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Utrecht, Daily Life

In another post, I mentioned a long ago article about a woman who worked from her Brown Jordan chair, poolside, and the doors it opened in my mind for ways to work. For fifteen or twenty years, she has been silently prodding me along, reminding me.

My uncle who "lived" in London, spent his life floating, well that might not be the right word because it implies something gentle and peaceful and he was neither, around the world, his tools a telephone, a pen, a scrap of paper and the terry cloth robe in which he was often seen. He loved a prank and would go to great lengths to outmaneuver friends who felt similarly. One played on him was his worst nightmare, being stuck in jail for a day without a pen and paper to write down his ideas and to do list.

My uncle Christopher, doing his thing in his robe

My father also led a nomadic life, though he wore clothes. His grey Samsonite suitcase seemed always open.

My father, farthest right, with his brothers , from left, Fred, Frank and Bernard, in more traditional work garb

You'd think that based on this familial inclination, carving out a professional life that provides freedom of movement and escape from what for me is mind-numbing routine would be an easy mental shift, but there always seemed to be a gap between the wages I needed for life and the life I wanted to lead. Due in part to COVID's making online meetings de rigueur, things have fallen into place, sometimes shocking me to realize I am sitting on my version of that Brown Jordan chair.

A varied and fun array of family was gathering for Thanksgiving in London last year and after inviting myself, I realized it would be nice to spend quieter time with my 89-year old aunt who never runs out of stories or curiosity about the world. Easily, a weekday pattern emerged. Wake around 7, work until 10ish, hang out with my aunt for a bit, go off and be a tourist, back at 3 or 4, work for a bit, have dinner and spend the evening with my aunt. It was a much better lay out for me, decreasing the dreariness, allowing variety. I loved the peace of replying to emails and getting my day set up before my clients were awake. And then there was low key problem solving and idea generation while at the V&A or on the Tube. Perhaps in a different culture, it's possible to think differently.

I love this very Dutch view from my office

This year, it's Utrecht on the second floor of my friend's 9 foot wide house, hanging with my girl.. While the sights are different, the rhythm is the same, taking a lunchtime ramble, shop or sight see. Our house is in the medieval city, which has two parallel canals, the old one (Oudegracht), established somewhere between the year 1000 and 1122, the newer one (Nieuwegracht) only in the 1390s. We are in a residential neighborhood, but within a 10 minute walk is the Museumkwartier, where you can find both the Utrecht Art Museum and the Miffy Museum (Dick Bruna was from here) as well as the shops we frequent. There are several bakeries,, a fishmonger, a butcher, a wine shop, a middle eastern grocery store and a cheese shop, allowing a freeing lack of forethought to meals and a delightful variety of high quality supplies.

Killer cheese shop

Organic bakery and cafe

Further afield, perhaps a twenty minute walk down the canal, are chain shops, the likes of which you'd see in any European city. They tend to draw teenagers and people "from the region", as my Dutch friend says, coming in for day trips. Ten minutes beyond that area is a big-ass mall with a Dunkin' Donuts, supermarket, every chain you can imagine, and an Asian grocery store. While we don't do any commerce there, we do walk through regularly to get to the train station. I once had to use the bathroom, €.90 and a turnstile, but clean.

In the opposite direction from our house is a two-minute walk to trash and recycling, located on the Singel, a green space used by many, circling the old city, mostly next to canals. I'm fascinated by the darkly clad, mostly men in groups of 3-9 at lunchtime, eating their bread heavy meals while having walking lunch meetings, sometimes in English, in fairly cold weather. Walking and eating is definitely a thing. Diet here favors carbs and meats with some amount of fried food. They're not scared of cakes and sweets in the afternoon, and the Dutch take their fries with mayo.

The Singel

Business on the Oudegracht. The booze barge delivers via the canal with kegs and cases, as does DHL

Utrecht red on these pretty shutters

Un-Dutch car except for the color

Dutch colors at HEMA, equivalent of Target

A 15 minute bike ride in another direction, and we're at Nat's campus, which looks like an office park, newer buildings plunked down on flat land. But on the other side of it is farmland, with sheep grazing, cow/milk farms, organic vegetable gardens and cozy cafes serving carrot cake and oozing gezellig for the many of us taking weekend walks. Yesterday we found a trailer that held vending machines for farm produced milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream.

Hay baled and ready for winter, near Nat's school campus

The most rigid routine is the Saturday flower market, in the shadow of the Janskerkhof. It opens at 8 and a lot of business gets done before we usually arrive, around 11. People and flowers of every stripe. Flowers are such a part of life in Utrecht, perhaps to counteract the grey and dark.

Embarrassment or riches

Obscene amount of tulips. A bunch of 12 is €3.50

Artichokes for floral arrangements

Maybe gooseberries?

Every kind you can ever imagine

3 stalks for 4

Necessity is the mother of invention. I saw someone hauling a full-sized Christmas tree under their right arm while presumably riding home

And while the days of digital pomading are fun, the best adventures are confined to times that aren't wedged between working;. Brown bars, hanging out with a friend, shopping, movies, a concert, Amsterdam.

My sweet buddy Erica at the poffertjes (not a fan of pancakes, but these mini ones, eaten with butter and powdered sugar while wandering, are the best) truck , who delightfully and spontaneously hopped over for a week

Nat at a bar on canal level, below the street

The Concertgebouw, where we heard Carmina Burana


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