I'm okay, Eurokay

That's something I tore from yesterday's paper.

I'll try to steer clear of the hassle stuff and focus on the surprisingly fun -- actually too fun -- week I've had, though at the beginning there was a last-minute drama involving vets and certificates and the USDA office, but at the end of the journey the dogs were fine, even though I tipped over Luka's crate at Schiphol airport. Hilariously, customs didn't question any of the paperwork that we had unexpectedly spent the day chasing all over Massachusetts.

From the airport Tuesday morning, Tony, my ride, drove us to the house, where I met the sellers, a tall couple who make hanging cradles for babies, and the two real estate agents again, and I "inspected" the house and signed stuff in Dutch, and then their little girl ceremoniously handed me the key (they had clearly practiced it). That first day, which was the second day because I hadn't slept on the plane, was hell on the dogs and me, and we kind of clung to each other during the afternoon, and went to Poop Hill many times, which is what we call the grassy canal bank at the end of the street that is a "Losloopplaats," a "loose run place," but which functions as a toilet. Angry ducks flap at the dogs from the water. I sure as hell am not ready to let the dogs "loop vrij en spelen" -- "run free and play" -- as the sign urges me to. Buses, bikes, scooters, cars, little old ladies, other dogs are all over the place. Not to mention the canal itself, which looks like a swimming pool to The Real Grendel.

I took them home and, although exhausted, to avoid going to bed yet (it was seven) I went and got something to eat and then went to the nearest bar to the house, a typical little cafe on a cobblestone corner, with lit candles on each of the four empty outdoor tables, even though a light rain was falling. Inside I could see seven or eight men, obviously regulars, and one woman, sitting at the bar. I walked in and went up to the bar and ordered a beer.

When they heard my accent, they immediately switched to English. "The bar is new -- Erik made it! He put it in just today!" Erik sat to my right. Erik, after hearing my name, started reciting a poem by La Fontaine, something about "Corbeaux"? "So you are the crow," he said when he was done with his French, "and you have a piece of cheese, and the fox below says, oh crow, you sing so beautifully! Sing me a song! And when you open your mouth to sing, you drop the cheese, and the fox eats it."

"Pretty much."

After two hours he said, "Go get your dogs."

"Yes," I agreed, standing up. I could feel a drop of beer glittering on my bottom lip, which was twisted in sudden determination. "Yes, they need to become citizens, too."

I went home and got the excited dogs. Brought them back to the bar. Let them off leash. They walked around sniffing the Dutch people. Erik praised them. "We made it!" I kept saying to them, and rubbing their heads. Before long, they were looking sleepy, though, and when I wasn't sure I could stand up much longer, I took them home and blew up the inflatable mattress. See, all our furniture is in storage -- not that we brought our bed. But the blow-up mattress worked, and first things first, such as the closing the following morning, which went off without a hitch.

But then began a series of banking, Internet, telephone, mobile phone, customs, city registration, insurance, credit card, and washing machine challenges. Those were three dark days. And rainy.

By Friday night I had kicked jet lag. I finished my business for the day and at dusk went to three of the the four bars, one by one, that were open on a nearby square called the Botermarkt (the Butter Market, where butter was once marketed). I had a small glass of beer at each one. Then I decided to check out the coffeeshop on the corner -- Cafe Easy Going -- for the first time. The sign outside had a picture of a tired turtle. I asked for the "mildest, lightest" thing they had and puffed on it tentatively at one of the two booths, a black leather seat curved around an aluminum table.

It was a small place -- more or less a living room with a non-alcoholic bar where you buy weed. Riddick was playing on a flat TV on the wall, and underneath it four Dutch youths were playing foosball. The "buzztender" was a straight-backed blonde young man. I sat at that aluminum table and watched that movie, which was subtitled in Dutch, and I vowed to really begin learning Dutch all over again. But the volume was too low, so I saw the Dutch but couldn't quite connect the English dialog I couldn't hear. And the foosball table was loud, and the guys were laughing and groaning and saying, "Alsjeblief! Alsjeblief!" (Please! Please!)

I kept reaching for a beer. Which they don't sell. One drug at a time, people!

Random folks came in. Kids, late teens, early twenties, and a couple of older fellas. And it was just freaking wonderful. The movie had these praying mantis aliens, and Riddick's eyes were weird, and I was finally relaxing. But I kept reaching for my beer -- which was not there. How could it not be there? But it wasn't. I tried to ignore my increasing thirst. I could have bothered the buzztender, who was watching Riddick, too, for a water or tea, but darn it, it was Friday night and I had just moved to another continent, so when the flow of people in and out was properly calibrated, I stood and said, "I keep reaching for my beer" and put on my coat.

"You should have one!" the barman said.

"You're right! I believe I will."

It was nine-thirty or so when I went to the one bar I hadn't yet gone to. I sat at a table out on the clear plexiglass-windowed, awninged patio and watched the Botermarkt. Think of a nighttime brick square, with bikes rolling down the middle of it, groups of young people gathered around a parked scooter eating fries with mayonnaise and laughing, people toting home bags and takeout orders, scooters zooming by exactly when it gets too quiet, a closed-up fishmarket cart from earlier in the day. That was the Botermarkt.

So then last night I was at Mulligan's, an Irish bar in Amsterdam, meeting people I hadn't seen in a long time -- Tony and two other guys from Donegal, Liam and Kevin. Tony is married to Dorinde, and Liam is dating her twin sister. They were watching the Ireland-Scotland rugby match. Extended sentences in English were very nice to hear again. I believe I talked their ears off. I believe I talked about philosophy and religion and science and politics. And they did, too! And the pints kept coming.

When I finally said I needed to go back to the train station, to get back to Haarlem and the dogs, they said they had to go to the station, too, and surely we could just drop by a coffeeshop on the way. We went outside, and they got on their bikes.

"You're riding with me," said Liam.

And then, dang it, I was on the back of a bike being piloted by a drunk Irishman through the streets of Amsterdam. At night. "Who are you?" Liam kept screaming back at me, pedaling faster. "Get the fuck off my bike!" I had no idea where we were headed. I couldn't see around him. There was nowhere to put my feet, so I just held them up. For a minute I was shrieking with laughter, then I was I grasping the bones of his hips with my eyes closed. When he stopped, I staggered off, stiff, sore, stimulated, lucky to be alive. I looked around -- we were right in front of a coffeeshop and right across the street from the train station.

"I can't believe you just drove me to the station on your bike!"

"I can't either!"

We went inside. They indulged, but I did not. Loud techno sounded. Finally, we went across to the station and said goodbye. I found my train and waited on the platform. Late at night the trains are less frequent. I was lucky and got one quickly. I sat down in my seat and leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes. Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" popped up on my mental iPod. I forgot that I had my real iPod in my coat pocket.

Next thing I knew, I jerked awake. The train was in some station. It looked like Haarlem's. I jumped onto the platform as the doors were closing. It was Haarlem's.

Today, the dogs let me sleep in till eight. We went to Poop Hill. And then I took a train to Zandfoort, the nearest beach town, and had a strong, tiny coffee and reread "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" on an outdoor patio. All I'm missing is traca (pronounced "trassa") de broon, who is off to San Francisco and still more than a week away from arriving here. Thank God for Skype.

You are all welcome to come and stay. Not at the same time.


El Gordo de Amore said...

I totally want to be living in Holland now.

Brando said...

Such an awesome post. Your travelogues are always great, Grendel.

Glad you're settling in. We definitely want to visit when we can.

PJKM said...

Grendel, you should have a column. The Adventures of Grendel!

traca de broon said...

Girl Scouts were selling cookies on the corner of Haight/Ashbury today, but things here are mostly the same.

Can't wait to join you all.

traca de broon said...

This probably only matters to me, but today while I was having lunch with a friend, my old car drove by. They never change license plates here, so I know it was her, all shiny and orange.

It doesn't feel it's been ten years except the dirty hippies on Haight Street who tie their puppies to shopping carts with shoelaces don't offer me drugs anymore, which makes me feel kind of old. Then again, the punk kids in the second-hand stores don't intimidate me anymore, which makes me realize again that getting older has its good points.

traca de broon said...

Yeah, so the link in my last comment only takes you back to the original post, even though I directed it to a different URL, one that featured a bright and shiny orange Karmann Ghia. You're all creative types, I'm sure you can conjure the image on your own.

Grendel said...

Here is the link for the Karmann Ghia. I think the new Blogger still has a few kinks to work out.

T-bone said...

Excellent post! I'll be over in a minute.