Last Day
A mother and daughter team riding along Leidse-Straat. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Departed Claridge’s for London Heathrow at 8:30 AM. Departed Heathrow via British Midlands to Amsterdam. Short flight; less than an hour and a half.

It was a day of walking walking walking. The airports are far-flung. It was a hike from BMI to the KLM area where we checked out bags early (our flight to New York was schedule to depart at at 19:25 — we’re in Europe), so we could go off to visit Amsterdam for a few hours, and then another hike to the lockers where we could store our carry-ons until flight time.
A view of London from the sitting room in our suite at Claridge's. 6:00 AM Tuesday morning.
Roman bids us farewell as we hop in our taxi headed for London Heathrow for our quick flight to Amsterdam, and eventually onto home sweet home.

I’d never been to Amsterdam. JH had, at least once. We took the train from the airport into the city — about a twenty minute ride through very clean neatlooking industrial sites and parks and, as we drew closer to the city, apartment buildings and parks. Holland is very neat, if you didn’t know. And flat. With lots and lots of canals, wide and narrow.

On first sight, the city was what I had expected, old and quaint with those narrow brick houses lining the canals — although far different from Maastricht from which we had departed just one week ago to go to Paris. Most of the streets are narrow, the roadways bricked or cobbled (I’m not sure what the proper term is) and the city fans out circuitously, every two or four blocks divided by the canals that encircle the city.

Like the rest of Europe we had visited (including London — which I know is not Europe), its architecture goes back centuries and a large majority of its buildings are no higher than four or five stories, maybe six at the most. With exceptions of course, including the 20th century skyscrapers that can be found on the outskirts of the central part of Amsterdam. Therefore there is a lot of sky and light and a calmer sense of location.

The Dutch seem to be very organized, and neat, but in no hurry. There seemed to be relatively few cars on the main boulevard leading away from the railroad station, but long narrow trains of blue and white streetcars instead. All rendering the city quieter.

Having little time to waste, after walking several blocks, we hailed a cab — a very comfortable and sumptuous black BMW with a very casually but smartly dressed and handsome Moroccan looking man who spoke English with a Dutch accent at the wheel. We asked him to take us to the area where the Van Gogh museum is, thinking that even if we couldn’t spend time there we’d find a comfortable place to have something good to eat.

Our walk from Centraal Station (above) down Damrak through the streets of Amsterdam.

He dropped us off on P.C. Hooftstraat, advising that there were several good restaurants nearby. As we walked along the narrow street of two story buildings with cars lining either curb and one lane for drivers, we passed many of the stores we’d seen on Bond Street, on the Avenue Montaigne and those on Fifth and Madison Avenues — Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Hermes, Tods, Montblanc, Cartier, Ermengildo Zegna, Armani, etc. Then at a small intersection we spotted what looked like a small, chic lunch place called Patou. We went in and found what we had been looking for. Soup and sandwich — but very elegantly prepared and presented.

After lunch, time was marching on and there was little left before we had to return to the airport, so we used it to walk back toward the station. The thoroughfares were very busy with pedestrians and bicyclists; but again everyone moving at a gentle pace including the streetcars whooshing by every few minutes. It was cold out, but sunny and it seemed as if many of the pedestrians were out for leisurely walks on this Tuesday afternoon, the first day of Spring.

Unlike New York, or London, or Paris, this world famous city seemed more like an extended village, stress-free, no hurry, organized and co-operative. Although the main boulevard leading to the station has one wide lane completely fenced off and is inhabited by several construction cranes along the way. Asked what was going on, we were told that a subway was being built; a subway that the citizens had not wanted, that they had voted against, but was nevertheless being built. It is supposed to be ready in 2012. it was originally supposed to be ready in 2011 but expenses had increased by millions and the date of opening had been pushed back. Why then, I asked, was it going forward. Because the politicians at city hall wanted it, was the answer I got. “And there’s money being made for somebody.”

So Amsterdam has to endure some of the same vagaries that afflict our lives and livelihood, thanks to some “duty-bound” politicians.

Looking north along Damrak
DPC helps out a pair of tourists with his photography skills
Walking down P.C. Hooftstraat which was lined with the most exclusive shops in Amsterdam
A sightseeing boat floats along one of the canals
Trekking through the streets of Amsterdam we came across HIRSCHPASSAGE Centrum (above), an ode to JH.
Notes that I forgot to include in the past week:

The beds at Claridge’s. The first time the late King Hassan of Morocco visited, he brought his own mattress. However, his back was bothering him so, he decided to try the hotel’s mattress So impressed with it, he bought thirty of them to take back home. Claridge’s mattress is a wonder: it looks old fashioned — thick, hard, and yet soft as feathers to sleep on. I’d buy one.

Walking tour of Paris.
When we visited the Karl Lagerfeld bookstore on the rue de Lille, we were told that JH couldn’t take pictures inside because that is Mr. Lagerfeld’s domain, being a part time photographer, himself. Also: Mr. Lagerfeld’s companion these days is the reed-thin Dior designer Hedi (sounds like Eddy) Slimane. Both gents are reed-thin (except for M. Lagerfeld’s recidivist potbelly and it is said Mr. Slimane dietary secret is strictly babyfood.

The last day we were in Paris there was an enormous protest of mainly university students about the changing employment laws the government is enacting. A million and a half people protested across the country and in Paris, there were riots which the papers were likening to the Riots of 1968 and fires in the streets. They want guaranteed jobs and to make it harder for an employer to fire a worker. Don’t we all. This riot however was so big and vocal as to fascinate and confound the citizens. And yet to us, over in the 8th arrondissement in one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, there wasn’t a word said about it, and very possibly there were few who were even aware of it, as if it didn’t exist.
The same in London: the first Saturday we were there, there was a huge anti-Iraqi War rally beginning at Trafalgar Square and extending up to Buckingham Palace. Yet in the streets of Mayfair, it was business as usual, raising the inevitable question: what is reality?

Paris: at Raul Suarez’ dinner party at Mathys, most of the guests were French, or Swiss. On my right was Betty Catroux whose husband Francois is one of the most successful interior designer in the world, and whose best friend is the legendary Yves St Laurent, for whom she was his muse. Coincidentally she looks a little like him. “I don’t know why men ever go with women,” she said to me at one point in the conversation, adding, “they’re so awful.” Although, on the other side of me was a well-known interior designer named Stephanie Choisoux and the two women are good friends and get along like a house-afire. So there are exceptions, like with everything else.

The scandal in London which is owning front page headlines of all the papers is about Prime Minister Tony Blair’s political slush fund created with huge “loans” or donations, and unbeknownst to most members of Blair’s Labour Party. Almost 20 million and no one seems too know where it went. Here today gone tomorrow. The press is expressing the widely held belief that Mr. Blair helped himself to it. Everywhere we went in London, no one had a good word for Mr. Blair. He is now considered a crook who lines his pockets. His days are numbered.



March 22, 2006, Volume VI, Number 49
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com

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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com