Tuesday October 13, 2015
There’s a softness in the morning that permeates the city as if a warm blanket is wrapped around you. The city is quiet as if the citizens have some unwritten agreement to tip toe around as silently as possible. Breathing Sunday morning air that seems laced with bergamot happily shocks the system that only hours earlier strolling through the red light district was filled with thick plumbs of marijuana smoke. I’ve learned that on Mondays the canals are flushed and new water is cycled through. Perhaps they do the same with the air? There is a sense of calm that overcomes me and I rest a little longer above a canal soaking in this goodness.
In this city of bikes one is on constant watch for the Dutch daredevils who barrel through city streets, walkways and bike lanes that are never clearly marked. They look like respectable people but may as well be robots programmed with GPS that will arrive at their destinations at any cost. Strolling becomes a game of Frogger and one must navigate carefully or risk the chance of a crash. “Will I be the first visitor who dies from a bike crash?” I wonder but realize the natives must have a required course in school specifically for avoiding tourists. Silent city trams pass by dangerously close and I swear the game of “scare the tourist” is a common one among conductors. Surprisingly cars are your friends in Amsterdam. Calm, courteous and careful these gentle metal carriers tread lightly throughout the city as if visitors themselves respecting the local culture. They have a sixth sense which acknowledges the unwritten rule that bikes are kings in this small city. It makes me think of India where cows are revered and given the right of way before all.
It’s a shame I’m here in autumn, as Holland is known for its spring tulips and flowers but glimpses of agriculture line the canals. A lone fig tree planted between city cobblestone rushes to ripen its fruit before frost sets in. In the window of one great home, a single tomato plant sporting one singular but proud ripe grape tomato mouthed “I made it” through the glass to passersby. I imagine the impending day the family picks and slices this tiny fruit for the tiniest of tastes for each member of the family and relishes in its delight. I smile as a horse drawn carriage passes by because I think the horse signals to me to say a hello to his American cousin on my farm. And yes that faint smell of horse manure brings life right back to the country. I even found a goat in the city! It was a fake one perched proudly in the cheese store display windows but it was enough to remind me of my friends at home and bring joy to my heart.
In some sense I believe that I am surround by a city of farmers. The first thing you notice is how tall the Dutch are. The tall thin bodies of the Dutch were explained to me by one local to be a result of a history of farming. I’m not sure if that is true but it does appear to make sense. I imagine them working the fields, herding the livestock and using their height to make it just a little bit easier to load hay onto the upper reaches of the hay barn. Upon further research it turns out the Dutch were not always as tall. In the past 150 years their height has risen. Some studies suggest that this is due in part to a better diet, healthcare and more importantly natural selection among adults. Today I think it is all walking and biking they do throughout the city that keeps them in shape.
A stroll through the Amsterdam flower market strongly reminds people of the rich history of flowers and bulbs that Holland is known for. I spend hours perusing the stalls in awe of the range of bulbs silently planning out my selection in my head. The owners must think I’m crazy as I pace back and forth like a panther stalking its prey. I make a promise to myself to return to this lovely place in the spring when nature is on its best display and to meet again the nice farmers of Amsterdam.