(Yes, I know that the past tense of "to grind" should be "ground," but I'm talking about a sexualized dance move, not mince meat, and in the former's context, "ground" or even "grounded" sounds odd to describe the latter.)
As a long-running-but-totally-serious joke here on Two Beans or Not Two Beans, those in the know are aware that I am on the Internet known as the appointed Minister of Transport for Holland. My fellow blogging pal extraordinaire from Invading Holland, King Stu, has since decreed himself as the King of Holland and thus felt the need to offer me the position of Minister of Transport.
Nota Bene: It should be mentioned that I use "Holland" here as a synonym for the Netherlands and am not solely referring the two North and South provinces, folks.
Back in April, the Dutch were going to experience a special day. A very special day, indeed. King's Day!
It being the first King's Day in since...forever...I wanted to look my Minister of Transport best. I put on a layer of red glitter on my eyebrows, painted my eyelids in white and blue, proudly sported my "I See Dutch People" t-shirt and wrapped an orange scarf (every French person wears a scarf; it's against the law not to) around my neck.
|The "I See Dutch People" t-shirt is available here.|
I was ready to celebrate King Stu's first Koningsdag.
However, after I took the train to Amsterdam Centraal and prepared myself for a day of rambling about the city, (as the public transports would not run in the city for pedestrian safety), I noticed that there had been a mix up. The King in question wasn't Stu if not some guy named Willem-Alexander!
|Even the M&M's were in on it! What more proof do you need?|
I huffed and, in need of a drink, headed down Prins Henrikkadestraat to try to find the Brouwerij 'T IJ bar.
On my way, I saw stalls of vendors selling cheap beer
Doors decorated for the occasion
Party goers all clad in orange
People who clearly didn't speak Dutch
|"Ik spreek geen nederlands, bro."|
And the single most pimpin' boat I have ever seen.
|'Tis most pimpin', indeed.|
|Sail on, good sir.|
But I soon realized after a 45 minute walk that it was probably too far to get to the bar on foot, and I still had a full day ahead of me.
My next goal was to take a relaxing stroll around Vondelpark to see the free markets. Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by the color orange, in all shades and styles. I saw children performing in the streets for money, the most clever one being a sibling team in which one banged discordant notes on a keyboard while the other younger sibling, dressed head to toe in a stifling monkey costume, danced under the hot sun. I felt simultaneously amused and sorry for the kids.
Some children, however, displayed great musical talent.
So much that it made me wonder how worthless my life as an artist actually is.
Pushing through the vast orange cowboy hat-wearing crowds,
|Dam Square became a fairground|
|Spot the Dutch person wearing an orange cowboy hat|
And occasionally catching a glimpse of Willem-Alexander,
I kept envisioning Vondelpark in my head and how I would be able to take a break from the masses swarming around the city.
Once I got there, I soon realized that I wasn't the only one who had had the same idea.
|Walking around the gardens, I spotted a single orange rose in bloom.|
|Tulips around the Vondel statue|
|This was the first time that I had ever seen Forget-me-nots in real life.|
After a few hours, I got hungry and wanted to munch on that special treat that I could only get in the Netherlands: bitterballen. The last time I had some was back on January first. Four months is a long time to be deprived of bitterballen.
I walked out of the park. I saw more inebriated people sailing boats groaning from over-capacity,
As well as not one...
...But TWO imperial lions!
|"Y'all can't handle my regalia."|
I knew exactly where I wanted to go to eat my bitterballen, but the problem was that the entrance to street where the brown café was located was inconveniently near Leidseplein...right at the very corner where the flashy Bulldog Coffee Shop was bound to have an immobile mass of tourists buzzing about it and streets littered with broken glass bottles and piles of rubbish.
I wasn't wrong.
Fighting my desire to punch, elbow, bite, and claw people out of my way, I snaked through the static crowd and, after two minutes that seemed to last an eternity, reached the street.
Thankfully, the brown café in question was an oasis of tranquility from the chaotic atmosphere. I offered myself a moment's respite and nursed a Belgian beer with a half dozen of piping hot bitterballen.
In my bubble of delicious treats, I felt that all was right with the world, at least for an hour. I then set myself the goal of trying to get to the Anne Frank House down Prisengracht. In retrospect, I realize now that it was a dumb move on my part as it was bound to be impossible to get into it on King's Day.
I weaved and swerved down the long street, passing little groups of drunk Dutchies dancing, beers and cigarettes a constant presence in their hands. Despite the rowdiness of the atmosphere, it genuinely made me happy to see them having the time of their lives. I'm a people watcher, after all.
It seemed that all would be going to plan for me to get to the Anne Frank House when I bumped into one of those drunk Dutchman.
He staggered, looked down at me, blinked a couple of times, smiled and placed a free hand on my shoulder, thereby stopping me in my tracks. He then slurred something in Dutch, to which I nervously said "Ik spreek geen nederlands." In a heartbeat, he effortlessly switched to English.
Damn it! How did they know this?
"Yes, I am."
"Ahh! Where are you from?"
How unfortunate for me that Miami carries with it the image of being a party city when I am the complete opposite of a party girl.
That isn't to say that I don't like a good party, but being absolutely plastered while having loud music pound into your eardrums and enough flashing lights to cause epileptic seizures isn't my idea of "fun." I'd say there are two types of people in Miami: those who enjoy the party scene with its nightclubs, and those who want to get out of the city to see something else of the world.
(Guess which one I am.)
Upon hearing that I hailed from the most well-known city in South Florida, the Dutchman cheered loudly and proceeded to give me an odd Dutch greeting of pivoting his gyrating crotch towards my rear.
To further understand how odd this move must have looked to the random spectator, it is important to remember that at 5'4"/163 cm, I am indeed quite a short person in the Netherlands, and the Dutchman in question easily surpassed the Dutch height average of 6'1"/183,5 cm.
In order for his lower abdomen to have reached my rear, he essentially had to bend his knees to a level in which crouching clearly looked strenuous and painful to him. If we had been dog breeds, it would have looked like a Great Dane were trying to hump a really stout, short-legged Chihuahua. I stood frozen on the spot, too confused to even react to what he was doing.
Let's get one thing straight: the fact that I am from Miami does NOT automatically mean that I want to be grinded on, all right?
After he realized that his grinding was in no way turning me on, he stopped his backward and forward motion, stumbled a few steps and asked if I wanted to join him and his friends to party.
"Maybe...," I diplomatically responded.
"'Maybe?' 'Maybe' is not a good answer!"
"Well, that depends. Where are you guys planning to go party?"
He spread his long arms in the air, clutching a sloshing beer in one hand, and said "the party is here, there, everywhere! It's all over the place!" I think he was referring to the entire city centre. My gut said to get out of there, but then my adventurous side said "why the heck not?" His liquid courage was infectious and I decided to tag along with his group, which consisted of another guy and one couple snogging each other.
As the group and I travelled down Prisengracht, our nucleus of party revelers increased by three other people: three Dutch ladies who never once said a word to me. One of the girls began to chat up the Grinding Don Juan and the other two began to discuss something to each other. I could tell from their body language, from the way their darting eyes looked at me up and down to the giggling that they were talking about me. All of this happened in Dutch, therefore I had no idea what they were saying about me. I did catch the word "wallflower" at one point.
After a few minutes, the Dutch nucleus made a tight circle which, in their language, made me feel excluded. I didn't even know how to assert myself in their conversations by speaking in English. How odd it was in that moment, amid literally thousands of people, to have felt quite lonely.
As I began to regret my decision of having stuck around the group, "our" nucleus increased by another couple. They approached me and began to ask me questions.
What's your name? "Barbara."
Ah, Barbara. "What are yours?" She said her name was Annette. As for the man:
"Ah, no, you wouldn't be able to pronounce it," he stated, shaking his head. I retorted that I was always up for a challenge. "It's Joost." I repeated it perfectly and his jaw hung open. "Okay, you said it correctly."
Did I know what King's Day was? "Yes, it's King Willem-Alexander's birthday. Prior to that, it was Queen's Day to celebrate Queen Beatrix, although, technically, April 30th was Queen Juliana's birthday."
Joost's attention diverted to the two giggling girls. Did I know the two giggling girls from the group? Were they my friends? "No, I don't know them at all. I've only just met them, actually."
"Ah, well, they are saying really mean things about you in Dutch. Not nice at all. I thought you should know that."
So I had figured, but it was nice to at least have my suspicions confirmed. If anything, their behavior was a clear reflection on their poor character. Rather than getting to know me as a person, they had preferred to pass judgment whilst talking about me behind my back in a language I neither understand nor speak.
I wasn't going to let those two girls ruin my day. In those occasions, it's better to ignore the petty things and let them slide, like water off a duck's back.
Also: not that I'm spiteful, but I did make a mental note to have their bicycles' wheels be clamped and their OV-Chipkaarts revoked as soon as possible.
|That'll teach 'em to mess with the Minister of Transport.|
I diverted from my revenge fantasy and went back to my budding conversation with the couple.
Was I here with anyone else? "No, I came here by myself."
What? Why would you be doing here, in Amsterdam, by yourself? "Well, why not? I'm a pretty independent person."
What did I think of King's Day, their biggest holiday? I quite liked it, I said.
Really? They didn't have the impression that I was wholly enjoying myself. I insisted that I was, in my own way. (Perhaps I just wasn't overjoyed over having felt cast to the side by the others, but, oh well.)
The man said that I looked a bit "blue." I asked him to explain what he meant by "blue," because to me, it is a synonym for "sad" or "depressed."
He struggled to find the right words for the context and mentioned that it looked like I was there, enjoying the moment, but still hesitant to be present, as if I was keeping my distance.
I think he meant I was being "reserved," which fits quite well with my nature in surroundings that I don't know. However, if someone proves themselves to be friendly, I open up easily, which was certainly the case with the engaging couple.
"This isn't my first time in the Netherlands, either. It's my second time coming here."
"Ah. By the Netherlands, do you mean Amsterdam?"
"Well, yes, I have visited Amsterdam, obviously, but I have been to a couple of other places."
"Rotterdam and Heerenveen."
They stared at me. I might has well had just declared myself as an extraterrestrial visitor from another galaxy and sought to be taken to their leader.
"You went to Heerenveen? I'm originally from Friesland!" Joost said. "What were you doing in Heerenveen?"
"I went to see some friends there."
"Ah! That makes more sense. Nobody goes to Heerenveen for the sight-seeing."
"Well, I did do some sight-seeing there. I even the saw the windmill. I also know the city is famous for speed skating."
At which point their jaws dropped in incredulous joy. Joost, in serendipitous disbelief, said that I was the first American he had ever met who knew about the speed skating. Then he proclaimed to be a speed skater himself.
"Are you really?!" I squealed, thinking about the likes of Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen, Jorrit Bergsma and Koen Verweij.
"Yes, of course! I am Dutch! We are all speed skaters!" I bit back my words to state that I thought he was talking about professional skating.
"Do you like skating?" Annette asked.
"Well, I do like to watch the execution and the skill involved in the sport, but, regrettably, I don't know how to skate."
"Oh. Well, you can always learn how to ice skate."
I shook my head. "No, I mean, I don't know how to skate."
"If you know how to inline skate, on wheels, it's really easy!"
I chuckled and reiterated more explicitly. "I don't know how to skate. At all. Neither on blades nor on wheels. I never learned how..."
"Ah. Well, that'll be your next goal in the Netherlands! To ice skate!" she said cheerfully.
Just when I was beginning to enjoy the conversation and was getting ready to ask them some questions myself, they announced that they had to go. Before I could lament their departure, they left me with a parting gift.
"You look very oranje today, but hold on. You are missing something!"
Joost reached into his backpack and pulled out a pair of orange sunglasses. "I want you to have these!"
I declined at first but he insisted that I have them. "I want you to have these, because that is how we are!"
I was very touched by their kind gesture and thanked them for it. Annette then bequeathed the sunglasses on my head, as if they were a tiara. It was then that I truly felt welcomed by the uniting spirit of King's Day and I will never forget their kind gesture.
I walked around the city proudly wearing my oranje sunglasses tiara and watched the fleet of boats pass by on the canal.
I got distracted by some poffertjes and never made it to the Anne Frank House. I wasn't too worried, though, because King's Day had only been the first day of what would be my week in the Netherlands...
Barb the French Bean