Amsterdam: Pleasures and Small Treasures

By Alex Ramsey

December 29, 2020

Amsterdam’s pleasures reflect everything from the sublimely selective to the sexually shrewd. Let’s start with the atmosphere of canals, boats, and living on a man-made miracle of ancient wood and Dutch engineering to forge a city out of the ocean. Then, there are the museums from the Rijksmuseum, to the Van Gogh, to the many smaller, less well-known such as the Maritime museum. All beautiful in detail and design. The city hums and whirrs in a way that is unique. The vibe is completely different from any other, and it is not just the smell of marijuana that makes it so. There’s a relaxed, intense spirit that is hard to define and fun to experience. The food and restaurants are endlessly fun or elegant depending on your mood. The artisanal qualities extend from beers and brandies to chocolates and candies. There is an elegance that permeates Amsterdam, an elegance which outsiders can discover in the great hotels, the museums, and the style the city projects. Rembrandt probably set a tone. I was never much of a Rembrandt fan until I visited the Rijksmuseum and saw first-hand what I didn’t expect, qualities of dash, light, and style that eluded me from photographs. Oddly, what I learned about Van Gogh there was also unexpected, how he treasured the old, the withered, the lived-in faces of the people he painted.

The great hotels in Amsterdam bustle with both lots of action and a restrained style that make even having a cup of tea or coffee in a lobby of The Grand or the Waldorf an eye feast of people watching. When I was at The Grand recently, a “wooden” shoe made of chocolate, filled with fruit and more chocolates was left in my room. It was amazing! The worst part of it is that it was impossible to carry home. It reminds me that when I was very young, my parents Fran and Sam Beard brought my brother and me wooden shoes home as gifts. How I wish I still had them! One thing you don’t see much of in Amsterdam these days are wooden shoes, but Mother told me when they first started going to Europe many people wore them still, back in the 50s. What you will see in Amsterdam is flowers. Those still remain very much identified with the country as a whole and the fine arts of flower arranging appear in shops and restaurants, delighting the senses and sparking the imagination. As for the sexually liberal policies of The Netherlands, the manager of The Grand encouraged me to read a book that explained a great deal about the country. It is a conservative place, but not to the extent of being in denial about human desires. Thus, behaviors that might be illegal in other countries are regulated there. The idea is to provide a balance and create as much flexibility and harmony for the good of all. It’s not a bad approach.  

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