Five Senses in AmsterdamAmsterdam, Spring 2013
Five Senses in Amsterdam (in February)
The flip-flap-flapflap of dozens of pidgeons passes you overhead. Old bikes squeak along pleasantly, grumbling over cobblestones. A Dutch couple chats over coffee – the words are hkkkard and gutterrrral, but also pleasant. Rhythmic. Happy. The tram dings, and the clock in Dam Square chimes the hour. A bustle of tourists pass speaking a handful of languages. Seagulls squawk and fight bitterly over mayo-dipped fries. Puddles sploosh as a few cars roll by carefully. A man shouts “Hoi!” from his upstairs apartment, and friends from below reply in kind. A saxophone wails under competent hands from a street performer. A train rattles by, shaking the bridge as it passes thunderously. Children screech and shout in joyful abandon – some yelling as they play a haphazard football match, while others convene as they scrape chalk masterpieces on the pathway. Two dogs bark at each other, wishing desperately to tackle each other in friendly revelry. You barely resist the urge to go pet them.
Salty fries with thick, garlic-hinted mayonnaise. Strong coffee – put in a couple extra sugars and creamers. Loose-leaf tea steeped in a little clear mug, served with a nutty nougat; the sticky sweet meshes nicely with the tea. Pancakes, lighter and thinner than the American version, is filled with a savory cheese that stretches as you cut it and melts deliciously in your mouth. Stroopwafels (once it warms after sitting on your mug of tea) is soft and buttery and sugary, the caramel inside gorgeously globulous and sweet. The croissant is flaky and buttery, melting in your mouth after you take the first bite.
The wind is cold – it cuts through your jacket and scarf, and tugs on your hat. You are glad you did laundry last night, because your sweater is definitely a good choice for today’s cold weather. It rains, lightly, spritzing drops on your face as you bike to class. Then it hails, and little balls of ice hop and dance on the cobblestones (and on your head). But then, it clears. There’s a brief and thankful stillness. Warmth rushes when you get on the tram, which is smooth save for the jerks on tight turns. You shake hands as you formally introduce yourself to a classmate; their hands are dry from the winter air. Your butt is sore from biking, but there’s no helping that – keep pedaling, and hope your underwear doesn’t bunch up again.
You are fairly sure wet has a scent – it smells wet. Not musty, or murky, or damp, just wet. Watery. Grilled steaks let fantastic smells float out of Argentinian steak houses. Each bakery you pass lures you in with its scent of bread. The market has a faint smell of flowers; even now, in winter, tulips and tulip bulbs are sold. There is a promise of spring in the air. A sudden odor every now and again hits you as you pass by the many “coffee shops”, those fabled tourist-attractions. The smell of age, or old wood and history, lives in the walls of many buildings. Can history have a smell? Perhaps. America doesn’t smell quite like this – perhaps it’s too young. Perfume wafts from a pleasant-looking Dutch woman, probably older than your grandma. The intoxicating smell of books is faint in the beautifully contemporary library; walk along the shelves and you can still smell the pages.
Water, catching sunlight in the brief, blissful moments that the plump clouds part. A pair of swans preen just beside a little tarped boat which sleeps until the days of Spring come and the Dutch take to the waterways. The buildings are old, but far from unsightly. Hooks still lean forward from the tops of the canal houses, reminding the world that goods were once pulled from the canals to the houses in the great trading center of Amsterdam. Graffiti splays out across streetsides and alleys – ebbing and fading together to create a strange urban wallpaper for the city. You are constantly reminded that art is everywhere, not just Van Gogh or Rembrandt or Escher, but in galleries and homes and museums and bookstores and libraries and cafes. Graffiti is art. Architecture is art. Fashion is art. Life is art.
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