Took one last walkabout this afternoon. Guy in the photo shown below is here each year. Thought he was drunk first time I saw him wheeling crazily around the street between surprised pedestrians. You’d swear he was about to crash, but doesn’t. Now and then he stops to pass the green hat on his head.
Last night in Amsterdam.
I’ve been re-packing–very carefully. After a week like this I want to make sure all my ducks are in a row. That done I go down to the bar below my room, and order my first Heineken. An ad campaign’s in progress. If drink you drink six Heinekens the bartender gives you one of these I-phone speaker gadgets. If you put music on your cell phone and lay it on the little green Heineken box the tune is amplified with surprising volume. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to drink 6 Heinekens or buy six and then pass them out to friends. Bartender says I’m more than covered either way.
I take my usual place at the end of the bar, near the windows and wait to see who comes in. New customers arrive like tides, an ebb and flow, high tide and low. Some twelve or thirteen of us here now. There’s three English guys behind me, at a bar high table, having a good time, getting better with each beer. They buy one for me on their next round. I turn to join them. One guy says he thinks his sister is a vampire, and we try to think of something he might do about it. Can’t remember the suggestions made, but at some point we all start laughing, one of those rare times when you can’t stop. Hilarious. These moments happen, maybe twenty five or thirty times a lifetime if you’re lucky, always with good friends. There is an intimacy that comes with it. Trust? A sharing . . . feels so good. We get over it in a few minutes, talk some more, then they move on.
Five of us left here now. Someone is talking about Greece, and banks. “They used to pay us for the money we put in accounts, interest on savings. Now they charge you for the service of holding your money.”
“That’s the way it is in Sweden,” I agree. Most banks don’t handle cash now, have to go to a machine if you want paper money.”
“Paper money’s an illusion,” guy in his late twenties adds – American. “The U.S. buck . . . nothing behind it. Fed just prints it out. The only thing that makes it real is our belief in it. People are losing faith.”
“A few more years, there won’t be any paper money . . . only plastic,” someone adds. “Then banks and governments will have complete control of everything we do.” He checks this cell phone as another crowd spills in from off the sidewalk. Some end up at my end of the bar.
We share drinks, make small talk, then some guy is speaking to me, one to one. Not happy, fifty something, slightly drunk I guess. “I screwed a hooker,” he confesses. “Didn’t really want to do it. Talked me into it, my mates. It wasn’t any good. Christ, I regret it. Bloody hell, I feel so guilty. I don’t know if I should tell my wife.”
“It doesn’t seem like that would do much good,” I tell him. “Just make her feel bad. Seems like enough if only one of you feel bad, but what do I know.”
Life goes on. Bar’s open all night long. I leave at twelve to make sure I can get a good night’s sleep.
The morning after.
I’m up early, eight o’clock, and lug my suitcase down the killer stairs.
The streets are almost totally deserted, only cleaners sweeping up the mess the tourists left last night.
Looks like they’re making brooms the same way as a hundred years ago.
I trundle with the suitcase over the uneven bricks and cobble stones, wheels clacking, echo off the walls of the Old Kirk, where Rembrandt married. They’ve been working on the front this year. Last year it was the other side. The ancient architecture here needs constant maintenance to keep from crumbling, or from falling over.
One below seems like its bending at the center.
This one, downtown, (left of center), might not last forever.
It costs millions to get underneath and fix the pilings that have held these buildings up, God knows how many years. I wonder what the floors are like inside.
I turn onto Warmoesstraat, roll past the condom shop and join some other tourists on their way to Central Station, passing last night’s restaurant refuse, and a cat I recognize. I see him every year, a very streetwise creature, not afraid of crowds.
Last look at Warmoesstraat. Glad I don’t have to work up there.
An hour later finds me on the plane, less than a two hour ride to Stockholm, two hours more by train to Borlänge, Sweden. Always good to get back home again.