In the break of two appointments in the Spiegelkwartier, I find myself taking a stroll along the bustling Spiegelgracht, a route favored by a million tourists every year. I’d just gone on a private Rijksmuseum tour (check it out here, if you wish) and while my mind was reproducing Jan Steen’s households and Rembrandt’s merchant couples, and going through possible words to convey the nuances of my blogger’s friend voice while she spoke of how Van Gogh got inspired by the latter, my eyes got stuck in these prints of human body parts, and colorful birds, and canal houses, displayed in wooden boxes by both sides of an open door. I step back to read the sign above me and almost get murdered by a furious cyclist. Jumping back to the sidewalk proved equally life-threatening, with me having to squeeze between a wall of passer-by’s until I finally managed to take a breath and look up. It said, Antiquariaat Hoogkamp.
The human body parts got my full attention for a while. A heart and its arteries and auricles at first, afterwards, an image of the dissection of eyes, in a sort of minimalistic vintage style. And then the epiphany: my best friend’s birthday was around the corner, and not only was I NOT going to forget it, I’d also send him a present over to northern altitudes, where he lives. That was it, perfect excuse to BUY. I grabbed the eyes and walked into the little store, and over to the counter, where a white-haired gentleman was busy doing some math. I looked around and found myself surrounded by hundreds of line engravings depicting elements of the natural world (animals, trees, botanical elements) and peculiar images of Amsterdam (canals, boats, traditional houses, popular monuments). “Are you Mr. Hoogkamp?”. He was, and he was into small talk as well. “There are not so many authentic local shops anymore around town. I am so happy I’ve found you”, I declared, while the gentleman was packing the print. “Is this a gift?”, he inquired, followed by a “What’s your friend’s name?”. I smiled at what I assumed to be plain personal curiosity. As I answered, he proceeded to write the name on a piece of paper, in a delightful old-school lettering style, which he attached to the print. I felt exhilarated. I was sending in a gift, as opposed to my usual birthdays blank, AND I was sending something personalized as well.
“It’s not easy, you know. To stay in business while big money takes over. Someone told me I should open an online store instead but, you see, I’m just one man. I do all this on my own.”. In a world of virtual commerce and mass production, I told him how valuable and special his physical store was. Yesterday, when brainstorming on what to write about for my first ever Spotted by Locals article, I suddenly knew. I would tell everyone about it. The local gem with a real person inside, who still does everything by himself, and doesn’t maintain social media accounts. The place where you can get a precious souvenir you won’t find anywhere else, nor be able to order online. The local shop where, on a sunny afternoon, Mr. Hoogkamp made me feel just a little bit more human, in between appointments, at the Spiegelgracht, in Amsterdam.