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The Cat that Walked Through Amsterdam
By Vincent Abbate  (CONTINUED)

I downed a second and a third while Mambo enjoyed a spiked saucer of milk and a tosti (I was hungry too, but the careless way the barmaid handled the cheese kind of turned me off), and when we emerged at dusk there were vague thoughts of heading to the nasty part of town. Admittedly, those were my thoughts. But if I'm feeling really antsy I can just stuff Mambo in my camera bag and do as I please anyway. I had it unzipped and was about to grab her when she gave me a look that froze me. Suddenly I felt two inches tall and much less cleverer than she. So we didn't go to the nasty part of town. I don't know what we did that night.

Makes me think of how the ancient Egyptians equated the cat with the sun god, Ra. And how each day, when Ra disappeared behind the horizon, he would turn into a cat and fight the serpent. Light battling darkness. Only if he won would the sun return the following day.

Mambo helps me fight the serpent every night when we're on the road.

On Monday, we had much better luck at the Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam Tip #4 : if you're a Van Gogh fan, try Monday afternoon. Now of course the Museum doesn't allow dogs, cats, gerbils or any sort of pet in. But screw them. This was one time Mambo gladly stepped into my camera bag, understanding that I would leave the zipper open a crack so she could peek out at greatness. I zoned out in front of Van Gogh's shimmering landscapes; her favorite was an early self-portrait, which she tried her best to photograph.

Is the museum touristy ? Sure. Avoid the gift shop and its Starry Night mouse pads if you don't want to lose that "gee, there's something to this culture thing after all" glow too soon.

There's lots of stuff in Amsterdam we didn't get to. Like the jazz : late-night clubs like Bourbon Street and the Café Alto have live music seven nights a week, plus there are Sunday jazz brunches at the American Hotel and the B&W Café. We wanted to hit the sauna in a complex called Oininio (Mambo is new age and loves the sauna), but found the place closed for renovations and a person sleeping one off under an orange blanket in the doorway. When rains came, we ducked into the American Book Center on Halverstraat, where Mambo hit the business section and I had a coffee downstairs. It's a great place to stock up on the written word.

As I write these lines, my cat is at her desk drafting a letter to the mayor of Amsterdam in which she will suggest a pooper-scooper law. She didn't appreciate all the dog dooky lying around town.

She loved the lunches, though, and all that good cheese, and she warmed to the architecture and the people. Meanwhile, I made sure to steer us away from buildings dating to the Middle Ages. Mambo has read about the burnings at the stake and the throwing of cats from church towers, and reacts instinctively by choking up hairballs.

But our biggest Amsterdam thrill came just hours before we were due back at the train station. Walking along the Herengracht, one of the major canals circling the city center, I noticed a sign on a centuries-old door reading KattenKabinet. Most Dutch is pretty impossible to pronounce, let alone decipher. But on a hunch, I knocked.

A polite, gray-haired man opened. He said "Yes, come in," and then, "Oh, you have a cat ! He can come in free." After I corrected the man about Mambo's gender, he took my coat and, gesturing toward a famous illustration by Rudyard Kipling, told me that we had just stumbled upon the world's only art collection devoted exclusively to the cat.



Amsterdam Hotspots - www.amsterdamhotspots.nl
Advice on where to eat, drink, smoke, etc. in Europe's #1 den of sin.

Boom Chicago Online - www.boomchicago.nl
Amsterdam's English-language comedy troupe also publishes the very hip BOOM! Guide to Amsterdam .

The Vincent Van Gogh Information Gallery - www.vangoghgallery.com
All of Van Gogh's works online; the next best thing to being there.

The American Book Center - www.abc.nl
Europe's largest source of English-language books

The Cat Cabinet - www.kattenkabinet.nl
Mambo's favorite art museum!

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