Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nowrooz in Amsterdam

If you stay in Amsterdam long enough, you are bound to get run over. Least likely by a car but most probably by a push bike. Here bicycles rule! They come every each way and from every direction and they care not what is in their way. I learned my lesson when I got run over by a push bike on my second day. I was looking out for cars, trams and buses and somehow assumed that bicycles will look out for me, but a fading bicycle tyre burn mark on my right calf is a reminder that I should not make such assumptions again.

I will be working here for a while, and only go back to London for weekends. Few people have told me that when they left London, they missed even the things they complained about. Now I understand what they meant.

Most of all I miss my social circle, and just feel a little bit out of touch here. Nowrooz outside Iran is never ideal, but at least over the years, we celebrated Nowrooz as best as we could. This year, I am resigned to the fact that it will be the drabbest and most boring Nowrooz of my life so far.

I don't think the Dutch believe in luxury. In fact living a Spartan life, I am told, is part of the Orange order. Take the Hotels for example, a three star hotel here, is probably equivalent of a one star hotel anywhere else. The rooms are so small, I feel claustrophobic, and they are all very dimly lit. The reason for the lack of lighting, I am sure, is to do with the Dutch being tight. My God, they are tight! Its only now that I understand what the expressions used in England, 'Going Dutch', 'Dutch Treat' and 'Dutch Date' really mean! I am sure their love affair with bicycles is also nothing to do with environment or health. They are just too tight to use a car. You never even see a nice modern, comfortable bicycle. They all look old and second-hand, probably handed down from generation to generation.

As tight as the Dutch are however, they are ever so friendly and tolerant, and they all speak English. Even when the beggars and the bums approach you and you tell them you can't speak Dutch, they will beg in Shakespearean English. I had to laugh once when I heard an English tourist, must have just got here, asked the barmaid, "excuse me do you speak English?". You really don't need to ask, you can speak to anyone in English. You can even watch comedy shows in English, along with a Dutch audience. In fact, I watched one of the best improvised comedy shows here in Amsterdam, in a theatre called Boom Boom Chicago.

Everyone seems to enjoy roughly the same standard of living here. If you earn too much money, they tax you for everything and you get nothing from the state and if you earn nothing, you get loads of state handouts. This must be the closest it will ever get to a real Socialist system.

You can go up to any woman on her own, in a typically badly lit street, and ask for directions, and she will gladly stop and help you. In London, understandably so, a woman would be perhaps too frightened to talk to a stranger in those circumstances, but here in Amsterdam, women feel safe.
I wonder if this is anything to do with their liberal laws and their red light district oddity. It seems to me that no one here can possibly be sexually repressed to bother a woman. Interesting that in Islamic Pakistan for example, where everyone must be sexually repressed, a woman is raped once every hour and gang raped every eight hours, but in liberal Amsterdam, women feel safe and secure.

The Dutch women are quite stunning. An Italian colleague tells me, he has never come across an ugly Dutch girl, and I yet have to prove him wrong. A combination of good genes and lots of pedalling on the bicycles has made the Dutch girls looking fit and desirable.

One of the first places I went to see here was Ann Frank's house. Its an overwhelming experience to be in the same house as Ann Frank and her family. To know that you are looking out of the same window as the Frank family did. To imagine their fears every time they peeked out of the window. There in that house a family was torn apart and suffered a tragic end at the hands of the Nazis, and you were in their hideout amongst their memories. An amazing experience. At the end of the tour, there is a really interesting exhibition. The audience watch a film explaining the background of the question they are about to be asked on limits of freedom. Then at the end of each clip, they express their opinion by pressing a Yes/No button. Two charts then display how the audience have voted in the room on the day and overall since the exhibition began. Some tough soul searching questions are asked which really make you think.

Another favourite place of mine is Leidesplein. Its a little bit like London's Covent Garden with its street performances. Now let me tell you about a little short grumpy man who performs the most amazing football skills I have ever seen. Now I thought my football skills and my kick ups were a little impressive but this guy is the supremo. Let me try to explain to you just one of his amazing acts. He bounces the ball on his head and moves towards one of the street lamps in the square, while still bouncing the ball on his head. He then climbs up the lamp post, still bouncing the ball on his head. Once he reaches the top, he hangs from the lamp's strut and then bounces the ball on his feet! He then climbs down, bouncing the ball on his head again. I mean how much ball control can he have?! I think his name is Roberto. Really recommend seeing him if you are in Amsterdam. Don't try to talk to him though, he is the most unfriendly performer in the world.

So this is where and how I am spending my 27th Nowrooz outside Iran. A bitter cold wind that penetrates into ones bones takes away any illusions of a Spring equinox. We say in Persian, You can tell what the year ahead will be like from its Spring!! It won't be the most memorable one. The most memorable one, of course, will be the one I wrote about before. The Nowrooz with the Prince and Iranian refugees in Crystal Palace, a day we will never forget.

Happy Nowrooz everyone, wherever you are.


Bardia said...

Noroozat pirooz

Aryamehr said...

Potkin jAn Noroozat Farkhondeh va Pirooz Baad - Ba Bettarin Arezoha Baraye Saale 2566!!

Anonymous said...

stay there!

Anonymous said...

Potkin jan,

har ja ke hasti eyde noroozat mobarak bad wa dar sale jadid tandorost wa shad bashi.


Azarmehr said...

sepAsgozAram az hameh shomA doostAn keh bA vojoode shomA hargez ehsAse tanhAyi nemikonam.

barAye hameh shomA sAle piroozmandi Arezoo dAram.

Winston said...

It's a crazy city