Good Bye, Vincent

Starry Night, Van Gogh

But have you really "seen" Vincent Van Gogh?

Details of the history of beer and how it is crafted are spotty, but I remember a slide of Egyptians on a wall, but I remember more how we cheered when our tour guide told us for the next half hour, we could drink as much Heinekin beer as we wanted.

I was taking the long way home from Prague and had backpacked through Berlin,  Liege, and now Amsterdam, before flying home for the rest of my life. Joel, a junior from Penn was one of my roommates at the hostel on the boat, and he was a drum major. He was a competitive drum major, he told us he had video footage of him nearly passing out after a competition, from the intensity of the drum majoring.  

It was his idea to go to the Heiniken Brewery Tour. Of course, I said, I would go to the brewery tour.

All my Facebooking has rendered me useless with words, and so the feeling that I wanted to describe to you using images I now can’t. Instead, I resort to simple one-line sentences, sentences that I hadn’t even thought of then, but if I had a Facebook account in 1994, this is what my status would have said, here, in chronological order.

Katie is sharing a hostel room with a drum major from Pennsylvania! 7:22pm.

Katie is frightened of college-aged American tourists. 9:33pm.

Katie is making the best of it. 10:45pm

Katie is a great actress. 10:50pm

The tour the following Wednesday morning at 11am did not leave a long lasting impression on me, but I do know that after being shown the facilities, we were led into a large, clean, sunlit cafeteria. Our guide announced that we had a half hour to drink as much beer as we possibly could. The room exploded with cheers.

Two girls from Colorado, with long pigtails and wearing silver and hemp, sat down at our table. 

“Hey,” one of them said, motioning us to come nearer. She had procured some hash from a local bookshop, she said. She asked us if we wanted to get stoned.

“No, not me, I don’t do that,” said Joel, who was drunk. “Not for me. Nope. No way.”

Of course I was not going to participate, but I had my own reasons, different than Joel’s. This is what all tourist Americans did in Amsterdam, the one place in the world where smoking marijuana in public is perfectly legal. It was a pot smoker’s Disneyland and now way was I going to lower myself to a “typical American” level.

“Oh, okay,” I said.

We were now out on the sidewalk in broad day light. I was lost.

This much I remember: we laughed as if we understood, but I didn’t understand. The pigtailed girls giggled as they rounded the corner and left me alone, with Josh, the drum major.

“This didn’t work for me,” he said. “This sucks.”

I didn’t know what to say. Thoughts came and made plenty of sense, but before I could express them, they would disappear.

We were laying in a field of open grass, in the sunshine. My working vernacular was limited to basic phrases such as, “yeah,” and “kind of,” and “whatever.” If I were to say anything longer, I knew by the time I reached the end of the sentence, I wouldn’t remember what the first part was.

I did know that I was once hoping to go to the Van Gogh Museum of Art after the brewery tour, but this was now an abstract concept.  

“I wonder what sex is like stoned,” said Joel, reminding me that he was still in my presence. I turned my head and saw his round shape next to me on the grass.

I pondered deeply what he had said, and before I could let myself forget, I said, “I don’t.”

For I had no interest in chubby, sweaty, hairy drum major physical explorations. The sun in my face, on the grass was enough. Even if I never moved from that spot, and missed my flight home, I was probably not going to move, until whatever earthy chemicals floating in my bloodstream had diluted enough to enable me to think in slightly more complex sentences, such as, “I’d like to go to the museum now.”

Joel was a willing escort to the entrance, but once inside, I never saw him again. I was lost in a dance under the swirls of a starry night.


Joel was sitting on a bench in the front lobby. I asked him how long he had been there.

A couple of hours, he told me.

We went to a pizza parlor and I ate a whole pizza. And then I slept on the boat.

Daphne and Clara, our other roommates, were back from Ann Frank’s house.

“That was so depressing,” said Clara, slamming the door behind her.

“We’re going to a comedy club,” said Daphne. They invited me to join them, my last night in Europe.

The sunset lengthened the shadows of black bicycles that passed by us, as we walked over canals over shimmering water. We walked through the Red Light district, and saw women posing naked in shop windows, with lines of men standing outside.

We turned a corner down another street, with flags hanging from an elegant brick building with a tall archway.

Daphne pointed to one of the flags, grabbing Clara, giggling with nervous laughter. It was a green flag, with a diamond shape yellow center, with a blue planet in the middle of it, covered in stars.

“I can’t believe they have the gay pride flag here,” she screeched.

Clara put her hands to her face.

“Only in Amsterdam,” she said, shaking her head.

“That’s not the gay pride flag, you ding dongs,” I said. “It’s the flag of Brazil.”

“Katie, you are so high,” they giggled.

Katie wishes she were back in Prague! 8:22pm.


About katiekelly

I grew up in a parking lot.
This entry was posted in Art, Endangered Species, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Good Bye, Vincent

  1. Kevin says:

    Yep – that was the flag of brazle.

  2. Kelly says:

    If you start thinking in status updates that has to be a new medical condition.

    “katie is ready to unplug”

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