It was sunny for a couple of days, and I’d taken the incentive to realize that no one would miss me if I just worked through the night, during the hours when everyone else sleeps and I don’t. So I’d spent a day or two sailing by myself in one of the absurdly man-made lakes around Amsterdam, eating Albert Heijn prepacked ham & cheese croissant sandwiches and drinking enough red bull to keep a corpse on its toes.
But there was strife in me — internal struggle — and there had been for days already. The long hours of summer sun had been on their way down and the rain was coming more frequently, and it was colder when it came. The friends I’d made over the year had either disappeared into jobdom or else moved on from that city. It was starting to occur to me that it would soon be time to leave Amsterdam.
And that’s ok. You can only follow one path and my time has afforded me a vision of all the paths spread before me. It has shown me at least that much. Amsterdam hadn’t made it easy, but that’s more of an observation than a complaint. I’d put in my hours of silent struggle with this place, with these people, and if you were to snide at me for seeming to throw in the towel then you’d snide at someone who knows better than you the woes of a lonely existence among the Dutch.
But there was a question that was keeping me in agony, stirring me from sleep, and that question was where to go next from here? The work situation had degenerated with the American economy somewhat and that wasn’t helping things; in fact it was only limiting my options. Thankfully, having spent a year traveling in Europe I had fewer preferences and knew, for example, that under no circumstances did I want to live in, say, Antwerp, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Madrid or Brussels. Good weather and proximity to large bodies of water had become a much bigger priority for me than say, tall, blond women.
I had plenty of time to ponder the issue when Maryla threw a going away party for herself. I knew almost no one in my house that night. They were all her friends from grad school – various nationalities represented in my living room. I made small talk and flirted a bit with the cute German girl from Maryla’s class and had a nice laugh with the group of Greeks and Spaniards, who seemed to talk about nothing but olives and politics. I even danced a bit with the African girl from Tanzania. They talked loudly and smoked in the living room but I felt myself slipping and soon I was straddling the window sill in the kitchen, nursing a mug of vodka, wondering how it’d gotten so low.
I sat there, pretty much alone and looking towards the other rooftops, wondering things – occasionally watching the people walk past me a floor below. What is so different about this place?, was the thought that constantly found its way back into my mind. Why is it important to me, this “Europe thing”… what is it? Was it the charming and ancient streets that some towns have? That kind of architecture that makes everything feel like a village is not far off? Was it the horse-drawn carriages that woke me up on Sunday mornings? Because these were just THINGS.
Was it the people? Maybe it was the vacations, the attitude towards work that cares more about results than it does about appearances. That could be it. I mean, I went to London once for a couple of days and worked out of the Wi-Fi signal of a PUB, drinking BEER to sustain my right to be there. I went to Barcelona and worked in my brother’s attic for some time. I went to Zürich and worked on the banks of the Limmat for the cost of 7 coffees… hell, last week I went sailing and worked at night…
And no one noticed. The American working style of answering email every two minutes simply wouldn’t allow for that kind of effective productivity. But that couldn’t be it.
A drunk Lithuanian boy scurried by, unaware he was being watched. A few minutes later two Irish blokes looked up at me from the street below and asked me “you live here? Where are the hookers?”
I was walking up a cobblestone street today the width of a horse’s ass and I noticed that the buildings around me were stone, worn and full of history, not a trace of memory. I don’t know what that means, really, but there’s something there. Try to get past the association with subsistence farming for a second, try to get beyond the hippy-ish notion that “we can ignore the corporations, man”, and see the value, the nobility in having the things and comforts you WANT to have, and ignoring the argument that you use on yourself that you NEED these things.
I don’t know. A stable economy? Universal Health Care. Foreign Policy that makes sense? Hypocrisy and corruption in your government that you can stand against, maybe even understand?
Hmmm. Maybe it just turns out that I’m a socialist or something. Barry Hart would go to pieces if he ever found out.
It could also be the unforced linkage to a more civilized age, a connection to society that is more intimate than what I grew up around. The resistance to unnecessary technology and services, to absurd products and ideals thrown at you from the oligarchy above was something I could admire in a people. Their ability to think critically and to give a shit, to have an educated opinion that even if you didn’t agree with you could a learn a thing or two from it. The notion that the world is not black and white, despite what say the powers that be. That they understand, on this continent, the shame I feel for what America has become.
I’m not sure; none of that quite hits the mark.
My fascination with the closeness of the major cities, the proximity to such disparate cultures and languages might very well be a driving force. I love driving on a highway and having virtually every road sign you pass have the name of a major city that you’ve visited, or would like to visit. Zürich, Basel, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Lyon, Prague, Budapest, Geneva, Milan, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Munich, Stuttgart, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon… the list is virtually endless. It’s not as if you see a sign for Sacramento, and then drive 2000 miles and see one for Chicago, having been through countless Virginia City’s, Winnamucca’s, Lovelock’s, Battle Mountain’s and Elko’s. And even then… Chicago? Who cares?
That’s the familiarity talking, I’m sure, but it’s an important part that can’t be discounted. These things are now, and will always be foreign for me. The languages, the customs, the people, the street signs, the license plates, the food… no matter how used to it I get there will always be an element of strange, of different, of exciting. I thrive on that shit.
There is also the obvious inter-relatedness of things that are so close to one another is equally captivating to me, how the history of everything has common causes, and I can understand things more easily this way. History is a fascinating thing, and we don’t have enough of it in America. Here in Europe you can see it in the bending of their streets.
I thought of all of this, of course, the first time I watched the Bourne movies. It all made sense to me then. Damn you, Jason Bourne!
A girl dressed in a plaid shirt walked into the kitchen for, I don’t know, more cake, let’s say. She saw me by the window and thought mistakenly that I was in the mood for a bad conversation and started telling me where she was from in Canada but that she was actually born in Montana, but that she thought that people of the northwest in America were basically just misplaced Canadian hicks or some other damn thing…
I hadn’t told her where I was from, but I got the feeling it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to a girl in Amsterdam from Halifax, Nova Scotia. After a few minutes of my not engaging her conversation all that well, she decided to get political.
Of all the things I didn’t want to discuss in my state of flux, in my indecision about my career, in my vacillation about what to do next, the last fucking thing I wanted to be reminded of was what would happen if McCain actually wins the Presidency. Or why that was still a possibility. And Canada-Montana there, who was feasting ravenously on some kind of a biscuit chocolate cake thing sitting on the kitchen table, wanted me to explain the FISA bill to her, postmortem.
Why does it have to always be reactive with you people? Why can’t you fucking follow the important stuff while it still matters? We shouldn’t be putting these assholes in office and THEN wanting to learn more about their addiction to escort services, Cuban opium, toenail fetishes with 14 year old boys and this thing that you can do with a few star fruits if they’re ripe enough.
I don’t want to talk about that one.
I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter that SHE was asking; I don’t even know for a fact that she was still a citizen and could make a difference with her voice, except to aggravate me on my kitchen window. But it’s so much like everyone else I talk to, who wants to know if I’m an “Obama supporter”, or if I’m a “Hilary man”. What the hell does that even mean? Don’t you realize that there’s no choice? What do I think will happen if John Mc-two-face-Cain wins the Presidency? It’ll be the end of the god-damned planet, is what. It’ll be the second coming on fast-forward. And boy is Jesus going to shit his pants when he sees what we’ve done with the place, mostly in his name. The plane will crash into the mountain, and America will be the bane of the world in less than the four years it’ll take for him to get ousted out of office, and I’m not even sure you people will get the message then.
STOP VOTING FOR THESE LUNATIC AND CORRUPT ASSHOLES
Just stop. If you don’t know, if you think all you have is what they’re giving you, you’re probably right. If you haven’t asked someone who is smarter than you about the REAL problems, if you haven’t read more than one paper in the last 3 months, just stay home. It’s the right thing to do.
Oh, and if you MUST vote republican, don’t vote for McCain. Just buy a gun and shoot yourself in the face. It’ll work out better in the end, all without violating your right to bear arms.
But the FISA thing? Ugghh…
You have no idea, do you? You don’t know that what the congress passed and the president signed, that what you will now have hanging over your head like the carcass of a dead ferret for the rest of our natural lives is THIS:
-Releases electronic communication providers from liability with regards to civil action that may be brought up in any court due to assistance provided to the government in obtaining electronic surveillance if such assistance was authorized by the President before January 17, 2007 or if such assistance was the subject of written directions from the Attorney General or heads of the intelligence community indicating that the activity was lawful (Sec. 201).
What I have to say about this is: IF?
… IF such assistance was the subject of written directions from the Attorney General or blah blah blah?
Why don’t you just say, “spying on American citizens is illegal and we’ll rip your balls off, but, this bill releases Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers, John Bolton, Karl Rove, Don Rumsfeld, George Tenet and a slew of other incompetent but evil-ass motherfuckers from any liability or criminal wrong doing… assuming they did it.”
This is, simultaneously, an admission of total and ultimate guilt followed by an assertion that “it doesn’t matter; everything we’ve done up to now has now become legal, back to the date that we did it.” It’s the most comprehensive FUCK YOU ever given to a collective audience. It’s the largest and will be the most enduring middle finger ever thrown to a captivated people. And “your man,” Obama, voted for it, just like most of everyone else.
I told her all this in between spasms of fury and frustration.
“Wow,” she said, and poured herself the last of the whiskey. Then she scampered off to find more cake.
…moments become memories very quickly on a night like that. The rage just drowns out everything else, and the loneliness is like a blanket over your face to help you forget it in the morning. The mug of vodka just doesn’t hurt…