Category Archives: Amsterdam

Rosenmontag and Super Tuesday

The post serves a couple of purposes:

1) To inform you that I partied like a Rockstar at Carnival in Cologne and Dusseldorf, which is why I haven’t been writing.

2) To provide a little evidence that much of the world really does seem to be following the US elections. Very closely.

The following photos were taken during the Rosenmontag (“Rose Monday”) parade through Koenigsallee in Duesseldorf (I apologize if they’re fuzzy of not framed properly but we were in a crowd and we were really really drunk):

Rosenmontagzug

 

Rosenmontagszug2

Not only is the primary process being followed closely around the world, but the above photos demonstrate that some Euro-pundits are far more astute than I thought. Keep in mind that these photos were taken 24 hours before Super Tuesday. Quite the augur when you think about how much money Obama raised shortly thereafter. (I believe it was $3 million in 48 hours.)

Funny thing is, a couple of German party animals from the Ruhrpot slapping together a grotesque parade float have a stronger grip on reality than most of the major European media outlets.

The German and British press seem to be unconditionally kissing Obama’s posterior. His encomium as the “black JFK” was a bit too much for me. As far as Hillary goes, the Dutch have been loving HRC for years. (Strong women with short hair go over well here.) My Dutch in-laws are trying to register a proxy vote for her via Yours Truly.

So you read and hear a lot about Obama and Hillary, but not too much about the Republicans. If you’re lucky, you read something on McCain. There is so little coverage of the Republicans it’s not even funny. (In all fairness, there was little coverage of any other Dem candidates besides HRC and BO anyway – even at the beginning of the campaign.)

A German friend of mine (who’s former GSG-9, actually) summed it up best; he “doesn’t care who wins, so long as it’s not a Republican”. There’s an excellent blog called David’s Medienkritik that comprehensively catalogs the German media’s choleric coverage of Bush, Republicans, and America the “Wild West” (full of gun-loving, conservative, fat people, etc.). It sheds a lot of light on where these opinions come from. I only wish someone did the same with the BBC World Service; every third item is about how Bush sucks because of Iraq. The other two items are that break up these items are usually i) the latest warnings about global warming, and ii) Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

I must say, watching Dutch, German, and English television, I’ve been surprised by the extent of the coverage and – dare I say it – the general fascination with the presidential primary process, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. Listening to the anchors (and my wife), no one seems to believe that such powerful people have to kiss the ass of the “lowliest” farmer or pipe-fitter in such unrefined surroundings (churches, schools, people’s living rooms, etc).

I suppose that says something about European history/culture as well.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Carnival, Europe, Germans, Germany, Media, Netherlands, Obama, politics, Travel, Writing

Flying Bricks of Fury: My Encounter with Intolerant Amsterdam

To quote ‘The 40 Year-old Virgin‘, “I had a WEEKEND.”

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, as bricks and other bits of masonry only flew on Friday night, but damn, what a weekend.Friday night started off as a good night out. Some family and friends from various points abroad all converged on Amsterdam (where I currently reside) to get together. It was a great re-union/party, and it coincided nicely with the Amsterdam Dance Event, which meant there were tons of decent DJs to choose from.

Friday night a group of us went to dinner at Nomads. Nomads is the Middle Eastern cousin of the renowned Supper Club. Now, I hate the Supper Club: it’s pretentious, and people are unjustifiably way to into themselves. I say “ unjustifiably” because these forced attempts at exclusivity are a bit laughable, and I don’t think they pull it off well anymore. (Did they ever?) Nomads has the couches, the hookahs, the DJ, and an excellent list of very original cocktails. (My favorite was the “Dark and Stormy”, which involved Bacardi black, limes, and ginger beer.) The food was a bit of a divergence from traditional Arabic meze, but it was still very good. If you’re more than six people, you don’t get to choose the menu, but the three course presentation was excellent, and they had vegetarian options.

The tunes and general atmosphere were great, and the belly dancer didn’t hurt. The service was sometimes way too slow bringing the drinks to the table, and the masseuse was crap. There’s also a tarot card reader hanging about, although we ignored her. (I heard later she was also crap.) We all seemed to struggle drinking on the beds as well. (It can be forgiven, I suppose, since drinking in bed is something I didn’t plan to pick up until I was well into my 60s.) I think for every three drinks ordered, two were successfully consumed. We all knocked over at least one drink with an errant foot or ill-placed elbow, but the record was held by the masseuse – who knocked over a whole tray of cocktails, and the waiter – who took out the bottle of wine he’d just opened, plus the bottle we were still finishing. (The Dutch word for spaz is “Knoeier!“)

The masonry started flying when my sister and a friend went outside for some fresh air. Apparently, Nomads has a disco as well. The scene at the disco is way different from the lounge. This became clear very quickly, as the line to get into the disco was almost exclusively the under 21 crowd. A group of guys started harassing the two girls. Typical testosterone-fuelled bravado designed for a cheap laugh at some girl’s expense, right? What they didn’t count on was a face full of New York ‘ tude from a four foot eleven Korean-American, who isn’t one to back down from a confrontation, even when outnumbered five-to-one. That’s when the racial epithets started to fly (“kut chinees”, “chinees kutwijf”, etc.). My Dutch friend who was with her was too shocked to say anything. My sister backed off, and one of the punks actually kicked her in the ass with his boot.

They came back inside. My sister was pissed, and my Dutch friend was stunned, as she’d always bought into Amsterdam’s self-image as a City of Tolerance.

She’d just had a very rude awakening.

Sis told us what happened through gritted teeth. Once she told me she’d been hit, I began putting my shoes on. (You take off your shoes in a bed, right?) Her boyfriend and the other guys in our group did the same. We went outside and saw the huge line of people waiting to get into the disco.

“There he is!” My sister pointed with a black goth fingernail. “That’s the little sh*t who kicked me!”

And boy, was he a little sh*t alright. He was backed up by about five friends, which I figure is exactly why he’d felt the need to prove his “manliness” in the first place. All five of them had their best white sneakers, gold chains, and hooded puffy down jackets against the cold weather. Such stupid behavior from five aspiring gangstas was not surprising, but what did surprise me was that t the racial epithets came from five guys who were clearly Moroccan. Waitaminnit, I thought, aren’t these guys always the victims of discrimination around here?

The confrontation started, tempers flared, and then one of the punk’s friends rabbit punched me in the face. Before we knew it, the gang of five became a gang of 20, and I had three “Men of Middle Eastern Origin” climbing all over me. I decked two and quickly had a third in a headlock; I looked behind me, hoping to see my buddies backing me up. All I saw was my little sister – God bless her – delivering greetings from the Land of Beatings to the scrawny punk that kicked her.

My other friends were behind a wall of 16 other punks. We were cut off.

Ultimately, my friends waded in, and we actually beat them all back. I couldn’t believe it. They were all talk, and their mouths had clearly written checks their bodies couldn’t cash. Sounds like a win, right? WRONG.

The entire sidewalk was being rebuilt and there were stacks of bricks just laying about. In a desperate attempt to get the upper hand, three of the bastards grabbed bricks and waved them over at us, threatening to throw. One of them stood atop the pile a good five feet above us, waving the brick threateningly. At that point, a brick hit me in the back, and my situational awareness came back to me. I heard my buddy shouting “Get in! Get back in the door!” and saw the two bouncers (who’d done nothing to help my sister in the first place, and who’d not intervened at all when things escalated) were pulling down a metal shutter to seal themselves safely inside and me outside!

I grabbed my sister under my arm (still yelling and struggling to get at the scrawny punk who’d kicked her) and we little slid under the shutter Indiana Jones-style. More bricks smashed into the shutter with a terrific clang. The bouncer got in my face, and I got right back in his, shouting “ik ben een gast!” I wasn’t sure what was worse about this moment, the fact that this had even happened, or that it happened frequently enough that they obviously had some sort of drill worked out for what to do.

Our only injuries were back pain (not from the brick, but from trying not to fall down with three of the bastards crawling all over me), some bloody knuckles, and a black-and-blue toe on another friend from another brick that had been fired at us. We sat there laughing about it, but it was a real Assault on Precinct 13 moment – and I mean the original (“Cholo? Nobody said nothing about the Cholo!”), not the remake. Like the children of immigrants burning the banlieues of Paris, the teenage boys here run wild. It’s not as bad as Paris of course, but it now seems to be getting there.

As I write this, cars are probably being burned again for the third or fourth night in a row in Amsterdam West. They started burning cars after some nut named Bilal B. went into a police station and began stabbing a female police officer. Her colleague naturally shot the guy – dead. This was the spark for the latest “outrage”.We’d jumped into the confrontation rather casually – especially the guys that don’t live in Amsterdam. This is Holland: there’s no guns, very few knives, and street brawls seem limited only to football matches. But then I recalled the cars burning only a few blocks from us in Amsterdam West.

As I sat there in Nomads, I realized that a bunch of bored guys in their teens/early 20s aren’t just going to go away and call it a night. For them, this could mean SHOWTIME. It suddenly seemed very feasible to me that there might be 50 bored guys out there now, building up their outrage and their courage, and gather bricks.

I turned to the other guys. “We could have a problem here.”

No one believed me, of course. And in the end – it wasn’t a problem. The kids had actually scattered or backed off. Most of them – I suspect – put more value on getting into the club than getting into a fight again. We got into our taxis without seeing them again. I suppose there must have been a better way to handle the situation. It’s just that Amsterdam cops seem pretty useless, get no respect, have no mandate to enforce laws vigorously (as in New York), and are literally never ever around when you need them. I only feel bad because I just know that the jerk-offs have no realization of just how rotten and dangerous their behavior was, and are probably wearing any bruises we gave them as badges of honor. I’m also sure their version of the fight is being told and re-told in a completely different way, with the number of adversaries they faced doubling and tripling with each re-telling of their “victory”.

Nomads was good, and the fight is already (thankfully) a hilarious story. Saturday night was legendary. We’d rented a canal boat for a couple of hours for an evening tour of the canals of Amsterdam. The boat was tastefully appointed in dark, polished teak, with brass fittings, and the hull design was a classic Dutch canal boat. The friendly captain doubled as a tour guide. To top it off, we had buffet rijsttafel from an excellent local restaurant called Kantijl & de Tijger, and an open bar to keep the 30 of us happy. From there, we walked about 200 yards to the Odeon. I’d never been there before. It used to be just a club (and apparently a very exclusive one at that), but now it’s a multi-level restaurant/bar/club. It was fantastic. The crowd was a mix of trendy 20-somethings and 30-somethings, and ranged from “Happy Drunk” to “E’d Out of Their Mind”. We were all the way in top in balcony seating. Where we danced, jabbered, and laughed until 5 am. Hangovers and the Amsterdam City Marathon put the kibosh on a big brunch in the city center, so everyone who’d reserved evening flights home crashed in my living room, ate take out, and listlessly watched ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’. I don’t think we had anything left to prove at that point.

Like I said, we had a WEEEKEND.

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Why Italian Food in Europe (Outside of Italy) Really Sucks

Italian food, when served anywhere outside of Italy (and sometimes even in Italy) generally sucks. And here’s why.

As a native of New York City, I’m particular about my Italian food – not that I could tell the difference between “Northern” and “Southern” Italian cuisine as a kid – but because the Italian food I grew up with was delicious and filling, and can’t really be matched outside of New York.

Oh, and New York pizza dough is the best in the world. Period. (Hint: It’s the water.)

Despite the title of this post, Italian food in America also admittedly sucks the moment you’re away from an Italian neighborhood. Nobody really knows what Italian food is, so most people are happy being served dough soaked with Ragu or ketchup (so as long as there’s garlic sticks!). My first time eating pizza in the American South was a shock: square slices of dough with ketchup and Polly-O string cheese on it.

So why does Italian food in Europe (outside of Italy) generally suck? It’s Europe, right?

European Italian food is just bad. In fact, European pizza anywhere outside of Italy is only marginally better than the squares of dough mentioned above. It’s generally sucks for the same reason they serve square dough in Missouri and call it “pizza”. I guess there’s an added disappointment since we tend to put European cuisine because it’s Europe.

The Average Joe across the European continent gets his pizza from a family-owned take-out place. (And not from an Italian family either.) Usually the “Italian” menu will be alongside the ethnic food of the respective take-out owners (Chinese, Indonesian, Turkish, or whatever). In general, their “Italian food” is only good if you’re drunk, hung over, or starving. The Italian menu at any of these places normally goes as follows:

Pizza Margherita – a plain, 10-14″ diameter, thin crust pie

Pizza Salami – with salty, thin slices of salami

Pizza Quattro Formaggi – with four styles of really salty cheese

Pizza Funghi (or al Funghi) – with bits of mushrooms

Pizza Hawaii – bits of really salty ham and chunks of canned pineapple

Pizza Diavolo (or possibly Pizza Peperoni) – with bits of pepper that are supposed to be spicy (but never are)

Pizza Vegetarisch/Végétarienne/etc. – self-explanatory (name changes depending on which country the take-out place is located)

Generally, the further West you go (into France) the more oily these pizzas get, and the further East you go (Czech, Slovakia, etc.), the more likely you’ll encounter peas, corn, and carrot cubes on the soggy slice of Scheisse the indifferent staff tosses at you.

To give you an idea about how bad the crust can be, when I lived in Munich, Germany, all these take-out joints had giant sacks of “just add water” pizza dough mix, all delivered by the same delivery truck. With the exception of two (possibly three) restaurants, every single place in Munich used this same instant foot powder.

So having dared eat Italian food four times in Europe in the past 14 months, I can say two of them were consistent with my above description: a late night drunken pizza run in Clapham Junction just south of London and an ill-advised stop for Pizza “mit allem” near Düsseldorf, Germany. But, the other two were really very good – and both of them were in The Netherlands.

Now, most Italian food in the Netherlands normally fits right in with the above menu selection. (What’s worse, the “Chinese” food in the Netherlands is more awful – usually bland bami noodles with Ketchup or possibly rice with sweet soy sauce – if you’re lucky).

Dokkum, Friesland – Paisan on Board

I was up in Friesland for a weekend last Summer with my girlfriend and some friends taking part in some ridiculous Frisian past-time called waddenlopen. Now, Friesland is a very independent place, and the Frisians are the butt of a lot of jokes in the Netherlands (almost as much as the Belgians) – perhaps rightfully so. The first time I saw a bunch of Frisian farmers in the wild, I thought they were the cast of a gay porn movie: they all wore skin-tight jeans, blow dried mullets, and the worst porno balconies you’ve ever seen.

But that’s “masculine” in Friesland, apparently.

A further indication of Frisian wackiness is waddenlopen, a sport which involves hiking knee-deep through the muck of North Sea tidal flats. This is supposed to be fun. While it was interesting at times, cutting your feet up on broken mussel shells does not fit my traditional definition of “fun”. (We were promised that we would see seals, and I might have seen one, although it simply might have been a huge whale turd.)

The villages in Friesland are very charming, and Dokkum was among the most charming. When looking for a place to eat, we found a small Italian place in the village center. I didn’t want to go in at first, but it was the only place with unreserved seats on a Saturday night.

The menu was actually pretty promising, and more telling, they didn’t bat an eye when we ordered pizzas and pasta as appetizers, and meat and fish as main courses. A buddy in our group was half-Italian, and we nodded to each other in agreement as we tried the pizzas (not too salty, and decent crust), the pasta (nice red sauce, clearly home-made, and the veal (simply delicious). He declared outright “this is the best Italian meal I’ve had in the Netherlands, no in Europe outside of Italy”.

“Not that it’s up against any stiff competition,” I quipped.

“Seriously,” he replied. “I bet there’s a paisan working back there. I’d guarantee it.”

Sure enough, we looked past the bar to the kitchen just as the doors swung open. For a fraction of a second, we saw the portly, dusky fellow with a bushy black mustache so huge you could hide in it. When the 5’11” blonde waitress came back, we asked her if the chef was Italian. She nodded happily, yes, her dad was Italian.

Her dad?

Yes, she nodded again happily. Her Mom, the hostess came out. She was easily 6’2″, with that even, brown sunbed tan and subsequent dried-out skin typical of many middle-aged Dutch women. Her hostess attire was capped off with pink lip gloss and the perennial bottle-blond locks piled up on top of her giant noggin.

After we finished dinner, her hubby the chef came out to receive our kudos – he was a full foot-and-a-half shorter than his ball-and-chain. The story was one I’d heard a gazillion times before:

Northern European girl goes to Mediterranean with family on vacation, and has Summer romance with smooth talking, sawed-off local boy. The story usually ends when the girl suffers heart break after her Summer crush chooses for his local sweetheart with the ample hips and a mustache of her own. This guy chose otherwise, and hit the lottery by banishing himself to the backwater of Friesland to run a real Italian restaurant.

And they lived happily every after.

Amsterdam – Get Your Black On

The place was called Mappa. Mappa is right across the street (alley, whatever) from the Nes Theater where last week we went to see Lewis Black.

Now, I did not have high expectations of this place. It was definitely “trendy”: any man over 35 was shaved bald and wore funky eyeglasses, or had long hair (thick with gel) and had girlfriend half his age.

And there were loads of people dressed in black. Loads of them.

We took my girlfriend’s parents there. Her folks were all set to order a pizza, so imagine their surprise when there was not one pizza on the menu. They were so disoriented, I almost felt bad for them. Forced to expand their horizons, they took the chef’s special, which included decent cuts of beef cooked rare and juicy, served with grilled white asparagus and roasted potatoes garnished with fried garlic and other herbs. My girlfriend had outstanding veggie lasagna, and I had pasta shells stuffed with scampi and garlic.

In a word: awesome. I’ll never be able to beat that in Amsterdam unless I order a pizza al funghi speziali at a coffee shop.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Cuisine, Europe, Food, humor, Italy, Netherlands, New York, Travel, Writing