Thursday, August 21, 2014
Anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam who wants the grooviest, most historically rich and compelling tour of the city’s crannies and byways should contact tour guide par excellence Mark Law. He has put together a custom tour based on my book “Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.” Mark will weave together the seemingly disparate tales of hash dens, the world’s first stock market, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace. Not to be missed! Click here.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
The title of Russell Shorto’s readable, thoughtful, and personally engaged Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City immediately calls to mind two facts every student traveller knows: people aren’t going to Amsterdam coffee houses for the espresso, and those red-lit display windows aren’t advertising underwear.
Shorto, who has lived in Amsterdam for several years, is certainly aware of both the sex trade and the legal status of drugs — results of Amsterdam’s famous “tolerance.” But his title refers to something else, something much more complicated. Liberalism, as he explores, it begins with the “fault line” between modern and medieval, and the break with the idea that all “knowledge and power” stemmed from the Church and the monarchy.
For a variety of reasons, as Shorto’s book explores, the Dutch came early to “liberalism,” and to the concepts of both communalism and individualism. These — along with the cosmopolitanism of the Dutch Golden Age — produced a concept that the Dutch call gedogen. Tolerance. Or, as Shorto explains it, the idea that, yes, this may be questionable behavior but since we know we can’t stop it, we will allow it…
Thursday, July 24, 2014
A cultural conundrum that I struggled to comprehend during my six years of living in Amsterdam concerned the Dutch attitude toward celebrities. They are passionate about their own celebrities – far more than about Hollywood stars, which is fair enough – but in the midst of intensely gossiping about a homegrown film or sports personality, they will suddenly turn blasé, as if the celeb were a mere family member who had started to become uppity.
Continue reading my essay in Time.com/Zocalo Public Square.
Monday, July 21, 2014
925.nl, a Dutch business news site, reports that the missile that shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukraine, whose passengers were overwhelmingly Dutch, was made by Rostec, a Russian company whose headquarters are in . . . Amsterdam. The site further states that the reason the Russian company is based there is to take advantage of low Dutch taxes on foreign corporations.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
When we told friends last year that we had decided to move from Europe to the mountains of western Maryland, we got the same response (complete with italics) over and over:
Point taken. Our new home, while it excels in hiking trails and glorious views, is not especially great for culture, restaurants, night life or even good coffee. But we had several reasons for moving where we did. High among them was that I was about to launch into work on a book about the American Revolution. My new town, Cumberland, would place me near the center of the action, within driving distance of battlefields and libraries up and down the East Coast.
Continue to my New York Times story on Braddock’s road.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Go to this talk if you can. Patricia Bonomi is one of the premier historians of New York:
Saturday, April 26, 2014
I moved last year from Amsterdam, arguably the world’s most permissive city, to Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland is tucked into the hills in the western part of the state. I knew it was just a wee bit Appalachia, and for the most part that’s just fine. But yesterday the newspaper told us there would be a Ku Klux Klan rally downtown. A joke? No, apparently.
But then again, yes: a joke. The dreaded KKK registered with the Cumberland police its intention to hold a public demonstration to rally support for their Christian-racist ideology. So naturally I went. And I have to report, it was a gratifying display. The turnout on the K side was: six or seven hombres who looked like they’ve been living in a cave, wearing what I guess they took to be intimidating costumes. (No pillowcases, though.) Meanwhile, across the street from their display were at least 300 townspeople, of all races and skin colors, brandishing signs and hollering like hell at the silly creatures. The cops did their job: protected the freedom of speech thing.
All in all, gratifying. Humanity does evolve, apparently.
Monday, April 21, 2014
For the six years I lived in Amsterdam I had a weekly ritual that revolved around herring. Once a week, on no particular day, I’d mosey down the street from my office and stand in line outside a tiny shop near the harborfront called V.O.F. Vishandel Centrum…
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Everyone knows that Italy is a mess. But how much of a mess? An op-ed in today’s New York Times by Corriere della Sera journalist Beppe Severgnini focuses on tourism, but one might see the state of the tourism industry as Italy in miniature:
“The Italian Tourist Board spends an astounding 98 percent of its budget on salaries, with basically nothing left for its actual job of tourism promotion.”
“Until recently the Campania regional authority had a palatial New York residence on Fifth Avenue.”
“Metaponto, in the Basilicata region east of Naples, has a five-track, marble-clad rail station, paid for by $25 million in European Union funds. But the last train out is an 8:21 a.m. express to Rome. If you want to go anywhere else, you have to take a bus.”
“Since World War II, the government has poured $550 billion into the Mezzogiorno, to no avail. By almost every measure, it is actually worse off relative to the rest of the country than it was 60 years ago.”
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
In December 2012, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on vacation in Berlin when he decided to detour to the Netherlands. He wanted to get a firsthand sense of the famed Dutch approach to water management. Hurricane Sandy struck six weeks before, and in the aftermath, President Obama asked him to lead a task force, whose objective was not just to rebuild but also to radically rethink the region’s infrastructure in light of climate change.
In the Netherlands, a man named Henk Ovink offered to be Donovan’s guide. Ovink was the director of the office of Spatial Planning and Water Management, meaning, essentially, that it was his job to keep the famously waterlogged country dry.
Go to my story on Henk Ovink in the New York Times Magazine…
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