Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scents, Sensibility and Holiday Magic

Scents and Sensibility

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware."
Martin Buber

Jane Austen might raise an eyebrow. Unlike her Victorian fables, mine is set in Amsterdam 2010. And it's not a fabricated yarn, but rather a true tale of friendship, betrayal and ultimate justice. I aim to write and publish it as My 'Dam Betrayal, An Expat's Tale of Scents and Sensibility.

But let me set the stage for you now as I recall, for the record, its drama, violence, outrage, cat and mouse hijinks, Facebook war and even a chase up Leidsestraat in which I pursued Professor Stinky, a friend-turned-criminal, to Dam Square, where the search continued via videotape in parked Dutch Politie mobiles. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, but you know who you are.

It all began when my doorbell rang three days after I moved into my apartment in the Jordaan, once Amsterdam's district for the desperate, now the haunt of artists, intellectuals and fashionistas. It was the shoarma guy; he was unexpected. 
Mixing visuals @ Supperclub
"You did not order shoarma for 12?" the strange voice demanded. "Met garlic sauce?

"No! Nay!" I banged down the intercom.

The bell rang again, more insistently. "Hahaha," the familiar voice chirped in a Dutch accent. It was Jan, a 40-something aroma jockey I'd met through a mutual friend in 2008. An olfactory artist who mixes aromas in nightclubs, restaurants, museums and other special event venuesjust as DJs combine tunes and VJs mix visuals—Jan (aka Professor Stinky) and his Ministry of Nonsense aim to make scents at dance, food, art and fashion-related parties.
"My pole," Jan moaned, caressing it.
I buzzed my friend in, chuckling at his ruse—pure Jan

When the elevator opened to reveal his shaggy countenance, I breathed in his earthy scent, turning my face for the traditional Dutch greeting: three kisses, alternating cheeks. He introduced me to Bill, an American expat who'd come along for the visit.

The two padded into a pool of fall sunlight. Like an alcoholic needing a drink, Jan headed straight for the pole in my living area. He wrapped his arms around it. He wrapped his legs around it. He caressed it like an object of desire. And it was! "My pole," he moaned, "my pole."

"OK, we'll negotiate," I laughed, wondering about Jan's vision. The evening ended with me handing him keys to my apartment. The deal: free room, board and PR services in exchange for decorating talent and assistance with schlepping around furniture, light fixtures and all the other things it takes to set up house and assimilate into Dutch culture.

I Smell a Rat

Howie and me at Supperclub
We embarked on a whirlwind of shopping, decorating and partying. Jan took me to A'dam's best clubs, introducing me to VJs, DJs and the world of techno-music—one that fascinated me so much, I was prepared to devote considerable energy promoting his Ministry of Nonsense worldwide. Sick with bronchitis and pneumonia, we partied on.

Alas, the signs of psychosis started early, but I could not see the red flags until it was too late. I'll save them for the memoir...along with the rest of the story about having Jan arrested at Supperclub for his stab at home terrorism, grand theft and destruction of property.

Travel Blogging in Copenhagen 
Kings Gardens, Copenhagen
Lola and Urban
In November, I traveled via train to Copenhagen for Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX), where I joined over 200 fellow travel writers. They included Lola Akinmade, a talented Nigerian photojournalist I met on a cycling tour in Egypt, and her Swedish husband, Urban. What a treat! The Danes regaled us with local lore, Nordic cuisine and tours of canals, breweries, bakeries, trendy neighborhoods and Christiana (Copenhagen's hippie enclave). 

Turkeys and Menorahs

When I returned, I tracked down a turkeyno easy feat in Hollandfor Thanksgiving. Longtime friends Rod, Miriam and Zara Heydon; Nica (American expat/chef/sailor/luxury tour director) and her partner Christine; Bill (Hunter's Coffeeshop dealer/local bad boy) and Burt, my Surinamese friend, came by tram, foot and bike for the feast. A week later, we celebrated Hanukah with potato latkes and a menorah fashioned from votive candles. Zara's friend, Rachel, said the blessing. 

Holiday Magic
By Sinterklaas' (the Dutch Santa Claus) arrival via steamboat from Spain in late November, several inches of snow lay on the ground. Unlike America's Santa, Sinterklaas is quite dashing with his white mane, crimson regalia, gold crown and hunky build. But he is not so politically correct; indeed, his alliance with Zwarte Piet, the young black helper who accompanies him down chimneys of well-behaved Dutchies, has caused considerable uproar. Innocent little ones may tell you his face gets blackened with soot, but contemporary folklore maintains Piet was freed from slavery by St. Nick and willingly chose to follow him.

Amsterdam is now magnificent with holiday lights, ice skating rinks, frozen canals, snow-filled boats, oliebol (Dutch donuts) and mulled wine. But the icy stuff is deadly. So I light a fire and watch the cyclists peddle by, making me dream of California where my friends are riding in shorts and t-shirts. Rod broke his arm, slipping on the ice and numerous friends have fallen from their fiets (bikes), riding on the slick cobblestones.

So I'm escaping to Thailand for a writers retreat on New Year's Day. After the five-day conference in Chiang Mai, I'll spend two weeks checking out temples, hill tribes and handicrafts in northern Thailand, then explore Bangkok and southern islands. I welcome suggestions for this upcoming trip.

I look forward to seeing many California friends at the BCI banquet on January 29 and at my "Over the Hump: Egypt by Bike" presentation at the February 24 BCI General Meeting in beautiful Irvine, California. Mark your calendars!
If you're traveling in 2011, I hope you'll visit me in Amsterdam, where I'd be happy to share my passion for what is still, for me, the most magical city on Earth. All the best for the New Year; may you follow your own dreams, finding peace and happiness wherever they may lead you.

1 comment:

  1. What an exciting year it has been for you Melissa! So happy to have met you and can call you friend.

    Have a wonderful time in Thailand and see you soon!