Born in Amsterdam fills me with pride every time I get back to my home town. I realized this first in Paris where I studied in 1964 and heard Jacques Brel singing, for the first time, “Dans le Port d’Amsterdam”, in the famous Olympia Hall. A song about sailors eating, drinking, burping, and having fun with Amsterdam’s fabulous women of pleasure that today draw even schoolgirls from Japan under tight escort to their splendid vitrines. Perhaps to tell them what they should not be doing, or what their boyfriends/husbands pilots and sailors might be doing when landing in Amsterdam Port or Schiphol.Extending to a roaring climax, the song tore my heart apart. But was that Amsterdam? I had more romantic visions.
The River Amstel in fog, as painted by my nephew, Dutch painter, Michiel Kranendonk
or a sunlit bridge over an Amsterdam canal on a quiet Sunday morning, also painted by Michiel,
or the first visit to Amsterdam by Queen Elisabeth in 1958 that I pictured with a prehistoric camera.
after which I dropped by a dear school friend, who lived in a turret of a canal house along Prinsen Gracht (Princes’ Canal). I remember dropping a bag full of fried rice out of his window because what he served me was inedible and it fell on the head of an innocent person strolling along the canal on his evening walk. We checked and miraculously he survived, even though with a headache.
Not long thereafter I attended the Matheus Passion at the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam’s famous Concert Hall) with my mother and we walked along the Rijksmuseum ( in the back of the picture) and Jan Luikenstraat 2 where I was born. A moment I won’t forget.
It was said that Jacques Brel did not like Amsterdam. As he was from Belgium, the other “lowland”south of the Dutch border, this didn’t surprise me. It must have been in-born jealousy, as Antwerp – a port city I like very much by the way – could never match Amsterdam port city despite all its efforts. But I loved Jacques Brel’s songs.
Amsterdam is ubiquitous in the World. In Paris there is Rue d’Amsterdam, linking it with Gare St. Lazar, and the best French cheese shop (Androuet) in town.
New York was New Amsterdam, as everyone knows. The Dutch were there first.
And there are 16 towns in the USA with the name of Amsterdam. If we had not lost one of those many sea battles with the Perfidious Albion, New York would still have been New Amsterdam. Wall Street would have been Dijk Straat or “Dike Street” and Yankee would have been “Jan Kees”. Both British Guyana and Dutch Suriname in Caribbean South America were once Dutch colonies. Both have a town named New Amsterdam. In New Amsterdam in Guyana, which the Dutch got in return for New York (what a deal!) before the British stole it back again, I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life. I had to shave myself dancing to avoid being bitten by swarms of these bloodsucking insects. New Amsterdam in Suriname wasn’t much better.
No, there is nothing more comforting than my old Amsterdam. Jules B. Barber, an American author, writes in his “Amsterdam” of 1975: “Amsterdam is a charming, dynamic, hustling, tolerant, greedy, seedy, beautiful, enlightened, socially oriented politically eruptive, warm, welcoming, “gezellig” (cozy), schizophrenic kind of place. It’s eternally young at heart despite its 700 years.” That’s all true. From Google images under “Amsterdam in Paris” I borrow a few pics that represent the sense of the city.
This is Amsterdam.
Central Station at night as I pictured it from Hotel Victoria across the station.
A city of eternal youth, especially if you are over 70. Yet it is also the only place in the world where I was robbed three times of my travel bags. Multiculturalism has its charms and dissonants. Oh well, we “Amsterdammers” are “tolerant” (they say).
Next week when I am in Holland, Born in Amsterdam II.