Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Woodstock Fair 2010

Well, my 13th fair has come and gone with a big bang...Monday night's fireworks salute to the 150th consecutive Woodstock Fair was absolutely amazing. We were seated at Mrs Bridges' Pantry eating, drinking, chatting when the fireworks show opened with a deep boom as the first rocket raced up in the night sky. We moved our chairs to create the best view and sat entranced for the next 15 minutes. Wonderful. Cheers to the Fair Committee.
Those fireworks shows are very expensive...very expensive. At least this year I didn't feel completely foolish handing $12 to a gate-keeper for the privilege of spending my money inside the Fair Grounds. Lots of folks are angry at the entrance fee. Keeps a lot of people away. My favorite teller at Bank of America in Putnam will never attend the fair as long as they charge to get in. I bet there are more people like her.
Lots of grumbling this year--most years it seems--about too many food booths and a shrinking roster of traditional fair vendors--like removable tattoos, fortune-tellers, games, rides, junk sellers. The real fair stuff. How many pizza vendors do you need at the Woodstock Fair? We hear rumors of rising booth rental fees and vendors deciding to pass on the whole affair.
Hopefully, the new regime at the Fair will turn things around and bring back the deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers bars. Bring back the rows of junk sellers--little dog-face ornaments and bizarre wood carvings. Imagine strolling down an aisle of weird junk with a fistful of deep-fried Twinkie?? Nothing better in the world on Labor Day Weekend.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Amsterdam for the Holidays 2009

On December 23 Pam and I flew out of Logan Airport headed for Amsterdam, Holland. We were going to spend the holidays in Europe and our son, Tom, would be joining us. Tom's birthday is December 24, so we thought it made sense to begin our adventure on his 24th birthday. Cary had already made plans to go to Spain in February, so she did not join us on this trip due to economic and work considerations. The flight was uneventful, pleasant and quick. Before we knew it we were getting into a cab and driving into town. As we got out of the cab at our hotel the driver gave us a vital piece of advice--watch for bicycles. We smiled, thanked him, wondering what he meant, and entered our hotel. The Singel Hotel is situated in the center of the city on a small canal lined with exotic houses dating from the 1600's. Each building is unique and the effect of fifteen different houses built wall-to-wall facing a beautiful canal is very interesting. Some buildings were so narrow we wondered how people lived in them. Other buildings leaned so far out of plumb we worried that they might collapse at any moment. Each canal was crossed by a series of bridges, and, again, each bridge was unique. My favorite was the 'Magere' bridge built by two sisters during Amsterdam's golden era. The Magere bridge started out like most other bridges--wide enough for 2-way traffic and sidewalks. However, somewhere near the exact middle of the canal the sisters ran out of funds. Instead of walking away and leaving the bridge unfinished the ladies completed the center span with a narrow wooden walkway. So the bridge begins and ends in the usual manner but is just a pedestrian walkway in the center due to financial difficulties. No one ever changed it. The Magere remains a narrow pedestrian bridge to this day.
After nearly being run down twice by the ubiquitous Amsterdam bicyclists, we understood our cabbie's for bicycles. Riders apparently have no restrictions on where or which way they can ride. And they're everywhere all the time. Before we crossed any alley or street we'd carefully look each way. Even then you couldn't be sure. 
We found new drinks. Hot chocolate, whipped cream and white rum. Try it. We found ourselves seated at our favorite cafe ordering the hot chocolate drink before noon...yikes!! Then we found Genever. Made by Bols, it is a white liquor similar to gin or vodka, but different. We went to the Bols Distillery and took the tour...which included cocktail tasting. Highly recommended. I think the British developed "Gin" from the Dutch "Genever". Could be, but there is only a slight similarity between the two liquors.
Dutch food falls somewhere between fair and good. Nothing great. The coffee is also only fair. But the cheese!!! Yes, the cheese. Excellent. We ate a lot of cheese.
A word about the Red Light District. Mostly it's the most interesting part of town--restaurants, cafes, bars, coffee houses...and, yes, lonely women dressed in black undies sitting in windows smiling at folks walking past. Made me sad, mostly. Certainly not tempting.
Amsterdam has some strange customs. You can smoke pot most everywhere, but cigarette smoking is restricted. Pam and Tom went into a coffee house to sit and get warm and drink some coffee. The waiter told them that they'd have to buy some pot before he could serve them coffee...there was another coffee house called The Green District (or something like that) where young people sat around giant hookahs in the windows puffing away and watching the sidewalk scene. The smell of pot hung in the air on most streets. No sweat. Very exotic.
New Year's Eve is celebrated in Amsterdam with an unending fireworks show. We noticed sporadic bangs all day. We noticed that the noise level and frequency of bangs increased as the day passed. By midnight the sky was filled with rockets and colored stars. This celebration lasted for at least 2 hours and the air was filled with ash that we thought was snow. A remarkable way to ring out the old year and usher in the new.
Our family trips to Europe have been, in their own ways, remarkable. This trip to Amsterdam was no exception. It was very emotional for me. I'd been to Amsterdam once before in the mid-70's. This time around my health prevented me from engaging in all the walking and sight-seeing. I nearly broke down in the Van Gogh Museum from a sense of pain and sadness looking at all the masterpieces that people ignored or ridiculed during the artist's lifetime. 
   But there was also a powerful sense of joy and love. We were together during the holidays and Tom's birthday. Pam told us it was her best Christmas ever. Tom said it was his best birthday. I'm hardly ever sure whether my plans make sense. Most times I'm moving on hunches and hopes. But this visit to Amsterdam will lay in my heart forever.