I was born 300 years after the death of Rembrandt van Rijn. My 50th birthday trip and first visit to Amsterdam fell on the final dates of a memorial exhibition encompassing the 400-strong Rembrandt oeuvre housed in the Rijksmuseum, the national repository of Dutch art. Half of the only day I had to see the city was spent getting acquainted with the history and culture of the Netherlands through the eyes and hands of its most renowned artist. Where could a definitive collection of Rembrandts be held but at Rijks?
The City of Light wasted no time showing its dark side. I got a full Paris treatment within 24 hours of my arrival. Friends had told me enough cautionary tales to get my guard up as soon as I got off the Thalys from Amsterdam. I went to Paris with eyes wide open, not to go sightseeing through rose-colored glasses. “Je ne vois pas la vie en rose.”
“The soul is the weariest part of the body,” Paul Bowles wrote in his novel The Sheltering Sky set in North Africa. I took exception to that. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was fatigued and dehydrated, so much so that I slumped in the middle of a busy intersection in Fes – and slept. My body shut down for 15 minutes in the shadow of the center island’s stone monument. With the sun still high at 4:30 PM, I pulled my cap over my eyes and dozed off under the sweltering sky of Morocco.