In Which our blogger goes on a couple of adventures, complains about air travel, and makes the perfect travel outfit.Read More
So, here's the thing. When you're a student, you spend most of your time either in a classroom or doing homework. Sometimes all of your time. Sometimes so much time that there's none left to spend on sleeping. Or eating. Or friends. When you're working, it's the same although I've been lucky so far to not have the kind of work that comes home with me, past the occasional entertaining story at the dinner table. When you're travelling, there's no time for crafty business but it's alright because SELFIES! Sorry..It's alright because you're enriching your knowledge of culture and diversity and taking pictures of all of the exciting things (ahem)... There's not a lot of time for craftiness, unless you make it.
Unless you're in a holding pattern between Job A, Job B, and more travelling- in which case, you attempt to make up for all the crafting time lost!
I made this dress last month- in October- and it was the first dress I'd made yet this year, which is tragic. I have since nearly finished one more and have plans and fabric for a third, but that number is still much too low for something on my list of favorite things to do.
I found this fabric without really looking at Joanns, and brought home enough to make 'some kind of dress'... Sometimes there's a plan, most times there's not.
I drafted the lace-up bodice pattern myself, and then just kind of made up the skirt part as I went. The fact that this pattern only exists in my head, though, doesn't mean it can't be learned from.
- 3 yards Brown Floral Fabric (100% Cotton)
- 1/2 yard Contrasting Grey Floral Fabric (also 100% Cotton)
- 12 ft. of Grey Paracord
- 10 Spacer beads (for lacing)
- Contrasting silk thread for topstitching
- Zipper (I eventually replaced mine with a metal one, after my invisible zip ended up having a flaw)
- Lining fabric (I used some undyed muslin from the stash because I'm thrifty like that)
Having a bias tape maker was also helpful, since there's a lot of that in this dress. Also the usual sewing machine, needles appropriate for the job, etc.
After making a mockup out of cheap woven fabric I keep around for precisely that job, and making sure it fit how I wanted it to, I started working on the bodice. I consists of 7 panels- center front with princess seams, then side front, side back, and center back. The center back piece supports the lacing. I had originally planned for the zipper to be at the center back, but that kind of went out the window when I decided there needed to be bias tape at the waist and a little design under the lacing. Side zips are easier to manage getting in and out of anyways.
After I had the bodice constructed, I made the entire 1/2 yard of grey contrasting fabric into 1/4" Bias tape. If you're unfamiliar and you wish to be, there are excellent tutorials for this in most quilting books, which is how I refreshed my memory. I used a few inches of the tape to bind the center front, and then cut two 72" pieces that bound the reset of the top edge, starting with the center back at the base of the lacing and then going up under the arms. When these pieces met the princess seam in the front, they became the straps, which cross in the back and then lace down. The bias tape is handstitched (invisible mattress stitch- my favorite!) closed over lengths of paracord which I used to add strength and roundness to the straps. I finally found an use for the stuff!
After adding the skirt (just six triangular pieces- take the waist measurement of the bodice, divide by six- that's the measurement of each skirt panel, add seam allowance of course. The hem measurement was based on maximizing the fabric I had leftover.) I decided it needed some extra flair, so I used some of my (plentiful) leftover bias tape to add interest at the waist and hem. These pieces were pinned in place while Lucille wore the dress, and then machine top-stitched with yellow silk thread. I like silk because it tangles less, and the thread has a different sheen than cotton or polyester- and it stands off the surface in a lovely way. I also generally try to avoid sewing with polyester thread if what I'm sewing into is cotton. I'm not actually sure if it matters, but I like it anyways.
The hem is more bias tape (continuity!) with a top-stitched piece 2 1/2" from the bottom. Because of the way the bodice is made, the skirt is lower in the back than it is in the front- the perfect length so that I'm not sitting my bare legs down on chairs and such! The nice thing about making your own clothes is that you can account not only for the way you're shaped, but the way you prefer to wear them. All my store-bought dresses are a bit short, so I compensate by making all my handmade dresses a bit long. Things even out.
I hope that if you happened upon this blog because you're interested in dressmaking- that I have provided you with at least a bit of an explanation of the proceedings. One of the best parts about making new clothes is getting to wear them though, so that's what's happening next!
Less than a week after finishing this dress, I drove up to the lovely city of Chicago for two days to catch up with Jon.
The weather was spotty, but acceptable. We were for a short time trapped in a Starbucks due to the rain, but even that wasn't too bad. We spent a day in the Museum of Science and Industry which was fantastically awesome- albeit dimly lit so photos were difficult.
The building the museum is in is mostly underground so it looks oddly small on the outside- and then you wander in and realize that there are 12 planes including a Boeing 747 hanging from the ceiling...
This is a wonderful place! Full of not only exhibits that teach science in interesting ways (Launching balls across rooms over innocent bystanders below, anyone?) but also some pretty excellent historical artifacts.
There was a special exhibit while we were there called 'Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives' which had a whole chronology of Disney- from the movies and shows to Disneyland itself. There were examples of the multi-plane camera technology he used early on, plus lots of models, sketches, and video clips, and some incredibly exciting newer stuff...like, say, costumes from some recent films...!
I had no idea that these would be here and I think there was probably a scary amount of excitement going on...especially when I turned around:
I MADE Alice and the hatter from photos right after this movie came out- I may have taken some liberties with the hatter, but seeing in person that my Alice was spot on- that was such a cool feeling. I'm sure that I got some strange looks for the complete freak out I had about the whole thing.... even Sheep was looking at me like I was a little nuts-o. Worth it. Worth it times a million.
After the Museum, we walked around the zoo for a bit (I love cities with free zoos. St. Louis's is totally better though...Sorry, Chicago) and then headed off to Gino's for some super tasty Chicago-Style Deep Dish pizza.
The thing you have to understand about Chicago style deep dish pizza is that it's basically cheese, flaky crust, a little bit of tomato sauce and toppings, and then some cheese... and some more cheese.
The thing you have to understand about me is that I love cheese.
That's really all you need to know.
Day two of Chicago was some exploring of shops, and general walking about the city. What more fitting than to see this totally epic two story display of old sewing machines in front of a clothing store... in a dress I made myself! Many selfies were had by all... especially since we have some of the sewing machines that were displayed behind me.
I got lots of complements on my dress while we were walking around the city, and I love when strangers tell me I've done a good job on something like that... They have no motivation to lie to you so you know you're doing alright.
We sat in a park to people-watch and were at one point offered free cookies- which is the marker of a fantastic day- and sheep was indeed very unhappy when it was time to leave.
Chicago is another city I hope to be able to explore more at some point, and it seems like a pretty spectacular place to live- if a little windy. It's nice also to be in such close proximity to the great lakes, because those are always good for an adventure or two. I'm so happy to be able to finally get back into making moderately large-scale projects again, something I've missed pretty incredibly basically the whole time I've been in school. Obviously, having a job slows things down a little but not as much as school ever did. There are so many more dress-related projects and assorted other crafty adventures to come, and I have never been so excited with the prospect!
It's incredible to me- and I don't think you can understand it unless you've experienced it- how quickly the people you meet in the places you end up go from strangers to best friends. I met so many people at camp, and I won't forget a single one of them. They're all such wonderful people, and sure, some of them got on my nerves sometimes (six cups of my coffee at once, Wojciech. We have to ration the caffeine!) and some of them I didn't get to know as well as I would have liked (Brodsky- even though I'm still not sure if you're a bigger feminist than me, you're still pretty awesome.) The only thing I can think that might be responsible for all the bonds we've formed is the environment that camp has created for us. Whatever it is, these people are my people now- and I love them all.
One very special and particularly important person is the reason I not only retained my sanity, but also ended up with rainbow hair for half of the summer! Ashley, it seems that this is the only photo I have of us together- which is tragic- but at least that night was loads of fun! I'll have to come to New Jersey and then we can take a million selfies and I'll do a blog post all about our adventures.
We both stayed up way past bedtime and painted a Manic Panic rainbow into my hair:
After sending her an early-morning completed-hair selfie so that we could make sure that she was the first to see it (that's only fair)- I paraded this new look around for the rest of camp!
As a side note to all you boys and girls out there who are afraid to dye your hair interesting colors because you're afraid you'll reduce your job prospects- that is silly. If I can do this, so can you. Rainbow hair, much like Camp, is all about expressing yourself in ways the rest of the world may not necessarily agree with, and it's a good way to test out things before you take them out into the real world. I, for the record, also got hired and currently have a full time job in the field I went to college for and was hired for said job with this very head of rainbow hair.
Take that, society.
My freshly rainbowed hair coincided (totally on purpose) with my last two days off, which were spent wandering the busy streets of Boston and having Huge Nerd Moments about history (and teaching a certain person from New Zealand that The Boston Tea Party was not a literal tea party)...
Boston is a really excellent city for history-viewing, because it's all in a very small, walkable area and they even have these clever lines in the sidewalk (the freedom trail) to let you know if you're close to something, and what it is. Paul Revere, incidentally, is buried in the same cemetery as Mother Goose, so we got to see that too. After time spent in some really interesting and cool graveyards, we headed to a shopping area to people watch (and, okay, maybe shop a little tiny bit...)
I found this giant rainbow slinky in Newbury Comics, and obviously a girl with rainbow hair who finds her first giant rainbow slinky has to document the experience...
Day two centered around a field trip to the Science Center- which is located next to a loch, and whose main set of windows overlooks a pretty spectacular skyline. There's also a butterfly house on the roof (also overlooking said skyline)- which makes it practically the coolest thing I can currently think of.
They say if a butterfly lands on you it's good luck- but what if it doesn't stay there long enough for you to take a photo? One of this little guy's friends sat on my wrist for a couple of seconds until he was distracted by a colorful flower.
These butterflies (much like the sheep in Bath or the ones in the pasture next to Stonehenge) don't know how jealous I am that their views are better than mine.
On our way to a fantastic little Irish Pub for dinner, we passed the site of the Boston Massacre, and Sheep insisted that we stop for selfies. Sheep insists that this is the epitome of American tourism and is not an opportunity to be missed.
City Hall, where that particular historical event occurred, obviously still exists in Boston. The incredible thing about it, though, is that nothing else that originally surrounded it is still intact. Instead, it's been blocked in by tall skyscrapers and taller skyscrapers. That little building has a completely different view of the world than it did when it was built, and I think it's really wild that we get to experience it in this way.
Boston was a great city, and perfect for doing all those touristy things you think about doing in places like that. It was, however- and very surprisingly so- the first city I've ever been to that I don't think I'd want to live in. Places give you vibes I think, and Boston is a place of rushing and doing and getting done, and I'm not really looking for that kind of thing presently. It seemed disconcertingly... normal. Weird.
In between all the sports photography I was up to during the day, I used my nights (and occasional early mornings) to my advantage. I love nighttime photos, so that sort of worked out. Opportunities like this sort of make up for all the balls you get hit with... occupational hazard.
Just as things were beginning it seemed, the end of the eight weeks was upon us. I made my end-of-summer slideshows, we packed all the kids into busses to airports and trains, and suddenly camp was much emptier than it had been. I was feeling a little down when I got on my plane, but was swiftly cheered up by a very friendly delta flight attendant who presented Sheep and I each with a pair of Delta wing pins. Sheep wore his all the way home, and so did I.
Camp couldn't have been a more wonderful experience. I don't actually know what I was expecting when I signed up in February (other than that I'd be able to delay getting a grown-up job by a few more months) but it turned out to be one of the most incredible summers I've had in my (short? long? time is relative, grasshopper) life. I've made friends from Canada to New Zealand, and I have couches to crash on all over the world. We all made some pretty spectacular memories, and I wouldn't have changed a thing (except I maybe would have brought, like, three more hoodies and a sweater. Nights are cold in Maine...)
In addition to having made approximately 90 friends (and four or five new best friends)- and getting a chance to spend at least a little bit of time with that pesky sister of mine who was too busy travelling the world last year to be home pretty much at all- I also somehow evolved from a sun and physical activity/sports hating indoor person to a fairly outdoorsy, somewhat tanned person who hates sports slightly less. Okay, perhaps 'evolved' is too strong a word...No miracles were performed at camp (at least none by me...) but I realized there's a lot more on the list of things I can do than I previously thought. I managed, for example, for the first time in my life to kick a soccer ball in exactly the direction I intended for it to go. I climbed (the easy side of) the rock wall, and took photos of kiddos from the top. I even attempted baseball, which hasn't been a thing for years. I swam in the ocean, and I climbed a mountain.
I did literally climb a mountain but it's also a metaphor.
It's possible I would have learned all that stuff and tried all those things on my own accord, but it most likely would have taken me years to make it happen. Camp provides a safe and supportive place for everyone who shows up-campers and staff alike-to try things before they go back out into the real world; I took advantage of that, and it has instilled in me a desire to climb more mountains. As for the meeting of the people- there's no way that would have happened without camp, and I'm so happy to have met every single one of them. Even the weird ones.
Especially the weird ones.
Post graduation and Grand European Adventure, I took a job at a summer camp in the lovely state of Maine in an effort to delay the inevitable onset of Adulthood. For the record, this turned out to be an excellent plan. Besides, travelling by yourself on an airplane for the first time is kind of like adulthood...a little bit. It's like a test run. I met a woman at the airport on the way out who asked me what I was knitting, and through conversation it turned out that she was a pretty successful children's book author. I told her I wanted to be an illustrator (This is not an untruth, it's just that I also want to be a screen printer, dressmaker, editor, small business owner, knitwear pattern designer, photographer, and a graphic artist. The whole point of The Void is to give me more time to choose). She gave me her card, which is excellent and very exciting! I was off to a great start- knitting in public places is one of the best ways to meet people. Especially knitting in public places with unusually colored hair.
This is as close as I have ever been to New York City: My flight had a connection in LaGuardia, and we flew almost right over the city.
Sheep had a grand time looking out the window, because he has never seen New York either. I think. I mean, he could have taken a trip while I was sleeping or something. Regardless, I get the feeling he was feeling pretty excited about the whole thing.
When we got off the first plane (and you must understand that by 'we' what I actually mean is 'Sheep and I')- we were greeted by a much smaller one for the next leg of the trip. Much Smaller.
Some already-present counselors picked a group of us up the airport, and we all headed back to camp. Upon arrival, I spent equal amounts of time being a reclusive weirdo, and attempting to present myself as a social and well-adjusted member of society (Lies! but it turns out nobody else really is either...) During the reclusive phases, I spent a lot of time wandering around camp (read: getting lost) taking photos of this new temporary home of mine.
Obviously, I can't post photos I took of the campers. I don't even have them anymore- but don't fear! I have plenty of photographic evidence that this summer happened. So much, in fact, that I've had to split it up into two blog posts. You'll notice that in all these photos I have pink hair, and in all the photos of the subsequent post, I have rainbow hair. That happened.
After a week of orientation, which mostly consisted of trying to decide whether as a photographer I was considered a counselor or admin (neither?), we were let out for one day off with our new friends. I went with a group of ten or so others to climb a mountain!
Okay, not a very big mountain and not all the way up- but it still counts.
Let's just have an aside really quick so we can talk about this thing. I went to climb a mountain. Me. She who was in an out of physical therapy and doctors appointments for five or six years, and only recently what one might consider functional, and even then sometimes only with the help of braces and splints. She who gets winded climbing stairs, and flat-out refused ladders for years. She whose knees sound like grinding gravel, and who frequently loses feeling in her arms if she lifts them above her head.
I decided to climb a mountain. I decided to go to a boy's sports camp and chase soccer balls so that I could photograph the action, and walked miles a day around and around so that I could catch all the kiddos at all the events. I do not know what possessed this little indoor Kat to leave her computer, but she did. And she climbed a mountain.
It's a metaphor.
Here's the thing about Maine. You've probably heard that they have excellent lobster (true) and seafood (also true)- that there are a lot of mountains and lakes and beautiful landscapes (very true. you'll see). You've probably also heard that Stephen King grew up there and wrote most of his horror stories based on that experience.
So there's a certain dichotomy going on here, and if you know me then you know that dichotomy is a thing I love. We'd be driving along these country roads in the middle of who knows where, and it would all be beautiful when suddenly we'd come upon something that seemed startlingly like it was fresh out of Cabin in the Woods (related note: excellent movie. Do not watch before bed.) I don't have photos of those things because I was for the most part busy being weirded out by 'why is that gas station covered in hubcaps?' and 'who would put a boat in their front yard if it looked like that'
But we were talking about a mountain.
So, Tumbledown is a mountain that used to be a volcano that has a crater in the top, and that crater is filled with rainwater- and there's an entire ecosystem contained in that rainwater-filled crater lake. So we hiked up a mountain to go swimming! There's a thing you don't get to do every day. I have absolutely zero photos from the way up the mountain because I was trying not to die (d'you remember the bit about being winded climbing stairs?) but I did take photos at the top!
Sheep also quite enjoyed the view, although he did not go swimming in the lake.
So- I survived the upward journey, and I went swimming in a lake at the top of a mountain, and also had lunch and let some fish nibble at my toes- and after a few hours and loads of pictures, we headed back down.
Down was not actually better than up, but I did remember to take pictures.
English Peter (not to be confused with Irish Peter) led Sophie astray on the way down and they ended up lost for a period of time, but they turned up at the bottom, so crisis averted. It also turns out that walking downhill isn't great for questionable knees (much worse than up, surprisingly) so I didn't really do much in the way of movement for a while after that, but it was still totally worth it.
I climbed the heck outta that mountain.
It was late when we got back to camp, but we all ended up on couches in a basement watching Sherlock Holmes (The Robert Downey Jr. one)- and it was a great last day before the kids arrived. Orientation week at summer camp is a lot like actually being a camper, and it was a little disconcerting when the kids finally did show up...
Here's a picture of a rock:
So, mountain climbing aside, camp started and things got hectic. I was taking a couple hundred photos a day, and uploading them to the website at night so the kids parents could see how much fun they were having. After I weeded out all the ones with the weird faces. Let's talk about the faces people make when they place sports. It's weird. you'll have to take my word for it, as all those photos are safe on a hard drive in camp's winter offices right now. Somewhere in between all the hectic days though, I had a spectacularly excellent 22nd birthday.
I decided to attempt to do all the things from Taylor Swift's song '22', the first of which is 'Dress up like hipsters'. I had to improvise with a pair of not-my-high-waisted-shorts, and at one point I had a plaid shirt. T Swift also has cat ears in the music video which I felt was appropriate, so I spent some time in the Arts and Crafts shed and made myself a pair.
Annie and Lindsey serenaded me with the song, and I definitely cried a little and am not ashamed. There was also cake:
and Sophie and Jon left me a pile of pink balloons with entertaining things drawn on them, so I took selfies with them:
Overall, having accomplished nearly all of the things on the to-do list provided by Taylor Swift, this birthday was a wonderful one. There was some debate about whether 'breakfast at midnight' should occur on the midnight preceding or succeeding the birthday itself, but I ended up falling asleep before I could decide, two nights in a row... I did miss the 'birthday girl gets to choose what she wants to eat for dinner' tradition at home, but it was worth it. Especially when I went to take pictures of the littlest campers, and none of them were there until Karen yelled 'Hi Kat!' and they all came out from behind trees and cabins and started yell-singing happy birthday at me. Have you ever had 60 eight to ten year olds sing happy birthday to you all at once? I bet not. It was one of the best moments of the entire summer.
We're given a few days off throughout the summer (4) and my first one was spent in Portland, which is about an hour away from camp. Portland is wonderful, and from my day-long impression, a very hipster place. Young and full of life and just a tiny bit weird- in the good way. We spent a good bit of time just wandering and observing what we came across- for example the chain link walls of this small bridge are covered in padlocks.
My impression of Portland was that I would like to live there. It worries me that I get pretty much exactly that impression from all of the places that I visit. Maybe I'd like to spend some time in a brick apartment building like this, and people-watch passers by from the fire escape.
We also did a lot of window shopping, because windows is about as far as you get on a summer camp budget- but there were some beautiful things that I may even be able to make in the future- like this hanging stained glass piece made with the bases of crystal and carnival glass wine glasses. Who cares if I don't actually know anything about stained glass...
A small graffiti bird on a huge construction wall brightened up a street corner:
Do you remember how I mentioned that Maine is known for its lobster? The state is mostly coastline, and summer is lobster season- so what better time to try it than on a day out on the town in Portland?
We stopped at a place that was built on a dock overlooking the harbor. There was live music, an awesome atmosphere, and of course- the fresh-caught daily lobster selection for dinner! Although this wasn't the first time I'd had lobster, it was definitely the first time I'd had A lobster. They literally come with instructions. I have mixed feelings about food that you need instructions to eat, but the glorious taste of lobster dipped in butter kind of negates any argument I was going to make about that. And I am absolutely wearing the lobster bib.
So, basically- Portland is wonderful, lobster is awesome, and I would absolutely live there given the chance. It was a refreshing break to be able to walk around and just pick a direction whenever we wanted to. And there were no kiddos yelling "Hey Kat! Get an action shot!"- If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me this summer...
Back at camp, things continued as normal. Someone left a can of temporary spray-in hair dye in my mailbox, so I went blue for a day which threw some people off considerably ("No!! I liked the pink!"). I sort of figured that the gift giver would come forward and claim responsibility for the awesomeness that ensued, but they never did- so thank you, random friend, for being such a wonderful enabler!
The next day off was spent on a beach.
Before we get further into this, you should know that beaches and I have a history, and it basically boils down to this: I am not fond of sunlight, sand, or saltwater, and beaches are all of these things.
We picked a good day for beachgoing though, because the sun remained hidden most of the day but the rain waited until we'd left. So that takes care of the sunlight problem. As for the sand, there was a bit there in the beginning where I was cursing whatever part of me agreed to this plan... ("there's sand in my shoes! there's sand between my toes, it's going to get in my hair and everywhere. Whose plan was this? Why did I agree to come here?! I've been tricked! The cake is a lie!")- and I spent twenty minutes or so on a bench with my feet tucked up under me and a towel over my head.
I adjusted, though. I think if this summer proved anything, it proved that I am capable of adjustment, and that I Tried New Things And Didn't Even Die.
There's me, before I decided that I was going to actually get more than my feet wet. It was a little chilly but the kind that you get used to after you're in. Eventually I stopped taking ridiculous selfies and went swimming. I went in all the way up to my neck, but I didn't get my head wet. I didn't know what the saltwater would do to my hair...
First time swimming in the Atlantic ocean in.... a lot of years! and it was just so much fun!
There- we're halfway through the Maine adventure, and you'll notice that something very colorful happens in the next post. So far, the summer was turning out to be so much more than I ever could have expected it to be, and things were on an upward swing. I climbed a mountain, swam in the ocean, and took So. Many. Pictures. And- as someone said at some point- the best is yet to come!
Hi. Again. I sort of up and ran off to Maine for two months before I was done talking about Europe, and ignored the fact that I have a blog, and kind of a lot of things happened in those two months- but come with me for a ride back in time to Amsterdam, and we'll be caught up soon: I've been on a lot of planes at this point in my life, but I will never get tired of taking pictures of The View From Above. The interesting thing is, it's different in every place.
We flew in at night, and began the next day with an exploration of the Rijksmuseum- which is large, intimidating, beautiful, and awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I would very probably go back to Amsterdam just to go there again.
There is a huge room full of model ships:
There is a huge room of Porcelain:
There's even a huge room full of costumes and clothing from all over the world and all through history! There may have been note taking here...
There were a lot of people crowded up in the paintings gallery, especially since a Rembrandt was involved. Art is awesome, but when you have to fight your way through a crowd of tourists to get close enough to something to really see it, it becomes less exciting. I'm the kind of person that likes to do that sort of examination and thinking in peace, but it was pretty cool to be in the same room as some of this stuff regardless.
The Rijksmuseum also has a very old, very functioning Library of Epicness. It's the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands- and okay, it's not that big of a country, but its rich in this kind of history and I was practically drooling at all those books.
We also visited the very famous and cool Van Gogh museum, where you are very strictly not allowed to take pictures or even in any capacity look funny at any of the paintings...his Sunflowers was there, but I would really like to have seen Starry Night in person, and that one wasn't at this museum. Overall it was great to be able to see his progression as an artist and get to see in person some of the textural aspects of his later paintings that just can't be captured with a camera.
Most of our time in Amsterdam was spent wandering about the city- it's built and treated entirely different than the other places we'd been so far, and from anything I've ever seen, so I spent a lot of time being enthralled with the differences. We sat and people-watched for a while at Dam Square- a big open area in the central city that is surrounded by imposing buildings and the National Monument (WWII era).
Wandering not too far away from the astounding bustle of the central city, it's suddenly a place that manages to be quaint and homey feeling while also feeling large and intimidating.
Holland is apparently full of windmills, and you can go on a windmill bus tour, but there's really only one easily accessible one if you're not very mobile. This one is a 15 minute bus ride from the city center, and since I demanded that we see a windmill before we leave Holland, we went. Walked around it, played the selfie game, etc. They're surprisingly large up close.
There was one thing I couldn't figure out for a long time, and it's something I had noticed in a few other places during our travels- all of the buildings have these odd beams protruding from or near the roofs- some of the beams have hooks on the ends. I thought about that as we were walking around, and couldn't figure it out.
We spent a good portion of time people-watching in the red light district, which is home to a bit more than just what you'd expect. There are a lot of bars, restaurants, and shops of the sort, and I eventually witnessed something that solved the puzzle of the hooks and beams. It's a hoisting mechanism! The buildings are so small and tall, and the stairs so impossibly narrow that the only way to get something large up to your second or third floor, like say, a piano, or if you're in the Red Light District in the early evening- a full shipping pallet of Heineken- you attach a rope and a pulley to your hook, and you pull that sucker up there.
This explains that thing about how pianos used to always fall on people in the 'old days'... I wonder if anyone's had a pallet of beer fall on them...
Amsterdam's affiliations with certain pleasures in life make it an interesting place, and an interesting destination. It's wonderful to have a place that so readily displays so many Pride flags, and it's obvious that the kinds of people who aren't accepted there are the ones who have a problem with anyone else's life choices. That said, it's also a city run on tourism, and those tourists are pretty blatantly the drunken bachelor parties that have come for the sex, drugs, and booze. There are two competing factors here- one is acceptance, and one is exploitation. That's why I have such conflicting feelings about Amsterdam. I'd like to give it more of a chance- to see the rest of Holland, perhaps, and to get away from the vulgarity of the tourists and tourist-oriented gift shops.
Let's talk about Encounters with Pink Hair:
Here's a lady who wanted a photo with me- She was there for a bachelorette party, although I'm not sure if she was the bride. She seemed lovely, and we had a little conversation- but she has a plastic penis stuck in her cleavage. Take from that what you will, I suppose.
This dude, on the other hand, was the groom in a bachelor party. I saw his pink wig on their table before they saw me, but he got incredibly excited and put it on again when his friend pointed me out.
We took pictures while his friends snickered, and one of his cohorts took a selfie on my phone between photos of us:
These guys were profoundly Scottish, which I appreciated. The pink-haired fellow is wearing a nightgown and water wings- in case he drunkenly falls in to the canal. We watched a lot of inebriated gentlemen walk by wearing ladies' dresses and inflatables.
Let's talk about the other side of things for a moment:
The first thing you need to know is that apparently, whoever built Amsterdam wasn't thinking about stairs until the very last possible second.
We visited and breakfasted in a lovely little restaurant- the English translation of Pannenkoekenhau's is 'Pancake House'- and that's exactly what it is. The second story of this tiny building is a tiny restaurant, with three tables and a kitchen that was definitely smaller than the entire area of a Queen sized bed.
The place was beautiful, glorious, and perfect. The food was great, and the environment was better. There was a Pride flag flying outside the window (also window boxes! With flowers!)- and the place was run by a wonderful gay couple. One of them took orders and brought the food out, and the other was the Chef Of Amazing Netherlands Style Pancakes (somewhere between the thickness of a crepe and an American pancake. Similar to Swedish pancakes but bigger and sweeter). This is what I wanted- not drunken bachelor parties running around degrading freedom of sexuality- I wanted a gay couple working and enjoying the life they had made for themselves, and having the freedom to do that without harassment or fear. Amsterdam has the capacity to give that to people, and I wanted to see more of it.
So this is what I'm trying to say. Duality makes things interesting, and dissonance when played correctly makes you think about important issues in life, like gender and sexuality and whether or not we as a society should have a problem with boys wearing in dresses and people of any gender selling sex. Amsterdam has created for itself a place where those issues can be addressed, and it does it without putting too much strain on anyone- but there's a right way and a wrong way to wear a dress, I suppose. Are you doing it because you have made the personal choice to do a thing that makes you happy, or are you making fun of people for being different?
I want to go back. I want to go back and stay longer and in a different area where I can choose to continue people-watching in the Red Light District and try to understand what the tourists think is going to happen to them when they go there, but I also want to see more of the safe, accepting environment that the rest of the place seems to be.