Quick, what do you think of when you hear the word "Holland?"
Is it windmills? Tulips? Assisted suicides? Chocolate, wooden shoes, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates? Pesky Dutch bishops always stirring up trouble?
For me one image will always come to mind: chewing gum. Not for sale in packets, no. Chewed-up wads of gum dotting the sidewalks like a case of the hives.
The sidewalks of Amsterdam are a veritable minefield of gum wads. This is particularly disgraceful given that the sidewalks I walked on would have been beautiful otherwise. They were made of paver stones, you know, the fake brick you want to redo your walkway with some day. Neat, quaint, octagonal I think. And a disgusting mess of gooey stuff spat out of countless Dutch pieholes.
I have been in Amsterdam twice in my life, both times by accident. The first time I was on my way home form Rome, and we got rerouted through Schipol. I didn't do much touring that time, just hung around the hotel, hiding the in- house magazines boasting about how hygienic the Dutch sex trade is. Ick, I said to myself. Amsterdam? Ick.
The second time was three weeks ago, on our way to Israel.
We were supposed to fly from Minneapolis to JFK, then JFK to Tel Aviv. But somehow we got word that we were bumped from the JFK flight. But as I mentioned yesterday we were traveling with a b'nai mitzvah party, and if there is one thing this Long Island girl knows, it's that nothing can stop a mom with a bar mitzvah on her hands. Within ten minutes she got us all on a flight to Amsterdam with a connection to Tel Aviv.
"This is perfect," she said. "We'll take a tour of the Anne Frank house. It'll put us in the mood."
So, once again we flew in to Schipol.
December 22nd, a lovely soft rainy day. Christmas lights reflecting on the canals. Barges full of flowers floating on the glassy canals. The scent of hashish hanging in the air. Ah, Amsterdam.
And gumwads. Honestly I couldn't get over the gumwads. I grew up in New York. We learned all about when it was New Amsterdam and the Dutch ruled the joint, and why we called out front porches "stoops." "The Dutch settlers were very clean," Sister Mary Mel told us in first grade. "They called Saturday 'schoonmadaag.' It means cleaning day."
If Amsterdam is any indication, let's just say the Dutch have come a long way from the days of Peg-Leg Stuyvesant.