Various observations about the Netherlands

I was so stretched for reading material in the Denver airport on Sunday that I actually paid money for a copy of GQ magazine.  In it, I read this giant article about the pot stores in Amsterdam, by some guy who worked there for a week or two and reported his findings.  (I am researching this not because I smoke pot – I don’t – but I’m thinking of starting a dog medical marijuana clinic for dogs that have arthritis or glaucoma, since I think if I did this in California, I could probably charge like four times as much to rich people with little neurotic rat-dogs.  I don’t know what to call it, but something with the term “dogstafarian.”)

I spent a week in Amsterdam in 2005.  Random observations:

  • It is acceptable to wear blackface during the winter season, but little kids might ask you for presents.
  • The people speak English, but also converse in some strange moon-man language called “Dutch.”  If you are white and of Germanic features, someone might come up to you and start talking in this weird language.  If you start screaming “I VOTED FOR GEORGE BUSH” they will stop.
  • A Turkish Airways 737 overshot the runway at Schiphol airport in 2004 because the pilot, copilot, and first officer were in a dispute over whether or not the Black Sabbath song “N.I.B.” implies that Ozzy Osbourne or another member of Black Sabbath was an employee of Procter and Gamble, because of the line “The sun, the moon, the stars all bear my seal”
  • You can buy hash in Amsterdam, but if you go into a pharmacy and ask for any cold medicine stronger than a Hall’s cough drop, the clerk will look at you like a crazed drug addict.
  • Anton–Babinski syndrome is a rare symptom of brain damage to the occipital lobe in which a person has complete visual blindness but insist they can still see.
  • Anne Frank’s attic was wired with cat-5 cable 60 years before the TIA/EIA-568-B standards were adopted.  Her father, however, used copper clad cable runs instead of 100% copper, which explains why in her diaries she mentions so much trouble getting her power over ethernet Cisco phones to work consistently.
  • You can hire the services of a prostitute in a McDonald’s, but they don’t have the shamrock shakes there.
  • I looked at all of Van Gogh’s paintings at his museum, and sketched out an entire idea for a Playstation game similar to Grand Theft Auto based on his artwork, but I lost my notes when I tried to use one of those public urinals.

I also went into an Apple Store while I was there, but this was before they had the iPad or the iPhone, so it was not that interesting.



I’m back from Amsterdam, and we had a good time there. Part of me wants to write a big trip report, but part of me wants to do a rm -rf ~/www/journal on a fairly constant basis, (and that might be coming soon), so no report. The basic synopsis is that the jetlag really fucked me, I got a bad cold and was not able to buy any medicine to get better, but we still got a lot in, and the trip was more than worth it. Pictures are posted, but I’m too lazy to add a link, so figure it out.

Although I’ve been to most of the 50 states, and I’ve been to Canada a half-dozen times, I’ve never left the country otherwise, so this was a cool trip. Ever since the first time I went to Canada in high school, bought a Coke can from a machine, and felt the slight difference, I have been fascinated by finding out the differences in places based on their consumer goods. I don’t land in Utah and seek out the Mormon people or find out why it’s called the Beehive state; I immediately find out if they have a Denny’s, an IHOP, a 7-Eleven, or where people go to buy their records. I enjoy travel to states that are test markets for new soft drinks, or that have odd hamburger chains I can’t find anywhere else. I know I should care more about the history or culture or climate or something else, but seriously, fuck that. I want to know about the things I consume, that I use.

In that sense, The Netherlands were very interesting, because EVERYTHING was different. Okay, this wasn’t like going to some third-world former Soviet shithole where people drink chlorinated rainwater and eat gamey horsemeat on important holidays. The Dutch speak English and enjoy many of the same foods as Americans. But the differences I look for were there in spades: .33L bottles of Coke; Fanta everywhere; bottled water in those plastic-impregnated cardboard boxes like soy milk; automats; coin-op bathrooms that were cleaner than hospital operating rooms; weird soaps; weird cell phones; weird cars. Everything was interesting. I wanted to buy one of everything just to open it, taste it, smell it, and decide if it was better or worse than what I’d become used to over the last 34 years. Even the money was weird; it took some time to get used to having a fistful of coins that was worth like forty bucks.

Everyone in Amsterdam speaks English. I read that before I left, but I was very surprised at how well most people did. And I’m not talking “your total is ten Euros” sort of proficiency; I mean, I had conversations with people who spoke such unbroken English that I could have sworn they grew up back in the states. The bad news is that everything is in Dutch, with occasional English subtitles. Shopping in a grocery store was a little difficult; I almost walked out with a large bottle of drinking water that was in reality vinegar. The most odd aspect of the whole English-Dutch thing was the number of times a cashier started talking to me in Dutch instead of English. You’d think I would have a giant “American” sign above me, but I guess not.

I mentioned elsewhere that things were completely politically neutral, which was nice. I was at the very least expecting a huge fuck-george-bush display in a city square, or some hippies hassling the American tourists over their fascist leader. But nobody said shit, and furthermore, there was no real display of political strife or issue locally. I was very pleased to find a place to go where I didn’t have to hear someone drone on and on about it.

I think my favorite thing was the botanical garden, which had three different big greenhouse climates with different temperatures and humidities, plus some smaller rooms and a lot of excellent landscaping and scenery. It was maybe in the fifties when we were there, but one of the big rooms was a jungle climate and so humid that my glasses and camera fogged over. They had some huge trees in there, and of course, this immediately made me wish I had a similar setup out on my Colorado land.

Anyway, that’s the basic story. Now I have to get over this cold, and start on my next project, which is learning Apple Pages, the new word processor/page layout program that’s part of iWork. It’s basically an Apple version of something like Adobe InDesign, and I think it might enable me to drop FrameMaker when I design my next book. I have only played with it for a few minutes, but it’s very fun.

But first, the evening’s Nyquil…