Amsterdam isn’t Paris

I arrived in Amsterdam on a grey day. Although predictable, I didn’t know about weather conditions, as i had never set foot here. Until today i stubbornly try to ignore all the knowledge which seems irrelevant to me. For one reason or another, i’d always been a little contemptuous of weather forecasting, as a superficial and extremely boring subject. That’s why i hadn’t think of that haze.

The friend who picked me up at the airport took me to have lunch at his place, in the suburbs. Afterwards, we carried a mattress to his van and we drove to the address awaiting for me, in the east side of town. The lack of light was slightly disturbing. Everything seemed somewhat unreal to me, like the city had no outlining. It was the valerian pill i was carrying in my stomach that gave me the artificial peace of mind necessary to the first day of the enterprise. And so, i looked at the road and the buildings like Alberto Caeiro, as if i had never thought.* But i did. I did think that my bones had had an hour of sleep and that i was tired. In the car, i also thought the surrounding architecture was dingy, monotone and unbearably geometrical. In my head, still the magnificent Paris in a day of sun, like the gates of paradise, a month earlier when i had been there. Final thought: this is not Paris.

I didn’t get out of the house for the first two days. I dedicated time to getting intimate with it. I observed its walls, its corners and hideouts and i let it observe me as well. I opened myself wide as i did to my two suitcases, and while i showed the relics of my past life to the house, i turned it into an accomplice of my intentions, as in a prayer. I was a sailor in firm land, recovering after the tempest. Aside that, all i did was sleeping and writing a lot. And feeling in the moment. In place. Alone – me, the house, my belongings -, i felt in peace.

On the third day i set foot outside. And all the fascinations began.

The bicycles, the lifestyle, the people, the projects. The comfort of a prosperous village which is a metropole as well, open, cosmopolitan, multicultural. Amsterdam is a (diver)city where you can be who you are, nobody takes you wrong, and where everybody treats everybody as an equal. This was finally the land which Jorge Palma** so often sang to me about.

I am glad i was always contemptuous of weather forecasting.

[This text was originally written in Portuguese, in 1012, for a blog i had back then. Scroll down for the original version. Picture: Jan Arsenovic]

References:

** Jorge Palma’s song, ‘Land of the dreams’

* Alberto Caeiro is one of the heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa, the renowned Portuguese poet. Here’s a little example of his “philosophy”:

The main thing is knowing how to see,
Knowing how to see without thinking,
Knowing how to see when one sees,
And not thinking when one sees
All this demands serious looking into,
A thorough learning in how to unlearn
And a curtailing of freedom in that convent
Where poets say stars are eternal nuns

And flowers are pious penitents of a single day,
But where stars finally are nothing if not stars
And flowers nothing if not flowers,
Which is just why we call them stars and flowers.


 

Portuguese version

Amesterdão não é Paris. 

Cheguei a Amesterdão num dia cinzento. Era previsível mas isso eu não sabia porque nunca aqui tinha posto os pés. Mantenho até hoje uma certa obstinação em ignorar todo o conhecimento que me parece inútil. E, por uma razão qualquer, a meteorologia mereceu-me sempre um quê de desprezo, como tema acessório, aborrecidíssimo. E por isso, eu não tinha pensado naquela bruma.

O amigo que me foi buscar ao aeroporto levou-me a almoçar a sua casa, nos subúrbios. Depois carregámos um colchão na sua carrinha e rumámos à morada que me aguardava, na zona este da cidade. A falta de claridade dava-me uma sensação de estranheza. Tudo me parecia um tanto irreal, a cidade sem definição. A valeriana que eu trazia no bucho ofereceu-me a calma postiça necessária ao primeiro dia do empreendimento. E por isso eu olhava a estrada e os prédios como o Alberto Caeiro, como se nunca tivesse pensado. Mas pensei.  Pensei que tinha uma hora de sono no esqueleto e estava cansada. E, na viagem de carro, também pensei que a arquitectura em meu redor era parda, monótona, insuportavelmente geométrica. Na minha cabeça, ainda a magnífica Paris, num dia de sol, como se fosse os portões do paraíso, um mês antes, quando eu lá havia estado. Pensamento final: isto não é Paris.

Não sai de casa durante os primeiros dois dias. Dediquei-me a tornar-me-lhe íntima. Observei-lhe as paredes, os recantos e esconderijos com cuidado e atenção e deixei que ela também me observasse. Escancarei-me-lhe como às minhas duas malas e, enquanto lhe mostrava as relíquias da vida passada, tornei-a cúmplice das minhas intenções, como numa prece. Eu era um navegador em terra, a recuperar o equilíbrio, depois da tempestade. O mais que fiz foi dormir e escrever muito. E sentir-me no momento. No lugar. E sózinha – eu, a casa, os meus pertences – senti-me em paz.

Ao terceiro dia pus os pés fora da porta. E começaram todos os fascínios.

As bicicletas, o estilo de vida, as pessoas, os projectos. O conforto de uma aldeia próspera que é também metrópole aberta, cosmopolita, multicultural. Amesterdão é uma (diver)cidade onde tu podes ser quem tu és, ninguém te leva a mal e onde toda a gente trata a gente toda por igual. Estava aqui então a terra que o Jorge Palma tanto me cantou ao ouvido.

Ainda bem que eu sempre desprezei a meteorologia.


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6 thoughts on “Amsterdam isn’t Paris

  1. meetmeinnevada says:

    Very descriptive! I felt like I was there. Sounds like my first few days in Vegas. I didn’t go out. I stayed in trying familiarize myself with my surroundings.

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