July 17, 2010

Tumbling Down – Amsterdam 2010

I took this video just to illustrate one of the many quirks of my hotel. The voice you hear at the beginning is the maid, who caught me filming. The steep angle is actually much worse than this seems. It's barely better than a ladder.

Wacky Video Again – Amsterdam 2010

In the style of Van Gogh, a self protrait.

In Case You're Wondering – Amsterdam 2010

Are you worried that I'm spending all my traveling time sitting in my room typing away? Nope.

I'm creating these very words you're reading while sitting at the outdoor pub, surrounded by drinking, laughing, arguing Dutch. I'm the eccentric. The mysterious writer who is alone at his table hacking away at some great piece of literature. The lone observer of human nature, apart yet among the mob. The Hemingway to their Brat Packs.

I Know It When I See It – Amsterdam 2010

Went to the Van Gogh Museum today and was surprisingly unimpressed. Oh, the display and building were fine, if a bit crowded. It's the paintings. I just don't see the “greatness.”

Now I'm not some world renowned creative artist myself, and I couldn't paint a circle nevertheless the masterpieces produced by Van Gogh, but I know what I like. I need to see exceptional talent. I expect to see artwork that shows me something I couldn't do myself with some crayons, a large enough canvas, and a couple of good reviews. Yes, in case you're a bit confused, I'm ragging on the Vincent Van Gogh.

There's a reason his paintings didn't sell when he was alive … and it has nothing to do with his constant griping or his continual mimicry of whatever art form he stumbled upon – be it Rembrandt or Monet or Picasso. My dislike of his work has everything to do with it just being ordinary.

 Two forms of oil painting exist for me:
  1. Realistic attention to detail – sort of like an oil photograph of the subject.
  2. Surreal interpretation of our world – sort of like reality on LSD.

 Poor old Van Gogh fits into neither. He doesn't nearly have the talent to paint with such amazing clarity as Rembrandt, Whistler, Sargent, and others. For example, here are a couple of Rembrandts:

Here's a Van Gogh:

In this painting, Van Gogh lacks the true inspiration to see the world in shapes and splashes of color like Monet, Latrec, Picasso, or Matisse.

For example, here's a Monet that neglects realism for raw emotion of color and form:

It's sad really. Van Gogh is an obvious bridge between old and new school of his time, the late 1800s. However, frankly, I feel he's taken the style of the great masterpieces and added a Photoshop filter to cartoonize them. The following 2 paintings is an original by Millet (a relatively unknown master of the mid-1800s and the “reworking” produced by Van Gogh. You decide which is better.

I simply find his replication to be so pale and uninspiring.

Okay, I'll admit Van Gogh does succeed in a handful of his works – actually, “succeeds” is not strong enough. He has a few truly brilliant pieces. His sunflowers are amazing. Starry night seems to finally break through into something new. And a few of his self portraits are special as an insight into his disturbed (deranged? Diseased?) mind. But what makes these works outstanding is how much they differ from Van Gogh's bulk of production. It's a fine line he was walking here, and mostly he fell off.

Poor old Van Gogh. 21st century and people are still criticizing.

Since I mentioned Rembrandt, I have this to add. At 22, in this self portrait he looks like a rock star! Bob Dylan of his era!

Finally, check out the signage of this “Director's Pick” at the Rijksmuseum. It's a perfect example of a certain whimsy in a lot of their explanations. I found it really funny.
(Last 2 photographs are mine. All other images of paintings were borrowed from museum websites.)

July 16, 2010

To Jump or Not To Jump – Den Haag 2010

Thursday is the only possible day planned for this. The other days have their special, one-time-only events that I have penned into my calendar – gotta stay focused and on schedule!

When I leave my hotel around 9.30 a.m., it is a bit chilly but the sun sneaks around the few clouds. It's only an hour south by train to the Hague and the countryside which speeds by is reminiscent of Poland. (But then, everything I experience in Europe always brings my thoughts back to Poland. Kocham Polska!)

By the time I get to the Scheveningen beach (yeah, I don't know how to pronounce that either) at the outskirts of the city, the weather has … well, take a look:

This is an unexpected perdickament that didn't quite occur to me in the planning stages a few months ago. How dare the weather be anything but hot and sunny. I had 2 reasons for coming to this beach:
  1. Get some sun and see some babes
  2. Bungee jump
Scheveningen beach has the only bungee jump facility within hundreds of miles, as far as the internet lets me know. It's a 60m free-fall (about 50 yards if you're metric challenged), which is just taller than a 5-story building. I want to do this. I plan to do this.

 I stop by the office and the ragtag group who make up the “jump masters” are sitting around smoking weed and watching porn on the computer. Okay, that's not true. But there is something about sky divers, rock climbers, bungee masters, and their ilk which fall into the class of “We'd be doing the exact same thing right now, even if they weren't paying us.”

 The wind is too much, I'm informed. The small cage atop the crane (seen in this photo) is bouncing around like … well, like a cage dangling from a steel cable in 60mph gust winds. Is it dangerous? Not really, unless the crane suddenly snaps and sends us all into the North Sea. Still, there's no jumping in this weather.

 Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I relieved? Yes, too.

 I want to do this, just for the experience. But, I've done it before … 20 years ago. I still remember being paralyzed with fear, literally. My brain telling my arms to let go and my legs to spring into action, and then my brain puzzled at why my body parts are not moving. I eventually got those muscles back in line and did the leap. I yearn to try again. And I don't. I'm really unsure whether I'll be any different. It's a test, I know. I want to see if I can pass.

 Plus, I can't help but image what a cool video that will be to post.

 The decision is made for me, by powers higher than my own desire: those bungee masters. Sort of has a ancient oriental combat aura to it, right? “Sorry grasshopper,” they intone together in a whisper barely audible. “The wind moves in every direction.”

 Really, this is true. I don't just chicken out. I have more evidence here:

Oh my gawd, this is a long post for something that didn't happen.

A Brief Glimpse of My Day in the Sun – Den Haag 2010

Here's the beach scene. Could've been a great day with a little cooperation from the Sun God.

A Woman Called Dallas – Amsterdam 2010

With all this highfalutin feel-good warm fuzzies about meeting people and cool stuff like that, occasionally I'm reminded why I spend so much time hiding in my flat, watching movies.

While sitting at a Mexican restaurant (eating a greasy, overly spicy excuse for a burrito), a woman at the next table suddenly says, without any introduction, “You're from the States.” It's a statement, not a question.

Of course, I'm immediately suspicious and curious at the same time. Hmmmm, I instantly surmise, with my honed skills from summarily judging people of all cultures, that she has no accent, makes assumptions about people instantly, doesn't hesitate to abruptly ask personal questions, is overweight, and dresses slightly better than the homeless: She must be American.

Yeah, she is. She's from Dallas.

We chit chat for a bit about nothing important. She complains about Amsterdam. I tell her I live in Kuwait and teach. She criticizes my long summer vacation, but offhandedly in question form with “You don't have to teach summer school?” This translates from Texas speak into real English as: “You're a useless overpaid intellectual slacker for 3 months out of the year?” Well, actually, yes I am, except more accurately that's 4 months out of the year.

Then I ask if she's heading back to the States soon. She mentions she's going to Israel in a couple of days. “Oh,” I reply, trying to be friendly because I'm a man of the people, “I used to live in Palestine for over a year. I also taught English there.”

She laughs. Not a loud, boisterous guffaw, but a snicker, like I just alluded to some sort of inside joke. Is she laughing at yet another country on my list of places I've lived? No. Nothing that innocent. Her sudden humor centers on a single word: “I'm laughing,” she says, “because you used the word 'Palestine.' ”

I used the “word” Palestine?? Er...that's the name of the country. Then I realize the real insinuation of the Woman Called Dallas, which she confirms right away. “Well, I guess we know which side of the fence you sit on.”

Um...what the fuck? A 45-year occupation is not exactly a side of the fence. Referring to a country, which is walled in, divvied up, and partitioned, by its title is not a “bad word choice”.

Of course, being from Texas it's “fer us or agin us!” I'm on the wrong side of that argument. No matter how far I travel sometimes it's impossible to get away.

Sorry. Got all political again. Moving on …

(For those interested, stories from Palestine will appear in this blog, eventually, piecemeal, and amazingly unbelievable. Be patient.)

July 15, 2010

1,000 Words - The Video That Isn't – Amsterdam 2010

Every once in a while, a moment passes when I wished I had the speed and wherewithal to whip out my camera and record it for prosperity. In fact, I can recall quite a few of these events.

Here is one for Amsterdam.

In front of a Sex Shop – adorned not only with graphic photos of women/men pleasuring themselves and each other but also with a variety of devices to insert into yourself at will – sits a small mangy dog. Dirty, shaggy, and unleashed, he positions himself in the middle of the wide entrance (wide to offer the customers ample access?), staring up into the sky. He complete ignores the handful of passersby who find themselves on this somewhat isolated side street.

So, he's sitting staring upwards. As I pass, he suddenly begins spinning on his butt, his nose sniffing the air furiously. As his body swings around, he reveals a massive, growing erection in its glorious shocking pink. Around and around he goes, panting, sniffing, spinning, grinding his anus against the cobblestones. Oh, and giving one of those dog smiles: teeth showing, tongue sort of lolling out the side of his mouth.
Happy excited dog.

There's a symbolism here I can't quite bring into focus.

Positive/Negative – London

I've decided to jot down the good and bad of London, based on my recent and past experiences. The following points are not in any particular order, unless I decide they are.

  • Walkability – London is a city you can enjoy on foot. Yeah, the Tube is great, but so much to see and do is easily accessible by a little legwork. Before you know it, you've walked 5km along the Thames or through the narrow streets of Soho. It's a real pleasure.

  • Beauty – Conjoined with the previous point, there are moments when London will take your breath away. No matter how many times you've visited (and I've dropped in quite a lot over the past 20 years), the first morning you stumble upon Big Ben is still a wonder. It's just a clock, but something about the structure and its history really carry a wallop.

  • Energy and Vibrance – London is great if you have money. But even the poor unwashed masses have a ton to keep them busy. Besides walking around aimlessly (see point one, yet again), most of the museums are free of charge, as are the parks. On occasion the city puts on public shows and festivals. Last resort, you can always grab a chair at a sidewalk cafe and people watch – the diversity alone will keep you occupied for a while.

  • Beautiful Women – Pardon me while I sink into pure testosterone-driven fantasy, but London women are bee-ooo-tee-full! It's the urban chic – the hip cool chick hanging out in front of the Convent Gardens Tube station or the well-dressed biz woman clicking by on her high heels. There is something about the edge living in a large city gives you. Me likey.

  • Gimme a Little Space – It can get a bit crowded. Between the traffic and the crowds and the annoying tourists, there are times when I want to start elbowing my way down the sidewalk. (Hey, I am not an annoying tourist! I'm a seasoned traveler!).

  • Something – I know I should have more, but dammit I love this city. It's not perfect, but with each visit I find a deeper understanding and joy from being there. If you think you got some negative stuff to say, have at it. That's what the comments are for.

My overall opinion:
London is easily a Top 5 city and every visit confirms this.

July 14, 2010

Wacky Videos – All Aboard – Amsterdam 2010

The title speaks for itself. View the videos to see all the wackiness you're missing by not traveling with me.

De Toiletten – Amsterdam 2010

Here in Amsterdam I'm faced with my nemesis yet once again.

I'm referring to the dreaded European toilet – or at least this weird version of one. I have to guess that its engineer either has a wicked sense of humor or has never used a toilet before in his life. First, it has to be “his” life, because no woman in the world could ever build something like this. Second, it is possible for someone to go throughout life without being familiar with the modern toilet. In fact, I surmise that there might be a billion people in underdeveloped countries who would scoff at our dainty porcelain throne.

Anyway, back to this artifact. Take a look at the convenient video I've taken.

You can thank me for videoing this pre- or post-use and not during actual real time usage. As you can see, directly underneath your personal unloading bay, there's a nice flat shelf, oh about 3 inches from your actual buttock flesh. Any gifts you leave are present in their absolute form. No hidden gems sinking beneath bluish water, their scent masked almost immediately. Nope. Your excrement is on display.

Oh joy.

You can try not to look, but good luck with that. It's like a horrible car accident and your eyes naturally gravitate to the wreckage. There is a reason we in the Peace Corps labeled this Freud's toilet. If ever you had a lingering anal-retentive problem, here's your ultimate solution.

If the sight isn't enough for you, then imagine the aroma. Ah, it smells like victory! And for the lucky ones, like me, you might just be hit with a little traveling runs, which makes the whole episode so more interesting. Splat/Squish! Hurry up and flush! Smell hits your face. Gag. Splat/Squish. Repeat until sore.

Is it really that bad? Does the Pope shit in the woods? He does ... as an alternative to this crappy toilet.

Good Luck or Bad? – Amsterdam 2010

I planned and booked this trip way back in March 2010. No way could I have predicted that Netherlands would be playing in the World Cup final match the middle of July. Yet, here I am and Amsterdam is going crazy.

Part of me knows this convergence of events and my arrival is serendipitous. I'm out and about in the city and everyone is happy and in love and drinking and so excited. Why use words when I have videos:

While witnessing the revelry, I realized it's so similar to New Orleans' Mardi Gras … something I have experienced 5 or 6 times. Yet, combined with this comparison, Amsterdam's celebration is also a bit like the 1938 Olympics in Berlin, which the fervent group-think and incessant nationalism – no, I haven't experienced that but I've seen the newsreels. Stop carping and just go with it.

For a U.S. perspective, even the Super Bowl doesn't quite reach this peak, because nothing causes a mob of people to be more clique-ish than a misplaced sense of national honor, along with the male fantasy of athletic prowess.

To be fair, the World Cup celebration here is not quite as bad as those two examples. The Dutch lack the real Frat boy drunken assholery and the super slutdom that Mardi Gras has honed so well. And even in the worst cases of national spirit which drew my attention, I have no sense of some future genocide in the making.

But just like Mardi Gras and the '38 Olympics, the hangover the next morning is a real bitch. New Orleans gets trashed so badly, it takes a couple of weeks to finally scrub clean. And even the German national superiority complex hit a major road block with Jessie Owens … how dare a black man trip up the Aryan self-assure future.

Whoops, don't mean to get all political here. Just observing.

My point is the next morning when I go for a walk, the entire city is hungover. Trash everywhere. Everyone hiding or asleep. The few who are up and about have this “walk of shame” attitude where eyes don't meet and the stains on their dresses are ignored. I have to wonder if I'm seeing this city in its best or worst light.

Hey, it's all good clean fun, right. Except for the heartbreaking lost in double overtime, or whatever its called, things were fun. Damn those Spaniards! I was hoping a World Cup victory might get me loving. Oh well, I'm in Barcelona next week, maybe a little leftover free love will be floating around there.

July 12, 2010

I Think I Spot the First Trend of This Trip – Amsterdam 2010

My latest plane ride made me realize two things.
  1. Kuwait Airlines (my Kuwait-London mode) really sucks when compare to KLM (my London-Amsterdam mode).
  2. I'm a baby magnet!
Unfortunately, that is “baby” and not “babe”, dammit! Only 2 kids on this flight and they both sit in front of me and scream the entire 1.5 hour flight. Thank you.

wondering what trend I'm talking about?

Veggie Vegan Restaurant – Review – London 2010

I am a bit surprised that there's no menu. Lunchtime is buffet style and they're running a little behind schedule, so a small group of us sit around and ponder the great vegetarian state of the universe. It's a warm afternoon, so the front door is open and the occasional passing conversation drifts in.

The restaurant is small, but clean, well laid out, and friendly. The whole staff seems to consist of the waiter/busboy/server/host/maintenance guy and the cook. Maybe there is someone else in the back that I don't see or hear?

Finally, the food is ready. Not a huge selection, but a good range of options: tofu rissoles, carrot squares (or something like that), roasted potatoes, steamed brown rice, cucumber/tomato salad, chick pea curry (but with whole chick peas), and some other salad that's heavy on the sauce and all jumbled up. As a buffet, you help yourself and pile high on your plate. Which I do, of course.

The food is excellent. You can tell a lot about a chef by the way she cooks rice. The brown rice was steamed to perfection: not mushy but not super sticky. The potatoes were nice big chunks and roasted well. The salads were crisp and fresh with just enough oil/vinegar dressing. The tofu rissole and carrot squares are interesting, tasty if a bit on the bland side. Overall, the foods compliment other well and it all goes down quickly.

I go back for seconds. No limit here. All for the price of 7.50GBP. Not bad at all.

Since I'm in a reviewing type mood, I go ahead and order dessert. Tofu cheesecake sounds interesting, but I omit the ice cream or custard sauce; plain is fine for me. I should have skipped this part – up to this point I was feeling really good about the whole experience. The cheesecake is good enough, but as a fan of NYC cheesecake, it pales in every way. A disappointment.

So, overall: Good food, goods service, easy location. One lousy dessert. Give the restaurant a try if you happen to be in the West Kensington area of London.

Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant: ◊◊◊◊
Rating scale explained
Veggie Vegan website

Random Loving – London 2010

She holds a piece of notebook paper with a hand-written message in blackened messy letters: Free Hug!

When I open my arms, her smile just explodes as if I've confirmed every wonderful character trait she's ever believed about the human race. Our hug lasts 30 seconds; her small thin body absorbs into my arms. When we are done, she insists on giving A a hug, who's standing beside us with a bit incredibility. There's more than enough loving to go around.

You might think it's weird that some stranger on the London sidewalk seeks random physical contact; I find something else much more odd. The huge amount of people who simply pass by without taking advantage. Are we that busy? Are we all that cynical? Well, I'm not. At least not for someone as happy and cute as she is.

A few steps away, I'm still basking in the glow as I weave between the busy tourists, and then some scruffy guy steps in front of me and says: “Do you speak English?” “No,” I reply immediately and keep walking.

Wow, that love of humanity sure wears off quick.

Review Disclaimer … or … My Opinions are My Opinions. Go Form Your Own

Every now and then I'll write a review of a restaurant or hotel that I've used. My comments are based on that one time experience. It is not meant as a condemnation or exaltation of the establishment, but merely an opinion formed for the moment.

If you disagree with what I say, feel free to present a counterargument. If you agree, then know that we have a connection that transcends all time and space. Or something like that. If you have no opinion at all, then get off your butt and go do something.

Diamond Scale Explained

Might as well call the doctor now, because you'll be regretting this decision soon. Say hello to the God of Aaaaaaaargh as you worship at the porcelain throne.

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If you managed to keep this slop down, then you're a better man than I, Gunga Din. The only thing that made this place tolerable was the laughable service. Just out of curiosity, you stay to see how bad things can get.

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With a little thought, this place might be so much better. Well, maybe better is a stretch. Yet, some of what you had was good. Some was bad. The lack of consistency is actually more annoying than the overal product.

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Almost perfect in every way … a la Mary Poppins. It's difficult to really blame the lack of one more star on any one thing. Maybe the ambiance? That one wilted piece of lettuce? The annoying people next to you? Well, almost perfect is better than many others, so enjoy.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Now this is what I'm talking about. It's not easy to get everything right and so revel in the moment. So what if it costs a fortune. Sometimes you gotta splurge on yourself. And if you're in the mood, I wouldn't mind if you splurge on me, too.