Thursday, October 30, 2014

Circulating Issues

Really now, the weather is encouraging the leaves to blend yellow, red and green, and my dog encourages me to look up and spot the mottled foliage. We walk through a narrow black brick alley, some Mosterd-Saving’s Pot-or-Mole pathway, to find ourselves on one of Amsterdam’s wondrous main canal streets, where the dog sticks her nose in the dirt under a tree and while waiting for her to come to a watery result, I look up in the early morning.  Suddenly seeing the glory of Amsterdam in the fall.

How did I get here? A slow erosion of a relationship had come to a point of no return. It’s past summer now, and I live elsewhere than before, month capsules of not too long ago. 

The autumn encourages our appetites to seek mushrooms, cranberries, turkey, pork, nuts, in short all the foods that the earth offers us to keep warm and well heading towards winter. It’s the first warning sign, my disinterest in food, of stress hand in hand with rampant self-destructive unpreparedness making an approach, circling around. All at once I merely wish to eat oatmeal and apples, or apples and yoghurt. My stomach turns at the sight of sauce, chocolate and French fries.  I can barely hang a tooth in a rice cracker, unless it is unadorned. Chewing one wondering if I may need to eat a tad more salt in the future, I picture myself eating Styrofoam standing in a parking lot outside a fast food joint in America. Of course, in psychological terms, this has something of a rebound factor in it; the feeling I hadn’t done as well as I could have I don’t deserve to be fed syndrome. I’m punishing myself for not being perfect.

I am not a perfectionist, and yet something is getting at me these days more than in previous months. It’s been a slow move.  They say an empty house doesn’t sell well. Aside from the grand piano and the rug underneath it, I am waiting for a few more things such as a scratched armchair (the scratch a souvenir of the defunct cat), an unwieldy mirror and a few paintings, well I like them at least, to be liberated from my lot to my next lot.  Thinness is not familiar to me, it’s not my body type, and there has never been anywhere in my molecules the disease of needing to be thin to the point of abusing my body.

Then heavy boxes of books are also waiting transportation, and yet I am not ready to take them into consideration. I think about throwing some of paper items out but instead I smear a bitterkoekje with Nutella and wave it under my nose waiting to see if I’ll want to eat it. I’ll manage; I juggle other options to try to make myself eat something substantive.  

There’s nothing worse than a hungry singer off center struggling to find breath support. Over lunch after church the three off us, all imported to Amsterdam, discussed what it is to be a foreigner in the Netherlands. “You are only accepted to a point. Unless you marry into a family.” My lunch choice was unfortunate, the contents of my plate nauseated me. She continued, “I’ve learned to go to a concert alone. I don’t have to go with anyone.” I have always considered it rather strange that people feel they must go to a concert or movie together; so odd that one must be alone with one’s thoughts and coincidentally together with a potage of exchanged images; therefore, no individual thought is left, unless very brave, in that collective muck that is supposed to provide reassurance.

“We,” it was concluded, “Are forced to be self-sufficient and this makes us strong.” My friend’s lunch choice looked better than mine.  I really ought to eat more vegetables, but then not the vacu-packu ones nor the sloppily cooked ones; maybe I should order a bi-monthly organic grocery bag, but then the Dutch store may joyously deliver to me overpriced andijvie or boerenkool and I can’t eat either of them in any nationality of dish. Nor can I really afford the whole idea come to think of it, but the lovely walks around Amsterdam are free of charge.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Poems About Food

The other day I received an email saying that my submission had been accepted as part of a composite multi-poem piece of music commissioned by the Haarlem Studentenkoor. I remember writing the poem before I left Gouda, having drunk all the alcohol out of the cupboards and cold sober contemplating the big bang Creation out of Chaos, a choice topic. I wrote about night.  I think I did, but more so I remember sitting in my old dining room trying to distract myself.  Who knows what the musical composition will be at the end of the day, but having written three more poems this week sitting in the dark at my office listening to the electricians battle with the electrical meter at 7 am, I figured I might as well post them in celebration of poetry. Of course, I composed all three of them hours beforehand giggling to myself in the shadows waiting for the alarm to sound, worried about oversleeping.
My Peanut Butter
When I fled the house
I took with me the jar of peanut butter
And the ten Euros I possessed.
I thought
It would get me through some
Tough times, like the vagabond
Sitting on the steps behind Magna Plaza,
A slice of floppy brown bread
In his hand, swiping the inside of the jar
With great consideration,
A tinge of honest repulsion and a bit of awe.
Perhaps the peanut butter was mine
After all, even though you paid for the jar,
I placed the item in the trolley, to make
Sure we had emergency food in the larder.
Moving from place to place with the jar,
From the Burgermeester Rendorpstraat
To the Kloveniersburgwal and finally standing
Making some sandwiches purposely with knife in hand
In the Spuistraat, ready to eat them waiting for the tram
Full of the aimless tourists behind the Dam, I gazed into
The dirty brown jar, still half filled with goo, astonished
At the alternative nutrition that had rotated my way,
Adequate and filling, like those cans of beans in tomato sauce.
The peanut butter looked more relaxed, offering itself up
For the easier times, a rare minute to hour not hour to hard day,
And would probably last past Christmas. 
Looking down into the jar with consideration
I felt a slab of honest repulsion and a smidgen of awe
Adhering within my heart, folding over on itself.
Single Disrespect to Sugar and Cream
Once again I stand resolutely before the freezer section
At the supermarket inspecting the ice-cream.
Weeks earlier I purchased a ginger scoop on the Rozengracht,
Recommended, barely rendered myself to swallow the swank smudge,
I finished my purchase with wanton distaste, frowning in the sunshine.
Half puddle, the cold ball on the Herenstraat revolted me.
How is it I suspect my heart pleads for ice-cream when my stomach holds
Appeal to communist taste buds? Eyes down in the blue basket hanging
From my elbow, I check my groceries again. Just to be sure.
Baiting time before another unwise decision.
The plain 46 cent beaker of basic yoghurt. Mildly interesting.
The pink grapefruit, on sale, four in a net. More appetizing.
The thick water injected slab of turkey breast. I chose it
Because someone recently mentioned they’d eaten turkey.
Cote D’Or. Rarely seen in the country. Nougat flavoured France.
It now lays, alone, unloved in my freezer, chipped at by two teaspoon nibbles.
I think about throwing it out, note keeping it perhaps
Just to temper my unreasonable urges for unhappy bourgeois ice-cream.
But more practically, I stand in front of my near empty mini freezer,
Weighing up why I am attracted to hardened sugar and cream with all due disrespect,
Being only pleased with myself after all to discern the A label:
This freezer is functional after enduring
Months of neurotic qualms concerning  
The potential inadequacies of small freezer life.
LookIt Little FurrBall
Your brown eyes,
Making eyes at me
Pleading for another
Piece of raw broccoli
Express great disappointment
Every time you realize that
This time, once again,
You are not attending
To my personal travels
With your short sturdy legs
Wondrously distracted by
The smashed bit of French Fry
Under the bench at the train station.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ring My Bell

At first I thought that a new church had set up shop in my Amsterdam neighborhood. The tune was different.  The idea that suddenly a church tower had been erected nearby is, of course, ludicrous.  I just spelled the rapper’s name right there and became completely confused at the fact that I actually quasi believed in the alternate spelling of the adjective. It was the capital L in the spell check that confirmed my suspicions.  Anyway, where have I been and where was I? Bell tunes. It finally occurred to me, walking to yoga one night, that the Westerkerk bells had been rewired to a different set of chimes.  The odd thing was that I recognized one rendition of the tune immediately and became quite confused. What was it doing hanging out at the Westerkerk on the hour? It wasn’t Dutch at all. Was this a case of plagiarism?

Years ago, when I was a teenager, my mother decided to join a church.  She hadn’t been a church goer in years, that is years well before my birth when it was part of her family obligation and duties. She avoided the Lutherans this time and chose the posh Episcopalian Church in our area.  St. Albans.  Of course I then dutifully went with her on this family bonding moment; my father stayed at home alone without even a sliver of Christ. It turns out I liked the music at church.  Since being introduced to the 1941 red bound collection I’ve grown inordinately fond of hymns.  The Reverend D. was the church pastor at that time, a tall, vague and childlike figure married to money. A lot of money. In fact, his wife was a socialite. A well-known socialite. She was tall and horsey and wore designer togs and heaps of gold jewelry. She looked like she’d whack plebs with a polo stick from down the slope of her long nose and long legs. She and her Chanel suit didn’t come to church often, and most of us developed a tendency to avoid her strings of startlingly devoid of compassion conversations. Father D. and Mrs. D. had obviously a way of having separate lives and still like each other very much.

Father D.’s favorite hymn was I Sing a Song to the Saints of God. One verse includes this refrain:


       And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
        And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
        And there's not any reason, no, not the least,
        Why I shouldn't be one too.


This was my favorite part. Perversely alert and aware that it was, well, taking the mickey out of the glory of Christianity. (Hey, I grew up in Berkeley where hedonism was rampant.) We sang this hymn a lot at church, every chance he got Father D. would include it in the service. At times I wondered about his intentions. The words to the song were written by a woman named Lesbia Scott. What a name. The music by John Hopkins. Maybe Mr. Hopkins lifted it from a quaint old Dutch folk tune.


However, suspiciously enough on the half hour the Westerkerk is demonstrating a snippet of Tis a Gift to be Simple. The last time I heard that in the Netherlands was when HRH Princess Christina sang it at her father’s funeral. Was there something going on with the royal family?


Never mind, lastly a mere two days ago a crowd gathered below my office on the Westermarkt. A cute van, a pimped DJ mobile, was ready to perform a duo with the carillon in the Westerkerk. “You can ring my beelllll, ring my bell!” the two call and response sang to each other while people danced in the street.