Sunday, July 28, 2013

Travelogue 509 – July 28
We Marvel

The grizzly is poisoned by an unethical hunter. It will not survive. There must be consequences. Innocent men will die.

It's silly how much joy I get being out on the bicycle. Especially on a summer evening, while the sun is still up, and the shadows are getting long. Menna is riding on the bike of the bike, sitting gracefully on the luggage rack. The temperatures are perfect, cooled by a few rain fronts that have traveled through. At the moment, the skies are simple blue.

We have left for the movie early so we could do some lazy pedaling around town. We coast through the Museum Park, by the lawns, where friends are laughing together, past the rose garden. In the plaza where Menna practices riding her cycle, there is suddenly a fountain, jets of water in rows, rising from the surface of the plaza. I steer the cycle between them.

He only wants to be left alone. He is weary of life, plagued by nightmares, visited by the wife he himself killed. But they have come looking for him. That's how it is to be a Marvel hero. The wolverine is one of their most attractive entertainments, grouchy, morose, honorable. He has what moderns want, like Batman does, a shadow on his soul. They've tried with Superman, but it isn't working. They continue to project him further out into space.

The movie theater faces onto the Schouwburgplein, a spacious piazza central to the city, a favorite of teens, who set up boom boxes and break dance, who lounge on benches lining the sides of the square, who gather for impromptu music jams. They have skateboards. They turn tight circles on their compact little bicycles. The theater watches over them, a blank paternal presence, its monumental posters like eyes, but turning sight inward. See me in here, a hero. I am the Wolverine. I am breaking my bonds with a shout. I am wrathful. My claws are out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Travelogue 508 – July 18
Today the Sun Rises

'Could I borrow your Tyler?' he's asking me. 'Pardon?' “Do you think I could use your Tyler?' He's gesturing now with an open hand down by his groin area. “Sorry, I don't know what that is.' 'Are you taking the piss?' he asks, growling, stepping back and sizing me up.

He's a small guy, small and slender. He has a shaved head, and tobacco-shaded knobs for teeth. His eyes are wide and surrounded by the clammy and tired skin of someone who has enjoyed many a pint in his day. His accent is nearly impenetrable.

I'm standing near the counter of my cafe, glancing through a local paper, waiting for my coffee to be served. In walks this diminutive Brit pointing at his loins.

I'm not taking the piss, I say. I'm just not sure what it is he wants. 'The Tyler, the loo. Is there a Tyler I can barra? A place I can take a poo.' Aha! I get it. 'Sorry, mate, I don't work here.' I can't help laughing now. He looks at me in wonder. 'What is wrong with ya?'' I would have lost a few teeth if I were in his town.

He asks the Dutch woman behind the counter, and somehow she knows exactly what a Tyler is. I'm still laughing.

The jokes started early today. The first is at 5am, when the neighbor slams a door, and I'm startled awake. I stare at the windows, already lit with sun's first light, and I know well that I won't get back to sleep. I have an opportunity here.

I haven't seen the sun rise in a long time. I am out and on the bike well before the event. It is in the nature of these extreme latitudes that light and darkness linger and they mix, hours before and hours after the sun's stage cues. The sky at 5:19am, as I cruise alongside the canal toward Overschie, is bright with dawn's buoyant blues. I must get beyond the city limits before Helios makes his appearance.

Past the Spaanse Polder, there is one last development bolted together, like itinerant warehouses, warehousing commercial enterprises with big mission statements. It is the last stand of twenty-first century Rotterdam, and you can see the fields beyond.

The bike path stretches true a straight-edged canal, true as a tractor furrow, west across the plain green field. The orange edge of the sun has just broken the rim of the earth behind me. The cows glance with a twitch of the ear. The proud horses stand attentively behind their wire fences. There is a light, curling mist over the field, like the vestiges of night's candles, suspended just at the height of my handlebars. It's already evaporating.

I jump off the cycle, and turn down a dirt path into the luxuriant growth of the summer. I'm going to ditch the bike for a jog, and I'm going to face directly into the new day.

I turn. I watch the advancing fire. And I wonder, could there be a Tyler nearby that I could barra?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Travelogue 507 – July 11
The Years

There is something so quiet about this year's anniversary. I have to say something, but it doesn't mean there is anything to say.

The clouds are on again, off again, in a quiet way. I remember this day ten years ago, remember clearly the blustery Midwestern weather, and the big, racing clouds, building toward something. I do my work, though it doesn't mean there is anything to do.

Menna and I have seen something new at the theater across the Maas River. The story is about passion and disappointment, about love. (She gazes up at him with profound devotion, with surrender.) There isn't much dialogue in the film. The camera wanders from faces, settles on coupled torsos, as though it might be sensitive to heat, sensitive to mass and motion. And then one's eye is drawn past the human into open spaces, city plazas or nature's plains. Stone and mud and light absorb all narrative, re-assemble it to look like blown seeds.

It's after 11pm, but there is still a residue of light in the western sky. The clouds have cleared, and the sky is an unobscured continuum of color, from dusk to night, from sea's hope of blue to the color of deep sleep.

Menna and I walk hand in hand along the line of cycles on the pavement, looking for Jan's old machine. She is riding on the back of the bike. Silently, we swerve along the empty road toward Wilhelminaplein. It's only a few blocks to the Erasmus Bridge, rising inside its aureole of reverent city lighting, arcing over the Maas River, its wheel spokes suspended in mid-turn. We will essay its span; I'll be pedaling slowly, with exertion.

This happens summer to summer, now, this anniversary, shot through with sunlight, the kind of sunlight still ablaze with the purity of the solstice, but in decline. The sun-shot sky cannot help but rejoice, and we know – anyone who can speak of ten years of anything – how rejoicing can and must look like satire, suggest something like malice.

When we're closest to the sky, I don't have to pedal so hard. I lean back, and we coast. There's so much to look at from here, the lights of the city center ahead of us, the long barges plying the waters below, and of course the profound gradient of deepening blue above. The sky is so like a perfect surface, while constituting something like the opposite of surface, the perfect illusion. It just goes on and on. And its colors change in every instant. I want to remember that one shade ….

The cycle picks up speed, and I have to reel my attention back in, tighten the grip on the handle bars, make sure we don't flip over some bump in the bike path. The old bike rattles, and Menna squeezes an arm tighter around my waist. We're headed back toward solid ground, toward the streets.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Travelogue 506 – July 9
The Beach

A Netherlands sky without a trace of cloud in it is a shock. It's unnatural, and it triggers a kind of hysteria on the ground. We're into our second day of dazzling blue and cloudless skies. People are in an uproar. Here at my morning cafe, the baristas are playing the Beach Boys. One of them, a young woman with the most innocent of faces, is shouting along to a song: 'Bermuda, Bahamas, Come on pretty mama …' I'm not sure what to do for her.

Yesterday, Menna and I took our second trip to the beach. Our first trip suffered a more common Dutch fate, the skies having become overcast by the time we arrived, the wind having kicked up and cast a spell of chill on us. We had a good time nonetheless, dipping our toes into the sea, picking up shells, running away from the wind.

We try again on this brilliant morning. It takes us a while to get to the sea using public transport. The first stage is getting into the center of Rotterdam. Until Menna learns how to cycle, that means taking either the tram or the Metro. The advantage to the Metro is that you can change lines downtown and ride all the way to Den Haag Centraal, and do it for cheaper than the ticket price of a train, though the Metro does take longer. And one enjoys the peace of the air shocks, the peace of the midday suburbs, and the peace of the fields outside Rotterdam, glowing with the green of all those rains.

Once you're in Den Haag, you take the tram or bus toward the sea. Yesterday, we found a crowd of tourists and university students in shorts and shades and tank tops standing on the tram platform, waiting for the ol' Number Nine. We couldn't even get near the door of the first tram that came. Knowing Den Haag just a little, I maneuvered Menna onto the next Number Fifteen, riding in that venerable machine until the first stop, where we were able to jump onto the red-sided Nummer Een (#1) that carried us on to Scheveningen. To Scheveningen, where we alight at the site of the famous Kurhaus, hotel and restaurant built in 1886.

Scheveningen has been a resort town since 1818, when a man named Pronk thought to build a little bath house among the dunes. Now the lovely old Kurhaus is flanked by malls and the beach is lined with glassed-in bistros where one can sit with a drink in hand and regard the unceasing waves. Or one can take one's drink outside and sit among the sands, behind aerodynamic little wind shelters that look like kites.

We skip along merrily to the strand, which is littered with the bodies of young and old, verily strewn about as though abandoned by their owners in sun-dazed trances. There are those cavorting, kicking soccer balls, whacking ping-pong balls with colorful paddles, or running among the waves. Most are content to expose themselves to the rays of solar visible and ultraviolet and heat, lying in the sand, just below the level of the persistent breezes northern that carry a slight edge of chill.

We join in this display of indolence. And I make the unforgivable amateur's mistake of dozing before I've applied sun screen. It will be hours before I feel the pinch of that error, well after I've woken and run after Menna into the sea.

One of the pleasures of the beach trip is the evening stop in Den Haag before heading home. There, we retreat into the Centrum, where we can stroll down old brick alleyways, stroll in the shadow of the sixteenth-century Grote Kerk, making our way to the Fiddler, where we can sit in the last of the sun and taste British-style ale. From the vantage of their outdoor tables, the sun sets behind the tower of the Grote Kerk.