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Bitter Withy

from Thursday, October21st of the year2010.

I am completely freaking out about how beautiful these Alfred Deller recordings are on Vanguard. The Bitter Withy! I had forgotten about this particular nugget from the Apocrypha – in it, Jesus as a boy tries to play ball with three rich boys, and they mock him for being poor, and then he basically tricks them into drowning. This recording is just 2 delish:

Alfred Deller The Bitter Withy

It’s also 200% a precursor to that amazing moment from Eddie Murphy:

I’d get my ice cream and I didn’t eat it; just sing for a little while. You know how kids are. “I have some ice cream, I have some ice cream, and I’m gonna eat it all, I’m gonna eat it all…” The ice cream be running down your arm and shit: “You don’t have no ice cream! You didn’t get none ! You didn’t get none! “‘cos you are on the welfare, you can’t afford it.” Other kids would join in: “You can’t afford it, and his father is an alcoholic !”

Either I’m losing my mind or the Netherlands are not really a pedestrian-friendly country. I am plagued, here, by the perpetual sense that somebody is trying to overtake me with a different mode of transit — a bike from behind, a tram from any direction, a combination bike-pushing-a-wheelbarrow-of-children. I always feel in the way; sidewalks are nonexistent because everybody has parked their bikes and empty child-barrows there. Add to this the fact that the all the plazas in front of the train stations (or at least the three I had to deal with this trip: Haarlem, Den Haag, and Amsterdam) are being ripped up and repaved; the whole thing is a mess to walk in. Something I like about being a pedestrian is the feeling that, despite reality, you own the street. New Yorkers are notoriously this way; in the Netherlands, even on a park trail, if you bend down to look at a flower, you’ve bent over a bike lane and a sanctimonious graphic design lady with great hair and a bad attitude is pinging her bell at the back of your head. I guess what I find irritating about it is that we are not talking about the chaos of Rome or Bangkok with mixed mode transit sharing the same seventy-five lane highway including grandma walking across the skreet with a bag of fennel, or, for that matter, a cortege of elephants. This is designed and tested, market-researched and paid for by the government. If you look at an overhead view of what the process is to be a pedestrian trying to get from anywhere near it to Centraal Station in Amsterdam, it’s a total joke. It involves stopping, with presumably all your bags, on a corner with a zillion people, and then walking across six or seven weirdly-timed mini-lights, stopping on median strips to avoid the slow-moving trams and fast-moving bikes. Next time I come here for longer than a week I am going to rent a scooter and get all Ben-Hur on these people.

Another weird/funny thing: the coffee store next to my hotel, which is sort of like Dutch Starbucks inasmuch as they are on every third corner, didn’t have lids for medium or large coffee cups for over a week. Not, in the scale of things, the end of the world, but strange nonetheless. A week! No lids. Does that not strike anybody else as odd?

We had a great time, though, at the ballet: Benjamin Millepied outdid himself with this new piece, which is exciting, fragile, and atmospheric. I tried to write him a very French, very turn-of-the-last-century mood with motors hidden in the chinoiserie. I think it worked out very well; the Holland Symphonia were great and good sports about it. I always forget that ballet orchestras never see a single step of the ballets they’re playing underneath, so asking them to tease certain nuances out to fit the movement better is always a blind act of faith.

I would pay anything to always have the internet everywhere. I cannot tell you how much more work I can get done with, say, 15 minutes with the fast internet. It’s one of those things where I could not imagine putting a price on being able to get somewhere, quickly shower and deal with my Person, and be online for a quarter of an hour at full tilt. Yesterday, on re-arriving in London, I had one of those near meltdowns as I had attempted to simultaneously Arrive at 7:30, consolidate three different currencies in my wallet, perform a costume change, throw out a bunch of shit from my bag, including the wrapping attendant to a loaf of cod roe — all of this in the subway, which resulted in my being absolutely That Crazy Lady with way too many clothes holding a fishy-smelling plastic bag muttering to myself about “why isn’t it trash cans.”


  • “Getting all Ben-Hur on these people” That’s a brilliant line, I almost laughed my — off.
    I gues you have to be used to Dutch bike traffic in order to survive it. But Amsterdam is actually by far the busiest, even I would be lucky to get out alive(and I’m Dutch).

  • The answer to your concluding question is, of course, “The Irish Republican Army.” Just for the record.

  • Nico, I’m so jealous of Amsterdam and Rome and Bangkok and all those other places who share you. Can’t you come to Vancouver? I promise we never run out of lids. It’s against our religion.

  • Brilliant and well deserved! Enjoy the moment and the prize!