woensdag 31 oktober 2007

April 2007
Arriving in Amsterdam today is chaotic; Centraal Station, and indeed most of the city, is in the middle of a huge building project, the Noord/Zuid lijn – the underground system due for completion in 2011. Chaos does not stop Amsterdam offering an unparalleled tourist experience. The city provides everything from sex to soft drugs and diamonds to dancing; not to mention raw herring, cheese and tulips.

My Amsterdam is somewhat less brash, however. Friends hold art events in cellars or squats; we meet to eat and chat in small restaurants in the Jordaan. We walk along quiet canals on Sunday mornings, where we see no one but a serene transvestite in tweed skirts and beard arm in arm with his wife. We shop in street markets; eat Turkish pizza for lunch in a church reinvented as a grand café. We go to “The Movies” an art deco cinema which serves dinner before the film and dessert after the film ends.

My Amsterdam is intimate and inviting, seductive but paced to my needs and wants. I don’t feel rushed or pressured here, I have freedom to do anything I want, but most of all I can be myself.

Walking on Marken

September 2007
The kindest thing to say about my efforts at exercise is that I enjoy seasonal sport; swimming and cycling in the summer, ice skating in the winter and brisk walks in the spring and autumn. On paper that looks very good, but add in the sporadic nature of my efforts, and you begin to get the whole picture.

Over the last couple on years, myself and a neighbour have walked together, sometimes, once a week, sometimes once a fortnight; over the summer holidays with the kids off school, however, there was no opportunity. This week, we finally decided to walk one morning. The kids were at school and we set off as soon as they were away. We have the advantage of having open countryside on our doorstep, often we set off from home and in a couple of hours have completed a circle walk in the polders around our village. This time we took the car, and drove 10 minutes to Marken, parking on the causeway at the start of the dike ringing the island, our plan being to walk the full circumference of the island.

The sky was milky white and the Ijsselmeer was calm. There was an incredible stillness lying over the fields and the water, broken only by the birdsong. There are small groups of dark green wooden houses scattered around Marken; but I had never noticed how close some of them are to the waters edge; I had never noticed either, the small orchards screened by hawthorn and wild rose bushes. Halfway round the island and we reached the lighthouse; at the end of its spit of land; the sandy beach a resting place for rowing boats. On the path from the lighthouse to the harbour we came across several tiny brown lizards, warming themselves in the strengthening sunlight.

We had seen no one until we came into the harbour, where a few yachtsmen were preparing to sail, an a solitary old man in traditional dress stood passing the time of day with a shopkeeper. It was early; and we had time for coffee in the only café open on the waterfront. And then another ten minutes along the dike and we were back at the car, and home before 11.00a.m. relaxed, happy and feeling as if we had been on holiday.