Notes from Amsterdam
Posted on February 9, 2014
Early tomorrow morning we leave our lovely flat on Anjeliersstraat and head home after a month here in Amsterdam. We’re missing our family, our menagerie, and snow … well, one of us is missing snow (hint: not the one who shovels the snow).
Our time here has been wonderful. We know the city reasonably well now and have our favorite places. For me the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum (recently opened after a ten-year renovation) head the list, but this time I discovered the Stedelijk Museum where I saw a fascinating exhibit ”Kazimir Malevich and the Russian Avant-garde” and the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje (Museum of Bags and Purses) with its lovely cafe and a special exhibit, ”Barbie’s Birthday Bash” celebrating the 50th birthday of the the American icon. (Barbie has aged well: she doesn’t look a day older than she did in 1959.) Carolyn’s ongoing research took her back to the Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), and the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historial Museum). She discovered the Hollandsche Schouwburg (the Dutch Theatre and, now, part of the Jewish Historical Museum and war memorial) which has a powerful permanent exhibit on the war years and a small exhibit on the occasion of 100th anniversary of Etty Hillesum’s birthday. Carolyn also went to the Second International Congress: Etty Hillesum, Her Letters and Diaries, in Ghent. With her dear friend and colleague, Denise de Costa, a noted Hillesum scholar, Carolyn visited the Etty Hillesum Center in Deventer, where Hillesum lived as a child.
Shortly after we arrived we attended a local SCBWI meeting and listened to a talk given by the translator Laura Watkinson, whose translations won both the Mildred Batchelder Award and a Batchelder Honor at mid-winter ALA a week later. Kudos to Laura! We were invited by Mina Witteman, the SCBWI Regional Advisor for the Netherlands, to speak to this group a week later. Here is where serendipity kicked in. It came up in conversation that Carolyn is working on a book about Etty Hillesum, and one of the group, George Isherwood, a playwright, invited Carolyn to tea with his friend Jan Willem Regenhardt, the author of Mischa’s Spel, a new biography of Etty Hillesum’s younger brother, Mischa, who was a piano prodigy and composer. Toward the end of our stay we met again with Mina, to discuss the feasibility of conducting one of our namelos Writers’ Workshops here in the Netherlands, perhaps in 2015. More on that as it develops. We were able to spend quality time with old friends, including a visit to Rotterdam to see my long-time publishing partner Jean Christophe Boele van Hensbroek (Lemniscaat) and, while here in Amsterdam, my old friend and Carolyn’s Dutch publisher, Jacques Dohmen (formerly of Querido). To top this all off, our last night out on the town was with Jean Christophe and Jesse Goossens, who invited us to dinner with two of my favorite artists, Charlotte Dematons (Holland) and Ingrid Schubert (The Tiny Mouse). As the Dutch say, “Het was erg gezellig!”
But, it hasn’t been all play. While we have been here, I’ve managed to edit six novels. Although I think I have an ideal work environment when I’m in my studio at home, I have never edited as many manuscripts in as short a time. I also, finally, tackled the “content generation tool” Scrivener (for Mac, of course), and it is amazing! If you write long-form anything, you should take a look at it. I even read the (F*#@-ing) manual and highly recommend it. I convinced Carolyn to move her book into Scrivener (from Word) and, so far, she’s very happy with it. It takes a couple of hours to learn the basics, but the interactive manual is very good and it’s well worth the effort. BTW, I am not shilling for the software company that sells Scrivener. The program is just that good. I also tried Paper, the newsreader app that Facebook has just released for mobile. It, too, is terrific. Finally, I discovered the ”American singer-songwriter and contemporary Christian music artist”, Audrey Assad, whose latest album, ”Fortunate Fall” (financed with a Kickstarter campaign), is exquisite. Listen to this!
At this time of year, mornings in Amsterdam tend to be gray and wet. We fell into a lovely routine of working in the morning through lunchtime, and then sojourning out in the afternoon. I walked miles and miles along streets and canals, getting strength back in my reconstructed legs, and snapping photographs of whatever caught my eye. I’ve shared some of those photographs on-line, including one with which I will end my account. It captures, for me, the allure of this wonderful city!