Moving house

Where the hell did all of this stuff come from?

In early March of last year, I moved out of my temporary apartment to a lovely 2-bedroom with a view of the Uilenburgergracht, close to the Amstel River and the city center. Friends arrived with their station wagon to help me move. They were surprised to see how little I had: one large suitcase, a duffel bag, a carry-on and a shopping bag filled with groceries. In truth, I could have moved in a taxi. Or a bakfiets.

One year later, and wow, have things changed. If those same friends were to help, we’d need several trips in their station wagon. Even though we are moving from one furnished apartment to another furnished apartment, we have so much stuff. We have been careful all year about what we bought, knowing that anything we acquire will eventually either need to make the trip back to the US, or be sold/given away/thrown out. And still, somehow, I’m sitting in my soon-to-be-former kitchen, looking around at boxes filled with pans, cookie sheets, hand mixers. And downstairs I still have clothes to pack, and toiletries, and all those little things that seems to sneak, uninvited, into your home when you’re not looking.

But. It will all be fine. We have time, and we’ll have help. With any luck we’ll finish the packing early and we’ll be able to enjoy a cold but sunny weekend, and take a last wander around our neighborhood. We’ll probably have dinner at the Asian tapas-style restaurant around the corner, where the waiters know us and our orders by heart. Maybe I’ll finally visit the Rembrandt Huis, which is exactly 350 meters away from where I sit, and still I’ve never been.


Haven’t made it to the ballet or the opera either…yet

We’ll be moving further outside of the city center, but as I keep reminding myself, Amsterdam is so small; nothing is too far from anything else. It will be fun to explore and learn a new part of the city, and especially one that is less crowded with students and tourists.

I will miss the morning light on the canal, the red chair in the corner, and the heated floors in the bathroom. I’ll miss coming home to see the sunset over the Portuguese Synagogue.  And I’ll miss walking over the Blauwbrug on a quiet Sunday morning, while the tourists are still asleep, to get Nutella or banana muffins from our local bakery.

I will not miss the induction stove top, the strange smell of this apartment, the never-seen child who lives above us, or the intersection outside our building, rated one of the most dangerous for cyclists. (Not because of cars or traffic, but because of the cyclists themselves, of course.) Nor will I miss the constant flow of hop-on, hop-off boats at the diamond factory across the canal, the first of which just appeared as I write this.


The soon-to-be old view…

A Dutch friend at work – who has lived for years with her family in the East neighborhood of Amsterdam – remarked that she would love the chance to move to a different part of the city every year. Her enthusiasm was mostly about finding new places to eat and have coffee, but I think she’s right. Living in one place gives you one view – of a city, of its people, of how they live, and how you live among them. But when you change your view, other changes follow.

So, next post from new address. And yes, if you’re wondering, it has a guest room.

London and back again

Last weekend we made our first trip of the new year…a long-overdue return to London! It had been more than 15 years since our last visit to London, which was, actually, the first trip my now-husband and I took together. After so many years, it was as if we were exploring the city for the first time.


Warmed by the sunshine, chilled by the wind…

The focal point for this trip was the theatre. Although I don’t know that “Book of Mormon” qualifies as theatre in everyone’s estimation, it certainly does in ours. We’d wanted to see “Book of Mormon” for years but never managed it, not on our visits to New York nor when the show came to Boston. It took a move to Europe and a flight to the UK to finally get us there! And it was worth the wait – it is clever and well-written, and very, very funny. Capped off with a late Chinese dinner (no ambiance, but great food), it made for a wonderful first day back in London.

The only other thing I really wanted to do was make a visit to the Churchill War Rooms. I struggle sometimes with art museums, but I really love museums that give me a view into history. The War Rooms did not disappoint in that regard. The exhibits demonstrate the activity of the early days of the war, and the tension and fear of the Blitz. The space itself – narrow, windowless hallways, cramped bedrooms – brings it all to life.


Wool wins wars! Scenes from the Map Room.

It is a fascinating place, made more so by the very human stories that filled the rooms for so long. And by the fact that, the day after V-E day, the lights were turned off – for the first time in 6 years – and the rooms were simply closed up, with everything left just as it was. Years later, sugar cubes left by RAF Officer John Heagerty were discovered, still in the envelope in which he hid them to prevent others from “borrowing” such a precious commodity.

The adjoining interactive exhibit about the life of Winston Churchill was also a joy for my nerdy little heart. If there was ever a man meant for a moment, it was Churchill. He was a singular person, fully aware of his role on the hinge of history. In his own words:

“I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial. I was sure I should not fail.”

Tremendous care, forethought, and commitment went into the creation of the Churchill War Rooms, and those who now have responsibility for the museum are carrying on in the same spirit.

So, thanks, London, for full and fulfilling weekend. To laugh, stroll, eat, learn, drink, (eat some more), and rediscover makes for a great return visit. Until next time…



Change your life to save your life

I recently read an article in The Atlantic that I cannot stop thinking about, for a number of reasons. It introduced me to a rare genetic disease called fatal familial insomnia, or FFI. And it introduced me to a remarkable couple who have transformed their lives in order to find a cure.

In short, FFI is marked by progressively worsening insomnia, eventually resulting in total sleeplessness. Death follows quickly, normally within a year. In between, as you might imagine, FFI causes memory problems, weight loss, paranoia, and general physical and mental deterioration. It’s a particularly brutal way to die.

The Atlantic article focuses on the daughter of a woman who died of FFI; the daughter found out that she also has the gene. Unless some novel treatment is developed, she will likely develop the disease and die of it. Average age of onset is about 50. She is 30.

This young woman – Sonia – is a Harvard-trained lawyer who was working as a consultant. Her partner, Eric, studied urban planning at MIT and worked as a software engineer. At first, they did what anyone would do when faced with an illness: they educated themselves. They learned all that they could about the disease. They discovered that there was promise and progress in the research that was underway.

And here is where the story really got me: they became part of that research. Not as guinea pigs or volunteers or fundraisers. As scientists. Of course.

Both of them quit their jobs and started working as laboratory technicians at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2013, they crowdsourced funds for a research project. By late 2014 they were enrolled in a doctoral program at Harvard Medical School.  Eric has already published some of his work, contributing to the body of research about this disease.

I am awed that two people, faced with the possibility of one developing a fatal disease, would act so definitively to find a cure. I am awed by their intellects; that they could both pivot from their current professions and so quickly become experts in a completely different discipline. I am awed by their progress, their determination, and their optimism.

Most of us dream about changing our life, or at least some part of it. For many, the dream becomes a plan. And if we’re brave and persistent, and maybe a little bit clever, the plan can succeed. But rarely are our lives on the line. The willingness to change your life in order to save your life requires another kind of daring, a stronger brand of courage, altogether.