid readers of this blog (aka my sister) have already learned that poetry serves many high and cultured purposes. Let me count the ways:

It is useful if you accidentally sent several thousand emails.
It is useful if you need a paean to the greatest of suburban teen hangouts.
It is useful if you inadvertently charged your martini to someone else's tab.

And, of course, it is especially useful if you have very, very limited knowledge of FinalCut and are not afraid to use it.

Let's just say, I'm polymorphously per verse.

So when the time came to create an entry for the Filmed by Bike Festival, I wrote me a poem, recorded it in an emotive manner, added some digital photos and a few short motion pieces, and then warmed up the new synthesizer, which I played with the wild abandon of someone with no talent and even less training.

Look out Vittorio De Sica.

I'm not posting the finished product just yet, because I'm hoping it will be chosen for the FBF, not to mention the BFF (Bicycle Film Festival, an entirely different animal). But in the meanwhile, fiets your eyes on this Dutch treat.

Myriad emotions can be expressed in rhyme
but cycling is singularly an Amsterdam good time.

Rhyme Scheme

Why I Haven't Blogged All Week, Reason 1

Sometimes life is a Star Trek-Dilbert mashup in which things replicate at an astounding rate.

Thursday, 4:40 p.m.

Thursday, 4:47 p.m.

When your mailer daemon turns demon, fear not! Thanks to more English degrees than I care to count, I have just the superpower to turn such demons asunder.

Okay, not really.

But I can churn out a bit o' doggerel to amuse the otherwise beleagured recipients. And I did. Right after I got the 234 emails that were automatically sent to me by my friend Midori's email account.

She set auto-responder
before departing from work.
She did not imagine
it would go auto-beserk!

Those emails went out
at a mind-boggling rate
By the time we found out,
it was already too late.

So as you scroll through your inbox
deleting each unwanted missive,
Please know that we're sorry,
and we hope you'll forgive.

When will auto-responders surpass car alarms as the most annoying so-called convenience ever invented? Maybe Thursday, 4:52 p.m.