Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The whole world is watching today as Barack Obama takes the oath of office of President of the United States. Marti and I are glued to the flat screen. Obama is facing a daunting challenge, exacerbated by the spectacular and abject failure of his predecessor.

On this blog eight years ago to the day I lamented the Inauguration of the United States' first President appointed illegitimately by a partisan Supreme Kangaroo Court. I warned of Bush's incompetence and his intention to carry out major reversals of the progressive social achievements of the civil rights and women's movements.

I didn't know the half of it.

What a titanic disaster he turned out to be. Arrogance. Ignorance. Inaccountability. Dereliction of duty on 9/11. Warmongering. Torture. Shredding of the Constitution. Katrina. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Bush owns them all. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, jerkoff. The next time we'd like to see you is on trial for war crimes.

No "Nixon opened China"-style rewrite of history will patch Bush's legacy: he's going down as America's Worst President. As that great poet Robert Hunter wrote, He's gone / and nothin's gonna bring him back.

Today marks a truly remarkable moment for Americans. At 64 I'm old enough to remember the shock of confronting overt racial segregration for the first time. I was born and grew up in Massachusetts. Nearly fifty years ago my dad took our family to Washington, DC -- where I caught a glimpse of the newly-nominated John F. Kennedy on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (We had hope then too.)

On that trip we visited a family friend in North Carolina who pointed out proudly that the Negro truckdrivers who stopped at his roadside café willingly went around the back of the building to obtain their takeaway meals, so as not to disturb his white customers. I was appalled. What a long, strange trip it's been from then to now.

It's time to roll up our sleeves and dig ourselves out of the horrible mess Bush created. Thank goodness we have a brilliant energetic young President to lead the way.

Here's what else has been going on with us. . .

Our longtime pal Jody visited last week from New York City. She and her squeeze Emmett had graciously hosted us on the Manhattan legs of our recently-completed Eurotrash Holidaze Tour.

On Friday, January 16 Jody came by for tea with Marti and me, then she and I hit the streets as my bride finished the workday on her laptop at home.

Jody and I had every intention of doing something cultural like taking in a museum, but we wound up simply enjoying a long lunch at the tiny -- hence the name -- Petit Vatel, cruising the Grande Epicerie, window shopping the January sales all along the Left Bank, hanging out in cafés, schmoozing. It was a fun, relaxing hang.

Later that afternoon Marti became free and we rendezvoused at the Agnès B. boutique in the rue d'Assas.

Our friend Ileana is the store manager. Marti had brought a copy of Ily's book to be signed for Jody. I left Jody in Marti's capable hands and the two of them spent the rest of the afternoon together.

I reunited with Jody, Marti and Jody's charming friend Antoinette for dinner at Au Sud de Nulle Part, one of our favorite bistros.

Jody and I ordered magret de canard with epinards et pommes Dauphinoise . . .

. . . Antoinette enjoyed sea bass accompanied by ratatouille . . .

. . . and Marti had a steak garnished with pleurotte and shitake mushrooms. We all downed tasty first courses, delectable desserts and drank a robust 2000 Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

Afterward we strolled toward the Buci Market, stopping for a moment at an historical site: the first hotel where Jody stayed in Paris, um, a couple of decades ago.

We capped off the evening with digestifs at the Café Laurent, the bar where everybody knows our name . . .

. . . and where the sublime Christian Brenner presides at the piano every weekend.

We always hang with Jody and Emmett in Maximum City. It was a special treat to spend some q-time with her here in our hometown.

The previous weekend Marti and I had traveled to Amsterdam to celebrate my 64th birthday.

Enchanting snowscapes in France, Belgium and the Netherlands during our train ride were an unexpected surprise.

We checked into the Leidse Square Hotel, then made our appointed rounds.

At the 420 Café, the coffeeshop that serves as John Sinclair's home base, we joined a group of folks that included Thumper, Jeff from Baltimore and London chanteuse Carole Beausaint Denis. I asked John if he was recording an episode of his Radio Free Amsterdam podcast that evening. With a twinkle in his eye he replied that he hadn't planned to, but we could . . .

Soon we were off: smokin', jokin' and talkin' on the radio! In between selections from John's bottomless bag of deep roots music (and under the giant glowing spleef), we jawed about a host of stuff, from Carole's music to our impromptu review of the film Cadillac Records. Marti and I had just watched it on my laptop on the train.

The next day -- Sunday, January 11 -- was my birthday. We headed out from the hotel toward the Van Gogh Museum, slightly sidetracked enroute by the January sales.

Shades of Hans Brinker. Skaters drew us into Vondel Park for a bit of people watching.

Sunday in the park with a tubesteak.

One kid was learning to chair-skate.

Where have all our lost mates gone?

Amsterdam in winter.

Finally Marti and I made it to the museum.

We saw a delightful exhibition entitled 125 Favorites -- Acquired with the support of the Rembrandt Association, which was commemorating -- you guessed it -- 125 years of providing art to Holland's museums. A highlight was Johannes Vermeer's Love Letter, 1669-70.

One of our favorite Parisian painters: Gustave Caillebotte, View From A Balcony, 1880.

Edouard Manet, The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1868. A rare seascape from the reknowned Impressionist.

Later that afternoon we hooked up with our singer-songwriter friend John Lester at the Café van Leeuwen, a bar near his home.

We had a groovy time with John, checking out the Sunday afternoon jazz jammers who play here every week.

On our way back to the hotel to change for dinner, we dropped by John's home for a quick visit with Lisa, their boys Kai and Aaron (on the move). It turned out that they too had enjoyed the skatefest in Vondel Park earlier in the day.

My B-day dinner took place around a Teppan Yaki table at the Tokyo Café.

Bibbed up and ready to rock: me, Jimmy Mack and Marti.

I was happy that our good bud Jim was able to join us for this evening of dinner theater. At the last minute his bride Caroline had to cancel due to the onset of a winter cold. (We'll see her in April when we return for the Bob Dylan concerts at Heineken Music Hall.)

Yikes. How do you say Call the Fire Department! in Japanese?

I share my birth date with an Italian dude named Nino, who was dining at our table with his three sons.

Perfectly positioned, as always. My tablemates to the right all evening were the lovely Mei and Cookie. (What can I say? The girls love me.)

After dinner Jimmy, Marti and I went to the Dampkring coffeeshop for digestifs. Then James left to catch a tram to Central Station. Marti and I walked down to The Waterhole on the Leidseplein to catch Carole Denis' set.

Carole was happy to see Marti and me, made us feel welcome, introduced us around. We dug her soulful singing -- the icing on my birthday cake!

Monday was another sunny and cold Amsterdam morning. Marti and I packed, had breakfast, checked out and hit the straats to kill a few hours before our late afternoon train.

Our afternoon brought a healthy mix of sightseeing . . .

. . . cultural exchange . . .

. . . and shopping, first at the American grocery (Quaker grits, Hellmann's Light mayo, New England clam chowder) . . .

. . . then at Lush, my exclusive source for handmade olive oil soap. (I'm such a metrosexual.)

Marti paid a visit to her BT colleague and friend Merel . . .

. . . while I made new friends at the Dampkring.

Will you still be sending me a valentine / Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

As the afternoon wound down, Marti and I went back to the Leidseplein, engaged a taxi, picked up our bags at the hotel and waited for our train in the elegant 19th Century Grand Café in Central Station.

Homeward bound. The fact that we had been able to connect with so many of our Amsterdam homies had helped make it an especially memorable birthday weekend.