I am not governed by any faith or superstition .....but when my girlfriend recently joked that in my last life I had obviously been rather bad, therefore making this life have circumstances that are sometimes difficult.....I was almost ready to start believing it maybe true!!!! I have returned from my trip to Amsterdam just a few days ago only to be swallowed up into a series of difficult situations. My mother-law in Kerala is ailing and in an advanced state of geriatric senility , my mother fell down and has badly bruised her muscles in her left leg, and my best friends aunt is terminally ill. However this is the reality of life and each day brings with it tests that will challenge ones capabilities.
However the seven days in Amsterdam were a great get away before this. As travel always does, it teaches one many things. I have come to believe that political correctness has its benefits, sometimes. In Amsterdam I found that the general population of people choose to be very courteous and extremely warm and friendly. The city has a consciousness about their environment, and the sight of men in black whizzing past on bicycles, and women with zanily decorated bicycle baskets in office attire who pedal a mean mile, makes our over crowded Indian streets crammed with private vehicles, seem utterly stupid in comparison.
The trust invested in a citizen over there, to be honest and ethical in their support of a public system, to enable it's efficient functioning, talks highly of the values people hold about self dignity and their own role within defining the type of country/state their wish to have for themselves. Trams and metros, trains and buses all ply people back and forth within the Netherlands, making it so easy to travel without endless planning and concern about availability of transportation. No one ever cheats and people in authority are very helpful and accommodative to the bumbling of those who are new to their rules.
However public toilets are not found easily which had me having to do my "hotel act" on a few occasions. This act has been perfected by me since I was a teenage traveller. Private hotels are not very encouraging of outsiders using their washroom facilities, especially in Europe. So I would walk up to the reception with great authority and purpose in Amsterdam or any other city we were visiting that day( a full bladder in the cold can be a good motivation to turn up the purposeful quotient, trust me!), and charmingly (interpret that as a sweet smile hiding genuine agony to use a loo desperately!) tell them how I was over from India in their lovely country and needed to pee! Well I like to believe its my 40 watt smile that always worked and not them avoiding the potential disaster of a puddle on their pristine designer carpets of four weary desi women that made they toilet doors swing open in our favor!
The museums had many gifts to offer as visual treats.....a chanced upon room with large paintings of Francis Bacon that held translucent orange and carnation pink, an imposing landscape of Anselm Kiefer that brought alive Elliot's wasteland, the portrait of his wife by Egon Schiele that is hauntingly tender, impressive paintings of Rembrandt and Frans Hal that hold the magic of light and observations that reveal beyond the exterior descriptions of their subjects, the museum of Vincent Van Gogh brought to the public by the commitment of his sister-in-law and his family where his paintings offer you a purity of color that stuns you into silence to confront his passion for his art which is truly humbling.... and for those who haven't seen the works of Hans van Bentum....then do so right away.
The curation in all the museums was stunning.....despite massive cutbacks of funding for the arts there still remains a clear comprehension of the need to support and make available art to a society. Individuals step in, and endowments from benefactors create alternative methods of viable sustainability to the cultural continuity and production of art.
But the city of Amsterdam, enchanting as it is, has most of it's architecture sinking. As a result far too many homes that line the canals leave you with a feeling of imbalance as they tilt and mess with the alignment of your vision. Inside too the homes follow the tilting that comes from the foundations sinking, and have death defying staircases that are more vertical than inclined, narrow and small treaded leading to many a fall with consequences that are bruised ribcages and busted knees. Many of these old narrow structured homes have been converted into hotels, and the Orlando Hotel where we stayed was one such hotel. Nothing to write home about with a grumpy owner and rather depressing rooms to its credit, the Orlando could do well to improve on its infrastructure. However Rose the caretaker was very sweet and accommodating. Mr. Lodder the owner should thank his stars that he has her, because most people would otherwise pack up and leave with his surly ways.
And for a tourist destination they could well improve on the restaurant culture of their city. Restaurants close mostly by 10 pm....and those that have a few more minutes on their timings will turn you away in favor of shutting shop early for a football game! Well Holland lost, so I feel vindicated!!!!
But for a traveller it is the many unexpected moments that make a trip memorable. Chanced upon conversations, the color of the sky, the delight of trying a new cuisine. We walked from morning till late evening with the occasional stop at a cafe. Hot chocolate on a cold day is heaven!
I also spent a day in conversation with five artists at the Rijksakedmie. Inside the intimacy of their studio, with an hour and a half to structure a meaningful encounter with each artist, those with the passion of belief brought their hearts to the table.
Now back in my own studio I have brought my mother to recover, into the studio with me. Her sofa-bed has bright cushions and the black cat with a crocheted cape, gifted to me by Karishma. I re-arrange my physical space as I do my mental space to accommodate all that I know I need to, each day.
What did I bring back from my trip this time?
The color of the night sky of Amsterdam....such a magically intense blue, that it makes me shiver in the mere delight of recollection!