Are you slowly becoming ‘Lisbon-dive,’ now? Is that what’s going on? We were trotting on patterned white and blue limestone pavement, Jan and I, when he asked this. Above us, an impossibly blue sky with white and pastel low downtown buildings lining the horizon. A Spring breeze kissed our short-sleeved arms. I considered the idea for a moment. The platform where you’re reading this now may have sprung to life in the Dutch capital, but the idea for an urban lifestyle blog was born while I was living in Lisbon, back in 2010. I wanted to name it Lisbon Chronicles. This was the city that made me interested in cities. Perhaps because I’m from here on my father’s side; perhaps because I was raised close to the big city but not in it; perhaps because this was my first metropolis. I was all ideas and raw energy when I moved to Lisbon in my early 20’s. That energy had little room for employment however, and would not see a compensation above 600 euros a month, which was not nearly enough for my fixed expenses. Besides, any creative projects I signed up for kept falling through. Two years later I was out, living abroad like the more than half a million young adults of my generation that left Portugal between 2011 and 2015. Life in Amsterdam – dynamic, multicultural, culturally prosperous – suited me so well that I kept wondering why I hadn’t left the country earlier. I did not miss my homeland for nearly a decade. Then cancer happened, then a pandemic.
The first time I found myself postponing my return ticket to Amsterdam was in 2020. This was unheard of. During past visits to Portugal I had longed for my home in Amsterdam: my space, my cats, my friends turned family, the cultural scenes I keep exploring for this blog. But, out of the blue, merciful weather took the lead in my scale of priorities. I attributed my prolonged visit to the motherland to the circumstances: the pandemic was on and I had been sick for long so I needed a break from my regular environment. The three following trips I took to Portugal ended up pretty much the same way, with me staying longer than expected. I was doing freelance copywriting for travel websites and none of my clients required my presence in the Netherlands. The last of those trips saw me booking a flight to come back to Portugal before even taking off back to Amsterdam.
Something was shifting. It felt almost like there was a stir within that kept releasing old recollections of love, be it the taste of a cold Super Bock when it’s hot out, the smell of freshly cleaned sheets hanging on the clothesline in a Spring day, my glutes burning from climbing a cobblestone hill, the sight of an immense ferocious ocean, the sound of banter in Portuguese. I guess this is what people mean when they say they want to reconnect with their roots? I had always thought that the greatest emotional connection I had with my roots was the love for my language, but even that had been dormant. Now I craved the warm, franc ways of my people, too. On top of that, the love for the Atlantic came back in full force. This is where she announces that she’s moving back to Portugal, you must be thinking. Except that it’s not. I’m not Lisbon-diving, I told Jan. I don’t plan to leave the Netherlands either. Living in-between both countries makes me feel safe. I’m amsterdiving my way through life. (Insert hard cut to a coastal scene.)
I’m finally getting to see the strandmeisje, Jan remarked when we arrived in Portugal and promptly immersed our bleak bodies in sea. He met an amsterdized version of Ana, nine years ago. I was backpacking solo in the Balcans back then, staying wherever people offered me a couch. Jan and his partner owned a couch. I told them stories of Amsterdam but not Portugal. My identity was Amsterdam because Amsterdam had been the enabler: I finally had enough money to pay my bills, enough saved to travel. Working creative jobs seemed feasible. Latin-style social control was gone and I felt free. And I let myself love all the things that belonged to my step-country: bike culture, saunas, canal diving, Andre Hazes, the language, even the long dreaded winter. I primed myself to see benefits in everything: the winter helped me focus on work. Now, many years later, in a remote beach in the Southernmost point of Portugal, Jan looked amused at this Ana who behaved like the ocean was she and she was the ocean, diving and squeaking, encouraging him in. Were you always like this? Yes, I’ve always been a strandmeisje.
It took me nearly a decade to recover from Portugal. I don’t know how to put it any other way. I was raised by a middle class family with a lot of expectations and standards (or demands and anxieties if you will.) A lot of drama too. There were do’s and don’t’s, things to look out for in terms of social conduct. Many middle-class families are like that in Portugal, constantly worried about upholding their status within the community. Statuses in Portugal are dictated by good ol’ surnames, titles, family connections, how people (more or less) discreetly display wealth. My personality traits were the opposite of what is needed to succeed in an environment like that. I was not analytical or pragmatic enough. I didn’t hold any valuable degree, like law, medicine or economics. I didn’t look sleek enough, feminine enough, agreeable enough. What were disadvantages in Portugal became strengths in the Netherlands, and now my naturally grumpy face was all smiles. Especially because nobody demanded those of me.
In Amsterdam my natural characteristics got affirmed. It was a match. I didn’t need to exert effort to fit in, or behave differently than I naturally do. There, I didn’t need to tame myself so I got taken seriously. I didn’t have to wear my hair long and straightened or stand on high heels. I didn’t need to pretend that I’d be okay working an office job, I didn’t have to make a show off of how sensible every single of my decisions is, how prepared I am for the future, how I micro-manage my whole life, nor how I geared it toward perfect stability. Carving a professional path for myself and not playing by the book was a perfectly acceptable way of living. My neighbors didn’t care about my personal life, my boss didn’t try to sniff around what I did in my free time, nor steal that free time from me. Amsterdam did not demand that I morphed into someone I’m not. Having quirky interests and a peculiar occupation did not get me stigmatized, it got me to fit in. I know that this is not everyone’s experience of Amsterdam, but I think it’s a common one among a certain breed of (privileged?) creative-oriented migrant. Many of us, overlooked in their countries of birth, got professional and personal validation in a city where originality, risk, and innovation are at the center of work culture, a city that is prepared to absorb a diverse palette of characters and skills. I’ll be eternally fascinated by how people can flourish when their context changes. Who we are doesn’t spring out of nothingness. What we (can) become is determined in part by what our environment values and what it discourages and, in this sense, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amsterdam.
Amsterdive has expanded into this concept of finding the place where you fit in. Of finding a crowd you resonate with. Of co-creating the conditions for your own blossoming, if you will. I wish that everyone had freedom of access to a place where their basic needs of safety, comfort and belonging are covered. A place to call home, the space to be who they are in the company of people who make them feel like a relevant part of the community. This is the brightest outcome of migration if people get the chance to go beyond survival mode. Amsterdive, for me, is the idea that you can start anew every day, that you are not your circumstances, that you can let go of all past stories about who you are or who you should be, that you can find + co-create your own Amsterdam, the setting where you feel more you, the setting where you feel more free. Maybe your Amsterdam actually is Lisbon, maybe it is Maputo, maybe it is a tranquil remote village in the countryside where you can focus on your craft(s). I wish on everyone the resilience to undertake this exploration. Your Amsterdam can be anywhere that opens up possibilities of growth, for you and for the community.
One day, backpacking in the Balcans, I dreamed of being location independent. I dreamed of creating the framework of my own job from scratch. After years of trying things, I’m now working-from-home in my homeland Portugal and I’m-working-from-home in my step-land, the Netherlands. Working from Lisbon with the Tejo in sight makes me feel like I’ve come full circle. At the same time, I’m like one of those kids living between the homes of divorced but gracious parents who let the her bring all of her friends over (hello Jan, Theo, Giulia, Elizabeth.) Granted, this doesn’t come without challenges, – who wants a blog post about that? – but it feels like the path for me. I won’t pick sides: I need both countries for different reasons. I’m amsterdiving my way through life, – whether I trot over cobblestones or get spinning on two wheels, – and something about this is like a warm bath, like I’ve done something right. Once a Dutchman called me strandmeijsje and the word stuck. Naming my very Portuguese identity with a Dutch word is exquisite but fitting. Because, among other things, I dream in Dutch too, and, (go figure!) Dutch is that first language that comes up when I interact with dogs in public places. My identity is ever evolving, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop getting curious about it. As always, I’m learning as I go.
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