So I moved to Amsterdam a week ago, I’m already mobile and there’s a chill in the air. Aside from the peculiar Dutch language, Amsterdam beguiles with its horseshoe streets and baffling harmony between people, trams, cars and bikes. Even close to the centre where I live there’s a weird silence, like when a cat gives birth; something is happening in this city right under my nose, and it’s up to me to find it.
In the streets, flocks of confident, well-dressed Dutch people flow past on bicycles as graceful as gazelles, as I struggle with a chain that is heavier and more expensive than the bike I’m attempting to secure. They look upon me with those judging, fair eyes – eyes that quash the impulse to spit in their perfectly groomed hair. I wonder where they are going. Clearly to a modern, city apartment, filled with other handsome, smiling people eating fresh bread, smoking and drinking delicious wine. How gezellig. I make myself a reminder to penetrate their secret society and dismantle it from within.
Meanwhile, grim clouds chase the sun beyond the horizon. The world looks as if it has been bit on the arse by a black hole. I wake in the mornings questioning if my watch had stopped at eight the previous evening or if there has been a total eclipse of all light in the universe. People use the word midday but I’m sure they’d have no idea of what or when it is if no one had invented clocks.
The lowlands deserve a chance however and I’m looking forward to unearthing every morsel of it. Preferably with tablespoons of mayonnaise.
Ahh, Amsterdam – the watery princess of the North! Exuding chaos and beauty through your sinewy canals, home to a thousand bicycles and iron hooks from which you can dangle furniture, and a magnet for people of all persuasions – particularly young continentals looking to get stoned.
The novelty of Amsterdam takes a few visits to wear down because you’re hardly on the plane on the way back from wherever you came and you’re planning your next weekend to the city. This of course is due to your still altered state of consciousness whereby you hold the unwavering belief that you could subsist on joints, hot chips and cake for the rest of your terrestrial existence. Reality often kicks in when you are asked to communicate with someone born of the prevailing system and all you can manage is a string of warbling nonsense surrounded by pauses long enough in which to pour a pint of Guinness.
However Amsterdam is more than this: you will notice, if you are a male, or care to frequent the male toilets, that they paint tiny flies on the urinals. The idea is that you will instinctively aim at the fly when you piss and not on the floor, or presumably on the person standing next to you. This can only mean that people in the Netherlands either take great delight in urinating on insects or on the floor, but not both at the same time.
You can also see the world’s largest collection of working bikes near Centraal Station, crammed into a split-level parking lot on the canal. It is a marvel to witness how this modern city functions without reliance on the car, unlike so many other western metropolises. The prevalence of the bike has led to some astonishingly innovative two-wheeled contraptions such as the bike/trailer combination; the “bike for the whole family” bike, with a seat for mum and dad and two kids; and the reclining bike, which is the only personal displacement vehicle in which you can rest, smoke a doobie and exercise at the same time. The unicycle is notably absent.