Amsterdam is known worldwide for its impeccable architecture, elegant floral bridges crossing houseboat-laden canals and rich history. Its long summer days and charming bicycle-driven culture create the kind of place that is easy to romanticize as peaceful and trouble-free.
Interestingly, Amsterdam is also home to the highest number of nationalities out of any city in the world. The Netherlands is among the world’s most open cultures, so it was no surprise I discovered an overwhelming sense of calm, charisma and poetic charm immediately upon my arrival.
It’s not my usual activity, to sit at a bar late at night, but as my travel timeclock had not reset itself and I found myself wide awake.
I went down to the bar at the Pulitzer Hotel and soon discovered that the bar was merely a stage where a bartender performed each night, entertaining weary travelers with his stories and inspiring message through his concoctions.
As I took my seat, the bearded Eric Van Beek, 27, quickly recognized me as an American. We exchanged pleasantries, and I immediately noticed that Eric was much more than a liquid chef. He was a storyteller who had a message. Cocktails are his monologue, and each one is served with an attempt and desire to traverse global boundaries.
One of the most amazing things about life is that the lessons never end. We all carry a message in our hearts, regardless of our age or stage in life. Our desires define who we really are, and fortunately, we have many opportunities to see these passions express in others and absorb.
Eric’s approach to bartending reminded me of a lesson my grandmother taught me at a very early age, “we rise when we lift others up.”
She once told me that friendships are based on dignity and respect. When we have both, we come together as human beings. If we can just understand and adopt these two words in our treatment of others, we would also understand that we are more alike than unalike. I could easily translate her words into a culture where I was surrounded by beauty and people from across the globe.
This philosophy continued to amplify while sitting the Pulitzer bar, the most symbolic example being served to me in a martini glass. My new friend Eric prepared for me his handmade cocktail he calls “Cariño,” a Spanish term for love and endearment.
As he explained the idea of his creation I became more impressed with his presentation. He created this signature drink in hopes it would bring people closer together, his answer to what he sees as a world that is more divided than ever. His cocktail is a way for him to acknowledge these divisions and reach across the bar with an extension of his own hospitality and compassion.
As we continued our dialog we agreed that coming together was the beginning but keeping together and working together were the real challenges. However, there are endless possibilities of creating an enduring environment through our individual lives; whether we are a bartender from Amsterdam or a Realtor from Texas we each have an opportunity to share our voice, stories, and encouragement with one another.
When Eric started working behind the bar, he thought he could earn a paycheck slinging drinks, or he could use the intimate environment to meet people from around the world and express his passion for unity and kindness.
Encouragement does not always have to come from familiar faces; sometimes strangers take you to even higher place. Taking the time to listen to one another can forge new friendships and bridge cultures.
As he extends his hand to serve something as simple as a drink named according to its intention, I am reminded of other terms of endearment that are derived from food. These ingredients, such as sugar, honey, and pumpkin, make food taste better. As we desire to create the most pleasing relationships, maybe we should also look at the ingredients that can enhance them such as love and compassion.
Eric blends Bacardi, Greek yogurt, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon, vanilla and nutmeg in a delicate balance that leaves the receiver with a pleasant taste of spice, comfort, and friendship. I like to think of this drink as Eric’s gift to his patrons. It represents the rich heritage of a beautiful city that is famous for its hundreds of bridges and canals.
As I left for the night and parted ways with Eric, he offered me this advice for the rest of my vacation: “You’re only here for a relatively short time, my friend. Enjoy, don’t hurry, don’t worry and remember a journey is best measured in the kindness of friends you meet along the way rather than the miles you will travel.”
In this world-class city of bridges, Eric was giving me a lesson on how to bridge relationships. I took his words to heart as they echoed in my thoughts for the remainder of my time in Amsterdam. I realized that we leave our signature wherever we go in our words and in our actions.
I found myself talking to someone who is born of a different generation and from another culture and began seeing the world through their eyes. No matter what our role is in the world, we can be teachers and leaders and leave our signature in the world once we are gone.