Friday, August 11, 2017

Amsterdam Flashed in Front of Our Eyes

I have been in Amsterdam since 1985, although I always loved it, always.  My lasting impression of the space was of a poster of a man on the wall doing something that I did not know was anatomically possible. It just happened. He looked at us with a come-hither expression that gave me a pause that was hard to forget. That was a long time ago.
But for the final week of our marathon trip, this was our destination. 
Like the light in Venice, when we walked out of the train station, we were struck by a feeling.
 You can tell a lot about a city in your first moments in the train station.  Looking around I saw lines of bikes moving outside – bike after bike after bike.  Amsterdam is a city that moves people.  Signs for the subway and trams were everywhere.  So were maps we could photograph.  We got three-day cards and jumped on a tram outside, taking in a view of the city, its coffee houses, canals, endless bike racks, cyclists, majestic old buildings. The bike racks outside the train station were filled with more bikes than I have ever seen, bike after bike after bike.  The smell of pot was omnipresent.
“The stuff is really strong now,” our friends told over dinner.
We zipped to our hostel, dropped off  our bags, grabbed a pint, and made it back out for dinner.  Bikes zoomed along their separated bike paths.
This city opened in front of us, inviting us along its canals, tree-lined streets, with plants, majestic homes. 
“See there are three red lights,” noted our friends, pointing to three houses along the waterfront with red neon lights in front.  “There used to be like twenty.  Now there are just three.  The city is buying them up.”
Dinner went on for hours, chatting, drinking, and catching up from their return to Amsterdam after years in Brooklyn. It was hard coming back, they explained.  This is not as progressive a place as some people think it is, they explained.  Their communities had shifted. People moved on.  Some divorced. 
Sleeping that night, I could hear people making their way out there.  The rain pattering on the cobblestones.  The whole world seemed to be pumping and alive, an organic whole connected between people and streets, the canals and red lights, the steps that brought me to the hostel and the dreams running through my mind.  It felt enormously peaceful and tantalizing.
“Endless summer….” Noted my friend when I told him we were coming here.  “Why don’t you guys just move here?”  Maybe we should.  But it feels like home.  The streets we saw in the movies, the Fault in Our Stars, the Ann Frank House we can’t visit because its sold out.   Caroline recalled her first trip here when she just walked into the museum.  Its ok to skip it this time.   The city of Anne Frank and harm reduction – it feels like home.  We were immediately taken by that feeling.

First day in Amsterdam.

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