Holland Hoi! : Euro Tour Update #4

The Netherlands.

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There is a reason blue and white is so popular in classic Holland imagery. At least, I have a theory as to why. It’s the sky. The clouds, but coupled with their particular hue of blue, and (as I mentioned in my last post)… the clarity.

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My last blog was written in Nijmegen where I was booked to perform that evening (one week ago) at a small venue called Café Camelot. By the way, “café” in The Netherlands does not mean a small venue that serves coffee and cakes. Sure, they usually serve coffees (and often are full restaurants during the day), but the word “café” is code for: pub. At least, at night. So, yeah, it was a pub show.

The people at the venue were very kind, gave me a place to sleep, a lovely dinner, and I was paired with a duo called George Boomsa & People Poems, two young guys from the UK who were also touring their acoustic music. I quite enjoyed their songs and their friendly energy.

The pub is designed in an L shape where the foot of the L is at the back and it houses (and hides) the small stage which is, sadly, positioned right beside the steps that lead up to the toilets. I have played rooms situated right beside the bathrooms before and, as I told the audience, it’s a nice feeling when people approach; you have the impression the music is drawing them in, but, no, a quiet and embarrassed nod, a desperate attempt to divert their gaze from your playing, the threat of bursting bladders, and then they’ve passed you for the steps, bounding up extra quickly while you’re in the middle of a song as though they’re afraid you may berate them for interrupting you if they waited for the song to be over. I have to laugh. And I did. Openly.

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During the day when I walked around Nijmegen, I stopped for a coffee at a local “café” and met the bartender named Flores. A lovely guy and he told me where to walk and what to see and I simply didn’t have enough time to take all his suggestions. One of the most famous squats in Holland is there, and a very interesting man-made island that people from all over the world come visit to hone urban irrigation techniques, and some beautiful parks that I could only glimpse from the map and the sparkle in his eyes as he spoke of them.

Later that evening, Flores came to the show with his friend Floors (a woman) and they laughingly introduced themselves as the “two floors.” While the gig wasn’t much to write about (small audience in the foot of that L-shape and very average sound), what I found so moving about the evening was the welcome and conversations I had with these two people. It continued until after one in the morning. We moved back to the café/pub that Flores works at and we continued drinking wine and speaking about culture and community and activism and humanity. I laughed a lot and was very moved by their openness and friendship. I really hope to cross paths with these two again in the future.

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The next day included another long train ride back to Amsterdam where I settled into a hotel and planned some more tourism. That included The Anne Frank House (I had to pre-book a ticket!) and a red light district museum The Prostitution History Museum. I also went to a “coffeeshop.” By the way, “coffeeshop” in Amsterdam doesn’t mean a place where you can buy coffee. I had wanted a hot beverage because I’d rented a bike and the air was crisp on my freezing fingers. Instead, I walked into a marijuana cloud, readjusted my sights, and walked out with some “space cakes.” Why not? I’m not a smoker, but I decided that I would require some of the local ‘flavour’ to accompany my journey. I tucked it into my bag for the right moment.

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The following day, I headed to Eindhoven where I was to be meeting a lovely gentleman named Theo who had helped me to organize both the Nijmegen and Gemert shows, the latter on the agenda for the Thursday evening (November 9th). Theo and his wife Diana have quickly become some of my favourite people. They took me into their home and made me a wonderful vegetarian meal and then drove me to the venue in Gemert that evening where I had the best show of the tour so far. It was a great room called De Bunker and, while there were just about 20 people in attendance, they all sat up front and listened intently. The sound was fantastic and the energy was settled in all the right places in the room, as though the corners held secrets and the shadows stood guard. Those gigs feel like a homecoming—the stage: my long-lost home. I enjoyed every moment.

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(that’s the bike that was my chariot in Amsterdam…)

And once again, the after show conversation with a woman at the bar about life as a single parent, being strong women, and a mother’s love and resilience… well, it was very moving and I felt immediately grounded by her presence. I will stay in touch with Tinika, for sure.

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After Gemert, Theo and Diana let me stay in their guest room and then drove me the next morning to the Eindhoven train station where I once again returned to Amsterdam for my final day off in The Netherlands. There, I settled into a new hotel and decided to take myself out on the town. I tried one club and opted for another where I had several drinks, met a collection of interesting and wacky people and returned to my little room feeling like a well-versed local. I even practiced my faulty Dutch for “I don’t speak Dutch” and “I am Canadian” and “HOI!” I have several offers from people (read: men) to take me out and be my “tour guide” the next time I’m in Holland. By the way, “tour guide” in the Netherlands doesn’t actually mean tour guide…

Then, Saturday, I boarded a bus for Gronigen for my gig in Steendam, a little town outside of Gronigen with fewer than 175 inhabitants. (That’s when half a space cake came in handy. Bus rides can be fascinating!) When I arrived, I was met by Peter of the infamous venue “Peter en Leni,” a lovely little restaurant that hosts live musicians from all over the world every week. This family has become my ideal adoptive family in the Netherlands, mostly because it felt so much like my own family back in Canada. I immediately met their son, one of their grandchildren (a 18-month old cutie pie), and the family’s 88-year old maternal grandmother. Then I was promptly invited to sit at their large kitchen table for Saturday evening supper. That night, they also let me do some laundry (much needed) and set me up in a very comfortable guest room.

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The next day, my noon performance as a lovely 2X45 minute set affair with a small but appreciative audience. Peter said they’d welcome me back in the future. And, to me, that’s what it’s about: making connections. I enjoyed every minute of being in Steendam and I do truly hope to return.

So, when I said goodbye that evening—Peter graciously drove me 45 minutes into Germany so I could connect with the many trains needed to get me to Switzerland by the next morning in order to meet with Madison Violet—I was feeling sad to say goodbye to Holland but, at the same time, fully and utterly clear about my desire to return. Like the hue of blue in the Amsterdam sky against the white clouds of “coffeeshop” smoke, I felt a certain clarity that no amount of substance can bring a person. It’s the clarity of human connection, the clarity of beginnings, the clarity of new friendships.

I’ll be back… guitar in hand.

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