Saturday, October 31, 2009

the Monroes / Pony Pack

caught the Brand at Bitterzoet series on Thursday night, a semi-regular showcase of Dutch indie bands that i really enjoy. this week it was the Monroes CD release party, with Amsterdam band Pony Pack opening for them, both off the tocado record label.

both of them were quite entertaining, but i especially liked the opening band, which had a satisfying Bikini Kill-esque riot grrrl aesthetic to them. they were energetic, tight, and made me wish i could write pumped up punk songs like that. the drummer packed a surprising amount of power, given her small frames.

(she even looks like kathleen hanna, swoon)

i first got into the Monroes solely because i really liked the frontwoman's guitar. their recordings sound fantastic, but their live performances had a bit of a shaky start, and some problems with the soundboard, although eventually they were bouncing their catchy surf pop sounds with much more ease and convincing everyone on the dance floor - including somebody's parents? - to dance their feet off. which was pretty impressive, given the fact that nobody was dancing to Pony Pack, despite their awesome high energy performance, although to be fair, nobody dances to the opening act. i am beginning to get the feeling that people don't really dance at the dutch punk shows here? maybe it's because most of the venues here serve as concert halls only until 11PM, when everything is converted to a night club, so everyone's saving their dancing feet for later. or maybe swaying is dancing here. i mean, given the fact that i was nearly beaten to a pulp in a mosh pit in Seattle, this might be a safe if not welcome change for me...

The Monroes

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

tourist in my own city

sorry i haven't written in a while. my friends Hayley and Gabe visited from their home in London for part of the week, so i've been doing all sorts of tourist sightseeing in the city i live in, and trying all sorts of "dutch" things:

-hutspot - which, as potatoes and carrots and sausages, seems like perfect comfort food
-pea soup, with that odd cold soft bacon served on a real rye bread
-MORE PANCAKES (the Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht is now a new source of happiness)
-krokets, of course
-Hayley and Gabe were brave enough to try Febo
-helping drunk passed out tourists lying on the ground (this is a common Dutch custom)
-janever - dutch gin. i hate gin of any culture, really, so i can't say i loved it, but at least it didn't have a strong nasty tast
-Indonesian food. since Indonesia was a former Dutch colony, Holland does Indonesian food quite well, kind of like the way the English can make a pretty good butter chicken. We went for the full menu at Puri Mas and was so satisfied with what we got, i can't wait to go back there and tackle the spicy beef again.

we also went on a super touristy boat ride along the canals, a tour that included all you can eat cheese (awesome), all you can drink wine (romantic), and a walk through the red light district (bizarre, as can be expected). we finally got a good close-up of the houseboats on the canal. i really want a house boat now.

while Hayley and Gabe saw the Van Gogh Museum. rob and i biked around Vondelpark, which was simply breathtaking, especially on a rare sunny day today. we could enjoy the warm but crisp air and the autumn leaves and the dutch children screaming like banshees with rabies. Amsterdam is not very green or naturey - mainly you hang out in the City Centre to see the impressive manmade canals, the cobblestone streets, the inexerienced stoned tourists blindly stumbling into the bike paths. so having giant greenspace like Vondelpark full of trees and lakes is quite refreshing to someone who spent the summer on West Coast beaches , even if Amsterdam parks are rather manmade and immaculately manicured.

i also had the pleasure of exploring the Jordaan this week. i am so in love with this neighbourhood. i want nothing more than to become a yuppie and move into one of those beautiful, high ceiling, spiral staircase, trendily decorated, 300 euro per month apartments. i have not felt such strong feelings of adoration and longing since i disovered Queen Street West in Toronto - and now i have $1000+ ward robe and credit card ebt. seeing how i had to be steered away from a $150 Euro sweater yesterday, the Jordaan may be bad news for my wallet. but it is such a cosy neighbourhood, far away from the tourist traps, where real dutch people go about their normal lives, meeting friends at cafes, shopping at the cute boutique shops, catching a local band performing at the record store. and boy are there some great record stores in the i'm going to have to find some way to bring back all the CDs i keep buying. oh well, at least i've resisted the urge to update my vinyl collection, although i've discovered this great soul/funk/blues store that makes vinyl pretty tempting...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

my cultural, if not legal, education in Holland

well, this weekend was culturally and musically educational, if not, you know, academically productive.

i had a take home exam over the weekend, but instead, allowed myself to be persuaded by my friends to go to an all night dance party that i didn't know anything about, hosted by some deejays i'd never heard of, in a location that i still can't quite remember. it turns out that it was part of the massive week-long citywide Amsterdam Dance Event. this is a huge electronic music festival, featuring all sorts of big names like Armin Van Buuren and Fat Boy Slim and all sorts of other folks i've never heard of, mainly because all my beats-driven electronic music is as Canadian as maple syrup (Kid Koala! Woodhands! MSTRKRFT! Crystal Castles! Holy F---!).

the night was featuring homegrown Dutch deejays, and the club Panama was huge but packed - it was pretty fun to party with the europeans, because we all know europeans love their techno house trance stuff (which has made me appreciate hiphop on whole new levels since i moved to Holland). but i still maintain that i will never understand how europeans love this kind of music so much without being on drugs. we love this kind of music in North America too, but in the context of raves, where nobody would think about attempting an all-nighter without the help of E and eight dollar bottles of water (also, being permanently stuck in the 1990s). because europeans don't seem to do as much drugs as the tourists do, and yet i think that psychedelic drugs are the only way that you can suspend disbelief long enough to not think about the fact that you are listening to the same synthetic riff over and over again for five hours. i say this with love.

despite only leaving the club around 4AM, and still having three questions on my take-home exam to answer, i decided it would be worthwhile to check out this dutch indie pop band i've been following lately, the Madd, who were doing an in-store acoustic performance today at this record store called Phantasio in the beautiful Jordaan area. quite a change from last night's music; these guys are a catchy band that has studied well their influences (the Beatles, etc.). plus their organ player was playing a melodica, so they totally won me over, especially with their cute Dutch accents.

i like this band particularly because they sing some of their songs in French (including "Ce Soir Je Vais Boire" - probably an anthem for exchange students everywhere). i've already expressed how impressed i am at the Dutch ability to compose songs in a second language; so having songs in a third language is all the more neat. plus there's something awesome about hearing French with a Dutch accent.

afterwards, i went to the beautiful public library, where a guy was tinkering away at the public piano. usually folks are playing some crappy Vanessa Carleton or schmultzy lounge jazz - or, in my case when i'm playing it, the same old Leonard Cohen song that i feel inexplicably compelled to play over and over again in my strange bouts of nostalgic patriotic homesickness. but this guy was playing a bewitching composition that was reminiscent of Steve Reich; followed by a faster paced Thelonious Monk-inspired jazz piece; and finally concluding with a honky-tonk blues interpretation of Aretha Franklin's Say a Little Prayer. needless to say, this random guy totally won my heart too. it made my wait for the elevator much more much that i missed my elevator twice.

okay, back to studying i guess. studying law is nowhere near as fun as studying physiotherapy, which is what my floormates do. when i walked into the communal kitchen today, i saw that they had pushed aside all the furniture, and this boy in his shorts was lying spread eagle on the kitchen table, while girls were gathered around him, poking and prodding him in various places while consulting their textbook. i wonder if i should tell them i have whiplash...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

you could feel the blood in yoru veins looking for a warmer palce

i've been living at the library for the last week (welcome to exam hell) so i don't have a lot to report. except, of course, my trip to the hospital a few days ago, after i inexplicably fell and hit my head in a public bathroom. for the record, this is the second time that, when i passed out, i had visions of an infinite white arctic landscape while Maybe Smith sang to me to stop waddling around like a penguin. i'm so artsy that even my brief experiences of the afterlife/unconscious are accompanied by a soundtrack.

there's a certain hour in Amsterdam where all its Dutch hospitals are filled with tourists who've gotten into stupid accidents like me - some kid that's separated his shoulder in a bar fight, some guy that's scraped his face in a bike accident. makes for good company. didn't think i'd be spending my time in Holland exploring their hospitals and library, but then, i didn't sign up to be a tourist right?

took another trip to the grocery store today. there are two words i absolutely do not know in Dutch: Drano and loofah.

Monday, October 19, 2009

sinead minus meg

sinead came to visit me in amsterdam this weekend. as you may have gathered from other sources, it was quite the eventful weekend. if only megh could have come too, as this video set to the fine music of Los Campesinos will attest to.

featuring the one and only megh, Canada's Next Great Prime Minister contestant, freelance journalist, that darling face in those movies about Ottawa, and also that really cute bartender at Mike's place that you probably hit on Friday nights.

Friday, October 16, 2009

dutch speakeasies

apologies for the exam-induced time lag.

Wednesday night. after being pushed out of the bar at the containers at the ridiculously early last call of 1AM, we found ourselves drinking at the Doos, a dimly-lit little speakeasy tucked behind an unmarked bar in the side of a building on Weesperstraat. the idea of an underground unlicensed bar in a country where prostitution and marijuana is legalized and pretty much anything goes so long as you pay your taxes and treat your workers's somewhat mind-boggling. i think the thrill of being in an illegal place where you can do anything you want is somewhat dullened in Holland. still, it's a nice place to hang out in the cloudy smoke for the night, tapping your fingers to american-imported blues, nurse your one euro beer, and have a drunk Dutch boy fall asleep beside you on the grimy couch.

the bar was going to shut down forever after this night. apparently somebody had alerted the authorities about the place and so they were shutting it down. i pictured a more exciting scene maybe from a 1920s Hollywood film, where the feds swarm in with their batons and whistles and the ladies struggle to find those awesome hats they wear and the hot jazz band scrambles off the stage with their battered instrument cases. maybe the bar manager flicks a switch and all of a sudden the entire place is converted into a harmless-looking pet shop. but no such drama here; just a bureaucratic warning, dutch-style, and the only scrambling involved trying to figure out where to stash the sound equipment after the doors locked up. so we drank to the Doos, using three joker cards as coasters (we explained to the Italian that Canadian poker uses three jokers which trump all). i'm going to be sad to see the place go, i guess, even though it's not in my area at all. who knows; maybe once the man has moved on, the bartender will flick that switch and the Doos will be back up and running again sometime?

i think the word for pages in dutch may be Pagina. i think.

in the wisdom of pulp fiction

sometimes travelling is just about going to the McDonald's in every country just to see if they have a bacon cheeseburger.

(i suspect Israel will not)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

reflections on the european toilet

Simone DeBeauvoir dedicates at least a chapter of her famous feminist piece Le Deuxieme Sexe to the theory that women derive their sense of inferiority to men due to the deeply rooted resentment at the male ability to urinate while standing. or maybe i'm making this up. at any rate, the quote "No teapot without a spout felt so forlorn" is a phrase that constantly reverberates in my mind.

i thought perhaps this age-old resentment might finally be resolved with the introduction of the female urinal - which exists at my school, as i've discovered on one of my trips to the school cafeteria bathrooms. no, i did not accidentally walk into the men's room. yes, i decided today to give it a try. no, it did not revolutionize my world. it was surprisingly unremarkable. what's the big deal? what is so different about female urinals that they don't require locks (stockings still go down, right?)? what's the point when you still need to use T.P.? what do the other Dutch girls think when they swing into the bathroom and find the female urinals actually in use ("oh, those nature-loving Canadians...")? and how come the Universiteit of Amsterdam decided to modernize their bathrooms when the lecture halls still don't have enough electrical outlets?

i have much to say about the ways European toilets perplex me, but i fear they are not proper things for a lady to publicly comment on. let me just say that in the conflict between conserving water in order to save the environment, and having enough water in your toilet bowl to feel properly comfortable and civilized, i would shoot a seal* and opt for the latter.

*with a camera! with a camera! put that megaphone down, Greenpeace...

Monday, October 12, 2009

happy (Canadian) thanksgiving, expats

yesterday, me and my fellow canadian expats decided that even though we are many time zones away from our mothers, there was no reason why we couldn't have our own Canadian Thanksgiving dinner in Europe.

well, actually, as i discoverd at my beloved Albert Heijn grocery store, there were a few reasons that we couldn't. most importantly: lack of turkey. apparently, turkeys are not native to Europe. i should have figured this out before from various hints (ie, the Pilgrims came to America and ate turkey there, or, the French word for turkey is "from India"). but i figured that in today's age of globalization, this would no longer be an issue. apparently not. i can get kimchi in holland, but good old Al Heijn doesn't even carry turkey cold cuts.

nor are was there cranberry sauce available. it took many minutes of painstaking translation to discover this ("no, not cherries, cranberries! you know, the juice you drink for urinary infections? hmmm...i don't know how to say urinary infection in dutch..."). this surprised me; it's not like cranberry sauce is all that exotic. but now that i think of it, i don't know what we North Americans use for cranberry sauce other than for Thanksgiving dinner. i briefly considered a disgusting but creative alternative (pitted cherries in cranberry juice?) but realized that nothing can replace the tarty deliciousness of cranberry sauce.

we learned to make do without. instead of having turkey, we invited Theresa over for dinner. and used chicken breasts. and for whatever we lacked in cranberry sauce, we made up for with an excess of stuffing, gravy, and wine, and amsterdam cakes to help us consume all the feast food. and some Canadian music in the background. my Neil Young, Rush, and Men Without Hats vinyls were all left back in Ottawa, but i did have some Tegan and Sara, Broken Social Scene, Kid Koala, Grady, and Kathleen Edwards to provide an appropriately patriotic background.

and in the end, isn't that what thanksgiving is about? not necessarily the turkey or the cranberry sauce, but spending time with good Canadian company (plus a few American and Italian hanger-ons - Canadian wannabes), good wine, good conversations (about hockey), and good food that puts you to a happy, happy thankful sleep.*

rob the chef

a feast, prepared by a Cordon Bleu trained cook.

digging in

can't forget about dessert...

the food was so good, jeff ate the leftovers with a knife. i have an awful lot of photos of jeff eating.

*i unfortunately did not get to partake in any of this happy happy thankful sleep. due to poor academic decisions this week, i had to immediately write an assignment that was due twelve hours later, after my thanksgiving dinner, so i ended up having a tired grumpy sleep instead at 5AM. still, the few blissful hours i got to spent wining and dining with my Canadian boys made for a pleasant Canadian Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

moss CD release party, with special guests the Secret Love Parade

we went to go see a couple of dutch bands performing at Melkweg last night, which is one of the more popular arts venues in Amsterdam. It's an old dairy factory converted into an arts centre that houses music, theatre, dance, film, photography and media arts, tucked in the heart of liedesplein just past all the noisy bars and tourists.

the opening band was the Secret Love Parade, who i enjoy more and more every time i see them. i met Janna through the Amsterdam Songwriters Guild and i've been continuously impressed by the production quality of their record, which the girls recorded themselves in their jam space. they have a sort of female Postal Service sound with a cute Tegan and Sara look to them. but with much less angst.

Excelsior Recordings' Moss was the main act of the night, celebrating the release of their new album. they played a really tight show; it was immediately evident that this is a band that's got their pop licks down pat, because they definitely know how to pound out a catchy melody - once you get singles like "i like the chemistry" in your head, it's going to stay there for a few days. they put on a good rock show, as one of those rock bands that remind you of a handful of bands without sounding too much like any given one. the crowd really seemed to enjoy it, although there wasn't as much dancing as i would have expected for a show like this, not like the crazy dancers back in toronto. but given the fact that i had the crap kicked out of me in a mosh pit in Seattle, this might be a good thing for once.

it made for a pretty good night overall, a nice change from the usual clubs we've been going to lately. as a bonus, most of the concert venues here seem to hold their shows early so that afterwards they can convert the place into a nightclub for more dancing. i'm a big fan of this policy. maybe it's a sign i'm aging, but i'm not a big fan of bands that come on stage at midnight or 1AM. some of us have to work in the morning. not me, i sleep in till noon, but i'm sure some of us out there do.

i now have a paradiso membership and a melkweg membership.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

this kimchi is on fire

what an adventurous night.

1. WE FINALLY ATE KOREAN FOOD LAST NIGHT. olivia and i decided we couldn't bear our cravings any longer, so we googled what was probably the only Korean restaurant in all of Amsterdam. our minds were made; we were not going to let anything stop us. it was a ridiculously far trek, almost all the way out to amstelveen; but we did not let this stop us. we got seriously lost at least three times (THANK YOU AMSTERDAM AND YOUR RELUCTANCE TO POST CLEAR VISIBLE STREET SIGNS, OR ANY SIGNS AT ALL); but we did not let this stop us. it was unbelievably expensive, 18 euros for chajangmyun when in toronto it's usually about $5-7; but we did not let this stop us. Olivia's bike tire broke in the midst of the journey, leaving her stranded in a sketchy tunnel; but we did not let this stop us (she rode on the back of my bike). and i swear, when they brought out our banquet of banchan with bean sprouts and gamja and kimchi and kkakdugee and korean pancakes and mandu and bulgogi and ukejang and manduguk, our hearts and our minds and our tummies were happy. our wallets, not so much, but who cares about that. it was as authentic a restaurant as you were going to get in Holland, and we rode back downtown (olivia on my back again), the warm smell of kimchi on my breath, i felt a peace of mind that only a feast of kimchi tofu could bestow on a tired world traveler...

2. we went for drinks at a fancy bar in a beautiful theatre building in leidesplein. i've been here before and i absolutely adore its classy interior, wide open concept rooms, chandeliers, grand staircases, two euro Heineken beers....then the bar caught on fire and everyone had to evacuate.

3. ...but the police would not let me leave the building with my beer, so in answer to your question, yes, i did stand inside a building on fire so i could chug my beer.

4. almost simultaneously, the politie (dutch police), in a not-so-polite move, were giving a serious beat down on some guy getting arrested outside the building. being the tourist minded folks we are, we took pictures.

5. at some point in the night, jake whipped out a wolf mask and chugged a glass of beer. i have no idea where this mask came from. he then pulled out a bottle of wine from nowhere and proceeded to fill some Heineken beer glasses.

and the night just went on from there.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

my life in google street view!

so i know i'm totally behind the times, but i've been tinkering around with google maps tonight and think it's totally nifty that i no longer have to bring my camera around when i travel - i can just post google street view screen shots instead. i don't even have to travel. i can just post a google street view of a busy street in Croatia and tell you that i was there. it would certainly save me the money of flying.

i kid. but it is pretty neat to show you my daily life:

this is my neighbourhood, in middle Diemen. the sparring horses are not featured in this photo.

this is where i go to school. this is the nice end of the street. my school is in the red light district, and on the other end of this street are all the sex clubs and the hookers dancing in windows (makes for an interesting study break).

Cafe Sappho, where i try out my lyrical chops once a week and hang out with dutch men in a lesbian bar.

the containers, where we party on wednesday nights. this is where dutch boys go to try to pick up international girls. unfortunately for me, the pickup lines i get are along the lines of, "hey, are you chinese? i like chinese people!"

bring on the rain, mutha nature!

i think i need to announce that i rode the entire ten kilometres back to Diemen last night, on my bike, while holding up my umbrella in the rain. i also hissed at an old man who was in my way on the bike path. i am now truly dutch.

my photos of my trip to Sweden and my trip to Belgium are finally online. i know they were way overdue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

oh, diemen

i think i should also mention that my apartment overlooks the Dutch countryside...specifically a farm field where four black horses graze, day in and day out. i get my morning kicks by sitting at my window with my tea, watching them fight each other. horses can be pretty vicious when they're sparring.

the other definitive aspect of Diemen is the fact that every time i want to park my bike i have to kick away all the beer cans and shopping carts that are in my way.

Canada Day without the Canada

rob is here visiting me, so i've been teaching him important survival skills to distinguish himself from other tourists, such as the proper technique for glaring at pedestrians who get in your way on the bike baths. actually, rob is still (re)learning how to ride his bike, since it's been a good twenty years since he last rode one. it's totally amusing to watch.

on Saturday, we went to the nearby city of Leiden with some friends to check out the festivities that the city puts on every year to celebrate the end of the seige that the Spanish had imposed on the city, several centuries ago. yes, i do realize the irony of taking your Spanish friends to a festival celebrating the end of Spanish oppression, but we're all friends in the EU now, right?

the city had pretty much been converted into a giant party. we walked around downtown for the entire day, expecting to hit a quiet street at the fringe of the festivities, but the party seemed to stretch on forever. it was unbelievably crowded. everywhere there were deejays spinning electronic music and bands performing on makeshift stages, spontaneous dance floors, dozens of food stands offering traditional dutch fare like krokets, baked pastries, and hutspot. oh, and carnival rides! nobody would go on the rollercoaster rides with me.

feeling overwhelmed by the crowd, we ducked into an alley, only to find a dutch band playing a show there on a raised stage. we had a beer and resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to have to deal with a million elbows and knees pressed up against us all day. it was a pretty cool concert venue, actually.

by the time rob and i started back for the train station, the night street parties had kicked off as the young people turned up, and the streets became a vast sea of electronica beats, sweaty bodies and endless garbage. sort of like Canada Day in Ottawa, only with more techno. next time we'll have to stay longer.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


i learned my lesson about last minute flights. i have now booked my trips for:

rome (sort of).

and soon plan to confirm
zurich/st. gallen
select southern spanish cities
FREAKING MOROCCO. yes, i will make this happen.

and at some point, will study as well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

awkward i

i'm trying to be a good student, i really am. i've spent every day this week at the public library. the problem is that there are so many fun things to do here in amsterdam, that even being at the library is distracting. there are a bunch of good parties and shows on any given night INCLUDING THE ONES AT THE LIBRARY. last night when i was trying to study diligently, there was a reception going on at the library upstairs and about a hundred metres away there was a live performance going on with a girl playing on a beautiful guitar, recording for a TV show.

also, the library serves beer.

i know when not to fight fate, so after a few hours of studying i went to the awkward i CD release party at Paradiso, one of the cooler music venues in Amsterdam. i already liked awkward i's music from before, but i was not prepared for how enjoyable the live performance would be. it was a packed house and the stage was just as packed, with cello, violin, trombone, pedal steel, loads of guitars, drums, a vintage organ, and even an autoharp and A SAW.

i'm always amazed at the Dutch's talent for writing music in a language that is not their native tongue. you forget when you listen to the recordings, but when you go to the live shows and all the stage banter is in dutch (and everyone is laughing except you), you definitely remember.

afterwards i biked over to the party at the Containers and ran into Ioanna and Marie who were sitting on the shore watching the harbour. i joined them for a bit and we talked a bit about the universal language of music. Marie told me about how she traveled through Cuba without knowing a word of Spanish, and then one day she saw some musicians standing near a piano, and asked if she could jam with them...and ended up playing for hours, even though they didn't speak Danish and she didn't speak Spanish. i also found out that Ioanna used to play the accompanying music at the circus in Romania. i love these random characters and their random stories.