3 May 2009

It takes stamina

Amsterdam, April 30th, Queen’s Day.

Four years ago when I stayed in the Netherlands (the Hague) for the first time I gave myself a promise that if someday I were in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day again, I’d steer clear of the festivities of any kind, and that nothing would make me go to town. And so you know, by nothing I mean home-made chocolate cakes, biscuits and other pastries, sold virtually on every corner of Amsterdam’s streets, on Queen’s Day, that is.

Dear Reader, as self-announced promises go, I easily break them. In this case, I spent the whole day in town. Or in other words, I lived to tell you about Queen’s Day in Amsterdam.

On a historical note, Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Holland, with the tradition started in the nineteenth century, and meticulously kept to the latter-day, irrespective of the calendar birthday of a ruling queen. For instance, current Queen Beatrix has her birthday on the 31st January, and yet officially celebrates it on April 30th. It’s also a day when people are allowed to sell things, crappy and otherwise, on streets (about this in a minute or so), making undistracted walking, let alone cycling, unimaginable. Plus, Queen’s Day is such an event when locals and tourists alike seem to be united in the craze that I will politely refer to as a state of irreversible drunkenness and loss of good manners whatsoever. Nationalities cease to exist when it comes to overconsumption of beer. Dutch, British, Russian? Forget it. Everybody is simply drunk. Also, if you don’t wear orange, you look like a dummy, which I did. Sigh.
My Dear Reader, I don’t know how about you, but to me it takes stamina to stay cool when seemingly everybody aims to step on your feet, or worse to spill beer all over your (not orange) clothes. In order to stave off my indignation and anger, I fortified my spirits with things chocolate, and engaged in conversations with ladies and gentlemen who found their joy in food, not beer. Like this girl, for instance:

She was selling home-made baked goods with a view to save money for her studies – she dreams to study cultural anthropology one day. Whole-heartedly, I invested two euro in her bright future, and lots of joy in my day, by buying a piece of her chocolate cake. To me, it would be a wicked sin to miss it.

It is very rich -- you’ll like it.

I absolutely did! How could I NOT if it felt like the chocolate fountain in my mouth, with all that bitter-sweet, thick ganache?
I wished the girl good luck, and resumed my snail-pace walking through the crowd. The initial plan was that I meet my friend Julio at his place from where we would attempt to proceed further into town. It took me a good few hours to get to Julio’s in the first place, but I choose not to complain because I kept fortifying myself with royal treats. This time it was Tom Pouce (Dutch for Tom Thumb), the emblem of Dutch puff pastry.

Tom Pouce (pronounced tom-poose) looks like a fancy sandwich: two layers of said puff pastry with a filling of sweet pastry cream in between. Surprisingly, to me it tasted remotely like Napoleon, or Mille-feuille, a must for every respectable Russian woman to have in her baking repertoire. (And I still cannot make it. Not yet.)

But back to Tom Pouce about which I’ll tell you this: not memorable. I mean, it looked like a very fine piece of pastry, and it was fun to eat the morsel on the go (absolutely deconstructive scene), but it wouldn’t make me trek out to a bakery/patisserie situated on the other side of the city early in the (rainy) morning (in case you wonder, this is one of my criteria to distinguish forgettable bread or pastry from un-). I think the words I am after are dull in taste. But on the other hand, I don’t want to sound so dismissive – after all, the whole country holds this pastry dear to their hearts, which means there is something about Tom Pouce I haven’t understood. Not yet, perhaps.

Finally, I made it to Julio’s, poured out all my complaints on the guy about drunks on the streets, and off we went again. There was much to see. If people did not drink, they sold off their belongings. These ranged from books to clothes to, in fact, anything and everything.

Even self-composed canines took on the entrepreneurial spirits.

Time ticked by and with every hour there seemed to be more people on the streets, and more boats on the water. I would never imagine one can have traffic jams on the canals. Dear Reader, as is with many other things, I was wrong -- traffic jams on water do exist.

Larger boats each hosted a DJ, so music was virtually in the air. ‘Is it the louder-the cooler factor?’ asked Julio, observantly. ‘Sounds like it is’, I shouted back over the music, my feet stepping to the rhythm of disco.

We walked and walked. And laughed non-stop too, can you imagine? It may be the alcohol fumes that considerably accumulated in the air and mellowed our Queen’s Day-resistant minds, or a few burgers with grilled ham, gussied up by pleasantly mild but spicy mustard -- Dutch mustard is remarkably tasty -- but we kind of liked this collective, festive, orange debauchery.

Queen’s Day certainly takes stamina, but practice makes perfect, as they say. Just don’t forget to watch your way non-stop – this is crucial, since there are crowds of real live Manneken Pis’es (beer!). I am fairly certain you want your shoes to remain clean and intact. Really, who does not?

1 comment:

Anna said...

sounds fun!!! and very orange. that dessert sounds amazing...if you ever learn to make mille-feuilles you HAVE to share, those are so delicious!!