A Dead Duck In Amsterdam

There are parties and then there are parties in which one of the guests is standing in the corner caressing a dead mallard duck. Then again, this is Amsterdam and it’s sometimes hard to tell if one is hallucinating from taking too much … um, jetlag, or if, in this anything-goes city, people really do never leave home without their taxidermied animal.

I was visiting a friend in Amsterdam and we ended up at the opening party for the flashy new Andaz hotel there. The party, apparently, was filled with Dutch celebrities and some members of the country’s royal family. It was also attended by the mayor and the hotel’s designer, Marcel Wanders. There was a DJ spinning hip-hop and pop tunes. There were crazy (and apparently permanent) video art installations (like one of a girl jumping up and down on a hotel bed). There was great food. There were enough cocktails to drown in. But I just wanted to talk to the man with the dead duck.His name was Kees and his life changed at 5:55 p.m. on June 5, 1995. “That’s when this mallard duck” – he looked down at it lovingly and stroked its side – “crashed into a thick window in the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam,” he said. Kees went down to see what happened and saw the duck lying on its stomach in the sand. But here’s when the story gets real interesting: just then another duck – a male duck, also – flew up to the freshly dead duck and proceeded to have sex with it.

“It was homosexual necrophilia,” Kees said, again stroking the duck’s back. Kees brings the duck out to parties to raise awareness of – let’s say it again – homosexual necrophilia in ducks. This was one of those times when I thought I should be looking around for the hidden TV cameras. Instead, I bid Kees adieu and pointed myself straight for the martini bar.

I hadn’t been in Amsterdam for ten years. At that time, I did what one does on a first visit: I went to the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum; I took a boat around the canal. I even smoked some local “tobacco.” This time, I just wanted to wander. Not much had seemed to change – though the level of official prostitutes who work behind their glass doors in the Red Light District has declined (and it will go from 240 to 120 in the next couple of years). The liberal use of marijuana is still around, evidenced by the wafts of sweet-smelling smoke pouring out of coffee houses in the center of town; it was under threat recently but that threat has passed and the pipe will continue to burn until the next right-wing government decides it’s time to change things.

The next day I found myself aimlessly strolling around the center of town. Stopping in the Red Light District, I was more interested in watching the groups of guys, dirty smiles on their faces as they’d glance at one another, and the nervous solo men, afraid to look at anyone, patrol the neighborhood.

In the shadow of the Oude Kirk – built in 1306; it’s the city’s oldest building – and its tall Gothic tower, there’s a coffee shop. Pot plumes wafted out of the crevices of the doors and windows. Around the corner from that, a youthful prostitute with long brown hair – is she really 18? – stood in her pod, beckoning male passersby with her index finger. It almost seemed as if the latter two, the grass and the prostitutes, were mocking the former, the church, by nearly rubbing themselves up against it. Or perhaps was it the other way around? All three – pot, prostitutes and piety – have been around since humans began walking on two feet. In this way, they seem like a perfectly fitting triumvirate, almost as if they have a symbiotic relationship. Without one, the others would cease to exist.

Standing there, in the middle of this triangle, I almost felt compelled to gravitate to one of them. None, in fact, really interest me, outside of an intellectual curiosity. Instead, I wandered toward a shop I’d heard about: Stenelux, a store crammed with taxidermied animals – even ducks.

The World’s Most Recommended Country To Visit

most recommended countryThe world’s most recommended country to visit is Canada, says a study measuring public perceptions of countries around the world. The ranking is a component of the best overall country reputation that also considers employment, living conditions, investment potential and more.

Beating out Australia, Sweden and Switzerland for the second year in a row for the number one spot, Canada is one of 50 nations that will directly contribute to the $2 trillion tourism industry in 2012.

The annual RepTrak study was conducted by the Reputation Institute, a consultancy that measures the trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings the public holds towards 50 countries, by polling an online panel of 36,000 people representing the G8 countries.

“Beyond maintaining its top position, Canada has also improved its score by more than three points. Normally we don’t see such a large increase in a score from a top 10 country but Canada now stands head and shoulders above the other leading countries,” said Nicolas Georges Trad, Executive Partner, Reputation Institute in a statement.

Rounding out the top ten countries with the best reputations were Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands, all known for their stability, solid democracies, high GDP and strong social infrastructures.

The United States came in at number 23 but the study concluded that with a strong 5-10 point increase in the last four years, the reputation of the USA is trending towards more positive perceptions.

[Flickr photo by beaumontpete]

Photo Of The Day: Turkish Tulips

Photo Of The Day - Turkish tulips

April showers bring May flowers, as the saying goes. We’re getting plenty of rain this month in Turkey, but we’ve had flowers. April is the big month for tulips in Istanbul, and you can see them planted all over town as 11.5 million were planted for this year’s season. I took today’s photo at Emirgan Park, one of the prime viewing spots of the Istanbul Tulip Festival. There are over 100 varieties planted in Emirgan Park alone, many in interesting patterns like the nazar evil eye, a major symbol of Turkish superstition.

You probably associate tulips with Holland, but it was Ottoman Turks who first cultivated them and introduced them to the Dutch in the 17th century. Today, Turkey is trying to reclaim the flower, growing millions of tulips with a goal of becoming an exporter again by 2014. Along with fresh flowers, you can see the influence of the tulip in the shape of the Turkish tea glasses, and as legend has it, the shape of the sultan’s turbans.

Have a springtime photo to share with us? Add it to the Gadling Flickr pool for our next Photo of the Day.

Got Milk? This Swiss Soft Drink Does

It looks like soda. It tastes like soda. But the Swiss soft drink pictured above has a peculiar key ingredient: milk whey. First introduced in the 1950s, Rivella beat out both Coke and Pepsi in sales in its home country, and a spokeswoman once said the Swiss people are “almost as familiar with it as breast milk.” Still, the drink remains practically unknown throughout the rest of the world. Efforts in the early 2000s failed to introduce the drink as a “health food” product to Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, and today the Netherlands is the only country that seems to have embraced the product, drinking up 90 percent of Rivella’s foreign sales.

My assessment? The first sip was okay, mostly because I wasn’t told that it was made from milk. My boyfriend, equally unaware and severely lactose intolerant, was even more aghast when the key ingredient was announced to us. Needless to say, he steered clear of a second taste. I was a little reluctant to take another sip after hearing the news but had no complaints about the carbonated apple juice flavor. Besides milk, Rivella is made with lots of fruit and herbal extracts, and sources say that the filtration process used for the serum removes all the fats and proteins from the whey, making the soft drink rich in vitamins and minerals. Next time, I’ll probably try the version of Rivella with the yellow label, which is made with soy rather than dairy milk – it should be a little easier to stomach for both my boyfriend and me.

[Wikimedia photo by Parpan05]

Edam Is Much More Than Cheese In Holland

Edam cheeseEdam is a city in the Dutch province of Noord-Holland that is famous as the original source of the cheese with the same name. Recently, we spent a day in Edam walking cobblestone streets, sampling fresh cheeses made daily and enjoying a city that looks today much like it did decades ago.

“Edam is a city with a rich history. It began in the 12th century, when farmers and fishermen settled along the little Ye river. With that, ‘Yedam’ was a fact. This primitive settlement developed into an increasingly prosperous town well into the 17th century,” says Edam.com, a website devoted to the city.

Edam cheese was the most popular cheese in the world from the 14th to 17th centuries, especially at sea and in the colonies far away. Sealed in wax, the Edam cheese could mature very well so it was easy to bring along to eat while traveling. We brought some home too, sneaking right through customs, while drug-sniffing dogs were on the prowl for tourists that might have visited Amsterdam, where marijuana is virtually legal.

Legend has it that Edam cheese became even more popular when used as bullets for cannons. “True or not, it is a fact that the Edam cheese is very strong, big and round and has the same shape as a bullet. Edam cheese thanks its name to the harbor where the cheese was sold most (harbor of Edam),” adds Edam.com.

The Edam cheese of today is not the same cheese as the original. Since the 19th century Edam is no longer made from full milk but from partly skimmed milk. The fat percentage of the Edam cheese is lower (40%) than the fat percentage of similar Gouda cheese (48%). Over the years, Edam replaced the strong-flavored farmer’s product with a softer, factory-made cheese.

In Edam, architecture that dates back to the 12th century wraps around shops selling everything from Dutch chocolate to Tulip bulbs and fresh flowers as we see in this photo gallery.


Today, Edam is visually much like it has been for decades and serves as a bedroom community for residents commuting back and forth to Amsterdam. Walking through a very quiet Edam, it was hard to believe that the city was once a bustling whaling port with more than 30 shipyards. Now, still covered with narrow streets, small bridges and canals, tourism is the major economic force but cheese still the major export and star of the show.

Edam’s Kaasmarkt (cheese market) event is one of five in the Netherlands and once sold 250,000 rounds of cheese. Reenactments of markets for tourists have Dutch cheese farmers who traditionally brought their cheeses to town to sell. During the market, teams of official guild cheese-porters, identified by differently colored straw hats associated with their company, carried the farmers’ cheese on stretchers, which typically weighed about 160 kilograms (about 350 pounds).

Buyers then sampled the cheeses and negotiated a price using a ritual system called handjeklap in which buyers and sellers clap each others’ hands, shout prices and agree on a price. Once a price is agreed, the porters carry the cheese to the weighing house and scale of their company as we see in this video.

The cheese shops have free samples for tasting along with an assortment of touristy souvenirs ranging from Dutch chocolate, wooden shoes (still used by some) and hand-crafted dolls to cheese slicers. All can be shipped back to the United States legally.

Photos: Chris Owen