Friday, October 26, 2012

Amsterdam: Hipsters, Houses and Horrible Salted Fish

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now we’re in Holland.

Mr Tabubil and I had intended to be real tourists and do Amsterdam PROPERLY -  to take a canal boat out to the Rijksmuseum (but tragically not to the van Gogh museum – that collection was on loan to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Poot.) but it was such a lovely sunny day that we found ourselves simply wandering.  

Old Amsterdam is a lovely town – canals run back and forth across it, with narrow cobbled streets on either side.

We wandered along the streets of the old town, reading dates over the lintels of old brick houses, sitting in the sun on the edges of the canals with our feet dangling over the water, and when the sun moved on, getting up and wandering again. 

The houses are narrow, three and four and five stories tall, with baroque and neoclassical twiddlery on their pointed tops, and four centuries of slump and subsistence warping their frontages so that doors and windows run downhill and sideways - one house will start the slump, the next will deepen it, then the third will start to rise by leaning up the other way and by the fourth house along, things are almost straight again.

Sometimes houses lean out into the street instead of sideways parallel, and the forth story might be almost a meter out from its neighbors. When you see a slumpy house with 1609 written over the lintel you KNOW that you are looking at history!

Okay, not 1609.  We failed to get a photo of that one.

And so we wandered, all afternoon. These old streets are a bouncing, deeply artsy neighborhood – the smell of it part marijuana, part incense and part really good Indonesian food.   The ground floors of the old buildings have been turned into art galleries, travel agencies and small boutiques, with deeply hip -and occasionally wearable - hand-turned and limited-edition clothing on the racks.  

We watched the people on the streets around us, in their pencil-legged trousers and striped sailors jerseys, the boys in their loafers, without socks, and the girls in vintage blazers and necklaces made of buttons, and all of them with carefully undone hair and sunglasses with lenses like tinted wagon wheels -   
My goodness!  We’ve never lived among real live hipsters before. 
We felt deeply privileged to be among them.

Hipster Graffiti

But we were tourists, and tourists have no natural coolth-factor whatsoever. (Unless you’re on an architectural pilgrimage with a vintage Hasselblad camera in your pocket and vintage converse sneakers on your feet, and while wepassed on the first count, we failed the second and third with our pocket canon digital happy-snap and summer flip-flops) so Mr Tabubil took me away from there, and fed me Heering  (Holland’s Very Traditional and Very Famous Salt Herring) at a street stall. 

The mighty Heering.

You eat Heering with spoons of chopped onion and pickles.  The fish itself is very unappealing - fatty and pink and glistening with grease, rather like it has been rubbed all over with lanolin. But the chopped onion is a weirdly pleasing accompaniment (in all fairness, relative to that herring, ANYTHING is going to taste like roses and sunshine) and the pickles are sweet and tangy and while I didn’t enjoy it at all going down, the combination was surprisingly more-ish, and five minutes later i wanted another one.

But i restrained myself and we went and found more French fries instead.

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