Friday, 13 February 2009

Visit with Dad

Two weekends ago I went to the American Hotel for brunch with my roommates, Marc & Jaana, and some of her friends. These are some pictures taken that Sunday.

Last weekend I took off Friday from work, cleared my schedule and spent 3 days with Dad who came all the way from Vancouver for a weekend visit. He was able to piggy-back the trip with a meeting in Spain, but I suspect he would have gladly come for the weekend regardless. That, if nothing else, separates our family from most others.

A few days after he left he organized his thoughts and wrote down his impressions which he then Emailed to the family. He was kind enough to include me in that Email which was interesting to read it from his perspective.

He also pointed out in that Email that is was not an invitation for me to comment, which I respected. Those were his thoughts and that Email was his forum. Fair enough. But, this blog is my forum, so I will respond here :)
“For 3 days, he walked my feet off…I can’t begin to imagine how many kilometers we must have covered, but I saw a very different Amsterdam that the one I had previously seen, and one that I liked a lot. “
When Dad announced he would be coming to visit, I had two objectives for that weekend. First, spend as much quality time together as possible and second, show him Amsterdam the way I see it.

He made it clear he didn’t want to do touristy things, which was fine with me. Those places aren’t the highlights of the city anyway. I knew he liked to walk and so that is what we did. I took him to the different corners of city and sent his sense of direction completely out of whack. As was my first experience in Amsterdam, he rarely knew which way we were going, which was OK. I did. We walked through parks, squares and plazas, down cobble-stoned roads, pedestrian thoroughfares and lanes, by and along many canals and over more bridges than we could count. I also showed him the diversity of the architecture, from the leaning canal houses (which the NY brownstones were modelled after) to the massive estate houses that sat alone the edge of Vondelpark.

With only three days at my disposal, I think I successfully showed him why I love this city so much. I frequently get friends from Vancouver perplexed at how positive I am when referring to Amsterdam. Most of them have been here and think it pales in comparison to Vancouver, and maybe in some ways it does. The problem is, none of them have really seen Amsterdam! Now, Dad has. He saw it the way I showed it to Mom and Shawn last year. And most people who come here and only stay downtown, leave with a less-than-ideal picture of this city. It would be like visiting the Downtown Eastside and saying you have seen Vancouver.
“Like most of us, I think, I had only just come to the realization that Alistair wasn’t coming back to Vancouver, except to visit. This came as a surprise to Alistair because he said that he had expressed this in his blog, but personally, I think I was in denial…and so might some have you been!!”
I first started mentioning that coming back to Vancouver was looking really slim in August and by the end of September, I pretty much announced it. I guess since I had to adjust to that idea in order to be happy, I assumed everyone else did as well. It didn’t occur to be that anyone would be holding onto the hopes that that wasn’t the case.

The simple fact is, nothing in my future is a certainty, something else I have recently come to grips with. I have my ideas of what I want from the future, but nothing is written in stone. This is true of where I will live, what the future holds for Nina and I and where my career is going. All I know is what I want at this moment in time. But since my life has changed so much in the past 2 years, I have realized thinking about where I want to be in the future is a little futile. Because what I want now and what I want a few years from now might be miles apart. I do want some stability in my life and will want to put down some roots at some point, but I recognize that will probably be 10 – 15 years from now. So, I am adapting to that.

"On Day 2, we took a 30 minute bus ride to Edam, one of the prettiest little towns I have ever seen. We spent the day there, walked, sat in a little cheese café and ate some cheese (what else!) and drank wine. The cheese café was a neat little spot by a canal (everywhere is by a canal). We ate, drank, talked and had an interesting time with the owner who sat with us for a while."Before Dad arrived I saw down with Marc and had him make me a list of all the places he thought were worth visiting for a day trip. My only stipulation was they must be within an hour of Amsterdam.

I did some research and decided Edam looked like the best option. One of the major selling points was that it is located on the Ijsselmeer. This bay used to be part of the North Sea but has since been dammed and is now a giant lake. It has shrunk considerably due to land reclaiming on the opposite shores.

I have seen a lot of small town across Europe in my travels. Many of them have attractive features, but none were as pretty as Edam. Unlike most towns that have a few streets or areas that are attractive, everywhere we went in Edam was equally as beautiful as where we had just been. We saw a good 70% of the town of 8,000 and didn’t find a blemish.

We witnessed something we weren't expecting in small-town Netherlands; a Scottish funeral progression! We were walking down a small cobble-stone road and could hear bagpipes. There was a congregation of people standing outside a home with a hearse. Pallbearers carried a casket out of the house and to the hearse where the progression made its way, at walking speed, to the large church on the other side of town. The progression was led by the piper and some of the people walking behind the hearse were also in full Scottish kilts and garb.

Another unusual find was a Jewish cemetery from the 1800s.
"He is amazingly well-informed on what’s going on in Metro Vancouver and Canadian politics which suggests to me that irrespective of his unbridled enthusiasm for his new home, a big part of him is still in Vancouver."
Dad and I discussed so many topics from local to provincial to federal political issues. We covered unions, BCTF, budgets & deficits, Olympics, public transportation, Campbell vs James, our dislike for Jenny Sims and Israel to name a few. It didn’t seem to matter what the topic was, we didn’t have a single argument. It was a little disappointing how, for the most part, we agreed on most topics.

I admit, I frequently read Vancouver news (I get headlines
delivered to my inbox) and listen to CKNW. Part of the reason is that we don’t have a television in the apartment, so it’s my entertainment. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s what I know and am used to; I have been listening to NW for over 15 years. But the other part is that Vancouver IS still home on some level, if for no other reason than that’s where my family is. My heart isn’t really there anymore, but my interest is.

I write to Bill Good, my favourite broadcaster, on different
issues. They have enabled a listener line where you can leave a message and at the end of the show they spend a few minutes playing some of them. Last week they played one of mine which you can hear by clicking this link.

"Just remembered something else worth mentioning…his bike!! It is probably one of the most theft-proof bikes in Amsterdam by virtue of being a piece of shit that is held together by a h
ope and a prayer. Knowing Alistair, I think we would think that I am flattering it, but you have to see it to believe it, but it gets him there and is always exactly where he left it. The wheels are slightly bent, the back mudguard rests on the wheel, a couple of spokes on the front are broken and wound around other spokes, but it makes a comforting noise as it goes that must be good company for Alistair especially at night."

That is a very apt description! Last summer I went on many great adventures on this bike, sometimes cycling many
kilometres away from home to the opposite reaches of Amsterdam. On one occasion, I rode so far I actually left the city limits. That won’t be happening again this year, not with this bike anyways. I now have the fear that it won’t make it to work and back, let alone on a leisurely ride. One of the three gears has given out, the brakes work (when it’s dry) and the bike wobbles due to the bent and rusted wheels. When I ride by, people look at me. It’s a loud bike as the peddles click the kickstand as they go around, the back mudguard rattles as it bounces off the back tire and there are other sounds that I can’t identify. I think of these noises as a safety measure people in cars are able to hear me coming.

Work is… going. There is never a dull moment and the past two weeks have proved that in spades. There have been some issues in the office, which result in private discussions happening out in the open. I have successfully been able to dodge the politics. With a staff of four, you would think there wouldn’t be such

As one of the employees is renegotiating his contract, that has been a real sore point with Stefan as they are having a difficult time agreeing on a middle ground. Around the same time Stefan decided to restructure the bonus scheme. He discussed it with me so I took the opportunity to enquire about renegotiating my contract. He didn’t want to commit to anything and told me he was moving away from fixed-term contracts.

At the end of last week he left to go to some conferences and do some recruiting in Scandinavia and England. He has been checking in via Email and the phone and brought up the idea of a contract a week after telling me it wasn’t going to happen. We are going to negotiate the terms via Email as he won’t be back for a few more weeks. He has essentially become a virtual boss.

With Nina being sick and then Dad coming to visit, we have missed a few weekends. So I hopped on the train Thursday after work to spend an extended Valentine’s weekend with her in Germany.