At the back of the hill

Warning: May contain traces of soy, wheat, lecithin and tree nuts. That you are here
strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton.
And that you might like cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Under a recent post about travelling to the Netherlands, someone left a comment which the more I think about it, the more it intrigues me.

"Sounds good, when are we going?"

That depends entirely on you.
If you are a personable young lady with taste, discernment, and a fondness for middle-aged pipe smokers, it could be really soon.

Especially if you're small, snarky, and dark-haired.

Amsterdam is a perfect place to get to know each other. And this time of year the flowers are coming into bloom.
It is really is lovely there in March and April.


One of my favourite haunts in Mokum Alef (the nickname for Amsterdam) is the Atheneum Bookstore on the Spui square, as well as nearby places for coffee or food. 
I used to enjoy the Cafe Luxembourg (across the street on the right hand side), but one incident persuaded me that better hale could be sought elsewhere.

I had happily breezed on in, pleased with recent purchases at the bookmarket that is held every Friday, and expecting to spend some time over coffee fondling my livres nouveau. 
But the only member of the staff who appeared to be working at the time was far too busy talking with a companion to be bothered with something so trivial as serving customers.
After patiently waiting for ten minutes, I caught her I eye and nodded, indicating that maybe, possibly, in the fullness of time, a hot liquid might be desired.  After her friend finally left, she came over to my table and snapped: "Zo! Heeft u niet gezien dat ik bezig ben met een andere klant?!?" ('so, did you not observe that I'm busy with someone else?').

The other wait persons in the vicinity were in no way inclined to do any work. They were far too animatedly yacking among themselves to inspire confidence in their ability to serve even an empty cup, let alone one filled with a refreshingly bitter hot beverage. 
They might have flung it at me if pressed.

Without a word I turned around and left.  Went to the Cafe Beiaard around the corner (address: Spui 30), where the staff is friendly, capable, and keenly tends to business.

The Cafe Luxembourg has prestige, and radiates tradition.  But they  hire snott-wads who merely pocket their salary (service included - bediening inklusief) and radiate disdain.

"Heeft u niet gezien dat ik bezig ben met een andere klant?"

Again, if you want a cup of coffee and a cookie in a pleasant hospitable place, do NOT go to the Luxembourg, but head around the corner.
Cafe Beiaard, Spui 30, Amsterdam. 
Their coffee is much better.

Claesje Claes just off the square in the other direction has lovely smoked fresh-water eel from the Ysselmeer ('Zuider Zee'), by the way.  Plus a wonderful seafood chowder built on a fundament of tomatoes.  I sincerely hope that they are still around.


Not too far away from the Atheneum is another bookstore that should be visited, on the Koning's Plein ('King's Square').
Scheltema-Holkema-Vermeuelen.  Corner of the Leidschegracht and the Heerengracht. 
It is only two blocks from the Spui Plein ('Spew Square').

A slight detour will bring you to the flower market along the Singel, between the Koning's Plein and the Heilige Weg ('holy road'). On a rainy day the fragrances and colours are enchanting.

Near the university, you will find a passage through the buildings named the Oudemanhuis Poort ('Old Man House Gate'). Within its sanctuary a number of booksellers have stalled out their wares and you can spend an hour or two browsing, OR you can go out to the Kloveniers Burgwal and turn left, go down a bit to the small bookstore that specializes in poetry - yes, there is Dutch verse, and after more than six centuries of wide-spread literacy there is quite a lot which is stellar - and ponder rhymes.

A decade ago I purchased two volumes of sonnets by Jean-Pierre Rawie, a modern Dutch poet whose work I particularly like.  I've met him, but other than sparkly eyes and a friendly sense of humour I do not recall much about him.  Darkish hair, I think, spectacles, and average height.
But I may be confusing him with a version of myself.

Judging by what's available here in San Francisco at City Lights Bookstore, his writings must be harder to translate into English than the very meaningful stuff by Jules Deelder. 
That is to say, Rawie is not available, Deelder is lauded. 

In addition to Dutch literature, a vast selection of English-language books is available in Amsterdam. All the classics, though you may have quite a search for the Romantic Poets, plus modern English and American literature.  A fair amount has also been put into into Dutch, especially Science-Fiction. 
Some Dutch literature has been translated into English, though one should be wary of the ability of Dutchmen to do justice to the material in a foreign tongue - too often they're still thinking in Dutch.  The results may be less than trumpet-worthy.
Whatever translations from modern Dutch the 'Beat' intellectuals in North Beach do should be utterly distrusted.  Creatively using a dictionary, and interviewing the poet while wearing a beret, does NOT qualify.


Food: Eat Indonesian while you're there.
Kambing dengan ketjap (lamb in a soy sauce liquor), kambing bakar (similar to the previous), sayur lodeh (vegetables cooked soft in coconut milk), gulai buntjis (stringbeans in a mild curry), soto ayam (a luxurious chicken soup with vegetables and textural additions), sate kambing (grilled little lamb skewers), ikan bumbu bali (fish crusted with gingery earthy spices), nasi kuning (festive yellow rice), perkedel (small meat and potato fritters), kepiting bumbu lada (chili sauce crab), semur babi (stewed pork Indonesian-Chinese style), opor ayam (chicken poached in coconut milk), gudeg (jackfruit chunks cooked in coconut cream), daging lembu di guling (beef rolls in a sauce of coconut and tomato), sambal goreng udang (shrimp stirfried with chilipaste), ketoprak........
Lovely small spicy dishes by candlelight, semi private.

Also have the excellent Dutch herring, big buckets of mussels, Surinamese sandwiches from Warung Swietie just off the Albert Kuyp market.  For fried snacky things, eat at FeBo. 
Plus gasak fine dimsum in the area around the Binnen Bantammer Street.
What's a vacation without dimsum?


Amsterdam is a wonderful place for just two people.  There's something about a good walking city with lovely tree-lined streets and canals that stimulates lively impulses, and because this is not a place which is full of itself, it is far more conducive to interludes of carefree romance than other places.  It just feels so comfortable being there. 
Twixt 'gezellig' (cozy) and 'senang' (happy, contented).
Time goes by too fast, and before you know it you must depart. 
But plan on going back again.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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  • At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Arno said…

    Amsterdam and friendly waiters.. Pretty rare combination. Although.. Pity I can't remember the name of the café on De Wallen where I went in for a cold beer. Typical old fashioned Dutch "bruine kroeg" with Dutch music blaring out of the speakers. Andre Hazes. That kind of music. As soon as I settled myself on one of the bar stools and ordered a "vaasje" the owner/barman asked me if I smoked. This was just after the Dutch café smoking ban had gone in. So I hesitated to answer, it could be a trick. Maybe. Well, do you smoke?? The barman asked again. Ehm, yes. Promptly an ashtray was put before my nose. I smoked one of my best pipes there.

  • At 10:54 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    That sounds like a cafe to keep on one's permanent rotation.

    Such as Ischa Meijer would have appreciated and written fondly about.


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