Total Pageviews

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Amsterdam – Part 3 - 4 July

Amsterdam – Part 3

I’m walking back from my graffiti tour and stop at a temporary  bridge across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal  canal, in front of my hotel.  It’s closed to traffic now – dead water. My first time here in the Red Light District it was open, and wonderful. A constant stream of small boats full of happy people passing—waving, drinking, smoking, laughing – Having a time so good it was contagious.

The next year the city started repairing the canal’s century old walls. I remember waking up to a pile driver every morning and pretty much force out of my hotel during the day – because of the noise. They tore out dozens of beautiful trees that had lined the canal, old bridges were destroyed, and sidewalks. All this would be repaired, the city said. A year or two.

The two photos below were taken near the start, seven or eight years ago. This was my 2nd year in Amsterdam.

On my 3rd year’s visit they began driving pilings. They’re big on pilings. Amsterdam is built on ocean sand. You need a lot of pilings if you want things to remain stable.


Very big pilings. They drove a lot of them, eight hours a day. This photo taken from the porch of my hotel. The window in my room looks out on the canal below. Boom . . . Boom  . . .Boom, and then a pause, and then again. All day. Not fun to be around. I took some photos and got the hell out of the way.

It’s been an major project, and expensive. The big construction firms doing work here are often from Germany and England – less expensive. Things went well for a year or two, then progress stopped – for years now. Only an ugly barrier remains in the water. Someone’s dared to climb out on it and spray painted their initials. Graffiti.

This is the canal today.


I’ve heard two versions of the reason for work stoppage. The old buildings (most from the 1700s) that line the canal are sitting on pilings – an average of sixteen of them. Some say the canal project has shifted the sand below causing some of the buildings to lean. Costs millions to fix just one piling. Many of these old buildings seem to be leaning, but they were built that way. The floors inside are level. In photo below see hooks sticking out from the tops of buildings. These are used to haul things up to the various floors.  Slanted front prevents things from bumping into windows on their way up.

Typical Stairway

There are no elevators. Fourth floors are a four floor walk up. Stairs get narrower and corkscrew on their way to upper levels. You can see why furniture has to come in through the front windows. Rent goes from a thousand, or twelve hundred a month for these apartments, and they’re hard to get.

Bartender tells me work on the canal has stopped because of lack of funds. Other large projects in Amsterdam have met the same fate. Politics and money. Sad. The ducks and swans seem happy with the situation. Lots of new arrivals on the scene. I take a photo of a feathered family, then notice as I post this, the male has a ring of plastic trash stuck on his beak. I pray that he’s found a way to get it off.


The canal gets totally trashed every night, plastic. The sidewalks as well are littered every morning. Jerks throw cans, bottles, and plastic into the canal, or toss it on the sidewalks. Street cleaners start work at 7 a.m. and things look decent again by ten, when the tourists hit the street.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Things I Learn in Amsterdam - Part 2

Part 2 - Revision 1 July   Sticker Price

I’m spending the afternoon with Terry, an interesting friend I met 12 years ago—my first time Amsterdam.


He’s an expat, like me — managing a coffee house now. He was a cook years ago, a stressful gig he chose to end. He goes to Columbia in the off seasons. Takes hang gliding lessons and is good at the sport. Can stay up for an hour, riding the thermals. Escorted by curious birds on occasion. Next year will be his final lesson.

“It’s called, Practice Falling— learning to survive a collapsed wing at 1000 meters.”

“Jesus. What if you screw up?”

“They do it over water.”  Terry takes a bite of lunch. We’re at the Oriental Chicken — my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam. “. . . and there’s a boat below,” he says, “They pick you up.”

“How do you make the wing collapse?”

“You pull straight down on the straps. Like this.” He puts his hands at the sides of his hip.”

“How do you get it working again,” I ask.

He does a bird like thing with his arms. "You've got a few seconds to get it right."
I think of Icarus, but don’t mention it.

We take a walk after lunch and I ask him about stickers I keep seeing in different places.

“Where the hell do these come from, Terry? What are they?

“It’s graffiti, man.” He seems surprised I’m ignorant of this— I’m old.

“They’re from Sticker Artists. There are thousands of them—everywhere. You make a design, a sort of icon, and you get ‘em printed up—rolls of them. It’s a form of graffiti. Graffiti is expensive if you’re serious about it. Spray paint is expensive. You might need six or ten cans, just to do one painting —then some poster guy wallpapers over it.”

“Poster guy?” I’ve never heard of poster guys.

“They work on paper, and then paste their art to walls.”

“Amazing. All these mediums. I never knew. How much does it cost, for stickers?”

“Roll of a thousand stickers costs from fifty to two hundred Euros. Depends on what you want—how many colors. Do you want the back slit, so it’s easier to peel them off? The quality. You get a lot of them. Two thousand, maybe three. They go all over the world, these guys, pasting their stickers. Want to see a good graffiti shop?”

I nod my affirmation. I didn’t know there were such things. Some fifteen minutes later we are at the Montana Graffiti Shop—also known as, Henx. No idea what inspired these names. Most probably have meaning to it’s clientele.  There is no name on the front.

I guess you are supposed to know—a sort of in thing.

Inside the place are thousands of cans—every color in the rainbow and some the rainbow never thought of. I’ve been trying to find some brown spray paint for some work I’m doing at home. Impossible. You can get black, silver, green and red, and white . . . that’s it. Photo below (1/3 of one wall of cans) shows a maker’s colors.

Paintings at top of this  photo were done with spray cans.

Below see price of cans. There are all kinds of nozzles that can give the artists anything from a straight line to a blur. The paint is water based, but users are advised to wear gloves a mask for protracted use.



They sell stencils. Stencil graffiti is the only graffiti I know a little about —the infamous Banksy. It should be Banksys. There is more than one, sharing the name. If the image takes your breath away, for one short moment . . . an imploding, wow. Then it’s a Banksy.

Seems a bit low bag to buy a stencil, but not everyone can be a Banksy—or Banksys. You can buy a stencil and plaster it everywhere. The skull below is a stencil. Noticed it on a wall not far from my hotel in the Red Light District.

Next Blog: Part 3   Noticing Graffiti

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Things I learn in Amsterdam – Part 1

I’m at Hotel Torenzicht again. I come back every year. This is my 7th visit. The amazing Anna’s tending bar.

She’s telling me about pet snails she keeps in an aquarium. I never knew there were so many kinds—all kinds of colors and designs.

“They’re great,” she says. “And not much trouble. Some are from Germany, and other places. I import them. They are fun to watch. My mother thinks I’m crazy.”

“They don’t do anything,” Mom tells me.

“Yes they do,” I argue. They just do it slower.”

“Do they breed?” I ask.

“Oh yes. They have babies every month. I’ve got some shrimp as well—to keep them company. The snails used to stay in one corner of the tank, but now they hang out with the shrimp. The shrimp are colorful too.”


Amazing Anna’s also colorful, and fun to watch. A mini education every time we meet.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Happy to have my photo ‘Rome Graffiti’ used as cover for Spring 2018 – Issue 7

Stüffe’s Barber Shop


Got my biannual shave and haircut today. A wonderful ninety minutes in the hands of a master who makes bald spots disappear. Her whose only mission is to make me look better than when I came in. These are moments of total pleasure . . . pure relax. No conversation. I don’t want to talk. I am at peace.

The background music’s perfect, just right volume lets you listen if you want to, high school favorites from the U.S 1950s plays today. Bill Haley and the Comets, Ray Charles, bring back a flood of high school memories as clippers buzz and scissors snipping sharply with precision.

Then the shave—a face massage of ointments, hot towel, thermal heaven. Then the razor, the incredible straight razor, been around about as long as time I guess. A simple tool, beyond improvement. She’s got some old ones, a collection under glass. I remember when going into the Army with a bunch of boys from Southern Illinois, and Georgia.  They took away our knives and all possible weapons.  Some of the guys had straight razors—beautiful razors that had probably been in the family for generations.  They were so hurt, turning them in. A sergeant told them they would be returned when we completed basic training. Some were so naive they believed the promise.

After the hot towel comes a Badger bristled brushes’ soft caress of soapy warmth.  Then the amazing the feel of cold steel on my neck, the incredible sharpness. There’s no smoother shave on earth, but it’s a lot of trouble. Time consuming.
Shaving is different since the invention of the safety razor. Now there are infinite variations, 3 blades, four, or more.  They all cut, but nothing like a straight razor. When the straight razor cuts, that whisker is gone—as much as it can possibly be, until tomorrow. The razor on my throat . . .  hard not to fanaticize.  This is as close to death I get, other than being in the car with my wife at the wheel. I recall a Sweeny Todd thing I went to in London . . . Razors.
Nothing happens. I am safe. It’s almost over. Cold towel now—so good. A last few moments of total peace.

“Wake up,” Stüffe tells me with a grin. I do—with some regret. My next appointment in six months.

Best shave I ever had:

Was in Benares, India, on the ghats along  Ganges.  If I could relive a time and place from somewhere in my past, this 1980s moment would be one, this thirty minutes of desire-less happiness. Nothing more needed for the moment. Only peace.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 5

We’re up at 4 a.m. – Last day in London. An expensive cab ride to the railroad station. I have no complaints. The train’s much faster than the bus we took on our arrival, less than half the time.

The airport’s crowded, of course, and we find our large, shared suitcase is two kilos overweight. We need take some stuff out or pay for the extra weight. I stuff my shaving kit and some guidebooks into my backpack, wife crams some things into her purse and we pass the checked baggage requirement.

We move on to the usual madness of checking in, dumping all of our pockets into the plastic bins that roll to the x-ray. I get beeped on my way through the metal detection gate. Why? Then I remember, cell phone in a pocked of my pants leg. I hurriedly show it to the lady on the line.
“Forgot,” I tell her.
“Too late,” she shakes her head.

Another scan and body search by a male guard who finally lets me pass. Then a backpack inspection. Woman opens my shaving kit looks at me with disdain, says nothing. Puts my little bottles in a plastic bag.

“Can’t keep these.” She takes my Head and Shoulders and some toothpaste as my pants are falling off—no belt.

We finally make it through, then spend time standing for the plane that’s now an hour late. Another plane has parked in the wrong place and it takes time to sort it out. I find a place to sit on the floor with my back against the wall.

Our ride home is easier than it was coming in. I read a book I brought as others read their cell phones. Just a short walk to our car when we get off, no problem, but we can’t get out. Gate at the lot refuses to release us after wife taps in the pre-paid code. We finally give it up and pay again with hope we’ll get our money back.

Three hour car tip home is easy, cell phone telling us the way. Cat meets me at the door, with a censorious look – three days on dry food. Runs to food dish for fresh meat.


My son-in-law brings dogs an hour later. They’re ecstatic with tail wagging madness, overjoyed to be with mom again.

My own tail to does not wag, it’s dragging, but it’s good to be back home. Now time to play with photos, memories and words. I wish we’d had more time. So many things to see and do in that amazing city, London. With a year to spend one could not see them all, or even part, but it’s been good. My birthday, 80 years—in London. Indefatigable wife says she would like to go again. She’s Swedish.