Thanksgiving is a great time to travel, because travel reminds me of all my blessings: my health, which allows me to negotiate these 24-hour flights with their endless delays and inspections; my family, some with me, some waiting at the other end; my friends who read this stuff when I write it in distant places; my American citizenship, which allows me freedom to move around. This year, I�m out of the States for the first time in my life during Thanksgiving. I�m in Europe, where it�s not Thanksgiving at all; it�s merely Thursday.
Landing in Amsterdam, the first thing that hits the eye is the advertising on the jetways: multicolored watercolors and the tagline “change takes you places.” It’s HP, one of the tech companies with a big presence in Amsterdam, as they all seem to have. It’s a common place to locate an EMEA presence for tech companies.
Next are the billboards in the airport. Accenture, Cap Gemini — someone has to install all this stuff, so the big consultancies are here as well. This is a big tech town. I�ve bought a new mobile phone, a Siemens. There�s a wireless hotspot in the hostel where Amanda is staying, too.
And yet, for all its technology, Amsterdam�s ambience is that of a wonderful old city, in existence since the 13th century at least. Ringed by canals, characterized by legalized cannabis stores, apartments in which furniture is moved in and out through ropes and pulleys on the outsides of the buildings, and a vibrant cultural environment, Amsterdam�s a big destination for young people. Dutch design, Dutch painting, Dutch jazz bars — they all rock. A century after Henry James, America still can’t compete with the culture of the Continent.
The International Documentary Film Association is having its festival here (conveniently at the same time I’m visiting my daughter for Thanksgiving). Yesterday I went to a showing of “Me and Bruce,” a film about a daughter’s quest to understand her deadbeat dad. (But not a deadbeat in today’s sense of the word, more a tax- revolting, marijuana-growing counterculture escapee from what America has become since the idealism of the sixties). The legendary Al Maysles, cinematographer for “Gimme Shelter” and maker of dozens of independent documentary films, was in the audience. He and I both loved the film, and I raised my hand to tell the director, Oren Siedler, how much it reminded me of my own mad youth. And then Maysles, a little white-haired 75-year-old man hugged me. He identified with my comments. Would that have happened at Sundance?
Amsterdam’s cold, but it’s still a walker’s city or a biker�s. There are trams, bikes, cars, pedestrians, and free running dogs all sharing the streets. Women ride bikes in skirts and tights, with babies behind them or in Snuggli�s against them. The bikes are all old, because new ones would be stolen. The Amsterdam Central Station has three stories of parking for bikes. It�s a big park-n-ride of a different sort.
My daughter’s apartment is up a flight of steps that are steep as a black diamond slope in a ski resort. You wouldn�t want to be inebriated and have to climb them. Yet inside is a Euro kitchen modern enough to be right out of Ikea. And windows that open to a balcony you can stand on to experience the weather before you leave the house.
In the bathroom, the toilet has two levels of flushing for water conservation. And you pay for your shopping bags at the supermarket, so you are encouraged to recycle.
Although there�s Burger King and McDonald�s, Amsterdam really isn�t overrun by chains. It isn�t New York, and it isn�t Beijing. It is unique.
Bon appetit as you overeat on your turkey. We will be dining on chicken breasts, since the only turkeys here are cooked by the Marriott and cost about a hundred bucks.