Friday, 2 September 2011

The Amsterdam Scrapbook


Tot morgen meneer
The eyes catch these words on your wall and life becomes a paper boat floating down the canal. 80’s disco music being optional. The mind asks, “Hoe gaat het met u?” as the boat glides by Lauriergracht passing under the bridge with baskets of red geranium hanging on the rails. There will be snow. Then there will be school children walking in pairs. Then there will be families dining out; the tables with fine cutlery set outside their houses on the curbside along the canals. All the time the coots will be patrolling the canals. Everything will be gezellig.

De appeltaart
There’s you, there’s me, there’s F and there’s D and we are always looking for something. Or more precisely, many different things but often they can all be summarized in one simple word– food. This Saturday we come looking for de appeltaart (met slagroom). Yes, the one. We find it somewhere near Noorderkerk. And we feel akin to the little golden haired boy on the back seat of a bicycle shaking his head in the gentle breeze, and the sun gets in our eyes.

Not the last supper
There are twelve of us sitting down to dinner. And that’s where the similarities begin and end. Later, in the early hours of the morning, I write in my diary– no two people (besides us) were of the same nationality. Isn’t that incredible! English is not the language of the world. Though it is English that in a large part helps our evening flow along.

M is flying back to Sao Paulo the next morning. N is going to ride his bicycle all the way to Barcelona. From Amsterdam to Barcelona! Someone is handing G a Heineken coaster. She flips to the plain side and in a few pen strokes sketches the gist of the night. Chicken and conversation. Food and friendship. Soon all the art people join in.

Some hours later while clearing the table the waitress places the upturned coasters side by side. They form a square 4X4 grid. There’s a story in it somewhere. She stares at them for a few minutes. But the opening sentence, that all too crucial beginning, eludes her. She goes back to wiping the tables.

I look at my plate. Still life with crumbled feta and asparagus. J too is looking at my plate. In fact has looked at it more than once. Aren’t you going to eat that? His Swedish side asks a question that is a precursor to another more pertinent one that his Argentinean side is waiting to ask (or is it the other way round?). But it remains unsaid. Go ahead, I smile.

We will meet again a few days later when the city is painted orange. Compelled by who knows which side, he’ll try to push me into the Prinsengracht. But that’s a different story altogether.

The Bench
There is wine, there are two wine glasses, there is takeaway in paper bags, there are three swans gliding past the houseboats, there is the canal burnished gold, there are the seagulls flying above the spires of the Westerkerk, there are boats and more boats, there is the sound of bicycles going down the cobbled street, there are girls in heels on the bicycles, there is a young man whistling a song that one has heard many times before, there is a glorious day coming to a close; it is summer in Jordaan and a hundred steps away from our front door a bench, the best seat in town, waits.

The Moonlight
Tiny bulbs sparkle along the arches of the bridge. The water is pitch black. Tiny yellow drops of light drip softly and melt into the dark. The streets are full of people. The people, the streets, the gingerbread houses all meld into black. Just to the left of the Westerkerk tower the moon hangs like a silver bowl. An enormous silver bowl. Unreal. This could be a dream. This is a dream. The bells of the church chime the midnight hour.

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