I get lost in the canal side streets as I knew I would and lose track of the names, but recognise a jar of olives in a store front window and remember it was on my left before, and stop to turn around. Across the canal from our apartment the rooftops are moss mottled with tiny red spores and cats crawling around on the boats below, and I go down the rabbit hole of WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com researching custom map plug-ins but come up empty-handed, and decide I’ll have to rely on handwritten notes and descriptions for our travels instead.
When we check into our place here the lady doesn’t hide the fact she keeps the keys for all the apartments in an old coffee cup in the landing, where there’s an ace of spades face up for some reason, as if someone placed it there and now everyone’s afraid to touch it, and Dawn reads the Dutch have a thing about not using curtains: all the windows and people behind them are free to see inside as if to say we’ve got nothing to hide, and what you see is what you get.
The bikes have plastic milk crates affixed to the front and the houses, long iron hooks on the top — and it’s no illusion, some of them really are leaning forward or to the side, and as we drop into the lower rings of the city it gets curiouser and curiouser, we’re just arm’s length from a woman in a window with an oily sheen and tattoos snaking up her chest, then inside a conference room in the Renaissance hotel meeting Dawn’s best friend Erica who’s here from Seattle on a work event she’s leading with flip charts and cell phones and chords all splayed out, welcome receptions, walk-throughs and mixers to plan — and Lily says when she grows up she wants a corporate job like that, for either Microsoft or Apple, and this sparks a discussion on what we should all do for a living with Dawn saying focus on what you love, not what’s going to make you money, and so we pass more women in windows wearing just their underwear and pretend not to notice them.
At the end of lunch we’re covered in peanut sauce and grilled chicken grease and I realise there really is an American look and an American sound and with our kids, that sound is loud, and any language can be off-putting, whether it’s German, the Brits, or the French — once you’ve made up your mind it’s going to be that way, it is.
We come to a town square and a makeshift brass band with Rastafarian hats playing a medley that starts with California Dreamin’ and goes into something that sounds like the band Madness, and I sit back in a window sill on the street next to an empty bottle of rum with some cigarette butts and leaves and wonder what it would feel like to be here blind, how much of it I’d still experience in the sounds and feel of this place, how that’s the challenge with storytelling or painting, to make someone feel like they’ve been here when really they haven’t — or maybe it’s a made up place and it doesn’t matter, it’s still real in our minds, all of us just want to be led sometimes.
Everyone moves in and out of each other on bikes and mopeds, like bodies flying through a circus they miss each other by a hair, and all of it looks so well choreographed but of course it’s not, it’s never happened like this before, it would only appear that way if you weren’t really looking. Life and art are in the random accidents we recognise as real, we see neither of them as much as we should.
We walk from the top of the map to the bottom and back up again, from Prinseneiland past Jordaan and Old Town, the Southern Canals, and land in the Museum Quarter for a 5 o’clock ticket with Munch / Van Gogh, and contemporaries Monet and Gauguin, and it’s so much art we stumble out drunk on it, out through the in door, and have to get redirected by staff — and in heaven everyone rides bikes, they clean the streets, you can do whatever you want to do as long as you’re not hurting anyone, which is a lot harder than it sounds if you’re really living, but still worth giving it a try.