Thursday, April 3, 2008


So my husband and I went to Amsterdam in May 2007, and try as I might, I cannot get some of the images out of my mind. I was prepared for the tulips, the canals, the wooden shoes, but no one prepared me for the bikes.

There are hundreds of bikes, literally everywhere. Bikes chained to bike stands, bikes chained to outdoor tables, chairs, bikes chained to drainpipes and fence posts and even to other bikes. There are bikes chained everywhere. In fact, there are more bikes in Amsterdam than there are people - I read several places that it's because there's a bike stolen like every 10 seconds or something crazy. So having more bikes than people would make sense I suppose. It all evens out.

You'd see the strangest, most eerily beautiful tableaux play out on bikes. Our first night we were enjoying the first of many delicious Indonesian meals while sitting outside (you don't find Indonesian anything in Charlottesville that I know of) and even though the restaurant was in a narrow side alley just off one of the main canals, bikes sped by frequently. I learned to watch where I stepped not only in front of me, but beside and behind me as well whenever we walked anywhere (I won't even go into the clusterfuck that takes place while trying to maneuver yourself across a street filled with bikes and the oncoming #2 tram to the central station).

As we ate, a rickety old bike glided by. Literally glided as if it were floating like an air hockey puck. The guy driving was old, probably 70, with a grey, wispy combover and bad teeth (okay, I didn't see his teeth but I imagine from the rest of him that they might be on the mossy side). He was dressed to the nines in his best suit, you could tell. It was worn, but fashionable - a nice dark bluish-grey. Nice dark tie as well.

This stood out, that on an early Saturday evening some old guy was riding a bike like he hadn't a care in the world - with his front basket filled to brimming, spilling over with bright fuschia-colored tulips. Just beautiful. Watching him glide was like looking at a painting. An old guy, on a bike, with tulips. My brain couldn't compute scene all at once without thinking of oil pastels and turpentine and acrylics.

I wondered where he was headed, what he was thinking, why had he bought the tulips? Were they for his apartment or for someone else? Was he headed to early cocktails and then dinner with someone special? Or had he bought them.....just because. Just because in Amsterdam you buy tulips because they're there and they're plentiful and it's the season for tulips and they're pretty. The whole incident lasted maybe 20 seconds but the scene has stayed in my head ever since. I found Amsterdam to be like that more than any other city I've visited. It's a city of images, little visual moments like that.


where i've escaped...

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