October 23rd, 2008



When we're three days in a place we've been in before, we're not so much with the museums and concerts. Frequently, we're there for work, or have friends we want to see, or things we need to touch base with. Which we spent some time doing today, to be sure. First, we met Ellen's Dutch editor, who bought out Privilege of the Sword earlier this year, and had lunch with him. We talked about New York publishing and people we knew in common (lots) and what kind of fantasy sells in Holland (epic fantasy)--the usual publishing gossip, only by a canal, with a blessed and unusual flood of sun through the cafe windows and some truly unusual-looking pastrami on Ellen's sandwich.

Then we flane-ed. A Franglais Ellen-and-Deliasim. From the French flaner, to wander aimlessly and idly. It's our favorite pastime in cities we like and know. We gawk at beautiful buildings, we peer in people's windows (very easy in a city where people with ground-floor apartments don't often have curtains, or draw them when they have them), we read restaurant menus, we window-shop. We occasionally go in somewhere and buy something. This was a perfect day for it, if a little rushed because of having to be at a friend's house at 6 for dinner. The sun was out, the trees were turning, the house-windows were glittering, the wonderfully individual Dutch bicycles were creaking and clicking past.

A timid and uncertain rider myself, I am in awe of the ability of the Dutch to ride effortlessly in high heels and tight skirts, with two children and/or a week's shopping perched here and there in seats and baskets, on bicycles with foot brakes and maybe 5 speeds, tops (not that you need many in a country that is utterly devoid of hills), all their colorful pasts visible in the chipped frames. These are bicycles with history, with gravitas. With personality. These are bicycles you can trust.

For anyone in Amsterdam, we'll be at ABC between 2:15 and 2:45 (or maybe a little after), hanging out in the SF section. You all come around, now.

Marzipan and tea

have become one of my favorite treats. There's something about the acidity of the tea and the slight bitterness at the back of the marzipan (if it's not too sweet, which this isn't) that just makes me happy.

It was another beautiful, sucker-weather day in Amsterdam, the kind that makes you think that living here would be tulips and hot chocolate and cerulean skies 365/365. Which I know perfectly well isn't the case. Still, it's good to be here when the city is putting itself out to be charming. It's been a very people-y day, meeting autopope and feorag and Julie Phillips at The American Book Store and hanging out a little, then dragging Julie to the Beguinhof where an old radio friend of Ellen's lives in a tiny and glorious one-up, one-down apartment at the very top of three extremely narrow and steep flights of winding steps. The last flight, swear to god, is more like a carpeted ladder than anything else. Going up is fine, but all the way down, my lizard brain is utterly convinced that I'm about to die. But it's very worth it.

The Beguinhof is basically a low-income women's residence, a series of maybe 20 narrow 3-story unmatched houses built around a central lawn. The application process to live here is complicated and rule-bound, and up until recently, it was one woman to an apartment and no man was allowed to spend the night on the premises. It started off life as a convent for the Beguines, in the 16th century. There's still a lovely church in the enclosure, usually closed. It was actually open for visiting today, but by the time we'd visited our friend, it was closed again. We did, however, see the chapel (1531), like one of the great churches here, only half-sized, serene, simple, all columns, white walls, and worn wooden benches. A beautiful space.

I have to say, one does not come to Amsterdam for the food. But we had a marvelous dinner at a Persian restaurant tonight with a friend. They brought us goat cheese and green herbs right away (which was just as well, since we were starving), and then we feasted on pickled veggies (1 year old) and roasted eggplant and lamb and spinach and swordfish in a coriander sauce and chicken with orange peel and little red fruits I don't know what they were. The music was wonderful, too.

Paris tomorrow. As much as I love Paris, I find that I don't want to leave Amsterdam.