27 September, 2011

City sunday.

Pretend this is my front door.  Open it and come inside.
Take a seat, have a cup of tea. Brush aside the fallen petals from the tulips, try not to think of the encroaching autumn.  Brush aside the last remaining cake crumbs, try not to think of how quickly little boys become big boys. 
Because, yes, my sweet son has had another birthday.  All puffed cheeks and curls, he struggled to blow out all six candles on his Lego cake at once.  I wonder what he wished for.  I myself wished he knew more children his age here, so that I could have thrown him a proper birthday party, the kind that knocks me into next week with tiredness.  
What do you do when you've just moved, and your child doesn't yet have his or her circle of friends?  We decided to go to the movies.  My kids have been to the movies three times before in their lives, so it is a real treat.  The film was at an Amsterdam landmark, the Tuschinski theater, continuously running since 1921, with exception of one recent renovation. 
I could imagine Vincent Price designing a movie theater like this.  To call it lavish is a serious understatement.  Even today, there are still private viewing boxes--and love seats.  (I found another photo on Flickr of the interior, here.)
But the splendid photo of the foyer, below, was not taken by me.  (It was posted, uncredited--boo!-- here.) 
I neglected to take photos of the outside which, if anything, is even more outlandishly Art Deco, in keeping with the stringent demands of the original owner.  Unfortunately, being a Polish Jew by origin, he and his entire family were murdered by the Germans during the war.  
His Tuschinski is still standing, however, perfect where it is, kitty-corner to the flower market, and where all the big-name film premieres are held in Holland. 

The Tuschinski would be decidedly out of place in the planned Ijburg, built upon artificial islands, where the buildings look more like this.  [The 'j' in Ij is silent.]
This is where I found myself this past Sunday, in order to take part in Elle Decoration's annual Inside Design Amsterdam.  There were loads of designers, artists and furniture companies scattered across the airy islands in cool loft spaces in such a way that you sort of wandered from one striking arrangement to another, without ever feeling crowded by others.
I liked these pieces shown by Ilse Crawford, former chief editor of the English edition of Elle Decoration, and now herself a designer under the aegis Studioilse.
 Interesting rough-yet-smooth, ultra simplicity of of these bowls.  What do you think? (Note, I did not say they were practical...)
Look closely at this display of preserved flowers.  Can you think of anything much more exquisitely diaphanous?  I couldn't stop peering at these from different angles.
I also loved the concept and craftsmanship of this low coffee table by a pair of young Dutch twins. Who comes up with an idea to glue together pencils then cut them like a slab of wood--leaving the ends sharpened?  Tweelink, that's who.  They also made a dinner table out of coloring pencils, and the sides had more of a rainbow effect.
There were a lot of pieces to admire by both the up and coming and the established, but for sheer monumentality and vision, I'd say the prize goes to Barbara Broekman.  This piece below is 4.2 meters by 3 meters, and is a composite image of "Good" as drawn from the masterworks of Rubens, Veronese, Tiepolo and Caravaggio. 

Essentially, it is a giant collage (with a companion piece, "Evil".)
The piece is made up of inter-connected panels, each measuring sixty centimeters by sixty centimeters.  And that pixielated effect is because it is a Jacquard-woven cloth.
When you finally put your nose up to it, you begin to suspect that this involved an awful lot of work.  I have no idea how she managed the scale and variety of color, but it did involve the skills and machine of the Textile Museum in Tillburg.
If you are reading this from Holland, you can see one of Barbara Broekman's pieces at the Frozen Fountain, a contemporary art and design gallery in Amsterdam well worth visiting. If you love tapestry, explore Broekman's beautiful site to see some of the many works coming out of her atelier--and how she makes them.  And finally, you can also browse a preview of Inside Design Amsterdam in the October issue of (Dutch) Elle Decoration if you want more.  I didn't want to overwhelm you with photos, so I only selected a few.
After all that hard work of strolling and gawking and head-cocking and lusting (my breath was completely stolen by the B2 kitchen concept from Bulthaup--do check it out), I was ready for a cup of coffee in the sun.  Dispensed from a three-wheeled mini-truck. Overlooking the little harbor on Ij-lake.
When I can watch bridges go up for boats on any given day, I know I am in Amsterdam.
There are worse ways to spend a sunday.

20 September, 2011

Settling in.

KLM's little ceramic houses of Amsterdam, filled with genever (gin). 

This won't be the first time I bite my tongue to keep from ranting about the weather, but the inclement, roiling skies made it that much easier to focus on making our apartment a home. 
Being back in the city means a move away from the countrified ways we'd developed (and enjoyed) over the past three years.  Now we're shifting back into a more familiar city mode.  Sometimes this meant unpacking things that had been in storage for too long.
Other times it meant shopping.  I do not like looking for clothes, but browsing my way through home goods is another enchilada entirely.  This elliptical table below is from Ikea.
I love a bit of blending of styles, too.  Here's an inherited Artifort midcentury classic paired with a French antique find.  I found that carpet a few years ago, the colors are luscious and those soft, firm nubs feel heavenly underfoot.
These fish traveled 1300 kilometers in a Mini.  They were no doubt at least as relieved to be out of the car as we were.  They went from our kitchen in the French Cevennes to our kitchen here in Amsterdam.  The chickens weren't allowed to come...
I indulged myself in the kitchen: when we first moved from Amsterdam to France, I schlepped most of my kitchen supplies down there.  This go-round, they've mostly stayed behind in France.  I am loving the lines and heavy-duty bottom of this pot I got at HEMA, the Dutch version of Target.  (Check out this clever page from their online store.  Give it a second to kick in...)
Here is a tall, asymmetrical wooden pepper grinder I got from, you guessed it, Ikea.  Ten euros--and it grinds like a charm! 
My splurge was this spoon rest.  I needed a spoon rest.  I just didn't need an Alessi spoon rest.  But aren't those curves fine on this new Alessi spoon rest?
Essential in Amsterdam: a coatrack.  Faint echoes of the Dutch Piet Mondrian don't hurt.
We have all started to find our bearings.
And we know what to do when the sun finally decides to make one of its brief appearances.
 First we double-check.  (That's my neighbor's terrace, below.  In sun.)
 Then we make a dash for it.
We do crazy, lovely things like taking off our raincoats.  Even better, we have a picnic in the backyard.  My friend Azumi was the hostess this time.
The spread was absolutely Japanese, and absolutely delicious.  She claimed it was really very basic and simple to make.  That was when I asked for the chicken recipe.  Azumi was right.  But so am I:  this version of the Japanese standard will hit the spot, whether for a casual picnic or a satisfying weeknight dinner.   
Azumi's Picnic Chicken Teriyaki

Serves four.

700g chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

3 tablespoons shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
3 tablespoons mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil with lemon flavour, or sesame oil
1 shallot, minced

Combine all the ingredients in a sturdy plastic bag, rubbing the marinade thoroughly into the chicken.  Let chicken rest it in the fridge at least an hour.

Heat the pan with a bit of olive oil.  Pour all the ingredients into the pan. Cook the chicken over high heat, until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Lower the heat and continue to cook until it until the sauced chicken is nicely browned.

13 September, 2011

I'm singing in the...

Living in the wide open spaces of the countryside cuts you down to size.  You feel appropriately insignificant, mother nature in her extremes is writ large and subject to inexplicable whimsy.  Moving to the bricked-in spaces of the city creates this pulse-quickening sense of expansiveness, all those languages, accents, skin colors, eye shapes, extraordinary personal histories, the swerve of social history evident in heroic buildings, the ringing trams, clustered bicycles--and mmm, those bookstores.  All that potential and hectic activity give the impression that we, as individuals, really can blaze our own trails. It simply took tasting hummus heaped onto sesame-speckled bread rings from a local Turkish market to realize I've just plain missed certain things.
Summer, in the rain.
But first I had to get used to stoplights again. By this I mean the stoplights keeping me from places I just have to get to by a certain time.  Because being in a hurry is a near-obligatory sub-clause of city life, and everyone's in a hurry here because we're all late because half of the transportation infrastructure in Amsterdam is under construction.  I only wish I was exaggerating.
The convertible mini cooper, in the rain.
Maybe you can't take the city out of the girl, not even after three years in what came tantalizingly close to southern French heaven.  (Oh, don't make me think of that garden I had to leave behind.) Here, there's just a rain-sodden terrace (a real luxury, should the un ever choose to shine again).  But the heels rise, the pants (and everything else) are tighter, and the wildness is found not beneath the scrub oak but rather in tribal-looking makeup and in that jaunty, sharp-hipped confidence of the (young) Dutch. Who are neck-twistingly taller than me, I must add.
The traffic, in the rain.

Good grief there's a lot of energy that gets burned in a move, lots of things happening at the same time and going in different directions.  Health insurance, a smooth transition for the kids, a coatrack (for all the raingear and coats in August/September). My thoughts are as jumbled as my files. Meanwhile, my to-do list is longer than a Dutchman's leg--and growing.  So this is partly why I haven't had really special photos to show you.  But it's been raining here, too.  A lot.  More than usual.  The rain barely pauses, and then only to switch to Chicago-style gusts of wind, because a proper Dutch day has all four seasons. And then some.  And oh, dear, I'd forgotten how to dress for this ongoing climatogical change; me and my silly, filmy, country summer wear.  But it's coming back to me.  And so is my affection for this laid-back, at times grouchy (can you blame them with this weather?), always engaging city.      

08 September, 2011

Kyrie eleison.

After a matter of days in Amsterdam, we had to return.  It's hard separating, whether from a person or a place.  You find yourself going back to that familiar beauty that drew you in the first place.
In stark contrast to the Amsterdam I've thus far experienced this year, Paris was at her seasonally appropriate best: 30 degrees celsius (86 degrees fahrenheit), long rows of tourists with their feet in the fountains, and city streets alight.  Top down, music playing, we were nevertheless in Paris for a seriously good reason: a friend's wedding.

The wedding was familiar and exotic all at once, being held in the Russian Orthodox tradition.  Imagine squadrons of Parisian and Russian women in over-the-top hats and perfectly fitted, fancy summer dresses--and sky-high heels.  Their companions faintly overwarm in their suits. And all of us standing for the full length of the service, which lasted an hour and a half.  There are no seats in a Russian Orthodox cathedral, and the Alexander Nevsky on rue Daru in the 8eme arrondissement granted no exception to this  rule.
The two priests, one old with solemn eyes and a full, square beard, one a strapping young tenor, chanted the entire service, in a sort of Gregorian manner.  They were draped from neck to ankle in heavy, golden vestments, absolutely covered with embroidered religious motifs.  They led the bride and groom's procession into the church, where the couple stood upon an immaculately white piece on cloth laid upon the Persian carpeted floor.  They held a golden chalice, from which the couple drank.  And then came the crowning, which involved eight male members of the wedding party.  Four men behind the bride, four behind the groom perspired in their morning coats while taking turns to hold the golden crowns a steady few inches above the heads of the bridal pair.  All this with song and prayer ringing in the air (the choir was hidden but sang in a sort of call and response throughout the prayers and crowning); the acoustics were powerful and somehow intimate.  And there was gold and intricate designs and carving everywhere.
The couple drove off in a wine-red 1950s convertible Dodge Coronet (with Washington state plates!) We cheered, and that evening, we drank an awful lot of Champagne. 
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