Sunday, 25. September 2011


The Gare du Nord is ghostly at this hour. I make my way to platform 9, where the Thalys, in its deep crimson, awaits against the powder blue sky under a constellation of cables; I am consumed by the possibility of escape to an enlightened reality.

With a whisper we thrust into the imminent sunrise, past the chocolate Belgian row houses, the dome of the Palais de Justice, stout lambs grazing on melting fields under the rising Dutch sun. Past the mustard and royal blue GVB trains and finally the dangling hooks of the canal houses. Centraal station.

I make my way down Zeedijkstraat, lined with greasy Argentinian steak houses, Indonesian joints and cheap coffeeshops. In the breeze, weed. I leave my bag at Misc EatDrinkSleep, my temporary home, and don my favourite clammy blue cashmere wrap (which still hasn't recovered from Rock en Seine) and my old chestnut boots (which still haven't recovered from last winter's snow) to wander across the drawbridges and over to the market of old Leicas, vinyls and vintage clothes next to city hall.

After a vegetarian lunch at Puccini's on Staalstraat, I head over to Rembrandt's house and through the trompe l'œil faux marble wooden doorway, a surprising detail from such an honest artist. As it is nearing five, I hurry across Nieuwmarkt square to breathe the heavy damp air and tiptoe across the smooth tombs of the Oude Kerk. Just outside, drunken conversations between whores and the gaping passers-by clog the streets of de Wallen, the red light district.

From Prinsenstraat I can see the Jordaan, reputed to be the city's best place to live. Benches await before each house, basking in the warm glow emanating from the high-ceilinged salons; sills are stacked with pillows, books and cats. On Eglantiersstraat, at the Café t'Smalle, the waiter serves me a succulent lamb shank and three-tomato chutney. I make an honest attempt to comprehend my American friend as he defends proposed cuts to social services to reduce Western deficits but instead gaze out over the canal, over the clusters of bakfiets and into the glow of those tall salons and think how greater a civilisation we could be if we all knew this reality. Amid the talk of austerity measures, I savour this moment, just to know that I have known it.

The next morning I head down to the Rijksmuseum for an encounter with Vermeer's The Milkmaid and Rembrandt's De Nachtwacht and am left searching the museum shop in vain for dainty earrings like Moreelse's Princess. Right next door, at the Van Gogh museum, I marvel at the Japanese-inspired Almond Blossom and Caillebotte's From the Balcony and contemplate six volumes of letters between Theo and Vincent over lunch at the museum café. After sunset, the annual Jordaan music festival begins (held at a petrol station, of all places) and turns out to be just another reason to get drunk. I learn the very local art of dodging the unlit cellar steps before each canal house that take up half the walkway.

On my final day I wander the corridors of the Universiteit van Amsterdam, peering into classrooms and professors' offices. I walk across the shale courtyard of the Hermitage and into the Rubens and Van Dyck exhibition, then back outside across the blauwbrug to take refuge from the rain in several hoity-toity houses (Willet-Holthuysen and van Loon). The wet cobblestone streets mirror the pale sky like in one of Caillebotte's paintings. Back at Puccini's, the waitress serves me a warm goat cheese crottin with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Afterwards, I take notes on easy Dutch style just next door at BIEC – suede totes in somber hues, bright red polka-dotted German tops and bottle-green chunky cowl knits.

After a short visit to the Anne Frank house, I force myself back up Zeedijkstraat to Centraal. Lying next to the Thalys are the mustard yellow and blue trains, this one headed to Haarlem, that one headed to the North Sea beaches. I was supposed to meet up with a girl with a pearl earring but it seems that must wait. On platform 14, I step aboard, the crimson and periwinkle nightlights a testament to a sunrise three days ago that has moved me forever.


 Ich liebe
 la philosophie
 le cinéma d'auteur
 les idées
 after the rain
 dans le Village
 l'automne comme l'hiver