This is my second trip to the Netherlands in just over a month. I sit outside smoking an American Spirit cigarette and contemplating the energy here. Water. Flow. Movement, but not necessarily to anywhere or from anywhere.
Crossing the street is terrifying at times. I step away from the safety of the sidewalk into the bike zone, hoping that a fast moving cyclist doesn’t appear out of no where to bowl me over. I reach the car zone and fast-walk across the lane before I reach the tram tracks. That tram is going away from me, but this one here is coming towards me. When I stepped into its path I thought that it was stopping further back, but it’s still moving. An image of my body flattened between two tram cars flashes in my head and I let out a short, sharp, involuntary squeal as I take two bounding run-steps across the tracks. A car is coming on the other side of the tracks. I didn’t see it through the tram, and it didn’t need to worry about seeing me. I think the car has the right of way. (I know that the bikes have right of way almost everywhere.) I stand on a small patch of ground between the tracks and the car for a moment, hoping that no one squishes me. The car passes and I’m back on my way. Or not. A pack of bicycles zooms past in the final lane before I can reach safety. At last the bicycle lane is empty and I make it to the other side of the street.
The houses here are tall and skinny. Stairwells are narrow and steep. Everything is built up three or four stories into the air. Most shops are at street level, but some are down a short stairway or up one level. Even grocery stores seem to be folded into a pocket of unreality in this densely packed city.
Amsterdam was ten degrees warmer than Glasgow on the day that we arrived. It’s raining just the same. Maybe it wanted to make sure that we didn’t feel out of place after I complained aloud on the first day how I’d gotten so unused to the bright light of the sun unfiltered by clouds.
I wish that I had the opportunity to take advantage of the legal psilocybin truffles that you can buy in smartshops here. The mushroom is a sacrament to me, and her spirit has given me great and life-changing insights in years past. Alas, I have work to do and need to keep a clear head. There is no time to devote to the proper ritual and care that a meeting with the fungal ally requires of me.
The first time I learned about Amsterdam was in the 7th grade. I did a report for history class on a Jewish community that was forced to leave Brazil and move to New York (then New Amsterdam) when the Portuguese gained control of Brazil from the Dutch, instituting the expulsion of Jews and expanding the Inquisition. In the research for that report I learned about the Dutch West Indies company and the large Sephardi Jewish community in Amsterdam. Last night, as I wondered somewhat aimlessly around with my friend, I saw the Dutch West Indies building. A circuit was made in my head. History played out in my mind’s eye.
On Sunday, the election results for the European Parliament were announced. The political environment took a lurch to the hard edges nearly everywhere in the EU, even here in the Netherlands. Euroscepticism claimed many new seats in the parliament, as the continent continues to struggle with the economy and questions of immigration. It’s funny to me that nations that built themselves up through colonialism over hundreds of years now worry that they are being overrun by people from other places.
As I sit here listening to the ragweed and grass whisper next to a canal, I know that this has all been seen before and will be seen again. It’s not exactly the same, because we aren’t on a circle, we’re in a spiral. We’re moving along the groove in the vinyl record, and if the cycles seem like they are getting closer, that might just be because we’re getting closer to the center of the record. I don’t know.