Amsterdam

Veronica has joined us.

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In coordinated flights along two vectors, we intersected almost perfectly temporally and spatially – thus, along the (by now) four classical dimensions — landing us within fifteen minutes (that’s a temporal blink of the eye) within a few hundred yards (a spatial hop) of one another in the space-time continuum known as Schiphol Airport on July 29, a little after 11 AM.

Among the many things that the twenty-first century has us taking for granted is the ease with which we move over vast spaces (planes), with stunning surety (schedules), and with amazingly easy coordination (the web). Sarah commented to us a few days earlier during our six-hour walk from Myrdal to Flam that completing such a slow, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other sojourn reminds us, and more conveys, how arduous and time-consuming moving from place to place has been for most of human history.

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Sarah, Gideon, and I know that for many reasons we are fortunate – we know it every waking hour – and are also historically fortunate to be able to undertake our global venture. One additional reason that is germane here is we do so in an age when Veronica can easily hop on a plane in New York and with stunning precision land within easily measurable feet and minutes from us in Amsterdam.

In an instant, our family of four is reunited, is whole again, though it turns out, only fleetingly for the first couple of Amsterdam-days because Gideon’s good friend Mike from last summer’s Madrid program has come to Amsterdam for the weekend, so Gideon and he, late-teenagers that they are, have intensive one-on-one life-experience to share. That’s okay in a way, because Veronica, who is twenty-one, and we have much to catch up on and discuss as well, even though we saw her but a seeming blink of an eye of a fortnight ago.

We all (including Gideon and Mike on their own) spend the first few days doing what central Amsterdam invites visitors to do with such grace. To walk and walk and walk. I’ve never been in another city which so tempts and rewards (a rare enough combination) human ambulation.

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Some might say Venice, the archetypical canal city does, but for various reasons — including it is hardly a city or, being a relic as theme park, it is hardly a real place — it doesn’t come close. London and Paris and Tokyo and Barcelona (and Gideon’s beloved Madrid), oh yes, New York, offer their own significant ambulatory rewards, but, again, for many reasons, including their vastness, they rise not to the same walk-about level as our Dutch champion does.

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Of course, I haven’t been everywhere, so a city or two or three unvisited by me might yet capture my anointing-fancy. But no matter, or the existence of such inviting urbanity would be stupendous and a future treat to behold without it altering Amsterdam’s distinctive quality compared to so many other cities I love to walk around – I do, by the way, love to walk, and as with my other loves I do my best to keep as narrow as possible the gap between precept and practice.

I realize that my characterization of Amsterdam, tailing off without further elucidation, stands a bit totteringly as a tease. I may make good on its promise, and straighten its as yet unexplained posture, with my next post, but as there are so many things and themes to write about (the notes I jot down are already voluminous) perhaps some other topics will tempt and capture my compositional fancy and, if so, I hope will (that rarity again) reward yours.

— Danny, 6 August 2017, posted from Ghent

The Opening Arc

We’re on the KLM flight to Amsterdam, where in Schiphol we will rendezvous with Veronica. In sum, Norway has been a splendid beginning to our journey. A bit otherworldy in Lofoten; deeply affecting and unforgettable landscapes there, in the Sognafjord region, and on the drive onto Oslo; the opportunity to get our feet wet (wetter than we expected) as they, dry as can be, helped us scale, and scramble, and hike, and walk up and down slopes of unexpected difficulty and expected though still startling beauty;

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cities and towns of a well-put-together country,

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which, together with the universality of English, made our time negotiating a foreign land easy and stress-free; and two cities, though not spectacular, containing charm and enough urban offerings to occupy us engagingly for the short stays we allotted them. As a combination of highlights and ease, of newness and distinctiveness, Norway has been a sure winner as a place to start. Sarah and I have already accustomed ourselves to an existence of living abroad and underway. Gideon is a bit less settled, as the reality of a relatively kid-poor day-to-day requires adjustment. Yet spending so much time together, just together, in the countryside afforded bonded-us the time to bond even more in a right manner — an ubuntu-cultivating-practice which the Celtics pursued one year with a preseason stretch in Rome, setting themselves up for their successful championship run.

Norway is interesting (and fortunate) in other ways we should at least flag. Greatly owing to North Sea oil, as well as its people’s own human and social capital, it is among the world’s very wealthiest countries, producing a per capita income around twenty percent higher than the US and forty percent higher than Sweden. Yes, Sweden. This impressive wealth combines with broad income equality (its Gini coefficient is one of the lowest in the OECD), and enormous attention to public infrastructure, places, spaces, and goods. Rural areas and structures, notoriously poor around the world, are also sumptuous.

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Roads (and gads of tunnels) are superbly designed and maintained. (We drove through the world’s longest car tunnel – 15.2 miles! – four times. We had not even known about it when we first came upon it in its rural area, and saw the sign announcing its 24 km. Imagine our momentary surprise.) Cars, in our two weeks of looking, are entirely dent and blemish free. Parks abound. Even the trees in the countryside have gotten on the program.

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Materials used in the built environment are of immensely high quality, with textures that draw and excite the eye, mind, and body.

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There is much to admire and consider about Norway, which even a cursory two-week visit such as ours should suggest to just about anyone, including and, especially during this era of mean politics and policymaking, to Americans.

After our mostly landscape oriented time in Norway, we have scheduled a couple of weeks of heavy-duty art, architecture, and urbanity in Netherlands and Belgium. This portion of our travels is not a change of pace insofar as these two countries also have extremely well-put-together societies (ignoring, Belgium’s schizophrenic ethnic composition and politics), yet it is a change of pace in the activities which will form the core of our stay.

We try to live focusing on the present, on the place we currently inhabit and the activity we undertake, maximizing the present’s potential. Nevertheless, on a journey which, in demanding so much planning, has compelled a great deal of forethought and prospective investigation, and, especially, with so many lustrous places ahead, it takes effort not to look down the road, especially, it seems, for Gideon when attaining and straining for a good vantage point directed at the geographically distant but temporally around-the-corner Serengeti.

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–Danny, written July 29-30, posted in Amsterdam 1 August 2017