Let us begin on a sleepy side street in the labyrinth that is Amsterdam. Across a canal, I spot a wooden sign that reads “used english books”. I dash.

In the front of the store, you can see specs of dust and debris dance in the sunlight. The rest of the shop has fluorescent yellow lighting that flickers and buzzes and makes you feel uncomfortable after a while.

The books are unwanted. They cover obscure, specific topics: an Elizabeth Taylor biography, a history of french playwrights, philosophical essays by unknown minds. They smell old but their pages are like new.

The owner is American by birth but moved to Holland years ago. He mentions he’s from southern Indiana and I ask him how he feels about Vonnegut, given that he hails from Indianapolis. It turns out he and Vonnegut protested the Vietnam War together but agreed on little else: “Other than sharing political viewpoints, I wasn’t into his writing much.”

We then discussed Hemingway, Heller, and Camus. Some Kafka too.

We talked about originality. The bookstore owner goes to work everyday and looks out his window overlooking a beautiful city. He has a view of the canal and a quaint bridge on its opposite side. Given his position, physical and as a bookstore owner whose business is slow, he people watches:

“How many times would you guess that I’ve seen someone take a picture of that bridge right there?”


“Hundreds of thousands, probably. Who knows? I do know this: it’s mundane, commonplace. Something special gets harder to come by each day.”

“Depends how you define special, I guess.”

“Not when everything is a goddamn cliche.”

Central Holland: A young lady pays 85 cents to cross the river via ferry.

Kinderdijk: a windmill maintenance worker takes a break. He lives in a windmill.

Scheveningen: some little girls brave the cold and the wind. They scream and jump when the water playfully touches their toes. After observing a grown man do the same thing, I can’t help thinking that we all resemble little children in more ways than we know or care to admit.

Where do I start with these two?

These are my friends Brigitte and Maarten. I met them in the middle of the Gobi Desert last summer. They’ve been kind enough to host a dirty backpacker for a few days. They get it, though. They’re dirty backpackers themselves!

They’ve been together for twelve years. When they passed the eight-year mark, they decided to end it when they hit ten because, nowadays, that is what’s supposed to happen. Two more years flew by and they kind of forgot about their deal. “It just didn’t work out”, they say.

Indeed, these two are a rarity. Not even as a long-lasting couple: they’re both kind, adventurous, generous, open people. They have excellent senses of humor. If life is a lock, humor is the key. Brigitte and Maarten have the key.