Monday, November 21, 2016

The Run Around, Good Style

“What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in the process of becoming and perishing and never really is.”

Jesus.  The answer came to me directly. There, a messiah. I just solved the ancient riddle of the Greek philosophers.

Recently I met a friend after many years.  I was quite pleased she reached out, asking me to set a date for coffee.  In fact when I moved to Amsterdam I expected that this would happen often, tried to initiate contact but most often it didn’t manifest.  So instead of meeting old tenuous connections from my past I attended tango, yoga, etc. to form new connections and routines. Now three years down the road, my friend, unemployed, has time and sent me a message.

What did I know about her, I mused, from all those years ago? She was still petite, vivacious, her black eyes sparkled. I am living in a small apartment in the city center, actively pursuing my interests which have nothing to do with forming a relationship of any sort. Fleeing attachment, I’ve been thinking about my oasis, a little patch of calm, as a gift of grace.  She, on the other hand, not having had a long term relationship was still actively looking for the true love of her life while squatting in 27 square meters of studio.

I remember, years ago in Paris, I lived in a chamber de bonne on the top floor of the American Church.  There were three of us, au pairs, housed in a row of small rooms along the top floor. We each had a sink and a closet, mine was without doors. Next to me an entrepreneur organized his resale business, he trolled garbage bins for saleable items and housed them next to the elevator for short periods. He’d lugged up a complete spiral staircase once, with those gravel encrusted cement pedal steps. He’d done this in the middle of the night one Parisian spring month before his plans for conquering Russia consolidated. At the end of the row lived a divorcee. She was American, had been married to a Frenchman, and was co-parenting a teenager.  Whispers about domestic violence in her past (the church was secured) and her quiet zen like countenance embraced her; she was kind and sometimes invited me to drink tea in her room, sitting on the floor. I believe Marie Kondo, organizational angel of great tidings and seeker of holistic appreciation, would have approved of her lifestyle.  We each had 9 square meters of space and I was drowning in mine, my stuff tumbled out of the closet despite numerous attempts to organize it. The divorcee seemed to have sussed out a supreme minimal lifestyle, a few decorative cardboard boxes served as furniture and decor.

Keeping this type of reduction in mind, I use and purge continually. While the realization that nine square meters would be a gut wrenching challenge, I happen to be blooming in 30 odd square meters. But then I had the twenty year relationship, the trips around the world, the garden, the hassles of home repair, the bouts of marital discord. I sat and looked at the lovely woman across the table from me, describe a series of terrible employment engagements, low professional ambition, swimming around the same menial job pool for the last twenty years, and realized she had never gotten the chance to break out of the student life situation, and there she stayed. As she spoke I realized she was still in her mind a student, young and open to showing whomever entered her atmosphere the warmth of her heart. Why would I want her to feel any different or curtail her dreams? She could always establish a new starting line, after all we all reconsider the map after discovering a path yet untaken.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Do You See the Light?

“Different glasses.” I was back at the bank, and trying to read the terms of the account I was busy opening after much deliberation and three visits, two quite unsuccessful, to the bank.

“Pinhole glasses.” I explained.

“You can buy them at”

The young man was swift.  

“What about those bullet holes?” I asked him about the front windows.

“Are there bullet holes in the windows?” He asked, “I once came to work and the whole side of my office wall had been eaten away by bullets.”

Obviously a common occurrence at the bank. Perhaps it all came down to disgruntled ex-employees.  Perhaps not.

“You are not going to invest in the stock market then?” He asked.

The man was the playful type.  Last time he’d talked to me about investing in the stock market. “I don’t have the choice of where to put old age money, they take it out of my salary every month, and I have nothing to say about it. And the way it’s going I will get less than what they promise. You are lucky; you can choose.”

“No,” I replied, “I bought a post code lottery ticket instead.”

“Quite right.” He agreed.

It’s kind of a recognition I sense, a bit like when African Americans who are strangers to each other greet each other on the street just to witness to each other that they are both there. 

The tall blond sided up to me at rehearsal. In the canteen she had had that slightly vacant look about her.  But somehow she had recognized something in me and so she came right next to me and looked in straight in the eye and sang the second soprano line with me. No score, no hesitation, no nervousness. Ah, I immediately saw, she was also a bit brighter than the mill.  She’d been waiting an hour to arrive at that moment, and she would have been just as good at the second soprano line 55 minutes ago.

“Radio,” the short woman with the butch haircut was looking at me. “You should try to write for the radio. The BBC is always looking for talent.”  This was after she mentioned her partner just left for home, Oregon.  I paused in mid thought.  I had been suffering through Plato all week, and his leading questions on Coursera.  I just wanted to listen to some poetry, the mediocre kind, and while I was there I noted that the bar menu was extremely economical.  A gin and tonic for five euro? Nacho chips for two?

I had never been to the poetry reading venue, and I hated the bike ride to get there, a part of Amsterdam that had marketed the river view now wedged between two sets of god awful looking modern apartment complexes. At least they had to look at each other.  I had cursed as best as possible as I pedaled through the wind and rain. The next day I pumped my bike tires, suspecting that this might ameliorate cycling effort.

I left the bank feeling that I had somehow achieved a milestone abandoning money to a potential grey period.  I looked forward to seeing my accountant smile. The radio pusher at the poetry reading gazed up at me, “I am sorry about the election.” She said.  We shared a mournful silence.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scholars of Virtue

“I am amazed,” she said, “at how Americans can smooth out the wrinkles of failure.” The Dutch woman read aloud an acceptance message of the election of the new American president, written by an American acquaintance who did not support the Republican candidate.  The statement equated a closing of ranks. “This turning of disappointment into positivity is typical American for me.” Lemons = lemonade, and is not a very Dutch drink.

Are we scholars of virtue? Riots were breaking out in California. “But the majority of the elected government of the United States is now Republican,” several mentioned on occasion, “this is terrifying.” Ah, the virtue of Republican causes: liberal gun rights, limited family planning, safeguarding of borders, what did I miss?

“Good news!” a friend wrote. “A Muslim woman was elected in Minnesota.”

I fail to see this as good news. A woman with ideas and education elected is brilliant, as would be a man with ideas and education, head gear or no head gear.  That whole deal is about the image, as if images were the ideal, and then I begin to consider that image was a large issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think the lowered taxes would be great.” An acquaintance said scrolling through the Republican Candidate’s Manifesto on his smartphone. The man earns more than average, and thought the proposal of lowered taxes would apply to him. He may be right there. Or not.

Every once in a while I get that “back whiff” of Europe, that quick glimpse that identifies what is European around me to my American born person. I rarely see it anymore, having lived 28 years outside America. It’s a strange exotic scent, it’s a micro-ness, a compact line of recycle bins for already thoroughly washed items feeling.  It’s a rapid sighting while biking to work of the murky canal, the yellow leaves falling from the trees. It’s says “Here is cultivation, not the Wild West.”

“300%,” a friend complained, “My Obamacare went up 300%.”

The same acquaintance making remarks about the turning of lemons to lemonade, calculated. “So and so said that their employees who worked in America received healthcare subsidized by the company and yet employees had to pay 500 dollars a month premium out of their own pocket with a 2500 dollar maximum risk.” She paused. “I pay 150 Euros a month and the risk is 385 per year.”

However, the other night, pushing my ageing dog in a child’s stroller through the tunnel under the central station, blue and white tiled with the maritime history of the Netherlands, I realized that the mural is all about pushy white men, travelling abroad, committing crimes against humanity in the name of God, gathering the wealth and power, transporting it back to home and closing ranks.  What color or shape is virtue to history?