There’s creativity in Amsterdam. You can feel it walking down any canal, or nosing up against the window of small holding art sellers, massage therapists, pipe shops and saunas. Even the red light district with its ancient cathedrals to sin speaks of craft.
(Photos kind courtesy Morten Årstad)
There are some moments, though, when the creativity scoops all of us and dumps us in a room, a mini-festival curated by a man who played violin from the top of Sydney Opera House on the millenium eve. Even now, in yellow pumps, a dress and a trilby, he sports a Stradivarius violin, with brown zebra stripes criss-crossing the chestnut wood. He’s not the main show, though and 30-40 people are listening to a sitar player being accompanied by a slam poet, Brazilian be-dreaded, whirling his hands around a face in a kind of trance and uttering syllable beats you can only just catch before the next ricochet phrase takes you again a comet-space trip.
The man could dance and have a whole room slapping thighs to words. Weaving colours he’s accompanied by a backdrop of wine boxes the inside of each has been made into a tiny work of art and placed on display. The audience is dressed in the suits, dresses, wooly jumpers you would expect of bohemia; glitter in hair and faces radiant with the art they look upon.
It is so honest, so open, so receptive and beautiful that performance can be witnessed in this way. Unjudging. To be more deeply felt.
Our performer with his little band claims in conversation after, still sweating from the show, to be from the poetry lineage of Saul Williams . These men are mystics parading with words and weaving an elevated language of the cosmos and experience to give us an idea of the kind of what we can enjoy if we let it all drop and….
There’s plenty of love in the room tonight. To the sides, on a the adjacent wall to the myriad wine boxes filled with : sheep’s hearts in resin, toy story wonder shows with cotton wool clouds, bric-a brac pastiche charades of purses, letters and golden painted nails; Buddhas in contented pose, Sri Ramana Maharishi*
, ballerina, paintings and newspaper clippings, strings dancing in coils and little flashing lights, like I say all on one wall. On the adjacent one is a table with hot soup, served with turkish bread and butter and bacon. Next to that a simmering pot of gluwein and fridges of beer and happy people serving them. The environment is a blissful space to spend time, perform and be performed to.
I get a little chance at this reading some small poems which the audience enjoyed. More than that. Listened to. Quite a thing to be listened to, I recommend it any time and you can feel these simple words words weaving -again the weaving – through all of us. Happy little dance rhymes uniting and exploding joy wheels in tiny cells and hearts full, eyes shining, they are listening again and ask for more.
What a joy after thirty minutes of effort, a little more to edit and ten minutes on a stage offers such a reward. People are genuinely moved, as I have been by their attention and well the gift that keeps on giving is running through all of us and enjoying itself once more in our tiny little cells.
We move on in a parade of bicycles. Actually I got waylaid. Walking through Amsterdam with a Norwegian-looking man who is thorughly Norwegian, though in a three piece suit; and a dazzling Bulgarian with brown eyes like darts. I got lost. I was being led and completely lost my way. I was walking through and led down streets I had never been before and pointed to cafes and coffee houses sparkling in a way I had not seen. Mother Amsterdam opening her arms a little wider to an errant son who had been wandering a little lost for most of his first year here.
We wander into a cocktail bar and there are flames jumping up against the back wall. A couple sits in the corner, amidst black lights and neon illuminations, fire dancing on their faces as they caress and touch each other, fuelled by martinis and the heat. They are in their mid-40s and it is not a pretty sight. We are a littel less hot in our corner but the shots and tall glasses flow stacked with ice and fruit and combinations of tonics and spirits and coloured, spicy sugared rims. We talk in one of thise huddles as if the world has ended. We connect and share and a happy evening delves a little more glowier, a little more satisfiedly along its lines.
They depart, the soon-about-to-be lovers, and I head along the way. Praising Amsterdam and its sweetness, its electrifying antiquity as old houses and new shop frontings co-mingle with the night and bar goers and stealers from the red-tinted windows, faces huddled in jackets until they are at least ten steps away.
I’ve been directed to a club that the bohemian parade has moved on to. It’s an old squatted place where a password is required at the door. It used to be a sauna for gays. Along a back wall in a back room, after being led through the smoke and folk swaying to minimal beats from the bass – mercifully, they sell prosecco – there are bays set aside in which to have sex. The middle one has a sticker plastered across the door with a warning ‘Safe Only’ and inside there are shelves to lean up against and black vinyl paint for easy clean hygiene and a convenient space between the walls and the ceiling to look on at other couples. They are empty when my self and an Australian Jim take a tour and it may have been the ultra violet lights on black vinyl paint, but you could not help feel that the walls and floor were sticky. How about some cushions, a bit of incense to make this more of a zone for love than fuck?
Holland never fails to deliver.
We dance and rub shoulders again in the happy pack, there are dancers and fashion designers and people with big hair and it’s difficult not to get distracted and amazed by the beauty on show. I talked to quite a bit of it. A French girl throws her arms around me saying she ‘LOVED’ the poetry and it’s authentic. We’re not wishing we’re something or trying to be a different show. We have been genuinely moved in a room together and take our togetherness and stack it on streets and wall filled with wine boxes, and insignificant ex-gay sauna back room clubs with lights that dance across chests and faces and glittered hair and dance in the bubbles of prosecco I nurse in a glass talking to Elaine, who’s trumpet playing boyfriend is out of town. She handles a beer mat like a cock and keeps me at arm’s length, kissing me wryly on the cheek as she says goodbye, flirting more heavily because of her unattainability. The single lady never plays like that… damn the sheilas and their games.
I dutifully accept a joint as the evening turns past three and it involves later a mistake when I jump into a taxi howling which way to my home town; 40 km away in the early hours. This brings into focus the tightness of decision, and the need for survival and the instict when you are stoned. He takes me to the station where I plan to sleep on a bench until 5.30 for the first Sunday train but in the warm car his persuasion that he take me to my front door and the removal of so many steps between myself and the train, the train and my bed, does not seem to be an over-priced choice when he quotes me 70 euros for the task. “OK, OK” I relent “but I need food first. Take me to a kebab”.
As a Turk, the driver knows the best place to go and I get special service through a window the drivers have stitched up with the restuarant. The taxi driver yells instructions to the man shaving meat from a skewer and I get my sandwich in double quick time, as I stand swaying in the breezeless steet lamp lit night, beneath the sky of a clear moon. A nice warm meat and garlic sauce and salad, dutifully sprayed in my lap to the concern of the cab driver and we’re on our way home. The warm of the taxi and the food sitting heavily and comfortable in my belly knock me out and I wake up outside the front door of my house with 103.60 glowing in red digital numbers on the meter.
Scheming bastard must have kept it running while I was getting the kebab, and then pressed the ‘Executive’ button while I was asleep. No matter. I hand the cash over and giggle to myself as I lie in bed with the clock not nearly at 4.30 am. Perhaps it was worth it all the same. The escapade, the night, the food and the contented rustle of the voice a girl named Britney shuttle through my thoughts as I sleep.
(picture thanks to Lotus)