Sunday, January 2, 2011

Riding in the new year

Christmas day I rode my bike to Gaasperplas, the lake park east of De Bijlmer, and actually enjoyed a bit of sunshine, though it's still quite cold. The access path has been cleared most of the way, but inside the park, most paths remained covered with snow. In general it was ride-able though slippery in places. I parked the bike by a bench and walked along the lake bank. Many ducks, swans and black coots floated along the icy surface. People showed up and fed them, resulting in an exodus of water fowl down the lake to the feeding point.
Gaasperplas, a big park around a lake in southeast Amsterdam, near my house. It's boxing day and there's still plenty of snow on the ground.

Still covering everything two weeks after the storms.
Looks cold, doesn't he?
The next day, I rode back out to Gaasperplas, which boasts a lovely winter landscape--if you can bear the cold. Frozen streams flanked by rows of bare trees, snow-covered banks, evergreens retaining patches of snow a week after the storms. Many strollers and families out enjoying the sunshine and snowy scene. I attempted to circumnavigate the lake but the clear path yielded to slush and I found it hard to maneuver so turned around. Then I realized my rear tire was flat. Not really equipped to repair it, I walked the bike home.

I spent New Year's Eve in my neighborhood, De Bijlmer, in southeast Amsterdam. As the evening advanced, the banging and booming accelerated. I ventured out at 11:40 pm to observe what was going on.

Not much actually. Sure, there were plenty of rockets firing and flashes of light. But there was no one around. This had an eerie effect, the combination of loud bombs and no people. It felt like a combat zone. Especially venturing over the frozen canal behind my house to the mammoth apartment complex, now glowing softly, a residence for many immigrant families. I shuddered to witness the anonymous battle zone, flashes of light streaming from the building, booming all around me as if shells were dropping. Why was no one else--no one!--out? Was I being foolish stepping out into the mayhem?

Gelukking nieuw jaar! They set off enough explosives in my neighborhood to simulate the bombing of Rotterdam.
But I proceeded toward Ganzenhoef metro. I figured there might be a few people out there. But no: just a few random souls on their way to somewhere else. Fireworks exploding all around, great colorful sprays above the office buildings, explosions reverberating down the line. Returning home, walking along my usual bike path, I passed a glowing garage and streamers screamed over the top. But there were no oohs or aahs from anywhere. The gunpowder smoke was now so thick I feared I might be asphyxiated. Back at 's-Gravendijkdreef I felt sure I would be hit by shrapnel or singed by cascades of cinders.

But I managed to cross the street to relative safety, where some families and groups of friends were doing their own little fireworks displays in front of their houses. It made me feel better to see them. I took a place between house fronts and watched them. Some people were holding Roman candles, pointing them toward the street as they ejaculated their molten cargo in arcs of color. Some young guys were setting off rockets that spiraled upward with a stupendous scream. Almost everyone was black or Indonesian or Indian or Middle Eastern. I could hang out in front of someone's house in relative safety,  watch the kids shoot off fireworks and look straight across the way to the park where some serious fireworks displays were bursting skyward.

New Year's Day and the snow has finally melted. Almost springlike.

January 1 and I'm back out riding to Gaasperplas, not so busy today as on boxing day. Overnight, it seems, the snow has vanished from the paths. That great thaw suggests spring but I know it is far off. Still, the ducks and coots floating on the lake bear a springlike ease. Random firecrackers explode in the distance after last night's full-blown invasion. Definitely the calm after the storms today.

I cut across 's-Gravendijkdreef, over a bridge, through a patch of forest, to reach the Gaasperplas path. The canals are thick with ice and the lone crane standing upon it huddles in the cold. Gulls sit all in a row on the railing of the bridge, ignoring the guy walking his Irish setter across it.

Gliding into the park, the path still has traces of ice which are treacherous. I reach the lake and head clockwise. Very soon, I find this brilliant lakefront beach, a perfect spot for writing or reading. Bare trees line the banks fronted by clusters of brownish reeds where some ducks linger. Some little gray clouds hover past, occasionally parting to allow some precious shafts of sunlight through.

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