Let’s pretend we’re blind

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.

Categories: writing

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25 replies

    • Very “Dukes of Stratosphere,” hadn’t heard this one – apt. I put it on the fly paper of my subconsciousness for a morning walk now.


    • Oranges and Lemons! Hell, yeah, Ross. You been dipping into my box o’ CD’s again?


      • After one of those discussions with a colleague (“If you had to choose one band to spend the rest of your life with…”), I decided XTC would be my desert island band. I had specific criteria. It had to be a band I know and like but not know overly well (I own White Music, Black Sea, English Settlement, Skylarking and O&L but strangely have never listened to Drums and Wires). It had to have a deep enough and varied enough catalogue. Be musically and lyrically rich. And have more than one singer (as much as Elvis Costello, for instance, meets the other criteria, I think a life sentence of that voice would make a man insane). Always a fun game to play.


      • I guess that leaves out Geddy Lee by your criteria.


      • Sorry I missed out on this thread! They only had Wi-Fi on our boat from Amsterdam in one area, for which I was grateful, taking some time off from being ‘on.’ But now that I’m back with a secure connection, it’s like a (insert simile for addiction here) that I can’t put down. I can’t imagine XTC on an island, but thanks for sharing your rationale there — they’re one of those bands I can only take in small doses (another addiction simile) but sure love them when the time is right. In some ways, I think their full length records are disappointments the way New Order can be, that maybe they’re better chopped up in collections — though Skylarking is perfect top to bottom, and really holds its theme. And it’s my go-to for when it first starts getting to feel like summer outside.


      • I get that, and I’m sure I’d live to regret my decision. (“Why, God, why didn’t I pick blandly inoffensive Fleetwood Mac!”) I like Black Sea but by the time that last track is halfway through, I’m ready to lift the needle. Skylarking is superb, and the band initially hated it. Couldn’t see what Todd Rundgren was doing. I think they got in the way of themselves a lot, their own worst enemy. Aren’t we all?


      • The Todd Rundgren reference: I’m mystified by what seems his ability to write a few absolutely perfect pop songs and then such drek. Yes, our own worst enemy, or over-thinking things. Was discussing with a friend about The Who, how they were considered cooler than the Stones at one time, but I think they over-thought it and tried to be something more than they really were, my opinion. Should have stuck with the more rock/gritty stuff and less artful theatre.


      • And then they should have stuck with the less artful theatre and stayed away from Face Dances. 🙂


      • It’s a weird era. I drunk myself blind to the sound of old T Rex – and who’s next. They did really come back with a roar on that song, and the video. Ah, but what do I know. I’ve got All Things Must Pass on and I’m about to render bacon fat for a leek milk-soup with oatmeal, perfect for a cold foggy Scottish night I must say.


      • “The Art of Dying”: the best James Bond song about reincarnation.


      • Didn’t know that! Great trivia. Will have to listen again now through a new lens, thanks for that. You had me look up the lyrics, though. I love that album, and his expression on the cover with the gnomes.


      • Not really James Bond, but he should have written one!


  1. Well, I’m not blind today. Felt like I was right there with you, walking fast to keep up, turned off by the business event, glancing at the ladies in the window out of the corner of my eye, and sitting at the table while you wax philosophic. Good post, team. High five.


  2. A pictorial narration that fast turned spatial and echoic. A compelling piece of prose.


  3. Very nice – worth the read for the last long sentence.


  4. I don’t know…sounds like nice place to raise your kids, don’t you think?


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