A true story in which I become an object in a scavenger hunt


coffee at Tate Modern

As we were leaving London's Tate Modern, a British woman approached. “Sorry to bother you. We’re on an office scavenger hunt and need a photo with a bearded man.” She added “It’s a competition,” likely as clarification in case “scavenger hunt” was a foreign concept.

(Gale and I exchanged amused glances. Five years ago, in Antwerp, a young woman who was participating in a bridal scavenger hunt sought us out as I was writing in my notebook because she needed to take (and keep) a ballpoint pen from a stranger.)

I told the lady that she was in luck as I happened to fit both her criteria. She snapped a quick selfie with me, then departed with thanks. Behind us, Gale noticed that her colleagues, watching our exchange from a few yards away, were shaking their heads and waving their hands. “You have to shake hands!”

She had left out that requisite characteristic, so she apologetically asked for a mulligan. This time Gale snapped a photo as the two of us posed with clasped hands and big smiles.

I quickly gave her a Bucktown button before she scurried off to join her coworkers for their next discovery.



A true story from Liverpool

“Can I ask you a question?” The ruddy mid-thirties man said eagerly, waving as he approached across the busy Liverpool town square. I don’t know what expression I gave him, but he quickly added “I’m not going to hit you, you’re bigger than I am!” Now within normal speaking voice range he asked Gale and me “Have you got a sense of humour?” “No” and “Yes,” we answered respectively and simultaneously.

Taken back only a moment by Gale’s response, Paul introduced himself and proceeded to tell us about the self-published humour magazine he “and his mates” were selling. He had a lot more to say, but I was lost in his verbal freight train of familiar syllables that only occasionally coalesced into recognizable words. Trance-like, I smiled, nodded, and decided I liked him.

After exchanging a fiver for two issues (one pound in savings!) I presented him with a Bucktown badge. As we parted ways with handshakes all around Paul leaned in and whispered to me “they’re good bathroom reading.”

Gag Mag Covers

A few steps away, we turned back and Paul was approaching another couple, now wearing our pin on his chest. Gale said “Too bad that he lost his job after the brain tumor.”

What? Apparently, I had been smiling and nodding throughout his sad tale.



Book Review: The Soft Atlas of Amsterdam

This delightful large-format paperback by Jan Rothuizen, subtitled Hand Drawn Perspectives from Daily Life, is one of the most charming and fascinating books in my library. My fondness for maps, hand artwork, participant observation, and Amsterdam coalesce perfectly in this book.

Gordon Meyer holding book

Each two- page spread is a “map” of a mundane (or sometimes famous) area of the city. The artwork is engaging, but it’s the annotations and details that draw you in. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, and you’ll frown. Having spent a little time in many of the areas, the art brought new details to light, and also (because the book is a couple of years old) let me consider how the area has changed since being captured.

It’s hard for me to decide on a favorite, but his drawing of an Albert Heijn supermarket certainly stands out. I was instantly transported back to the aisles of the one near our apartment at The Wittenberg. And the annotations resolved a few unanswered questions that puzzled American me. (Such as why Kellogg’s boxes are smaller — it’s to fit the Dutch shelves, which are shorter on the bottom rows. Duh.)

Other maps, such as Rokin, Vondelpark, and a canal houseboat stand out too. Having personal experience, I found these were honest representations, so it leads me to trust the others I didn’t get to see, such as a methadone clinic, a delivery room, and commune-style home.

I bought my copy of the book at the gift shop at Our Lord in the Attic (Ons’ Lieve Here op Solder) and proceeded to haul it around in my briefcase for the next several weeks. It was well worth the effort and is now one of my favorite souvenirs of the city. You can get a copy from Amazon, too. If this sounds like something you might dig, don’t hesitate. You can imagine me waving at you from the nave in Oude Kerk.


A true story from Wales

In the ruins of the old Roman fort called Caer Gybi stands the 13th century Saint Cybi’s Church. A sundial on the face of the chapel is inscribed in Latin, “Life though long it stay will end in night and day.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Saint Cybi

As we explore the medieval grounds a middle-aged Welsh couple approaches and the man warmly asks “Are you locals?”

The woman’s name is Ann, we learn. The man’s name will remain a mystery, after two repetitions and my unsuccessful attempts to say it back he kindly lied “Yes, you got it!”

We continued to chat, with a few more linguistic puzzles being brought forth, then Man offered us a religious tract. “We are Christians,” he said, then clarified when asked, that they are not members of the church where our impromptu meeting was occurring.

tract

I immediately remembered the Hare Krishna we met on Portobello Road and offered one of our Bucktown buttons (“badges,” they call them here) in exchange. This time, it was accepted.

Later, in the town of Holyhead, we see Man and Ann across the street. We exchange waved hellos.