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Welcome to Amsterdam, Buffy




Amsterdam, December 10, 2001
(From the Amsterdam archives. Panama is working on a
book about a Prince who wants to be a Delta Blues player.)

As I've said before, the key to navigating
Amsterdam is knowing the canals and how they're
placed. Remember that at one time all travel occurred
on the water. The main canals are concentric U-shapes
each having its origin and its terminus in the harbor.
Other canals radiate out from the center like spokes,
cutting across and thereby joining the concentrics.
Knowing at which of these intersections you are gives
you a very precise idea of where you are, which is to
say, lost.

But somehow the Dutch find their way unerringly and
expediently through the warren that is Amsterdam. And
when they talk of meeting somewhere or of where
something is, invariably a canal is mentioned.
Out away from the Centrum, where I live, the streets
get broader, but no straighter. Today a Dutch guy
heard me speaking four-year-old-level Dutch to my
4-year-old granddaughter and asked me for
directions...in Dutch.
Usually, though, they're on to me right away.
"Tourist?" they ask.
"Spy," I tell them. Gives 'em pause.
Dutch sounds like German(or something) to us, but that
impression comes from the guttural pronunciation they
share. Dutch words themselves are actually closer to
old English. However, G's are hard, shaped at the back
of the mouth by bringing the tongue into light contact
with the soft palate. So are ch's. And it is only
fitting that the most common word in Amsterdam Dutch
is also the hardest to pronounce, that is, gracht, or
canal. This word when properly spoken sounds exactly
like you're clearing your naso-pharyngeal area.
Now for the Dutch East Indies Company:
The Dutch were occupied for eighty years by the
Spanish, 64 of those years being spent in active
resistance. And during the time of their occupation,
the Dutch East Indies Company continued to do business
in the Far East. They just did business out there and
bided their time. So that when the Spanish did
finally leave, they came back home with coffers
They had a trading colony at Deshima, an island just
off Yokohama or somewhere. The Portugese were the
first to open trade relations with Japan, but being
Catholic they saw their mission as being not only to
trade but to spread the Gospel. Which they did, until
they had converted upwards of 80 thousand souls.
Which eventually drew the attention of the Emperor.
Well, not the emperor, but the head Fujiwara dude.
The Fujiwaras were a family who married their
daughters into the royal house successively, and by
these ties of marriage came to be in control
throughout most of Japanese history.
Anyway, the Portugese converted, attracted the
attention of the shogun Fujiwara dude, who ordered the
converts to recant, ultimately lopping off the heads
of about 26,000 who wouldn't. And the head Fujiwara
dude kicked the Portugese out of Japan, and so for
nearly two hundred years the Dutch were the only
foreign devils permitted in Japan, on this one little
island, Deshima. And they couldn't go ashore, except
once every three years the Dutch boss had to hie
himself up to Edo and report to the emperor.
They couldn't go ashore. No Japanese could come onto
the island, except auditors, and courtesans. And they
were forbidden on pain of death to speak on the
mainland of anything they saw or heard on the island.
Most of which was okay with the Dutch. They just
wanted to trade.
Japan, in earlier times, had been somewhat of a
trading nation herself, setting up outposts mostly in
Southeast Asia. So that there were Japanese traders
in Bangkok and on Macau, Taiwan, etc.
Now when the Portugese Christian-conversion thing
happened,(early 1600's) all of a sudden the Japanese
got paranoid. They did NOT call their envoys home.
They abandoned them, because who knew what bullshit
they had encountered out there off Japan. So that
there were these isolated colonies of Japanese who
could never go home again. And they and their
descendents gradually subsided into the local gene
pools of wherever they were. And Japan became closed.
To everyone but the Dutch, who had to stay on this one
little island, Deshima.
Now things happened, time went by, and ultimately
Dewey showed up in the harbor there. The Japanese
were compelled to open up for trade. So the Dutch
hegemony in Japan was effectively ended. Late 1800's,
I think. Anyway in good time for Puccini to write
Madama Butterfly. I saw it once. It's about this
Japanese lady who has a child by an American sailor,
and then waits around for him to come back. The only
piece in all of opera that I like is the soprano duet
in there, so when I'd heard that, I left. No sense
both of us waiting around.
During WWII the Japanese managed to toss the Dutch out
of the Dutch holdings in Indonesia. And this is
interesting: from some Indonesian perspectives, the
Japanese were perceived as liberators, there having
been for some time a kind of guerilla warfare going
on. And the chief guy, whom the Japanese propped up
and kept supplied with guns and stuff, was Sukarno.
And after WWII, when the Dutch decided to get out of
the colony business, and when Queen Juliana said I
love you, but you are not my children anymore, Sukarno
was the guy who came to power.
This has gone on long enough. Just thought you might
like to hear some of this stuff.