Then to take a train leaving Antwerp, northeastward to Amsterdam. Only knowing a mental picture of the city. This is a larger & unnerving place, in a light that continues to face & force itself out of the wind & clouds, a cool spring in a white-gold sun. This is the placement of an inner spider webbed pattern of canals & tourism. A tourism that let’s you know what you’re there for, a tiny memory to encapsulate a Dutch sensibility not found anywhere close by, except with the tonnage of quasi-Delft plates & clogs. The tourism that’s real enough to be a commodity of finding a souvenir charmed remembrance of this crowded seaside town. Whatever exterior/interior phase of an early 21st century cultural exchange that happens in a place, is carefully spilled here, interwoven with a faintly discernable native inhabitant found only on a quick visual onceover that says (to oneself) this person is from here & that person is (like us) from elsewhere. Everyone passed by on a sidewalk is bound with an urgency of awareness to bear contravening glances faster than what one’s used to. A zeal for the stolid choreography of a public body, a body to take up the space of two footsteps behind a line or a curb. Everyone knows their own grace of moving inside a pressing narrowness that’ll push the road to to an open square, a plausible transition of streets curling back around not knowing a city block like we do. Streets are choked with varying speeds of bikes trains & people all in a constant distraction of glimpsed faces. The swerving flow of the tourist’s needs are over-filled with triple crosses, followed by a brief stop for a cappuccino, a conversation-laced smoke & cookie. This is the crossroads of everywhere else. People have brought themselves to share what millions have had before them & to what awaits more visitors afterwards. Streets of crooked old residences that have shifted with time that must reconfigure those sloping rooms, it must then be thought of as a city of bending use-worn rooms. Getting into the flow of walking is punctuated by stopping confusions of ill timed street signals that cause a foreigner to be out of pace & this performs its own logic of measured control of the unnamed crowds. Again to a pastime of finding a local person in the masses, to say to oneself: this person’s from here, presumed by a knowing movement of the person’s disinterested obligation of a getting-to-work look. This make up of possible stories must get its satisfaction from mystery & fact brought together with a keen minutiae of minute to minute harmless conjectures. With this city’s zillions of row houses, some are topped & peaked with white edges looking like Baroque frosting, many have a beam off the top with a hook on the end, maybe this is a way to hoist furniture into the large front windows from the ground. These are urgent city streets to attune any pleasured hunger. Storefront sex offered off the smooth flesh of a girl who sells a brief carnal conquest, a taste for sin brought here by a promise, this is for some a better life & for others a life demolished over a thinly covered professional bed. Neon lit impotence of regret, curtained behind the wan investiture of a sex-worker.
As a street convenes & blends with others that intermesh with the anticipation of consumables, it all gives with a polite handling of an exchange of goods that are about a European market & the rest of the world’s grown-up demands, a tabulation of euros to dollars maintained to value a transitional token of that which will then be looked at as a barely-worth-it memento, a tangible object to reinstate a remembrance as to when we were there & to remind others that we were there once. A territory has been marked by our purchases. From somewhere else that people might visit, to a place that’s not new, but new to us. A loving sacrifice of resources has placed us here. But, where (we ask ourselves) is the Dutch culture of the land we stand on? A mood crafted by the yearly weather, wind, snow, rain & daylight. A people marked by forbearance & who are divided as to the limits of what they’ll tolerate. To some this is manifested as a conservative recall of values to be set back to ‘what used to be’. To a fragmented few & to an unwillingness to change as many have already before them. Then to a willingness to participate with the ‘other’ as really a part of us, together rather than just as a criminally minded ‘them’. These are the tight-lipped complaints of a minority who feel overrun by the dissolving frontiers of revanchist phantasms. The Dutch are a tough people, intellectually pliant enough to work with any real &/or hyperbolic onslaughts that threaten nostalgia & that build a better life, as opposed to any closed minded caricature. A majority of people who are open to the rest & forgiving of their shortcomings. Radical interdictions shout of a cultural relativism & are deflated as they were born out of any peroxided political head.
This too is met with an incidental frustration of a planned get-together typed out of happening with a weak ‘fever’ excuse & a couple of emphatic apologies. This is the painful micro truth of a covert about-face that rejects a contrived hospitality to be enjoyed as it’s irreverently disposed of & now dead with the pallor of vengeful kindness. Sick of any insipid defeats, we travel ahead & are varyingly pleased to have found another narrow sidewalk & a succinct shop shingle. Our place as guests fluctuates with importance, as any other visitor’s position would. Then, onward to what can’t be & foreword to what can happen. This trip can be written about & that place nearby can be walked to in an afternoon. Our admitted permission that allows these sightings of place have been diluted from the powers of the church. This is a place that their Netherlandish forefathers once hammered religion into & onto. Churches that luck has left standing, landmark for a surface setting, blending with windows of ‘kaas & vlees’ along with a plethora of world recognized brands selling anything. A tourist’s boat of eager eyes to this moment shared over a visual record that averages a typical scene of doorways & that lets us know we’re not here for long. Recalled to a moment of birdcalls & a far-off siren’s rushing. Blue & white shimmer of the silver day, on foot together bound in an ambling dialogue of discovery that can be a repetition of what we’ve already known about & yet, never to be put up with in the exactly same way. Our feet place us one step ahead of where we were before each step took us there. An investigation of the pale sun’s glare shows a brocade of details worked up from the low countries, showing the wrinkles of its textured allegories of many more days gone by. Time painted & organized to form a below-sea-level offering of expressions, endured & enamored by many & of course, a wish to be savored with clarity, bestowing a clear minded regard for these age-old & populated struggles. Here we are over the ocean near a very real shore we never stopped to notice, instead we’ll see untranslatable Dutch inscribed on a side wall a world away from what we’ve known. Decadence made easy for a traveler doesn’t spell freedom from within our time here. This is praise of a place, for some a serenity of age & also for a sensitive eye to take notice of the tiny leaf buds growing from the strictly pollarded trees & back to thinking of a taste we haven’t grown with. In spite of where we are, we still maintain a daily rhythm of eating, walking, washing-up & resting, momentarily going back to the lives we’ll faithfully return to. This is a short absence that’s held in a balance of waiting, away from work, set aside projects, thoughtless plans & agonized stasis. We’ll ease back to these things soon enough, but not before we’ve seen these places as only slightly exotic, yet never completely as we imagined. A welcoming gesture from a stranger, things overlooked are recalled with a little work, all this is brought about with a resolve to know better than to cry for any chimerical friendship. For this visit we may posit a redemptive quality from the thousands of eyes we’ve exchanged with, to basically feel better about things. A crowd’s quiet hope rising from their day-to-day, holding to a knowledge forced over to the flux & turned over to a constant change that must pass as wisdom. All of Holland can’t be a tourist’s trap & this multi-ethnic country of canals & diligences, preserves a city to see & experience, not as in the confines of any map, but in a city that’s as fleeting as any on earth. On the day we leave, two Gypsy men play a sad & antiquated tune overheard by the train station’s entrance, we run past them with our overpacked suitcases, so as to not miss our train, fast to leave them behind us as we refuse to forget them grafting music to this overpassed placement & as soon as this is felt, it’ll be far away from us once more…