Today's Already History

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Monday, August 18, 2008

Charity Begins Online?

During the summer I have found myself on various online forums and boards. One thing that I have noticed is that people are so much more blunt on boards then they are in person. In person, most will try to sugar coat their thoughts and curb their baser instincts – at least in public. Not so on the web-board. Ironically in a forum that has an edit function, it seems as if people are much more free with themselves, to the detriment of cordiality.

The internet has been blamed for much, but could it be that the net is also the place where civility goes to die? “Tell me who your friends are, I’ll tell you who you are,” is a maxim that was oft quoted in my house growing up but now perhaps the little zingers left on boards scattered in cyberspace are the truest measure of an individual’s charity.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What A Finish!!!

Congratulations to the USA women's crew team and the Netherlands women's crew team!

Friday, August 15, 2008

This Ain’t Your Yuppie Mounds trip…

This morning Bill shot me an article from the New York Times travel “escapes” section entitled "Ancient Midwest." There is a beautiful picture of ancient mounds in the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Ohio, and a ethereal caption that announces that the serene scene is non-other than “Mound City.” But there is a modern day “Mounds City” and a smaller town holding the “Mounds” moniker just miles from the Illinois Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site that won’t likely make it to the New York Times travel page. It is in those Mounds, and their surrounding areas, that the treasures of summers with my family; grandparents, great uncles and aunts, cousins lay hidden.

When I was young, my entire family would pile into the car when it was still dark and start the long journey from the Chicago area down the entire length of Illinois towards our summer house in Mounds, IL. Now, we were not ignorant of the Cahokia sight, for as long as I can remember my grandmother saw fit to educate everyone on the local history, as well as some family folklore. As my parents team drove my grandparent’s 1978 powder blue Cordoba across miles and miles of flat countryside grandmother would quiz us on what we knew of the American Indian Mounds builders and share the story of her great grandmother’s flight from slavery in Alabama with her infant daughter (my great-great grandmother), a flight that brought her to settle right over the Mason-Dixon line, but divided her family. And my grandfather would quiz us on the Bible.

The Mounds of my youth was filled with as many attractions as Disney World; the family homestead in America that my grandmother’s father built by hand and still remained standing after decades of tornadoes, the Dollar Store where everything was just one dollar (Now I seem to see them everywhere but in the eighties it was not a common sight in the Oak Park area), Bessie’s restaurant where you could get fried frogs legs, the Future City sign, right outside the Cairo overpass, which stood in an empty field of tall weeds and grass, an advertisement for a city whose construction would remain forever in the future, and Shemwells restaurant in Cairo, the home of the best barbecue sandwiches on earth.

There was catfish fishing at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio, boat riding along the Horseshoe Lake, and scores of family cookouts. Yet, we never made it to the Cahokia Mounds Site. It remained woven in with the folklore of the region and the stories of slave escape. And now perhaps the passage of time has knit the Mounds of my youth within the fable. It will certainly never be a destination covered by the New York Times, but it will live on in the stories that I pass down to the next generation. But if you do visit the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, might I add a dining recommendation that also did not make it into the article…Shemwells is a must visit!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Bottle of Contact Solution Goes Kaput and Dracula’s Storm rolls into Boston

I passed the last hours in Amsterdam as I did the first – largely unconscious. As if my body were preparing for the time shift ahead of time, I found myself struggling to stay awake the whole day. After rooting out a seat on the train to Schiphol airport next to the public toilet and wishing for nobody to utilize the facilities only to see our hopes dashed at the very last moments before the train pulled out, we successfully found our way to our departure gate. Yet, we had to look twice at our tickets, which read a boarding time over an hour and a half before the plane actually took off. It turned out that security was, in fact, at the gate. We made it past the first two gatekeepers (I even threw in some Dutch which got a smile out of the agent) but Bill’s contact solution that had served him well through many a business trip did not survive the Atlantic crossing, meeting its demise in a blue trashcan at the gate.

The flight was smooth and comfortable, and the food was exceptional. We were extremely impressed. After high praise from Bill for the book The Historian, I started to read it on the flight. It was as good as he had said, and very creepy. Not giving anything away, the book is a take on the Dracula legend. That being explained, when the plane came to a soft landing in Boston, the weather suddenly turned south. It was literally like the storm that always followed Dracula blew into Boston Harbor. It was so bad that we sat a few feet from our gate, unable to move into position because the tower would not give us clearance to pull up to the retractable walkway for fear that the workers would be struck by lightning. But we made it back none the worse for wear, filled with fond memories of the Netherlands.

*Click on the picture for the full album of photos in the Netherlands!

Of Waffles and Masterpieces

The last full day, Saturday, found us in full tourist mode. We walked around the city for one last hurrah, shopping for souvenirs and soaking in memories. We could not go in the palace because it was closed for renovations but we went window shopping at the Magna Plaza and wandered through the Nieuwe Kerk, which was holding an exhibition called “Black is Beautiful.” We finally made our way over to the Museumplein, visiting the Rijksmuseum which was slightly smaller than usual due to construction, followed by a quick walk by the Van Gogh Museum. We got some extraordinary waffles at a stand on the Museumplein and then strolled our way by a save the pigs protest, back towards the city center, passing the Vondelpark and Leidseplein on the way. When we finally caught the tram to our hotel, we were exhausted but happily so – the weather that had been sunny all day transformed into a steady mist. Quintessentially Amsterdam!

To den Haag and Beyond!

The national archives in den Haag was everything that I hoped for and more!! The hour long train ride to the diplomatic capital offered wonderful vistas of the pastoral Dutch countryside. Even in the face of missing the train stop by one station and a walking detour that took us past the archives by about two kilometers, we successfully navigated our way to the archive, which was nestled in a street framed by buildings that resembled an industrial park one might find if jettisoned forward in time at EIGHTY EIGHT MILES PER HOUR!!!! At the very tail end of my research, after pouring over a binder of codes and collections list (my elementary Dutch being stretched to the limit), I was able to get a very exciting lead on my research! I exclaimed and audible “Yes” and probably caused those around me to think that I had lost it :-). When the archives closed, we got on the train headed back to Amsterdam again and enjoyed a round of celebratory archive-find drinks! Proost!!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Raincoats, Mini Stroopwaffles and Warme Chocolademelk

Today saw both rainclouds and another cruise ship roll in. Turns out, the PTA (Passenger Terminal Amsterdam) next door is, low and behold, a docking point for cruise ships! You can read all about it at (or for those of you who spreken Nederlands, So, as the high seas creatures of comfort huddled near their climbing wall to avoid getting wet, we marched out into the elements to find some rain gear.

Our trip took us over hill and dale and man-made harbor walkways to de Bijenkorf, described by Frommer's as "Amsterdam's answer to New York's Bloomingdale's," where we found a cute white rain coat for Nicole, but a dearth of men's raincoats for me (Bill, guest blogging for today's post). But, never fear! A quick jaunt across Dam Square (avoiding the Trams and mad, wet weather cyclists, of course) took us to Peek & Cloppenburg, described by me as Amsterdam's answer to New York's Target.;-) A few Euros later, I was wearing a black raincoat far too stylish to come with its own rollup bag, even though it did.

Of course, once we had our raincoats and had filled up on mini stroopwaffles, warme chocolademelk and cappuccinos in de Bijenkorf's first floor cafe, the sun broke through the clouds, sending the cruise ship passengers scurrying out into the city for trinkets and souveniers in their waning moments at port in Amsterdam and leading us to the only logical end point for two Americans who had too much exercise and ate too much sugar -- a nap back at the hotel, followed by lounging in the spa, and late night archival preparations for Nicole.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anne Frank Huis

Today we got a late start but it was a gorgeous day. We attempted to bike over to the Rijksmuseum but somehow got turned around so we found ourselves at the Anne Frank Huis instead. After enjoying tapas at a restaurant next door to the museum, we got in the long line that wound its way around the museum. The experience is something that I will remember forever. It was incredibly moving.

"I don't believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh no, the common man is every bit as guilty; otherwise, people and nations would have rebelled long ago! There's a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder, and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!"

- Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One Good Archive Deserves Another

Archive day finally arrived! We woke to find a huge Carnival cruise ship docked in the river IJ right outside our hotel. It was so large, even though our room is on the sixth floor, the top of the ship towered above us. We biked out to the Stadsarchief Amsterdam (the Amsterdam municipal archive), whizzing past the shopping district, Dam Square and the national monument. After finding a bike parking place along the Herengracht, we grabbed a bite to eat – I got a chance to taste some real uitsmijter (Dutch fried eggs on incredible bread)! The archive building was old and imposing on the outside, but inside it was very sleek and modern. After the archives closed, we sat on a park bench along the Herengracht and watched canal tours and families on private boats drift by as I planned my next day’s research. Yet, the day was not all work and no play. On the way home we stopped by Dam Square and went to the Bijenkorf for some shopping. My trip to the Stadsarchief Amsterdam revealed the need for another archive visit in another city…the Hague!

Monday, August 4, 2008

West-Indisch Huis

Today we biked around the city, scoping out the best way to hit all of the sites and archives. At the bike rental under the hotel, we got some great bikes and trekking advice. I also got some extended language time! A quick trip to the C1000 supermarket led us on an adventure in IJburg and then we were off to the center of the city. After locating the West India house, we found some delicious Indian food on the Haarlemmerstraat, and then wound our way through the streets and over the canals of Amsterdam!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Caffeine, Bitterballen and Saint Nicholas

Our first full day in the Netherlands has been one of discovery. Sunday morning brought with it the longest extended time I have spoken Dutch since arriving…at mass at the Sint Nicolaaskerk, right across from the Amsterdam Central Station ( St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam and, also, the saint from whom my name derives). It was such a treat!!

After mass the day became overcast and rainy – perfect for exploring the hotel! The Mövenpick’s sleek style coupled with its, spa, and trendy bar makes it one of the most modern and comfortable hotels that I have stayed in. The room is pure compact perfection!

After several rounds of caffeine – red bull, double espressos, and cappuccinos – to ward off the lingering jet lag, we ended the day with a great glass of beer, oude kaas, sausages, bitterballen and some warm apple pie…lekker!!