Since I have only a 15-minute free ride on my hotel's computer, I'm reduced to telling you the 10 most remarkable things about Amsterdam.
- The people are tall and, generally, beautiful. Although you can see some warty, beaky faces of the sort seen in Rembrandt portraits, generally, as Danny Miller remarked to me, the women all look like Julie Christie -- only about 6 feet 2 inches tall.
- The museums are not just pompous passageways to the past -- they're more often than not living remnants of the remarkable people whose work caused the museum to come into existence to begin with. Anne Frank's house now has a very moving museum attached to it, but most moving, of course, is the bare spaces, bereft of furniture but otherwise left as they were, that Anne and seven others occupied during the years of hiding from the Nazis. No less remarkable is Rembrandt's former house and stuidio, the Rijksmuseum, or the Van Gogh museum. Holland, a country the size of a potato, ran the world for a good century or more. With these museums, you can see why.
- Shabbat Services at the Portuguese Synagogue. Gentlemen in top-hats ran the services in the giant, cavernous space, occupied at the East end by one of the largest arks I'd ever seen. These men noted that it was called "Portuguese" but it was mainly Spanish -- however, the Dutch were continually at war with the Spanish, so they called themselves Portuguese, and noone noticed the difference.
- The Red Light District. The women -- some old enough to be my mother, some younger than my daughters -- are framed in red neon light in their little tiled booths. The crowds come by and gawk, and, you have to presume, occasionally do more than that. There's something wonderfully open-market about it.
- The hegemony of the bicycle. Amsterdam has been remade for cyclists. Kids ride in their parents' bikes, sans helmets, in little baskets or bins, in the front or back. Boyfriends ride side-saddle on the back of their girlfriends' bikes. There are bikeways next to every road, and parking garages full of -- bikes!
- No one is fat. See #5 above.
- Everyone smokes. Every restaurant allows smoking. There's smoke everywhere.
- And not just from cigarettes (and no, we didn't partake. I'm not interested, the One True Wife is asthmatic).
- It rained every single day. And the Sun came out every single day.
- We heard at least 20 different languages spoken on the streets. We spent much of our time simply watching and listening to the astonishing, thundering herd of humanity. It's been unforgettable.
More, eventually, from Israel.