10 things about the Netherlands

I’ve been home for two weeks, and have a few reflections about the trip I recently took. I wrote this post mostly while in Holland, but only organized it this past weekend.

International travel is an essential thing for Americans to do. Even though we are a culture profoundly in love with the “road trip,” America is a very isolated country; -isolated physically, socially, intellectually, and emotionally, from much of the rest of the world.

So here are a few thoughts-

10. “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands”

This local saying is historically accurate, because of the 15,000 square miles of the country (it’s about the size of new jersey) over half has been reclaimed from swampland and the ocean.

There is a constant struggle with/against the water that defines foundational Dutch culture. The Dutch claim that they are resourceful because they “…are always fighting the water.”

Maybe speedskating is part of that triumph over water, it’s the moment where this tremendous threat, becomes something they can walk & even fly across.

Needless to say, global warming has the Dutch a little bit worried. They call the land they have reclaimed from the sea “the Polder” and its VERY lush, green, and pretty.

9. Wooden Shoes & Windmills
Really, these popular icons mean something else entirely. They are not cute, they are symbols of the constant fight against the water.

The windmills are running to keep pumping water out (modern ones are generating electricity for pumping stations). And wooden shoes are cheap, waterproof footwear for poor farmers, the upturned tip helps them not sink into the mud.. Also, coincidentally, they provided a nice hard surface to strap an iron blade onto.

Translation for the non-dutch-
Wooden shoes = Steel toed workboots for tough farmers.
Windmills = insurance against your real estate investment/house having it’s value washed away in an instant (As the American housing market crumbles, I wish I had a windmill proof against this rising tide).

8. Bike Paths
Holland is about 250 kilometers long and under 200 wide, and somehow they squeezed 6,000 kilometers of bike paths in there. It’s a cycling and (when its not raining) inline skating paradise!

From bankers to grandmas, fashionable hipsters to blue-collar workers, children & junkies, everyone rides an old, beat up cruiser in every weather condition.

Bikes RULE the streets. Cars & even the massive trams give way to the swarms of cyclists

Here is a bicycle parking garage near central station, downtown Amsterdam. 3 floors, thousands upon thousands of cheap cruisers. The boat is also mass transit!

In the past 10 years, car ownership has quadrupled, and massive traffic jams between cities are becoming normal. However for inter-city transit, bikes still rule.

7. Amsterdam Canals at night
A quiet, rainy evening, full of pedestrians & beautiful lights on the water, click for a larger image-

A discerning observer will notice the red lights along the windows on the sides of this picture, and these signify the legalized prostitution of the red light district. The women stand in the windows & beckon to you, if the curtains are drawn, they are “busy.”

It’s a little shocking for people from sexually repressed cultures (like, umm… America) to see this.

Lest my fellow Americans get all indignant & huffy, look in the phonebook of ANY American city, what the heck do you think the “ESCORT SERVICES” section is?

This is just how our culture does the same… exact.. thing…. In every society, there will always be women who sell sex & men who buy it. How it’s done is just local detail.

6. For George’s Wife
I did this brief video for people to see the awesome inline skating that can be done along the shores of the inland seas (the Iselmeer). I did this video for George’s wife, who has never seen her husband, a 3 time elfstendentocht finisher, skate. George is in his 50’s, and can still really motor along. (click here for the quicktime)

The music is a local drinking song, about a father, a son, the ocean, & loss. It was recommended to me by several Dutch friends, they say it’s one of those songs that make people sway, sniffle back a tear, and sing at the top of their lungs.

5. Pannenkoek

Definitely in the category of “yummy beyond all comprehension!” we have an apple sugar Pannekoek, and then a Brie & Pineapple!!!

Why did this trip so center around food? It must be all that endurance work I did this summer, it made me hungry!

4. The Elfstedentocht
Translation to Americans: To have finished this 200 kilometer race is like having been allowed to play in the Superbowl. And a Superbowl that only happens roughly once every decade or so.

Here is Jules’s timecard & finish medal. You pass through 11 cities, and get a stamp at every city along the way. Even the leading pack does this, and if you miss a stamp, you are DQ-ed

3. Overheard…

While taking the picture of this monolith to the right, I overheard some Irish tourists, having an absolutely screaming argument behind me. I will never forget what one young woman said (imagine this said in the thickest Irish accent you’ve ever heard)-

“We are not in bloody Dublin anymore, we’ve been in Amsterdam for DAYS, and I haven’t had one f***ing joint yet!”

We met quite a few folks from the UK who were over in Amsterdam to sample these “coffee shops” that don’t serve much coffee at all (including a really neat couple in their 60’s Jess & I had a lovely chat with over a pint of Belgian beer).

2. Raw, Pickled Herring
My father has a rule, “If there is something on the menu that scares you, this is what you must order.” I have had many interesting meals following this rule, and this local delicacy was quite tasty.

Raw herring is basically Dutch sushi that makes your breath smell like gasoline for a while.

But a son never truly tops his parents. My mom & dad are in Italy, and emailed me that they ate sea urchin roe and spaghetti!!! I am both disgusted and jealous at the same time.

1. The Anne Frank House
Just go and see it. It hurts. A lot. Go and see it. This picture is the water in the canal, reflecting the house, on the day I visited.

The central message of this house is not the past, it’s the future;

The Anne Frank House is there to remind us that Fascism does not always wear a swastika; Fascism adopts local customs & cultural camouflage.

Claiming to be the super-patriots & the most true to heritage & country, fascism is about hatred & fearful disgust of people who are different. Religion, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, anything that is used to leverage a “cult of personality” by a few individuals who use a fearful, downtrodden public for their own machinations, -that is fascism.

And fascism is what murdered Anne Frank, and this is what a civil, decent, open society that truly believes in “love thy neighbor” must fight tooth and nail against, exposing it for what it really is.

I did not mean to end this entry on such a down note, because I loved the Netherlands, and want to go back, especially when I will have a chance to skate ovals that have pacelines so long, they meet in one long mobius strip of churning athletes.

But sometimes living in this world means seeing awful things with open eyes

10 things about Lake Placid

I might be slightly misquoting him, but I remember American sage Garrison Keillor once saying something roughly like this:

If you spend a week in one place, and try to write about it, you have a 50% chance of getting it right.
If you spend several weeks or even a few months, your chances rise to about 75%.
However if you spend a year, or several years, the chances get lower and lower.
You become overwhelmed by complexity as you become a part of that place, and not an observer.”

In that light, as I sit here in Salt Lake, and miss my friends & family back east, here are 10 thing about Lake Placid.

10. The last Hojo:
There are only 3 Howard Johnson restaurants left in the whole United States.

Whenever an icon is nearing extinction, it is cause for contemplation. One of the last HoJo’s is in Lake Placid, and it apparently markets itself to triathletes, as a water bottle my brother bought me there says “swim & bike & run to Hojo’s!

9. Night skating at the oval:
Colors, hard ice, & clear air on the Bunny Sheffield oval, or “the house that Heiden built”. Night skating rocks! Actually it was warm & wet during this picture. It still rocks.

8. The 1980 Olympic rink:
The rink itself is quite small, seating only a few thousand people at most. I like jogging around it to warm up in the morning. Ted Fitzpatrick recently lent me a DVD of the “miracle on ice” game against the Russians. Incredible.

The USSR outshot the USA something like 36 to 12, but the US goalie Jim Craig was amazing and the Russian goalies played like vodka was part of their warm-up. I get emotional whenever I step into that building. This image was shot at 7:15am, just as the lights were just coming on.

7. Ski Jumps:
File this particular sport under the OMIGOSH! DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO THAT!!! I simply cannot grasp what it would be like to ski off one of these things. They are scary huge, like a hotel perched on the edge of a cliff.

I took some photos, but none of them conveyed their astonishing size. Next time you are twenty stories up in a building, strap on some fat skis and jump out the window, roughly the same. Here is a better picture.

6. Maple Syrup & Science:
The tendrils of intellectual power & mind-numbing research from Cornell University extend to the remote Adirondacks & to maple syrup!!

My brother noticed this as we were driving, swerved off the road and took this picture. What do they do at this lab?? Inquiring minds want to know. But what a job! Maybe Homer Simpson’s dream job is within this lab.

5. ORDA cam:
What is happening in lake placid right now? Check out the orda cam! The camera snaps on the hour, every hour, when the 4pm shot is taken, all the speedskaters are still in the warming hut tying their laces, so unfortunately I’ve never seen a shot of pacelines whizzing around.

4. Think Snow:
The sign at the entrace to the main Olympic Complex.

The east coast ski industry, both downhill and cross country, has had a brutal early season. I wish I could loan them some of the Utah temperatures & snow.

3. The Zamboni:
This is iceman Dan Wood and the oval’s zamboni. This is the original machine they used for the 1980 games. I think it looks like a pimped out UPS truck. Conditions are brutal enough in placid that they have the driver enclosed.

Dan was a short tracker on the 1976 national team, did the ice for the 2002 US short track Olympic trials, and did the ice for a short track race where the women’s 500m world record was broken.

2. Lake Placid IronMan Triathlon
By pure chance, I have been in Lake Placid twice during the summer when this event has been going on. It’s an absolutely incredible thing to watch an Ironman distance triathlon in person. The crowds are crazy loud, the athletes incredible, and the human triumph of completing an Ironman astonishing. I have never seen so many people celebrating at a finish line.

I have raced several sprint triathlons, and have been tempted to try the longer ones. Then I remember that I have almost no slow-twtich fibres in my body! But I can still cheer loudly, and admire those who do.

1. John Dimon & Dimon Sports
When you do a google satellite image search of lake placid, you can see the oval very clearly, but the little green arrow that denotes to the center of Lake Placid, points to the doorstep of Dimon Sports!!!
When Google says you are the center of something, that counts somehow! see for yourself.

The vast majority of speedskaters in North America have spoken to John Dimon on the phone at some time. His life is skating, and it’s not too strong to say that John has been one of the central figures in a small group committed to saving long track from extinction on the east coast. Here he is, surrounded by friends of the skate tribe, handing out awards at a recent race.

John does sponsor me, so take whatever I have to say with a grain of salt. But his shop is the only dedicated walk-in speedskating shop in North America, and it exists because of his blood/sweat/tears (and gallons of diet coke!!)

Thanks John!!!

10 things about Milwaukee

Before my skate addiction caused me to get to know it, I always imagined Milwaukee as being just a northern suburb of Chicago. How wrong I was!!! Now that I have fallen in love with this place, here are 10 things about the rolling landscape of beer and cheese.

10. Lakeshore Drive Alterra Coffee Shop.
A psychologically healthy community often produces prime examples of the species “superior local coffee shop”. This place is one of the best ones I have ever wasted hours in. Fast Wi-Fi, great coffee, and a pastry counter full of amazing mouth-watering delicacies.

The NODE 24 hour coffee shop also deserves mention. I would have loved that all-black, clove cigarette vibe when I was 19.

9. Leaf Piles
They do leaf piles in Wisconsin almost as well as upstate NY. I miss leaf piles; the mountain west doesn’t build leaf piles in a satisfying way. This one looked like a horror movie monster about to consume any car that parked nearby, who knows, it could even be digesting one right now! For bonus points, find Carla hidden in the picture.

8. Green Bay Packers Gorp
They really love their football team here. I mean REALLY LOVE THEM. You can buy almost anything decked out in game-day ready green and gold. However I was completely speechless at seeing even GORP in Packers colors.

Of course maybe I was speechless because my mouth was crammed full of it. Damm tasty.

7. Indian Place-Names

“Ouisconsin,” became Wisconsin, it’s believed to mean “grassy place” in Chippewa, or “gathering of waters” in Algonquian. The Word Milwaukee is probably Algonquian, and is believed to mean “a good spot or place.”

The French who were here in the early 1740’s, agreed with these assessments, and started the normal Caucasian genocide. Most of the Indians are gone, but their spirit is still in the land, reveled in place names like: Kenosha, Waukegan, Wauwatosa, Oconomowoc, Sheyboygan, Menomenee falls, Peauwaukee, Kaukauna, Lake Winnebago, Shawano, Potawatomi, Sokaogan (try saying all of these names really fast).

6. Moods of Lake Michigan.
Many people who have lived near large bodies of water somehow don’t feel whole without being able to see & hear a lake or the ocean every day, I understand. Lake Michigan is constantly changing mood, it’s never the same twice, and looking at it always makes me smile. Here is just a tiny taste of one of its moods.

5. Milwaukee has soul
Many places in the USA have no soul. Look at the event calendars from Milwaukee’s small weekly magazines MKE and the Shepherd Express and you can see that this place definitely has soul. A city often reveals it’s soul in its local small weeklies like this. Stuff is just going on!!!

4. Breakfast in Wisconsin
I had a long conversation with a Californian about this, and from our dual-coast perspective we both agreed that Wisconsin produces consistently the best breakfasts we have ever experienced in the USA. Probably something to do with the agrarian roots of this state, plus incredibly dairy products, mixed with Scandinavian work ethic requiring early morning artery-clogging wonderments to start the day.

3. The upper Midwest accent
In this TV age, most verbal inflections are flattened by mass media sameness, Therefore I think all surviving examples of local pronunciation are wonderful and should be cherished!

The Minnesota/Wisconsin accent seems to involve flattening the vowels and extending their “hang time”. Here is an example: Weee’rreee driiiving toodaaay to keeennnooshaaaa…..

Also “haaave a niiice daaay!” or “youuu haaavvve a goood eeevening!” is often said with an instructional/mandatory tone!

2. Cool Fisherman & Salmon
Many times in the fall I have walked the shoreline and seen huge salmon cruising the shallows looking for a place to spawn. One day this past week I came across a bunch of cool guys on a pier hauling in fish after huge fish.

I struck up conversation, and they gave me 3 fish, each as long as my arm!!! (proof of claim on the right). I had an interesting afternoon butchering the 37 lbs of fish here.

A morally honest carnivore should, every now and then, personally slaughter something that they then proceed to eat. In case you were wondering, according to government studies the PCB’s are not a problem anymore in Salmon -just don’t eat it everyday, and NEVER eat big lake trout or carp.

An honorable mention goes to Carla, who handled her houseguest turning her kitchen into a gory horror movie with amazing calmness (there was fish blood on the ceiling by the time I was done). She also contributed to the writing of this post.

1. The Pettit Center!
Absolutely one of the best things about Milwaukee!! The history of this place, and the cool folks who skate there, are a gift that too many people take for granted. Sure it’s cold inside, and kind of dark, but it somehow feels like “home”, (start audio soundtrack here: the “cheers” theme song). Now if they would just publish results from last weekends racing (come on folks!) they would be perfect!!