Before you open a bike shop

My Dutch textbook doesn’t cover most of the things I’m interested in, but it does spend a lot of time teaching me how to ask people how they’re doing: Hoe gaat het. “Hoe gaat het?” asks every character in every single dialogue we listen to.

In the Dutch textbook there are pretty much only two ways things can be going: awfully good, or quite bad.

I’m not sure why we haven’t learned the word for “fine,” maybe it’s because the word for “fine” is so difficult to pronounce it requires at least a year of Dutch lessons. May be it’s a word that’s entirely consonants, or worse, entirely vowels. For now in our textbook life is lived in the extremes. In chapter two a man goes on a romantic vacation to Italy. In chapter eight his bike is stolen and in chapter nine he goes to the hospital, but by chapter ten it’s his birthday and he goes shopping for new pants. I understand. When every day involves either a trip to Venice or a trip to the emergency room, there is no fine. There is awfully good and there is quite bad and that is that.

The only person in real life I could think of who seemed to be living in a world of such disparate emotional states was a man who owns a bike shop in our neighborhood.

The bike shop I’m talking about is staffed by a very tall man with long curly hair. The door of the shop is always open and a few rental bikes are always outside, and the owner runs out frantically every few minutes, as though he’s always just now remembering he has a bike shop. Every time he runs out he looks either thrilled by the realization or horrified. He makes owning a bike shop seem like a real roller coaster, and if you’ve been daydreaming about retiring and owning a cute little bike shop somewhere, I would suggest you talk to him before you get too serious about it. We’d never spoken before, until yesterday.

Yesterday as I was walking past with groceries he lit up when he saw me, and he asked me “Hoe gaat het?”

Awfully good! I told him in Dutch. I could hardly believe my luck that a stranger had asked me the very question I’ve listened to over a thousand times while working my way through my remedial Dutch textbook.

Right away it became clear that the bike shop owner had thought I was someone else, someone he knew. He got flustered and said something I didn’t understand, and began gesturing as though he was tapping the side of an invisible stovepipe hat he was wearing. Maybe he mistook me for a friend who usually wears them.

But people don’t speak Dutch with me very often and there was no way I was letting this conversation end that quickly.

And with you, I asked. “Hoe gaat het?”

He was also doing awfully good.

My vocabulary doesn’t end at hoe gaat het, there are three more questions I know how to answer in Dutch and luckily he asked one of them next: where are you from. I also know how to respond to the questions “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” and “What color are your eyes and hair?” but he didn’t ask. I guess he wasn’t feeling that chatty.

I don’t know how to say it’s nice to meet you, but I know how to say that it’s truly an honor to make your acquaintance, so I told him so with a small curtsey, in hopes that he would think I was a visiting dignitary, princess, or lunatic.

But I meant it, it was truly an honor to make his acquaintance. I hope we meet again on another awfully good day. I hope we’re both wearing stovepipe hats. And I hope mine is large enough that it conceals my face and he has to ask what color my eyes and hair are, because no one has asked me that yet and it sort of feels like I learned it for nothing.

A kid in our neighborhood (I’m assuming it’s a kid) draws on the sidewalk almost every day. Here’s a plane.



Now close your eyes and let’s all say “um”

Boaz and I went to a yoga class this morning, and after class, and after the five minutes at the end of class where we lie down and try not to fall asleep, and after the teacher rang a bell to wake up everyone who fell asleep, we all said goodbye and mimed cleaning our yoga mats and started putting our shoes on. One woman went up and thanked the teacher.

The teacher asked her what her name was, and the woman didn’t miss a beat before answering.

“Well, my yoga name is Priest.”

The yoga teacher then told the unnamed woman who’s yoga name is Priest that her yoga name was Alex. “I chose it because it’s something simple.” she explained.

I’ve never considered adopting a yoga name, and I don’t feel any more likely to do so after this morning. I’ve already chosen domain names and usernames a Hebrew name, and I’ve named plants and Word documents and three now-dead fish. The well is sort of running dry for name ideas, and I need to save a few names for future wifi routers and dogs and limited liability companies.

Maybe when giving yourself a yoga name, the place to start is ruling out possible yoga names. If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure my yoga name isn’t Priest. It might be Alex. Or maybe Alex will be the name of our wifi router or our limited liability company – I do like how simple it is.


This is not a priest, but the yoga studio looks a bit like this so it seemed appropriate.

Where’s the fire

I haven’t looked at any lists of the top tourist activities in Amsterdam, but I know what the most popular one is. It’s hard to miss.

It’s not the museums, or the tulip festival, and it’s not taking a selfie in front of the Anne Frank house. The most popular thing to do if you’re a tourist in Amsterdam is stopping in the middle of a street, and just standing there.

You have to try it.

Walk into the middle of a busy street where people are cycling – then stop, set down your purse, and just stand there. Breathe it in.

Or find an almost empty street when there’s just one cyclist coming, walk out and stand in front of them, and start deleting old photos from your digital camera.

Stopping and standing is great for groups too. Grab eleven or twelve friends, find a narrow street, spread out so you fully cover all the sidewalk and street space and then stop, just stop, and stand, and talk about where to eat lunch. But really talk about it, think of lots of lunch ideas. That place sounds good, but what other places? This street isn’t going to fill itself!

Why walk when you could stop? Why sit at a cafe, on a bench, or near a sidewalk when you could stand in the middle of traffic? Travel isn’t about the destination, or even the journey. It’s about stopping and standing for as long as possible. And it’s about waving your arms around to take up more space, if you can.



Brooke vs Mouse II

My real goal is for this just to become a blog about mouse updates so here’s another one.

It seemed like the mouse living in our apartment was pretty much gone. We hadn’t seen or heard any signs of her in weeks, and we’re really good about cleaning up food.

But if you believe for a second that the mouse was gone, you’re really not reading into the sense of foreboding I’m trying to convey right now. It seemed like the mouse was gone. We had all but forgotten she had ever even been there. Do you see what I mean?

If you have a mouse, night is mouse time. That’s when they have free reign of your living space. I woke up during mouse time last night because I remembered I left something on the porch, and I walked through the kitchen. I know you’re not supposed to look at your phone when you wake up at night but that’s what I did next, standing at the kitchen counter.

If this were a movie now we’d cut to the mouse who has been interrupted and is standing frozen just a few feet behind me. She’s trying to hide behind a chair leg. Keeping her breath shallow.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 13.45.15

We cut back to me. In this movie I’m pretty  much a pile of flesh as tall as a mountain and I move in big clumsy steps, so loud that everyone in the theater covers their ears. It seems like I’m going to go upstairs now, and we can almost relax. Wait. Nevermind now I’m looking at Twitter.

The camera cuts back to the mouse, her tail in plain sight if I turn around. Tiny  beads of sweat are rolling down her face. It’s now or never.

The mouse gathers all the courage she can and runs straight through the middle of the room, to her little mouse hole I told you about. Everyone watching in the theater holds their hands up over their eyes, peeking at the screen through their fingers. She’s going as fast as she can, which is frankly not that fast.

I turn slowly, squinting at what at first just looks like a small brown ball. The mouse they’ve cast in this action movie about a mouse who lives with two American expats is grayish-brown, medium sized, and less shiny than I expected. It’s always weird to see celebrities in person. I blink a few times.

Then she’s off to hair and makeup to get ready for whatever our next interaction is. I’m going to start wearing socks inside, just in case we have a scene where we touch more.