Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Netherlands

On the train from Hoek van Holland to Amsterdam I got my first impressions of the Netherlands: narrow roads, green fields, rabbits, horses, sheep, cows, chicken, and lots of graffiti. As I started hearing more Dutch, I had the strangest feeling I was hearing British English. Some Dutch has really similar vowels and prosody to British English, but once you listen to the words you realize it's foreign. This is especially strange considering in London I kept thinking I was hearing a foreign language whenever someone spoke with a thick British accent.

Eventually we got off at Amsterdam Centraal. Amsterdam is a very strange city. It's beautiful in that it has a lot of older architecture and narrow alleyways, but it has a strange spirit. And I don't think it's the smoke coming from the "coffeeshops". As I found out later, there's a thriving underground art and music scene there, but the only signs you see on the surface are bits of interesting design here and there and some wonderful graffiti. Most of what is immediately visible caters very heavily to tourists.

In the late afternoon I found a bed at a Christian Hostel ironically located in the middle of the red light district. The first time I walked past all the scantily clad women with blacklit auras it seemed outrageous. Later I realized it's a lot like going to the beach in California. Kind of.

It's interesting to see what happens when a city decides to legalize prostitution and ignore all the marijuana. Most of the city is like most every other city. The red light district is weird, but that's fairly confined. There are a lot of people in the US fighting for different "liberties", and especially the legalization of marijuana. If the main side effects are just more hippies and laid back people, that's great. Everyone working on the "war on drugs" could focus on real drugs, and some sketchy groups of people would dissolve as their trade is usurped by standardized products.

The next morning a few things were vying for my attention: it had been a week so it was time to do my laundry, I wanted to see my friend Koen Mostert a little South of Amsterdam in Delft, and then there is the Van Gogh museum in Southern Amsterdam. And of course, I was still considering the possibility of staying another day or leaving immediately for some other city. While mulling over my options in the hostel hallway I ran into three girls who noticed my laptop and were trying to transfer photos from their cameras to iPods. We all ended up going to the Van Gogh museum together and I caught the train to Delft in the late afternoon. They were going North and I South, but we'll both be in Rome at the end of this month so I'm sure we'll meet again.

I met people on the train to Delft, as always:

  • A mother, originally from Finland, who does customer service for Adobe in the Netherlands. We talked about the variations in different countries and languages. She says I'll like Copenahgen, and that I have to see Helsinki some day.
  • An older guy from Haarlem who works for the telephone company in Amsterdam. Again, langauge is an easy target: I asked about the differences between Southern and Northern Dutch — and he smiled and told me how Northern Dutch sounds "ugly".

In Delft, Koen met me with a wonderful sign with pen and cardboard, reading only "Kyle" but in a great serif face he did by hand. We walked around Delft a bit before it started raining too hard to walk anymore. Pretty much immediately we started talking typography and generative art — it's nice to talk with someone you've never met face to face and still "know" them. Over breakfast the next day he told me about some of the posters hanging in his kitchen (he shares the house with a bunch of other people from his school). One advertised a "silent disco", which sounded amazing.

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