The 17 Year Anniversary

It is not a particularly round number nor is it a sacred number in any culture I’ve ever learned about in my travels, but this week begins my 17th year as a resident of the Netherlands. 16 years ago this month, I arrived with 50 kilos of luggage from Portugal with a simple idea, be a graduate student in this country that I knew very little about. I’d love to say I remember it as if it were yesterday, but you try remembering stuff from 16 years ago, especially in a city that is constantly renovating, repurposing, and changing things. The buildings might look the same, the people might even do many of the same things, but you can bet life has changed and I’ve been a witness to those changes.

Meanwhile my own life has gone through phases, the ups and downs that make up many a life. If you had asked me what my life would look like at the start of my 17th year way back when I first arrived, I would not have been able to answer. Incidentally, some things never change, I still can’t tell you what my life will look like in 17 years. Sometimes not knowing gets to me, but thankfully, most of the time, I’m thrilled to still not know what is around the corner. I mean other than old age.

This website started just before the big move, back in a little apartment in Lisbon, as I packed my things and said goodbye to a city I thought I could not be without. In the end it is this city, Amsterdam, which has been my constant over the course of almost two decades. At the time the idea was to let people read my observations, and in some form, that is what we still do here. After two years of writing,  I started doing it in audio form, not yet fully understanding what this odd hobby that myself and a few dozen people around the world were doing (podcasting) was going to become; a mass audience phenomenon. In between I kept writing. Kept taking the pictures and posting them. Even threw in some videos for fun. Sites like Facebook and twitter, for better or for worse, would all come along much later. Back in 2002 this was a personal space to share with you the public, and if you were there you know how special it was. It wasn’t just about moving your life to a new city and telling others about it, it was about sharing life experiences and discussing what was going on around us — be it in the place where we live or on the other side of the world. No issue too big and absolutely no issue too small.

The European Communication crew, ISHSS U of Amsterdam, Fall of 2002.

Of course, like Amsterdam, the internet has changed. Writing, recording, on the internet, has become so commonplace that it goes mostly unnoticed and will be buried behind other content within seconds. In some ways so too do some moments in this city. I watched today, in honour of this anniversary, as new students arrived at the U of Amsterdam, ready to do their study abroad or their first year as grad students. The conversations were so familiar, yet I felt invisible. I imagined school as a VHS tape, and these students’ arrival as someone taping over something. Over and over this happens with every new group. The tape doesn’t get grainy or lose quality for them, but perhaps it does for me… as many names, places, and moments, have faded over time.

Regardless, I’m still here, and life is still interesting. Just as it was back in late August 2002. Happy anniversary to me in Amsterdam, and happy anniversary to this crazy website. Long may we all carry on!

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Mike Spine: A Socio-Musical Journey

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A few months ago Mike Spine and Barbara Luna played a show in Amsterdam that I was fortunate enough to attend. As a bonus, Mike came over for a kitchen table conversation. In this conversation we look at his own path as both an educator and a musician and what he has learned along the way.

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What Remains of You

We moved into a new apartment last month, my partner and I, in a beautiful and lively neighborhood of Amsterdam. Strangely enough on our second day in the house, as we unpacked the massive pile of boxes, a loud discussion burst out in front of our building, which included a good amount of crying by at least one female. When I looked outside to see the source of the noise, two police cars had pulled up and officers slowly put on blue surgical gloves as they tried to calm down the young woman. They seemed in no hurry to enter the building, but when they finally did I could hear their footsteps just above my head. Within minutes they thumped down the stairs and were back outside. More civilians arrived, these men and women would also join the vigil outside. An hour or two went by. A city medical examiner arrived, solemnly greeted the people, and continued up the stairs, again the action going on just above our bedroom. Hours later, in the middle of the night, a large funeral car with a team of two formally dressed individuals is outside. I’m awoken from my brief sleep to the sound of thunderous footsteps and struggling in the narrow Dutch stairwell. I peer through the keyhole just as large objects thump against the door. 3 or 4 men are  struggling with a human body. The final piece of the story, the upstairs neighbor had passed away in his own bed.

19499706524_df2d03b34c_zFor the next week(s) as family members arrived and I listened to the faint sounds of suffering and commiserating, those famous topics of death and how quickly life can change or even end rattled around in my over active brain. Here’s a man who lived alone, older but not old, loved by friends and family, yet isolated in his home in many ways. It is a common reality, in both cities and rural areas. It happens.

Twice a week in this neighborhood they have large garbage night. All month, twice a week, I’ve watched as pieces of a man’s life are painstakingly carried out to the garbage pickup spot. Trash bags. Bits of furniture. Worn carpets. “Unfortunately, my father was a hoarder,” one of his children tells me as she passes me in the stairwell carrying more trash bags. I recognize her as the daughter who stood outside all those hours when the discovery was made. She tries to laugh about it, but the sorrow and pain leaks out as she gives up on a smile.

Each night after the trash is put out, things get quiet upstairs, as family members go home. Then another kind of ritual begins, they come by car, scooter, truck, bike and on foot, to sort through the garbage pile. These are the scavengers, professionals, amateurs, random passer-by’s that see these things and decide to take them home. I watch from my window as they each show up. They scour the piles, feeling the bags, finding sets of things, occasionally accidentally dropping something that makes an attention grabbing crash. Sometimes there are 4 people surrounding the pile yet no one looks at each other, they focus on the pile and the possibility of finding what is treasure to them. By morning there are mostly only scraps and shards of broken things left. Pieces of what were once a person’s life, are sorted and transported all over the city.

It has been one month since the death of the man upstairs. A truck came to take away whatever was deemed of value for the family. His children have worked themselves to exhaustion cleaning the place. There is no more noise upstairs. Soon the landlord will come and paint, renew, whatever is needed to prepare the place for new people. Within a month new human(s) will live their lives upstairs from me. Occasionally they might throw out a large piece of furniture. A scavenger will have it loaded into a van within minutes. Life just goes on.

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CTRP472 Shelby Earl Live at Studiobar

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avatar Shelby Earl Guest

ctrp472_141103The wonderful and talented Shelby Earl came to Amsterdam to perform as part of her Swift Arrows European Tour. The evening, which took place at the fantastic Studiobar, included a performance as well as a Q and A hosted by yours truly.  Here is a podcast of that magical evening.

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