We’re sitting on the runway at Heathrow three and ½ hours after the plane was supposed to take off and I’m wondering how long it’s going to take me to recover from my “vacation.” After nearly two weeks of eating and drinking and partying with the parents of my daughter’s best friends in the wake of her graduation from University I’m ready for a break. I’m thinking longingly of a diet filled with celery, and lemon water; of nights with sleep attached to them; of my own pillow; of some personal space.
We’ve been traveling with our three adult-ish children, and travel with five people, strong personalities and even stronger opinions, while always exhilarating, becomes exhausting after so much togetherness. London was a whirl of cocktails and dinner parties, of sightseeing and ceremonies, and while we watched with pride as our daughter graduated with a 2.1 in her honors program from Istituto Marangoni in Fashion Design, we had “come out of the gate” so fast, that within two days of landing on British soil, I didn’t know which end was up.
True disorientation, however, came in the form of a 4-day side-trip to Amsterdam. The Dutch are not a fashionable people, so stepping off the plane from London into bustling Amsterdam was at first a bit like landing in Fresno from New York City…but Amsterdam has a mystical quality that you cannot find in the British capitol.
First of all, I cannot fathom a more thorough disruption to one’s circadian rhythms than sunrise at 4:30 am and sunset at 10:00 pm. The summer days are so long in Holland that our meals were often miss-cued – lunch at 3:00, dinner at 10:00? - and the intervening hours were filled with beer and chocolate and cheese. (Believe me -I’m not complaining – I’d fill all my intervening hours with those things back here in Sausalito if I could figure out a way to do it…)
The unmoored vibe is only heightened by Amsterdam’s labyrinthine system of concentric canals that give you the feeling the entire city is floating on water. Combine the canals with lengthy, unpronounceable street names rife with double oo’s, an endless supply of charming, teetering brick houses leaning together like so many bad teeth, a scary number of bicycles traveling silently at high speed, a red-light district full of sadly beautiful women behind glass… and you have a reality that plays out like Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka.
But this city is about the boats. Forget the sedentary floating homes, furry topped with vegetation that line every canal and are part of the permanent landscape of the city. I mean the boats for tours and transport and shirtless young fun that crisscross every canal with an atomic frenzy, Dutch flags flying…laughter…music…
Then at night Amsterdam is a vision in lights. Every surface – bridge, cafe, bicycle, and barge – is hung with fairy lights, and the effect of so many twinkling lights on so much sparkling water is dazzling. I am in the lighting business after all, and it’s hard not to notice that Amsterdam knows how to bring on the magic as the sun goes down.