Monday, February 23, 2009

Halfway home

Halfway home. 

I'm sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam, smoking some foul weed or another, and draining espressos as if each were my last.  The day is cool, overcast and threatening rain.  I traveled here in only a T-shirt, so I bought an Amsterdam Athletics hoody.  I look like tourist,and am anything but.  The last 48 hours have been a chaotic blur of mis-adventures and foul-ups of the highest order.  When I leave this place, if one more bum, druggie, or degenerate attempts to part me from my last remaining deutch marks, for a train ticket to Rotterdam, I will strangle them, despite the mellowness induced by this cafe.  Way too many street people here for my refined tastes and delicate sensibilities.  Get a fucking job, people.  This place reminds me of Seattle in the 90's.  Nirvana and homeless teen-agers, everywhere.

Where was I?  No matter...

I began the journey with a mis-step.  Or more to the point, a non-step.  My chopper ride off the ship was canceled and I spent a not-unexpected, extra day and night aboard my ship.  The last five weeks took it's toll and I passed out; a long, black 9 hours the likes of which I've not seen since sometime last year, I should think.  I woke, ate and immediately returned to my slumber.  Woke again, this time with just minutes before my chopper was due to land.  Shit, shower, shave, pack and fire off an email to Mr. Bud in less than 20 minutes.  A feat worth noting as I had to hack off 5 weeks growth of beard.  I really didn't have time to shave but I didn't want to scare the girls when I arrived home.

Choppered off on time, landing in Soyo Base at the mouth of the Congo, in a light rain.  Chaos.  No passports.  Stuck until they arrived on a fixed-wing aircraft an hour later. It was hot and sticky.  Clouds of mosquitoes, or malaria, if you prefer.  I do not.  Prefer malaria, that is.  That reminds me that I need to take another Malarone to ward off the evil malaria that stalks us all here on the West African coast.  With only hours to make my flight out of Luanda, we finally departed the Congo and headed South along the coast, over fertile, green, African plains.  Only the herds of zebras and the occasional pride of lions were missing from the exotic landscape below.

Luanda was chaos of another sort.  No plan, no organization, people milling about, women plodding the street with giant baskets of bananas, piles of large, green leaves, or dozens of eggs, perched on their heads.  What seemed like thousands of people loitering everywhere, some selling wares out of baskets they cradled between their legs as they sat sprawled in the dirt of the road, sidewalks of a sort, or the endless, empty lots adorned with only garbage and piles or refuse.  Women washing clothes by hand in large, copper pots, dogs everywhere.  The smell, at all times, overpowering, hinting of death and rotting flesh.

Luanda airport, yet another form of chaos.  It seemed to have a sort of hidden rhyme and reason that just managed to elude the senses, but always right there on the tip of the tongue, edge of the mind and just under the surface like a shadow seen out of the corner of the eye, disappearing when observed, directly.  We managed the massive queues, security, customs, immigration and the guy with white, rubber gloves.  The one who asks if you have local currency and demands to see your wallet.  It takes all I have to refuse him with his vacant stare and implications of a painful anal probing to follow.  A short test of wills, he flexes his chubby fingers, sighs and nods toward the door.  I run, as if on fire, and finally we all make the bar, in ones and twos, anal virginity intact for this trip.  Reaching a sort of critical mass, we began to order bottles of warm Heineken in armloads of tens and twenties.  We filled the tables and our bellies until it was time to board.

I flew with half the crew to Johannesburg, South Africa.  There, I hung out with the other American on the crew until it was time for me to depart for Amsterdam. We prowled the airport, learning the ins and outs, in prep for stopping here over the next eight months.  We found both smoking lounges, one of them a bar:)  We ate grilled mystery meat sandwiches and mine was to plague me for the next 12,000 miles of airplane toilets.  My buddy stayed, waiting for a flight to Paris.  Poor bastard, Charles De Gaul is the worst fucking airport in the world.

Amsterdam is pleasant, if cold.  Easy to make my way around this place, like an old friend, or a favorite car from the past.  They have added many self-serve kiosks at convenient points all over the airport.  You can accomplish transfers, check-in, get flight/gate updates, upgrade, or change your seat assignment, easily, from these little buggers.  I like 'em.  Anyway, I made my way through passport control to the train station and hopped the express to the city. The red-light district and hash bars are here, just outside the station.  I window-shopped the working girls and made my way to a hash bar I remembered from years ago.  It's warm, comfortable and quiet.  The selection is excellent, the espresso scalding hot, every cup.  I simply while away the hours in smoky silence.


It's time for me to stumble back to the train station and make my way to the airport and my plane to the states.  It will be good to be back on my home turf.  I'm tired of airports masquerading as "old friends" and things not of my culture and country.

I'm back in the airport now, unable to hook up to the w-fi.  My Dutch sucks.  Found a little cafe just outside the casino, that serves a decent latte.  Yes, a casino.  This airport boasts a casino, porn shops, the beehive bar (my undoing on more than once occasion over the years), massage parlors and a small museum.

  I just finished touring the Rijks museum, that is currently celebrating 400 years of trade between the Dutch and Japanese.  The mix of styles, East and West, in the 1800's, is more of a mish-mash than a melding.  19th century, puritan-like motifs in lacquer.  No Van Goghs, more like the Maris brothers do Taiwan.   Reminds me of a plastic replica of a Ming vase, I saw in a pawn shop, years ago.  It doesn't work for me.  There are, however, several period paintings here that have nothing to do with trade, or Japan.  They speak to me, on some level.  In most of the paintings, it is the eyes, for me.  I do not know why, but I do see my daughter's eyes in one painting and I want to go home.


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