Art

A Weekend in Amsterdam

by Jackie D on April 5, 2017

jackie desforges amsterdamI visited Amsterdam for the first time about 8 (!) years ago. It makes me feel crazy-old to say that. It was my first solo trip to Europe, and I was visiting Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Vienna. I chose these cities because I was just coming off a summer studying art history in the south of France, and I wanted to visit some of the art museums I’d pored over in all of my late night study sessions.

When I got to Amsterdam, I was tired. I hadn’t packed well — my suitcase was too big and heavy for me, and my feet were already covered in blisters. I was lost immediately. Just when I thought I might never find my hostel, I rounded a corner and made eye contact with a cute guy around my age.

He laughed and said, “You look really lost.” Grateful to hear a fellow American accent, I asked him if he’d seen the hostel, and he said he was staying at the same one, and he pointed me in the right direction.

jackie desforges amsterdamThe next morning at breakfast, I saw him again; later that night, when I returned to the hostel after a day spent wandering through the art museums, he was chatting with a few other travelers on the stairs in the courtyard. Later, he told me he’d been sitting there hoping I’d pass by.

We spent the evening traipsing through bar after bar, wandering the streets while I probably rambled on about art museums, eventually stopping in the park long after midnight to catch our breath and lay down and enjoy the beautiful summer weather.

He convinced me to stay in Amsterdam for one extra day. I changed my train ticket and we found a room on a houseboat on one of the canals. We toured the Heineken brewery and stumbled through more bars, and he tried to convince me to stay even longer, to cancel the Vienna portion of my trip and stay with him until it was time for me to head back to the US.

I refused. It was my first trip alone and I didn’t want to derail my first independent foray into the world just because I had met some guy — no matter how cute he was. For some reason, I was so terrified that I might never get to travel to Europe ever again, and so I didn’t want to ruin my only chance to see all of the cities and art I wanted so badly to see.

jackie desforges amsterdamSo I went on to Vienna, and I hated it. I was lonely and there was no one to talk to, and the streets were ugly and I was tired of art museums. I wished I had stayed in Amsterdam. Eight years later, I still wish I had stayed in Amsterdam.

I don’t think anything serious would have happened between us, but I don’t understand why I was so scared to change my plans, or why I was so stubborn about traveling alone. Why did I think that would be my only chance to do so?

Now, about a dozen visits to Europe later, I got to see Amsterdam for a second time. My suitcase and shoes were both more manageable, though I did still get lost on my way to the hotel. As I wandered through the streets — alone this time — I recognized a few of the places we’d wandered past together. The people were just as friendly as I remember, but the flower market had gotten more crowded and more touristy. There are still bikes surrounding you everywhere you go, and crossing the street without getting hit is almost an art form.

On this trip, instead of seeking out art museums, I wanted to be outside. I visited the famous Keukenhof Garden (only open for 6 weeks every year); I stopped by the sample sale of a local designer and got $300 boots for $50 (more non-blistering shoes!); I sought out a doughnut shop I’d seen on Pinterest; I passed by the Anne Frank museum (still too long of a line to get in); I popped into a few ceramics stores; I had a beer on a patio in the sunshine.

jackie desforges amsterdamThis past weekend’s trip was the one I had imagined when I was twenty — a relaxing, quiet, independent weekend in a beautiful European city, completely free of anyone telling me where to go or what to do — but I’m really glad it wasn’t the trip I got back then. That first weekend in Amsterdam is one of the best memories of my life, and I imagine it could have been even better if I’d been more willing to derail my plans for a few days.

The fact that no cute guy popped around the corner to help me out this time around reminded me how rare those encounters are, how it’s not actually normal to meet someone like that every time you venture out by yourself — and if you do, you should probably go with the flow.

I used to think that traveling by yourself meant that you have to be by yourself the entire time, and I was terrified that if I let someone else dictate even just some of my plans, it would somehow make me weaker or less independent.

jackie desforges amsterdamI actually saw Amsterdam Boy again about two years ago. Turns out we both ended up in Brooklyn, about a mile away from each other, and we came across each other via another chance encounter: this time, it was a dating app. We met up for a drink and marveled at how strange it was to run into each other by chance TWICE in a lifetime, on two different continents.

“It’s such a good story,” he told me, and I agreed, admitting that I’d often relayed it to groups of friends whenever the topic of epic travel stories came up. I’ve never written about it here — my most intense travel stories are the hardest for me to write about (read: the entirety of my Central America trip) — but revisiting Amsterdam this weekend made it impossible for me not to relive this one all over again.

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Volunteering at the American Library in Paris

by Jackie D on March 14, 2017

American Library of Paris“In my world there would be as many libraries as there are Starbucks.” -Henry Rollins

Whenever I’ve moved to a new city, I’ve gotten a library card within a month of arriving. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve found apartments so quickly – you need an address in order to get a library card, so my apartment searches have always been intense and urgent. Plus, you know, it’s nice to have a place to live.

In Chicago I didn’t visit the library quite as often as I usually do, but I had too many other places I wanted to explore: the Art Institute (I had a yearly membership, and honestly the Art Institute was basically my library for my entire first year in Chicago), new museums, new cafes, new neighborhoods. I also found a used bookstore and a Goodwill where I could get books for very cheap, and I devoured about a book a week during my regular commute.

In New York, the library was one of the only things keeping me sane. I stopped by on my way home from work at least once a week to trade out an old book for a new one, or more often to see how many books I could carry before I broke my back. In retrospect, this may be where all of my back problems began.

I even got a new library card when I moved from one part of Los Angeles to another, because Santa Monica thinks it’s special and it has its own library.* In Santa Monica’s defense: the library‘s audiobook selection is actually not bad.

In Paris, I was momentarily outraged to find out that you have to pay a monthly FEE for your card at the American Library; however if there’s one place I never really mind throwing my money at, it’s the library. They do good things. They deserve money.

Plus, this library offers a volunteer program similar to that of Housing Works in New York. As with Housing Works, I will be helping out mostly with events that the library holds each month (readings, lectures, even a wine tasting later this month).

In Housing Works I was also helping in the cafe, and even though this meant that sometimes my entire shift evolved around washing dishes and cleaning counter tops, it was still often the best part of my entire week: to walk into a shop full of books at the end of a long day at work, to be around other people who love to read as much as I do, to clean and wash and actually use my hands for something other than typing on a keyboard all day.

It’s a fun crew at the library — mostly Americans, and I imagine we all feel a similar sense of relief to spend a little part of our weeks surrounded by other people who are as far away from home as we are.

And when I exit the library at night, it’s such a strange feeling — to go from being inside this place that is so familiar and so comforting to me, with its American accents and silly thrillers and the classics I’ve seen lining so many different library shelves; and then I suddenly step outside and look up and see the Eiffel Tower RIGHT THERE, literally hovering over the library, a sight that is still so surprising and so bizarre to me.

When I was younger I thought that maybe I would never get to see the Eiffel Tower in person even once, let alone once a week. I’d thought that maybe it would only ever be one of those things I read about in a library book.

*I realize that the reason Santa Monica has its own library and city hall and everything is because it’s technically its own city, but I prefer to think of it as a petulant child.

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Snapshots from Salvation Mountain

by Jackie D on January 13, 2016

salvation mountainSalvation Mountain was originally created by someone who worshipped God, but now it’s mostly visited by people who worship color. Social media – and especially Instagram – has been the sole reason that certain places have become popular in recent years, and Salvation Mountain has become popular because it’s basically an Instagram dream. I’m not sure how anyone even found out about it before Instagram existed because it’s out in the middle of nowhere in the southern California desert.

salvation mountainsalvation mountainA friend and I took a day trip from LA to visit one day – and if you want to take a day trip, you really need to commit, because it’s 3.5 hours driving each way. Despite the drive, it’s a doable day trip because once you get there, it doesn’t take long to see the whole thing. It’s a giant man-made hill painted in pretty much every color you’ve ever seen. There are painted “waterfalls” (blue and white stripes), a “yellow brick road,” (this is the only portion of the painted area that you’re supposed to walk on, do NOT walk on the waterfall or you will get yelled at), and then there are also painted crosses and bible verses scattered throughout.

Off to the side of the hill is a small cave-like structure that is collaged with photos of Salvation Mountain’s creator and notes that visitors have left for him (he died in 2014 but people are still leaving notes), and then off to the side of that there is a painted forest type of thing made of painted branches.

salvation mountainsalvation mountainsalvation mountainIt didn’t seem like anyone there was visiting for religious reasons. Everyone was there to take photos of this colorful place to probably post on Instagram later – which is why we were there, too.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person anymore – attending Catholic school and memorizing medieval paintings for art history classes has ensured that I’ve seen enough churches in both photos and real life to last a lifetime. So even though I tend to avoid things related to religion when I travel, I can appreciate when faith is expressed in a unique way that I haven’t seen before, and I definitely haven’t seen anything like Salvation Mountain before. So basically, my overall impression of it – don’t necessarily agree with the message, but I respect the approach. And I definitely respect the Instagrammability.

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