07 Amsterdam

October 22nd, 2010

It was the whispering most of all, and I didn’t even notice it at first.  I didn’t notice that what had begun on the ground floor as the loud crosstalk of a milling and restive crowd had now, with each successive climb of the narrow stairs, as we filed more slowly and in a self-imposed orderliness to and through the annex, the hiding place, the last retreat, had now become an intermittent whisper, but mostly not even that; rather, the silence of the stunned, hushed and slightly awkward, because on some level I think we all felt the same thing, and what we felt was that we shouldn’t be there.

I had two emotional connections to Anne Frank, one the usual one, the same everyone has who has read the diary, the one that stays with you and, when you turn the last page and the story ends so abruptly, as if in mid-sentence, and you know why it did, why there would be no more, ever, from this fine young woman, you become weak-kneed and perplexed to the point of distraction by the thought that the world could have reached a place where this utterly senseless extinguishing of such a beautiful life could occur, one life, one being much more profoundly apprehensible than the ungraspable concept of millions.

In fact, had Anne Frank loved life any less, her shoulders could not have carried the weight of those millions.  It was the extraordinary largeness of her capacity for hope and connection that propelled her, in the end, through the thicket of complexity, the unique things that create an individual, through all that density and then out, to the simplicity, to the very familiarity that gives the story its ultimate power, because we realize that she was profoundly ordinary, in the sense that each of us wants, at the end of the day, the things she wanted so desperately and when they took that from her, they took it from all of us.

But I had another connection, too, one far more mundane, inconsequential, really, except to me, and even to me, long forgotten, until that day on the train into Amsterdam, when it came back to me in its particulars.

But first we had to get there, to Amsterdam, to get a map and maybe a bus ticket, and decide how we would use the short hours we had for our visit, and the only thing I wanted to be sure of was that we get to see the Anne Frank house.

_________________________________

Our route took us through the heart of the city, past the many scenic canals, the streets busy with vendors and tourists and locals, but, after Den Haag and Delft, Amsterdam had a raggedness to it, a little dusty, rougher around the edges, the faces less content, more edgy, just a bit.  For one thing, there is construction everywhere, with a certain randomness and unfinished quality to it, the new at war with the old, as yet unreconciled.  The feeling is darker, somehow, and less friendly, not unfriendly, mind you, but less friendly, distracted by something, perhaps its own growth or maybe just a little tired from being Holland’s workhorse tourist magnet, the infamous hub of both legal hash-hish and window shopping for prostitutes.

Amsterdam is much more than that, of course, with its share of European charm and the musk of history on its sleeves,  yet, as you pass by the many “coffee shops” and see the preposterously large and ostentatious bongs—being well used—through the large plate glass windows, you wonder if it is possible that the legalized marijuana issue has more of an impact than anyone would like to acknowledge, penetrating and affecting, subtly but definitely, the psyche of the city, influencing it’s posture and the way it sits in the world.  Just recently, as the politics of the country have moved “right”, they have introduced legislation, shocking to many after all these years, to place some restraints on the marijuana emporiums.  It seems the law of unintended consequences has taken its toll and the original intent of the laws, to de-criminalize what young people had been doing routinely in their own neighborhoods, anyway, was quickly overwhelmed and dwarfed by the lure the liberal law provided to tourists from throughout the world who have, ever since, and in increasing numbers, flocked to Amsterdam for the specific and exclusive purpose of getting wasted.

Although, of course, it’s more than that, too, even for them.  It’s not the one-time legalized high, I don’t think.  It’s  also  the opportunity to see what that world would be like, a world wider than just the coffee shops, but affected by them and governed by the same sensibility that created them, or allowed them, a more modern and tolerant world that “gets it”, whatever “it” might be, but they know what it is, they most assuredly know, just ask them, and trying on for size a world where those who get it also get to make a lot of the rules, well, finding out what that world would be like to actually habitate in real life is the point, too.

And you feel it as you walk the city and you realize it’s something of a zoo, where the denizens who “get it” are observed by the visitors who don’t or those who would like to, but make no mistake, they never will because they haven’t yet, and that tells you what you need to know, ‘bro.

But there are others, call them adults, if you will, although, that’s not really it because, in truth, it’s more about holding on to something, even if that something is more of a direction or a chosen track than a thing or an object or something palpable, but more like a history or a past, perceived or real, holding on against a tide because this is not the culture they want, and they are now certain, so they say, that this drug culture and all this faux tolerance is doing some kind of horrible damage that they can’t quite fully articulate, but it’s there, and if you look at it sidewise rather than directly, you can see that it is creating dark and dangerous places and, so far, they just mean the drugs, but others use the same language about Muslims.

They want things to be what they intended, these legislators, and all this drugging isn’t it, it’s not the way they wanted to entice tourists, that’s for sure, but that’s what it’s done, and this is not the reputation they wanted.  Even those less adamant about changing the law acknowledge that there can be little question that to some extent, perhaps a very large extent, the drug scene has affected all aspects of the city in a pernicious infiltration whose fundamentally small role nevertheless threatens to define the very character of the City.

The rejoinder of the coffee shop denizens is, “And your point is?”

The idea of this new legislation, through the application of its somewhat tortured provisions, would be to allow the use of hash and marijuana for locals, as originally intended, but bar it to tourists.  This, they hope, would decouple Amsterdam from it’s perception abroad as the place to go to get high, rather that the place to go to see some original Rembrandts.

Those on the political right are very much in favor of this, while the coffee shop owners and denizens regard it with amused contempt, not only for its intent but for the notion that it could ever be passed.  They aren’t worried about it.  They have a comfortable sense of ownership in the City, acquired over time.  This is not going away; Get with the program, Dude…

We’ll see, but if you go to Amsterdam, the first thing you must know is the difference  between a coffee shop and a café, with the former characterized by the bongs and the sweet, treacley air and  the listless and introspective smokers, and the latter with thick and delicious coffee and often lively conversation.  The two coexist but seem of different worlds and representative of a culture that rubs against itself and vies for atmospheric influence. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the issue itself, whether legalization is a good thing or a bad thing, but no matter how much someone might try to convince you that it is a cipher, a non-issue, that it affects nothing, they are misled or misleading, I think.

And don’t forget:  If you’re looking for a cup of coffee, think café, not coffee shop.  On the other hand…

The Tourist Bureau

There is construction everywhere in Amsterdam; the new at war with the old

So, Alice and I strolled briskly in  the direction we hoped was towards The Frank House, as best we could, with a small city map (or “plan”, as  they say) in hand, lacking in detail and probably less than entirely accurate.  It was the best we could scrounge, and we were walking because we never were able to find out from the Tourist Bureau or anyone else how to locate the hop-on/hop-off bus route we had hoped for (and which we knew existed in Amsterdam; we just didn’t know where or how to get a ticket, or anything else, and we were to learn that this is a closely held tribal secret.).  As we walked, taking in the pretty canals, the flowered window boxes and, yes, the wafting marijuana aroma, I began to ruminate on whether our experience at the Tourist Office this morning was somehow the perfect manifestation of the city’s id, an augury of what was to come and perhaps—is this too preposterous?—what you might expect from a Tourist Office if it were…stoned to six kinds of Wednesday, as they say…

Unsuspecting fools that we were, we had a plan as the train pulled into the station after the short thirty minute ride from Den Haag.  Efficiency was important since we only had a few hours.   The Frank house would be our focal point, so we needed to locate that, but we also wanted to make a short tour of the city; hence, a quick stop at the Tourist Bureau to get help maximizing our allotted time would be in order.

We were disgorged into the bustling Amsterdam Train station but saw nothing indicating tourist information, which seemed odd, because, after all, this is the gateway for the majority of the city’s tourists; many of them will be looking for information, like us.  In fact, most of them, probably.

But nothing.  After being bumped around by rush hour crowds in the train station we found an information booth and asked for directions to the Tourist Office.  A uniformed info-lady, a little chubby with a bit too much makeup, as if her focus was more on meeting her boyfriend for lunch than in providing us or anyone else with information,  impatiently waived in a direction indicating outside the station and across the street.  Maybe.  She was disinclined to elaborate.  There were still no signs to come to our aide, but we found the office eventually by peering around some plywood construction barriers, walking around some cement mixers and up the stairs to the Office.

Confusion and chaos reign at the Tourist Office. Note the LED screen with take-a-number listings at the upper left. The numbers constantly changed in an entirely random way, no chance of figuring out where you stood in the queue. What are these people smoking?

It is rare, and in a fractured way gratifying, to encounter a state of affairs that is ostensibly intended to provide a service– which succeeds so completely in producing its opposite. It makes you think of the Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design conflict:

Did an office this perfectly configured to engender customer exasperation evolve, piece-by-piece, over time, one boneheaded idea piled atop another, in the same manner as all government programs, each idea producing unwanted and unforeseen consequences, the reaction to which is not to rethink or repeal the original idea but to pile on some new one on top of it to remediate the first one, which produces yet more bad consequences that are then further remediated with even more bad ideas until the entire edifice resembles a Dante-esque Rube Goldberg contraption like, oh, I don’t know, The Community Reinvestment Act?

Or did it emerge, instead, instantly and in full flower, an exquisite, fully-formed contrivance of measured and thoughtful purpose, a soup-to-nuts, integrated machine, perfectly suited to the thwarting of its own intended purpose?

The capaciousness of the space itself, and the long counter of stations for, presumably, trained personal to attend to the needs and questions of an eager but benighted public attests to a knowledge, somewhere, that, this being Amsterdam and one of the most popular destinations in Europe, there are going to be a lot of tourists (money-spending tourists, I might point out) who are looking for sightseeing information and other travel assistance.  Somebody somewhere kenned on to that, at least, and had the right idea, if only at its basest level.

The hall was packed with a milling and shuffling crowd, unformed, with no discernable organization or visible guidelines, save an arrow pointing to a take-a-number dispenser which would seem simple enough, were it not that the dispenser, unlike any other similar dispenser I had ever encountered, had not one but two options, two choices as to which take-a-number queue you wished to commit yourself to, the result being a more challenging initial task than one would anticipate, made the more so by the intention and implication of each option being entirely opaque, this despite being written in three languages, a Rosetta Stone similacrum, all three of which Alice spoke fluently, none of which made any sense.

We took a number, deciding to go with the second option, since, among other things, it professed a willingness to provide “General Information”.  This would turn out to be a source of great angst, inasmuch as we noticed that others seemed to be taking option one, more often than not, whatever it meant.  We hoped it implied nothing more than the random pyschological impetus, when all things are equal, to select “one” more often than “two”, even when there is no underlying rationale for doing so.  In fact, we had so much time to puzzle over this issue, as you will see, that thinking about it provided, at least, a source of mild diversion.

Naturally, as anyone would do, we began to try and calculate how long our wait might be, based upon the number we had drawn and how quickly they were proceeding through the numbers, which would, in turn, be determined, no doubt, by the quantity of people on duty to deal with us, seriatim, and how quickly they were able to dispatch, on average, each of us.

In that latter regard, of the twelve available stations, three were manned; the others sat vacant like a row of helicopters, state-of-the-art and capable of wondrous things, but pathetically useless and meaningless absent pilots to animate them.

The three who were on duty were genial and seemed efficient, switching languages as necessary, unfolding brochures and marking destinations and routes as requested, but there were only three of them to satisfy the chick-like informational needs of at least one hundred and fifty people milling around or sitting on benches, and no matter how skilled these folks were, well, the math was not favorable.

Add to that, this:  One of the people on duty, the only man, was (we would learn by endless and obsessive observation) attempting to find a hotel room for two swarthy young backpackers whose limited resources dictated limited choices and, quite apparently, made the Officer’s job arduous and, more’s the pity for the rest of us, time consuming.  This non-stop three-person colloquy was already commenced when Alice and arrived at the Tourist Office and would be still in progress, with no apparent forward  movement, when we left.  Effectively, then, that third Officer was neutralized for the duration, leaving just two upon whom we could pin our hopes.

The question, in our minds, was whether we should hang on, expending an increasing portion of the small amount of time we had for our stay in Amsterdam on what was rapidly becoming a feckless attempt to improve the efficiency of that stay by acquiring an expert consultation here, or whether, instead, we should embark on our own, mapless and clueless, and hope for the best.  A key ingredient in that decision would be the aforementioned calculation of anticipated wait time, so we studied the LED screen overhead, the one with the listing of numbers from the take-a-number dispenser, and I have to admit that this was the first time I have seen a take-a-number system that seemed specifically designed to prevent you from knowing where your number stood in the progression.

Yes, there was the big TV-like screen upon which the two groups of numbers, intertwined, would change as it refreshed periodically, but there was absolutely no  rhyme or reason to the progression.  Sometimes groups of four or five numbers in a sequence would go up, sometimes down.  Sometimes new numbers altogether would appear, and then disappear with the next refresh.  If there was a pattern, it had to be some kind of twisted, numerical double helix with an internal logic, if, indeed, it was informed by any logic at all, known only to its creator.

“Maybe it’s broken,” Alice suggested.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Maybe it’s some kind of psychological experiment to see if we’ll break under pressure.”

“I don’t think it’s that, either,” I said.

“What do you think it is?”

“Well, maybe it’s stoned, or run by somebody who’s stoned, but I don’t think so.”

“Well, then, what is it?” Alice persisted, because we were both now riveted by its exasperating illogic.

“I think it’s what it always is.  It’s an over-educated twenty-six year-old with a computer.  There is nothing, and I mean nothing more dangerous if they are allowed to get into a situation where they can affect things in the real world, rather than the exams they are accustomed to getting breezy A’s on from professors who also have no experience with actual reality, either, the kind of exposure you get when you walk around, as opposed to the kind you come to believe actually exists if you spend your time on a campus.  These twenty-six year olds with a spreadsheet, they come up with this stuff, and even if they’re not stoned, although, okay, maybe in this case the guy was stoned, too, in addition to being twenty-six and an idiot with no awareness of his or her own idiocy, but with a mandate and a spreadsheet, they come up with these things and God help us all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Okay, we’re sitting here in a nexus of bureaucratic, government-run organization, and they are not accountable to me or you or anyone else in this room.”

“Who are they accountable to?”

“Other bureaucrats, ones higher up on the food chain.”

“What’s that got to do with the numbers?  Why can’t they just list them in order and roll them forward so you can know when your turn is coming up? Why do they have to have two different groups?  Why do they make you choose one set of numbers instead of another, and not make it clear which is which and why you should pick one over another?  None of it makes any sense.”

“To you it doesn’t make sense.  And to me.  But to someone it makes complete sense, and that someone is a lot more important than you or me, because somehow, that someone is in charge of appropriating money for this thing.  The information being generated, and the way it is being handled, is because somebody somewhere went to that twenty-six year-old and said make me a system that will gather information that will show that we need more money, and that we’re doing a good job, but we could do a better job if we had more money.”

That’s what this is about?” Alice asked.

“That’s what it’s always about,” I said.  “People are stupid, but they’re not stupid.  Nothing about this is random, even though it looks that way to us, because, like I say, we’re not the point.  But there is a point, we just don’t know what it is and never will because we don’t have to.  This system is addressing a goal, and probably doing it pretty well, but that goal has absolutely nothing to do with providing you, me, or anyone in this room with information, at least not directly.”

Alice was looking at the fellows with backpacks who had been glued to the one Officer, rendering him useless.  “Wouldn’t you think that one officer who’s been dealing with those same two guys the entire time would look around the room, see all these people waiting, and say to the guys, hey, you’re using up a lot more of these scarce resources than your share, would you mind stepping aside for a minute while I see if I can loosen this log-jam a bit?”

“You’re joking, right?  Where is that in his job description, union rules or Life Plan?”

Even as I spoke these words we noticed the third Officer, one of the two who was not already out of commission trying to find the Backpackers a fleabag hostel someplace, began shutting down her station and gathering her things.  I looked at my watch.  It was 12:30.  Lunchtime.  Meaning that it was likely to be a time when the office would be especially crowded, but, also, well, lunchtime. ‘Bye.

Now we were down to one officer and even more than 150 people ‘in the queue’, although ‘queue” is definitely not the word for such an ill-formed, and, quite frankly, doomed mob.

We had waited an hour and fifteen minutes, and we had no idea if we were any closer to our “turn” than when we started.  As we left, we gave our “take a number” ticket to a group of bewildered-looking Eastern bloc teenagers who appeared as if  they could use the leg up that our perhaps “close” ticket might afford them, assuming broadly and perhaps erroneously that our number hadn’t been lost altogether to the system.  We’ll never know.

As we walked out a door that I wished we had never walked in, I thought to myself, “There’s a clue here; somehow a clue…”

Americans in Amsterdam

There are many Americans in Amsterdam, perhaps because it is the only major European city where you can easily get by speaking nothing but English, where, more than that, English is as accepted and acceptable as Dutch. We are approached by a young American from Illinois with a big smile, a gregarious and theatrical manner, who hands us a self-printed newspaper inviting us to a performance of an American comedy troupe that evening; he vocalizes the same invitation and boasts that many of the members cut their teeth at the famed Second City in Chicago and, not only that, they have graduates who have appeared on Saturday Night Live.  He is enthusiastic and genial but we explain that we are leaving in a few hours, but thanks and good luck.  “How long have you been here?” I ask, and he replies that he doesn’t really remember but that he thinks he will never leave.  I wonder if that’s true, but I think probably not, because a day will come when being an American amongst other Americans in Amsterdam doesn’t work anymore, and he will feel the need to be an American amongst Americans in America, but maybe not.

But I do know that when I was his age, I lived for two years in London and loved it in a way that I think might be similar to the way he loves Amsterdam and for the same reasons, but after a time it felt like running away, and I had to decide for how long I was going to do that, or be able to do that without judging myself to be afraid of something that maybe I should  find a way not to be afraid of and to do that required going home.  Maybe it will be that way for him.

The Frank House

The waiting line for the Anne Frank House went around the block, people subdued and quite as we waited our turn

It was chilly in the line waiting to go into the Anne Frank house, people shuffling their feet and speaking softly, but the line moved, and it had a clear direction, and people were patient.

They have acquired the house next door and it serves as the ticket office and staging area before you are allowed to file into the actual Frank house.  There is a small museum, large pictures, some narrative.

They would finally retreat behind this door, disguised as a bookcase.

Then you go in, up narrow stair cases, floor after floor, stopping at each to see where the factory managers sat and worked, and then higher up and back, to the place where they first retreated to hide and then, as it got more dangerous, up another flight, and back, and then another flight and through an entrance behind a false bookcase, and pretty soon you are in  the innermost place, a room so desperately sad that some wept, especially as they looked at the pictures little Anne Frank had taped to the bleak and sun-deprived walls,  Hollywood stars and mementos, anything to brighten it up, to try to expand the walls somehow, to a greater world outside, even ‘though she and  the others had no access to that outside world, and would not, for however long it took for it all to end.

Diagram of the Frank House. They retreated farther and farther to the back and up as the danger increased, eventually in the annex, uppermost right

That’s when I noticed the whispering.  I was standing in the final hiding room, the smallest and cruelest, and I was looking at a small map Anne had taped to the wall, and it had red pins in it.  It was a map of the Normandy beaches and the pins showed where the various American divisions had progressed to, how far they had advanced, precisely.

They were on their way and she knew that, and followed it, and she knew they were coming to save her and to save the people she loved, but they needed to hurry, these American soldiers.

They almost made it in time, but not quite, and now the map remains but Anne is gone and she would die of Typhus at Bergen-Belsen in March of 1945, yes, 1945, so preposterously close to the end that you want to go back in time and just hold things up for awhile, just long enough for the Americans to get there, but you can’t and it’s too awful to think about, except here, of course, at this house, you can think of nothing else.

As I looked at this map for a long time, imagining the eyes of a little girl studying it and clasping her hands and hoping, as I imagine this, others file in, slowly, mill around a bit, move on, and if they speak at all it is in whispers, and it occurred to me to wonder why.  Why exactly, are people whispering?  There is no sign that requests it.  They were not whispering in previous rooms, and down below, towards the bottom, there was even a loudness to the crowd.

But here people understand that whispering is appropriate. Is it for the same reason people know to whisper when they enter a church or a cathedral, even if they are entering not as a supplicant but as a tourist?

No, I think it’s something else.  I think it is because prior to this particular room, with the artifacts so plain and present of the little girl who lived and who wrote the sad and wonderful diary, prior to this, being in this house is moving and interesting and something to see and to experience.  But here, in this room, it is something else, and we are no longer tourists and we are not merely curious and our presence isn’t altogether fitting.  No, we are now intruders.  We are now in a place that on some level we all know we shouldn’t be, and we are therefore trespassers, and so we whisper and it is a whisper of, on some level, embarrassment.  There is something too personal, something that should be left to Anne Frank and her God and to her and her alone, no matter how profoundly important is the legacy she left.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have been there.  We should.  Not because it isn’t an intrusion:  It is.  But because the intrusion is the point, it is entirely the point, and it has always been the point.

Let’s not forget:  It’s a diary.

Hannah Arendt: Horrific banality

I wonder why the best writers about the Nazis, or, more specifically, about Nuremburg and the trials and the unfathomable implications were, I believe,  the women:  Martha Gelhorn; Janet Flanner; Rebecca West and later, in the time of Eichmann, 1963, Hanna Arendt who would, in attempting to fathom how a country that gave us Beethoven and Goethe could also give us Himmler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Hans Frank (Hitler and Goebbels are, in their horrific way, easier to understand) coined the phrase  “The banality of evil”.  Years ago I came across a sentence that I felt held large truth, and I thought it was attributable to Arendt, but I tried to find it in her work and can’t, so maybe I heard it somewhere else or maybe it occurred to me when I read her “Banality of Evil” essay, but it is this, and I still think it may be the closest we can come:  “There is nothing so dangerous as a small minded person with a little bit of power.”

And as we walked the street after leaving the Frank house and we sat quietly in a nearby eatery and had frites and a croque monsieur,  I wondered if there was some connection, however tiny, between this explanation and our experience earlier at the Tourist Bureau and I decided that no, there really isn’t, and thinking so would lead not to resolution and insight but to a kind of darkness and dismissal and maybe it’s thinking such a thing that would, itself, be a gateway leading to bad and inhuman places.  No, the workers in the Tourist Bureau were decent, I’m  sure, and doing what they were taught in the way they were taught to do it and it’s the same everywhere, and it’s the way of the world and all of us, them and us, are simply proceeding and navigating our days in the best ways we can, and we all hope that we never live in a world that is allowed to lose its moorings so completely that we need a fourteen year old girl who is murdered to remind us that the gift of life, or, if you prefer, the fact of life, carries with it a profound responsibility to search, always, for ways to be more human, not less.

And it had been early that morning, as Alice and I were sitting on the train heading in to Amsterdam that I had realized what it was, what was most important to me about going there, to that house on that street in that place.  It was just this, nothing  more:  I wanted to pay my respects.  I wanted to be one of the ones that the little girl could never have known would follow in her footsteps and come to see her place and to leave behind, in her space, some small piece of human gratitude.

But gratitude for what, exactly?

I’m not sure, but the closest I can come is this:  It is a gratitude to her for living the life she was given to the absolute fullest, despite the crushing circumstantial restrictions,  despite conditions that would have made retreat and smallness no shame, and by so doing, by doing just that, with no reasonable expectation that the living of that life would have any resonance beyond the cramped and hostile annex that enclosed them, putting something so exquisitely fine, so wholly human into the world that we are all, all of us, somehow, made better, if only because we can point to her and think and say that maybe to be a human and to live a life can be simply– so utterly simply–  good and filled with grace, and if that’s true, if a life can be that, like hers and perhaps, in just the tiniest way by comparison, mine, then maybe there is in this world something that can legitimately be called holy, and if that’s so, then there is hope.

And that’s why the whispering didn’t surprise me; it didn’t surprise me at all.

_____________________________

The other connection I had to the Frank house, the small one and the one that is inconsequential except to me, was this:

I never wanted to write plays but took a playwriting course in college as an imposed discipline to improve my ability to write dialog in the short story format that I preferred.

At the end of the course we were required to write a One-Act play, but I had no idea what to write about, an inability to begin.

Over the weekend I read the Diary of Anne Frank.  I decided to write my play not about the Frank family, but about the family who hid them.  No one knows, to this day, who alerted the Germans. What if it were the family they most relied on, the ones sheltering them, the ones, of all, that they trusted.  What were implications of that?

I wrote the play and it was eventually produced by the Theater Department and it gained for me the start of what would become a large reputation for writing plays in that tiny, tiny environment, but it was fun and it gave me the beginnings of a sense of myself when, before that, I had none.

I hadn’t thought of it in years…

____________________________

We never found the hop-on-hop-off bus, but we did find the “canal bus” that offered  pretty much the same thing, only on the water, so we did that and got to see some of the city as the light faded and the air chilled, and you see the buildings and the churches that are centuries old, and you see the newer, gleaming buildings and the newest ones of all flecked with construction  cranes,  and you wonder about Rembrandt and the war years and where this city is going, and you think of a film producer with the preposterous name of Van Gogh being stabbed to death on the corner of Linnaeusstraat and Tweede Oosterparkstraat by a young man twenty-six years old, probably about the same age as the similar young man we had met in the comedy troupe but this other young man, instead of spending his young energy trying to make people laugh, used even more energy to avenge Islam with a knife.

It’s time to move on.  Yes, I always wanted to see firsthand the “annex” the young girl wrote of, the cramped, airless hiding place that became her entire world, excepting, of course, that other world, the one of her imaginings and soaring and indomitable humanity that spawned the diary that assured her continuing presence, forever.

Today was that day, and having been there and done that I am spent and it is time to move on, but first, on the train ride back to Den Haag, as Alice and I sit across from each other with a fold down table in between, I reach out and touch her hand and feel the warmth, and as the train wheels generate their rhythmic and soothing music I will allow myself to feel completely the sadness and mystery of all of it.

# # #

N E X T :   To Callas, South of France

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N E X T :   To Callas, South of France

One Response to 07 Amsterdam

  1. Wow. Pretty powerful stuff. I felt that way a lot when we were touring Normandy together – and the absolute, eerie stillness with nobody speaking at all at the German cemetery we visited that morning along the highway. Really interesting reading Buffalo. Love to you both.Nornie

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