I went to a Japan Foundation talk by Hideo Furukawa called Murakami and I at King’s Place on Wednesday the last day of February. It was touch and go as to whether Southeastern Trains would get me to London Bridge in time to get a tube to King’s Cross. At least I didn’t have to walk along the tracks at Lewisham. It was odd being back at King’s Place because last year at this time I was there every Wednesday for six weeks on my Guardian masterclass writing course. By a coincidence I had just finished the first draft of the promised novel that afternoon. A layoff for a while and then much revision lie ahead followed by the quest for an agent and publisher. The talk was interesting and as much about Furukawa as Murakami and a bit too narrowly focused on a couple of books for my liking but worth struggling through the snow for.
Thursday should have seen the official opening of the Watford Community Trust’s 25th Anniversary exhibition at the Watford Museum but it was sensibly postponed. So my plan to drive after the opening to Southend for a flight to Amsterdam on Friday morning needed revising to. EasyJet had cancelled all Southend flights on the Thursday and after a lengthy time on hold I spoke to a customer services person who advised me that they wouldn’t be flying on Friday either. So in the hope and promise of a refund I booked a Eurostar train for Friday morning as being the more likely option. The train from Lee to London Bridge on this occasion was on time and I got to St Pancras in good time only to discover that there would be a one-hour delay before departure. So it was off to Pret for a coffee and read the paper patiently. Because of the late departure and slow running speeds on the UK track I’m entitled to a partial refund. There was a bit of confusion at Brussels where we had to take a different connecting train to Amsterdam (of course there’s a direct London Amsterdam service but that starts next month!) but in the company of a young trainee doctor whose luggage I’d pulled down from the rack we made it onto the Thalys to Amsterdam expecting to stand all the way but miraculously there were two seats and we enjoyed a lively conversation all the way to Amsterdam. I was very surprised given all the weather maps displayed on TV this week to find that there was no snow at all in France, Belgium or the Netherlands. But it was very cold so I took a cab from Central Station to my hotel which was opposite Amsterdam Zoo – I didn’t visit but was regaled with a wide variety of animal and bird calls. It’s in a pleasant part of the city and I chose it because it – according to Google Maps – was less than thirty minutes walk to my main destinations in the city: Concert Gebouw and the Rijksmuseum to the west and Bimhuis to the north east.
The concierge at the hotel was amazed that I was setting out to walk and advised me of suitable trams or I could rent a bicycle. However you see a place better on foot so I set off for Museumplein winding across canals, being terrified by whizzing cyclists who seem to have all rights of way. I knew it happened by it still came as a shock to see people skating on the canals, especially those that included liquid water too. Despite the Winter Olympics I resisted the temptation. After a pleasant stroll, well wrapped up against the minus 8 according to my phone, it was time for a pause in the journey for a beer. A fine old cafe Mulder presented itself on my route and it seemed rude to refuse. Wooden bar and tables and a good old-fashioned atmosphere with a selection of drought and bottled beers – just what was required. I soon after arrived outside the imposing Rijksmuseum which was on the agenda for tomorrow. Across the park behind it was the concert hall for which I had tickets for 8.15 pm in an hour and a half. Perfect time to find another bar and have a pre-concert snack. Again I was lucky to find a table in a very popular place Gruter – it was reserved from 7.30 but I promised to be gone by then. It was very lively and I struck up a conversation with a couple from just outside Utrecht who were flat sitting while their daughter was off skiing. They said I’d done well to find the bar as it’s reckoned to be one of the hidden gems.
Time for classical music. I’d never been to Concert Gebouw and as one of the world’s most famous auditoria I thought I should. The programme with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and Choir was fairly safe: Vaughn Williams Tallis Fantasia and Faure’s Requiem both of which I know well. But the first item was the world premiere of a piece by Guillaume Connesson, a French composer who I’m afraid had escaped my radar. Called Liturgies of Light it was an accessible piece which did indeed depict the idea of light falling in different ways. The choir sang beautifully and the music progressed serenely to a great climax. The Faure was a poignant experience because the last time we saw it performed was in Canterbury Cathedral where our good friend from Boston Pat Weiler was singing in a visiting choir. Dee and I had dinner with Pat after the concert and sadly neither of these two wonderful women is with us any longer, so I sat through it with a rather lumpy throat. It is a great concert hall with a fine sound and I enjoyed my evening thoroughly. They even provide a free glass of wine at the interval. I was idly admiring the plaques with composers’ names that surround the hall when I was struck by Dopper whom I’m afraid I’ve never heard of and Roentgen who I thought invented x-rays, among most predictable candidates like Bach, Mahler and Wagner. The walk back to the hotel was extremely cold so I was grateful for my many layers. So Friday was travel and classical music, tomorrow brings art and jazz.