I’m so distracted today by US news–going from the amazing Supreme Court ruling to the funeral of Charleston shooting victim Rev. Pinckney—that it’s hard to get my head back 200 years to Waterloo. So instead I’ll give you a quick thumbnail of my visit to Amsterdam(and I promise. There’s a reason).
The reason I decided to go to Amsterdam was purely a logistics one. I had been in Ireland, and my friend Sally had been in England. The easiest, cheapest gateway city onto the continent was Amsterdam. Besides, I’d always wanted to go see the Van Gogh Museum. I really had no interest in the city itself, nor its history, nor its social situation. I admit, that most times when I saw pics or heard people talk about it, my response was “Meh.”
Yeah, I was wrong. What. An. Amazing. Place. I admit that except for the Nazi years I don’t remember much about the history I was told. It seemed to be mostly about burghers and trade and guilds. Which is fine. The architecture was fascinating, street after street of brick rowhouses with unique stepped roofs with huge windows(obviously no taxes there. It was on the roofs instead, which explains the very tall, very narrow houses). I admit, I love windows. I love light and a view. So the houses there were right up my alley. (Okay, the stairs were a weensy bit steep. I figured that if worse came to worse, I’d just slide round the center pole like a firefighter to get down).
We were lucky enough to stay in a fun, historic little hotel on the Prinsengracht Canal, which is right in the middle of historic Amsterdam. Our room had a view over the canal, and we were right at the bridge, which I swear to God should have been named Hot Guy Span. I could have spent my whole day watching guys bike over the bridge. At night, it was dark and quiet (except for Fridays. If you want peace and quiet, NEVER go to Amsterdam on weekends), and the staff friendly and funny.
We did go to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum and we walked and rode boats through the canals. And here’s the thing that applies to the events of today, when we seem to be talking a lot about equality and where our country currently stands. One of the things that struck me most about Amsterdam wasn’t the architecture or the food or the canals and history. It was the amazing mix of people who lived, worked and visited there. Sitting in my room over the canal, I watched people biking and walking, standing and talking, laughing, arguing, and something struck me. I couldn’t remember a greater mix of races in one place. More, I couldn’t remember such a mix interacting so easily. So I tested my theory. I watched wherever I went to see if, maybe the phenomena I was seeing was limited to one area, maybe a tourist area.
But it wasn’t. No matter where I went, there were myriad skin colors, costumes, behaviors. And it seemed as if their integration was seamless. I wish I could explain it better. It was an intangible lack of stress, an ease of interaction, a looseness of body language(I have seen editorials that deny that harmony in the Netherlands. I just didn’t see it) We later went to Brussels, and there, too, were a mix of races. But the minute you arrived, you felt the tension, the difference. Brussels might be the home of NATO and the EU, and the city tour buses might extol the Brussels friendliness, but I just didn’t see it. I didn’t feel it. Not like Amsterdam. Brussels is a beautiful city, thick with Art Nouveau treasures and history from my favorite period. But I never ever felt comfortable there. I felt that people maintained a real separation from each other, and especially any visitors. Given the choice between the two cities, I will return to Amsterdam in a second. I would avoid Brussels. Because in Amsterdam I truly felt as if every one of us was welcome there, no matter who we were. It is the very feeling I wish for my own country. We stumble and strive and retreat at times. But I have to believe that all of us want to live in that kind of harmony.