Greetings from Ho-Land Part Four

Long, long, ago, in another life, or to those who live their lives at a slightly less dramatic pace, last October, a friend and I were discussing how Amsterdam was affecting our respective artistic imaginations. “This is a very great city to write in,” said Diego, a swarthy, handsome Argentine whose accent, tempered by years in America, had softened to a Banderas-like purr.

“It’s true,” I concurred, “I have no idea why, though. You don’t have the stimuli or the heterogeneity of New York, or London, or even Paris.”
“Or Buenos Aires.”
“Of course,” (Like I have any fucking idea what Buenos Aires is like. I told you, Europe makes you pretentious. It’s something in the tobacco.) “Still, I get so much writing done here.”
“Yeah. Me too.”

We continued this debate for a good forty-five minutes, citing everything from the open-mindedness of Dutch culture, the inherent beauty of our surroundings, the meditative properties of traveling by bicycle, and the horrendous food as our inspiration. Finally, Diego, his dark eyes staring at something far beyond me, had a brainstorm:

“Maybe it’s the drugs.”


I had my first real lost weekend of the trip this week. Weekends where joie de vivre, European hedonism, and all manner of substances that suffer from severe inflation in the United States flow like water from a broken faucet. (Mommy, if you’re reading this, I hope you stopped already.)

It’s good. It’s just what I needed, at this point. Nothing like going to bed at 6:30 pm on Monday to prove that you’re taking advantage of all the cultural richness this wonderful city has to offer. Sunday morning, still rather addled, I went shopping and inexplicably dropped a load of euros on the whoriest, dirtiest underthings I could find. It seemed like a good idea. I now own a turquoise lace push up bra, a strapless hot pink thing that I can’t wear under clothes, and several insta-wedgie thongs.

It had been a bit of a rough week, work-wise. The theater where we are rehearsing and performing floats on the water—a sort of giant houseboat of avant-garde performance. There was a storm. I have been known to become ill in the shortest of taxi-rides. At about 11:30 am last Thursday, a small stream of fat-free, sugar-free strawberry yogurt entered the Amsterdam sewage system unaltered by the digestive process. (“Lieverd, I don’t understand why you eat such a thing. They leave these things out and they charge you more.” This is the Dutch system of measuring value—per calorie.)

My directors decided to put a large bowl of Dramamine at the box office, like candy. We’ll put a bow around the base, to make it pretty. There is a man who takes care of things at the theater, maintenance and such. He lives on the premises, in a small houseboat filled with framed pictures of his grandchildren. He is rotund and grizzled and has thick, yellow toenails. Once I knocked on his door on a lunch break to call a small plumbing situation to his attention, and he answered wearing only a small pair of royal blue Jockey shorts with an enormous wet stain at the tip of the Y. On Friday he appeared with a similar stain on the front of his T-shirt. He explained to my director that his bellybutton had burst (burst? Surely something must have been lost in translation) and for some reason, the doctors had failed to fully cauterize the wound. So, alas, it kept seeping something yellow. He was really at his wit’s end. Didn’t know WHAT to do. The rest of the rehearsal was pretty much shot as we froze in terror at any evidence of movement within the building, horrified he might enter the theater and OOZE on something. OOZE. I was delighted at the prospect. This was quickly rationalized by my colleagues as something decidedly lacking in my character and moral fortitude.

“Well, of course. You like gross things. You’re an American.”
“No,” I said. “I just like gross things. Don’t blame my grossness on all Americans.”

Monday, hung-over, sleep-deprived, feeling more than a twinge of Puritanical guilt (SO American, as I am constantly reminded) and having endured a rehearsal conducted, out of sheer frustration, almost entirely in Dutch, I felt tears pricking my eyes. Rather than cry in front of everyone and be labeled unprofessional—or worse, emotional, in this country where a word you exclaim when very pleased is “prachtig” or “practical”—I feigned another bout of seasickness, and threw a very private temper tantrum in the ladies’ room.

Oh, I forgot. Sunday, apart from being the Day I Spent My Weekly Grocery Allowance On Dressing Like A Prostitute, was also the day of the Kunstmarkt, or the annual Art Fair in the Albert Cuyp Market here in Amsterdam. My theater had a small booth advertising the show, which I was expected to attend in order to schmooze with all the bewildered and stoned Americans who found their way in. The art on display was a proliferation of still lives and oil paintings of celebrities. Some were as you would expect—Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando. Oddly, there were several paintings of Salma Hayek. Salma Hayek! What makes you decide to make a bunch of paintings of Salma Hayek? She’s pretty, okay—but, Salma Hayek? Where’s the connection? Did you really like “Frieda”? Did you really like “Fools Rush In” where she plays a fiery Latina love interest to Matthew Perry’s smarmy New York businessman? Who’s next? Minnie Driver? Brittany Murphy? Katie fucking Holmes, for Christ’s sake? Amsterdam may be the only place in the world where the Hare Krishnas are given legitimate stage time.

Today, after a pretty good rehearsal (hangover, after three days, seems to have mercifully subsided) I was riding home and got caught in an absolute downpour. I have never, never, ridden a bicycle in the middle of a hurricane before. There’s a first time for everything. Motherfucker. The second I typed that sentence, it started raining again. See? You really never should talk about the weather. The evil eye is everywhere. Just like Al Qaeda. Not only was I soaked, my bike chain fell off, in the middle of the storm, still a good twenty-five minutes from home. This has happened to me enough times now to know that there is no way of figuring out how long it will take to fix. Sometimes it’s thirty seconds, sometimes forty-five minutes of futzing and screaming and looking resentfully at the people going past WHO DO NOT STOP TO ASK IF THEY CAN HELP YOU. EVEN THOUGH THEY CAN, BECAUSE THEY RODE THROUGH THEIR MOTHER’S VAGINAL CANALS ON BICYCLES. The Dutch philosophy of minding your own business, so endearing when it comes to recreational drug use and alternative lifestyles, is maddening when you actually in need of AID.

Now, the old American Rachel might have slumped against a tree, her body convulsed with deep sobs, and smeared mud on her face and hair as a sign of her despair. The new Dutch Rachel simply flipped her bike over, swore a little bit, and neatly dispatched the problem in five minutes flat. Even though still at heart she was a cold, wet, pissed off JAP, she did it. All by herself. Although, she did ride recklessly on the highway all the way home, hoping she might be hit by a car and injured sufficiently enough to be chauffeured somewhere dry, she nonetheless rolled her sweater sleeves and got the job done. Although she called three pedestrians “cocksucker” on the remainder of her journey and took care to splash as many businessmen as she could with the wheels of her bicycle. And then the phone call came, the call that meant she would be treated to a lovely dinner and pleasant company, and not spend another evening at home alone, drinking cheap red wine and staring at pictures of Lindsay Lohan in last month’s Interview Magazine, wondering where she went wrong. Thank God for Dutch practicality and slutty lingerie.

It seems to me that this column is a trifle Carrie Bradshaw. And a little all over the place. Oh well. Maybe it’s the drugs.

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