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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Seductive Spring




Lovely Claire @ Rokerij on Elansgracht;
does she want a kiss or a tip?
Spring in bloom on my terrace
Spring is surely a woman, for she is flirtatious, seductive and capricious in A'dam. When I returned to my new hometown in March, she was flitting about, here one day, gone the next. This, of course, makes her more desirable when she comes around. Like Shakespeare's Hal, who tells his drunken pal Falstaff how he'll imitate the sun covered by "base contagious clouds" so people who miss its light will rejoice when it reappears, Nature creates desire through elusiveness:
...being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
—1 Henry IV, I.ii.173–195
Overlooking Prinsengracht
Touring with Brooke
Although this transitional season is neither here nor there, my boxes of clothes, books, recipes, docs and other California treasures were HERE when I returned to my apartment on Groenmarktkade, so I had lots to unpack before my daughter Brooke visited from Chicago. She brought a warm spell with her, inspiring Amsterdammers to shed mittens, scarves and jackets for the first time since last November.

On bright spring days, party boats float down the sparkling canals, people flock to sidewalk cafes and everyone smiles about the end of the long, cold winter. Dutchies love to complain about the weather, but for a few days in March, they had nothing to complain about. My new HTC Android phone (which offers Internet access via a portable WiFi hotspot), tells me today will be partly sunny with a high of 14⁰C/57⁰F, dipping to 44⁰ by dusk, around 21:00.


We still have blustery days when the wind whips my patio lanterns against the windows overlooking Nassaukade Canal and the old merchant

Po-Paul
houses seem to tilt a little further to one side or another with every blast. Those are perfect times to stay in for gezellig (cozy) moments with friends like my British pal Gareth or PoPaul from Montreal, who travels the world on a Greenpeace research vessel that docks serendipitously in A'dam.

Keukenhof near Lisse

Tulip season is now in full tilt, with gorgeous blooms spilling out of window boxes and flowers of all hues available for a few euros in shops around town. Although Brooke was early for the blooms, she vows to return to visit Keukenhof near Lisse, where seven million bulbs bloom in neon splendor each spring. For a native California who's never lived with seasons, it's magical to witness the reappearance of colors after months of gray.

Sightseeing via canal boat
On Brooke's visit, we packed in city and canal tours, a pasta soiree in my apartment and a traditional Dutch dinner with 5th floor neighbors Hank and Gary at kitschy Moeder's (Mother's) Cafe on Rozengracht. While Dutch cuisine is far less haute than that of many other cultures, this popular bistro turns slow-cooked comfort food, e.g. traditional stampot (potatoes mashed with carrots, kale or endive, usually served with a smoked sausage and dollop of rich gravy), into delectable fare. 

Victoria and Alfred Wharf
I'll be heading to South Africa on a Beyond Boundaries cycling press tour in May, right after Queensday 2011 (April 30, when A'dam goes berserk in a sea of orange*). South Africa is of special interest to me, not only because I've never visited, but also because it was settled by the Dutch. To solve a labor shortage, Cape Commander Jan van Riebeeck imported slaves from West Africa, Madagascar, India, Ceylon, Malaya and Indonesia in the 17th century, setting the stage for today's racial melting pot.

Gospel music tells stories about
South Africa's troubled past
Our adventure will immerse us in Cape Town's gospel music scene and impoverished townships, created as living areas for non-whites under the old political system of Apartheid, where much of the Mother City's population still lives. We'll visit the Victoria and Alfred Wharf and ride a cable car to cloud-shrouded Table Mountain.

Cape Point
In Table Mountain Nat'l Park, South Africa's floral bounty will welcome us to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where the original almond hedge boundary for the Dutch outpost still stands. At the Cape of Good Hope, we'll spy on elands and zebras, then snap photos at Africa's most southwesterly point. 

Jackass penguins at Boulders Beach
More photos will follow at Boulders Beach, home to the only penguin colony outside Antarctica. Of course, no visit to Cape Town is complete without a pilgrimage to Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island** or a trip to Constantia Valley Winelands, oldest of South Africa's wine-growing regions.

Savannah Game Preserve
In Johannesburg we'll peddle around the Vaal River to Parys Game Lodge, where we'll sleep in tents on the Savannah Game Preserve, hoping no cheetah or rhino eats us for breakfast. Berry-picking, Zulu dancing, a bonfire BBQ and visits to Jo'burg's Apartheid Museum and flea market will complete our cycling safari.

Savannah Game Preserve, home
of some 27 species
I'll be in Cape Town for several days prior to the press tour and in Jo'burg and environs for two weeks following, hoping to visit Kruger Nat'l Park and other must-see sights. I welcome itinerary suggestions from anyone familiar with South Africa.

I hope you all are enjoying spring as much as I am, wherever you are. Please stay in touch via email, Skype, Facebook and/or landline! 

*Although the Dutch flag is red, white and blue like the American and French flags, orange is the color of the Dutch Royal Family, which hails from Huis van Oranje-Nassau, The House of Orange.

**In 1961, South Africa's most notorious prison was established on Robben Island. Political prisoners of the anti-apartheid movement were kept here together with hardened criminals. The most prominent inmate was Nelson Mandela, who later became the first President of the new democratic South Africa. Here Mandela spent 27 years of his life in a tiny cell of 5 square metres. Today it i s a World Heritage Site, a poignant reminder to the newly democratic South Africa of the price paid for freedom.