December 31, 2010


Kid in front biking

Besides being run-down with sickness, I did find some joy in my Amsterdam visit. Here are some highlights in no particular order.

– Knit wear: On the tram, for sale in the markets, being worn on the streets, everyone seemed to be sporting, large, chunky, colorful, whimsical, knit items from head to ankle. To be a knitter in Amsterdam, seems ideal, not only can you wear the crazy knit things you made, there is a constant audience in friends and family, as everyone seems to have some.

– Bicycles: Yes, yes, everyone knows Amsterdam equals bicycle, but it was still fun to see all the kids being hauled around in the giant front bucket bicycles. My favorite bicycle moment was watching an old man bike by with three large potted palm trees, one in each back basket and one precariously angled in the front basket. No problem!

– Yogurt: My culinary experiences were limited, but I did have some fantastic spiced pear yogurt. Creamy and delicious.

– Scaffolding: All the major attractions were closed and/or buried under scaffold. The Rijks museum, their large art institute has been closed for 10 years. Ten! And it is not near completion yet. The modern art museum, the ship museum, the royal palace, all closed and under construction. What city would make the decision to close all their most famous public museums at the same time? The absurdity of it, puts this on my favorites list.

– Svart Pete: In November, Sinter Clause arrives on the streets of Amsterdam with his side-kick, the trickster Svart Pete. While Sinter Clause poses for photos, Svart Pete runs around, causing mischief. At Central Station we witnessed a bombing, a candy bombing. While waiting in line for train tickets an unruly gang of Svart Pete’s came running through, bags overflowing with hard candy and small cookies. Tossing sweets and yelling, they left a carpet of candy and a lot of laughing happy people in their wake. The station employees hardly blinked an eye. Eh, it happens all the time.

December 7, 2010



I’ve been grounded for ten days, doctor’s orders. Instead of going to Las Vegas on Thursday for a work conference, I will be staying home, sipping tea. It all began over two weeks ago, when the plague that had struck down SB and many of our friends, finally reached me. I started to feel achy and feverish the night before our flight to Amsterdam. The timing could not have been worse. I dragged my sorry self through the flight, to our hotel and then spent a miserable eight hours waiting for check-in. We hid out at the Rijks Museum, SB studying the famous dutch paintings, me shuffling from one bench to the next, blearily staring at a Vermeer for what felt like hours. The next four days in Amsterdam were a delirious blur of pain, as the disease proceeded to strip out my voice and leave me a coughing mess, barely able to get out of bed. On day five, we trained it to Paris, where I crawled back into bed, waking the next morning so miserable that it was time to go to a doctor.

In the states I would have walked into a hospital or clinic, looking for the urgent care desk, but how is it done in France? Luckily, SB’s Parisian cousin came to the rescue. In France, we learned, you only go to the hospital for real emergencies. Instead she found me an English speaking doctor, two blocks from our flat, who could see me that day. This doctor shared a practice, called the Cabinet of Medicine, with one or two others, in a second floor apartment, converted into office space. There was a receptionist and a waiting room but the doctor came and got me from the waiting room and took me to her office/exam room. There she gathered my history, checked me over and explained the prescriptions. There was no nurse, no waiting in the exam room, no hurried staring at a computer screen. At the end of the exam the doctor took my payment right at her desk. She then escorted us to the door and wished us well.

Thanks to the drugs I finally slept and began to find my voice. With four days left, we tried to snatch the highlights of Paris before we flew home. Within days of getting home, I started to feel miserable again. The drugs had run out but the ear infection had not. I’m lucky to have health insurance and access to my choice of doctors. Still going to the doctor here provided a nice counter-point to my Paris experience. The biggest difference, other than cost, was the role of the nurse. It was the nurse who finally greeted me, she was the one who collected my history and she shared it with the doctor. This allowed the doctor to rush in and rush out, spending the least amount of time with me as possible. I wasn’t even sure when the visit was over and had to find my own way to the door.

I’m now on a new, higher strength course of drugs and advised not to fly, for concerns about further aggravating the ear infection. Still I feel sick and I’m hoping I feel better in time for Christmas.

December 4, 2010

The second house

Napoleon's Apartment

In Paris I found us this great little flat for the week, an efficiency with a double bed, two chairs around a small table and a modern kitchenette. The owner gave us a walking tour of the neighborhood when we arrived and described the Paris housing market. He said our flat would be a very normal size for a young couple’s first home. Based on realty listings we saw in store windows, the flat would probably sell for around $200K euro for 100 square feet.

After a week of pondering how we would fit our stuff and our pets into such a small space, walking into our Madison house came as a shock. The living room alone is was the size of our entire flat in Paris. Coming into our house with fresh eyes, my first reaction was that of emptiness. The walls are still bare of art and the furniture seems sparse. All the “empty” rooms emphasized how big the house is. Wow, we are rich with house. I’m impressed with all that we have.

Buying our Madison house, our second house, has not had the glamour of our first house and we’ve approached owning it as more project than success story. Since moving in I don’t think I’ve really appreciated the house. I haven’t loved it the way I loved our Atlanta house. All I see is problems and projects. It has been hard to see the whole for all the details. With these fresh eyes I can now appreciate living here and approach house projects with more nonchalance because, after all, it is already a very nice house. (Now we just need to get some art on the walls!)

* The photo is of Napoleon III’s palace apartment at the Louvre.

December 3, 2010


Paris Flat

Yesterday I returned from twelve days in Europe of which five days were in Amsterdam and seven in Paris. It was a trip that we had talked about for years, a trip paid for with airline miles accumulated during all our back and forth flights between Madison and Atlanta. It turned out to be a very different vacation from what I had imagined.

Instead of trying to balance touring great art and architecture with lounging in cafes and shopping all the splendid markets and shops, I spent the first seven days of the trip mostly in bed or trudging slowly through metro stations, looking through a haze of sickness at a gray world. All this sick time gave me more hours of quite reflection and one of the realizations I had was that I miss writing.

Maybe blogs are dead, maybe the only way to communicate is in 100 characters or less or through some huge forced social network, but it doesn’t really matter. If I want to write, I have this space right here and it is my very own. In my fevered, sick state, I made some promises to myself. Writing here was one of them.

  • Eating salted avocados with a spoon in Madison.
  • Blogging since 2003.