Dateline: Nijmegen, The Netherlands and points east
Today was the first full formal touring day, complete with motor coaches, canal boats, and tour guides waving signs and saying follow me please. At least the major tour groups have all gone with these little boxes with an ear piece and every tour guide has a different channel. Now we can all hear what he or she is saying while he or she converses in a normal tone, rather than a dozen people braying in front of the Night Watch all at once, each in his or her own language.
This was the last Amsterdam day. Up relatively early, attack the breakfast buffet (think upscale American hotel, only with roast tomatoes and baked beans next to the scrambled eggs), and then on the bus. A short trip to the museum area (although given Amsterdam traffic, I could have walked it faster) and then an hour in the museum with a guide going through the 17th century Dutch masterpieces. I’d already been, of course, but the guide had some interesting observations and I was able to get into a friendly argument on who the master of the period was. She argued Rembrandt. I argued Vermeer.
This was followed by a two hour cruise of the canals complete with gourmet white table cloth lunch. It really is the nicest way to see the city. Most of the city remains pretty much as I remember it from my previous visit other than the harbor area. Most of the shipping and industry has moved out of the heart of Amsterdam and there are now new artificial islands full of expensive condos dotted around. There is also, for reasons unknown to me, a floating Chinese restaurant that’s a copy of one in Hong Kong. Not even the guide could explain that one.
After lunch, we had a few hours of unstructured time so I took one last walk through the city. Will I ever come back? It better be before another thirty five years pass because at that point I’ll be 92 and unlikely to be able to take the same kind of long urban walks that I currently enjoy. Then it was back on the bus. The ship had departed Amsterdam some hours previously and we were to reboard at Nijmegen, a town in central Holland on the Waal River, then through a series of rivers and canals and on to the Rhine. We’re due in Cologne tomorrow around lunch time. The bus ride through Holland was like a trip through a Dutch Landscape with it’s flat fields and hedge rows and occasional plane trees. Only one windmill, alas. Little towns of brick would pop up here and there but most of what was close to the highway were big box stores and an occasional industrial park. The ninety minute trip took two and a half hours due to repeated traffic jams. Dutch traffic jams are similar to the American variety only the drivers are more patient and more polite.
I can’t say I saw much of Nijmegen. If I remember my WW II history correctly, it was bombed heavily by the Allies around the time of the Battle of the Bulge and so most of the construction isn’t terribly historic and looked like suburbia pretty much anywhere. The boat was drawn up at a quay near a bridge that had some strategic WW II importance and is still standing and we headed upstream through cocktail hour and dinner. I’m now in my cabin, having retired early. I am on the cheap floor and so my bed is actually below the waterline. I have a couple of small windows high up just above waterline so I stretch, I can watch the banks roll by. They aren’t overly interesting but I did catch a glimpse of a band of wild horses as we passed by a nature preserve.
I should write a new column tonight. We’ll see if I get around to it. Tonight’s story will therefore be the birth of MNM or how did Andy end up writing a movie review column… When I moved to Birmingham with Steve in the late 90s, we didn’t exactly have a lot of friends and, when his health started to deteriorate, he didn’t exactly have a lot of energy to go out and make new ones. I was lonely and in bopping around on the internet (the web was about six or seven years old at that point and people were starting to learn how to exploit its capabilities) and found a couple of sites for gay men where guys would chat and make snarky commentary on pop culture. On one of these boards, everyone had a bit of a camp handle of some sort so, in thinking about various camp icons, I pulled Mrs. Norman Maine (the Judy Garland character in A Star is Born) out of thin air and started to use it to sign my posts. Once there was a name, a personality soon followed. About a year later, I stumbled on a website entitled epinions.com. It was one of the first attempts to monetize a website where the content was created by the consumers, rather than professionals. You could basically write reviews, of the type now on Amazon and if other users liked and upvoted them and trusted your opinions, you could make a little money and become a member of a community. Films were one of the categories available and Steve and I were avid moviegoers so one day, I sat down, created an account in the name of Mrs. Norman Maine and wrote a review of the movie we had seen the week before (the not very good remake of Shaft IIRC). Somebody out there liked it. I wrote another one, then another, and soon I was pounding out a couple a week. The first few weren’t very good (I rewrote them later) but as I continued to write them, they began to improve immesurably and she began to build up a fan base. I wrote steadily for epinions for nearly five years, a time when Steve’s health got worse, he eventually died, and I had to pull myself out of my funk of grief and professional ennui. The columns I wrote through that period were a form of therapy. All of the major events of my life were paralleled in MNM’s fictional world and I was able to pour all of my creativity and theatricallity that life circumstance would not let me exercise, into her madcap mythical adventures. By late 2004, Tommy and I were together and thriving and we began our real life theatrical adventures. I no longer needed MNM and so I let her be. About ten years later Epinions went defunct. When I heard about that, I went in and downloaded all the old columns as they did represent a lot of effort on my part. There were 365 of them about film. (I had written an occasional review on something else and I excluded them from the canon although I do have copies of them stashed somewhere). Shortly after, I was contacted by a couple of epinions film people who had started their own film website and they asked me to resurrect her. I agreed and back she came to MovieRewind.com where she remains. There are about 165 columns in the new series. One of these days, I’ll figure out what to do with over 500 film review columns written by an alter-ego. It’s probably enough for a whole series of books. MNM’s inspirations are Paul Rudnick’s Libby Gelman-Waxner from the old Premiere Magazine, Jim Bloom’s Joe-Bob Briggs, and the novels of Patrick Dennis. I’ve always written versions of my real life and friends into the columns. Tell me you’re a fan and you’ll likely end up in one.