Category Archives: Uncategorized

HOW TO BEAT THE CORONA BLUES, DAY 2.

Mousse au Chocolat.

By David Mangene, 17 March 2020, Utrecht – the Netherlands.

When I was a kid I used to sit in my Nana Mangini’s kitchen and watch her roll the Italian meatballs and sausages by hand. “David, sweethaht”, her Boston accent thick and juicy, “you’re so skinny, you need to eat more meatballs!” she’d yap at me, never taking her eye off the food. Those hours in her kitchen, watching her cook, planted a seed deep within me. She was a highly dramatic woman, bi-polar just like me, but when she’d be working her magic in that kitchen, she was as calm as the sea at dawn. Cooking mellowed her shit out, every single time. I couldn’t help but notice her calm focus in the kitchen. I never forgot it.

Fast forward to today, day 2 of the Great Corona Apocalypse Social Isolation Hand Washing Olympics, and I’m anything but calm. Today I’m more jittery than a jitterbug. Sure, we took a lovely long walk through the city (keeping our distance from the other humans, oh yes.) Of course, we’ve done the work we need to do for today and all that’s really left to do is enjoy each other’s company. Which we will do, no doubt. And still, I’m shaking like a leaf, my mind wandering.

What would my Nana Mangini do at a time like this? She’d get her hands on some meatballs, certamente! What’s my point? Use your hands – it’s even tip number 9 in my new book How To Not Kill Yourself. When you’re feeling weary, use your hands because it’ll calm you right down and make you feel better. I like to use mine to cook stuff (yes to cook stuff, among other things but you’ll have to read my book for the reveal).

“Dominique, let’s make chocolate mousse!” I yelp, knowing I’m Mr. Sweet Tooth and she makes the best mousse this side of Lille. (actually it’s hemelse modder but who’s counting?). Truth be told, when it comes to desserts, I can’t really make them so I excitedly yell to Doacha “let’s make a dessert”. Translation: “liefje, will you make a dessert and let me eat all of it?”. Credit where credit is due.

She made the hemelse modder. I ate it. All of it, because she’s not much of a dessert person. Molto deliciozo. Nana Mangini would be proud. It was so good that it made me hopeful that we can get through this fucking Corona thing. Food can do that to a person. Naive maybe, but still. Now is not the time to overthink. If food gives you hope, eat the meatballs. Buon apetito!

HOW TO BEAT THE CORONA BLUES, PART 1.

By David Mangene

Carolien and I right after her show, ‘t wordt nu laat.

Lemme start by asking you this: when was the last time you planned your evening around the Prime Minister / President giving a press conference to bring you up to date on the pandemic? Unless you personally experienced the Spanish flu of 1918, I’m guessing the last time was fucking never.

We’ve done it three times in the past week! You too? How ’bout it, kids? Is this shit a whole lotta dystopia or is it just me? I swear to Christ I feel like I’m living in an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale (If you haven’t seen it go do yourself a favor during the upcoming lockdown).

I’ll tell you this: I’m a proud member of the ‘gig economy’ and I’m quite possibly up shit’s creek without a paddle, economically speaking, given the present Corona situation. Which, of course, leaves me a couple of options:

  • promptly shove my head in the sand and start drinking heavily.
  • wake up early, meditate, do yoga, and chill the fuck out.

Nope. It’s not gonna be one of those. It could be a little bit of both, but I’ve got a better idea. I’m gonna try to pick one little thing every day that gives me hope in these dark days and share it with you. And it ain’t gonna be easy, on account of me being a pretty negative dude. If my life had a motto it would be this: the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

So there’s that.

But this apocalyptic, end-days scenario we find ourselves entrenched into calls for some deep digging. No matter my inclinations, I can find something to be hopeful about. Today I found something to be hopeful about from last week.

Last Thursday night I got to be a guest on Carolien Borgers’s amazing radio show ‘t wordt nu laat’ (It’s getting late, in English). OMFG – what a joy! We talked about my new book. We talked about life. But most of all, we talked about the music, the songs that have been significant in my life. It’s a simple concept and it really works. I was moved to my very core. Dominique was there too and she even took the mic for a few. We had a blast and I’m still enjoying the buzz it gave me. My eternal gratitude to Carolien, Marloes, and Mirjam for making it possible. If they stay in the radio business there will be plenty of hope to go around.

Now it’s your turn. What’s that one thing that makes you hopeful, despite the impending doom? As long as we’re not six feet under there’s gotta be something.

If you’re looking for something to pass the time you could always pick up a copy of my book How To Not Kill Yourself (in Dutch. English coming soon). If anything, it’ll take your mind off the germs for a few short hours.

much love,

David

WHY WE NEED THE UTRECHT INTERNATIONAL COMEDY FESTIVAL.

First and foremost, in this day and age, holy shit we need as much laughter as we can get. Everything, everywhere, every day, is so fucking tense. Comedians, in my humble opinion, are the remedy. And lots of really funny ones are coming to our lovely city: Utrecht, the Netherlands!

We need this comedy festival to be in Utrecht for a couple of hugely important reasons. Number one – Because Utrecht is not Amsterdam. Amsterdam already gets everything. This time, give the big event to the little brother. Second – the organisers are working so incredibly hard to make this event the premier comedy festival on the continent. New York Magazine even rated it one of the top ten comedy festivals in the world.

Sure the British have the Fringe Festival in Scotland – and good for them. But this one is ours. UICF is right here in our own backyard, baby. Thank you so much to the men and women of comedyhuis who do all the behind the scenes work to make the festival happen. The festival itself takes place on Friday and Saturday March 6th and March 7th at TivoliVredenburg.

Click here for tickets and info for 6 and 7 March

But guess what kids, there is more good news. One weekend is just not enough. How about a whole week! Starting on Friday 28 February, there will be an entire week of comedy related activities all over the city. Here’s a list of my highlights:

  • The official launch of my new book How To Not Kill Yourself. My presentation will be part of the official launch of the entire festival, together with Utrecht Stadscomedian Patrick Meijer and Utrecht cartoonists Rob van Barneveld, Willem Bentvelzen, and Daniel Henschel. Friday 28 February, 5:00pm, at Kargadoor (Oude Gracht 36, Utrecht). Drop me a line if you’re interested in coming.
  • Comedy Walks. Comedyhuis member Soula Notos will lead a walk through the heart of Utrecht telling personal stories about all that makes the city so great.
  • Vrouwen met humor. Who says chicks aren’t hilarious?! Come get schooled.
  • Winners of the Comedy Talent Award. Every year, Comedyhuis hosts the most prestigious stand-up comedy competition in the Netherlands. In addition to winning a spot on the bill of the festival itself, the winners of the competition will perform a few days beforehand too.
  • Vakdag Stand-up comedy with Jeroen Pater. Comedians, club bookers, agents, theatre directors – anybody and everybody interested in the business of stand-up comedy in the Netherlands can come and learn the ins and outs. Presented by stand-up comedian and artistic director of the Utrecht International Comedy Festival Jeroen Pater, he’ll guide you through conversations with various comedians in the hopes of shedding more light as to how the business works. (This session will be in Dutch.)

Click here for more information about all the events during Comedy Week.

WHY WE NEED DAVE CHAPPELLE AND OTHER SHIT WORTH SHARING.

Hi there. It’s a new year, kids. Hell, it’s a new decade. You ready? On your mark, get set, go!

Comedian Dave Chappelle just won the Mark Twain Prize – a prize given to people who “have had an impact on American society in ways similar to Twain…” I’m not exactly sure how Twain impacted American society but I do know how Chappelle makes me laugh and gets me thinking at the same time. Why do I think we need him so badly? Check out his acceptance speech and you’ll hear it. He’s a guy who really will reach across the aisle, and he’ll do it with grace and humour.

There’s some other shit down below I thought you might like to check out:

Happy New Year, my friends!

If you liked this post, come find me on the socials!



WHY TIGER WILL SHATTER JACK’S RECORD.

Have you ever hit rock bottom?

You know, panic attacks? Hyperventilation? Hooked on booze, pills, sex, or food? Maybe you had some major credit card debt or ruined your marriage? Lost your job, got sick, maybe even had a run-in with the cops?

I bet you have. I sure have. It hurts. At times like those, it’s pretty easy to feel so worthless that you can’t see a way out. That’s a dark place and if you live long enough you’ll probably spend some time there.

Back in the spring of 2017, champion golfer Tiger Woods hit rock bottom. He got busted for DUI in Florida, having passed out at the wheel of his Cadillac, with 5 different prescription drugs in his bloodstream. He’d already blown his marriage by being a serial cheater, as the whole world read about in all its gory details. For a brief spell, Tiger Woods – golf’s first billionaire – was nothing more than a comedian’s punch line. On top of all that, he’d hurt his back so badly that merely walking was a chore. During a depressing press conference at his tournament in the Bahamas a few years ago, he admitted he wasn’t sure he’d ever play golf again.

Then he had surgery. Went to rehab. Did the painful and humbling work of rediscovering the concepts of integrity and trust. Spent lots of time with his kids. Slowly but surely, he starting hitting golf balls again. We all watched him come back to tournament golf, but his progress was tedious. One step forward, two steps back. Just when it looked like he might be getting some of his swagger back, he’d take a mighty swipe at the ball, wince in pain, and limp his ass back to the hospital. It was wretched to watch. It’s never pleasant watching a hero fail, but Tiger’s fall from grace was the stuff of legends and we all wanted him to come back. Golf was just not the same without him.

Over the past 18 months he’s been playing well. Little by little. Last summer he almost won a couple of big ones. Then he won a big one at the end of last year. And now, good God almighty, he has just won The Masters, golf’s greatest event. Tiger is back and my lord has he done it in style! If you were watching today, you know you’ll never forget what you just saw.

If you weren’t watching today, or if you hate golf and Tiger Woods, or if you read about him and just thought, “fuck that dude” – I understand that you might find all this talk of Herculean comebacks a little nauseating. You’re right – he might not deserve your forgiveness. But still, I urge you to see the human story in all of this. There’s something in this for you too.

I’m a grown man of 49 years old and I cried today when he won. Now before you write me off as a hopeless drama queen (which I am), hear me out. Why did I shed a tear today? Not because he’s the greatest golfer in history. Not because he has come back from unthinkable depths. Not because he has overcome physical injury and psychological devastation. I cried today because we all need people, real flesh and blood humans, who can show us that we too can come back from rock bottom. We need that, you and me. Sure, I’m never gonna win The Masters, but I am gonna climb out of my own personal rock bottom, and so are you. If we watch closely enough, Tiger Woods is showing us how.

So now that he is back, now that he has won golf’s greatest prize, now that the chains of his self-made prison have been removed forever, Tiger Woods will go on to shatter Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. In fact, I predict he’ll win 5 more over the course of the next ten years. Nothing to stop him now. It won’t be easy, because he’s inspired an entire generation of young golfers to be as ruthless in pursuit of victory as he is. But he’ll do it and I, for one, will cry every time.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame.

 

My father played college football at Purdue University. He was a defensive back on the Boilermaker team that beat U.S.C. to win the Rose Bowl in 1967. Bob Griese, the legendary Hall of Famer, was the quarterback on that team.

After graduation, my dad joined the United States Navy and became an officer. He volunteered to serve our country and did two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying helicopters with the Navy Seals.

Do you think my dad is an American patriot?

I was the shooting guard on my varsity basketball team at Oyster River High School in Durham, New Hampshire. We won the state championship in 1988. I finished the season as an All-State Honorable Mention.

After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in 1992, I moved to the Netherlands where I’ve lived ever since. I speak Dutch and I’m raising my two sons bilingually. I have never served in the American Armed Forces.

Do you think I am an American patriot?

Yes? No? Tough call?

I’m asking the question because I fear we may be losing the plot. Do you feel that way too? All our “Red State, Blue State” tribal obsessions. I fear we’re losing our ability to find common ground. We’re getting nasty and somebody’s gonna get hurt. Hell, people have already gotten hurt. Killed, even.

It seems like we’re so distracted and insecure. So worried about our jobs and our pensions and our belief systems, so terrified that somebody is gonna swoop in and take it all away. We’re definitely looking for someone to blame. Somebody has to be the cause of all this bullshit. It’s human nature to find a scapegoat, we don’t have a choice. It doesn’t necessarily make us bad people.

But it’s a risky strategy.

All this hate we feel towards the other team. I don’t know about you, but it’s killing me. My blood pressure is through the roof. I’m drinking like a Russian sailor on shore leave. Every morning I grab my phone and whip out some article that proves the other team is a bunch of humiliating morons but I’m on the right side of history, motherfucker!

I get so worked up. Sitting there in my boxer shorts, screaming at my phone. In my better, less crazy, moments I ask myself, “does all this hating really help?” I mean really, is this what God intended us to do, hate the other team so much that we wanna punch ’em in the kidneys? Is this the evolution of homo sapiens that mother nature had in mind?

Who the hell knows?

But I’ve got a hunch. I don’t think it is. I think all this hating the other team goes against the unavoidable, infallible, and unstoppable evolution of our species.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example from my own family: I have an uncle who roots for the other team. And he does it rather loudly. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why he roots for the other team. How could he?

I’m picturing him in my head, right now. He’s a big dude. He played college football, just like my dad. Hockey too. He was so smooth on the ice that they called him “Cruiser”. Great skater. He started out in the Navy, but for the rest of his professional career he was an air traffic controller in New York City. That’s a stressful job. He was fucking great at it. He’s also one of the most generous guys you’ll ever meet and he’d give you the shirt right off his back. Big Brutus that he is, even he gets choked up at the sound of our niece playing a sweet song on her guitar, around the campfire, at our family reunion. “Play it again” he’d shout, all night long.

I still don’t understand why he roots for the other team. Our last family reunion was great, but we had some awkward moments, everybody trying not to talk about the other team. It makes me want to give up and run. To not go to family reunions anymore.

But, wait.

Hold on a sec.

I might root for my team and he might root for the other team, but me and my uncle, we share the same name. When I was 7 years old, he took me to my first game. This was in 1976 and back then we both still rooted for the same team. We were just kids. We took the train into the city, just the two of us. It was a beautiful summer day, I can still taste the bright sunshine and the popcorn and the cotton candy. Our team won. We got back on the train and went home. What a day!

He’s my Uncle. My family. These days we root for different teams, but we both love the game, know wadda mean?

I don’t know, man. It’s hard. I have no idea how to make things better. I don’t wanna be naive and I don’t wanna be cynical, but I’m stuck. I’m not sure what to do. In my gut it feels like we gotta do something, because things are gettin’ tight.

I guess we could just keep it simple. I could reach out to my Uncle. Talk about the game last night. It’s a start.

You could do that too. With your Uncle Bill or your sister Janine or your neighbor Youssef. Just make eye contact. Say “hi”. Take it from there.

Saying “hi” doesn’t mean you agree with him. He gets to cheer for his team, you get to cheer for yours. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, he’s “red” and you’re “blue”, but you’re both going out to the old ballgame.

Obviously we should continue to call out lies and protest injustice. We should hold our leaders and our media accountable and attempt to keep them honest. Obviously we should be wary and vigilant in the face of ignorance and extremism. We have to be.

But accusing strangers of being dumb? Hating people for wearing the wrong hat? All that energy expended, and for what?  Are we really sure we’re choosing the right battles?

After all, we are the United States, remember? The most beautiful thing about America is we all get to be patriots.

~~~~~

I invite you to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Anthony Bourdain Was My Hero.

 

For me, it wasn’t about the “bad-boy rock star chef” image, although as a one-time, wannabe rock star myself, I can’t deny his genuine swag had its appeal.

It wasn’t about the TV shows even though I shouted with glee when he plopped down at a little plastic table in Vietnam and slurped up a bowl of noodles with President Obama.

It wasn’t the brutally honest way he told the tale of kicking dope, a plight of which I am all too familiar.

It wasn’t his wit and razor sharp humour although any man who can rip to shreds the all-American obsession with “non-food” food items by writing lines such as, “…’I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter??? I can!!!…'”, should immediately proceed to the comedy hall-of-fame.

It wasn’t his outspoken advocacy for undocumented workers, LGBT people, the Palestinians, or the #MeToo movement, even though thank God somebody in this day and age had the balls, and the global reach, to effectively say what he said.

It wasn’t his 1 zillion Instagram followers or his millions of dollars or his badass tattoos. Hell, it wasn’t even the food, even though his cookbook did teach me how to make proper scrambled eggs (tip – read his cookbook because you’re still doing it wrong)

For me, it was always the writing.

Anthony Bourdain was my hero because he made me pick up a pen and write. It may sound cheesy to you, even trite, but it’s true. Bourdain’s writing empowered me to face, and conquer, my monstrous demons of resistance and simply write. Now, I’m no global celebrity or cult of personality politician, but I, too, have a story to tell and with Bourdain’s words as my guide, I finished my memoir this year. On my blog I posted one chapter a week, for 40 weeks in a row, and then submitted it to a publisher a short time ago. We’ll see what happens. The odds are ridiculously slim that my little tale will grow to the heady heights of Bourdain’s memoir, but that is irrelevant. What matters is that I wrote it, and Bourdain is the main reason why.

Having said all that, I’m aware that there’s a tendency to eulogise a revered artist and turn him into some kind of saint, especially when he took his own life. But that’s what I love about Anthony Bourdain, he was not, and never claimed to be, a saint. He was a pesky, flesh and blood human, warts and all. He admitted to contributing to the toxic culture in kitchens. He admitted that he may have unknowingly glamourised heroin and cocaine use. He also admitted that he was wrong to do those things. That is heroic and it’s pretty rare these days too.

So now, the questions. Why? How could he? After all, he had everything. What fucking happened? Hopefully we will never really find out because that kind of intimacy is for his family. But we all have our theories. Could it have been temporary depression brought on by some kind of personal tragedy? Could it have been a slip with dope? Could it be he was sick of the constant pressure? Who knows? Dominique, my girlfriend, said something that makes as much sense as anything I’ve heard so far. She said, “his flame went out”. In other words, he lost his hunger, his reason to get out of bed. He’d written the books, done the TV, won the awards, met the President, made the cash, got the girl, had the child, traveled the globe. Anything he desired, he could have. I don’t know how that feels, but it’s conceivable that a 61 year-old man could arrive at that elusive destination, find himself in another lonely hotel room, slip on the dope – knowing all too well where that will end up, and think to himself, “fuck it. I’m done”. I can see how that could possibly take him out to the precipice. Just a theory, obviously, as I’m just trying to make sense of it all.

For now though, all I’ve got is the writing. Kitchen Confidential is the only book I’ve ever owned both in paperback and on Kindle. I’ve re-read the paperback so many times that the pages are all dog-eared. I guess going back to its pages, and Bourdain’s words, are as comforting as any refuge we could hope to find.

Rest in peace, chef.

Americano! Foreword.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

FOREWORD 

…I am an excitable man. I can get carried away, prone to a new dream every damn day. This book is one of those dreams. When the muse came calling and I got the itch, I’d constructed this project fully in my head. My plan? I would write the story of my life as a professional foreigner in the Netherlands and blog it into a book. Practically speaking I would post one chapter every Sunday, roughly 1000 words a week, until the book was finished. Flush with excitement, I shared my idea with the woman I love, Dominique. As always, she was supportive. But there was a catch.

“Dave,” she said, sweet but firm, “if you start this thing, you have to finish it. You can’t stop writing in the middle and leave people hanging.”

A few years ago, she’d gotten hooked on a certain writer’s story of his tumultuous adventures at love. The writer was an acquaintance of hers. Like mine, his plan had also been to post one chapter a week. For a while, he followed through and did just that. She loved his writing and looked forward to his posts every week. One sad day though, from out of nowhere, he stopped writing. There were no more posts. His story never got resolved.

Dominique was furious.

So, after sharing my idea with her, she put the fear of God in me. She made me promise that, once I got the ball rolling, I would keep writing and make it to the finish line. To do otherwise would be too disrespectful to my readers.

To Dominique I owe a mountain of gratitude. It was her gentle warning, her special dose of tough love that allowed me to fight through the never-ending resistance and keep writing.

Dank je wel, liefje.

PS – all the stuff I write about in this book really happened, but I have changed some names to protect the guilty…

Americano! Why Do I Do It?

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

WHY DO I DO IT? 

…I know it’s ficticious, but the Sunday I described above is my idea of a perfect day. It’s got everything I love about life in the Netherlands: an easy Sunday, cozy breakfast, cuppa coffee, great girl, good sex, long walk in the sun, time with my kids, beautiful city, killer music, cold drinks, shameless dancing and a good night’s sleep before the hectic work week begins anew.

When the sun is shining, the Netherlands is my favorite place in the world. Having said that, I do realize it is no more of a utopia than anywhere else on the planet. It’s a country, a real country, warts and all. In the 25 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve come to know Holland’s imperfections and blind spots. The weather can be gray and gloomy for weeks on end, the taxes are outrageous, and the Dutch people can, at times, be totally lacking in common courtesy. So I get it – there is a bad that goes with all the good.

But, as I press on towards the ravage of middle age, I have chosen to focus on the good stuff, which, oddly enough, sometimes makes the Dutch raise an eyebrow. If there’s one thing that the Dutch find suspicious about my opinion of Holland it’s that I’m too positive about their country. All that positivity can’t be for real, they’ll tell me. It’s just too American. But I love the place and for the foreseeable future I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

As with everything, having chosen to stay in Holland and create my life as a professional foreigner does come with a price tag. There is pain involved, too. Most importantly, I miss my family and friends in the USA. I am blessed to have a solid relationship with my mom and dad as well as with my brother and his family. I also have very close friends in the States and they mean the world to me. We try to see each other as often as possible but it’s very easy to let a few years slip by. Despite living so far away from, and seeing each other infreqeuntly, we are still close.

How do I deal with the pain of missing them?

Most days I remind myself that even if I lived in America, I would not see them on a regular basis. We have all grown older, we all have busy lives, and America is a huge country. In a heartbeat, circumstances can change and you suddenly move several thousand miles away from your loved ones. It happens all the time. I find peace in that simple truth. On top of that, I’ve gotten used to the situation. We are all creatures of habit and this has been my reality since the day I left the USA. I have developed a kind of resilience, or numbness, to the pain.

But a few times a year, particularly around the Christmas holidays, I lose my shit entirely. Every year, like clockwork, I slip into a deep funk at the thought of not seeing my parents, or my brother, or my friends at the holidays. It’s just really hard. I always manage to keep it together when I’m with my own children at the holidays, but as soon as they go back to their mother and I am suddenly alone and staring at a Christmas tree, I drop my head into my hands and sob.

But that, too, passes.

And then I remember where I am, and that I’m living a life I could only have dreamed of as a young boy in America. I remember what makes my engines tick and I find my way out of the funk. So why do I endure the pain of missing my friends and family, each and every year? Why do I do it?

Because I’m curious, that’s why. It’s really that simple.

I want to know.

I want to learn.

I want to explore.

I want adventure.

I’m curious about how to order those delicious looking pastries at that funky bakery in Barcelona. I want to know how the Schengen agreement came into being. I want to learn how it’s possible that I can go to the pharmacy and never have to pay for medication. I’d like somebody to tell me how coffeeshops that sell weed in Holland get stocked with weed when the growing of marijuana for commercial purposes is illegal. I’m curious about why grown men and women run with bulls in Pomplona. I want to learn the difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and why they used to blow each other up. I wanna know how the Dutch invented bitterballen. I’d love to see the Northern Lights up in Sweden or Norway or wherever that happens. I’m dying to see if the cooks in Napoli can make better pizza than I can get here in Utrecht. I want to experience the atmosphere at the Ryder Cup Golf Matches in Paris when the Europeans play against the Americans. I wanna take the tour of Vermeer’s Delft. I’m curious whether Trump-style politics will spread to European countries. I wanna drive on the right in Britain and see if I can do it without crashing. I desperately want to watch the Dutch national soccer team finally win the World Cup, preferably with one of my sons on the team. I want to eat at a Michelin star restaurant in France and I want to eat gambas on a beach in Andalucia. I wanna stay in love with my special Dutch girl who can teach me new words every single day while we’re laying in bed, looking up at the stars.

And I can only do it here.

Is that too much to ask? God willing, I will live out my days trying to find answers to those questions. That’s why I want to stay and keep turning the next corner. Figuring out this stuff, learning it, experiencing it – that’s what gets me off. That’s what makes the life of a professional foreigner. Sometimes it hurts, but I learn a lot and it’s never boring.

I have no idea why I’m like this and I certainly don’t mean it in some kind of pretentious, “look at me exploring the world” kind of way. Often times, this choice of mine is a pain in the ass and I deride myself for not living a simpler life near my friends and family in New England. But this is who I am. I’m not sure if my curiosity was born of a life spent constantly moving around, or if it’s just an inherent part of my personality. I guess it doesn’t really matter. This is me and, even though I need regular reminders that a more traditional 9 to 5 life would never make me happy, I have accepted it fully.

There are still so many things that I don’t know and so many places I have not yet seen. I’m 48 years old and I haven’t yet been to Asia or Africa or South America. I can’t wait to go, I want to go, I need to go. Life hasn’t made that possible for me yet, but when it does, I’m going. And when I pack my bags and head off to the airport, flush with excitement for a new journey, my mother will call me on the phone sweetly say, “David, it’ll be an adventure.”

 

THE END. 

Americano! Holland, A Fine Place.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

HOLLAND, A FINE PLACE.

The gentle chime of church bells, just beyond my window, awaken me sometime after dawn. It is Sunday morning in this, my city of Utrecht. I roll over and pull back the curtains, a faint summer sun pushing in. I open the window to let in morning air. Tilting the window open, I hear more bells – this time a bicycle – down on the street outside my building. I look down to see a father on his bicycle, reaching over to steady his young son who must have learned to ride very recently. He chirps words of encouragement to his boy and places his hand firmly on the kid’s shoulder as they press on down the street.

Dominique wakes up next to me, her eyes sleepy delicious. She awakes rested and smiling, always the deep sleeper. It’s one of her most endearing traits. Arching her back and stretching into this fine morning, she asks me, her voice soft, “hoe laat is het, liefje?”

We get up to brush our teeth and crawl back in bed to be with each other, in that very finest of ways, before easing into the day. Entwined in the afterglow, content and relaxed, I speak first. “It’s time for coffee”.

Luckily, there’s a great little coffee joint down on the corner. I throw on some jeans and my Red Sox cap and bound down four flights of stairs to the street. Pushing the heavy front door open, I head towards the coffee place and some much needed caffeine. Stepping inside, I pass two women sitting sipping cappuccinos. I walk to the counter where the amptly bearded Turkish proprietor coaxes the milk atop a freshly ground cappuccino into a large heart. I order two large caramel macchiatos, two small bottles of freshly squeezed orange juice and sit down to wait.

While I’m grabbing coffee, Dominique hops on her bike and shoots off to the bakery. Fresh bread. Maybe some croissants, or pain du chocolat. She insists that bread must be fresh. If bread is more than 24 hours old it is worthy only of toasting. If it’s older than that, it goes to the ducks in the park or, sadly, to the trash can. But if Dominique has her way, and when it comes to bread she most surely will, it’s not going into our mouths. According to sweet Dominique, life is just too short for day old bread. I love that about her.

Coffee and baked goodies in hand, we meet back at my place, my apartment instantly filling with the smell of freshly baked bread. The weather nice, we open the double doors to my little balcony overlooking the city and take our coffee, juice, and croissants outside to eat. Utrecht is slowly waking up. Up here on the fourth floor, we get to watch the city rise. A woman across the street has come out on her balcony to hang some laundry. A man directly across from us, his apartment also on the fourth floor of a separate building, is tidying the furniture on his own balcony. He hurriedly grabs seat cushions and deposits them in a weather proof storage box. The man is always tidying his balcony. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen him do. As you can imagine, his balcony is spotless, most surely an expression of his chronic OCD.

We sip our coffee and nibble on the bread. We don’t say much, mercifully comfortable in our silence. We let the sun warm us and enjoy the peace. The rest of the day will bring friends and festivities, but morning coffee and breakfast is a quiet moment and we take our time.

Dishes in the dishwasher, showered and shaved, we head outside for a morning walk. Heading a few blocks west from my place, we cross the canal into the city’s ancient center. We take the Predikherenkerkhof, a tony street flanked on both sides by handsome town houses. This warm day has brought the world to its feet and we are passed by families on bikes, old men walking their dogs, students in small groups and lovers strolling hand in hand. At Utrecht’s famous Neude Square, we find a table under a large oak tree and order one last espresso, stopping more for the prime spot than the coffee. It is a gorgeous spot, our table protected from the sun by the tree’s flowing branches, but we’ll stay only long enough to throw the coffee back and pay our bill. Walking away from the square, passing several cafes, a gourmet burger joint, and a Greek restaurant, the street narrows to the size of an alley – Vinkenburgstraat. This little street is unique though, as it is home to a bit of movie star fame. Utrecht is home to the Netherlands Film Festival, a cultural event held in September and October of every year. By hosting this prestigious festival, the city of Utrecht has forever linked itself to the Dutch film industry. On the charming Vinkenburgstraat, award winning actors mark their immortality by putting their hands into squares of cement on the street. Reminiscent of Hollywood’s walk of fame, the Vinkenburgstraat’s splash of movie history stops tourists and townies alike who bend down to read the names in cement. At the street’s end, we run into the city’s pearl, Oudegracht – The Old Canal.

Completed in 1275, the Old Canal was, and in many ways still is, Utrecht’s commercial heartbeat. Boats from everywhere, carrying a variety of goods, would float into the city center and deposit the goods in the typical warehouses located at water level. For centuries, the Old Canal has done plenty of business, making the city quite prosperous for its day. In modern times, the Old Canal has been transformed into the city’s most vibrant retail area, with a large number of shops located up at street level. The vast majority of the original warehouses have been transformed into restaurants, cafes, and various businesses.

Today, strolling along the Old Canal, the weather dry and warm, the outdoor cafes and restaurants fill up quickly, a nice table in the sun a valuable commodity. Big, leafy trees line both sides of the canal adding vibrant splashes of green to the area. We take the stairs from the street down to the waterline, just to watch the boats drift by. Tourists in paddle boats struggle to propel forward while locals whizz by in engine powered vessels. The restaurants are so full by now that revellers eat and drink just inches from their chairs toppling over into the canal. It’s all very nice.

We stroll down the canal, eventually taking the stairs back up to the street. Walking along, flanked by the gabled 17th Century building on both sides of the canal, I feel little pulses of excitement rise within me. I am here, in Europe, walking this beautiful canal with this beautiful lady, and this place is my home! Sometimes my good fortune in this random life startles me, but I do my best to accept the ridiculous amount of luck I forever seem to have had.

Nearing the end of the Old Canal, we reach one of my favorite streets in the town, the Twijnstraat. After my divorce I lived a stone’s throw from here and I grew to love it dearly. What is its charm, this quaint street? First, the restaurants and cafes – which are plentiful. There’s a place called Fishes on the corner that sells fresh fish and seafood. There’s a Belgian bakery that sells bread and pastries and has a nice lunch menu as well. There’s a Vietnamese joint, a French bistro, a craft beer boutique, and a gourmet cheese shop. Just to make sure things don’t get too posh, a dive bar modeled on an “American roadhouse” and a late night shoarma shack take their place on the street, just to keep the hipsters honest.

When I lived here I had my favorite stops: Cafe Ledig Erf for the best outdoor seating and strongest Belgian beer, and Cafe de Poort for good bar food, no nonsense ambiance and a nice view of the water. But my all time favorite spot on the Twijnstraat goes to a pizza place called Da Portare Via. They do the big wooden oven pizzas and I swear on the grave of my Italian Grandfather, Papa Mangini, that Portare’s pizza are the best I have ever tasted. I may be a man prone to hyperbole but, in this case, it’s genuine. Da Portare Via’s pizza chefs, none of them Italian as far as I can tell, bake the thinnest, most melt-in-your-mouth, pizza crust this side of Napoli. They’ve since expanded their operation to an even better place on Utrecht’s Voorstraat. If you are ever in town, stop at Portare Via and grab a pizza and a nice bottle of Chianti. You will not be disappointed.

We make it to the end of the street, hand in hand, and stop for a glass of prosecco at De Poort. Grabbing a table near the water, we sip our wine and watch a group of seven cyclists who’ve just finished a morning ride. They slowly unstrap their feet from the intricate pedals and stretch gingerly before sitting down for a bite and a beverage. We soak up the sun and the bubbly vino, and smile quietly while we observe people jostling to get a table in the sun. You gotta have some hustle to get a good spot in this town and we’ve been lucky this time. We finish our wine, pay the man, and scurry off.

Crossing the square, we follow a shaded sidewalk that loops around and follows a different canal back towards the center. It’s a green oasis in the middle of town, a refuge for dog owners who come here in droves to walk their pets. Thankfully, the owners respect the city’s leash laws otherwise all hell would break loose as dogs would go bonkers trying to sniff out their next mate. But today it all procedes in the most civilized of fashion and we walk briskly, slightly buzzed from the wine, and re-join the Old Canal near Utrecht’s Grand Dame, the Dom Tower.

Built so many thousands of years ago, The Dom is our Eiffel Tower, our Space Needle, our Freedom Tower. Sticking way up into the sky, tourists flock from all around and townies like me still stop and stare when the light hits her from a certain angle. She is big and beautiful and is one of those special attractions that towers above everything in her wake, while also doubling in function as a landmark to get your bearings and sense of direction. All roads lead to the Dom and one quick glance in her direction will tell you where you are and which way to go next.

Pushing through the large crowds at the Dom this morning, we make our way along the canal, turning right back onto Vinkenburgstraat, passing Neude Square, and back to my apartment. Having walked just long enough to feel it in our legs, we arrive at my place just before my sons show up to join us in watching some soccer on TV.

My boys arrive right before kick off. They come bundling in, feisty and joyous, all elbows and knees, still finding their way from puberty to young adulthood. Soccer is something we have shared since they were little. They both play the game, at the highest level for their age group, and seem to be continuing the line of good Mangene athletes. Our favorite team is FC Utrecht, the local major league franchise. It’s a blessing and a curse loving this team because to love them is to let go of ever winning the biggest prize. It’s a simple matter of economics with a smaller market team like FC Utrecht. Without the requisite dollars and cents, buying the talent necessary to win the big one is next to impossible. But we love them all the same. FC Utrecht is historically a “club of the people” meaning the core of its fanbase is local born and working class. Tickets are entirely affordable so I don’t have to take out a second mortgage to take my boys to the stadium for a match. The atmosphere in the stadium during matches is old school European with songs being sung from kick-off to final whistle. We’ve been to plenty of matches in the driving wind and rain of deep winter but it’s worth the pain. It’s a labor of love.

On this fine day though, we’re staying home to watch on TV. Utrecht is playing against Rotterdam’s biggest club, Feyenoord, which is a particularly fun rival because Dominique is from that part of the country. She cheers loudly for Feyenoord, the boys cheer even louder for Utrecht, and I am stuck somewhere in the middle. I make fresh guacamole, Dominique whips up some tasty club sandwiches, we pour ourselves tall drinks and the game is on.

The match is stellar. Both teams are in the mood to play offensive soccer. Utrecht gets on the board first, the center forward slamming a header into the top right corner of the net. Feyenoord returns the favor just minutes later to tie the game at 1-1. Both teams add another, taking the match into halftime tied at 2-2. But the second half is all Utrecht. Our guys punish the Rotterdam defense with masterful through balls, adding two more goals to bring the total to 4-2. My boys hoop and holler, rubbing salt into Dominique’s wounds and cackling their way back outside. We have a great time watching the game and my beloved sons leave happy.

The match has ended and now we’re off to a music festival on the other side of town. We’ve both taken the day off from work tomorrow so it’s no-holds-barred tonight. We text a group of friends and arrange to meet at the festival grounds in a couple of hours. The music today will be mostly EDM, but there will be enough “real bands” to keep things from getting too one sided. With the weather good, it’ll be a zoo at the festival so we decide to leave promptly to get a jump on the crowds. We like to travel light, taking only a summer jacket as well as sunglasses, keys, and money.

Having arrived at the festival, the music is top notch, the dancing sweaty, and the company divine. At midnight, when city noise ordinances force the DJs to stop, we slowly make our way outside back to our bikes. There is talk of after-parties, many of which will go on until the sun comes up, but that’s not our vibe tonight. We are headed home, to my little place in the center of town. We say our goodbyes to friends old and new, jump on our bikes, and pedal back to town, the zzzzzz of dance music still booming in our ears.

Twenty minutes later, we’re home. We lock the bikes, climb the stairs, and there’s just time enough for one last nightcap before heading to bed. Dominique carefully pours two cognacs, no ice, and accompanies them with a tall glass of San Pellegrino water, just to fend off tomorrow’s hangover. Peering over my balcony, out into the vibrant city, its frenetic energy now really heating up, we drink our way towards some well deserved sleep. Today was one for the history books.