Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Smaller then I remember

In one of the two rooms up in the attic a folding camp bed was parked for me. The other room was scary. It was more of the real atticky part of the top floor in my parents house. It’s where my grandparents slept when they stayed over for the night. A fascinating orange and black tube containing brilliant cream that my grandfather used to comb through his hair in the mornings, made me cautiously sneek into that room. But if that marvellously intriguing object wasn’t laying around, and it hardly ever was since my grandparents peacefully lived at the other side of the country, I wouldn’t dear enter that real attic and happily sticked to my own better illuminated quarter. 

Every evening I’d align next to each other all my dolls and teddy bears, neatly tucking them in under the bed cover. Although the newly acquired barby dolls weren’t comfortable to share the bed with due to their edgy ligaments, they’d concurred themselves some precious space as well because I loved playing with them so much.

I sat on my knees next to the folding camp bed, cautious enough not to sit at either end of it after several collapses that got me, bed and everything on it, high up in the air. There was no place left for me under the neatly folded bed cover. Occupied as it was with all scattered pieces of emotion symbolized by playful doll faces and soft dark teddy bear eyes. 

We project our own set of habits and emotions onto the other. Actually this someone functions like a mirror. We think we see the other. But we only see what we know and that’s ourself. That’s us. We start with non complex single message emotions as featured by dolls and teddy bears and hug happily ever after with our first girl- and boyfriends, on and on with our partners, husband and wives. In fact we never stop hugging ourselves. If we do it right! 
Young at heart we familiarize with pure loveliness. As adolescents we get into more punky sets of emotions. Contrasting, complicated and intertwined, as unintelligible as we are ourselves. Growing older we start to assimilate personality traits and become more and more aware of complex sets of emotions. Our emotions as they are being triggered by a variety of cultural or natural expressions, are into exploring different layers of recognition through art, food, music, nature; touching beyond the skin. Still it’s in the other we see ourselves. It’s in the other we recognize our own mistakes, frustrations, loveliness and anger.

And this is exactly what happens to our dolls and teddy bears when we are kids. We project our own interior onto something outside of us. Representation, reflection, projection, you name it; what we see comes from deep down inside ourselves. As long as we’re not aware of the content inside of us, we project it outside. To make it clear, to visualize it before our own eyes. 

This little girl is arranging her emotions neatly side by side. Abundant as they are, there’s no place left – or no space yet – for her individual self; to lay down her own physical head on the pillow. 

During the same time this little girl starts giving her dolls names. In particular the beautiful big baby like doll with the eyes that open and close following the movements of the head. If you put her down, she’ll sleep. If you lift her up, her eyes spread wide open. The little girl is proud to own this big doll and at the same time she finds the big doll scary. Secretly and just a little bit she tells herself. Fact is that the plastic doll is hard headed and by far the largest member of her extended doll and teddy family. The name giving practice is pretty endless. This however is mainly due to the fact that every next morning she’s oblivious again of the names she’d came up with the preceding day. Until one day she remembers the big dolls name. It’s Victoria. The victorious and voluptuous plastic doll bears that name until today. 

How does a four year old girl know what victoria means? Has it been a way to concur the slight fear for her doll? Finally finding a suitable name, the one and only that lasted. Naming is the start of acquainting, of finding ways to get to know and eventually handle. In this case frightening and loving feelings at the same time. Victoria is overwhelming to the girl, is the victorious one to the girl and at the same time she loves the doll a great deal. Never in history Victoria was surpassed by another doll and until today Victoria lives on in the girls memory.

Somehow I managed to acquire a space in my bed night after night, surrounded by all my emotions, neatly tucked in next to me, well taken care of. And when they had silently fallen asleep I could rest my physical head next to them.

Wholesome

Recently a friend and me had lunch at Lavinia, a lunchroom at the Kerkstraat. Which happens to be the longest street of Amsterdam city centre, hidden between Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht. Lavinia serves mainly vegetarian food, including vegan options and modernistic responsible-food-products like packaged coconut water and UTZ certified chocolate springles. My friend the other day dropped the expression New Foodism. If there’s any such thing, Lavinia has it.

Sustainable and vintage furniture, tap water garnished with citrus fruits and mint offered for free at the counter, intelligent waitresses and more vegetarian options at the menu then fishy or meaty treats. However my friend and me like to look beyond the idea of wholesome, well sourced ingredients and a hip and going environment. What’s it really all about? Like the purpose, meaning and destiny of life we constantly keep asking ourselves about or if we’re not in the spin of this mind-full-ness, being in doubt whether we should actually better be asking ourselves these deep questions instead of simply living the moment.

The difference between questions, doubt and awareness is quite an item which I gladly leave for another post. For now I’d like to keep things close to Lavinia, her food and it’s surroundings. Over a year ago my friend and me independently choose to pursue a vegan life style by skipping diary, fishy and meaty products from our menus. On the side I also rather not digest refined sugar, gluten and nuts. However I do prefer leather shoes and woolen sweaters over synthetic material to address yet another complicated matter of assimilation and appearance. Anyway it’s an entertaining challenge to find out who’s able to cater for our pretty demanding food preferences. My friend questions his vegan lifestyle once in a while. He especially did during the holiday season. Not because, finding himself in Manchester for Christmas, he missed out on the turkey and scrambled eggs with bacon for breakfast. But merely because he doesn’t want to be a pain in the ass for his hosts. Social wise, to confess being vegan – if only it were for the mere pronunciation – isn’t typically easy going. Your food-loving host prepares an excellent and entertaining diner and you act like: “No thanks, I do not eat – as in appreciate – your efforts. But don’t you worry about me”. And that’s exactly what they’ll do the rest of the evening. Worrying and talking about your a-typical food preferences. Deep apologies dear hosts. We’re not here to harm you.

To our unexpected surprise electing a dish from a menu in regular restaurants actually more often then not is a simple task. On average there’s just not so much to choose from. Which makes it easy. A vegan burger nowadays has found it’s way into many a restaurant. It often isn’t the most seducing or appealing item at the menu. You might even rather skip the whole restaurant experience all together, visit your local farm shop instead, buy some real wholesome and good ingredients and cook yourself. However not having to choose really does make life simple once in a while.

Fortunately Lavinia at the Kerkstraat offers a different experience. The intelligent waitresses eagerly inform themselves in the kitchen upon our question if the pick-your-own choice-of-three from the salad station could possibly behold a vegan lunch option. They proudly return with the happy notice that this can be done. Which is great of course. The cakes and sweets I love to indulge unfortunately all contain refined sugar. Which disappoints slightly because the expectations are held high through the Lavinian outlook of things. Tea is to be infused in the form of a simple teabag. Which isn’t very lucid either with even a professionally commercial chain like the Coffee Company serving subtle and refined tea made from bold leaves transferred into individual paper bags with loving care and attention by the barristas.

The Lavinian experience in particular makes us wonder if indeed we’re all still very much attached to the idea of purchasing a package deal while eating out. It’s about what you find at your plate, of course. But we’re comfortably used at paying the bill for the way the food is presented, for the ambiance created for us, including some not very professional but charming gestures or words of the waitresses. I am not judging this predisposition of ours. I am just trying to make it clear to myself and others. The same way as I tend to check the list of ingredients on almost every jar or pack I grap from a shop shelve nowadays. What am I buying? I need glasses to make it clear to myself. But it isn’t the glasses that clarify it. It’s the act of being conscious of it.

And so it is with our restaurant bills. We find it romantically nostalgic if in France the ‚couverts’ are being charged seperately at € 1 per head. We check if the service is included or not before adding a pourboire (tip) to l’addition (bill). I’m starting to realize the truth of this basically very realistic custom. It makes me come up with the idea of a new Amsterdam way. A place where it is specified at your bill what you pay for. Apart from charging the custom couscous with pomegranate, spicy pumpkin soup and two jasmin tea’s, the bill specifies separately for x-amounts: special Monday ambiance; José’s service; vintage tableware and the chefs ‚made with love and attention’ label. Because in most of the restaurants and places you’ll find yourself nowadays, that’s what it is all about. Entourage, feeling, ideas and idealism or what you see is what you get. Do not go beyond, do not pass the borders of our communal comfort zone while sullenly enjoying the moment.

Free of

Which content to share first? The exploration of free-of-animal-products-lunch-options in Amsterdam? An adventure an old friend of mine came up with. Like myself, he turned vegan almost two years ago. We share our experiences over vegan or even raw cheesecakes, banana bread and complete gourmet lunch deals. Appetizing yet remarkably more difficult to pursue then one would believe in the free-est city of all: Amsterdam. Really exploring a certain field needs persistence. We set out primarily every other Wednesday. This might change to every other Thursday. Along side persistence features structure. Indispensable assets to take off with.

The other interesting subject I am longing to share with you is a small little treatise on the difference between attachment and connection. This is more of a group travel. It’s the first time for me to make up my mind about the difference between attachment and connection. To do so I’d better be in your presence. If not I risk loosing track. The suspected major importance of the difference between attachment and connection (attaching an electric wire, plugging in for connection) holds me back a bit. I feel it to be difficult to grasp it’s full meaning. As opposed to the adventure that evolves around the ‘free of’ food-trip. Simply drawing upon some sort of rationalistic point of view and behaviour guided along a clear – free of – etiquette. Or isn’t it that simple? Am I oblivious of the important subconscious impact my friend and me make by eating vegan and the drive we feel to follow it through?

Let me quickly share some first results of our comparitive research into the vegan lunch options, just to give you an idea. After having had lunch at Dophert, Wagamama, the Alchemist Garden, Deshima and Lavinia -all being day time restaurants located in Amsterdam and offering good lunch options, we agreed upon the best lunch deal at Deshima. We do not take into account the bill. Price-quality relation isn’t the first thing to consider in this new type of sports. We take into account: the quantity of vegan options at the menu, the genuineness of the chefs’ vegan drive, the authenticity of the ingredients and the energy we got from the food and it’s location. We discovered ‘the Amsterdam way’ isn’t appealing if it comes to vegan cooking in particular or serving food in general. We feel best if our servings are honest and made with an amount of knowledge, love and attention that surpasses our own. The establishments with a kind of non-commercial feel, really focusing at the food, in an environment that’s not exactly cosy, hip or outstanding we like best: Deshima and Alchemist Garden. Lavinia makes a nice day break by presenting their products and menu in a customer friendly way, up to date yet low profile. Unfortunately the so called Amsterdam way rules. The awesome looking cakes at Lavinia all contain refined sugar. So far for the outcome of the research into vegan lunch options.

‘Free of’ features easily as the main adjective for 2015. The best adjective according to my humble opinion being no adjective at all. Free of as an adjective is coming close to this minimalistic best. There’s all kinds of free from. Free from as opposed to free form, is restrictive, bordered and contains a lot of no’s. Instead of freely forming – or going with – the flow. Alas! we do no longer go with the flow.

Yet at the same time we’re meant to accept all that is. No no’s, no resistance. At least that’s what mindfull or wise people are telling us. Forget your ego, don’t let your mind rule your behavior. This contradicts big time our efforts to live consciously by saying no to almost everything our bodies crave for. Or does it not? Acceptance versus resistance: it leads me to grasp for a solution hidden in the difference between being attached and being connected. Saying no to the good taste, nice textures and satisfaction derived from animal products, results in testifying to me and others that I am not attached to these animalistic seductions. Instead I connect to my body. If I really connect to my body without the fear of loosing what I like – being attached – I find out what I really need. However if then I discover the body cries for ice cream, red wine and sashimi, I am set back. The mind says: ‘that’s wrong!’ To make things even more complicated, we get to the explanation that if the body yearns for unhealthy stuff, it means the body is not in balance. Would it be in balance, it would crave for mere water when thirsty and carrots or beans when hungry. Pretty daunting and much of a disillusion after having prioritized food in every possible way for the past thirty years.

Where’s the exit? Experience! To go through it all. To find out that listening to my body doesn’t actually start with listening to my body. Conscious living and eating both start with the mind. Hence mindfulness. First I tell myself or let others and pseudo-scientific studies tell me, what is good or bad for my health. A good first step into this thousand miles journey is for example: Timeless secrets of Health and Rejuvenation by the late Andreas Moritz. The journey continues by saying no to almost anything that is easily available, palatable and payable. Hence the exploration of alternative, macro-biotic, ayurvedic and vegan fields to find out what suits my taste. Then developing proper recipes, creating a personal daily routine and new cravings. Along the way this most exciting revelation pops up: I can actually make the body crave for green tea and date balls covered with shredded coconut instead of glasses filled with Sauternes accompanied by butterscotch chocolate, not to mention the terribly wrong foie gras. It takes a couple of years and a lot of don’ts. But it works!

After all I am not so sure if real connection is coming in. I’ve merely just changed my patterns and habits. Because the mind and others made me believe my former patterns and habits were unhealthy, making me stressed, tired and old. I was able to transform my attachments. Which is an important step into the direction of being freed from attachments. But it isn’t the same thing. Sometimes I really am able to feel the body, to connect to it. The funny thing is, when it happens, I am happy. The inner body doesn’t talk back telling me what to resist.

With special thanks to my friend Michiel Oudakker and awesomeamsterdam.nl