Vijf More Vignettes (and a Wish)
Daffodils spring up more than any daisies ever did, all around the Funenpark neighborhood. Every day, the pop-up yellow of the flowers greet me. Sometimes, when the wind is just right or not at all, I can smell them. The kids from the nearby daycares and schools run among the flowers, or around them. The youngest children pluck some and hold them up for parents or teachers.
Every afternoon I see the children shouting as they play football (with random English curses sprinkled here and there), or getting their hands dirty as they graffiti the flagstone paths with chalk, or pedal along with their little bikes (no training wheels, mind you, because the ability to bike is a genetic Dutch trait).
I think of the daycare children back home that my mother cares for – Brie, PJ, Braelyn, Clara, Alex, Gianni, and Lilyana. Our neighbors, Zach and Zoey, too. I miss them. But the babble of Dutch children soothes me; the conversations of children, no matter what language, always seems to carry with it a care-free cadence that has not yet lost its sincerity to the thorns of growing up.
It was Friday night, and I was to have dinner with a Dane. Weeks before, I had met several new friends through an International Students welcome by the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Among us, we could represent Denmark, Brazil, Germany, Peru, and the United States. Gitte, a kind Danish journalism student, promised us a traditional Danish meal.
My friend, Fabiola, and I, biked to her apartment to find a delicious, home-cooked meal waiting. We were instructed the best way to piece the meal together. The bread (the only kind she could find that was close to what she wanted) was the base, and one put butter, tomatoes, and the meatballs on top. A potato salad also could be spread onto the bread, as well as a red-cabbage slaw. We had beer and water and cider.
The table was finally filled with the expected guests by 9:30pm: Norbert (Germany), Xaeny (Brazil), Fabiola (US and Peru), Gitte, and myself. Xaeny brought us his promised guacamole, delicious and fresh. We chatted awhile, laughing and pondering and questioning and answering. One of Gitte’s roommates returned early, bringing with her a Polish perspective. The night went on, and I wondered, if only the U.N. would drink and eat together – perhaps then world peace could be had.
It’s snowing outside the Kröller-Müller museum, draping the National Park de Hoge Veluwe (where the museum sits) in white fluff. I’m drawn to one particular painting in a way I have never been before. I enjoy art, and I enjoy museums, but a painting has never left me enraptured. “In the Dance Hall” by Dutch impressionist Isaac Isräels left me with a story unwritten. I sat in the room, and gazed.
I absorbed the image, the paint, the strokes. The painting seemed to show two women dancing, and I sensed intimacy. It was painted in the 1880’s – a time when two women dancing intimately in public would not have been acceptable. Did I see glaring eyes of the other, heterosexually coupled dancers? Or did I just imagine this? Was I overthinking? Overanalyzing? But the painting just seemed so tender. I stood back, silent, with the snow falling outside.
Fijne koninginnedag! It’s April 30th, a Tuesday. Queen’s Day – the last the Netherlands will see in a while, as King Willem-Alexander takes the throne after his mother, Queen Beatrix, abdicated.
Amsterdam is bathed in orange. The trams are half-closed. People bring their junk and their treasures to the streets to sell– barters and bargains. The vrijmarkt (free market) extends throughout the city, the largest yard sale you will ever, ever see.
Harper, Daniella, and I take tram ten to the Vondelpark. Stretched out all along the windy paths are children selling toys, and baked goods, and games. Others sell paintings, or crafts, or charge to throw darts or rings. Food smells mingle with the chill, cloudy air (occasionally broken by the beautiful sun). Two precocious kids set up a stereo and take tips for their interpretation of Psy’s Gangnam Style. Other kids frolic in giant bubbles on a pond. Child musicians give a soundtrack to the day – cellists playing Bach, a saxophonist wailing Pink Panther, drummers jamming out (no older than ten).
I wanted to be a kid again. To be part of the endlessness of the Vondelpark’s entertainment and business and goodwill. Celebratory vibes threaded the air. Public concerts drew thousands and thousands to Museumplein, or Dam Square, or to the Jordaan. Drinking and merriment was the name of the game, but all I wanted to be was a kid in a bubble on a pond.
I had made a promise to myself: “when I lose thirty pounds, I will get my earlobes pierced!” It had been ten months since that promise, and with a quick check on a scale at the gym in the PCH UvA building, I realized I had done it. The next day, led by my friend, Connor, we went to a body piercing and tattoo parlor not far from the Dam.
Five minutes later, I had hypoallergenic earrings in my earlobes and a proud smile on my face. I had done it. Now I needed another goal, another reward. I gazed at my reflection, not seeing the weight I lost. I couldn’t see the change, despite the change in the scale number. But each time I saw my new piercings, I knew I did it. I accomplished something for myself—and no one else.
As my time in Amsterdam closes, I realize two things: one, I did not travel nearly as much as my IES colleagues. And two, I’m glad I didn’t. These vignettes – these snapshot moments – are tiny, soft. They aren’t monumental, like standing before the Coliseum or bathing in Barcelona. But then again, the Netherlands itself is not a country of monuments. It is quiet and honest.
The controlled chaos of travel is a whirlwind, one that is in no way less important. I think it is very worthwhile that many of my classmates managed to go to Prague, or Lisbon, or London. But to know a place, to be in a place, cannot be done in a weekend living out of a haphazard suitcase. I have, years ago, been on that whirlwind (through Greece, Italy, and France). I loved it. But I did not grasp Place (with a capital ‘P’) as I do now.
I did travel – to Glasgow, to Munich, to a nameless town in Belgium – but most of my travels were within the Netherlands. Maastricht, the Hoge Veluwe, Alkmaar, and Utrecht (possibly more places soon, squeezed in before my return trip to Scotland, which is before my return trip to Massachusetts).
Place is not monuments or souvenirs; it is not museums or tours. Place is not streets or parks; it is not shops or schools.
Place is wet knees while biking in the rain and watching swans preen next to half-sunk canal boats.
Place is multi-lingual chatter spilling out of cafes and onto streets, and trains screeching by the window in the morning.
Place is late-night drinks over tales of childhood adventures and browsing Facebook from under Ikea covers. Place is people. It’s history, it’s roots, it’s language, it’s art. Place is trash and broken glass; still-burning cigarettes and sirens. It’s smells and tastes and colors.
Place isn’t on a map, and it can’t be found with any GPS.
For those who were abroad, or shall be, it is my wish that you will find your own Place.
I found mine.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I'm Kaylie Crawford, a tea-drinking writer with a desire for travel and poor coordination skills. I hail from the small town of Dracut, Massachusetts, and study writing at the gorgeous Ithaca College in New York. Besides doodling, snapping photos, and reading, I love adventuring with friends (or just staying in with a home-cooked meal and a movie). I plan to see the world and meet the many beautiful people in it, and share my shenanigans with others in hopes to spread some smiles.</span></p>