Da Daily Diary

by jbomeara on 9 August 2010

I woke up a little before my alarm, my feet stinging slightly from the cold. Some nights, my feet slide from the cozy confines of the duvet cover and sniff the twilit air. A shower would warm them up. I did my 450 sit-ups and fried a couple eggs. I thought for a moment about how capacious my room looks when my feet are on the chair and my head on the ground. The ceilings are tall but so am I.

I nibbled at a paltry cheese sandwich like a deer testing its first dandelion of the season. I peeked at my phone’s clock every so often, silently hoping that a minute or two would slip out of order. We were due for a large group dinner — Chinese, as the rumor went — and so I didn’t want to gorge myself too early. The swing from starved to satiated this evening would prove intoxicating.

But, alas, no story worth telling lacks a bridge between beginning and ending.

__________________________________________

No one enjoyed the 8:55 a.m. roll call less than I (damn Wednesdays!), but the excitement of traveling to Rotterdam perked me up. We shot off quickly after Rob and Clifford’s brief introductory speech for the day’s events. We had 1st class tickets and so missing the train would be a grave mistake. The walk to the station always reminds me of how well I’ve learned to navigate Amsterdam. That first, godforsaken walk from the station on July 18 was like trudging uphill through knee-high horse puckey. Now, I skip from dijk to dijk. We walked the route that skirts the port side of the sinking NEMO. I like that walk the most — I feel like Jack Sparrow.

The train over to Rotterdam, and the accompanying 1st class designation, was unspectacular. Max tried to show off his mental dexterity on a Rubik’s Cube, but he wilted under the pressure when told that God kills one kitten for every ten seconds someone spends thumbing a Cube. Maybe he’ll learn how to handle Big League pressure when he’s older. Jenny showed that she has a long way to go before becoming a Dragon Pantheon Rubik Champion, but she is much more adept than most. I believe I put my one and only Rubik’s Cube in an old microwave a few years ago, forgetting that it belonged to my friend, Kip.

A few hundred meters from Rotterdam Centraal, I saw some unbelievably familiar graffiti. In Berlin last summer, I saw a lot of Sistine-sized murals done by a group called BLU. The art troupe tours around Europe, finding open-faced planes of concrete, mortar or brick to make gigantic murals. After that magical month last summer, seeing the undulating brains made of people and the foot eating a soccer ball felt a lot like home. (You know you’ve spent too much time abroad when some graffiti you saw in Germany a year ago feels like warm apple pie.) Anyways, the spray painted figures I saw stank of BLU. I highly recommend you give them a Google search or two.

A quick stop outside Rotterdam Centraal to orient ourselves was followed by a jaunt south, towards the Kunsthal. I snapped some photos along the way and stepped in some questionable mud near the “Gnome with a Humungous Butt-plug” [colloquially translated]. It was great to see Rob’s eyes light up as he described every other building down the block. I must be too unfamiliar with modern architecture, but I had no idea how much detail architects (a.k.a. Legoheads) know about their fellow architects’ bodies of work. It was rather astounding to hear all of the minutiae Rob was able to articulate on the spot. Touché, Rob. Touché.

The cinema plaza, on the other hand, was not as stunning as a certain architectural academic would have you believe. The Pathé (same company as the cinema next to the Flowermarkt in A’dam) building was a simple block and looks like that one redneck neighbor’s giant wood shed. Every person might have a unique opinion of the place; personally, I wasn’t sold. I’m no genius of design, but give me three hours, four beers, and a few thousand BetterBlocks, and I can guarantee at least one non-rectangular face.

The open square next to the Pathé, though, was freakin’ awesome. The crane lights might attract the masses, but the studded-metal canvas had me tied down. Put some low-sided walls down around that wood plot in the middle, and you have yourself a world-class urban soccer pitch. Carefully placed speakers and astutely chosen music would stir up a flash mob of dancers the likes of which have never been seen. I can close my eyes and picture the vibrant colors and clumsily-rolled hips of ‘Maandag Merengue’ now…

Again, outside of the De Unie, Rob did not have me convinced that I was looking at a piece of architectural wonder. In the same “De Stijl” fasion as the ’20s government housing block, the plot had a grey-faced exterior with simple yellow and blue trims adding a subdued pulse to an otherwise lifeless structure. As Rob put it, the original De Unie building was the “most important Dutch design” of a good chunk of the 20th century. I’m pretty sure I drew that exact same building with my Lite-Brite when I was five.

When we came upon the NAI (Dutch Architecture Institute) and eventually the Kunsthal (Hall of Kunst), Rotterdam’s architectural prowess became obvious. The over-our-heads planning that went into those buildings was plain to see. The “three hours, four beer, and a few thousand BetterBlocks” corollary still applies to some degree, but I have to admit that I probably would never (ever!) be able to take buildings of that sort from the idea phase to completion. There are too many jagged edges and bathrooms to manage.

It was precisely at this point that I felt a very sharp pain at the bottom of my foot. I feigned a tough upper lip, swallowed my scream, and pulled my shoe off. Through salty tears, I could not determine if there was a pinprick’s worth of blood or if I had a little red fuzzy inside my sock. I pulled out the perpetrator between two pursed fingers: a thin, evil shard of mirror. Knowing that my socks were laundered naught but the day before, and keeping in mind that my deep love for cushy socks is well known amongst the laundering industry in Europe, I smelled foul play. Mirror shards — being the injurious little bastards they are — do not simply worm their way into balled socks by chance. Mark my words: the culprit will come to face justice.

A very brief circumnavigation of the Kunsthal‘s lower exhibit (René Burri’s iconoclastic pictures) was rewarded with a luxurious meal in the museum’s café. I sat with Colin, Jenny, and Greg, admiring their plates of chicken sandwich and soup enough to order both for myself. After gorging myself on the chef’s scrumptious wares, and consequently shrieking at his bill, I gave the galleries a second shot. The Tour de France exhibit was undoubtedly the most popular. I rode every stationary bike, took all the photo opportunities, and touched every part of that exhibit that I could. Without too much math involved, I calculated that I burned about 80 of the 1,604 calories I consumed at lunch.

The wrap-up discussion of the Kunsthal inside was truncated by our need to head back north in time for our bike tour. We meandered out of the Kunsthal and marched towards a metro stop. The attendant at the middle of the train was delightfully jovial, and he undercharged me ten cents for the trip (ha HA!). Along the way, he successfully predicted that the rain would basically hold off completely before telling stories about his travels through the PNW a few years ago. He was a merry soul in a trim blue vest. A tip of the hat to you, sir, whomever and wherever you are.

Another short walk from the station brought us to the bike tour center. There, we met Ivan, our trusted guide. As soon as we were allowed to take the bikes out for test spins, we students reverted to 1st grade psyches and played like it was Aisle F at Toys ‘R’ Us. I was beside myself with joy, saying “Wheeee” at every turn.

Ivan was not the most ebullient puppy in the litter, that I can guarantee. He was quietly very intelligent, nevertheless, and could stand toe-to-toe with Rob on some aspects of Rotterdam’s structural trivia. With a pass of his hand through his ravenwing hair, he took one last look at our circus of bell-clicking, bike-riding apes and then we set off. We began on a southern course at a lazy pace. This was the first time that I was on an Amsterdam style bike. The upright handle bar system is incomparably better than my Quasimodo set-up on the maroon RockRider. The lack of gears made everything simple. Just move your legs and click your bell at every pigeon you pass. The only downside for these otherwise-lovely machines are the seats. The seat on my RockRider is like a paring knife: small, sleek and sharp, but easily negotiable amongst the Nethers. But the Amsterdam style seat? God help us all. It’s like sitting on Paul Bunyan’s axe handle. By the time we passed the Erasmus building, I was seeing angels. Every time we stopped at a light and I forgot that the back-pedaling serves as an auxiliary brake, effectively throwing my weight forward and down, the familiar ache crept into my soul and detonated. Ivan offered some suggestions, but until Huffy reconfigures their prototypes or we evolve horseshoe-shaped scrota, I’m pretty sure us guys are out of luck.

(This reminds me of a question I first addressed when I was six: why are bike manufacturers universally sadistic? We’re starting to plan a trip to Mars, and someone in a lab in Maryland just created life using six computers and a turkey baster, and yet no one has ever pushed enough chalk for a comfortable bike seat design? This is inane. I would like to see a consortium of Schwinn, NASA, the Proctology Association of America, and LA-Z-Boy furniture to figure out this centuries-old problem. What is wrong with a seat that cups the buttocks and allows for full leg rotation? I designed that when I was six years old, guys… When I was six.)

On the roundabout tour with Ivan, all of us gracefully in tow like cygnets behind Mrs. Swan, we saw several key architectural sites in Rotterdam’s south side. I particularly enjoyed the tip of the isthmus with the Holland Amerika Lijn‘s hotel and restaurant. Looking out into Rotterdam’s basin of a river mouth, seeing the leviathans painted like ocean freighters, brought me back to the days when Rotterdam started to mature as a powerful port town. Whether it was boats full of pasty, bloated tourists in the 20th century or pasty, bloated cattle in the 17th, that spot was used for essentially the same thing for three centuries. Good food for thought.

The tour of Rotterdam did not end when we dismounted from our bikes. Always the noble standard-bearer of didacticism, Rob challenged us to navigate our way back to Pathé’s plaza. The feats of Hercules were pallid by comparison. Perseus himself would shudder at the daunting trial. Odysseus, wanderer of all worlds, would falter in the earliest stages of this quest… oh, what? We’re there already? Cool.

So, with half an hour to kill before our dinner reservation, the group fractured into pods and sought beer. My group, consisting of Derek, Rachel, and Jenny, found a cozy tree and a bevy of ducklings. One of the other groups found a gay bar. I believe that yet another group found Clifford.

Since the meal at the Chinese restaurant was shared by all, and since both my mind and my fingers have grown weary of reflection, I feel that this is as good a time as any to bring this diary to a close. I am very glad to see how tight-knit this group has become over the past three weeks, evinced by the gaity of our laughter and the length of our Chinese bar tab. I bid you adieu with a warning: If Jenn says your meal consists of a lot of duck, run like hell. I had more water fowl than if I had played a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” in Aflac’s board room. I wake up to their quacks. I feel them in my pillow. It is a cursèd flesh.


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