Saturday 21st January 2017.
Amsterdam reminds me of hip, attractive districts of New York. Tall, red-brick town houses crowding elegant tree-lined avenues. Greenwich Village say. Except I don’t mean ‘reminds me’ because I’ve never been to New York. I mean I imagine it, or extrapolate it from the opening credits of The Cosby Show, or from coffee table photography depicting the Upper West Side. There’s an outsize chess set by the Max Euwe chess museum. People gather and play there like in Washington Square Park. Only it’s not the down-and-outs hustling a few bucks, it’s tourists pushing two foot pieces taking snaps.
Curiously, I’ve not spotted any vagrancy. Ladies in lingerie exude health and vigour from their Rossebuurt parlour windows. Everything is tidy and swept. For street graffiti try the Moco museum – the Banksy exhibition. One from his recent New York residency: “The grumpier you are, the more assholes you meet…”
We were wretched with cold and lurgy, lurching here and there in palsied sidesteps buffeted by cyclists and Vespas. It’s a town scrambling to get places, I’m surprised there’s time for sitting in restaurants. Yet here at Saravanaa Bhavan they arrive in numbers – a canteen melee, clamorous and bustling. The lunchtime ambience provoked a suffocating discomfort akin to a coughing fit. We opted for a what-the-hell thali tray.
A fair range of vegetarian staples: bombay potato; paneer pakora; a runny tarka dhal. A couple of bland, indistinct ones: carrot & green bean; tofu in a pea green puddle? It was a stretch to fill all Ten metal thali dishes; raita, lime pickle, curd, a slice of onion and tomato, accounting for four of them. The heavy, tasteless, fried chapatti bread our limp towel of surrender.
Downstairs there’s the disused nuclear power plant with its bleak, gunmetal corridors and Cold War toilet. I embellished the grim scene with the brutal evidence of my own bacterial warfare. All that was missing was a Red Cross van.
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Fred ‘Skippy’ Pickles