Friday, October 21, 2016

Minus the Contempt

I  really couldn’t blame them, the housing market is booming in Amsterdam. They put the apartment up for sale, people went crazy for it, bid after bid, they upped the price 20% and launched it on the market for the second time.

“You know how it works now, don’t you?” a player in the field asked me, as if after two years I wasn’t clued in.

Normally you need to bid 20% above the asking price, sort of sneaky on the sly and act as if you’ve gotten away with something. The couple had merely short circuited the whole affair, jacked the price up, and said, “This is it. You pay it, you got it.”

No, really I couldn’t blame them. I stood on the parquet floor. It looked nice. “We really don’t need to sell.” They said, “We get a great rental price, what with our mortgage.”

“I really am in no rush to buy,” I said.  “I won’t come under my rent when I buy, with all the costs added up.”

We stood on the parquet floor.  It looked very nice.  The building was solid and built in 1912, with a grand entrance.  No doubt about it, I liked it. Two good radiators I noted, the old fashioned kind.

As I had been wandering around the Ex Pat Fair early this month, I stopped asked about a mortgage at one of the stands manned by a bank. The young man looked at me with contempt.  “When you’ve gotten so far,” he sneered, “we can make an appointment.”

I looked at the couple selling the apartment.  If it had been a better price, I would have bought it. The bathroom would need to be redone within five years and so would have the kitchen but I really didn’t blame them for really being, well, honest and then not honest.  I mean I could read the euro signs in their eyes, but not the contempt of the mortgage man.

What I would like most is to have a non-slimy conversation with someone about a mortgage, I mean I don’t expect to be friends, but just a decent conversation with the object of buying 35 square meters. It seems the whole affair is one louche, grubby exercise to get away with something as if a roof over one’s head is a type of extramarital affair.

I wondered about the matter for a few days after visiting the apartment. Who do I know, I mused, who owns property in the center of Amsterdam and needs to take a loss on an investment for the benefit of their tax return?

“What happens if you win?” A friend asked me, as I relayed my doubts.

I had no idea, I had never bought a lottery ticket before in my life. But I was thinking about buying the postcode lottery.

“I paid in every week, fifteen smackers, sometimes I won thirty, hundred.” Playing the numbers.  I didn’t feel like paying out for my lucky numbers on a weekly basis.

“If my husband hears me coming through the front door making a lot of noise, he always gets suspicious.” She explained, “He calls out, what have you picked up now? Emphasis on now, of course.” That would be on the nights before the weekly garbage pick-up.

“Have you heard about TofVuil?” A different friend asked, “It’s when you spot a great item on the street, take it home, give it a brush over and show the before and after shots on FB.”  Yeah well, that one is a no brainer. The question is: where to put it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Obligatory Leopard Print

For those of you who have pets, you will understand what I am talking about. You’re standing in front of a display of pet beds at the pet store, and the fabric choices are horrendous or you are contemplating some diverting object which is insanely lumpy and dopy looking.  This doesn’t bother your four footed friend, he or she takes to the paw print bed like a fish to water and is instantly intrigued by the feathered wobbly snake with the zebra pattern.  It’s as if they know, once you bring the object home, it’s for them.  It’s perfectly marketed.  I sometimes wonder how the product people know this and how they test their products and with what assortment of animal testers, perhaps “Boomer,” “Socrates” and “Little Timmie.”  I honestly believe my cat, Brunhilde, would take just as easily to a bed made of warm fleece fabric which is not leopard print, but say, a demure lilac print, think Liberty Print or a wine colored William Morris concoction that would blend in with my living room furnishings, as she takes to paw print.  Maybe Liberty can develop a lovely pet bed, warm and state of the art fabrics that is also a wash or wipe down item for those unhappy cleansing of digestive track in bed moments.  Your snoozing pets would become honest, incorporated furnishings. Your friends would walk into your home and think, “What a lovely décor, the peach and sage on beige theme is soft and comforting, and the orange tabby looks just perfect on his tame tangerine, gold and black twisted piped laminated cat bedding on the radiator.”  By the way Liberty print dog beds do exist, but they don't look liquid-proof.

At times bicycle racks make me feel like a domesticated pet.  It’s as if the bike rack says, “Here I am, useful and perfect to hold your bicycle.  You have no choice, I am it.  Apply me immediately.” Bicycle racks are generally very unattractive and not very practical, I mean really; it’s hard to scoot you and your bike under a two tiered rack, and I am short, and it’s impossible to set the bike on the upper rack, because I am too short.  Then there are the ones that barely have any space to squeeze in a set your bike in the row, even if you didn’t have a basket on the front. I was contemplating bike racks again while in the metro this week. In the metro hooks are available to stabilize a bike.  Why can’t people just set up these hooks in public places instead of the dysfunctional bike racks?  A lovely statue of something, abstract or dictator, with hooks in diverse spots for bikes. An art hub for bikes.

We are all conditioned to accept certain realities, but what if reality is altered?  Last month I tried to sign in for a social event in Amsterdam, and found out I was too late. I was informed of the next opportunity by the organization. Normally I would not have been very taken with the idea, and, to be honest, it was the location of the event that caught my attention. I had been in the building once on Open Monument Day and few possibilities existed that would welcome me back through the front doors.  To whit, the building is just a block or two away from me and I pass it often. I inspected the invitation, a bit pricey, but it included dinner and a speech.  I decided, come hell or high water, I wanted to dine in the illustrious building and be a fly on the wall. I found myself seated at a table with a high level corporate in charge.  On the paper explaining who was present I was listed as “soprano” and therefore made up the artistic section of the entire event. I was the odd woman out, the event was for female business professionals, and I was not entirely pleased to be listed as “soprano” but never mind, it was an ice-breaker type of introduction to all the other activities I undertake.

I liked the corporate woman in charge of leading our table, she was the hardnosed and driven type who didn’t desire begging artists next to her at a dining table. I was sitting next to her (note: I had purposely loitered across the room waiting for my table to fill and took the last seat) and when she talked to me her eyelids fluttered nervously. I surreptitiously took over her job of leading the table discussion, just to make her relax a little.  I enjoy the corporate world, I work part time in it, and I find it a comfortable fit. Who would have known?  After all I was raised in, and for the most part of my life rotated around a world very far from global or multinational concerns.  A week later, after mulling it over, I made a decision to join this league of women, perhaps I am warming up to the high necked leopard print that comes with the territory.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Going East

Promised is promised: Goes the saying, I saw this mantra pop up in my mind’s eye like a SOLD! sale sign as I stared at the public transportation link telling me all about the bus schedule. My friend, the organizer, had chirped, “There’s a bus every thirty minutes.” Yes, a bus departed every thirty minutes.  “Forty minutes!” I exclaimed aloud in dismay. The journey would take more than a half an hour.

I glanced outside over the rooftops of Amsterdam. September had been a long summer extension, unheard of in native terms in the Netherlands, but now, on the brink of October, the rain had moved back in. I glanced at the time. I would have to swiftly pack up from the office, bike home, take the dog for a wet walk, make a sandwich and rush off to the bus terminal. September had also given a lot of people a low grade cold or flu that hung on for weeks. I didn’t feel too well, but not ill enough to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs.

Sighing, I made myself a bologna sandwich and promised myself that I would finish the tail end of a book while in the bus. Correction, I like to look out the windows during a long bus ride, I would finish the book at the terminal, sitting in the bus waiting for the bus driver to start the engine.  I might just manage this challenge. Duo Obligato In Cartorium.

Every so often I board a bus to visit a friend or attend concert in some village north of Amsterdam. I have been assimilating to these bus trips north, usually short, and in this case curiosity was leading me on a longer trip due northwest to a place called East Houses. I gazed once more at the flat land in astonishment, it doesn’t look anything like the countryside of Gouda. It still feels alien and cold.  Looking out the windows I wondered again when this landscape would be more like home. How many years will it take?

We passed Edam.  Random thought: I’ve gone so far north I just passed Edam! Wouldn’t it be a good joke to write a book about Edam, after the books on Gouda? I fantasized on just how big Edam was in comparison to Gouda, what kind of buildings would I be able to describe?

Doubtless the whole concoction of the evening’s activities, considering how weak I was feeling, was not a terribly exciting prospect. I descended the bus on the side of the near deserted road, a small highway, and crossed over the tarmac to the village’s main street.  I slowly looked around as I trod over the neat red bricks, obviously recently laid and a color of new red brick I rarely have encountered.  I began to worry that the old brick red color would no longer be manufactured and we would all have to embrace this new softer red that said, “I am not really a brick, I am a concept of a brick.” A man followed me, in the bus he had looked as uncertain as I felt in the bus, there was no mistaking his intention, he too was heading towards the church for the musical concert featuring modern classical style compositions played on organ with the assistance of electronic recordings. Aside from a fellow in a baggy beige jacket taking money out of a modern brick wall, no other pedestrians showed themselves in the village, it was way past Dutch dinner time. I paused to ascertain the presence a senior citizen set out on the patio of an old folks’ home, in between the rain showers, a woman in a care service apron served him a cup of coffee in a thick cup that held more cup than coffee. Probably an old sea salt not able to stay indoors for long and listen to old whiskered women whimpering.

The man followed me, we both followed the direction of the church steeple. Suddenly I recognized the flags of a supermarket parking lot. The time was 19:36.  Would a supermarket in small Dutch village off of a local highway be open at 19:36? We neared the parking lot, I peeked around the corner.  The suspense was killing me.  In the old days, the supermarket would have been closed at 17:55, floor wiped, doors locked, and bumpkin employees snarling at you from the other side of the glass door. I ditched the man following me to the concert and ducked into the supermarket. It was still open. No one was present besides the cashier and the bar code checker. The cashier looked alarmed, the bar code checker followed me about the store.  I inspected the selection of canned beans, my dog is on a canned bean diet, and canned beans handily hide little pills that the vet hands out for little pesky problems.  I finally located a jar of white canned beans. There, I solved my little problem that was awaiting me at home. I bought some medium sized matches too and a green banana for the bus ride back.

I resumed my walk towards the church.  “Have fun!” the ticket seller said at the door as he handed me a program. Inside the church, as outside the church, was the 16th century church. Churches are one of my favorite haunts, and this one enchanted me, right away the bus ride, the rain, the bologna sandwich, the heavy jar of canned beans in my bag all melted away off my shoulders as I assessed the fun I would have at the concert.

First of all the church was not in regular service anymore as a church. “Once a month,” someone whispered, “a pastor comes to lead a service.” I made a beeline for the book sale table. 1 Euro a book, for the church upkeep. I bought something written by James Baldwin. Satisfied that I had read all the titles twice and missed nothing, I looked around at the decoration of the church. Huge black funeral boards hung about the place, depicting family coats of arms, and along one wall a massive ornate black and white tomb took hold of my interest.  I walked around the back of the pulpit and admired the flooring stones, half eaten by salt. I entered the pulpit cage and admired the old milk cans tucked in the corners. I judged the juxtaposition of the wiring with the antique features, and thought about grabbing the bell rope tied to one side of the building.

The concert started. But there was so much more to inspect!  Everyone was sitting, I sat twisting and turning in my seat thinking of what else there was to admire, and pass by again to admire some more. I made a list in my head what to visit again in the intermission.  I could go round and round. The electronic music started, and I felt my mind being taken into a male universe where this example of a composition was considered witty and funny.  The program was entitled "The Fun Cabinet." I tried to discover what was witty and funny about what I was hearing, I tried to get into the complexity of an electronic recording as serious music which should make the audience guffaw and slap their knees in joy and jolly notions. Suppose, I mentioned to myself, rocking across the straw seat of my church chair, craning my neck at a black and gold funeral board, that this was simply a film track? The organ began to talk to the film track, giving us all a different perspective on the matter.