March 3, 2012, p.m.
Upon my arrival in Amsterdam, the cab driver from the airport took little time to explain to me the difference between a “Coffee Shop” and a “Café.” Cafés are coffee pubs – wonderful places. When I joined colleagues from the Amsterdam Opera Studio in a café this afternoon, a cat was sleeping in the centre of the padded bench on either side of us. Pets are allowed in Amsterdam’s cafés. While I was there at least three dogs of various sizes came in with their owners. Coffee Shops are not easily confused with cafés; you can smell one before you see it. It’s not at all for coffee, in fact, I don’t think you can get coffee in one. These places are for smoking pot. If I didn’t know what pot smelled like before coming to Amsterdam, I certainly do now. I say that because European cigarette tobacco (at least tobacco I am familiar with in Germany) smells especially foul, but the air in the Amsterdam streets has demonstrated a clear difference!On a more elevating topic, I spent a very pleasant evening at the home of Nathalie Doucet and Jacob Lalkens.
They live near Edam (of the Gouda Cheese fame). It was also a pleasure to meet their dog, Cookie. I have often heard of her, and seen her in pictures, but we had never met. I enjoyed myself tremendously as we (not Cookie – Jacob, Nathalie and I) “talked about the old days” and new adventures in our lives and careers. In addition to her work at the Amsterdam Opera Studio, Nathalie is an opera coach at theDutch National Opera Academy. Nathalie and Jacob were delighted to prepare for me a highly typical Dutch meal for dinner: “stamppot,” or to us, “mash pot,” since the food is mashed in a pot. It was really delicious. Potatoes are mashed with kale (or various othervegetables) along with butter and garlic. In the centre of the mound goes a large meat ball, and at the side, sausage. Over all of this is poured gravy. It’s not a low-calorie dinner, but it is very tasty. For dessert:“Vla!”It sounds like “flaw.” It’s something like a cross between a pudding and a custard, and it comes in containers like our litre-sized milk cartons. It is for pouring. There are all kinds of vla flavours and textures. They mentioned “stracciatella,” and “fluffy.” We had vanilla and chocolate. I didn’t have a second helping, but I could have!