There are days when you are reminded that Amsterdam sits below sea level and today is one of them. That’s not to say that the city is literally underwater but it is so shrouded in damp and dankness that we may as well be a few feet under the North Sea that lurks, a grey and grumpy beast, just a few miles to the west, barely tamed by dunes and dykes. I used to swim in the North Sea as a child, on its western edge in Essex, and it has always struck me as grim and inhospitable. Cycling in to work today, to board the HMS Indomitable so-to-speak (a little nerdy opera speak for you there – it is the ship on which Billy Budd is set), it felt as if the clouds were joining the canals in a damp marriage. It wasn’t raining but it might as well have been for all the cold moisture in the air.
On my way in I usually pedal past a small cafĂ© on the corner of Herengracht and Utrechtstraat. It looked so cozy today, with its regularly placed tables in the middle of which sat solitary tea lights (at ten in the morning, mind), that I could have happily given up singing there and then and become a humble barrista. No, not a mis-spelled lawyer, but a simple brewer of coffees. Polishing cups with a tea towel, frothing milk, chatting with the customers… It all looked so much more appealing than spending four hours in a windowless studio pretending to be a sailor.
But no, I cycled on and spent the day recreating The Royal Tournament instead. Brit readers will get that; Americans probably not. Suffice it say it involved lots of looking enthusiastic, running about, and assembling a field gun, as you do in the normal course of a day’s work.
I’m off to see the premier of a new Dutch opera tonight. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has any enthusiasm for it but I’ll try and keep an open mind. Even the conductor told me that it’s “crazy”. At least there’s a party afterwards.

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