On my last night in Amsterdam on a business trip I took there recently, I had occasion to meet an extraordinary young lady named Renata, who literally taught me in a matter of a few hours how to view the world through rose-colored glasses. The view is incredible. So is she.
I stumbled into the Argentinian steakhouse restaurant where she works, with an inebriated fellow traveler from France (by way of Seattle), and was charmed by her. I was attracted like a moth to a flame. She embodies all of the qualifications I have had listed in my mind for the perfect woman. She is vivacious, artistic, musical, smart, funny, beautiful and she is a participant in life, not a mere spectator. The melody of her voice makes me weak at the knees and when she gives me a hard time, I can feel my heart glowing inside my chest. She is radiant, the kind of person who illuminates an entire room when she enters it, and I am amazed at my luck. It is just my luck that I should meet the woman of my dreams during my last night in Amsterdam.
On the flight to Amsterdam, I watched the movie "Serendipity," which starred Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack. It is a very romantic comedy about two people who meet by accident and realize that they are perfect for each but, by a cruel twist of fate, are separated without even knowing the other person's last name, and have no way to contact each other. Years later, they are both about to marry someone else, but they keep seeing signs which remind them of the perfect person they met so long ago and they decide that they have to make an effort to find the other, or they would be miserable the rest of their lives, because they would not be with the person with whom they were meant to be. Years ago I read that the Greeks believed that everyone is born separated from their other half and that they spend their lives looking for their other half. If they find their other half, they finally become complete people, and can live happily ever after. That is where the expression "my better half" originated.
Renata was reading the book "1984" by George Orwell, in two languages. She explained that she would first read a chapter in the English version and then re-read it in her native Polish, and make sure that she got the most out of it. Just the way I used to read German literature in German and then a translated version, so that I could make sure that I got the most out of it. "1984" was one of the books which changed my life, along with the works of my favorite German author, Hermann Hesse. Renata not only knows of Hermann Hesse, but has read most, if not all, of his books. We started talking about literature and art and I was enthralled. Wanting to seize the day, I asked her if she would like to get some coffee or a beer after she got off of work for the evening, but she explained that she was very tired and needed to go home and get some sleep. Not wanting to take no for an answer, but also not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to spend at least a few hours with the woman of my dreams, I told her that the next day was my last day in Amsterdam, before leaving to visit my good friends, Lynne and John in Belgium. I explained that it was my desire to see several of the museums in Amsterdam before I left, in particular the van Gogh Museum. She had to work the next day, starting in the afternoon, but she kindly agreed to act as my tour guide through the Stedelijk Museum, which would give me enough time to visit the van Gogh museum on my own. We agreed to meet the next day at the Cobra Cafe, which is a cafe and small museum dedicated to Cobra, a collaborative group of experimental artists from Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, who used the name of a poisonous and dangerous snake to symbolize the revolution unleashed by artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. It is a very cool place, with the coolest bathrooms you have ever seen.
Renata arrived dressed in her inimitable style, wearing red sunglasses and sparkling. I was having such a wonderful time just drinking coffee and talking that when Renata mentioned actually going to see the museum, I decided that I could see the museum during my next trip to Amsterdam and preferred to spend what little time we had together just drinking coffee, walking through the city and the parks and just enjoying life. I wanted to buy her a t-shirt from the Cobra gift shop. She politely declined. I was disappointed, as I wanted a memento of our visit there, but was delighted when she took me to the Mark Raven (local Amsterdam artist) shop, in the park near the Cobra Cafe, where she picked out a shirt for me and one for her, both of which were much cooler than anything at the Cobra gift shop.
We walked to the museum and looked through the windows, but with little time left, I decided I would rather see her favorite park (the name of which I cannot remember), so we walked there, around the lake, surrounded by birds and went to an outdoor cafe. When it was time for her to start walking to work, we continued through the park and stopped in front of a building, which, she explained, housed her favorite internet cafe. She told me that she had to leave for work, and suggested that I go inside the cafe, order myself a coffee or a glass of juice and go in to use their computers, where I should write her an e-mail, as she wanted an e-mail from me from Amsterdam. My heart broke a little as we waved to each other and she walked off into the sunset.
I walked inside the cafe, ordered a glass of juice and walked over to the computers. They had only two PCs, and both were occupied, but it was not long before one of the people got up and left, giving me the opportunity to write her an e-mail, to thank her for one of the best days of my life. I opened my wallet with the intention of extracting one of my business cards, on which she had written her telephone numbers and e-mail address. To my absolute horror, the card was not there. As I had kept all of my receipts in my wallet, I had to sort through a small mountain of little papers, to no avail. The card was gone. I vaguely remembered her taking my business card and putting it in her book, and came to the realization that she accidentally placed the card she had written for me with the one I had given her. I had no way of contacting her and, of course, no way of sending the e-mail she had said she wanted, and I was panicked. I had to return to the hotel at Dam Square, where I kept my bags after I checked out that morning, and had a short period of time before I had to arrive at the airport, where my friend Lynne would be meeting me to drive me to Belgium.
The situation called for other-than-public transportation. I had the good luck of selecting a cab owned and operated by a gentleman named Arjan, to whom I shall be eternally grateful for aiding and abetting in the quest for true love, and for not immediately throwing me out of his taxi when I suddenly told him that he HAD to help me, and explained the situation. I gave him what I thought was the name of the restaurant where I had met her (checked my wallet, remembered that the owner of the restaurant had to use the AMEX machine at the place next door, which he also owns, found the receipt and saw that it contained no restaurant name) and he used his cell phone to call Directory Assistance. He had to make several calls. I think the same Directory Assistance operators we have in the U.S. must moonlight as Directory Assistance operators in the Netherlands. They kept giving him the wrong number. Good thing I could not recall the name of the area of town where the restaurant was situated. That would have made it easy.
Eventually, he got the right address and sped me through the city to the restaurant where she worked. He even drove his cab into the pedestrian zone so that I could accomplish my mission. I knew that she had gone to her second job, but did not know where that job was. My only hope would be to find a sympathetic ear in her restaurant, and maybe they could get a message to her. I walked in and saw what I assumed was the manager. I had not seen him the night before, as the owner was there the night before, and I quickly explained that I had met Renata there the night before, had met her again that morning and spent part of the day with her, and had lost the card with her contact information. As luck would have it, she was right next door. She laughed when she saw me and asked what I was doing there. I explained the whole scenario to her and she grabbed her book bag and opened the book, and there was the card, underneath mine. She laughed again and I asked what was so funny and she said: "It's so cute that you are so freaked out about it." (or words to that effect).
Head Over Heels, man.
My map to the Cobra Cafe
Capturing the moments. As the folks at Kodak say:
"Share the moment. Share life."
The cafe through rose-colored glasses
Plants in the cafe
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
The female James Dean
Playing in the park, near the Cobra Cafe
(like a scene from the movie "Help")
Your humble narrator, striking a pose enroute to the Mark Raven Art Shop
Posing with bags from the Mark Raven art shop, where we bought t-shirts.
A building we passed on the way to the museum.
One of the several cool cars on display at the museum, this one a Tatra,
built in the 1950's in the former Czechoslovakia.
It is almost as sleek and beautiful and rare and different as Renata.
In fact, maybe they should have called it the "Renatra."
Walking through the park, we were suddenly surrounded by birds.
The park, through rose-colored glasses
In Amsterdam, people take their pets everywhere, including the outdoor cafe
This one is hard to make out, but it is a picture of two birds, eating from a table at the outdoor cafe. They just help themselves ...
* OK, technically it was a HALF DAY. So SUE me ...