It’s been too long, I know. And Amsterdam, I wish I could say I’d missed you. I miss some of the people who call you home but up until now, you haven’t been uppermost in my mind.
But then stepping off the train at Centraal Station I felt that curious feeling. At home, like you do somewhere you know intimately. Somewhere you know the cosy quiet cafés, the tucked away restaurants, the places that will rip you off and those that won’t. Where you know the short-cuts and the streets to avoid if you’ve got any sense. Where you know its quirks and foibles, (no, the service hasn’t improved much as far as I could tell) all the things that made you crazy and made you laugh and still you love it like you love an old friend.
And this trip was all about friends. Some of my friends – I couldn’t get to see them all in just a couple of days. When you’ve moved 21 times (probably 24 -25 by now) you understand about the futility to attempting to keep up with everyone. You know all about the arbitrary and sometimes harsh choices you have to make about who you see and when. I’ve learnt that it’s best to see a few people, but do it properly. Not dash from coffee to lunch to tea to dinner, trying to keep up with everyone until the time passes in a blur and you’ve not had a meaningful conversation with anyone at all.
So I this time I mainly wandered the streets of Amsterdam with my old friend Tanja. We had coffee and lunch together and poked around my old neighbourhood, which has moved on quite nicely without me.
Later, Tanja cooked dinner and invited a few friends round. The food was delicious (Tanja is a brilliant cook) and the conversation flowed. Soon it was just like the old days, when we’d chat over a beer after work. Talk about the small stuff, the normal stuff: family, work, life. And it felt good.
The next day we got up late and I chatted to Wolf, Tanja’s twelve year old son who’d given up his bedroom for me. We leafed through some photography books by Ed van der Elsken and Wolf helped me translate from Dutch to English on subjects as diverse as Indian Saddhus, hip length plaster casts and civil war.
After breakfast Tanja and I strolled into town, both taking photos on the way. Me with my old school Blad, Tanja with her very smartphone. We took photos of the mundane: a poster on a wall; a pair of front doors; an abandoned child’s dummy.
Sometimes people would stop and stare, wondering what on earth we were up to but we barely noticed, even when a shopkeeper scolded us for snapping instead of buying.
We checked out a photography exhibition, grabbed lunch in the Chinese quarter, met a friend for afternoon tea.
And by the time we’d got home, laden with chocolates and peanut butter and Indonesian chilli sauce, I realised that there was something still to do.
The light in Tanja’s flat is amazing.
It streams in, glowing on the window seat, while outside there are blue skies and gabled buildings. I set up my camera and Wolf, the soon to be teenager sat beside me and did the honours. The perfect finale to a lovely trip back to one of those places I can now, with all confidence, call home.