Very nice to meet you, Lessica.

At Artis, the Amsterdam zoo, the animals aren’t allowed to have names because it humanizes them.

It’s a new rule, or new-ish. Caesar the lion was 23 (very old for a lion, said the zookeeper) when he died last year, so now the zoo has one less animal with a name.

Ever since I learned about Caesar I’ve started thinking more about the things I love with names I don’t know. Like the smallest but brightest star in Minnesota, the yellow flowers that bloom in the mountains in Oregon, and literally every street in Amsterdam besides the one we live on. (I know the canals.) Not knowing their names doesn’t mean I love them any less.  It feels right when I say it about stars and important — more humane even — when I say it about lions. But it’s a bad excuse for not remembering someone’s name after you meet them at a party.

In the western United States a lot of mountains and lakes have women’s names. In Yosemite, Elizabeth Lake, Mary Lake, Dorothy Lake, Avonelle Lake, and Polly Dome are all named after the wives and daughters of the explorers and park rangers who climbed them first. How can you really know you are first to climb a mountain? If someone’s already climbed it, it might be just another name you don’t know.

And if you name a daughter and give her the name Dorothy, and then climb a mountain and name it Dorothy, are you naming the mountain after your daughter or do you just like the name Dorothy so much you used it twice?

Maybe the best way to love things that aren’t supposed to have names – wild things like mountains, and daughters, and 23-year-old-lions, and Dutch streets, and nice people at parties – is to give them a new name every time.

Mark Meyer
photo of nameless mountains by Mark Meyer

The information about mountains in Yosemite is from this essay by Lucy Bryan Green.

Tomato Tomato

I’m in the park writing this on my phone and a woman is standing here next to me. She’s looking at me and eating a tomato.

Right off the bat she seems like the weird one, but I usually am. It’s likely that the bench I’m sitting on is reserved for dogs, or my coat looks like a coat babies wear in the Netherlands, or today is the the king’s half-birthday and I’m the only person not wearing commemorative orange socks. Who knows.

She just took a huge bite, so juicy that someone could have recorded it and used it as sound effects in a horror movie where the zombie takes a bite out of a woman’s neck. “That sound gave me chills” a girl will say to her friends as she walks out of the theater, and one of her friends will tell her it was just the sound of someone biting into an apple. But it was a tomato. I saw it right here in the park with my own eyes.

She’s still taking bites and still staring at me but why? I’m dressed pretty normally. I’m staring at a phone, like all normal adults do. I took a shower last night.

Boaz and I started taking showers every night a year ago. When you shower at night you don’t bring the sweat and dirt of the day to sleep with you. Our bed is a temple, he told our friend when we were explaining the night shower routine. He said it with such seriousness that she thought it was a Jewish thing. “Oh right,” she said. “Or some people call it synagogue.” And we had to explain that it’s not a temple, not really. But maybe she was onto something.

If all it takes to make something holy is to do it differently, and with intent, then maybe showering can be. Maybe sitting on a bench can be holy too, if you really stop and notice the people around you, and where they’re looking and what they’re eating. Maybe a snack can be holy too, if it’s a very specific snack. Like maybe a tomato.

Tomato+Equality+wrightkitchen.com

(This photo is by Wright Kitchen you can click here to see a print.)

I never took that egg class in high school.

Boaz is still out of town so it’s just me here, taking care of his 43 houseplants.

Only 43? I can almost hear Boaz saying as I type this. There should be 46, which ones do you think you’re missing? Did you get the fern on the left side of the dresser? Not the dresser with the potted moss on it — the dresser that has the four succulents.

There are probably a few dozen more plants hidden under the bed, or in the cupboard behind the granola, or some other last place I’d expect. I’m only watering the ones I can find, and there are 43 of those.

We have so many plants. Or Boaz does. A week ago I called them our plants. A week ago I talked about the home garden with the smugness of a man who says “We’re pregnant” when his wife is. “We love plants.” I’d say, oblivious to the unspeakable burden that is actually caring for 43 different plants on a daily basis.

forest

Well not every day.

The outside plants, yes, every day. Of course. But inside, the tropical plants get watered 2-3 times a week depending on the size of their pot. And the succulents, those only need to be watered every 7-10 days, depending on soil wetness, root density, proximity to a window, and whether or not Mercury is in retrograde. I look up photos of the rainforest and the desert and study them on my phone as I walk around our apartment jungle trying to figure out what’s what. I’ve solved all of them except one. “Tell me what you are” I whisper angrily to that one in the corner that really could be either a fern or a succulent. I really want these plants to live.

park

When he’s here, Boaz waters the outside plants in the morning. So for the first few days I did that too. Watering plants in the morning is nice, it feels like something Oprah probably does. You can pick tomatoes and eat tomatoes for breakfast.

But then one day I forgot about them until I was brushing my teeth that night, so I watered the plants at 1am. Oprah, it’s so much better.

Now I only water the plants at night. Now my favorite part of the day is going out on our balcony and quietly watering four tomato plants and three strawberry plants and a zucchini in almost pitch darkness.

While I’m watering them (Boaz says you have to water tomatoes slowly, is he messing with me?) I watch tv in our neighbours’ windows. No one has curtains in our neighborhood.

It’s so quiet that you can hear the plants drinking the water like someone sucking the last bit of milk through a straw.

Since everything fun has some sort of side effect, I’m sure this is bad somehow. Maybe it gives the plants stomachaches, maybe it keeps them up all night. Maybe it puts our Boaz’s produce on some sort of lunar cycle, maybe they’ll all start menstruating and we’ll have tomatoes filled with blood. When you’re out there in the moonlight with the watering can it sort of feels possible.

At night all the strawberries have shiny leaves, almost reflective, and they look sweaty in the best way. And all the spiders are asleep, or that’s what I tell myself.

I’m excited for Boaz to get back, and it’s not just because last week I had to cut into a carton of ice cream with a paring knife because I couldn’t open it myself. And it’s not just because all the Shabbat songs sound weird when you sing them alone. And it’s not just because he can get all our plants back to a regular sleep schedule.

I’m excited for Boaz to get back so he can tell me once and for all WHAT THAT ONE PLANT IS. Is it a fern. Is it a cactus. Are there tropical plants that grow in the desert? I need answers.

Have you seen these people?

Here are three people I saw this week that I can’t stop thinking about.

Kale man

This was a bald man wearing business clothes, smoking a cigarette, and standing by a bridge. He was talking to himself in a very serious voice while staring off into the water.

“Mmm. Good. Good.”

You’ve probably already guessed that he was on a bluetooth headset, and you’re right, he was. They make those bluetooth headsets so small! They fool me every time.

But it’s possible that the headset was turned off, and he was just quietly approving the canal.

Kale is Dutch for bald.

Hot and cold construction worker

One intersection I bike through usually has workers standing there, fielding traffic.

The other day a man riding in front of me reached out to high five the construction worker. It looked so fun that I immediately reached out to do the same thing, but as I passed the guy pulled his hand down and wouldn’t high five me.

What do you make of this?

I’ve been thinking about it non-stop for three days.

Rob’s girlfriend

I saw Rob and his girlfriend walking through the neighborhood where we work. I’m not sure where Rob is from but his girlfriend is American and she loves Amsterdam. There is so much to look at in Amsterdam.

But does Rob see it all? Is he looking?

“Rob, look!” said Rob’s girlfriend, pointing at, I don’t know, just one of the buildings on the street. It didn’t seem like much to look at.

“Look, Rob, look, look at that.” she said, pointing at another thing I guess.

“Look Rob, Rob look Rob. Rob, look look look Rob Rob look Rob.”

I know it’s pretty unlikely that any of these people have been thinking about me this week. But I hope one of them is, and I hope it’s that construction worker. I’m a safe and confident biker. I obey the rules of the road that I understand. My hands were clean, pretty clean anyway. I’m a great person to high five.

Beth took this photo of us.

 

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Are you my mother

A few weeks ago I was alone at a bagel restaurant, looking at a gallon-sized glass dish of loose candy that was just there for people to eat while they waited, when I heard my mom’s voice. My mom was supposed to be on the other side of the world still asleep, but in the bagel restaurant in Amsterdam I heard a voice that was unmistakably hers from across the room:

“Dude, with soccer you meet people who are die-hards for their team and I’m like, what team even is that.”

I turned around and to my surprise the voice didn’t belong to Susan, but to a college student in Amsterdam on vacation. This happens a lot.

Growing up I loved a book called Are You My Mother, about a baby bird that thinks everything is its mom. What an incredibly dumb bird, was I think the message. Who would think everyone was their mom? To clarify, I don’t think everyone is my mom. I just think everyone with American accents is my mom. Men, women, children, groups of teenagers, lots of sunburned young women on vacations living their best life: I hear what I’m sure is her voice about once a week.

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It seems like almost everyone speaks English here, but the American voices stand out. If there were someone with an American accent talking casually about bus schedules standing next to someone yelling my name into a megaphone, I’d probably notice the American accent first.

I took two handfuls of the candy (that’s fine right? It was just there in a huge jar) and sat closer to the Americans so I could listen to their voices. There were five of them, all college-aged and wearing jeans and polos.

“Can you believe we’re here?” One of the boys in polos asked.

One of his friends in polos confessed that he hadn’t told his parents where they were going, and for all they knew he was at a friend’s house in Connecticut.

Another boy in a polo said that his parents knew he was in Amsterdam — but they didn’t know about the red light district.

“The red light district is sort of Amsterdam’s best kept secret, bro.” he said in my mom’s voice, and his friends nodded in agreement.

In Portland our friends have a dog named Frankie who is about the size of a lunchbox, and it’s fun to watch her interact with other dogs, especially very big ones. We’ll sit and watch them smell each other, and we’ll whisper “Do they even know they’re both dogs?”

I thought about this as I looked at the five boys in polos. Do they even know?

Would any of them guess that the woman at the next table, the one who ate four handfuls of loose candy and then left, likes their voices because they remind her of the voice she heard in the womb? Or am I just another one of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets?

It’s always sunny in Amsterdam

If someone had asked me yesterday what my personal hell would be, I wouldn’t have known off the top of my head.

It seems like an easy enough question to answer – but those are the questions that are hardest to answer.

How many beans can you hold in your hand? No one’s ever asked me that, but tell me the type of bean and I can make a good guess.

What’s the capital of Ohio? I would probably think of it eventually. Those kinds of questions are fine.

But questions about yourself are tricky.

Answers to the questions about yourself are like feral cats, they sneak up on you when you’re alone and least expect them. And they rub against your jeans and you wonder why, and then you’re nervous to smell your jeans later.

FullSizeRender-5.jpg

That’s why if someone had asked me yesterday about my personal hell, I probably would have just described the average personal hell. Maybe very loud construction, or being in a cab and realizing you don’t have enough money to cover the fare.

Last night I learned what my actual hell is because we had to try to sleep through it: constant daylight.

People talk a lot about the length of days in Amsterdam, and they complain about the short ones. They complain about how in the winter it’s dark all the time. Bring on darkness. I go to the movie theater and pay ten euros to sit in darkness. No one is paying ten euros for constant light, but here in the summer you get it for free whether you like it or not.

Last night I took a ton of cold medicine and got in bed ready to welcome sleep but the sun was still out, and there was daylight deep into the night until pretty much forever, until somehow it started getting even brighter. Then we called it morning and I got out of bed and changed from pajamas to work clothes and went to work with people who all witnessed the same thing, and we’re all pretending it didn’t happen.

There was no night last night. Can it even be morning if it wasn’t night? How do we know today is today and not still yesterday? How did anyone sleep? This doesn’t bother anyone else. And that’s what makes it a personal hell, I guess.

So, if you were going to ask, now you know.

Here’s a photo of a pigeon unsatisfied by the things it found in the trash:

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I can not, all but nothing teach.

I don’t remember why I looked up reviews of our thermostat and then used Google Translate to read them, but I’m so glad I did because they turned into beautiful robot poems about broken thermostats. Here I’m pasting my three favorites.

 

Unreliable

Regret, regret, regret. We have now a year in use and, indeed, a huge decline compared with our old thermostat.

At that time “forgets” the boiler.

Well, he further plans nothing. I hung him back today.

 

Everything, except comfort

I have now a few weeks of use. At least half of the time I can not connect what is excellent:

Weekly schedule includes regular way, and must be reset.

Manuals do not go, then, if nothing happens, everything stops.

Try again weeks to connect, in one way or another, Nothing Works.

Indeed.

In short, do not know what to do.

 

Never buy !!!

The worst part is that you can Never get your story. Worthless

every week, sometimes the connection lost.

If you do not Watch and gateway not again (power off of ten second setback) time starts, deviates from weekly program.

I can not, all but nothing teach. Could at least be.