I’m not dead! I’ve been in Hawai’i!

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…And no, this isn’t Hawai’i. This is cloudy, gloomy, beautiful early morning Missoula, taken on my way to and around work.

I’m scanning in film. Lots of it. We were on the big island of Hawai’i, spending time hiking, going to botanical gardens, eating good food, and exploring everything we could. We stopped at farmer’s markets and devoured fruit and nuts that we can’t get at home, and spent our evenings watching Star Wars and planning the next day’s adventures.

Before that though, I was still here, still plugging along, doing my thing. We’ve been watching good movies and making excellent pizzas and life has settled into the winter Montana rhythm, where you expect nothing of the weather because it could change in ten minutes. It’s not the worst sort of thing, but it does make me miss sipping a Mai Tai by the sea.

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Before all the leaves left the trees.

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Outside our window I can see the almost-naked trees sway in the wind. It’s cold and foreboding outside, and it’s the first snow of the year. I feel glad to be nestled in our house, warm and comfortable. I’ve had some health scares lately and am tired of calling doctors and making appointments and dealing with the what if’s of having a corporeal form.

But, having a job makes a lot of the worries feel less serious. I’ve been getting up early, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and walking to work. The normalcy of doing so is healing, in my opinion, and while I don’t relish the realities of having a lunch hour or watching the clock a lot, it’s refreshing to know that my time means something to somebody, that as I work I get money. Having not necessarily worked with that exchange full time in a couple of years (hey grad school!) it feels so good.

I’ve had some film developed lately and I’m so excited to share it! Here are some frames from when it was still light out in the morning and the foliage hadn’t fallen off the branches yet. I already miss those times even though they still seem like yesterday.

 

Autumnal vibes and keeping my chin up.

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Autumn here reminds me of Victoria in that the humidity makes my hair crazy and my urge to explore rise again. I miss the ocean but the river will do, as long as a body of water is nearby.

Missoula is beautiful, friendly, welcoming. It’s also a really hard place to get work, and everybody knows it and laughs. They feel bad but hey, you chose to be here, so adapt. And I can’t. I’m stubborn and hard working and I refuse to work for less than I am worth. I refuse to apply for jobs that pay $10 an hour but ask for a BA and 3+ years of experience. Just because the work environment allows places to do that doesn’t mean I will comply. So, I’ve had fewer interviews and fewer chances to apply for things. At the same time, holding out because I know what I am worth feels right. I have taken underpaid jobs where you’re over-worked and under-appreciated and expected to do so much, just because your employers know how badly you need this. It feels wrong and it is.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been going on long walks, making photographs, eating good food with Logan, and seeing movies. We went to see the 1937 French film La Grande Illusion at the Roxy last night, and it was spectacular, sad, and poignant. It made me think about war and family and the common humanities we share with each other. This weekend I got to have my favorite Single Malt IPA at the Blackfoot brewery in Helena with some old friends, people who I love dearly and hold close to my heart. We drove home through a freak snow storm, crawling over a steep mountain pass, hoping nobody would be driving like a nutcase and slide and hit us. We saw aspen groves and cottonwoods and beautiful clouds hugging the mountains. Snow-capped peaks and low-slung clouds and all the colors of fall everywhere. Montana, you rascal, you always charm me even when you might be trying to kill me or break my heart simultaneously.

Reclaiming autumn and my memories.

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A few of them were taken on a beautiful, bare peak high up in the Gallatin National Forest. I remember how a lightning storm came in quickly over the mountains, and it made the air feel strange, and how the rain came down in fat, shameless drops, dribbling down the steep hillside while I ran to the car to escape. I remember being scared and excited by the fast-changing mountain weather, and how with the sunset the temperature dropped quickly. I remember getting my film back and being so pleased with the colors, with the memories they would bring me in the future.

Some others are taken on another part of that massive national forest, up behind Chico Hot Springs. There was a burn area, full of skeleton-like trees, with a creek running through this sterile-seeming landscape, in colors muted by the clouds. My hair was wet and my skin was parched from soaking in the hot springs, and I wanted to lay down and take a nap surrounded by the silence of the place. It was beautiful and so eerie.

I also visited my sister while she was working in Yellowstone breaking up bear jams, ticketing tourists, sharing a cabin with a wicked roommate, and spending time with wolf biologists, who are a consistently strange people.  Some of the dudes offered to share moonshine they made in their bathtubs, and I heard tales of moving dead bison, meeting the oddest visitors, and talking to the wolf photographers who spend their lives following wolf packs in the Lamar Valley. On my way home, I stopped in Livingston to drop off some library books for her (Livingston was the nearest town to Yellowstone with a library), and walked around town for the day, having the most amazing honey peach pie in a little bakery while reading an old issue of National Geographic and buying the second book in the Dune series from a secondhand bookshop. It was a weirdly warm day and the town wasn’t its usual, windy self. I drove around the quiet neighborhoods of the tiny town and marveled at the mountains, taking my time getting home to my apartment driving over the mountain pass. Fat, fluffy clouds abounded that day. It was a textbook perfect day in my mind.

I also spent time in Hyalite Canyon by myself for the first time that fall. I went hiking and found footprints and encountered dogs and hikers and smelled the fresh air as much as possible. Bozeman, while being a money-soaked place that I have come to loathe, has access to some of the best wilderness close by, where moose and bear roam on the National Forest, and where your access to Yellowstone is literally two hours away. It was a joy to be able to hike in the morning with the sun streaming in in the most loving, welcoming way. I remember feeling like I was at peace with the world on those brief hikes.

That’s the tricky thing about memory. As a historian, I have learned that memories change quickly and easily, and are heavily susceptible to fast re-writing and shifting. It doesn’t help that our minds are wired to remember the negative things the best as a survival tool. It’s very difficult to recover from negative memories and to not think about those dark corners of your mind where you’ve stashed all the shit, the sticky, messy tarpit of awful. For me to be able to look at these pictures and not think about somebody is a victory in more ways than one. I did not make these photographs for anybody but myself, and they are mine to reclaim, recover, and enjoy. I’m sharing them with y’all so that perhaps you can, too.

Escaping Hell to go fishing.

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We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.

My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.

Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.

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While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.

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I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.

We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c

Beargrass & Coffee

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Beargrass and coffee might seem an odd combination but the two go hand in hand as part of a great day.

Beargrass is a funny looking flower that often thrives in burn areas here in northern Montana and it’s one of the signature sights in Glacier. We found a thriving patch and I went right ahead and stuck my nose in the blooms (they smell heavy, musky, and wonderful). Beargrass is one of those things that in my mind define Montana in the summer. It rewards hikers deep in many of our National Forests and it always looks a bit odd in a Tim Burton-esque way. Nature really is the world’s greatest designer, and if you don’t agree we need to have a good chat.

We started off the morning having coffee and breakfast at the Swiftcreek Cafe in Whitefish. Chelsea helped me make the coffee images by pouring the cream while I photographed and we devoured our food to prepare for a full day in the park. Logan didn’t like Whitefish, as it felt too “utopic” to him, and as I looked at the sleek, new, buildings built in “rustic” styles to attract out of state wealth, I agreed. We would later fully cement that idea as we stumbled into a nightclub with strobe lights sure to trigger seizures, nestled in this ski resort town. Montana, you’re full of the strangest surprises.

Alpine adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park

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As we drove up higher and higher I looked out and tried to not let my fear of heights wash over me. The trees were so regal and the cool air felt so good, and I tried to steel myself. My mother looked over nervously at me.

We were in Rocky Mountain National Park, up thousands of feet higher than the nearest town of Estes Park. We were driving the Trail Ridge Road and watching the landscape change as we climbed higher and higher. This was the park where my parents met and fell in love when they were in college and it felt very neat to be in their territory, where my mother and father used to rise at 4 am to get to the park to photograph bugling elk in the rising sunlight of autumn. Having parents who fell in love with each other because of their mutual love of the outdoors has its perks- you get to hear about cool stories like that one.

Up at the top of the road, we got out and hiked. At 11,000 feet, the air felt thinner, and we both had small headaches that would later bloom into larger ones due to the lesser amount of oxygen available up high. We were in the alpine region, where no trees grow, surrounded by delicate alpine flora and fat marmots who lazed on rocks posing like some weird animal Richard Burton. No doubt they were being fed by hapless idiots.

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On our way up some folks from Oklahoma stopped in the middle of the road, which is narrow and has little-to-no room for maneuvering, and proceeded to feet one of these fat marmots from the car and take pictures. My mother and I rolled our eyes and I wanted to get out, walk up to them, throw crumbs at them, and ask, “How do you like it?!”

Ahem…

Anyway. Being up so high was eerie in that you could see for what felt like miles. Miles of peaks, clouds, and valleys were all for the visually consuming, and I soaked it in. We saw a gorgeous bull elk in full, handsome velvet napping in a meadow, his red-gold head tucked into the flora. One man asked us if he was dead but we told him no, that elk nap and conserve energy and move about more in the evening and morning.

Eventually it was getting chilly, though thankfully without the strong winds that such areas are known for, and hopped into the car to go to a visitor’s center. We got to drink in even more spectacular views and then realized we were going to be late for dinner at my grandma’s house and left the park.

A too-brief glimpse into the incredible, fast-changing landscapes in that beautiful place.

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“How did you get my espresso machine?” (The Montana Folk Festival)

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If you haven’t watched “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” I highly recommend you make it a priority. Even though it got not-so-great ratings at the time, I find the film to be poignant, ridiculous, hilarious, and visually compelling in so many ways.

There is a building in Butte called the Hennessy Building. It is large, regal, grand, and recently restored. As we walked to it I told Logan we must go inside and steal an espresso machine, a nod to the film mentioned above. The annual Montana Folk Festival was in full swing around us, and we saw the streets full of warm bodies on a ridiculously hot day.

Usually Butte is a fairly cool place temperature (and other) wise. However, the town was so toasty that the asphalt on the streets was literally melting, so wheelbarrows full of sand were being carted around dutifully to keep people’s feet from sticking to the pavement. Nonetheless, thousands of people like ourselves reveled in the live music, delicious food stands, and people watching that Butte always affords. I saw old bikers, young hipsters, way too many infants without sound protection, and a general sampling of humanity.

The Montana Folk Festival this year brought us a marvelous Afro-Venezuelan group, Betsayda Machado y la Parranda del Clavo, to one of the stages. Venezuela is, pardon my language, a shit place to be right now, with triple-digit inflation, lack of basic medicines, and general upheaval, and as we listened to the amazing sounds of the group, I wondered what it was like back home, and how these musicians were doing, if they would return home to the awfulness, and what it must be like to be in an old mining town in Montana introducing us to their sounds. As we watched Logan told me the music reminded him of the music in Bahia, a northern state in Brazil, and he said that it felt “like home” with the heat, the sounds, and the colors.

Earlier that week as we listened to Montana Public Radio we got to hear the most amazing cover of “House of the Rising Sun” croon us as we made dinner. The musician in question who made this masterpiece was Doreen Ketchens, hailing from New Orleans, and we got to see her at the Folk Festival as well! She played the clarinet, her daughter played drums, and the music that rang around the old part of Butte from her stage gave me goosebumps, I swear! Something about the clarinet can make sounds that are eerie and tingling, and I loved hearing her play songs like “Minnie the Moocher” and other classics I had only heard from recordings decades old.

The heat ultimately defeated us, though. We took shelter in a few breweries and bars to escape the omnipresent film of sweat that covered us all. Butte’s bar scene is eclectic, and at one establishment the bartender sassed me aggressively for not ordering a double gin and tonic. “What is the point of being at the Folk Festival if you’re not getting folked up?!” he hissed at me, and I begged him to just give me a single, as I was not looking to be a plastered creature at 5pm. He finally gave in but I’m sure he thought I was pathetic- and definitely not from Butte, where drinking is a hyper-common hobby. The open-container law also allows residents to get drinks “to go” to enjoy as they go about their merry ways.

Overall, this year was a blast. Despite the heat and the sun and the swaths of people (and overpriced beer tickets- $5 for a tall boy of PBR is just a bit too much) I cannot say I regretted it one bit. We passed out later that evening thoroughly exhausted, and I was still humming Ms. Ketchen’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” at the end of it all.

Montana in the summer: A brief glimpse.

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Fishing, drinking local beer, hiking, noticing the little things: That’s what Montana summers are made of. (And scanning lots of film!)

I’ve been applying to jobs, finishing my thesis, and traveling a bit to see family in Colorado. We have been waging a battle against the heat with fans and windows thrown wide open at night, only to discover that the house still barely gets below 75 most days. Watering the grass seems silly when it’s almost 100F out and almost nothing will save the lawn, and our grass shrivels and roasts and looks less nice than the neighbors, but paying the water bill is a real thing.

The last few days have been spent outside in the sun and on the water and it has been marvelous. We spent two days in the northwestern part of the state and managed to get a full day of hiking and exploring in Glacier National Park. Logan and I got our second National Parks pass and I hope that we make it to Yellowstone this fall when the tourists leave and the leaves are quietly changing.

Plans, plans, plans. How is life so full of plans and yet almost none of them pan out? If you had told me six months ago that I would still be in Montana, I would have laughed. Yet, here we are, and to be honest I couldn’t be happier. Montana beckons and lures and cajoles my heart and soul and eyes (and camera lens!) unlike anywhere else.

 

San Francisco on film

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The colors were everywhere. Bits of coral, the blue of the sky, the warm hue of sand, the cool grey of the dense fog that engulfed Adrienne’s neighborhood each night. The smells were different- hot asphalt, whiffs of delicious foods not found in Montana, the sterile yet slight omnipresent stink of public transit, of thousands of bodies inhabiting the same small train cars day in and day out. San Francisco felt like a city that was in the midst of a lot of change. Money and youth everywhere, and yet none of it to be found for many.

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We walked through the park, surrounded by massive eucalyptus trees, before breakfast. Logan took a picture of poop in the park with my film camera because he said I was being stingy with my film. We smelled the rich earth and the flora and saw red wing blackbirds and ravens before making our way to the beach.

The beach was engulfed in fog that was slowly retreating, and we walked to meet the waves, letting the edges of the Pacific ocean lap at our feet. The sand felt good in between my toes and I watched as one man in a dark coat walked up and over one of the dunes. The beach felt melancholy and full of gloom, but I loved it. Such spaces are great for letting thoughts wander and unravel and then pulling them back to have new, strange, and better ideas and thoughts.

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We went to the Mission District, which Adrienne had warned us was quickly becoming gentrified. Historically Latinx and Hispanic families have lived there, but as we got off BART we saw the inevitable results of gentrification. We walked a lot around that area and still heard plenty of Spanish, saw groups of school children and church groups outside churches with signs that read, “Jesus te ama”, and I hoped that the people who had been there would hold onto their apartments and stores and churches and habits, but I quietly knew that money and white people were probably sinking their teeth into the area and biting away at what hadn’t been theirs before.

In in the midst of our Mission ventures we found a beautiful, cramped Italian market. One wall was entirely devoted to hanging sausages and I felt myself growing hungry even though we had eaten quite recently. A beautiful wheel of Parmesan cheese sat staring at me and Logan pointed out some meats he had been searching for. We looked at the olive oils and the cans of tomatoes and all the pasta and left because if we didn’t leave soon we would buy meats and cheese that we had no room in our luggage for. We found a Brazilian mercado, and once inside I was the only one who wasn’t speaking Portuguese. People sipped coffee and around us were baskets full of Brazilian cooking ingredients, juices, and random odds and ends like deodorant or romance novels. Logan chatted with the barista and we left to go find a cool place to linger. We ended up at a dive bar with the right amount of sticky counters, grimy interiors, and dark corners and sat down. Adrienne joined us shortly after, and we talked and people watched.

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The rest of our trip was like that- full of lovely places but being quietly reminded that this was a city being inundated with money from tech firms and start ups and that things were shifting and maybe had been for a while. Regardless, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see and do the things only cities can give you- art, diversity, busy crowds and the kaleidoscope of humanity that buzzes and bustles as each one of us carves out our own space in the world in whatever way we can.

Edvard Munch @ SFMOMA

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Y’all, over our brief 3 day sojourn to San Francisco we got to see the opening of an Edvard Munch show.

It left me speechless for a few reasons.

First, America rarely gets to see Munch’s work in person. Most are in Oslo in the Munch Museum, and most others are scattered around Europe. I went to New York  in 2013 and saw one version of The Scream there but other than that I have not seen many Munch paintings.

The exhibit was bare except for his canvasses. You could tell many had never been framed as the frames were new and showed the edges of the canvas. The edges were beautiful, just as beautiful as the paint filled middles, because you could see the nails and the ends of the paint and the work felt more human.

Logan said that Munch felt like Renoir on ether, and Adrienne and I both looked at how he painted women- as muses, sexual objects, creatures who reviled Munch, as temptresses and devils. It was agreed that Munch was, in many ways in his later years, a dirty old man.

But a damn talented one. His use of color and his skill with layers and washes were incredible. I felt full as I looked at his depictions of himself, of death, of isolation and lost love. Munch clearly had a powerful imagination that often threatened to swallow him entirely, as he depicted himself in Hell and being watched by eerie masks. We did loops, seeing new things at each turn in front of different canvasses. We sat in front of some and got closer to others. I felt my mind turning to a dirty, poor, unsophisticated Oslo where Munch grew up and wondering about who this man was.

It was a fantastic opportunity for us Americans to see the work of somebody who so clearly had a different mindset, set of motivations, morals, and ideas. It was, though this is difficult to accurately explain, very obvious that these works were by a brooding Norwegian.

Come Sail Your Ships Around Me

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The older gentleman who develops my film cuts it for me and I take it home to hum through my scanner. As the images appear, slowly, I fall back into memory. Film is delayed gratification, a slowly opened gift, a practice in patience and deliberate moves.

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As you read this Logan and I are packing to go to San Francisco, where we will be seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds! Logan got the tickets as our Christmas present in December, and we weren’t sure if we would be able to go for a long time, but in the end the chance to see Nick Cave live was too damn good.

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We’ve never been to San Francisco, and I cannot wait to see Adrienne and explore a new city for a few days!

In any case, here is some film from the last 3 weeks. Sunshine, gloom, bandaged hands from fishing at 4am, old grumpy fishermen, canoeing on the lake, and other delightful moments and things.

Adventuring

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We went fishing but didn’t fish.

We drove down the paved road, which eventually turned to dirt. We passed wide, flat fields fenced in by dense copses of trees. The river sang to us no matter where we were, and we followed the road and peered down at the swollen, runoff filled body of water. It looked cold, it looked rich, it looked unwelcoming, but it was so beautiful.

When spring ends and summer begins in Montana is a matter of debate and is ultimately up to fickle Mother Nature- and she changes her mind a lot. The last few weeks have been a mix of chilly, sweater-clad days and days where I am sweating on our front porch and loathing everything. We leave sweaters in our cars just in case, but also tubes of sunscreen.

We eventually found this suspension bridge and crossed it, heading into a wilderness area. We didn’t go very far, as darkness and rain were fast coming, and I sat by the edge of the river on a rock, thinking those fast fleeting thoughts that I find myself surrounded by when confronted with the natural.

We’re going back soon, hopefully to have more of a hike and explore some of our new national forests!

Two Years

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Amsterdam, two years ago.

Two years ago Emily and I were eating apples and going to the Rijksmuseum and seeing MisterWives at Paradiso. I wrote directions to the venue on my upper thigh so we wouldn’t have to bring our phones and we stuffed our cash in our bras and shoes. We found out that the Dutch don’t party on Saturday nights like I thought they would. We were told by some family friends that Amsterdamers prefer to go out on Wednesday or Sunday nights, oddly.

We stayed in the apartment of a family friend close to the Albert Cuyp market and got sushi to go on a rainy evening. We spend time in the Hortus Botanicus and the Artis and ate delicious Indonesian and Vietnamese food. We had proper dim sum for the first time in our lives and I had a love affair with some duck crepe thing and a shrimp dumpling.  I lost close to ten pounds just being on my feet all day every day seeing what this old, vibrant city had to offer, and it was so refreshing to be in the motherland in a place where our long, strange last name was perfectly reasonable, even if Dutch still sounds so strange to my Anglo ears.

I cannot wait to go back someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.