After the odd hotel placement of the crew and band in Barcelona, we arrived in the Amsterdam area and found that our hotel was (surprise!) not in town and not near the gig. Grumbles aside, I wandered out into the business park neighborhood and began to follow the water into the direction of town. Though we had been told that the city was a 15 minute tram ride away (sound familiar?), I figured I could probably find a shop or market open somewhere.

The Netherlands are a big change from Spain. They are literally lowlands as they point out to you at the baggage claim at the airport as it is 13 meters below sea level. The canals of Amsterdam have everything to do with the shape of the city and were a huge part of the growth of the city and country in history. As I’ve pointed out before, many Americans have either forgotten or have been improperly educated in the Dutch role in the history of commerce and exploration. Many Americans think that only the English and Spanish had anything to do with the “discovery” and colonization of North America. I mentioned the book “The Island at the Center of the World” in an earlier post and it is an excellent example of that.

(I won’t forget to mention the French, the Scandinavians and the others… they just don’t have much to do with this particular post.)

The first thing that you notice is that there are bike-paths and walking paths. In the Netherlands I read there are half a million bicycles and they are not stuck into the back of SUV’s and driven to a park to be used; they are everywhere. In many of Europe’s cities and towns, small self propelled transport makes more sense. One funny thing I noticed in one area was the bikes were not chained but a nicely painted bench in front of an apartment was!

There are houseboats along the canals, each one with its own personality and theme. Some are old fashioned Dutch canal boats, some are boxy live in “party barge” style floaters. They can have themes and a few have small gardens in the tiny median between the water and the sidewalk. I saw one hear the hotel in a black and white checkerboard motif with a 60’s Buick on the roof! The boat-owner had built an impressive framework to hold this car over his home. In is middle window visible from the bridge above was a chopper style motorcycle right in the center of his living room.

In fact each apartment window I passed without the benefit of a yard had a display of art or personal items you could see from the street to give you some sense of the people within. I did notice many small recreations of classical Greek and Roman statues on the windowsill and wondered if it were a trend or some sort of secret code I wasn’t hip to… maybe I don’t want to know.

The bik and walking paths sometimes cross the water on serpentine bridges without the interference of automobiles, in the same way the train and tram bridges do. The trees and grass grow tall and wild right down to the water; one of our party observed a few days ago if anyone in Europe had a lawnmower. This caused me to think for a moment about it and then I replied it might have something to do with the fact that gasoline is expensive, around 6 dollars a gallon. The van driver turned and informed me that now it’s more like 10 to 12 dollars a gallon! Of course, they measure it in liters here, but can you imagine filling your Hummer at that price? Don’t bother buying the kids new shoes this week.

How do you think the folks in middle America would handle those prices? Would they buy a bicycle or burn down a gas station?

Anyone who has spent time over here knows the little things that are different. You bring your own reusable bag to the market for your groceries; some places actually charge you for a plastic bag. You see people buying smaller amounts, fresh food and eating less. Genetically Modified foods are not welcome in the EEC, so things like Splenda and veggies that have been tinkered with on a molecular level are not available.

Public transportation is not an afterthought, it’s been there for a long time, it’s affordable and it’s used by most everybody. There are still plenty of cars and they are used, but with parking in small old cities, pollution and the gas prices, the less convenient alternatives become a lot more convenient.

Walking through most cities in Europe (until you get to the city center and the tourist areas where the golden arches and their friends live), you can still get a view of a clearly different lifestyle. They are experiencing the same climate weather changes we are in the states with heat, drought, cold and flood problems becoming deadly reminders that our actions and inactions have repercussions. New Orleans was a wake up call for those of us in the U.S.; Venice is spending a lot more time under water than it used to. I’m staying in a country that is almost entirely under sea level. Much of the technology that has kept New Orleans going up to now was developed here.

I think the point of this wandering walk around suburban Amsterdam is are the Europeans better prepared for the adjustments that are coming? Will the U.S. have an even more dramatic change being that we’ve put so many eggs in the automobile basket? Will we find ourselves fat and out of shape, unable to walk to the Walmart to get our food and not strong enough to carry it back along side of the expressway in the extraordinary heat?

You can continue to make fun of the recyclers and hippy/ birkinstock/ bike-basket crowd in the states, but they might be better prepared for things when they change. I’m embarrassed that the town I live in stopped recycling pickup because the amount of people participating went from 23% to 18%. It didn’t make sense to the city to continue driving the trucks around. You can still go to drop off points and turn in a limited amount of things such as newspaper, cans, some glass and #2 plastics; but there are 7 or 8 different plastic numbers!

Most tours really go through items that could be recycled: water and soda bottles, paper, cardboard, plastics, batteries… Most people see a trash-can and don’t care how it is labeled. Sadly on the other end, the guys who empty the trash often do take the separated stuff and just throw it in the dumpster anyway.

Ok, observations concluded, rant parked. Maybe this is just a reminder for me not to be wasteful, lazy and unconscious. I’m glad I have the chance to get a perspective by leaving my home and seeing that people live differently than I do. Perhaps I can take that bike off the wall, clean it up, air up the tires and put it to use. Hopefully that guy in the Escalade won’t run me over, blame me and sue me for it.