Greetings from Ho-Land, Part Seven

As my stay here grows longer and longer, the quirky cultural differences which once seemed meaningful, ironic, and indicative of the rift between our respective societies have become less and less fun. Something like ennui has seeped into my being. No longer do I giggle at the awe inspired by the World’s Largest Wooden Clog. The thrift, height, and imperviousness to awful weather of the Dutch now seem normal, even expected, and to attempt anymore witty remarks or snide asides about them would smack of the desperation of a lazy writer who has overstayed her subject material. The haze of marijuana smoke that clouds the city streets is a cloying irritant; you can get better smog in LA. The whores are simply office workers commuting from Brooklyn to their soulless temp jobs in the Time-Warner building. A medical helicopter landed directly on the sunny terrace of a seventeenth century café as I was enjoying a cocktail with my friend Ben and rushed a gravely injured child to safety leaving a flutter of dust, leaves, and forks in its wake and I thought, “Hmmm. Why is this mojito made from dark rum?”

I have again become a New Yorker. Just somewhere else.

I have entered an existential shell of gray nothingness. And I did it in Holland, not in France.

I feel like an asshole.

Luckily, the play opened this week, shaking me out of my slump. A play opening is always exciting. There will be presents, champagne, flowers, and best of all, praise. Ah, praise. That sweetest of all nectars. That lifeblood of every artist. Praise enters our blood like a drug and dilutes the terrible drumbeat of life, of frustration, of self-immolation for an hour or so, at least until the party starts and you get to get drunk. Praise, which you can accept gravely, nodding your head as though you are listening to them talk about somebody else, examining and analyzing each piece of evidence to see if it fits with your idea of what is “good for the play.” Praise that you can prettily deflect with a deft turn of the head, a becoming blush of the cheek, a hand demurely fluttering up to your collarbone as though you can’t BELIEVE they would say such nice things to you. Praise that you can memorize and repeat over and over to yourself in bed that night, ensuring that your performance the following night will be a piece of cocksure shit. If you have a cock. I don’t.

Speaking of cocks, always a favorite subject in the world of performance, there is an antique shop that I pass each day on my trek up the Vijzelgracht. Etched on the window glass in Ye Olde Dutch Lettering is the sign: “Antiquariaat. Prop. Cock de Bijl.” This guy’s first name is Cock. Cock. Bijl, in Dutch, means “building” or “builder” something like that. Something dangerously close to “erect” or “erector.” This guy’s name, translated by the lay Dutch speaker, is “Cock Builder” or “Penis Erector.” And he sells darling little dishes and Hummel figurines! I guess my interest in culture hasn’t totally disappeared.

The week leading up to our opening was difficult and tension filled, as these weeks tend to be. One of my directors called me a “lazy American” when I unconsciously let out an enormous sigh at the prospect of doing a futile, fourth run-through this day. My co-star began to mix up his lines, occasionally leaving out entire pages of script, which is annoying enough in English, but in Dutch, when every fiber of my being is focused on trying to figure out what the fuck he is saying to me, is a recipe for disaster, particularly when the “Lazy American” is pre-menstrual and hasn’t eaten all day. The film projector broke no less than six times in the space of three days. The floor of the theater flooded. The straps of my costume broke. I considered riding my bicycle in front of one of the semis that glided so temptingly on the interstate outside the theater. It would be so easy. A furtive trip during lunch break, a quick jerk of the handlebars, and I’d be on my way home in a body cast for my mother to fuss over and spoon-feed.

Finally, the big night. My directors called us all together for a little pre-game pep talk. I had been painted and pressed to perfection, and I was feeling pretty good. Vulnerable but smiling, I sat back in my plastic chair and waited for my vindication. Martijn began, standing stiffly in his gray suit a trifle too small—intended for his college graduation and never altered. “I wanted to say a few things before we start the performance tonight—remember, please! —to keep the lightness. Like a balloon in the air and you must never to let it drop because then the whole performance is not good. Okay. And also, Arjen and me, we want to say thank you for all your work. Thank you. Now you may go ahead and prepare yourself and we will see you after the performance.”

That was it. Where was the part where they told us how wonderful and extraordinary we were, how we were the most talented actors he had ever worked with, how we made the play sing and fly and how he was so incredibly grateful to us for helping him to realize his vision.

I adjusted myself and whispered to my fellow actor, Jimmy, “Where’s the part where they tell us how wonderful and extraordinary we are, and how we’re the most talented actors he’s every worked with, and how he’s so incredibly grateful to us for helping him to realize his vision.”

Jimmy (pronounced “Yimmy” in some circles, though not by me) looked at me patronizingly.

“Oh. We don’t say that in Holland.”

We don’t say that in Holland. What the fuck am I doing here? Surely they can’t expect me to glean a sense of satisfaction simply from the pleasure of doing my work well? Who do they think they’re dealing with? I need some gushing and I need it now, people!

It was going to be a long night.

The performance, which played to a packed house—quite a friendly crowd, lots of family and friends and board members and elderly theater queens who seemed quite taken with my co-star—your typical arty crowd, went very well. I was pleased. I was complimented and petted and when I took my bows was handed a giant sheaf of what appeared to be massive asparagus. Heavy and nearly as tall as I was, I held it in my arms like an medieval executioner brandishing yet another faggot to be thrown at the burning feet of a heretic and grinned broadly.

I may have been the star of the show, but my star was on the wane. At the after party at Blok 4, a trendy café near the theater that provided endless free champagne (it felt like a wedding, it was fabulous, every time I looked down a fresh glass was in front of me and I was wearing my fabulous new dress and my fabulous new shoes and I felt fabulous fabulous fabulous, bubbly and fizzy and fabulous) I was having a lovely conversation with an affable and intelligent Englishman called Tony about Harold Bloom’s book on Shakespeare—he found it pretentious and overwritten, and I countered that the typeface was in fact very large and easy to read—when my make-up artist Cecelia burst in, wearing a pair of enormous pink Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses and a skirt so short you could see the bottom part of her thong underwear and screamed “HAS ANYONE SEEN A BAG OF COKE? I DROPPED MY BAG OF COKE SOMEWHERE!!! ONE OF YOU HAS MY FUCKING COKE!!!!”

The restaurant was silent as she tripped lightly through the tables, picked up her fur, and flounced outside again.

Every day, a new star is born. I turned my head, blushed, fluttered my hand up to my collarbone prettily, and gulped the last of my champagne. I know when I’ve been beaten.

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