Sitting here in Starbucks at 9 o’clock on a Tuesday morning. In front of me, seen through the huge plate glass window that helps pull people in, is an elongated bike of the type that many Amsterdam parents own these days – bright red, low and sturdy, with several seats for offspring. Perched over the child’s seat at the back is a lamb, pretty realistic though not real. An early model (or one from last year) for a forthcoming nativity play? This possibility is made more likely by the fact that a handmade donkey has been slung over the front basket. Neither animal has been visibly secured.
Soul food. A trigger for my imagination. If I hadn’t seen it, I would have spent this precious pre-work steal in Starbucks checking my emails or perusing the photos on my phone. Instead I’m thrown back to the Eighties, where there was soul food everywhere. Young people weren’t so much concerned with their careers as with having fun. It was the decade of squatters, post-punk, and rebel youths. Random street art could be enjoyed all over the city. Pale pink plucks of plastic protruding from the windows of a canal house opposite Central Station was one I fondly remember. There was the famous naked skater and a Vondelpark full of hippies.
Yesterday, at this very spot, where Simon Carmiggelt’s one-liner about this beautiful city* has been engraved on two plaques, one hung on either side of the bridge, my son stopped his bike to take a photograph of a piece of cardboard attached to a traffic light. Apparently, a regretful youth – who hadn’t stopped at that traffic light the previous day – had locked eyes with a beautiful girl while their bikes passed in opposite directions. The piece of cardboard bore a handwritten appeal to the girl to get in touch. He’d even set up a dedicated email account: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Don’t go sending off false claims, I made the address up.)
It may not have been random art of the sort I miss in the city these days, but at least it was something, a small strangled whisper from a soul.
*Amsterdam is een heerlijke stad om te verlaten en áán te komen
(Amsterdam is a wonderful city to leave and to arrive at)