A brief note from Amsterdam where I’m laying over for four days, partly to visit a friend I worked with in Palestine in 2006, partly to respite between the insane speed of US culture and the insane injustice in Israel and Palestine.
No checkpoints here, no threat of suicide bombers here, no limited access roads, no threats to wipe the country and people off the map, and no stranglehold on the economy, culture–precious freedom itself–by another.
Ann Frank once lived here. M and I plan to visit Frank’s former home, now a museum, on Sunday. The Nazis once controlled this region and Jews were persecuted. But not–I learned recently from a book I’ve been devouring (leading to my nausea) by Saul Friedman, The Years of Extermination, Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939 – 1945–without resistance. For a short period early in the extermination campaign the Dutch, at least in Amsterdam, took to the streets and in other ways expressed their dissent. They were viciously stopped. Their model, their courage to not remain silent in the face of vast human oppression, inspires me. As Martin Luther King Jr so well and cryptically put it: Silence is betrayal.
Bikes proliferate in Amsterdam, water once did, but now the watery ways are being paved over. A new subway station appears to be wiping out a major section of river. The primary river, Amstel (recall the beer, not made we presume from river water), is channelized for much of its inner city flow. One major square is simply called Dam, thus Amster-dam. (no sign now of the dam)
I walked many of the canals yersterday, thru the Red Light district with prostitutes sitting in windows beckoning males to join them. At first i thought they were mannequins. A rough job. The city is walkable, lively, fun, a bit expensive, but there are ways to minimize costs. Today I rented a bike and cruised the waterfront. I long to join the bikers.
Red Light District
I’m fascinated by what I suspect is an elevated civility here and throughout the Low Country and Scandanavia. A model perhaps for those among us living in a nation that thinks it stands on the moral high ground, even with its feet mired and its hands bloodied in Iraq. I can visualize finishing my Israel Palestine photo project someday, maybe when I’m too cranky and impaired to continue, and then taking on showing how the Hollanders try to live. Of course, at this stage of my awareness about this region, I am a neophyte and romantic. However, the contrast between Amsterdam and Jerusalem, Amsterdam and Ramallah where I plan to reside, Amsterdam and Jenin or Gaza where I hope to work is vast. The contrast makes even sharper what is occurring in the once thought Holy Land, and what we might all aim for: civility, basic civility.
Fond wishes to all for your pursuits, may we all discover and follow our bliss.